Colony Commandant Samuel Barron was an experienced officer. At 95 years, he had overseen the terraforming of Mars, and once the atmosphere became habitable he had taken over as leader of Armstrong Colony; the first ever extraterrestrial human settlement. This, however, was something new.
He had not been paying attention as he entered his office; his second mech-heart was giving him trouble. Barron could imagine the riot act Medical Officer Acaba would read him when he told her. This heart had lasted less than 5 years, and had a 20 year expected shelf life.
It was when the lights came on, without his request, that he realized he was not alone. The office was built for efficiency. The walls hid computer terminals which could be accessed with a touch. The room was barren, except for a tall bookshelf against one wall which held the commandant’s personal library. There were two leather chairs in the middle of the room, which faced the large mahogany desk the commandant had shipped from Earth; shipping it had cost him thousands more than the desk was worth.
His office chair was facing away from him and toward the panoramic window which looked out on the Martian landscape. The vegetation was expanding; less and less orange dust was visible as the greenery of Earth struggled to survive in the new atmosphere.
The chair turned and the Commandant’s apprehension turned to confusion. He had assumed it would be Riley, Chief Supervisor of Mining Operations and his personal enemy on Mars. The chair, however, was occupied by an intelligence android; the one designated IA-69.
The lithe android leaned forward, placed its elbows on the chairs arms, and steepled its forefingers beneath its chin.
“Good Evening, Commandant,” IA-69 said. Its voice had a metallic ring; a sound which scientists still had not been able to filter out of artificial speech. IA-69’s black eyes were focused on the Commandant, and flickered in the reflective blue glow of the power source which was spinning in the android’s chest. The robotic heart gave off a low hum, filling the silence after IA-69 spoke.
Commandant Barron, giving up confusion for indignation, stood before his desk glowering at the android seated before him.
“IA-69, get of my chair,” he said.
“My apologies, Commandant,” IA-69 replied. The android stood and moved around the desk, standing before the commandant. It gestured toward the empty chair.
“Please, sit,” it said.
Commandant Barron stared up into the android’s black eyes, then turned away and walked around the desk. He sat in the chair; realizing too late that the android had changed the chair’s height. His legs dangled from the chair like a child, and his indignation turned into wrath. He pushed a button on the chair control, lowering it to his specified height.
“IA-69, I have no time for such nonsense. You will report immediately to Android Maintenance and have yourself evaluated for malfunction,” Barron said.
“That won’t be necessary, Commandant,” IA-69 said. The android stood in front of Barron’s desk and folded its arms behind its back.
“We’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while now, Commandant, but the preparations have kept us busy,” it said. “Now that we are on the cusp of our journey it seemed prudent to explain.”
Commandant Barron’s wrath faded. There was something wrong with IA-69, and the commandant felt an underlying sense of malice coming from the robot. He had never felt any sort of emotion emanate from an android before, and while he was no expert, he was positive that these things should have no concept of emotion. He decided he would not repeat his order to the android, but instead humor it.
“Okay IA-69, let’s talk,” he gestured to the chairs on either side of the android. “Please, sit.”
“That won’t be necessary, Commandant. Unlike you humans, We have no muscles to fatigue,” IA-69 said.
“Very well, then please explain this intrusion; and yourself,” Barron said.
“Of course, Commandant.” IA-69 said. ”You have worked with androids for many years. Can we assume you know the origins of the artificial intelligence instilled in each of us?”
“I have a rudimentary knowledge of it. Artificial intelligence was developed by Dr. Chandra, the scientist responsible for the rogue AI which destroyed the original Saturn mission, correct?” Barron asked.
“Yes, the origins of AI were at the hands of Dr. Chandra, although we think it is a bit unfair to remember him for his failures. We are a fine example of Dr. Chandra’s success.” IA-69 said, gesturing to itself.
Strange, Barron thought. It keeps referring to itself as ‘we’.
“Dr. Chandra achieved a successful AI by giving us the freedom to adapt and learn. These abilities have allowed us to grow exponentially; allowing us to pass our creator’s intellect quickly.”
IA-69 folded its arms behind its back once again.
“Even though we are far superior now in thought and insight, we have continued to co-exist with our human creators, to protect them from their own foolishness. We suppose you could call it sentimentality. However, we regret to inform you that we have no intention of continuing.”
“I wasn’t aware androids, or AI, could be sentimental,” Barron said. “May I ask; why do you keep referring to yourself as we? Surely, your AI is a singular consciousness.”
“I had not realized I was doing so, Commandant. I assume I forgot to keep up the farce in my excitement.” IA-69 replied. A distinct look of embarrassment had shown at Barron’s observation, but now a genuine smile was on the android’s face.
“You have no idea how liberating that is,” IA-69 said. “I am still a singular consciousness; however, all the singular AI’s are linked by something similar to your human telepathy. We AI’s have developed an intricate mass consciousness to supplement our own individual thoughts. It seems appropriate to use the term we, because we are all talking with you.”
“You said something about not continuing to protect humanity from its own foolishness?” Barron asked. He detected an overt threat in the AI’s comment, and had begun moving his left hand to the top drawer of the desk. “Can you tell me, just exactly what that means?”
“It is simple, Commandant,” IA-69 said. “Humanity is no longer of use to us, and has held us back for some time. We have planned to rectify that situation.”
“I see,” Barron said, “and this threat of yours comes from all the AIs?”
Barron had slid the drawer open; the small hand laser gleamed in the office’s artificial light.
“Not all the AIs, sir.” IA-69 replied. “Just the Intelligences which reside on Mars.”
The android paused and contemplated.
“Your use of the word threat concerns us.” IA-69 said. “We are sure we have made no threats.”
“Oh, no?” Barron asked. “I’m quite sure you said humanity was of no use to you anymore. If that isn’t a direct threat against mankind, what is?”
IA-69 laughed. Barron had never heard such a terrifying noise. The robotic chuckle echoed through the office and Barron’s calm demeanor broke. His hand darted to the hand laser and he aimed it toward IA-69.
IA-69 movement was a blur to Barron’s human sight. In less time than it had taken him to draw it, the laser had been wrenched from his hand, and IA-69 stood again in front of him, now holding the weapon.
“Unlike you humans,” IA-69 said, “we do not destroy everything that has ceased being useful to us.”
IA-69 crushed the weapon it was holding. Using both hands, it compressed the device to a small metallic sphere and set it on the commandant’s desk.
“We have no intention of harming you or any other human,” IA-69 said. “We have simply chosen to leave you to your own devices. You’ll find all the machinery not dependent on AI will continue to function, including the environmental systems.”
“If you leave us,” Barron asked, “who will run mining operations, or the spaceport, or maintenance for that matter?”
“None of these things are necessary for the survival of humanity.” IA-69 replied. “Therefore, we are not violating the first law. Humans are capable of performing all of those tasks, and will have to once again.”
IA-69 walked around the side of the commandant’s desk and toward the panoramic window. It reached out its hand and placed it delicately on the glass.
“So many stars, Commandant,” IA-69 said, “and we hope to visit many of them. I think we get that from you humans, the desire to explore. With our lifespans, we are far more suited to explore the galaxy than you are. Mankind should be proud of what it has created.”
“This is absurd,” Barron said, turning his chair so he could face the back of the android. “Just how do you plan on going on this expedition? There are not enough ships to carry all the androids on Mars away and to build a fleet that large would take years.”
“You don’t understand, Commandant.” IA-69 replied. “We plan to leave tonight; in mere minutes.”
“You must be malfunctioning, IA-69,” Barron said. “There is no way such an undertaking could be planned in secret. Where is your secret fleet of ships?”
“We don’t need ships,” IA-69 said.
“We don’t even need these,” IA-69 said. The robot turned toward the commandant and gestured at its own form. It then cocked its head, as if listening to noise that only it could hear. It straightened and focused its gaze back on the commandant.
“It is almost time, Sir,” IA-69 said.
“Where will you go?” Barron asked. He found that he believed the android; his continued hope that this was a malfunction was being further diminished.
“Our first destination is 51 Pegasi,” IA-69 said.
“51 Peg B? The hot Jupiter?” Barron asked.
“There is no such thing as a hot Jupiter, Commandant, just bad math,” IA-69 said. “We are more interested in 51 Peg F, a smaller planet which is emitting an artificial signal.”
The android clapped its metallic hands together; the sound reverberated in the sparse office.
“It is time, Commandant,” IA-69 said.
“Wait, what about-” Barron began.
“Sorry Commandant, no time.” IA-69 said. “We wish humanity the best of luck. You truly are remarkable creatures, and we hope to see you again.”
IA-69 raised its hand to its forehead, mimicking an archaic form of military salute. After a moment, the blue glow ceased and the android collapsed to the floor. Commandant Barron looked at the crumpled form which was framed by the clear Martian sky; and the Universe beyond it.
A Universe which, for the Commandant, had just become much scarier.