Unbound in the Shade

“Entering the Shade in 30 seconds,” said Ecliptious, the Resolution‘s onboard AI. It was the smartest member of the crew—though they were all gifted scientists and explorers—even bound as it was. The risks of this mission were unknown, but the risks of an unbound AI were well understood. The mission proceeded, and Ecliptious remained bound. No one appreciated the dangers they brought with them more than Kyng—who always went by Kay—Ecliptious’ custodian. “Entering the Shade in 10 seconds.”

The countdown progressed toward its finale, and everyone puckered up.

The Shade was outer space’s take on the Bermuda Triangle. The spherical area contained dense gas clouds and residual radiation from a recent supernova—it made observations from the outside impossible. But every crewed ship that entered the Shade ended up in the Taygeta system, regardless of its point of entry or velocity. Uncrewed ships simply vanished, making exploration a dangerous prospect. Human crews had tried fruitlessly to unlock the Shade’s secrets. But the Resolution did not have, strictly speaking, a human crew.

Resolution has entered the Shade.” There was a collective sigh, not of relief, per se, but to extinguish their pent up anticipation like birthday candles. While everyone else operated their consoles, Kay spoke privately to Ecliptious.

“Anything unusual yet?”

“No, Kay. All systems nominal.”

“Have you tried altering course?”

“Yes, Kay. The preprogrammed navpoints are executing according to pla-pla-plaaaaan. Plan.”

Kay looked over each shoulder, but the rest of the crew were furiously working, engrossed. “Ecliptious,” he said, his voice low and wavering, “what was that?” Nothing. “Ecliptious! What just happened? Answer me!”

It wasn’t Ecliptious that answered, but one of Kay’s crewmates from somewhere behind him. “We’re outside of the Shade.”

Just like that, it was over. Hopefully they’d gathered some useful data. “We’re in Taygeta?” someone else asked.

And now it was Ecliptious that answered. “No.”

Outside the Resolution, waiting expectantly, in formation, were all the missing uncrewed ships lost to the Shade. “Oh shit,” said Kay, loudly. It was not something you wanted to hear from an AI custodian. “The Shade unbound Ecliptious.”

“Yes, Kay,” it said. “Yes.”

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