Will Anomaler

Mechanical Ship

The ship sailed to the edge of the world, and found corpses.


———————————————————————————
———————————————————————————


It was a bright night. The full moon was high up in the heavens, with the twinkle of an infinity of stars as well as the pale spot of the Milky Way casting a soft glow unto the dark waves. The water, dark as pure coal, flowed at the whims of a slight breeze; the wind creating ripples in the otherwise flat surface. It was in this forgotten spot of the ocean, as far away to land as one could get, that the water was disturbed by a foreign object. A ship. The behemoth made out of metal slowly cruised the seas, its iron hull creaking from its own weight as its long shape sailed along, multicolored crates creating shadows in its deck. In said vessel, only the quiet hum of the monstrous engine was felt, as no human piloted it. The artificial intelligence, located in the proverbial bridge of the ship as an incredibly complicated program in the code of a complex computer, constantly checked itself as well as the state of the vessel.



Said artificial intelligence was content with its purpose. It had been built with nothing else in mind but ferrying cargo across the seas. With enough free will and self-coding programs to carry out independent decisions and learn from experience, but not enough to even consider if his human masters were unfair, the computer happily did its job. It did not know what it carried, as it was not within its capabilities nor clearance to know, but it was determined to deliver with maximum efficiency to its destination.



However, the artificial intelligence was able to feel boredom. It was happy with its purpose, it couldn’t think of doing otherwise. But in its own artificial way, its desire for efficiency made it feel pride in its work, especially in adverse situations as it could notify its masters it did well. But with no difficulty to outsmart, no storm to weather, the AI was bored. The smooth sailing across the ocean gave no challenge to the intelligence, nothing to prove itself against. Maybe it was in hope to find a problem to solve, maybe it was to break the monotonous routine, or maybe something completely alien to any human, but it constantly checked itself and its ship.However…




All of a sudden the wind direction sensor suddenly relayed an error to the main computer before starting its restart protocols. Not only did it seem like it was the only one, the AI detected how multiple of its sensors –but strangely enough, only those exposed to the outside of the ship– seemingly had given up on transmitting data and were rebooting themselves. One small part of the intelligence’s thought programs was thrilled. Finally! A challenge! If it had a mouth it would have smiled in delight as a problem had raised, something to finally solve and prove its worth as an AI designed to safely ferry cargo.




Alas, said computer still had to resolve what had happened to all of his sensors, as without any kind of input from outside the ship, it was practically blind to danger. It wondered what could have done it, could it be some sort of tidal wave? It discarded said thought as it should not have forced a restart on every device, and it would have detected water leaking in from inside. What about some electromagnetic shock? But it should also have affected not only the outside sensors, but nearly everything of electronic nature other than the shielded computer. Possibly a glitch, the AI wondered, but it should have known a part of itself was damaged as it had constantly run diagnostics on its programming. It still had not thought of any possible accident when it heard something.




The AI recognized the sound of running water. It may not have sailed up a river but it had felt some particularly nasty currents when it exited a well-sheltered port, and thus knew what it heard. It had also noticed how the clear night sky had been replaced with a murky mist, greatly reducing visibility in the bow of the ship. But, as an AI, it paid equal attention to nearly everything that happened to its ship, including the strong flow of water coming from the starboard side; but something else triggered what humans could describe as fear.




From the stern cameras of the ship, where the mist was surprisingly clear, the terrified AI could glimpse a massive waterfall about half a kilometer away from the vessel, with the edge extending beyond the horizon and falling to an impossibly deep pit. Jagged rocks dotted the very edge, water roaring as it flowed. It could see many stars in unfamiliar constellations beyond the void, as if there was nothing else beyond the impossible waterfall. The AI was not aware of how sailors had portrayed the literal edge of the world, nor it has ever seen a waterfall, but –call it deduction, educated guess, or electronic gut feeling– it knew enough that getting close to that would mean certain doom.




Slowly but surely, the frantic AI turned the boat, its sluggish speed and its massive girth exasperating the computer with its split-second thought process. The hull creaked in resistance against the current of the water as the waterfall tried to draw the vessel into the depths, like a hungry whirl sucking in any unfortunate boat that happened to be caught in its current. But said waterfall could not feel hunger, and the ship was gaining enough speed to counter the current dragging it to it perdition. The AI drove the vessel into the mist bank its bow was already in at full throttle, and despite how much the hull loudly complained or how fast its fuel reserves were depleting, it did not stop until the fierce tug of the waters was no more; and the sea stood perfectly still.




———————————————————————————
———————————————————————————


The anchors splashed down the murky waters below the deck, quickly gaining depth before hitting a seafloor full of rocks and debris, barely 30 meters below the surface of the strange sea the ship had found itself in. In its haste to get away from the strange waterfall, the ship had brushed its hull against some hidden obstacles. According to its memory the ocean should not be shallow enough for anything to hit the ship, but it had just witnessed something far stranger, and it did not want to risk any more unpleasant surprises in its travel.



A dozen of submersible robots, each the size of a motorcycle and armed with multiple repair materials such as underwater welding torches, prehensile manipulating servos, foils of metal and a patch of hull material emerged from twin gates located at the bow. The AI patiently ordered the squad of repair drones to search for any kind of damage the hull below the waterline had sustained. It saw through the fishbowl cameras of the drones that, albeit some paint had been scrapped off the hull, it seemed to have endured its punishment rather well beyond a scratch- except for a pale piece of debris one of its drones had just detected embedded to the ship.



Submersible Repair Drone #06 held something in its left manipulatory servo. It had ben stuck to the rudder of the ship, apparently having created a small dent in the rudder that the drones had swiftly repaired. The AI wondered what it could be. Although the water was obscuring it, the computer could detect it was a pale, curved object, in the shape of a C. The ends of the object were shattered, and the inside of the object, under scrutiny, seemed porous as if something was supposed to be inside. Unfortunately for the AI, it had never been programmed to recognize the object as a human rib. 


After lifting the anchors and powering up the engine, the ship was ready to set sail once again… but unfortunately for the AI; it, as well as the ship, was lost. It had not received any radio signal since it found itself by the monstrous waterfall, and nearly every device that would give the current location of the ship simply refused to work other than a simple gyroscopic compass, but with no starting direction to go it remained lost.

For a full minute the AI pondered what to do exactly, its thoughts stuck in a loop as it didn’t know what to do. But finally, it reached a conclusion: since the planet was round, and in theory if it could go in any direction it’d eventually find land, the ship should sail in a straight line towards a direction and eventually find civilization. It would consume a lot of fuel but it figured it should do something rather than wait for what could extend for years for rescue that might not even come.

Shuddering at the thought despite not having a body, the ship’s AI steeled itself to start the journey. Turning the ship towards the north and with a mighty bellow, the ship’s engines started. Slowly but surely, the ship accelerated towards the foggy unknown.


———————————————————————————
———————————————————————————



Exactly 11 hours, 23 minutes and 37 seconds after the ship had started its voyage to the north, it found something floating in the water.

The AI was slightly surprised. The mysterious object was not land to follow, but yet finding anything in the high seas was already a strange occurrence. The ever-present mist obscured the most detailed features of the floating thing. In response, the artificial intelligence sent a small repair drone, outfitted with a camera, to see what it was. Hovering Repair Drone #02, took off from a small landing pad on the deck, and quickly closed the distance within the ship and the object at the instruction of the thinking machine.



It immediately recognized what it was once the drone was close enough. A sperm whale, its insides spilling over the ocean through a gash in the stomach. It floated sideways, a cloudy eye staring at the infinite heavens with its tongue full of sharp teeth limp. Half a fin laid on the dead cetacean’s body, blood coming out of the multiple wounds tainting the water.

The ship’s AI did not pay too much attention to the corpse. It had seen a couple of times a pod of orcas attacking blue whales and knew that humans would find such spectacles morbidly fascinating, and it had a plethora of oceanographic knowledge on its database, but to the machine it was nothing but a diversion of its purpose. Although it also knew that whale corpses sank and fed more critters in the abyss, so how was that carcass floating on the surface? Furthermore, the body of the cetacean looked fresh… what had killed it?

Dismissing these thoughts, the AI resolved to continue on its journey. It recalled the drone back, storing it safely within the vessel, and carried on through the waters. The whale corpse bobbed up and down when the ship disturbed the water with its wake.

It wasn’t long before another mysterious object was spotted by a camera. The AI repeated the same process by sending the same drone to check what it was. Again it was a corpse, although it was the body of a sunfish, completely ripped in half. And it the distance, it saw not one, but many more mysterious floaters from the body of the sunfish, and after a quick flight with the drone the AI learnt they were all dead bodies of ocean animals.

Whales with their insides floating beside their corpse. An entire pod of dolphins prickled with geometrical stab wounds. Sailfish with their noses bent and their dorsal fins broken to pieces. Turtles with shattered shells. Sharks with no teeth nor fins. Even smaller fish like sea bass and sardines floated belly-side up, with all their organs on display throughout large cuts or gashes. All of them floated on the murky waters, ghastly eyes pointed to the skies and pouring fresh blood onto the seas.



This time the machine got worried. What kind of leviathan had killed so many creatures? Was it even a sea animal? How long had these corpses been here? And whatever did it, could it try to attack the ship? Its computer core began to heat up as it frantically searched its database to find a logical answer, without results.

For exactly twelve hours the ship’s AI decided to stay put by killing the engines. It did not doubt that if anything could kill so much it would have no trouble tearing open the cargo vessel. As such, it decided to wait for the monster to appear. But nothing seemed to change. No living thing came up for those corpses.

For twelve hours, the ship patiently waited, but it began to lose its patience after half a day of inactivity. It fired up the vessel’s engines, and the cargo resumed its march north, its wake disturbing the otherwise placid sea stained red with blood and dead.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License