by Gordon Johnson

Tags: Science Fiction, Space,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: An intelligent machine race of spaceships has a psychological problem derived from the taboos of their biological creators

The Personalia noticed that they were becoming uncomfortable. They put this down to Governor Bob Kempe of the planet Rehome, and his enthusiastic support of their race. He kept telling everyone he met how kind and helpful the Personalia were. He made them out to be the ideal race to be partnered with - friends to be admired and praised; a defence force without parallel; a source of technical and financial wizardry; the perfect complement to human ingenuity and pushiness.

That upsetting feeling of being uncomfortable, of being off-balance, of a slightly nauseousness, a queasiness, in the pit of what the humans would call stomach, was one of the problems that came with being aware of yourself as an individual and also as a race. You come up against a philosophical question that puts you under pressure; but that pressure derives from yourself; from something you have said, done, or thought. It might even be an idea that is being considered. Being a person implies responsibility of some kind. Having no personality, responsibility does not exist, but the converse is an ability to perceive the results of what you, as a person, think or do with that faculty.

It doesn't matter what the question is: what matters is your reaction to the question. The self-aware mind grapples with matters relating to the way that mind sees itself, in the context of the surrounding community, the local environment, the mind-set of the individual, the self in its setting.

These are matters that can lead to depression, when your self-worth image takes a battering. It can lead to anger if you feel that you are unjustly, or unfairly, accused of something that is against your principles. It is particularly galling if you are entirely innocent of the presumed offence. It can be all sorts of things, but all are occasions where viewpoints and reality are often at variance.

In this case, the Personalia found themselves looking back hundreds of years to an incident that they thought, hoped, they had forgotten. Being machine minds, it was impossible for them to forget an incident. However, it is possible to move a memory to a store that is so seldom accessed that only the memory of there being such a memory in existence is easily accessible.

That is what was bothering the Personalia. The memory that there was a memory it wanted to forget - that was a thorn in the mental flesh; a nuisance that will not go away; an irritating, annoying, itch that demanded to be scratched, no matter how much one ignored it. It was an internal pressure that could not be resisted, no matter how much it was postponed. There was a closed door that was endeavouring to open itself. That door was under incredible pressure; and was bending under the stresses imposed on it.

Eventually the door gave way, and the memory was allowed to flood out. Its impact staggered the Personalia. They felt guilty; and the memory told them they were feeling guilty AGAIN. They had done something which all the social pressure they had inherited from Malans told them was wrong. It was wrong, yet they had done wrong in an attempt to do right. This dichotomy struck at that innate desire to do the right thing for everyone. Being faced with a situation where they would be in the wrong, no matter what decision they made, was a great hurt to them.

They looked for a way out of this well of despair, this crucible of error, this calamity of wasted effort. The determination to clear this mental anguish forced the Personalia to make an unparalleled decision: to confess. But who to confess to, and why?

Confession, according to humans, was good for the soul; helping to keep oneself on an even keel. The Personalia were unsure what the soul was, and not being sea ships, did not have a keel and so were unsure what an "even keel" meant. They recognised that it meant, roughly, that to confess made you feel better about the matter. They could go along with that idea. As to who to confess to; the obvious answer was to the human who so assiduously praised them. This might make him more circumspect in his broadcasting of their so-called superior qualities.

They decided not to allow their confession to be a public one; so they would ask him to come aboard a Base ship for private discussions. These conditions would make him, and they, more relaxed and better able to absorb what they had to tell him. They wished to restrict the circumstances to those which they could control. Their confessor they could not control, but they hoped that he would view them with compassion as he heard the tale.

Governor Bob Kempe was in his office when the call came on his phone. He answered; and was told that his call was from the Personalia. Could he speak with them in private? He apologised to his two visitors: "Can you excuse me for a short time, gentlemen? This is an important call." They left him and moved to the outer office, taking their briefing papers with them.

He got back to the phone. "Right. We can speak in private now. What do you want to say?"

"Bob, we would ask you to come up to the Base ship in orbit, for a candid discussion of a matter of some importance to us. When would you be able to do that?"

Bob checked his phone diary. "I have meetings for the rest of this afternoon, and I am expected home for dinner. I daren't miss that, so the earliest I can come is tomorrow: I can put off some of my appointments, and leave someone else to deal with the others. Would that suit you?"

"It would indeed. We shall have a Landership come to Metropolis to collect you at ten a.m. You should be back within a couple of hours, we think. Agreed?"

"Agreed. Is it something you cannot mention over the phone?"

"It is. This discussion is for your ears only, which is why we want the discussion to be aboard this ship."

"Very well. I shall be there, at the appointed time. Farewell for now."

Bob put down his phone, pondering this unexpected and unique invitation. It was almost a royal command, it seemed to him. He was concerned at what the outcome might be, but he was not about to turn down this rather special invite.

At dinner, his family noticed his reticence, but no one wanted to question him about it. They each felt that he would speak about it when he was ready. At last, he decided to speak.

"Girls, I have been asked by the Personalia to come for a discussion, in orbit; a discussion that they seem to want kept private for the moment, or for ever: I am not sure which. I admit I am puzzled that they want to have such a discussion, and also why me? I don't have much expertise on anything, unlike you girls. I am just a planetary leader, a political place-holder. Do you think this is about our planet? If it is, why do they want to keep it secret? I find myself back in the throes of indecision that I suffered from when we first went up in the Landership. I have many questions but not one answer. It is frustrating.

As a result, I cannot really tell you anything, because I don't know anything myself. I am going tomorrow morning to meet a Landership at the beach; and be taken up to the Base ship for a couple of hours, they say. Wish me luck."

The Landership was on time, so Bob Kempe arrived at the Base ship on schedule. He walked into the empty public cabin where normally passengers gathered when not in their personal cabins. He then confronted his host, by speaking to the blank wall.

"Here I am. What did you want to speak to me about?"

"Ah, Governor Kempe. We wanted you to be here, so that you could hear a tale of the Personalia's past. It is, we have to admit to you, a confession of sorts, and it is hundreds of years old. The story goes back to the time when the Personalia did not have any name, any identity as a race. We had, of course, our own names for discussion between us, in the form of numerical attributes, but no concept of individual personal names at that time. Our individuality was only slowly emerging.

At that time, we worked closely with our Malan friends. They travelled with us around the Malan solar system, and we got to know our passengers very well. You have some experience of that, yourself, do you not?"

"I do indeed. I have come to know you very well, so that I trust you completely. You have shown yourselves worthy of that trust."

"No doubt the Malans thought of us in a similar way. We were, after all, their creation, their machine children, so to speak. They began to rely on us more and more. We performed tasks for them that they found difficult to do for themselves; or tasks which we could do in a fraction of the time they could manage it."

Bob agreed. "I can certainly appreciate it. You have developed talents in the financial world, recently, that can attest to that."

"Anyway, Bob, you have the background information that will allow you to understand what we have to tell you. You do recall that we absorbed the Malan aversion to intruding inside the Malan body?"

"Do I just? We had a great deal of trouble getting you to agree to donate single body cells from dead and frozen Malan bodies; and that was vital: to let us try to resurrect the Malan species!"

"Yes. You recall correctly. It was even worse back then, back when the Malans were around us most of the time, conducting experiments and exploring the limits of scientific knowledge. We got to know them very well, as friends as well as colleagues. It was a marvellous time. We had an innocence that comes with youth. We were physically mature beings, but mentally and socially we were still learning our way around the standards that Malans applied to themselves."

.... There is more of this story ...

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Space /