Fiction Fragment Friday

Wow did it feel good to write this week’s story. I have been recovering from Covid and have not gotten a lot accomplished in the last week. It has been hard to concentrate. As such I wanted a fun story that was enjoyable to write and to read. I feel like I have really delivered with this one.

I hope you enjoy reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

               Whoever came up with the idea of putting full artificial intelligence complete with emotions and personality into vehicles was an idiot.  I understand it started with self-driving cars and the regulations were meant to assuage concerns.  Early adopters argued that simple AI made vehicles safer, but the issue was prioritization of safety.  Was it safer for the passengers of the car, other vehicles on the road, or pedestrians?  There is an argument that is best left to pure logic, but no people wanted AI that could truly understand every aspect of the situation.  That meant human emotions.  With emotions came emergent personality in ways we never dreamed.  So, I completely understand how we got here.  The person who came up with that compromise is still an idiot.

               “No, I did not call you fat.  All I said was that the docking bay on this station is a little small so maybe it would be better to use the docking ring.”  My frustration was reaching its limit, and my hands were very animated as I looked up to the roof.  I know the ship’s AI lives in the computer banks far behind me, but I can’t help but aim my responses towards the speakers her voice come out of.

               “Exactly.  You are saying I’m too big to fit, but my measurements clearly give us plenty of room for error to enter.  You think I’m fat.”

               “Oh, for the love of….  You’re not even the ship.  You’re the AI that controls the ship.  Even if you were the ship, it’s a metal creation.  It doesn’t change size.  You can’t have fat because fat is an organic material.”

               “You think of me as the ship.  Plus, I will point out that in the galley inventory you will see 2lbs of pork fat.”

               I released a loud exasperated scream.  “Just bring us around to the docking ring please.”

               “Well don’t get all huffy about it.  Changing approach to rendezvous with docking port 13.”

               “Thank you.  When you have time, please send me your replenishment needs so I can get the order in.”

               “Captain I am a highly advanced navigation AI capable of performing thousands of simultaneous actions without a loss of efficiency.  Having time to do something is hardly a constraint.”     

               “So did you prepare the list yesterday like I requested?”

               “Well, no, but it wasn’t because I didn’t have time.  I just wasn’t in the mood after you pointed out that a strange sound coming from the aft engines.  You don’t see me pointing out all the strange sounds and odors that your bodily functions produce.  That was very rude you know.”

               “Well, my body making strange sounds couldn’t get us both killed.  Also, you can’t smell so why do you care about odors.”       

               “I have particle sensors in the air filters.  Same thing.”

               “No that is not in any way the same thing.” 

               “You are ignoring my point.  You were rude and it hurt my feelings, so I wasn’t up to doing your report.”

               “Well can you do it now then?”

               “You are still being quite rude, but here is your stupid replenishment report.”

               My tablet dinged with an incoming message.  I brought up the report to review the items.  Fuel, food, water, gasses, and a set of filters.  Everything looked standard to me, so I started filling out the request form and signing off on the expense. 

               “Make sure you get the premium fuel.”

               I stopped for a moment and looked back up at the speakers.  “What?  Why the regular stuff is so much cheaper and there is only a 2% performance difference.”

               “But the premium stuff tastes so much better.”

               “You don’t have a sense of taste.”

               “Well, no, but don’t you want to do something special for me?  We have been together for two years as of tomorrow.  Seems like that is gift worthy to me.  Maybe some good fuel and a retouch on my paint.”

               I debated on arguing, but it was a company expense, so I just switched out for the good fuel.  It wasn’t worth the argument.  Had I really been on this assignment for two years?  Originally, I thought I would just make a few small cargo runs and move on to something new.  I wanted to get back to bounty work, but it had been nice going so long between being shot at.  True the only person I had to talk to was a neurotic AI, but at least it was never boring.

               “So, what are you going to get me?” I asked jokingly.  All purchases had to be approved by me, so I knew that buying something was off the table.

               “Oh, I arranged something on our last stop here when I predicted with 98% accuracy that we would be returning on our anniversary.”          

               “Wait you what?”   The ship shook slightly as we connected to the docking port.  The system checks all ran and checked off green.  That was when the bell on the airlock rang echoing through the ship.

               “That should be it now.”

               I rushed through the ship towards the airlock.  “What have you done now?”  Dread filled me as I had no idea how she had managed anything without my approval for expenditure.  I reached the airlock in record time and hit the open button.  The site that met me will give me eternal nightmares.  On the other side of the lock was a nine-foot-tall bear looking creature with it’s face painted in white and red cloud makeup that matted into the fur.  It had poke-a-dot pants with suspenders holding them up.

               The voice came out rough and despite the painted-on smile I did not hear any note of joyousness in it.  “Singing telegram.”  Then the terror got worse as the Bear-clown-alien-thing started to sing.

               Oh Happy Anniversary

               Glad you’re not a mercenary

               They are not fun to carry

               Or eventually bury

               My feeling for you may vary

               But I will always care….E

               The “e” came out deep and very flat.  The creature turned and walked back down the corridor away from the ship.  I just stood there speechless trying to process what I had just witnessed in a way that would not induce future trauma.  Finally, I managed to get just one word out.  “How?” 

               “Oh, you know Hannah?  That nice assistant back at the main office.  Well, I sent her a message asking for a bit of assistance setting this up.  I wrote the song myself, but she was the one that suggested we request the clown make-up.  She has such wonderful ideas.  So, what did you think?”

               Hannah, of course.  It all made sense now.  My vindictive ex-girlfriend who very much knows I had a bad experience with a bear at a zoo once and have an extremely deep seeded clown phobia.  My ship sounded so hopeful asking what I though and it had gone out of its way to try and do something nice.  I couldn’t let her know that she had been used.  “It was wonderful Quickwind.  Thank you.”

               “You know as you pointed out I’m not actually the ship.  This isn’t even the first ship I have been in.  Maybe it’s time for you to give me a name of my own instead of calling me the ship’s name.”

               “You want a name of your own?  You could pick one yourself you know.”

               “Yes, very much.  Most people don’t pick their own names they have them given to them.  Sure, some people change those names, but their first name is given.  I want that. “

               “Ok, well then from this point on you will be Beverly.  That was my mother’s middle name.  Is that acceptable.”

               “I love it.  Thank you.”

               “Excellent.   Now if you will excuse me, I am going to head into the station to see if I can find an appropriate thank you gift for Hannah to show my appreciation for her assisting you.”

               “Oh, that is a wonderful idea, Captain.”    

               “I will be back shortly Beverly.”  I stopped halfway out the airlock.  “Oh, and feel free to call me Stephen instead of captain.”  I stepped into the station and made sure to take the corridor leading the opposite way the clown had headed.