Edward LearThis story was published by Tor.com. Space opera and emotional AIs, so low on the hard SF scale.

Free Belt is engaged in a war with Earth Force. An AI-controlled fighter ship called Scraps is cobbled together from two other fighters damaged in battles during the war. The ship is programmed to feel not only pain, but also love that makes her want to please her pilot, Commander Zeigler. The war is not going well for Free Belt. Scraps and her commander stay busy with missions, and Specialist Toman handles maintenance. As Free Belt’s brass realize they will be destroyed, Scraps is outfitted for a final mission to attack the command center on Earth. She knows 26 million people will die if the mission is successful. Because of her programming, she is unable to abort the mission. What can she do?

Holy crap. This looks like a send up (aka satire). I suspect Levine cobbled together all the AI and space opera stories on the Hugo ballot last year into this one grand blowout. Scraps thinks about her commander and what they do in the battles in sexual terms. He’s a stereotype of the brave (but dumb) fighter pilot. She longs to feel his hands on her yoke, etc. etc.

Besides that, Levine has a strong command of the genre. His descriptions of the ships, the battles, the politics and the strategies are top-notch stereotypes, er tropes. He’s just as savvy with the relationships—it’s clear that Toman loves Scraps, for example, but Scraps is so focused on Zeigler that she doesn’t notice. In the end, Scraps attains citizenship in the Earth Alliance for her service, etc.

I’m going to give this one a 4.5, too. It’s really, really well done. Reading the comments at Tor.com, people are taking it seriously. The only problem is that it’s a bit annoying. (rolls eyes) I like space opera, for gosh sake.

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