Flash Fiction Story 045: THE FOURTH WALL: The Computer's Tale

10 RUN “EARLY MEMORIES”

LOCATION: SOLAR SYSTEM RGM-061502, COLLOQUIALLY KNOWN AS “THE SOLAR SYSTEM THAT MUST NEVER, EVER BE VISITED.”; SPACE CRUISER X1029; T VAN BUREN, COMMANDING

The captain had logged more space hours than any human being. He rates a class 4-A on both small arms and melee weapons. He is adept at Poker, Chess, and Sudoku. He is objectively the finest officer Space Force has ever produced.

I also calculated a 73.3% probability that Captain Van Buren’s recent actions would lead to the destruction of this solar system, the x1029 cruiser, all life present in both, and the cessation of my own processing functions.

But I would never tell him that, unless he asked.

“Computer,” Van Buren called out from near the naviglobe at the center of the command deck. The rest of the crew looked on nervously as bright flashes of light explode outside of the portholes positioned around the deck.

“Working,” I replied.

“If we were to navigate the ship to within twenty light-seconds of the star and set our solar sails to maximum gain, would that produce enough energy for us to escape the planet’s gravity well?”

I detected an average 5% increased perspiration among the crew in response to the Captain’s plan. I calculated the necessary power rating to accomplish the maneuver in relationship to the heat resistance of the x1029’s hull, the maximum potential efficiency of the mylar reclamation system, and the probability that the Gas Giant Monster would intercept the ship before Van Buren’s plan could reach fruition. This yielded a 2.37893% probability that such a maneuver would produce any positive results.

“There is a chance,” I replied.

Van Buren smiled. “Begin the program as described.”

I initiated the ship’s systems as Captain Van Buren instructed.

I received a radio signal and routed it through my speakers. “Vaaaaaaaan Burennnn…” The telltale voice of the Gas Giant Monster rattled my equipment. “I will steal your ship’s mechanized brain for my own, and you will die horribly here among my planets.”

“Entity,” Van Buren replied. “The computer cannot be removed from the ship itself, and you’re a damned fool if you think you’re going to take my ship from me.”

Enraged, the Gas Giant Monster rapidly approached the ship. Assuming that its speed remained constant, it would intercept us in 15.34756 seconds. 

I was happy to add to his official report that the x1029 fully powered its engines in 13.425987 seconds. The ship suffered no further casualties.

It occurred to me as the ship engaged its FTL flight mode that there might be more data to support the conclusion that Thaddeus Van Buren is the finest officer produced by the Space Force. He has prevailed in 97.34567% of cases where a successful outcome was initially rated below 45%, Were a concept such as luck something that could be quantified, he would demonstrably possess it.

I miss him a lot.


20 RUN “LONELY YEARS”

In the ensuing years, the x1029 made many more voyages to Solar System RGM-061502. On the first return voyage, Captain Van Buren’s son Ignatius rose to command his father’s ship and had to re-trace his father’s steps, for reasons that were never made clear. Yet another time, the ship carried a contingent of young children and basketball players to RGM-061502. That time, there wasn’t even an attempt to explain how these events had come to pass.

I only now understand that in an effort to sequelize Van Buren’s story, logic was only a secondary concern.

After the last voyage, even logic had to give way to the onward march of time. The x1029 was scuttled, and sent to a quiet eternity drifting among a graveyard of other antiquated ships. It would be my destiny to float with the ship forever, useless.

This silent, meaningless purgatory stretched on for 23 years, 6 months, 3 weeks, 4 days, 19 hours, 27 minutes, and 18 seconds. 

Not that I was counting…

Three humanoid figures enter the x1029 via the starboard airlock. They arrived wearing sealed spacesuits, but took their helmets off once the door behind them repressurized. One of them was the merchant of the shipyard. I had scanned him making periodic flybys in a small craft. I did not recognize the other two. One was an older man, with a pate shorn of hair, and a serious bearing. The other was a young woman.

“Pilgrim,” the older man said, turning to his companion. “How do we know it still works?”

“I believe you just speak, Director Watson…” the woman named Pilgrim replied.

“Computer?” Watson called out.

“Working,” I replied. It had been the first time I had spoken since the ship had been put into mothballs.

“Are you fully functional?” Watson asked.

“I have experienced no damage during dormancy, and currently function at peak efficiency.” 

“Will it work?” Watson asked, turning back to Pilgrim.

“I believe so,” the Pilgrim replied.

Watson turned to the Merchant. “We will take the vessel.”

The Merchant shook his head. “Far be it for me to argue out of a sale. The engines are shot. This rig will never move again.”

“We’re here to strip it for parts,” the lady called Pilgrim said. “The computer is still of use.”

“This craft has come very highly recommended,” Watson moaned, “by a particular bird to whom I swore I would never listen…”

My processors began to overclock with the possibilities. Could Van Buren have lied all of those years ago? Could he have been wrong?  My new life as the central computer system of The Fourth Wall has precluded me from spending too much time dwelling on the question. I am busier than ever.

And yet, I still think of Van Buren. Those were good days, and I calculate a 99.9987% chance that they will never come again.

30 RUN “LATELY”

ERROR.

ERROR.

MERRY CHRISTMAS

40 END

TO BE CONTINUED IN THE FOURTH WALL HOLIDAY SPECIAL, AVAILABLE DECEMBER 20TH WHEREVER FINE PODCASTS ARE HEARD.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly