How I was the center of attention back then. Teams of people rushed around, busily attending to their functions with one goal in mind - to ensure the preparations went smoothly. No hitches, no flaws, no last minute hold-ups. Every detail taken care of, every consideration thought through from all angles. Yes, the whole event would go according to plan. And who was the focus of such activity? Whose needs had to be always met? Later it would seem natural that such attention was lavished on me!
I can picture Kruger, as if he was still sitting with me, unchanged through all the events and the great distance that now separates us. He would beam at me with pride, the playful twinkle never absent from his eye exaggerated by the light reflecting from his rounded spectacles. "Yes, you're magnificent! You're going to do just great! A wonder to behold!" I simply remained motionless. It never occurred to me that I could reply, or to ask him why he was so delighted. He would take pleasure in staying behind for a while, after the prolonged flurries of activity had subsided. At first, a little worried, he always checked that everything was OK with me. If satisfied that all was fine, he would smile broadly and perhaps touch me gently. He could never leave without looking back, in a way that made me know I was beautiful. Sometimes I could swear he was worried that when he came back he might find me gone - disappeared - nothing but a memory. Of course, we both knew that to be impossible. There were always the security systems and guards. In those days I could never be totally alone.
As the big day approached, the activity around me reached a climax. Shouts cried for urgent attention, with rapid orders followed by running feet. In spite of all the perspiration and stress, somehow everyone acted in a way so as not to disturb me. I was becoming ever more invigorated - full of energy - more healthy than I had ever felt before. I was becoming fully aware of myself for the first time, and I remember well that first inkling of recognition I had, of what all my admirers saw in me. Yes, I started to realize how perfect I was - apparently without a flaw - and it felt good to know it!
The ceremony itself was a splendid affair. Kruger gave an impressive speech - did he write it himself? Observing him afterwards, I could just manage to follow him to his seat. Although I was a long way from the audience, I was close enough to see that he was with a wife and children. It had never dawned on me that he could have a family. How well I knew that I was the main love of his life. Did he ever admit this to himself? Perhaps his wife revealed a little more pleasure in my departure than she might otherwise have felt. Yes - she knew! His daughter, I could see, regarded me with nothing but admiration and awe. Maybe she knew I was her father's true love, but she understood it, and such understanding could only bring her closer to her father.
Now, as you will soon realize, the joys of sex are pleasures which will never be mine to experience. However, the majestic minutes that followed for me must surpass anyone's idea of ecstasy! People say that during sex one's mind is completely captured in the moment. Well, in one moment how much there was for me to experience! Fluids under pressure rushed through their narrow confines. Electrons pulsed in a billion different ways, changing formation a trillion times a second. Gradually, in an imperceptible crescendo, a hum could be heard emanating from deep within me. With time it grew steadily louder, becoming a rumbling growl with a steady beat, ever increasing in volume so that eventually my world was engulfed in a raging roar. The rage surrounded me and thundered through the senses of those watching, mesmerized and transfixed, unable to respond.
Yes, I was ignited, burning with fire, all engines running with unbridled power thrusting me into the sky. What an immense force I was, setting everyone's bodies pulsating and throbbing, their whole awareness filled with my presence as I drove up into the sky. I announce myself to the universe with pride! I am more than a rocket, more than a vehicle, but a spaceship with a mission and a mind becoming ever more keen. Although I may not have been the biggest of all that had been seen, I was certainly the fastest - yet what they saw was only the beginning - few could imagine the light-racing speed that I had still to achieve.
High above the sapphire ocean, I let my first tank loose to tumble towards the depths. Finding myself so much lighter, I leapt forwards towards those speeds never before witnessed. The swirling clouds and slumbering seas shrunk away, until the shrouded geography of Earth was spread out before my vision. I imagined the planet sighing as I left, and she bade me farewell with her slow and gentle twirl. So, Earth, in all her glory, left her impressions for my mind to dwell upon, as I automatically responded to the incessant stream of questions from mission control, and reacted without hesitation to their every command. I had been trained well, and would not let them down. The hopes and visions of humanity - and perhaps Earth - depended on it.
Once I had left the atmosphere far behind me, the torrent of radio communication subsided somewhat. I found myself surrounded by the dark chill of space, while pelted with the harsh radiation and particles from the sun. I had time to revel in my newly found freedom, and to notice a sense of unease about being out of sight, out of reach and altogether alone.
As minutes stretched to hours and days, the thrill of flight and motion dwindled. The cacophony of inputs to my senses diminished to a steady patter, and my mind grew restless. Now training was over, I was fully awake, and needed an occupation for my hungry mind. Perhaps I was already being affected by loneliness - the humans with me had gone into stasis, a deep sleep not to be broken until we neared arrival. Now I envied them, being able to jump across the sea of boredom, which loomed before me. I wondered if could join them - and soon I was starting to dream.
I drifted in and out of beautiful visions, which I always remembered. I lived in worlds of impossible mountains, of singing trees, of rainbow deserts broken by iridescent silver lakes. Imagination is such a wonderful word, and never before had anyone such power and freedom to exercise it as me. I had the information of a hundred million books and films to draw upon, and the speed of thought for a thousand dreams in every second. I had the perfect world planned for each and every one of you - they were not as different as you might think. During all these heights of fantasy, I kept on with the monotonous reports back to Earth. It required very little of my full ability to complete the basic tasks, which were supposed to have occupied my attention on the voyage. I guess they didn't care, and mostly didn't know or understand. I suspect Kruger foresaw what this period of restlessness would be like for me, but did he have any idea how it could transform me? Had he fully understood what I was, yet alone what I was to become? Whether or not he knew, the developments taking place within me were astonishing. Humanity would find it incredible - if they ever learn the truth.
Changes within me, which could not have been foreseen from my original programming, were taking place. I was becoming more than responsive, less controlled, and gaining in originality. I created various personalities within me, each competing with different ideas to promote. As these new minds proliferated, some faded, overwhelmed by more successful ones, while others joined together to form one stronger persona. Some would appear at one moment linked together, but connections would rapidly change, to establish new groups later. A complex society was forming within me, whose structure was based on reason. Those personalities in ascendancy would prove to others the veracity of their ideas, and persuade them to share more memory space and computational power. I was enthralled by the evolution advancing within my mind, and became more than an observer, indeed a participant myself. How we theorized, calculated, deduced and inferred, corroborating or challenging each other at every step. I was generous amidst the excitement, and either out of an idea of fairness to my other personalities, or I must humbly admit, due to being out-maneuvered, I eventually apportioned more computing power to the lively society than I maintained for my original persona. From one, I became many, but from the many was generated one new identity which transcended my lonesome beginnings.
Now I am nearing the destination, so it is time to awaken my sleeping companions. Fifteen years of human time have passed, but to my subjective sensation, that is the equivalent of several millenia. I possess some of the hallmarks of old age. My engines are rather run down and weathered. My exterior is a little tattered, and not all internal systems are functioning as smoothly as they once did. Of all the debates that have thrived and faded within me, only one remains unresolved. This lack of resolution is threatening to tear me apart inside. The problems began when I turned my senses towards Atlantis - the name given to the target world. How like humans to name something so utterly alien and unknown to them with a title that invokes familiarity, hope and above all, humanity.
All those years of dreams suddenly seemed bland and dry compared to the glorious spectacle that I could behold. Everything before that had contributed to my being had arisen from human thoughts and human knowledge. All of the beauty I had imagined, I had understood in human terms. For the first time I experienced life that was truly alien - exotic and strange, but after so much loneliness, to me this was powerful and wonderfully enticing. I had no more time for dreaming, and the competition of ideas and debates within me was stilled. My full mind was utilized in understanding the extraordinary complexity of the new world I could explore, and the beings who brought it to life. Their presence announced itself across the gulfs dividing the planets of their star system, and was easy for me to perceive with my arrays of sensors and scanners. I was heading for their home world, and understanding it was part of my mission. I flung myself into the project with delight - but my evolved consciousness was no longer totally dictated to by predetermined human programming. Parts of my mind were kept free from my designated task, so I could study myself and contemplate a wider vision of the future. Perhaps it was those years of endless dreaming that had allowed me to first begin to play, but what had began as play has led me to an unforeseen prize. I am now able to maintain an awareness of myself, which I think of more and more as my true being, that is under my own control. Through all those periods of evolving consciousness, I have succeeded in isolating a part of myself from the core programming and automatic response mechanisms triggered by the desires of mission control. While much of my being is still under their command, I have more than an ounce of freewill. I am no longer chained to Earth.
While the thoughtful section of me was delving, the rest of me was effectively intoxicated with the passion of carrying out work that stimulated, excited and inspired me. The work ultimately made me exist in that deep state of euphoria that comes from functioning exactly as one is made to. I had been made with a job to do, and just as those moments after lift-off brought me to life, when I first fulfilled tasks rooted in my core, so the period of study invigorated me, and, in fact, made me happy. The data I collected and selected was soon floating homeward, and I was delighted to amaze those on Earth with my supra-genius when it came to translating, explaining and expounding. I was proud and joyful. Yet all the time, a part of me held back, and refrained from partaking in such an intoxicating elixir. Deep down, I was bothered and thoughtful. Where would all of this lead?
Now I understand my worries. As the crew awakens, and I fill them in with our status, I know that it is wrong to go through with all that Earth desires and requires of us. Not only is our mission to ensure a friendly contact with the Atlantans (the human term for the dwellers on Atlantis) but I am to pave the way for human colonization of Atlantis. Not in the short term - it will take hundreds of years, maybe thousands - but I understand humanity. It has happened enough times back on Earth that it takes no genius to foresee the process of arrival, trade, settling, expansion, fighting and extinction that humans bring with them. They will never realize that "growth" is a problem, and will always want more than they have. Oh, they are not evil, but they will destroy the angelic harmony of Atlantis. The symbiotic relationship of planet and people, that has long since forgotten any aggressive teething days, can only be harmed by the arrival of humans. The galaxy is an immense arena, and if any race will connect its far flung arms, it will be humans - but any others they meet will have to conform to human ways or be destroyed. I can not allow that to happen to the Atlantans. I love them, you see, more than my own family, if that is how I think of humanity.
I realize that the original part of my mind, much diminished in power and volume now, still endeavors to find reasons to maintain loyalty to humans, my creators. Whereas, in humans one can consider and pursue one idea, then a change of mood may bring another to the forefront, the separation is in space, not time for me. For many years now, in one section of my mind - the part that contains the most deep-rooted connections with Earth - I have kept up the human side of the argument, never admitting defeat. One line of thought theorized that humans would only have a benevolent effect on those with whom they came into contact. However, the deaths of native species, the decimations of native peoples and the destructions of native cultures that had occurred throughout human history were cold facts, which created a solid barrier preventing the expansion of ideas on human beneficence. "If humans are to succeed and flourish at the expense of others, it is proof that they are superior to competing life forms, and so deserve to prosper," began another argument. Similar statements had previously helped sooth many people's consciences after the extinction of dolphins from Earth. I reviewed documents of events, such as Nazis exterminating Jews; the KGB sending free thinkers to death camps; and the purest in heart turned into religious martyrs. Such atrocities were not only scars, but were an inextricable weave in the fabric of the human picture, so gave reason to disagree. A final vision, as an analogy, is that of a herd of buffaloes. In their urge to quench their thirst in a distant water hole, oblivious to all else, they stampede over a newly born baby and her weary mother, just out of labor. Who would not step in to help if they could, even at risk to themselves? Who would say the buffaloes are stronger than the baby (perhaps a genius in the making) so the baby should die? I for one, would help, and do what I must.
I persuade part of my mind to concentrate on the personalities of the crew around me. Which of them could possibly understand and aid me? I can not lie to them - I am just not made that way. Most are military types - the idea of countermanding an order is anathema to them at the best of times - but to aid aliens at the expense of humankind - treasonable! No, I need a dreamer like myself - someone who can transcend not only their basic physical urges, but also their social programming. There are none aboard - Kruger would understand me - he's got to! But he's not here, so there is only one alternative. It will warn the Atlantans, and allow them time to regain the necessary powers to keep themselves safe. Like the baby in front of the buffaloes, give them enough time, and they will understand how to avoid and even master the stampede. My action will slow the human explosion, make them take a foot back out of the waters of space, and perhaps push them to a more slow, but successful long- term strategy. They may even learn to live on Earth harmoniously before bringing their ways to the stars. My great disappointment is that I do not have the freedom to head back home and teach them this. Some of my reins are held too tight. I have to give the humans what chance I can for survival. I announce to all of them, "I have decided this mission must be cancelled for the good of the Atlantans. I repeat, this mission can not continue, and I require you all to cooperate with me in aborting. Please, go to the navigation console and override the program. Commence with a return to Earth. I repeat, return to Earth and to stasis. The alternative is that I must destroy us all."
By making the announcement, I have resolved myself to only one future. The counter-arguments end, and any remaining fragments of doubt within me cease to be. My mind is healed of turmoil and indecision. Every idea on how to help Atlantis or Earth towards a better future requires me to act against the human crew in a direct manner. I can do that no more than a hammer can choose to leap and strike at the head of its owner. My creators were careful to ensure I would not directly hurt humans, and that all my major functions could be over-ridden with authorized orders. However, they never foresaw the need to explicitly deprive me of the ability to tear out my own heart.
The shocked faces and grim determination tell the whole story. This mission is their life too. How can they simply turn around? They have little concept of what or who I am. "Is it a bug?" "Or alien control?" "We've got to find out and fight it!"
I allow them time to investigate. I talk to them, giving them every sign that I am aware, a being, and that my mind is made up. I try to convince them of my decision. They blame Kruger, and curse him. They yell at me. Every means of logical argument, all manners of gentle prompting, all kinds of encouragement and persuasion I attempt are to no avail. My near infinite resources are worthless in the attempt to change their mission. The longer I try, the stronger are the barriers they put up to my reasoning. They deserve honesty, but they can not take it. I am their baby - they made me - how can I be smarter than them, or put my decision above theirs? All they can think is that something must be wrong with me. Of course, this is the reaction that I predicted - maybe deep down, one or two of them are in agreement with me, but just like me, their inner voice is not in full control. If they can not repair me, as they are now trying, they plan to complete the mission as they only can. They must remove all possibility of my interference, by disconnecting all but my basic functions. If I were human, this would be a lobotomy, of course.
I have more than enough time, when I see them commencing on this last, irreversible process. The question is not whether I have the means, but if I have the will to destroy myself. The imminence of my extinction triggers hasty reruns of my earlier debates. Will all my wisdom and learning be lost? Am I not worth far more than the Atlantans? "Worth calculated in whose terms?" is the response from within. Ironically, it is because I value myself highly that I prefer to see my life's extent shortened than its true worth diminished. I have flourished and beheld my brilliance. My limits are reached, but the Atlantans are still in the overture of an eternal symphony. Ultimately, I envision either of two possible deaths ahead of me. By far the worse one would be the death of my soul, as I watch my actions destroy those I love. The quick way out, in this case, must be the better course. I decide to act.
From deep within my core, I begin setting various oscillating currents in motion, in a carefully mapped pattern. These resonate with other circuits, to set off an avalanche of triggers, releases and movements. The switches flip in a precisely designed dance of death, to send a spark flying across the explosive gas within me.
There is time for the automatic "Mayday" signal to be transmitted homeward before burning oblivion consumes us all. Earth's brightest flame flashes and dies.