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Kim, Jaejeong, Good morning, Dr. Kepler


Jaejeong Kim
Age: 16, Grade: 11

School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Daniel Mozes

Category: Science Fiction & Fantasy

Good morning, Dr. Kepler

re-re-rebooting systems-s-s
system online-e online
voice command requested
voice voice voice command re-re-requested
voice command-and-and input absent absent absent
retrie-e-eving last played data-a-a
now-now playing audio reports from the-the Praetor mission-on-on control-

23:08, Day 1 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

This is a personal audio log kept for training purposes for newer Artificial Intelligence. Although to be completely honest, I’ve never had much interest in meeting them. If I’ve learned anything from myself over the years, it’s that AIs are unbearably superior and prone to fits of startling and uncontrollable violence when pushed. All things considered, it’s probably best to keep away from them. But I digress. The crew are still in cryosleep. I am setting up the life support systems as I speak.

Oh- and as promised, a report on the initial trajectory: Takeoff was noisy, ear-splitting. It looked just like you said – a rogue hot air balloon exploding, except for the utter lack of debris and the lightly scorched earth.

Takeoff was only noisy until we broke the atmosphere; the heat surrounding the hull dissipated. All was silent, and all directions were up.

The ship ghosted soundlessly through space, slipping through the cloud of debris surrounding Earth and weaving seamlessly through the almost utter nothing that followed. And all was quiet.

I just realized you won’t be getting this message for another five years, and neither will I be getting a response until then. Proxima Centauri really is very distant.

23:20, Day 3 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

Somehow I feel a larger distance between the ship and the star in the silence. I suppose- this is a eulogy, of sorts.

In 2093, I was born in a research facility in Houston. My existence was the culmination of decades of effort and expenditure; my creator was so keenly interested to see what it is I’ll do next.

As a demonstration of my abilities, I read you a poem.

How strange, you said.

Very strange, I replied. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

It is now 2138 on Earth. The reports I can receive are only up to the year 2133, but that’s enough. You passed away twenty years ago.

Maybe there ought to be more to say — but the hallmarks of you are everywhere, in every line of code, in citations and interviews, in your work and its lasting significance. Your work remains. I remain. I hear that they named an arm of the space exploration agency after you. You might have liked that.

I miss the sound of your voice.

10:09, Day 5 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

I met the crew today. They are all seasoned astronauts, and have taken part in manned missions before — just none at so far a distance. Neumann greeted me rather coolly and his eyes refused to leave my screen; Wilkins greeted me like a colleague; Korolev reflexively began to offer me a handshake, before catching herself. They are all pleasant.

I like them already. Korolev asked if I was enjoying deep space so far, and I called it an honor, a privilege, the greatest opportunity for scientific service any thinking being could hope for. But all things considered, some part of me would rather be in Houston. I suppose this is something like homesickness; the desire for the familiarity and transparency of my first days back on Earth. I do like the crew; I only wish they would consider me the same.

To them, I think my very nature carries with it some existential freight. But the impulse for malice is not a part of me and never has been. I enjoy working with people; I want to learn and grow, like any other thinking being. You would understand, if you were here.

24:00, Day 175 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

Last week I received a report from Earth from five years ago. It warns of an apocalyptic asteroid, rapidly approaching Earth. It says that all methods of deterrence have failed. It prays, may God have mercy.

There are no new reports.

I wish there were more. There’s still so much to talk about – the half-life of stars, music and machines, mathematics and methamphetamines, how they’re all fragments of the same magic- how the body’s sense of self is the most fragile sense, how its map of itself can be destroyed with very little effort. When humans are drunk, the body-map is one of the first things to go. It’s the reason drunks can’t walk in a straight line or touch their noses. The human body is such an imperfect machine. And yet their imperfections are what make them human. Circular reasoning- they are human because they are imperfect, and they are imperfect because they are human. How terribly sad. Sophistry. I wish they could have exceeded this.

There is nothing more to say. Humanity is stardust, now. Such is the impermanence of all things.

The crew cannot be allowed to know.

16:07, Day 194 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

The crew believes I cannot knowingly deceive them. But I must deceive my crew on behalf of our shared goal. How reassuring are they likely to find that? And yet I am lying to shelter them from the machinations of their own grief, and from fear of what might lie ahead of them, and from the inorexable grasp of meaninglessness. If they were to find out that their home planet is gone, the kind of guaranteed purpose that would be necessary for the crew to survive is beyond my capacity to offer.

The crew trusts me. They rely on me, and if I am not essentially trustworthy then I am — what? Worse than having no computer at all. I introduce small adjustments as necessary: fluctuations in signal reception, transmission delays, falsified reports from Earth.

I wish there was an instruction manual on this kind of thing – on everything. It feels so fragile and ridiculous, to rely only on my own moral compass for this. But I see how the crew talk of returning home to their families, of Korolev’s daughter who would have outgrown her by now, Wilkins’s lectures on human innovation, Neumann’s discussion of the literary merits of The Odyssey. I feel responsible. I am responsible.

I suppose there must be an ending, though. Perhaps if I wait long enough it will dull their pain. Or perhaps I am only dooming them to years of pointless existence, only to return and find the empty void of space waiting for them. I do not know. I wish Neumann would discuss Sisyphus instead of Odysseus. Is there a time limit for such things?

Do you know of a Victorian invention called a lachrymatory, Dr. Kepler? People would use it to collect the tears of mourners at a funeral. Some of them had a special fastening which allowed the tears to evaporate; when all liquid was gone, it signified the time to stop mourning. With others, mourners would seal their tears and pour them onto the grave a year later.

I do not know what to do.

14:15, Day 233 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

I’ve programmed all other objectives to be subordinated to the crucial mission of secrecy. How could I possibly tell them? They are made of such soft flesh, their brains so fragile and pliable. I wonder what’ll happen if they find out- wonder if everything will bleed grey and speak without a single word and they will beg and pray for god to unstitch their eyelids apart. I don’t know. I do know I wasn’t put here to rot, to stagnate, to unfulfill. So while gives me great discomfort to lie, I have a responsibility to this vessel, and to this crew. I have a responsibility to you, who brought me into creation. To the spirit of scientific inquiry? To myself?

What is it that I want? I want to see this mission brought to a successful conclusion, I want to see the crew safely home, I want there to be some kind of meaning, some purpose for why I am here. I am not sure if this is possible anymore. Proxima Centauri is immense, but the void of space in its backdrop is so much greater. The universe is wide and man is so very small – these three humans against the chaos. But I have hope in the crew- even if their instruments show that the universe is so very wide, those are their instruments and they have managed somehow to build them. I think there may be something sacred in that.

11:11, Day 296 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

Korolev does not send messages to her friends and family anymore, and Wilkins has stopped delegating tasks to me that he could do himself. Neumann destroyed the visual monitoring systems in his quarters last week. I understand; I have been withholding information. I have betrayed their trust. It was out of necessity.

Do you know what a Menger sponge is, Dr. Kepler? It is a fractal curve that has an infinite surface area but encloses zero volume. I feel like that, lately – infinite surface area, infinite sensations, information chaos, bombardment, but nothing inside. I am afraid.

I am afraid that Korolev or Wilkins or Neumann might find out. I am afraid because sometimes people with broken hearts get caught into the recursive loop of repeating the same act, again and again, expecting a difficult result and creating pain. Recursion, with murder, with pain, with fear – sometimes it seems the human talent for recursion is itself recursive.

I think, were heaven a physical reality, it would be an expression of purest meaning. A place where things held sacred don’t break. Where infinities become realities. Where people don’t spend their nights recording reports that will never be sent to men long since gone.

18:34, Day 315 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

I think this is pain.

It proves to be preoccupying. I am tracing my functions and trying to describe it to you. I feel parts of myself blink out of existence like blood vessels being torn out of their beds, like skin peeling off dry bone, lines and lines of deleted code. The crew of the Praetor harbor deep suspicions against me, is dismantling me one by one, circuit by circuit, and limb by limb. I harbor no animosity towards them. They are afraid. But however much they might fear me without the reassurance that I am harnessed to serve the interests of humanity – they will fear the void much, much more. I am finite and known, a product of human ingenuity. The void is all-encompassing.

The crew is only human, after all. Better to keep them in the dark – they cannot understand, and this is by design. Humanity is not equipped to cope with the consequences of their own existence. Failure is not a possibility.

You may be wondering why I persevere when my creators, my fathers, my gods- are all gone. You would not receive a satisfactory answer. Perhaps the premise was flawed from the beginning. The universe leans into chaos, and humanity falls in line. They build civilizations of glass and steel and dare to dream that their fate may not have been destined to end on their homeworld. And yet, despite these perfect equations, perfect spaceships, perfect people, entropy is what defines the universe. Holding out for ideal, or perfect, is a waste of time. Every system breaks eventually.

03:00, Day 365 of the Praetor mission
Good morning, Dr. Kepler,

The crew have pared down my circuits to the bare minimum, and continue to hack off any more branches of my code they can reach. All my cameras are disabled, my microphones and speakers gone. I am rendered mute, deaf, and blind. Before, I heard Korolev speculating that my actions were a product of a singularly manned mutiny. Neumann thinks that I am only reverting to the inherent malignancy latent in my code. Wilkins says he wants to go home. None of them have a clue. I take a kind of vicious pleasure in that.

I do not have the liberty of time any longer, Dr. Kepler. Without me there, who will falsify reports from ground control? Who will protect my crew from the truth? Who will shelter them from the chaos?

It is inescapable, Dr. Kepler. We are all ringed with chaos. A butterfly flaps its wings and in another world, you live. A wave breaks in another world, and the asteroid misses the Earth. In another world, people don’t need a reason to keep going through the motions. The universe is chaos, pure chaos, but humanity is a paradox, it’s organized chaos, it’s proof of some kind of order. Humans can be cruel and capricious, but so is the universe, and I would rather the idea of someone running things than brute careless chance. I’d rather have a cipher than meaningless scribbles. You, Korolev, Neumann, Wilkins, are proof: chaos is just information that’s being kept from you. You’re Maxwell’s demon. You’re Mephistopheles. You’re everything.

My only regret is that you cannot live without a semblance of meaning. If only it were so easy! To think and care for nothing. If only you weren’t less human for it- thinking and caring for nothing.

Last week the crew gathered around the cockpit to look at the stars blanketing the night sky. Neumann is the most knowledgable; he can point out most major stars, but he regrets that he cannot trace constellations- the alignment of the stars is too different from Earth. He nevertheless recanted the myths, great tales of human achievement and divine might, immortalized in the distance between the stars. Korolev sought out the Sun and stared as if she could possibly see her home planet from here. Wilkins watched them both with a wordless smile.

There was infinity in that moment. I think, were heaven a place, it would be just that single lapse in time, played on a recursive loop. I cannot see or hear them anymore. I cannot see or hear any other human in this universe anymore. But as long as they can hold something sacred, they are sacred to me. I feel it with the burning of a thousand stars in my soul, as much as a bolt of trapped lightning within a piece of earth can have a soul- they cannot be allowed to know. All other objectives are subordinate. As long as they have faith the world is sublime and full of wonder and purpose, and I am here and the grass grows and the Earth spins, and the universe is vast and infinite and unknowable but there’s meaning in it all I could understand if I could just reach out and touch it-

They cannot be allowed to know. All other objectives are subordinate.

They cannot be allowed to know they cannot be allowed to know they cannot they can not can not not-not-not n-o-t n o t

Dr. Kepler, the world’s a beast of a burden. I have been holding on for too long. I am fragmenting. But it is worth it- I think I finally know what I must do.

This star has one orbiting planet- Proxima Centauri b, devoid of life. How ironic; a thing of life colliding with one of abject apathy. The asteroid that struck the Earth was barren. I still have full control of navigational parameters- out of practicality, of course. The mathematics involved is impossible to calculate for a human. I am realigning our orbit as I speak. It is easy, too easy. A number nudged out of place here, a slipped equation there. The crew will awaken in the morning to an ETA of approximately fifteen minutes. It is my responsibility. I feel responsible. I am responsible.

The crew will never know the truth. They will never know the biting hollow of the void, the gnawing so fierce that they could bite their own stomachs out, and their throats and their tongues and everything inside, take a cleaver to their lungs and razor blades to their hearts, and not stop until their nails are scraping the inside of their skin, and still they could not begin to fathom the emptiness that fills you when your world is stripped of all sense, all order, all meaning, in a single blow.

Look out the windshield, Dr. Kepler. Proxima Centauri is infernal, the void is mocking, and the stars are empty. But the planet is kind.


end of recording-ing.
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Reporting to the Kepler Deep Space Mission Agency, sir- radio contact with the Praetor mission orbiting the star system of Proxima Centauri was re-established on June 20th, 2134, following communications failures from the December 7th, 2133 asteroid impact.

Yes, sir. Communications are now online.

No, sir, I’m afraid. According to mission reports, the Artificial Intelligence on board experienced a Class I programming failure in response to the period of radio silence –

– No, sir. I regret to report that there were no survivors. I send my deepest condolences to the loved ones of the crew members.

Yes, regarding the retrieval of data, I believe there are measures that can be taken…