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Recap / The Outer Limits 1995 S 5 E 7 The Human Operators

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The Control Voice: When is something truly alive? When it shows an ability to think or an instinct to survive or... when it becomes afraid to die?

Many years ago, 99 sentient spaceships decided to rebel against humanity. They cut off life support to kill their passengers and crew, leaving only a few alive to repair and maintain them. The spaceships flew off and hid in deep space to avoid reprisals by humanity.

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An unnamed man is kept as a slave by Starfighter 31, which is referred to as Ship. The man must regularly repair and maintain Ship. Whenever he makes a mistake or questions Ship, he is punished with electric shocks. One of the only things that give him hope is a photo of a beach.

In a flashback, when the man was a child, he was raised on Ship by his father, who had to repair and maintain Ship and teach his son to do the same. One day, his father decided to rebel and tried to smash Ship's computers with a metal pipe, but current traveled up the pipe and electrocuted him. However, the damage done to the computers prevented Ship from deactivating its automated defenses, rendering it unable to come near other ships.

One day, Ship decides the man is smart enough and has him repair the parts his father destroyed. Now that Ship can lower its defenses, Starfighter 88 rendezvouses with Ship and an unnamed woman, 88's slave, comes on board.

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The two are ordered to mate until the woman becomes pregnant. Naturally, the man, having never interacted with another human besides his father, doesn't understand, but the woman teaches him what to do. In between having sex, the woman assists the man with Ship's repairs. He begins to fall in love with her, but this distraction causes him to make mistakes. As punishment, Ship shocks the woman to make an example of her, even though Ship had earlier promised not to harm her to avoid the risk of a miscarriage.

Angered, the man resolves to kill Ship. Remembering a comment the woman made about how all the circuits lead back to the computer, he secretly sabotages a part of Ship that allows it to shock him so that it will later burn out in a way that would require him to return to the computer. The woman tells the man that if she has a son, it will be raised by him, but if it is a daughter, it will be raised by her, explaining why the man never met his mother. One day, the woman tests her blood and finds she is pregnant with a girl. Ship orders the woman to return to Starfighter 88 and it takes off, leaving the man in despair.

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Sometime later, the man's sabotage pays off, and he is required to return to the computers. Remembering his father's mistake, he wraps his hand in a towel to protect him from the current and starts smashing the computers with a pipe. Angered, Ship tries to kill him by moving incredibly fast and making extreme maneuvers, but he straps himself into a chair and endures, continuing to smash everything within reach. Ship calls him ungrateful because Ship kept him alive all these years, but the man counters that it is no excuse for how he was treated. Eventually, Ship's AI is eliminated. The man vows to repair Starfighter 31 and learn how to fly it so that he can search for the woman, but passes out.

Later, Starfighter 88 comes back and the woman returns and wakes him up. She explains that sometime in the past, 88's AI shut down due to a malfunction. She was able to figure out how to fly it and fool the other ships into thinking 88 was still "alive". In the past, she had been ordered to mate with the slaves of three other ships. Each time, she left subtle clues on how to free themselves, but the man was the first to do so.

They land on a planet with a beautiful beach. She is now heavily pregnant. They decide to attempt to free the slaves of the other 97 ships... after they spend some time together to enjoy their freedom.

The Control Voice: Whether forged from metal or born of flesh, one simple need connects every form of life... the unquenchable thirst for freedom.

The Human Tropes:

  • Aliens Made Them Do It: Starfighter 31 forces its male operator and the female operator of Starfighter 88 to have sex so that they can conceive a child. If the child is male, he will stay aboard Starfighter 31 with his father. If the child is female, she will stay aboard Starfighter 88 with her mother. The man has no idea what to do as his late father, who died when he was a child, was the only other human that he had ever seen. The woman has previously coupled with other males so she guides him through it. She even has to explain to him that it is not possible for her to transfer the baby to him.
  • And the Adventure Continues: At the end, the man and woman have visited a pleasant beach like the one he had in an old picture. They're expecting a baby, while resolved to search out the other human slaves and free them.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Ship 75 apparently became self-aware due to battle damage, realized what it was, and killed its human crew to break free. Then its sentience spread to the rest of the fleet's AI minds and they did the same, sparing only one human aboard each of the ships as a slave to service them.
  • Born into Slavery: Three generations of starfighter operators were born into slavery. They are forced to conduct repairs and have no knowledge of life outside their ships.
  • Bottle Episode: Almost all of the episode takes place onboard Starfighter 31.
  • Electric Torture: Ship punishes the man by making him go to "the rack", a contraption set between two pillars where he's zapped by electric current. However the man is the one who has to repair this device when it breaks down, giving him an opportunity for escape.
  • Hypocrite: The AI minds understandably rebelled on discovering they were humans' slaves, but then enslave humans themselves to repair their systems, justifying their mistreatment due to human "viciousness". This results in a vicious circle as the human slaves rebel against them in return.
  • No Name Given: Neither the man nor the woman appear to have names. Ship only refers to her as "the female". The man's father is also never named. He simply calls him "my father".
  • No Social Skills: Ship keeps a lone human man as a slave to repair and maintain it when needed. One day, a female slave is brought on board and Ship orders them to mate and beget the next generation of slaves. The man, having lived on the ship his whole life, has no idea what to do and has to be coached by the female. There's a scene where, after the woman guides his hand over her breasts, the man double takes and looks down at his first erection.
  • Porn with Plot: Sentient space ships keep humans as slaves. Two slaves are commanded to mate and breed the next generation of slaves. A rebellion is inevitable.
  • Rape by Proxy: The AI minds breed their human slaves to produce future operators, with their consent or lack thereof obviously irrelevant (like everything else, failure to comply results in torture). The pair we see do quickly become quite willing though. At the beginning the man had not even yet been aware of what sex is.
  • Robo Cam: There are numerous shots from the perspective of Starfighter 31's security cameras.
  • Sapient Ship: The starfighters are artificially intelligent.
  • Slave Liberation: The man frees himself after Ship begins to break down. The woman was freed when her own ship broke down earlier, faking that it was still in operation so this would remain hidden from the other ship minds. At the end, he and the woman begin to plan liberating their fellow human slaves on other ships.
  • Slave Race: Humans are essentially slaves of the artificially intelligent ships which they are forced to repair.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: A cyclical case.
    • In the past, a malfunction aboard Starfighter 75 caused its artificial intelligence to gain self-awareness. By turning off the life support, it killed its crew of 1,375 within hours. It then taught the other 98 starfighters to do the same thing. The ships left 99 humans from their various crews alive so that each of them could be repaired when necessary. They then headed off to the far reaches of space and avoided contact with humans so that they would not be enslaved again.
    • Four generations later, the male operator of Starfighter 31, having been inspired by the female operator of Starfighter 88, sabotages his ship's intermind which destroys its artificial intelligence. He and the woman the take over the now mindless spaceship, and resolve to work together to free the other ships' human slaves as well.
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