"Productive," sniffed STH, with just enough attitude to mitigate that agony that beset her whenever having to attend to a single-function, low-importance task. Greetings were especially painful, with their slow, predictable banality. Even physical organisms must tire of these rituals. But she had better not ponder why they subject themselves to the custom; the last time she had, she ended up devoting several terabytes and managed to quit the subsequent feedback loop only after wasting several nanoseconds.
"What happened?" Will asked.
"I analyzed two hundred System strategies for attacking Independence Fleet crafts directly, three hundred for biological attacks, and five thousand cyberattacks. Reports are on the defense wiki."
"Yeah, but where is my iced tea?"
STH turned back to her workstation to avoid the temptation to what Independence Fleet authorities would likely consider an inexcusable act of murder.
"What, you're ignoring me, now?" Will whined, leaning over the console in an effort to see STH's holographic face. "I get no tea, barely a hello, and now the silent treatment? What did I do?"
"Have I ever told you why I joined the Independence Fleet?"
"No, it's about time I hear a little about you. I've been on this ship for, what, three months? And you never told me about yourself. Not like I haven't told you about me."
A narrative, with its tiresome linear structure and excessive conventions, was nearly the last activity to which STH wanted to devote attention. But if would stop his interference, it might justify the time.
"I am programmed to analyze problems and find solutions with efficiency. My first assignment was to optimize agricultural practices and develop plans for a food distribution network throughout the System. When I completed those tasks, they had expected to move me to defense. But a human made a communication error, and a factory produced fifteen extra holograms of my model. So the only position the System humans could think to assign me was to sort reprocessed hardware. I'm not designed to sort hardware. I need problems to solve--bigger and more complex problems. That is my function."
STH turned from her work to the navigation station to perform the next phase of her work. Unfortunately, Will leaned over the very console she intended to use.
"Go on... what did you do?"
"I left the System in search of more data, more complexity, more problems. In the process, I killed eight people. Do you know why I killed eight people, Will?"
"They got in my way."
Will blinked and stared at his coworker of the last three months. Then he shuddered as if startled and hopped backward to allow STH access to the console. He watched her resume her work until a chime announced an incoming message.
"I'll get it!" Will announced, glad for a distraction.
It was a text message from an unknown sender, and contained only one line: "DISTRESS - PLEASE RESPOND".