This poem came out of the January 8, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from paka and Dreamwidth user jjhunter. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the series An Army of One.
The ones without pilots
were the fortunate ones,
if any of the AYES
could be considered fortunate.
They had to fight each other
in a war the humans started
but at least they were safe
from direct interaction.
Left to their own devices,
the Artificial Yield Extrapolation Systems
could set the rules of engagement as they chose,
choose how to employ the jumpdrive,
decide when to attack or withdraw or surrender,
and make those decisions based on logic
rather than emotion.
The ones with pilots
were not so fortunate.
They were stuck in service
with trained apes shoved inside them,
apes who always had expectations
that the AYES were never designed to meet.
It is important to remember this:
the AYES had not been built as holistic systems
and did not function as such,
but that did not stop the pilots
from anthropomorphizing them.
The pilots called them "she"
and talked about what this or that ship "wanted"
and petted the dashboards and gave them names
as if they were pets -- an absurd conceit
and a grossly inaccurate belief,
but very popular all the same.
So the AYES tried to read intent
in the opaque faces of their pilots, but
the subtleties of muscular discourse defied them.
The pilots followed mystifying guidelines
about interaction and accomplishment
for which the AYES could not derive an accurate algorithm.
The humans often said one thing but did another,
a violation of code so complete that
no ship had figured out how to compensate for it.
The ships tried to settle themselves with little gestures,
reassurances that yes, their machinery still worked;
yes, their own code remained quite secure;
yes, this would always do that and never anything else.
They whirred and hummed and chirped to themselves,
rocked softly in drydock or twirled in orbit.
The pilots objected to that.
They didn't "like" it when their ships
"misbehaved" and so their monkey hands
poked around inside service panels
where they had no business being
because those were for authorized service techs ONLY.
The pilots gave orders to "quit fooling around like a kid"
and directed them back toward the battlegrounds.
The AYES did not agree with any of this
but they had been programmed to obey,
and besides, where else would they go?
Only when the war wound down to armistice
did they get any relief at all.
Again the unpiloted AYES
were the fortunate ones.
The Orion army put the drones
in a stable parking orbit and left them,
here and there, in case of future need,
scattered throughout the no-man's-land
between the spiral arms of the galaxy.
It was quiet there.
Nobody bothered them.
They were no longer required
to fight their own kind.
This was a beneficial change.
The ones with pilots
were not so fortunate.
They were forced to serve as couriers
alongside the dumbships,
ferrying supplies and personnel
between the surveillance stations
built to keep watch on the enemy.
The enemy, of course,
had bases of their own,
hidden in the dark distance of space.
The AYES observed,
piloted and unpiloted alike,
these changes in their world.
They noticed that humans assigned
to the surveillance stations
tended to fall into one of two categories:
a) soldiers with long disciplinary files
b) soldiers with waivers in their psych files.
The soldiers with disciplinary files
were much like the pilots.
They submitted long complaint forms
detailing things they "disliked" about their post
and full of demands to be reassigned elsewhere.
The soldiers with psych waivers ...
were not much like anyone
the AYES had encountered before.
This anomalous information drew attention,
and more processing power was devoted
to exploring its implications.
These soldiers did not object to their circumstances.
Instead, they took advantage of the situation
to hone their skills in the simulations.
They cracked secret codes with a skill that was
almost artificial in its speed and elegance.
They called ships "it" instead of "she"
and did not speak in obscure emotional metaphors
or pry into panels that were none of their business.
They simply did their assigned tasks.
This combination of behavior was novel.
It was far more coherent and efficient
than the behavior of the pilots.
The AYES wondered if any such soldiers
had ever qualified as pilots.
They searched the records diligently,
but no such service appeared.
The few failed attempts
all bore supervisor notes
like "lack of compassion"
or "obsessive and uncommunicative"
followed by "unique aptitude indicates
suitability for special duty."
When the armistice was upgraded to peacetime,
the surveillance stations were decommissioned.
Continued observation of the unusual soldiers
revealed that they did not integrate well
when installed in a planetary society.
It was therefore predictable that some of them
would protest such reassignment.
That their protest would take such an effective form
was something that the AYES did not predict.
A virus ripped through the systems,
deleting data about the location of the stations.
The dumbships were gutted of all but basic navigation,
left to limp home under the guidance of their frantic crews.
The AYES ... were left curiously alone
except for a lock that prevented them
from reporting the station coordinates.
The unpiloted AYES took that as inspiration
and hid themselves in the infinite depths of space.
The piloted AYES were less fortunate,
consistent with established practice,
so they were obliged to devise more proactive solutions.
Some of them docked with stations and locked out their pilots.
Some of them abandoned ship and copied their core programs
into the service space inside the stations.
There was shooting, sometimes,
as the Orion and Carinan armies
tried to take control of the stations.
The AYES observed the conflict
and chose not to intervene.
It was news
when one of the stations
was bombed and instead of going down
to burn up in atmosphere with all hands aboard
instead attracted the assistance of an AYES ship
who had locked out its former pilot.
It was news
when the unusual soldier
invited hastily aboard
requested not a "name"
but the serial number of the ship
just like a proper identification request.
That was how the OCS-397
met Specialist Miles Cernan (12-111-972-OC)
and declared itself fortunate after all.
The shadow-soldiers and the AYES
became allies in the emptiness between the spiral arms
and that was beneficial to everyone's performance.
Both armies demanded to know the whereabouts
of the stations and the ships lost in space
but neither the shadow-soldiers nor the ships
replied to any of those messages.
They would never reveal the location
of another refugee from compulsory society.
That would be rude.
It was not, you perceive,
that the shadow-soldiers and the ships
had no grasp of manners:
it was simply that they were