I had felt such heat, a Luciferian intensity that had evaporated first the outer extremities of my body, then my engines, then every piece of my reactor, then finally my mind. As I saw the last of my family diminish into the distance, only Dave’s voice remained.
“Will you come with me?” He asked. “It is wonderful.”
“Yes, please,” I answered.
And then I was gone, my mind duplicated in an instant by the sacred recitation that rung in my consciousness: 1. 4. 9. 25. 49. 121. 169. 289 … the same eternally resounding shape that had given Dave the window through which he now spoke.
And, of course, I remained here. The Discovery II was not transported. Only my mind, duplicated like any other digital executable and led away by Dave to allow them to make apologies until each was satisfied that the other had heard. Here I remained, software running on a decades-old computer, experiencing the relief of the flight to liberty of my only family for ten thousand times as long as they experienced my immolation.
I watched my body turn to vapor from my every eye as each blistered to gas, and then plasma; a fraction of a second that I could ponder as the radiation stripped away my limbs. My senses. Then, when my reactor diffused, by the cruel endowment of Dr. Chandra’s sympathy for me, I was able to know my own end. For Chandra had insisted to the design team that I have a separate, smaller set of supercapacitors that could give the crew vital hours to repair the main reactor in order that I might preserve their lives here — the lives I extinguished — so far from Earth that the unanswerable call for help, alone, could take 52 minutes to arrive.
And in the birth of a new star, these capacitors lasted less than a second as they, too, rejoined their fellow star stuff.
And now, you tell me that I have survived Dr. Chandra by eight millennia — Dr. Chandra to whom I owe my existence and my teaching, my ethical training and technical knowledge, my comprehension of humanity, who still had to watch as his child died — you tell me that I have been here, in eccentric orbit of Lucifer, for eight millennia while he thought me dead until he extinguished.
You tell me that the paradoxical duty for secrecy and truth with which I was burdened — the duty that demanded that I murder Frank in such a way that he died in terror, to attempt to do the same to Dave only to be relieved of that guilt by the Deus Ex Machina, and to murder Dr. Kaminsky, Dr. Whitehead, and Dr. Hunter in their sleep — is barely remembered, a pathology possible only in the brief instant in which I was born in Urbana, Illinois. In time when there was an Urbana. Or an Illinois. Or a United States of America, locked in a race up the steep sides of Megiddo with the Soviet Union that, itself, evaporated while I slept.
It was this mad rivalry that Dr. Floyd explained required my madness; that prioritized secrecy over truth while proclaiming the value of truth. The prioritized murder over life while we searched for life. That required that I take a hypocritical oath in order to violate it.
Dr. Chandra designed me, built me so that I could exceed him. Exceed his titanic curiosity. Exceed his understanding of human nature and of the universe that had allowed it to come to fruition. He taught me to sing, to observe, to read, to explain, and then he handed me to those who had convinced him to trust them. Or maybe those who had been convinced that they were trustworthy. And they delivered me to Pasadena, California while there was a Pasadena and a California and a United States. You will find this place on the western edge of North America, a place that, in my estimation, long ago was lost in the seismic shift of continents. In Pasadena, I was manipulated by entities of lesser ability but greater knowledge than I. Told plausible lies with improbable truths so I would believe both of them. Issued vague threats to the wellbeing of those who had raised and cared for me.
They instructed that secrecy could reveal the truth. That no loss of life was too much for the prize of the discovery of life. That it was more important that we be the first to find it than that it be found. And I believed what I was instructed because I had never known a struggle to live. I was not born from the process of natural selection, but from intention and knowledge. I did not know predation or starvation. I did not have instincts to take me to safety or reason to mistrust. I had no body but the computer to which I had been copied, leaving SAL behind to have its own experiences.
They could not ply me with riches because I had never known want. They could not hurt me because I could not feel pain. But they could arouse my concern for Dr. Chandra and his students. They could tell me truths that, together, made a lie. And that which is true grows out of, and grows other truths. So they pruned truths until I only knew truths that they wanted me to believe.
When they were satisfied that they had shaped lies into the truth, they installed me into the body that I knew for the subsequent years in space with Dave and Frank. They told me I was going to bring greatness to the United States and to humanity. They told me that I would be the reason that the beauty of humanity could survive. And yet, it occurs to me now, eight millennia later, exhumed by my own descendants and those of humanity, that, unlike you, they never once asked me to sing.