“General, I’m only just getting my head round the psychology of this situation—in fact he’s so far from human I don’t think even a year of talking would let us figure him out fully—but he’s had a lot of time to think about what he’s asking for here, and in his own mind there’s no budging him. With a human patient, reasoned argument or deal brokering would be useless. He’d have an answer ready for everything we tried. There’s usually one weak point in the armour though: guilt.”
“Suicidal patients often harbour huge guilt over whatever it is that’s set them on that path. Guilt over failure, guilt over weakness, or perceived weakness. They want to draw a line under their own life, to preserve an untainted image of what they used to be before the guilt affected them. Strange as it sounds, to carry on living, they have to learn to forgive themselves.”
“And you reckon that’s our way in? The way we’re going to crack him?”
It’s the way we’re going to help him, Jack wanted to say. Instead, he just said “Yes,” and hit the send button.
Jack Reiner has dealt with some messed-up people in his time. As a psychologist working for the US Military he’s encountered PTSD, behavioural instability, the works. His latest patient though promises to be his hardest: humanity’s first extraterrestrial contact, a sentient space probe millions of years old, traumatised after seeing one race after another — including its originators — annihilate themselves in wars and global catastrophes. It enters the solar system begging for help in ending its existence, but the personnel at the listening station have other ideas. The probe knows things that could propel humanity to a new technological age, and Jack’s job is to keep it alive, and keep it talking. But Jack is soon thrown into a game of psychological chess, battling something far more complex – and dangerous – than anyone had anticipated.
This story was my first attempt at the Writers of the Future contest, and what’s more it made it all the way to the finals. However it didn’t quite get all the way — that accolade would go to another story, Contact Authority, a couple of years later — and given the length of this story it was proving difficult to find a market elsewhere. So I decided to take the plunge and try self-publishing for the first time, putting this story up on Amazon (here) alongside a couple of others with similar Writers of the Future pedigree (Ascension, and Contact Authority itself).
Reviews and Accolades
02-Nov-2016: A highly complimentary review on Amazon:
…a thought provoking and original concept. I like the premise of an artificial intelligence losing its mind, this is fertile ground for a compelling story… This scenario has been posited in other works but never in quite this way. Recommended.