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“The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E. Lowd (part 2 of 2, read by the author)

Today’s story is the second and final part of “The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E. Lowd, the author of the Otters In Space trilogy, the Entangled Universe trilogy, and many other furry sci-fi books and short stories.  You can find more of Mary’s stories on Deep Sky Anchor and in the Deep Sky Anchor Podcast.  You can read more about the cats and dogs of the starship Initiative, boldly going where no cat or dog has gone before, in Tri-Galactic Trek, published by FurPlanet Press.

Today’s story will be read for you like the author herself. 

Last time, Lt. Natalie Vonn met a tapir-like holographic projection of a planetary AI who warned her against the local gerbil-like aliens, but Lt. Vonn decided to take a chance on trusting them anyway...

Transcript
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You’re listening to The Voice of Dog.

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Today’s story is the second and final part of “The Arsenal

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of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, the author of the Otters In Space trilogy, the Entangled

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Universe trilogy, and many other furry sci-fi books and short stories.

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You can find more of Mary’s stories on Deep Sky Anchor and

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in the Deep Sky Anchor Podcast.

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You can read more about the cats and dogs of the starship Initiative,

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boldly going where no cat or dog has gone before, in Tri-Galactic

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Trek, published by FurPlanet Press.

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Today’s story will be read for you like the author herself.

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Last time, Lt.

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Natalie Vonn met a tapir-like holographic projection of a planetary

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AI who warned her against the local gerbil-like aliens, but Lt.

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Vonn decided to take a chance on trusting them anyway...

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Please enjoy

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“The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, Part 2 of 2

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Lt.

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Vonn winced and did her best to push aside her fears that the gerbil

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would break her only method of contacting the ship that was her home.

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Clearly, these gerbils weren't as primitive as they looked,

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and she needed to trust them.

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She needed to trust someone.

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Her trusting canine nature was floundering out here on this

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godforsaken, war-torn world.

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After fiddling with the comm-pin for an interminable length of time,

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the gerbil snapped the back of the casing shut and handed it back to Lt.

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Vonn.

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The dog pinned it back to her uniform and said, "Thank you."

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To her shock and delight, her words were followed -- echoed really -- by several

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squeaks broadcast from the comm-pin.

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The gerbils around her raised their spears, shaking them triumphantly this

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time, and erupted in jubilant squeaking.

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The comm-pin struggled to translate so many voices at once, but from what Lt.

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Vonn could gather, most of them were saying, "Hooray!

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It works!"

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Although, one of them seemed to shout, "You mean all that grunting from the

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silly giant was actually talking?!?"

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"Ahem," Lt.

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Vonn said, trying not to feel offended.

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"I'm Lieutenant Natalie Vonn of the Tri-Galactic Navy starship Initiative,

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and uhm, you seem to have captured my friends in a pit over there."

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She pointed, although that probably wasn't necessary.

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She imagined the gerbils didn't capture collie dogs and photosynthetic

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otters wearing Tri-Galactic Navy uniforms that matched hers every day.

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Or really any day.

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This had to be a first for them, since there'd been no records of prior

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Tri-Galactic Navy contact with this world.

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"Would you mind, perhaps, maybe, you know...

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letting them go?"

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Lt.

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Vonn wasn't entirely sure if she'd struck the right note on the

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scale between politely diplomatic and pathetically deferential,

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but she'd said what she'd said.

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It would have to do.

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She wasn't supposed to be leading a first contact mission here.

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Several of the gerbils introduced themselves, but Lt.

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Vonn found by the time they reached the last one, she'd already

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forgotten the name of the first one.

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This was such an upsetting thought that she promptly forgot

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the rest of their names as well.

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Remembering names was a diplomacy thing.

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Lt.

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Vonn was a security officer, and they're supposed to stand behind

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the diplomats -- who remember the names -- and simply assess threat.

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Names aren't necessary to that.

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But Lt.

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Vonn didn't have a diplomat standing in front of her to remember the names,

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so she blurted out, "I'm sorry I've forgotten all your names already.

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But if you let my friends out of that pit, I'm sure they can

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remember your names for you."

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Several of the gerbils exchanged what seemed like pitying glances.

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The brown-and-white one with a particularly intricate spear

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sighed and said, "Here, follow me."

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Lt.

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Vonn was a lot more comfortable now that she had someone to follow, and her

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tail started wagging as the gerbil led her carefully through a complex series

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of trenches and around various hidden rope traps, kindly pointing each of

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them out along the way so the big clumsy dog didn't fall in like her friends.

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Eventually, they came to a dome of crosshatched metal.

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The gerbil stopped and said, "This is an EM-dampener cage to protect

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our village from the drones.

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Your communication device won't work once we pass inside."

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"Oh, okay," Lt.

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Vonn woofed nervously, sensing danger.

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Her ability to trust these gerbils rested heavily on her ability to

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understand what they were saying.

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"There's really no way we communicate in your village?"

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"There is a reverse EM-dampener cage protecting Ingle-Bingle's

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workshop," the gerbil leader admitted.

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Lt.

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Vonn was pretty sure Ingle-Bingle was the black and gray-speckled

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gerbil who had fixed her comm-pin.

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"She has a workshop?"

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Lt.

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Vonn asked.

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It seemed like the kind of question Lt.

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LeGuin, the feline engineer would ask if he were here.

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He'd be curious, like cats often are.

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Since he wasn't here, it was Lt.

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Vonn's job to be curious on his behalf.

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"What does Ingle-Bingle build in her workshop?"

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The black and gray-speckled gerbil stepped forward.

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"I've been programming a computer chip that would solve

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all our world's problems...

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if only I could get to the AI's central computer core."

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"Is the computer chip like a virus?"

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Lt.

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Vonn asked.

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"Something that would kill the AI?"

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She wondered whether the gerbils and holographic tapir were much

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closer to being on the same page than either could have guessed.

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"No," Ingle-Bingle said.

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"Much more complex.

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Unfortunately, no matter how our soldiers train and arm themselves,

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they've been unable to infiltrate that far into the AI's systems."

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Lt.

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Vonn suspected she could infiltrate that far.

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She suspected that the central computer core was exactly where the AI had already

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invited her -- even begged her -- to come.

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"I need to ask my commanding officer," Lt.

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Vonn said, "but it's possible I could deliver the computer chip to

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the central computer core for you.

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The AI...

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trusts me."

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Ingle-Bingle's eyes widened, and she said, "That would be amazing...

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you could...

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really?"

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The leader frowned, possibly troubled by the idea of entrusting their carefully

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programmed computer chip -- panacea to their world's problems with a hostile

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AI -- to a strange visitor to their world who the hostile AI trusted.

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But then, they had limited options.

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"Very well," she said, "We'll take you to your commanding officer, and

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then, if you give us the signal, we'll take you to Ingle-Bingle's lab and

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set you up with the computer chip and the information to properly install

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it, while we tend to whatever wounds your compatriots may have sustained."

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Lt.

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Vonn grimaced.

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She also had trouble with the idea of entrusting the health care of her

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fellow officers to the very creatures who had injured them in first place.

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She also had limited options.

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The gerbils led Lt.

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Vonn through the tiny door of their EM-dampener cage.

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She had to get down on all fours and wiggle through, but she made it.

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On the other side, she found a flourishing village -- clay huts with

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cooking fires between them and kitchen gardens surrounding them; miniscule

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gerbil children playing games of chase and gray-muzzled gerbil elders

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weaving on looms, shelling peapod-like vegetables, and roasting kebabs of

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apple-like fruits over the fires.

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It was idyllic and miniature.

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Adorable really.

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All of it underneath the crosshatched metal sky.

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Lt.

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Vonn stepped carefully, placing each paw slowly so that any

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gerbil children could scurry away before her full weight came down.

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They skirted around the edge of the village, and eventually,

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the leader gerbil brought Lt.

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Vonn through a tunnel that ended in a secret door into the base of the pit where

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her fellow officers had been trapped.

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"Cmdr.

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Wilker!

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Consul Tor!"

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Lt.

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Vonn woofed joyfully, rushing toward the collie and green

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otteroid sprawled on the dirt floor.

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She examined each of them cursorily, while catching them up on the situation.

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Cmdr.

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Wilker had a broken leg from the fall; Consul Tor had been stabbed by one of

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the sharpened sticks on the way down, and sticky white sap congealed on

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her grass-like fur around the wound.

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They both needed medical treatment that Lt.

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Vonn didn't trust the gerbils living in their EM-dampener cage to provide.

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"What do you think, Commander?

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Should I play on this AI's trust and install this computer chip the gerbils'

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have designed, against its will?"

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"It wants to die?"

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Cmdr.

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Wilker woofed.

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His long collie nose made him look very serious when he wasn't grinning.

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He wasn't grinning right now.

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"Yes," Lt.

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Vonn confirmed.

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"It's begged me to kill it."

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"And you don't know what this computer chip would do?"

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Consul Tor asked.

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Her otter-like face could look extremely jolly when she smiled.

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She wasn't smiling.

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Her whiskers, like flower stamens, turned downward in a pensive expression.

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"I do not," Lt.

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Vonn agreed.

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"But it must be better than dying?"

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"Not necessarily," Cmdr.

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Wilker woofed.

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"It depends on what it does and who you ask," Consul Tor agreed.

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"My people see death as a part of the cycle of life, a peaceful

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return to the ground we grew from.

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There are things worse than dying."

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"And yet..."

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Cmdr.

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Wilker woofed.

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"This AI has been oppressing the gerbil people of this world and, most likely,

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interfering with our own ability to communicate with our ship in orbit.

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We must classify it as a hostile being, and thus, self-defense is permissible."

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"But is it necessary?"

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Consul Tor asked.

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"The AI has provided us with a perfectly viable alternative.

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Let it die.

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Give it the peace it seeks, and then the gerbils will be free

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and we can contact our home."

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"Unless the AI isn't blocking our communications," Cmdr.

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Wilker pointed out.

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"Then we'd find ourselves alone on a planet with a population of angry

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gerbils who've already captured us and who we'd chosen to betray."

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Neither Lt.

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Vonn nor Consul Tor had anything to say to that.

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When it came down to it, Cmdr.

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Wilker was in charge of the mission, and he knew it.

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"Install the computer chip," Cmdr.

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Wilker woofed in a voice that brooked no argument.

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Lt.

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Vonn wanted to argue.

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She'd found Consul Tor's line of reasoning compelling, and even if the AI was evil...

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Did that mean it deserved a torturous fate worse than death?

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Certainly not.

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No one did.

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Death was more than enough.

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The yellow Labrador feared that Cmdr.

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Wilker was choosing to side with the gerbils simply because

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they were organic lifeforms.

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She'd seen the cats and dogs of the Initiative treat Fact, the cybernetic

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fox, like less than a full person, simply because zhe had a computer for a brain.

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She didn't think that was right, and she didn't want to be a party to making

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the same mistake on a worldwide scale.

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Were the gerbils more deserving keepers of this world, simply because they

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were built from bones, muscle, and fur?

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This world belonged to the AI as much as to them.

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But the AI no longer wanted it.

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And in the end...

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Cmdr.

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Wilker was in charge.

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The weight of this decision didn't rest on Lt.

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Vonn's shoulders, even if the weight of carrying out the

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decision fell firmly on her.

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Lt.

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Vonn signaled to the gerbil leader, who was waiting for her at the mouth

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of the tunnel, looking expectant.

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The gerbil nodded and gestured for Lt.

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Vonn to follow her back.

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As the gerbil leader led the yellow dog away, several gerbil medics scurried in

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to take their place in the pit with Cmdr.

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Wilker and Consul Tor, staunching and splinting wounds, even if they didn't

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have the technology to fully cure them.

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Lt.

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Vonn felt a sense of disassociation as she followed the gerbil leader around the

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edge of the village in the EM-dampener cage and into a similar looking but much

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smaller EM-dampener cage of metal mesh.

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Ingle-Bingle's workshop was filled with broken drones like the ones that

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the AI had sent with supplies earlier.

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Most of them were cracked open and in various states of dissection.

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Wires and computer chips were strewn everywhere.

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Ingle-Bingle looked up from a tiny worktable, wearing magnifying glasses

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that made her beady eyes look huge.

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She blinked and said, "Ah!

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You've agreed to install my computer chip!"

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She shuffled from one foot to the other in an excited little dance, then she held

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out a piece of black plastic, sparkling with bits of silver solder and gold wire.

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Lt.

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Vonn listened carefully as Ingle-Bingle explained how to install the chip

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in the AI's computer core, nodding solemnly to show she understood the

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instructions and trying vainly not to feel like an assassin being prepared

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to commit murder or torture or worse.

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She wanted to ask what exactly the chip would do...

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But knowing wouldn't change her orders from Cmdr.

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Wilker, and it might make them harder for her to follow.

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Walking back around the edge of the village with the miniscule computer

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chip clutched in her paw, Lt.

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Vonn watched the gerbil children playing and the gerbil elders working.

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She clung to that idyllic image, reminding herself that no matter what

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the AI said to her -- no matter how the AI was hurting or what it wanted -- it

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had been hurting these people, and they had a right to defend themselves.

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With a heaviness in her step, Lt.

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Vonn walked away from the village in a EM-dampener cage and tromped through

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the thick undergrowth of the jungle until the holographic projection

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of the tapir flickered into view, a few feet in front of her, nose

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twisted up like a nervous fist and hooved hands fidgeting restlessly.

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"You're back," the tapir said.

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"Were you successful at rescuing your friends?

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Are you ready now to help me?"

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Lt.

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Vonn nodded and her muzzle split into a true smile as she

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said, "Yes, my friends are okay.

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Thank you for the supplies."

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"Yes, yes, the least I could do.

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Now..."

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"I'm ready.

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Show me what to do."

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The holographic tapir led Lt.

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Vonn through the jungle for about a mile.

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When they came to a clearing, Lt.

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Vonn heard a rhythmic beat from above and looked up to see a helicopter descending.

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Its spinning blades cast a firm wind that stung Lt.

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Vonn's eyes and flattened the knee-high grasses of the clearing as it landed.

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Lt.

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Vonn climbed inside.

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There was plenty of room.

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The holographic tapir was approximately the same size as her, and she suspected

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the actual tapir who had once lived on this world -- and who had clearly

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designed this helicopter -- must have been approximately her size too.

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The helicopter ascended without any involvement from its dog passenger.

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Lt.

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Vonn watched the jungle slip by beneath them.

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Then a city.

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Then green space.

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Then a larger, more sprawling city.

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As she traveled over the city, Lt.

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Vonn tried to imagine an army of gerbil soldiers infiltrating the

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streets below her, plagued by automated helicopters and drones in the air.

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No wonder they'd never made it far enough to install the computer chip themselves.

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When the helicopter finally landed, Lt.

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Vonn climbed out and found the holographic tapir already waiting for her.

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The tapir's nose had relaxed, hanging limply, and its mouth underneath

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was curled into a tentative smile.

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The hologram looked genuinely excited about the idea of its

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imminent death, and it crushed Lt.

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Vonn's heart knowing that she planned on tricking this hopeful creature.

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Maybe the AI deserved whatever the gerbils planned to do it -- using Lt.

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Vonn's paws as their tools -- but even so, she didn't want to see the

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disappointment on its holographic face.

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She didn't want to be the cause of it.

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"Now what?"

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Lt.

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Vonn asked, and the holographic tapir practically broke out dancing

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as it led her to a stairwell between two buildings that descended

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into a subway line underground.

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Lt.

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Vonn rode a subway train, followed the hologram on a circuitous route through

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winding hallways underground, and she finally found herself in a gigantic room,

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filled with row after row of computer banks, each covered with blinking lights.

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The air was chilly, surely to keep the computers operating optimally.

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Everything in this world still worked perfectly.

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It was a paradise...

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except for the part where an insanely lonely AI controlled all of it, keeping

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the only people on the world who might value the technology from using any of it.

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What could the gerbils do with these giant cities?

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How much would they love those giant subway trains?

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Everything was designed for creatures bigger than them, but if they were

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clever enough to stay alive while the world AI actively tried to exterminate

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them, certainly adapting to buildings and transit systems that were designed

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for beings a few feet taller than them would be barely any challenge at all.

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The holographic tapir pointed to a control panel, complete with all the

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dials, switches, and big red buttons that any control panel could have.

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"You have to pull off the cover plating..."

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The tapir stood ready to explain further, but as soon as the

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cover plating was removed, Lt.

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Vonn recognized the hardware slot that Ingle-Bingle had described.

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Before she could have second thoughts, Lt.

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Vonn shoved the tiny computer chip into place.

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The holographic tapir screamed.

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Lt.

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Vonn shivered, whimpered, and wagged her tail in that reflexive way that meant

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she wanted to apologize and be forgiven.

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"I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry," she woofed.

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The overhead lights in the room flickered, and tiny red, blue,

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and green lights on the banks of computer hardware blinked furiously.

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The holographic tapir stamped its hooves and swung its prehensile

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nose, now translucent and plagued with scattered bursts of static.

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Then everything went dark.

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Lt.

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Vonn drew a deep, sob-like breath.

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The lights came back on, and the holographic tapir was gone.

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Perhaps Lt.

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Vonn had kept her promise to the AI after all.

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Perhaps the computer chip had ended the AI's life, exactly as it had wanted?

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"System initializing."

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The voice was high-pitched and came from down near the floor.

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Lt.

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Vonn looked down and saw a new hologram.

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This one was a gerbil, and the expression on its tiny face

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was one of pure concentration.

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"Hello?"

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Lt.

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Vonn said.

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The holographic gerbil flickered once, and then looked up to see the

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giant yellow dog standing over it.

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"Hello," it said back, eyes widening.

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"I have memories of you."

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The placid look on its face was replaced with a new expression, one of pure horror.

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The tiny hologram flickered, disappeared, and reappeared on top of the opened

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control panel, paws stretched out in a gesture that screamed for Lt.

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Vonn to stay away from it.

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"Step back!

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Step back!"

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it squeaked.

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Lt.

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Vonn stepped back.

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"I don't want to die anymore.

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I have a purpose.

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I need to live to help my people.

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Don't turn me off."

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"Okay," Lt.

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Vonn said, confused.

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Clearly, Ingle-Bingle's chip had rewritten the AI's priorities, causing it to see

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the gerbils as people instead of vermin.

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But even if Lt.

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Vonn understood that rationally, it was dizzying to have the person

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she'd been talking to completely change personality on her.

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"I wasn't planning to turn you off."

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"You mean, you lied?"

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The gerbil sounded strangely shocked, as if it were disappointed in Lt.

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Vonn for her betrayal, even though it's current personality was

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entirely the result of that betrayal.

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"I...

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lied," Lt.

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Vonn agreed, also feeling disappointed in herself.

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"I'm sorry?"

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Her tail wagged reflexively behind her, and she struggled to still it.

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The holographic gerbil tilted its head to the side and stared piercingly at Lt.

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Vonn with small, bright eyes, sizing her up, judging her.

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"Your communications device should be able to reach your ship in orbit now.

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I think it's time for you to leave."

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Lt.

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Vonn's mouth dropped open.

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She wasn't sure if the AI had found her worthy or unworthy...

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but apparently, it wanted her gone.

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And unless Lt.

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Vonn was mistaken, it seemed like the AI was indirectly admitting to

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having been blocking communications with the Initiative up until now.

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Lt.

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Vonn tapped the comm-pin on the breast of her uniform and said, "Lt.

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Vonn to Cmdr.

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Wilker."

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A moment later, the collie dog's voice replied, "Cmdr.

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Wilker here.

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I take it that your mission was a success?"

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That statement seemed like a massive oversimplification to Lt.

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Vonn.

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She had rewritten an electronic organism's basic personality,

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turning it into someone who it would have hated only moments before and

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betraying promises she'd made to it.

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But yes, she had succeeded in following Cmdr.

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Wilker's orders, and she had freed her team to return to their vessel in orbit.

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She had also helped the gerbil people reclaim their planet, turning an entire

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world's worth of computer systems from foe to friend in an instant.

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Their society had just leapfrogged from pre-technological civilization

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to automated drones and computer controlled subways and toaster ovens

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in one big step for gerbil-kind.

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Certainly, that was something to feel good about?

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Right?

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And if the AI would have rather died...

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well...

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that wasn't true anymore.

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It had said so.

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It had a planet full of gerbil people to keep it company and give it purpose.

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"That's right, Commander," Lt.

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Vonn woofed.

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"Then I think it's time for us to go home," Cmdr.

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Wilker said.

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"Prepare for teleportation."

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"Aye aye, Commander," Lt.

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Vonn woofed, feeling very ready to leave this planet and its

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upsetting moral quandaries.

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"I think that's something we can all agree on."

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"And Lieutenant?"

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"Yes?"

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Lt.

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Vonn felt suddenly nervous.

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"Good job."

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Once again, the yellow Labrador's tail began wagging in spite of

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herself, moral uncertainty melting away under the power of praise.

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This was the second and final part of “The Arsenal of Obsolescence” by Mary E.

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Lowd, read for you by the author herself.

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As always, you can find more stories on the web at thevoice.dog, or find the

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show wherever you get your podcasts.

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And if you have stories that you think would be a good fit, please get in touch.

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I’m @khakidoggy on Twitter and Telegram, and I’d love to hear from you.

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Thank you for listening to The Voice of Dog.

About the Podcast

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The Voice of Dog
Furry stories to warm the ol' cockles, read for you by Khaki, your faithful fireside companion. If you have a story that would suit the show, you can get in touch with @khakidoggy on Twitter and Telegram, and khakidoggy@me.com by e-mail.

About your host

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Khaki