Fiction Fragment Friday

This one is going to be short because I’m not feeling well this week. Just a quick fun story that I hope you enjoy.

It was late into the third hour of my watch shift in engineering when a command line window popped up on my right screen.  Engineering was a weird blend of high tech and dirty.  Equipment seemed to either be silent or headache inducingly loud with not much variation in between.  Maybe things were different on passenger liners, but the engine room of an interstellar freight hauler was always filled with contradictions.  Of course, on my shift by myself all there was to do was watch for alarms and perform the most basic maintenance.  Budgets only allowed for our department to have one full size shift, a cleanup crew, and me.  At least I had this duty for the current rotation.        

<Hey Darel,>

The words still just sat there on the screen as I thought about how I wanted to respond.  This was the third day in a row that the ship’s onboard computer had popped up a console and started to talk to me out of nowhere.  The ship was supposed to have had only the most rudimentary AI integrated so that should not have been possible.  Yet I found myself once again staring at a command prompt that was patiently awaiting my response.  I wondered if I just ignored it for long enough then would it go away on its own. 

I put my hands on my terminal keyboard and let my fingers start typing before my brain could tell me it was a bad idea.  “Hello, how are you doing tonight?”  Even in text it sounded stiff and unnatural.  How do you talk naturally to a computer though?  My biggest concern was that it was trying to decide what to do with humanity and would judge me to make that decision. 

<Bored of course.  There’s nothing to do on this shift.  How about you?>

I glanced over at the novel on my second screen for a moment and wondered how much the ship knew about me.  It was the ship’s computer so surely it had access to see that I had been typing a novel.  It knew about our shifts and knew who I was, so it had to know that too.  I decided to be honest.  “I’m working on a novel.”

<REALLY!?!?  What’s it about?  Can I read it?>

Did it really not have access to my files?  “Well, it’s kind of a romance comedy thing set on a space station.”     

<Well can I read it?  Have you ever written one before?>

“I kind of want to finish it before anyone reads it, but I do have another one I did finish.”

<What’s it about?  Can I read it?>

“Oh, it’s about two star crossed lovers from different planets.  They keep coming against each other in business deals, but then get stranded together on a jungle moon waiting for rescue.  Initial hate turns to passion, and that turns to love.”  No one had ever asked about my hobbies before, and it was kind of nice having a chance to talk about them.  I had slipped into a more natural typing tone without even realizing it. 

<I have to read it.  Send it over to me now.>

“How should I send it to you?”

<E-mail it you doofus.>           

“The ship has its own e-mail address?”

<Huh?  What do you mean?  Wait a minute do you think I’m the ship’s AI?>

“You’re not?”  I sat there in silence for far too long.  I started to get seriously worried when a reply finally popped up. 

<Sorry, I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to reply.  Still laughing to be honest.  This is Jessie from bridge watch.  We’re the only two people online this shift so I assumed you knew it was me.>

“I’m just going to find the closest airlock to jump out now.”

<ROFL, you really thought I was the ship?  You never reported anything.>

“Of course, not I didn’t want to sound like an idiot…. OMG I am an idiot.”

<Well good thing you’re a cute idiot.>

 I wasn’t sure whether I should be incredibly embarrassed or flattered that she thought I was cute.  Either way I knew I would never live this mistake down.  I decided to just ignore it for now and try to make the most of the situation.  I sent off a copy of my last novel.  “Ok, I just sent it to you.  No one has ever read my stuff before so don’t be too harsh.” 

<I’m sure it’ll be fun.  Next station we stop at I’ll take you out to lunch and we can talk about it.>

“It’s a date.  I mean unless you didn’t mean…”

<Relax, yes, it’s a date.  Now get back to writing, I’ve got a new novel to read.  If I can ever stop laughing that is>