Sunday, May 28, 2023

“The Final Command” • by Matt Krizan

As Captain Liska rode the turbolift to the bridge of the science vessel Galileo, her executive officer fidgeted alongside her. Commander Quiller tapped the thumbs of his clasped hands together, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

“Something on your mind, Commander?” said Liska.

“Just not sure this mission's a good idea, sir.”

“Yes, you’ve made that quite clear. You may still opt out, if you’d like.”

“No, Captain. I’m with you, as always.”

Liska nodded, and Quiller settled into parade rest, gaze focused on the turbolift’s deck indicator light.

When the doors hissed open, they stepped onto the bridge.

“Good morning, AISA,” said Liska. “Status report.”

“All docking links have cleared. Engines are on standby,” replied the ship’s computer. “The Abernathy awaits your command, Captain Dascomb.”

Liska squeezed her eyes shut, suppressing a groan. “Very well,” she said, not bothering to correct AISA. “Back us out of the docking ring.”

Quiller shot her a dark look, but she ignored that too.


The third time Liska overrode AISA in the two hours since leaving the docking ring, manually correcting the ship’s course, she began to wonder if Quiller was right. AISA altering their flight path the first time hadn’t come as a surprise; such course changes had been happening with increasing frequency over the past three weeks. Liska hadn’t expected so many to happen so quickly, however.

“Is something the matter, Captain?” asked AISA. “Is our destination not Io?”

“We’re headed toward Sagitta,” said Liska, much as she had done the two previous times AISA had asked that question. “This is the Galileo, not the Abernathy.”

“The Galileo?” AISA emitted an electronic hiss, followed by a series of clicks. “Ah. Yes. My apologies, Captain. There would seem to have been some complications during the upload of my consciousness into the Galileo’s systems.”

Liska muttered something noncommittal, not bothering to point out that AISA had been fully integrated into Galileo’s systems for fifteen years.

“We are en route to Sagitta,” confirmed AISA. “I can resume helm control, if you would like.”

“No thank you, AISA. I’ll keep it on manual for now.”

Liska motioned Quiller over. As he leaned in, she whispered, “Go check on the homing beacons. Make sure they’re actively transmitting.” When he nodded and headed off, she muttered, “And let’s hope the Hauser is still tracking us.”


“Captain Liska?” said AISA. “Internal scans indicate the Galileo’s crew complement is the minimum necessary for normal operations, and I notice you are manning the helm yourself. My mission parameters are likewise sparse in comparison to those with which I am accustomed. Is there a reason for this?”

Liska hesitated, considering how to respond. The skeleton crew had been one of Command’s conditions when they’d reluctantly approved this mission. The “sparse” parameters, however, were Liska’s own doing.

“The purpose of the mission,” she said carefully, “has been classified Secret.”

“Even from me?”

Especially from you, Liska didn’t say.

AISA’s course changes, with her believing herself still to be integrated within her previous vessel, a military cargo hauler on the Jovian run, had been the first sign of something wrong with her. Other lapses had occurred in the subsequent weeks, with AISA referring to Liska as Captain Dascomb, the Abernathy's commanding officer, or with her reperforming sensor scans she’d already completed the day before. Over the past two weeks, AISA had repeatedly subjected Liska and Quiller to her observations on the Necklace Nebula, an unusual planetary nebula within Sagitta with which AISA was especially fascinated, so much so they could have repeated them verbatim.

While each of the other ship-based AIs of AISA’s generation had experienced similar degradations, for reasons the design engineers had been unable to determine, AISA’s decline was happening much quicker. Command had wanted her removed from service and a new AI uploaded into the Galileo’s systems, but Liska had persuaded them to allow AISA one last voyage. Given AISA’s increasingly frequent lapses into the past, AISA would probably forget this mission’s purpose even if Liska told her. Still, the captain felt it best to keep it to herself.

“Don’t worry, AISA. All will be revealed.”

Liska waited for a response, was surprised not to get one.


“Yes, Captain Dascomb?”

Liska shut her eyes, sighing heavily.


“Approaching Sagitta, Captain. Initiating a level-one survey of the Necklace Nebula.”

AISA’s pleased, almost eager, tone of voice brought a smile to Liska’s face, as had AISA’s delight when Liska assigned her the task. The smile was tinged with sadness, though. AISA gave no indication she remembered having performed the exact same survey six months ago.

Alongside Liska, Quiller sighed, his expression mirroring Liska’s mixed emotions.

“It was good you of you to do this, sir,” he murmured over the series of soft chirps AISA emitted while she worked. “My apologies for doubting you.”

“No apologies necessary.” Liska gave his forearm a squeeze. His fears about what could have gone wrong along the way had been valid, concerning Liska far more than she’d cared to admit.

“I must say, PN G054.2-03.4 is quite remarkable,” said AISA, referring to the Necklace Nebula by its official designation. “At its center was once a pair of orbiting stars, one of whom transitioned from main-sequence to red giant and devoured its counterpart. Before its eventual destruction, the counterpart actually orbited within the transitioning star.”

“You don’t say?” Liska traded smiles with Quiller.

“Indeed. And the colors we perceive, the red, green, and blue, result from the emission of specific elements.” As AISA continued, Quiller mouthed the words as she spoke them: “The red portion is comprised of nitrogen, the green represents oxygen, and the blue corresponds to hydrogen.”

Liska covered her mouth to hide her laughter.

As Quiller headed off to signal the Hauser and inform the trailing ship of their safe arrival, Liska settled in to wait. She listened, responding politely when appropriate, while AISA continued her survey.


“The rest of the crew have transferred over to the Hauser,” Quiller informed Liska quietly an hour later, “and the Galileo has been rigged for towing. We’re ready to, um…” He hesitated, glancing around as if AISA was standing right behind him. “We’re ready.”

Liska nodded, gritting her teeth. “Right.”

She listened for a moment longer as AISA chattered away happily, still fully engrossed in her survey. Liska had long ago ceased replying with anything more than the occasional murmur of acknowledgment, but AISA didn’t seem to mind.

With a sigh, Liska rose and crossed the bridge to the engineering workstation. She had wanted to wait until after they’d returned from Sagitta to take AISA offline, but Command had insisted it be done now. The one trip out had been risky enough, they’d said. As Liska input the necessary commands, a growing tightness gripped her chest. She hesitated, fingers hovering over the control panel.

“Captain?” said Quiller, coming up alongside her. “Would you like me to…?” He gestured toward the control panel.

“No.” Liska shook her head. “Thank you, Commander. This was my idea, after all.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

As Liska keyed in the final command, AISA’s voice cut off abruptly. A series of trilling chirps sounded before those, too, trailed off.

Liska lingered amid the heavy silence that hung over the bridge.

“Goodbye, AISA,” she murmured. 


Matt Krizan is a former certified public accountant who writes from his home in Royal Oak, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Factor Four Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Martian Magazine. Find him online at and on Twitter as @MattKrizan.

If you’d like to read more of Matt’s stories, we have lots more on this site, all at this link.


GuyStewart said...

Absolutely vintage was sweetly done and I felt sad at the end (even though I caught myself wondering if the computer hadn't taken over and they only THOUGHT they were turning her off...)

Thanks for this!

Guy Stewart