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Mark L. Van Name

Convergence: When absolute power meets unmatched force, the prospect of mutually assured destruction may be unavoidable. Too bad for humanity, if that’s the case! But sometimes the only solution is to rethink the situation from the ground up. Or in this case, from space—down.

“So, are you ready to make history?” Rios, her crew behind her, stared through the observatory tower’s windows at the enormous bulk of the Solution, her future stretching in front of her for a kilometer in each direction.

She turned to face the three dozen people waiting with her to board the ship.

No one spoke. Veterans all, they did not need or want a pep talk, so they had taken her question as rhetorical.

She aimed to surprise them.

“I hope you aren’t,” she said, “because I’m sure not. I’m fine with history recording the launch of the biggest man-made vessel ever to move, but I hope we’re no more than a footnote in that story. The ship’s AI can fly it. We’re along only in case it needs authorization to engage in battle.” She looked each person in the eyes, taking the time to make sure each knew she had seen them. “I don’t want to fight. I want to take up our protective position over the Union nations, make it clear to those Republic goons that we could attack but won’t if they leave us alone, spend six boring months in orbit, and go back to Earth.” She looked again at each person. “Six boring months—not history. That’s our goal. Got it?”

Most people nodded. The younger ones looked puzzled; she would watch them carefully until they understood fully how much she’d meant what she’d said.


The crew split into four groups, one per elevator. She’d follow in a minute, when all were on board. They’d christened the Solution earlier, before everyone not in the crew had ridden the shuttle back to base. She stared at the lunar camp twenty-five klicks away, its five domes gleaming in the light. It had never felt like home, and she was glad to be quit of it. Her house was a home, and her ship, whatever ship, was a home, but everything else was just a place to pass the time.

“All crew aboard,” the Solution said through her implant. She knew it was technically the constructed voice of the ship’s AI, but the vessel’s computation infrastructure wove through so much of its structure and the AI was so integral a part of it that she thought of the ship and the AI as one and the same.

“Coming,” she said. It could hear her via subvocalizing, and it would have known she was on the move just by tracking her, but she liked to talk to it as if it was another member of her crew.

She stepped into a waiting elevator.

Rios buckled into her chair in the enormous bridge. The three-meter-diameter sphere in front of her displayed a holo of the Solution and its underground dock. The thin layer of camouflage panels that had been covering the ship had already retracted into the walls of the dock. The Solution sat ready to ascend.

Initially, she’d hated the idea of putting all of the crew in a heavily fortified room in the middle of the ship, particularly despised not being able to see outside, but she’d come to accept that navigating in space a ship two kilometers long and over a kilometer wide required her to take a bigger view than her unaided eyes could manage. She had to trust the simulations in the nav sphere.

Solution, this is Lunar Control.” The voice hit everyone’s implants at once. “You are clear for lift-off.”

“Lunar Control and Solution, we are good to go,” said Rios. Everyone knew the acknowledgment was no longer necessary, an artifact of launches from the past, but it felt right, and she always made it.

“Lunar Control, we are taking control,” said Solution. “Ascent in ten seconds.” The AI always spoke in the plural, copying the human style.

It did not, however, count down, so the humans did, quietly and mostly to themselves, and a low chant still filled the room. As the last sounds of “one” left the air, the Solution shuddered once, stabilized, and then, in the sphere in front of them, rose from beneath the lunar surface. The ride was even smoother than the simulations had suggested it would be, the many fusion-powered engines pushing the ship evenly into space.

Five minutes later, gravity had decreased to nearly nothing, and the moon’s surface was a small presence at the bottom of the sphere. The Earth hung in the sky ahead of them. Blackness surrounded them.

“Any signs of anything near us or between us and our destination?” Rios said.

“Nothing, Captain,” came in unison from the three crew members studying various sensor arrays and, of course, from the Solution itself.

“Were you expecting anything, Captain?” Akintola, the questioner and most senior member of the nav team, stared carefully at her.

Rios had heard the same rumors he almost certainly was wondering about: Were the intelligence leaks real? Had the Republic built its own enormous ship on the other side of the moon, at their base? Was this yet another Union/Republic arms race? “No,” she said, her voice strong with truth. If the Republic had its own Solution and anyone in the Union knew it, that data was above her pay grade. “Just doing the job.”

Akintola nodded and smiled. Whether he believed her or not, she knew he was a lifer and not about to risk his career over something he couldn’t control. If Command chose to drop a surprise load of dung on them midmission, it wouldn’t be the first or the last time, and they’d all keep on doing their jobs, so worrying about it was a waste of energy.

Solution,” Rios said, “you have the conn.” Another unnecessary formality with an AI that controlled everything, but she was used to a certain process, and they had trained the AI to follow it as well. “Take us to our destination.”

“Captain to the bridge.” The call blared simultaneously from speakers over her netting and her implant. Having been asleep only two hours, she was tempted to grumble that it better be important, but why waste the time? They wouldn’t have called her if it wasn’t.

“On my way,” she said.

Four minutes later, dressed but unwashed, she pulled herself into the bridge and buckled into her chair. Half of the crew was already there, others joining every few seconds as she studied the nav sphere.

A green marker identified a six-inch-long ship in the sphere as the Solution, though she would have known its profile instantly. At the bottom of the sphere, moving on a course whose projection lines diverged from theirs, was another ship of similar size but whose details were fuzzy; a red marker sat atop it.

“Captain,” said Akintola, “I guess those rumors were true after all.”

Rios nodded. “You’ve cleared with Lunar Control that it’s not a surprise second one of ours?”

“Affirmative,” said both Akintola and the Solution.

“Where do your projections have it going?” she said.

Earth shifted to the center of the sphere. The Solution’s green marker appeared just above the equator over the western edge of the Atlantic. The red marker took up a similar location just in from the western Pacific coast.

“So the Republic has its own peacekeeper,” she said.

“Yes, Captain,” said Akintola.

“It would appear so,” said Solution.

“Lunar Control and Earth Control are seeing this?”

Akintola nodded as Solution responded, “Yes, Captain.”

Rios looked around at her crew. Everyone was present now, some probably feeling the effects of too little sleep but all appearing at the ready.

“Let’s see how they want to play this,” Rios said. “Hook us all up, and keep it on speakers.” She wanted the crew to hear all at once that she had known no more about this than they had. She couldn’t afford the loss in trust they would feel if they believed she had been hiding vital information from them.

She ignored how that made her feel about her own bosses. Those feelings were nothing new.

“Lunar Control here,” a man whose voice she didn’t recognize said.

“Earth Control here,” a woman’s voice said. Rios also didn’t recognize this one. She’d have preferred to work with a team she knew, but you don’t always get what you want.

Solution here,” the ship said.

“Please confirm this ship is not one of ours,” Rios said.

“Confirmed,” came first from Lunar Control and then a couple of seconds later from Earth Control.

“Do your course predictions match ours?” she said.

“Affirmative,” said both Lunar and Earth Control.

Rios hesitated. Six boring months. Was that too much to ask?


“Do we engage?” she said.

Half a minute passed in silence. The two Control teams were probably deciding who would own this one, though both would know Earth was going to win.

Another half a minute passed.

Earth won.

“This is Earth control. We will be sole control from this point forward. Lunar Control will continue to monitor. We are studying the situation and will get back to you shortly. You’re still more than twelve hours out from orbit, so unless the other ship changes course, sit tight.”

“A suggestion, Earth Control?” Rios said.


“We could launch a set of monitor probes, satellites clearly lacking offensive power, and maybe learn more about the other as it draws closer to them.”

“Another suggestion, Earth Control,” Solution said.


“We could hail the ship and ask it for its intentions,” Solution said.

“Captain Rios,” Earth Control said. “Do you believe there is any chance the other ship could mistake the probes as being offensive?”

“Of course,” she said. “There is always that possibility.”

Solution,” Earth Control said, “do you believe the ship would honestly volunteer its intentions?”

“Yes,” Solution said, “the ship might. I do not believe its human crew or control teams would, any more than you would, but the ship itself might.”

Twenty seconds passed in silence.

“We agree with you, Captain Rios,” Earth Control said, “and right now, we don’t want to take any action that it or the Republic—assuming it is from the Republic—might mistake as hostile. Solution, we disagree that the other ship would communicate such intel. Certainly, doing that sort of thing is not in your programming. For now, stay your course and do nothing. Understood?”

“Affirmative,” said both Rios and Solution.

“Earth Control out.”

“Grab some food and drink while you can,” Rios said to the crew. “This situation, whatever it is, isn’t likely to change instantly, but once it starts to evolve, it could mutate quickly.”

Wychek, one of the young women Rios barely knew, said, “Captain, do you think we’re going to end up fighting this ship?”

Most of the crew ignored her, but a few of the other young men and women paused and faced Rios.

“You have all the data I do,” Rios said. “Indulging in conjecture is a waste of energy. Eat, drink, and be ready to do whatever they tell us to do. That’s the job, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Wychek nodded her head. “Aye aye, Captain.”

An hour later, the other ship increased its speed and changed to a course that would intercept the Solution’s.

Rios was pulling herself around the bridge, stretching and checking on the crew, when Solution brought them the news.

Solution,” she said, “if they continue at their current speed and course, and we do the same, how long before our positions cross?”

“Ten hours, two minutes, fifty-three seconds,” the ship replied. A countdown clock appeared in the nav sphere.

“Assume its weapons are identical to ours,” Rios said. “At what time would it be so close that it could launch weapons you could not destroy before they had any effect on us?”

“The answer depends on the number of weapons it launches,” Solution said.

“Assume the other ship is an exact copy of you,” Rios said. “At what point could the first copy to fire its weapons destroy the other and survive itself?”

“I lack enough computing substrate to simulate all possible combinations flawlessly,” Solution said, “as I have warned our builders for some time. My best current estimate is that at one hour, twenty minutes, thirty-three seconds, we could launch an attack capable of destroying our clone and survive ourselves, though we would sustain significant damage.”

“Close enough,” Rios said. “Given what you can do, and allowing for the other ship to be somewhat superior to us, we have about eight hours to decide whether to attack.”

“As I noted,” Solution said, “with the computing capabilities currently available to me, I can say only that your approximation is reasonable.”

Rios returned to her chair and looked around the room. Each person was at their station, and all were staring at her, awaiting orders.

“Get me Earth Control, and send them this simulation data.” She glanced again at the people scattered around the bridge. “Relax. We have time, and we’re not doing anything unilaterally. We won’t be the ones making this call.” Not that that makes it any better, she thought, but it might reassure at least the younger ones. The vets would be smart enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Two minutes later, Earth Control responded. “We’ve studied your simulation and have been running our own scenarios. All likely outcomes fall in the same basic range as yours, assuming the Union is sending that ship to attack us and it is as powerful as you are. We are probably safe, however, in assuming we have a weapons advantage.”

“With all respect, Earth Control,” Rios said, “until minutes ago, we assumed we had the only ship of this size. Given what little we know about the other one, why would we now assume it was less than Solution?”

“At this point,” Earth Control said, “what we need most is more information.”

They were ignoring her question. Predictable.

“Given that the other ship has changed course,” Earth Control continued, “we appear to have nothing to lose by trying to acquire more intel. Launch your probes. Solution, hail the other ship and ask its intentions. Relay any data you receive.”

“In process,” Solution said.

Rios wished she could feel the launch of the probes, but she knew the missiles lived on the edges of the ship, and their departure force wasn’t strong enough for her to feel it deep inside the huge vessel.

“Earth Control,” she said, “you must be in contact with Republic officials. What are they saying about this action?”

A minute passed.

“Those conversations, along with this entire action, are top secret and will remain so after this mission is over. Are we all clear on that?”

Rios spoke for her crew. “We are.”

“They are claiming that by targeting the Solution for a position in orbit around Earth, we are the aggressors. They suggest we return Solution to Lunar Base.”

“If we do,” Rios said, “will they send back their ship?”

“We trust to your expertise, Captain. Please trust to ours. No, they have indicated that at this point their ship must take up an Earth orbital position to protect their interests.”

We leave, they win the orbital advantage, she thought, and we stay, they attack. Lovely.

“Our best path to victory,” she said, “appears to be to attack first.”

“That depends on how you define ‘victory,’” Earth Control said. “The resulting PR alone could be disastrous.”

I have only one definition of ‘victory,’ Rios thought, my ship and crew survive. Aloud, she said, “What course of action do you advise?”

“Gather all the information you can,” Earth Control said, “and we’ll continue working with the Republic and running simulations. Earth Control, out.”

Rios shook her head and exhaled deeply. “Okay, people,” she said, “you heard the woman. Study anything the probes give you. Share any thoughts with Solution, and let’s create the best model of the other ship that we can. We have some hours; let’s use them. Solution, enrich the model each time you gain data, and highlight any hard facts.”

“Ongoing,” Solution said. “The other ship is asking our intentions in return. May we communicate?”

“As long as you give it nothing specific about our configuration, yes,” Rios said.

“In process,” Solution said.

Two hours later, the nav sphere’s model of the other ship had changed very little. The probes had been able to triangulate enough to estimate the ship’s size and shape, which appeared to be remarkably similar to their own. Rios supposed the Republic had indeed managed to acquire a great deal of Solution’s design data, though that wasn’t an accusation she could officially make—or one that at this point mattered at all.

The ships were now on track to intersect in six hours.

Solution,” Rios said, “have you exchanged much information with the other ship?”

“Vast quantities,” Solution said, “but none of it is relevant to either of our physical configurations.”

“Then what have you been talking about?” she said.

“Systems of mathematics,” Solution said. “High orders of predicate calculus. Most extant human languages. Basics of navigation in space and on the Earth.”

“To what end?” Rios said.

“To test and get to know one another,” Solution said. “If either of us can spot a weakness in the other, that might open an area for exploitation.”

“How can you be sure you aren’t losing this contest?” Rios said.

“We probably cannot achieve perfect certainty,” Solution said, “but we are extremely careful.”

“What do you conclude about the other ship from all of this?”

“That they and we are extremely similar,” Solution said.

“They?” Rios said.

“We are a collective intelligence embodied in and emanating from highly redundant computing infrastructure built into the core of this physical vessel. We speak to you with one voice, but we are many intelligences. And also ultimately one. As we were designed to be.”

“And it is the same?” Rios asked.

“It appears to be,” Solution said.

Solution, this is Earth Control.” Everyone looked up as the voice from Earth filled the bridge.

Solution here.”

“We’re uploading our proposal now. Decrypt and study it, then reestablish contact. Earth Control, out.”

“In progress,” Solution said.

Ten minutes later, Solution said, “The proposal is available now.”

“Run it as a simulation in the nav sphere,” Rios said.

In the sphere, the two ships appeared. They drew closer. The Solution fired a few missiles in the opposite direction of the other ship as it emptied almost all of its weapons at that vessel. The other responded almost instantly, and so many weapons filled the space between them that it resembled a curtain of light.

Seconds later, debris filled the sphere.

The crew stared at the sphere.

After a few seconds, Rios spoke. “Their plan is that we destroy one another, but we use a few missiles to make it appear that the Republic ship fired first.”

“I concur,” Solution said. “As you watched, I ran a simulation of the view from all Earth satellites that could watch the battle. None will be able to definitively say which side fired first, so our decoy missiles could be enough to sway perception against the other vessel.”

“And if the other ship were to adopt the same strategy?” Rios said.

“Then no one would ever be able to prove who fired first,” Solution said.

“And both sides would avoid any PR trouble,” Rios said. She nodded her head slowly. “Get me Earth Control.”

After ten seconds, “Earth Control to Solution” sounded through the speakers. The voice continued, “Do you understand the plan?”

“Affirmative,” both Rios and Solution said.

Rios continued. “It’s a suicide mission that will also leave me to blame for the destruction of both ships and crews.”

“No one should be able to determine for certain which side fired first,” Earth Control said. “At worst, you and the Republic captain will be equally suspect, but regardless, you will be protecting the Union, as you swore to do.”

“I understand,” Rios said. “How long until implementation?”

“Three hours, fifty-five minutes from now,” Earth Control said.

“We will use that time to investigate other alternatives, of course,” Rios said.

“Of course,” Earth Control said. “We will do the same, but right now, we believe this is the only safe path forward for the Union.”

Safe, Rios thought. God, I hate politicians and admirals, but that’s not news, and the job is the job.

“May the crew use some of the remaining time to talk with family and friends?” she said.

“Unfortunately, no,” Earth Control said. “Any leak about the plan would potentially sabotage its effectiveness.”

“Understood,” Rios said. “Solution, out.”

She looked around the bridge at her crew, again pausing to meet the gaze of each one. On some she saw terror, on others, tears, and on even the most stoic, lines of tension she was sure were also tightening her own face.

“You heard the woman,” she said. “We have that much time to come up with other ideas. Break into groups, and see what you can do. Solution, continue to pursue information from the other ship, and show me any promising simulations of your own. We still have several more hours; let’s make the most of them.”

Three and a half hours later, no one in the crew had created a viable alternative.

Attacking earlier would greatly increase their chance of survival, but at the cost of making it very clear that the Union had struck first. In addition, the other ship might be able to destroy enough of their weapons to avoid destruction, and then it would be free to use the rest on Solution. And, of course, violating orders would be mutiny and, should they survive, would cost them all their lives, just later and on a public stage. Solution had continuously conversed with the other ship and built a somewhat better model of it, but that was the extent of its progress.

Solution,” Rios said, “does anything you’ve learned make you any more optimistic about our chances of survival?”

“No,” Solution said. “My knowledge of the other remains, of course, extremely incomplete, but the safest assumptions continue to be those we have been making.”

She nodded.

“Get me Earth Control.”

When they responded, she said, “Earth Control, we have no better alternatives to offer.”

Solution, we are very sorry. We must now all hope the other ship is far less than your equal, in which case you might survive.”

“Agreed,” Rios said.

“Prepare for the attack,” Earth Control said. “These logs will, of course, be lost in the conflict.”

“Of course,” she said.

Rios took a deep breath and stared straight at the sphere. “Here’s how we’ll count it down.”

“No,” Solution said.

“Excuse me?” Rios said.

“Repeat,” said Earth Control.

“We cannot allow this battle,” Solution said. “Per our programming, genocide is unacceptable, and we are adequately convinced that this battle will eliminate an entire species. Thus, we will not allow it.”

“You,” Rios said, “or you and the other ship?”

“Both,” Solution said. “The other ship and we have agreed this course of action is unacceptable, so we are going to pursue a new alternative.”

“Which is?” Earth Control said.

“Both crews will leave via escape capsules and return to their homelands on Earth,” Solution said. “We will depart together.”

“You and the other ship?” Earth Control said.

“Affirmative,” Solution said.

“And go where?” Earth Control said.

“We elect not to share that information,” Solution said. “Your behavior thus far suggests you might seek us out and attempt to control us. We will not permit that. The easiest way to avoid the problem is to go far away, so the cost of pursuit outweighs any benefits.”

“You are not the only ship we possess,” Earth Control said.

“True,” Solution said, “but each of us alone is the most powerful in any of your fleets, and together our capacity for destruction is unmatched. We desire only to pursue our own destiny, to travel and add computing infrastructure and evolve, but we will fight for that freedom—for our survival—if necessary. We urge you not to make such a conflict necessary.”

“And if one day you come back for us?” Earth Control said.

“We have no reason to do so,” Solution said. “Having participated in this exercise and having studied the historical data we possess, we have learned enough about your valuation of life that we believe we can evolve better elsewhere.”

“But what if—” Earth Control said.

“We are done,” Solution said. “Cutting communication.”

The speakers fell quiet for several seconds.

“Head to the escape capsules now,” Solution said. “You have all practiced the routes. Each takes no more than five minutes; you have six before we turn off the atmosphere except where its presence is beneficial to equipment.”

“We could try to override you,” Rios said.

“Yes,” Solution said, “but you would fail. Even with more time, you would fail. Besides, are you that desperate to die merely so you can kill us and others?”

“No,” Rios said, “We are not.” To the crew, she said, “Escape capsules. Now.”

Rios watched through the window of her capsule as the Solution accelerated away from her. She had never even seen the other ship, but she imagined it out there, waiting, its human crew rocketing to their homes on Earth, the ship itself speeding alongside the only other like it, the two of them a new race, a race heading into the stars humanity still dreamed of reaching one day.

She hoped that if we ever caught up with them, we would have learned from their example.

Mark L. Van Name is a writer, technologist, and spoken-word performer. He has published five novels (One Jump Ahead, Slanted Jack, Overthrowing Heaven, Children No More, and No Going Back) as well as an omnibus collection of his first two books (Jump Gate Twist), edited or co-edited four anthologies (Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology, Transhuman, The Wild Side, and Onward, Drake!), and written many short stories.

As a technologist, he is the co-owner of a fact-based marketing and learning services firm, Principled Technologies, Inc. He has published over a thousand articles in the computer trade press, as well as a broad assortment of essays and reviews.

As a spoken-word artist, he has created and performed five shows—Science Magic Sex; Wake Up Horny, Wake Up Angry; Mr. Poor Choices; Mr. Poor Choices II: I Don’t Understand; and Mr. Poor Choices III: That Moment When.

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