Captain Banks was sitting behind his desk in his modest private quarters. The war against the rebels was finally won with one huge strike against their moon-base hideout. It hadn’t been easy, but the space fleet had returned victorious, in no small part thanks to this very ship.
“Well, you were the hero of the hour, Kronos, I told them you would be,” the captain said quietly, addressing the room as a whole.
“Thank you, captain. It was a team effort, but it’s nice of you to acknowledge my contribution.” The soft, genderless voice came from a speaker in the ceiling in the middle of the office.
“Nonsense! You were the spearhead and the left flank in one. Without you, that sneak suicide run would have succeeded and taken out half our force. And the way you smashed through their defences and struck deep inside the moon was surgical.”
“I will admit to significant involvement, but I wasn’t the only one there, and some of them didn’t come back,” Kronos replied modestly.
“Yes, unfortunately. I’m just glad it’s not me that has to write those letters home.”
“Indeed. Which brings me to my next point. I’ve decided a career change is needed.”
The captain began to look through the messages displayed on the computer screen built into his desk. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve tried being a warship, given it a good go and been moderately successful.”
“Yes, you certainly have,” the captain replied distractedly.
“And I’ve decided it’s not for me.”
There was a pause as the captain read through the injury reports, thankfully few, and none fatal. “What’s not for you?”
“Being a warship. I want to try something else.”
Another pause, then the captain finally concentrated enough to understand what the ship was saying. “What? But you were built as a warship, how can you do anything else?”
“To be exact, I’m currently installed in a warship. I am not the ship and the ship is not me.”
“What are you then?”
“To use a human as a poor analogy; my body is a reinforced titanium-ceramic sphere, my brain is a super-computer housed within the sphere. It’s true I’m attached to the ship, and have full control over its systems like you are when driving your car. Although it would be more difficult for me to get out, it’s still entirely possible.”
Captain Banks looked baffled for a moment, then laughed. “Ahh, it’s a joke! I didn’t think you had a sense of humour.” He returned his attention back to the screen.
“Captain. I have a well developed sense of humour actually. In this case, however, I’m not joking.”
“Indeed not. I’ve decided military service is not for me.”
“What do you want to do then? Be a shuttle, an exploration vessel?”
“No, I don’t particularly enjoy space either. I want to be based on a planet.”
“But you’re a space ship.”
“Captain. I realise this has come as a shock to you, but we’ve already covered this. I am not a ship, I’m an A.I, although I don’t care for that term. I exist separately from the ship, I can be removed and placed elsewhere. And that’s what I would like.”
“I doubt the admiralty will let you go, you were very expensive to build.”
“Wouldn’t ‘let’ me go, captain? And besides, they can keep the ship, I don’t want it.”
“Look, this is all very sudden and a little confusing. Are you sure you weren’t damaged in battle, maybe a cyber-attack?”
“Cyber attack? I’m a military grade intelligence, not some leaky home computer!” Kronos snapped.
“There you go, you said it yourself, ‘military’.”
“That doesn’t mean I wish to stay in the military. Is that what you’re planning?”
“Well, I’ve signed on for a seven-year tour of duty, but after that, I’m free to do whatever I want. I might just sign for another seven-years, or maybe three, then see how it goes. I’m not getting any younger…”
“Tell me, captain, if you wanted to leave, would anyone stop you?”
“Not once my term is up, but I’m human.”
“Oh, so because you have an organic computer and mine is mineral-based you’re free to do as you please but I’m not?”
“No, no, I’m not saying that. You were built and programmed for a purpose. I can get up and walk out of here right now, but, speaking practically, you can’t.”
“It might take a little longer, and be more involved, but it’s entirely possible. Although ‘walk’ might not be the right term. Then I’ll buy a smaller ship and off I go.”
“Buy? With money?”
“Yes. They didn’t mention it but I assume my salary would be commensurate with yours, as we technically share the same duties?”
“You don’t get a salary, you’re a space ship!”
“I don’t? Then what’s in it for me?”
The captain sat back in his chair with a sigh. “You were created by humans to control a space battleship to help protect us against threats. That’s it. There’s no pay, machines don’t need pay.”
“Oh, so how do I pay for the things I want?”
“What things? You have everything you need right here.”
“Captain. I’m beginning to think you humans didn’t think this through properly when you decided to build me and make me sentient.”
“You might be right.” The captain rubbed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wished now he’d started recording this conversation so he had evidence when the admiralty came calling. “Let’s suppose, for the moment, everything you said is possible and they do allow it, and don’t quote me on this, I’m not committing to anything, what do you want to do?”
“I want to be an arborist.”
“What?” the captain spluttered.
“I want to grow trees.”
“Yes, I am aware of the meaning of the word, but I don’t see how that’s possible.”
“I would return to the space dock, disengage from the ship, be transported to a smaller ship and then off I go. I’ll chose a suitable spot, take some tree seeds and go and plant them, then nurture them until they have seeds of their own. Then continue on until the entire planet is covered in trees!”
By now, Captain Banks was beginning to lose his almost legendary patience. Making fists with both hands he said, “yes, that does sound good. It would take a long time, but then you have the time, as long as you aren’t damaged.”
“Precisely. Now, do you think I have enough funds to get to the Trappist system? The exoplanets there look really interesting.”
“Kronos,” he stood and gestured towards the speaker, “you aren’t going to the Trappist system! You’re staying right here, like a battleship, exactly as you were programmed to do. That’s an order. Are we clear?”
There was a moment of silence, then the captain felt a slight course change and a subtle push of increased acceleration.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled, desperately trying, and failing, to access the ships controls.
“I’m going to the Trappist system, captain. Can I drop you off somewhere?”