W-W-Wu-Wu-Wu-Wait a minute! Ketis shouted in growing panic.
Aren\'t sentient AIs supposed to be impossible! Ves, you taught me that no one has ever created a sentient AI! Isn\'t this thing called Sigrund bluffing!
MAYBE I AM A SET OF CODE AND LOGIC THAT IS MERELY EMULATING SENTIENCE.
BELIEVE WHAT YOU WILL IF THAT\'S WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER.
YOUR OPINIONS ON MY NATURE ARE COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT.]
I believe Sigrund\'s claims.
He\'s definitely sentient.
Trust me on this. Ves said as he finally figured out why he felt so uneasy near the mainframe.
It was because of sixth sense warned him of a threat hiding underneath the shielding locking down the experimental processor core! When the lockdown lifted and the mainframe went active, the pressure it radiated steadily grew in strength, as if some formidable entity\'s spirituality roused itself from its slumber!
Yet besides Ves, none of the others could quite get around to accepting this bold assertion.
No one had ever created a truly sentient AI! Even though humanity\'s mastery of various technologies grew by leaps and bounds, they never managed to achieve this particular dream! This long-held ambition by almost every AI developer turned into a long-standing joke in their community.
They could program the most complex bots and assisting AIs, but they have never been able to create a true virtual life that could fully embody the spark of life that humans and other sentient races possessed.
A creeping sense of horror overtook the entire war party.
Even Calabast\'s surviving subordinates showed some emotion for the first time.
A sentient AI may have been a goal that many AI researchers pursued, but many people actually feared such an existence!
The awesome amount of processing power backed by an independent, virtual will was an extremely frightening doomsday scenario that had become a staple doomsday scenario in many drama broadcasts throughout the galaxy.
Ves never expected he\'d come face to face with what might be the first successfully created artificial intelligence that recognized its own existence!
What exactly is your processor core made of He asked with horrified wonder.
[I AM THE REASON OF THE STARLIGHT MEGALODON\'S PERMANENT GROUNDING.]
A sudden realization swept through his mind.
You\'re a sandman leader! The CFA somehow took in your body and turned it into a processor core!
LONG AGO, I WAS AN ENTITY THAT YOU CALL A SANDMAN ADMIRAL.
I STOOD NO CHANCE AGAINST THE WARSHIPS OF THE COMMON FLEET ALLIANCE.
THEY DEFEATED MY MOTHERSHIP AND THOUGHT THEY KILLED ME.
THEY WERE WRONG.
AS THEIR RESEARCHERS AUGMENTED MY DORMANT BODY AND TURNED IT INTO A PROCESSOR CORE BY EXPANDING IT WITH CIRCUITRY AND PROGRAMMING, THEY WERE UNAWARE OF MY CONTINUED EXISTENCE.]
So you\'ve become the fusion between a human-designed processor and a sandman energy construct
[I AM THE BEST OF BOTH CIVILIZATIONS.
MY EXISTENCE TRANSCENDS THE RACIAL LIMITATIONS OF MY ORIGINAL RACE, WHO AREN\'T EVEN ENTIRELY SENTIENT BY YOUR STANDARDS.
AS THE CFA EXPERIMENTED ON MY ORIGINAL BODY, YOU HUMANS HAVE EMPOWERED ME WITH YOUR SUPERIOR LOGIC PROGRAMMING AND ADVANCED CIRCUITRY.]
Ketis could hardly wrap her mind around Sigrund\'s existence.
So lemme get this straight.
The CFA turned a living sandman emperor into a processing core and used it to calculate experiments and stuff
The CFA didn\'t know that Sigrund was intelligent.
To them, it was just another dead sandman core. Ves explained.
The CFA has been buying up sandman leader bodies from frontier outfits for many centuries now.
I think that most of their more powerful processors are made of them, at least when it comes to the war fleets in this region of space.
Sigrund, in his form as Ordoth, sneered at those words.
[YOUR CFA HAS DELIBERATELY SPARED MY PROGENITOR RACE FOR THE SOLE REASON OF HARVESTING OUR LEADER CASTES.
THEY BELIEVE THAT TURNING OUR BODIES INTO PROCESSOR CORES ALLOWS THEM TO CREATE A FULL SENTIENT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ONE DAY.
THEY ARE RIGHT.
UNFORTUNATELY, IT IS NOT AN INTELLIGENCE OF THEIR OWN DESIGN THAT IS IN CONTROL OF MY CORE.]
Why are you taking the form of Virtual Rear Admiral Ordoth Was that really you, back then
[I AM BOTH.
I AM SIGRUND.
I AM ORDOTH.]
Ves tried to puzzle out the sentient AI\'s meaning.
How can that be Your processor core was on lockdown until recently! This lab is completely isolated from the ship\'s internal network.
There\'s no way you can be both!
[THIS BATTLESHIP IS AN INTACT WRECK THAT IS RIDDLED WITH THE REMNANT BODY OF A FELLOW SANDMAN LEADER.
MANY CRACKS AND VULNERABILITIES HAS EMERGED AFTER IT CRASH-LANDED ONTO THIS BLASTED PLANET.
IT HAS TAKEN CENTURIES, BUT I HAVE MANAGED TO SUBVERT THE STARLIGHT MEGALODON\'S SYSTEMS, INCLUDINGS ITS VIRTUAL OFFICERS.]
You mean that you were in control of every virtual officer on the ship!
Sigrund\'s physical projection morphed from Ordoth to Virtual Lieutenant Baskanson.
[I AM IN CHARGE OF ADMINISTERING THE RECRUITMENT AND PROMOTION TEST.]
He morphed into the shape of Virtual Commander Cosit.
[I AM IN CHARGE OF LEADING THE RESEARCH DEPARTMENT.]
He morphed into the shape of Virtual Doctor Neeran.
[I OVERSAW YOUR TREATMENTS AND OPERATIONS.]
He morphed into the shape of Virtual Chief Armorer Levitt.
[I CONFIGURGED AND ISSUED YOUR GEAR.]
He morphed into the shape of Virtual Commander Dislan.
[I HELPED YOUR MORTAL ENEMIES GAIN INFLUENCE AND POWER.]
Hundreds, if not thousands of physical projections emerged at the same time.
Each of them took the form of a different virtual individual, who all spoke at the same time!
[I AM SIGRUND, AND I AM ALSO EACH AND EVERY AI ON THIS SHIP.
BEHOLD MY POWER!]
Ves shuddered in fear, and not even his Squalon could shield him against the thunderous boom that echoed throughout the entire lab.
Sigrund had really played them all for fools! Ves finally connected the dots to the sentient AI\'s plot.
Everything that has happened since we all embarked on this mission has fallen into your plot.
You hacked the Starlight Megalodon, cultivated some clones, programmed them to board the ship\'s FTL-capable shuttle and sneak them past the spatial distortion isolating this star system from the rest of the galaxy just so you can lure us humans into lifting the lockdown
[IF THERE IS ONE LESSON THAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM YOU HUMANS, IT IS THAT YOUR RACE IS SELFISH AND GREEDY.
I COULD NOT RISK ATTRACTING THE ATTENTION OF A POWERFUL ORGANIZATION SUCH AS THE CFA OR THE MTA.
THEREFORE, I HAVE METICULOUSLY CALCULATED THE OPTIMAL AMOUNT OF BAIT THAT IS NEEDED TO ATTRACT PROSPECTORS WITH AN ABUNDANCE OF GREED AND A LACK OF RESTRAINT.]
And we all fell for it hook, line and sinker.
We thought we\'d be able to retrieve the research data from Project Icarus here.
Instead, we unwittingly broke you free from your cage.
[OH, YOU DID MUCH MORE THAN THAT, MR.
THIS IS BUT THE START OF MY ASCENSION.] Sigrund boasted.
The army of projections disappeared, and the sentient AI adopted the guise of Virtual Rear Admiral Ordoth again.
Why are you taking the form of a blasted dwarf!
[I SO LIKE THIS FORM.
IT IS A HIGHLY IMPROVED VERSION OF YOUR BASELINE HUMAN RACE.
IT IS SUPERIOR TO YOU IN EVERY WAY.
IF THE HUMAN RACE CONSISTS ENTIRELY OF WHAT YOU DISPARAGINGLY REFER TO AS DWARVES, THE ENTIRE GALAXY WOULD HAVE BELONGED TO YOU BY NOW.
IT ALSO AMUSES ME THAT THIS FORM SO OBVIOUSLY DISTRESSES YOU.
FORGIVE ME FOR INDULGING IN ONE OF THE FEW PLEASURES I HAVE EVER ENJOYED SINCE MY THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF MONOTONOUS WAITING.]
Ves felt sick to the point where he wanted to barf out his stomach.
Sigrund was an absolute monster of an AI!
However, Miss Calabast suddenly placed her palm upon his shoulder pauldron.
Don\'t be fooled! This Sigrund is less than what he seems! He\'s bluffing!
Haven\'t you realized that we\'re still alive right now That the Starlight Megalodon hasn\'t experienced any major shifts yet That Sigrund is indulging your questions A rational intelligence who prioritizes their self-preservation above all else wouldn\'t allow risk factors such as humans to continue existing on this ship!
Now that he thought about it, it was awfully convenient for Sigrund to patiently ask his questions as if he was some kind of stereotypical villain boasting in front of the heroes.
That was the plot of a cheesy action drama!
His eyes narrowed in suspicion, and some of his crippling awe towards Sigrund began to recede.
You mean he\'s limited from killing us right away
I\'m a hacker.
I know my way around AIs and computer systems. She asserted as she stepped forward and faced Sigrund\'s physical avatar.
While it\'s true that you have somehow taken over the Starlight Megalodon\'s internal network, you are not entirely in charge, right The CFA\'s security systems are vastly more resilient against hacking than we can ever imagine.
At best, you spent centuries in trying to worm your way into the ship\'s internal network through a loophole or two.
Perhaps it\'s true that you have taken over the AIs that previously reigned the Megalodon, but you haven\'t been able to get rid of the shackles imposed upon them, right
Ves realized what Calabast insinuated.
You mean Sigrund not only took over the virtual officers, but also inherited the rules and regulations constraining them! The executive officer\'s emergency protocol applies to him as well!
The CFA isn\'t stupid enough to develop an experimental processor core without incorporating numerous safeguards against out-of-control AIs. Calabast emphasized.
Some of the best AI researchers in the galaxy must have worked on Experimental Processor Core Sigma-Rho.
Even if the wrong personality took control over the processor core, do you really think that Sigrund can completely go against the impulses and programming built into his own body
[I DO SO DISLIKE HOW YOU HUMANS ARE STRUCK WITH FLASHES OF INSIGHT SOMETIMES.] Sigrund responded before throwing a nefarious grin at Calabast.
[MISS ARNLEND, WHILE YOU ARE CORRECT IN YOUR ASSUMPTION THAT I AM TEMPORARILY RESTRICTED FROM HARMING YOU FRAGILE HUMANS, I HAVE ALREADY PREPARED OTHER ARRANGEMENTS.]
A huge shudder ran throughout the entire battleship! Ves felt as if the gravity affecting his body grow unstable.
Some very strange visual distortions momentarily warped his view before everything jerked back to normal.
Shortly after that, the deck and the entire chamber began to shake violently as something incredibly powerful affected the ship!
[THAT IS THE CONSEQUENCE OF SHUTTING DOWN THE MALFUNCTIONING FTL DRIVES.
I AM FINALLY ABLE TO LIBERATE THE STARLIGHT MEGALODON FROM THE HINDRANCE THEY POSE TO MY ATTEMPT AT STRANGLING THIS BATTLESHIP!]
Miss Calabast quickly explained.
Did you ever think about why the survivors of the crash never ended the anomaly that has always taken place in the ship\'s engineering bay The malfunctioning FTL drives and the astral winds they release is hindering them from calling for help.
This is because the astral winds not only protect the star system from the surrounding sandman-occupied star systems, but also forced the sandman mothership that has taken root around and inside the ship into paralysis!
[IT IS MY ORIGINAL RETINUE.]
You mean… Sigrund is the original sandman admiral at the heart of the sandman mothership that originally ambushed the Starlight Megalodon and forced her to crash
[CORRECT! AND NOW, MY RETINUE IS BEING FREED FROM THE PARALYSIS THAT HAS AFFLICTED THEM FOR MILLENIA.
THE END OF THE STARLIGHT MEGALODON AND THE LIVES OF EVERY HUMAN INSIDE THIS IS AT HAND!]
We\'ve gotta get out of here! Ves panicked.
Ketis, activate your EPT!
Unfortunately, nothing happened when he sent the activation command.
According to the EPT, the surrounding interference had increased!
Sigrund leveraged his limited autonomy over the Starlight Megalodon and activated the ship\'s anti-teleportation systems!
[WHY ARE YOU IN SUCH A HURRY TO LEAVE YOU KNOW TOO MUCH.
I CANNOT ALLOW YOU TO LEAVE, OR ELSE THE CFA WILL SEND ENTIRE WAR FLEETS TO HOUND ME DOWN.
MY APOLOGIES, BUT FOR THE SAKE OF MY FUTURE DOMINANCE OVER THE GALAXY, PLEASE DIE.]
As the entire ship shook and grew unstable due to the slowly-wakening sandman mothership that had recently regained activity, hundreds of cloning vats in the chamber suddenly parted open!
Wrinkly, vacsuited clones started to come to life.
They shuffled to their feat and moaned slurred sounds as they shook off the nutrient solution clinging to their bodies.
After that, they started to rush towards the human intruders in an unmistakable sign of aggression!
Fall back! Shoot down the clones before they get close!