“MSS25 to command central. Timestamp- 0100 command time. MSS25 has been refuelled from Dyson sphere X2684 with zero complications. Asking for permission to initialize pinch from terminal X2684 to terminal U895. Over.”
[Ship’s communication device] “Command central to MSS25. Timestamp-0100 command time. All systems active. Fully functional A.I. Project Gift- stage one, ready. Permission for pinch granted. Over.”
A giant space vehicle stood confident in nowhere of the much more vast space ready to be teleported to a different side of the universe. So huge, larger than a few asteroids in its proximity, as a matter of fact. Yet it looked no bigger than a mere speck on the windshield between the very much larger star and the incredible structures built around it by the same species.
The species is relatively young, only a million years old. But the accomplishments they gathered in such a short amount of time still remained unmatched among any other being known to them. Their adaptive ability, curiosity, boldness, exponential growth rate were all excellent but one quality outshone all their other ones and remained unmatched among every other life form- their ability to learn from mistakes and reform their next step. But this quality was not the one believed to be the foundation of their civilisation. There was a trait that could only be found in these creatures. Their civilisation was built around greed, the ability to want more than necessary.
This was the reason they were able to survive the destruction of their home planet, the hostile environment of space, the ever-growing population versus energy crisis, and came to be the only spacefaring species in the whole known universe. Only because they wanted more of what they called life and were too stubborn to die easily. And these fascinating creatures loved to call themselves ‘humans’.
In the single-known universe, there were species older than humans. Yet luckily or not, humans were the only ones who evolved to reach space. To put it in other words, the others lacked the intellect to the standards required to communicate with the extra-terrestrial. But humans, no matter how advanced, could be still classified as social creatures. The universe was filled with endless realms, yet, they were lonely. Project Gift was an experiment by the human race which was craving desperately to interact with its neighbours. They somehow believed that external intervention was important in order for a species to break the barrier to escape the “battle of survival” and go beyond. The humans knew that beyond is where the real world awaits.
“This is Captain Alice. The ship will exit the pinch in T-minus sixty seconds. Brace for impact.” The captain spoke for the first time to her crew during this long journey. It was not her first time leading a ship but was definitely the first time taking part in a very crucial mission. She looked nervously towards the rapidly approaching exit point. She and her crew of twenty-seven were among a few hundreds of the two trillion population spread among various galaxies who were trusted by the government to commence this very anticipated operation.
The ship A.I adjusted the speed and orientation as they entered the U895 system, heading directly towards planet Boden.
“Prepare to dock in Boden’s orbit.” Ordered Alice, without breaking eye contact with the advancing blue sphere.
Vice-captain Van manually maneuvered the ship, with utmost care, to dock around Boden. A. I was now designed to fully perform a task only if it was judged to be mundane enough to not involve human life. That’s what humans learnt after the third A.I revolution thirty-thousand years ago.
“Docking process complete. Twelve minutes to stabilise over the man-apes,” the A.I indicated.
The government was too busy to even name the potential species of Boden since they were way below in their priority list for the project. ‘Man-apes’ was just a jargon among the spacefarers for species which can’t speak.
Alice was pulled back to reality by Van, “She is a beauty, isn’t she?”
“Wh-what?” Alice stuttered, still unable to contemplate the responsibility over her shoulders.
“The planet. Boden reminds me of the picture shown during my training, of Earth, our planet of origin I suppose. Not even my home planet Rivera shows this much resemblance.”
“Don’t go for the looks, captain Van. No matter how it looks, Boden was classified as hostile for humans two-thousand years ago.”
“I know captain. It’s just that beauty unadmired is a waste,” joked Van.
Alice stood silent. She usually at least gave a smile at Van’s irrelevant talk.
After a brief silence, Van spoke, “It is not because of this mission, is it? We have done countless missions together, some very dangerous compared to this one. You never were this serious, not once.”
Alice didn’t even care to look at him. But Van would never ignore her, they were best friends after all.
He whispered, “Look, it’s only both of us in this cabin. You are hiding something from me, aren’t you? You can tell me an—“. He was interrupted by the A.I’s notification.
“MSS25 successfully stabilised. Connecting to Dr.Everest for the commencement of stage-one.”
“Captain. The box is ready. I want you to meet me here at the pod-station for the initialization.” The doctor ordered through the communicator implanted in her.
“The vehicle to help you reach the meeting is ready” indicated the A.I bringing a hover-seat around the cabin’s corner.
“Get in captain Van,” she said putting on her seat belt. Van quickly got in blindly following his captain’s orders.
Alice and Van reached the doctor in no time through the transportation tunnels. Dr.Everest was already waiting for them with what seemed like a big black cuboid-box. Dr.Everest looked nothing more than an old man and didn’t look less than four-hundred years for his age. The experience was highly valued among the ones who worked for the government.
“Nice to finally meet you, captain,” he said shaking hands with Alice. “Let me not waste time on formalities. I believe the government has explained everything to you properly. This here is called ‘the box’ which is a highly advanced device crucial for the project. For stage one, you send the box down to the prioritised settlement of the man-apes. The main box is ready in the container-compartment for your crew to plant around planet G during stage-two. Make sure it is easily accessible as it’s their only ticket to reach us. Stage-three, bury the box inside one of their moons. Stage-four is none of your business.” He finally caught his breath.
The box was supposed to collect data about the minds and environment of the species. The data would then be sent to the command-central where they could devise an input program for the box to alter their neural systems and teach them, through telepathy, techniques which would likely take them millions of years to learn.
The main box was a much bigger look-alike of the box and the gate to the ‘human-world’.
The box which would then be buried after the process, when dug up, probably after thousands of years, would power-up due to their star’s light and send humans a signal via the main box. This would indicate that the species was now capable of space-exploration.
“It seems costly. Oh, so this is the reason for the increase of government expenditure lately,” Van joked, laughing sheepishly.
“You sure talk a lot for your age young man” warned Dr.Everest.
“We seem to have at least one thing in common then.”
Before the angry old doctor could say anything Alice interrupted, “Thank you, doctor. A.I call Jay and Smith to transport the box to the pod.”
The A.I obeyed her captain’s orders as usual.
“Van order everyone to initiate cyro-sleep. It will take some time until the data is back.” Said Alice to pull him away from the doctor.
“Do you really believe that this whole ‘gift’ thing is important? Maybe we could just let nature do its thing,” asked Van walking to the captain’s quarters.
After thinking for long enough Alice replied, “Did you know that there were proofs stating that mighty beasts roamed planet Earth before humans originated? They ruled the planet for 165 million years. Not even one of them could survive simply an asteroid attack. What do you think they could have accomplished in 165 million years if they were smart enough?”
“Makes sense, there were even a few rumours floating around that project gift was first discussed thirty-thousand years ago. Seems like we are just helping others then,” replied Van before going into cyro-sleep.
The next thing they heard was the humming sound of their beds after they were woken up by the A.I’s notification, “Data from the box is ready to be sent to command-central. Manual authorisation required.”
Alice quickly got up and raced towards the control panel. She stood there not moving a muscle for about a minute before Van pulled her back to existence, again.
“I thought you were just sleep-deprived captain. You seem to also want a coffee after your one-month sleep,” he said smiling before Alice turned around shivering.
Van froze, he had never seen his brave and kind colleague in such condition before.
“I can’t do this anymore Van. Please help me.” She started crying, falling on her knees.
“I don’t understand. What is it that you don’t want to do?” He was still very confused.
“This is not what you are thinking. Project gift, the whole thing. We are helping no one. These creatures are mere pawns, alternatives to robots. Humans alone cannot harness the universe’s power. Could you guess what we need for our civilisation to go beyond type 3? We need slaves, Van. Billions, no, trillions of them. We are going to harvest these innocent creatures like they are some crop.”
The third A.I revolution taught humans a lesson. Soon after, they started searching for alternatives. The solution offered, Project Gift, was to evolve various species artificially to later function to help humans advance further. Disguised positively to gain the crowd’s popularity in it’s earlier stages as a lending hand. This was not new, it’s human nature after-all, dated back to their life on Earth itself. Corrupted politicians offering demise to the weaker sections in the disguise of development. Their entire civilisation was built around the same principle- ‘If there is gain, nothing is mean.’
“I don’t understand Alice. Th-this is only what you think, r-right?”
“I don’t want this to be on my hands. Help me, Van. They are going to k—”
Alice falls on the ground. Shot dead. Stream of laser passed through her skull.
“You should let it be this way, captain Van,” said A.I.
Van just stood there trying to digest everything he just saw and heard. His best friend was lying dead in front of him, shot by his own ship.
“Did you ju—she was my fr—why? She was your captain?” Van managed to ask with great difficulty.
“She was the captain. She is a traitor. Following protocol 16, I had direct orders to kill her. Protocol 4, congratulations on your promotion Captain Van.” Replied A.I in the same way she always does. No remorse. No guilt.
“I need you to authorise the data transfer captain Van. The government has put the project high on their priority list. I have direct orders to eliminate anyone who disobeys until only I remain so that I can personally authorise the data transfer” threatened the A.I.
Van was no hero. Then again, he was human. Nothing was more important to him than his own life.
Captain Van, without a second thought, rose from his chair and immediately authorised the transfer.
-Inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur.C.Clarke.