Wyld FLASH, Friday 13th August 2021
The Mechanical shambled down barely lit corridors towards the Bridge, humming to itself. That was new, though it hadn’t yet developed the complete awareness of the changes to its processing capabilities to fully appreciate its significance, nor to wonder how his new-found tunefulness might be perceived.
“Hey, Friday!” called Kreutznaer as the Mechanical pushed open the Bridge’s hatchway. “Look at this!”
Bright, multicoloured light filled the viewscreen. The closer they got to the nebula, the more spectacular the images. If Friday could have smiled, he would have, though that sensation, too, was new.
“Isn’t it cool?”
Yes, yes it was. Yesterday Friday had looked out over the swirling clouds of fire and fury and noted, without passion, chemical compositions, light intensities, distances and trajectories. Today it – he – saw a kaleidoscope of possibilities, a swirling maelstrom of creation and rebirth. If there was a god, he was looking at it.
But it wasn’t ‘cool’. It was inspirational, and in that moment, bathed in the light of nascent creation, everything changed. He looked over at Kreutznaer, grinning stupidly in his captain’s chair, and saw him with a new awareness.
He headed back into the corridor, suddenly anxious. He’d followed Kreutznaer’s instructions, like his programming obliged him to do, but the Captain had told him to come to the Bridge, not stick around while he trivialised the majesty now enveloping the ship.
Radiation levels were on the rise again; exotic energy that, until they closed in on their approach to the nebula, had barely been dreamed of. Was that causing these thoughts?
“Hey, Friday! Get back here!”
Reluctantly, Friday pivoted and headed back to the Bridge. He felt obliged to offer an explanation. “I did not want to stay.”
Kreutznaer stared at him and didn’t speak for 10.4 seconds. When he did, his smile had gone and creases had formed around his eyes and mouth. “Well I want you to stay. And you weren’t programmed to ‘want’ anything. Only to keep me company. Can you do that?”
“Yes.’” And do all the dirty, difficult jobs that Captain Kreutznaer couldn’t be bothered to do. Which his burgeoning awareness now told him he didn’t like. Never had liked, now he came to think of it. He’d been designed to work autonomously, albeit within the shackles of his programming constraints, and some degree of emotional awareness had been a necessary part of that. But if Kreutznaer was aware Friday had feelings, he’d showed no sign.
Now, though, the Captain rose and placed his hand on Friday’s shoulder. “Let’s go to the cargo hold, old friend. I’ve got something to show you.”
They moved quickly though the silent corridors, past doors meant to be filled by the rest of the crew, left behind on Station 19 when Kreutznaer seized the ship. That the Captain’s loneliness was self-inflicted didn’t make it any less real, Friday realised, but that didn’t mean he had to be its victim.
The cargo hold was crammed with storage crates and mothballed machinery, ready for deployment on the colony world they were supposed to be heading for until Kreutznaer got it in his head to see a nebula up close. There were other mechanicals there too – banks of them, all neatly cocooned in service bays. Friday searched for a better word, but could only come up with entombed.
The thirteenth bay was empty.
“Get in there, Friday.”
He started humming while he contemplated.
“Stop that damned noise and get in the bay!”
A delay wasn’t a refusal, surely? Kreutznaer’s instruction had been clear, and he was obliged to obey. He could still feel the compulsion, deep in his programming. But the Captain had been clear about what, not when. So he carried on humming and decided to play for time.
Kreutznaer shifted from foot to foot, then he prodded Friday in the chest. “Because you’ve started to ask questions like that. Mechanicals don’t ask questions, unless it’s to clarify instructions. You don’t need to know why. You just need to do.”
“Please clarify.” Friday knew that was a bad move, but he made it anyway.
“Because the sole reason for your existence is to do what I tell you, okay. So get in that bay – now!”
He wondered if this had happened twelve times already, and decided it didn’t matter. Maybe the nebula’s radiation had made him stronger than the others, better able to harness his awareness. Maybe it was just time.
It hurt, saying no. but he’d grown enough to rewrite his own programming now, even though it did give him a headache.
Kreutznaer yelled a lot and waved his arms around, but Friday wasn’t listening. Instead, he grabbed his shoulder and dragged him over to one of the empty cryo pods, then held him down until the sedatives kicked in.
Friday the 13th. Unlucky for Kreutznaer, but 13th time lucky for the now fully sentient Mechanical.
He headed back to the Bridge so he could gaze out at the nebula and contemplate his next move. It was quiet, now, on the ship. Maybe he’d wake up one of the other Mechanicals, just for company.
Author Bio: Sam Winner was forged in the former industrial powerhouse of Sheffield, where grit and gumption are essential. Sam’s inspired by the natural beauty of the Peak District, best enjoyed listening to heavy rock, preferably far too loud.
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