Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Silence of the Galaxy

The following was written in response to Chuck Wendig’s latest Flash Fiction Challenge. He presented two (2) twenty (20) item lists featuring well known fictional properties that, having been chosen randomly, would be combined to inspire a short story of 2,000 words or less. The random number generator gave me Guardians of the Galaxy and The Silence of the Lambs. There are a few instances of bad language in this piece. If that sort of thing offends you, you may want to read something else.

One last guard came around the corner as they boarded the ship. There was always that one last guard, gung-ho enough over his 30 kilocredit a cycle job to risk his stupid ass trying to recapture four heavily armed inmates at the most desperate moment of their escape. Three bolts of blue energy slammed into his grey body armor before he was halfway across the deck, slamming his remains against a lateral bulkhead.

“Got him,” Starrearl said as they continued up the gangplank onto the ship.

“No, I got him,” Tessa replied. “You guys were just a redundant waste of fire power.”

No single bolt would’ve penetrated the body armor, Gneedles thought at them. What is it with the Sapiens need to take all the credit for oneself?

“Blarg.” The Blarg shrugged his furry shoulders and squeezed through the hatchway into the small ship. Starrearl and Tessa had already settled into the pilot and copilot seat without a word. The human prisoners, no matter how varied their lineage, all wore a standard orange jumpsuit, a prison uniform tradition going back to the Age of Netflix™. Non-human prisoners like Gneedles and Blarg tended to be left in their own skin, or fur, or stems.

“Get the hatch, Blarg,” Starrearl commanded.

“Blarg,” the shaggy beast shrugged again and turned to pull the hatch closed.

I hope your piloting skills are equal to your boasts, Gneedles thought.

“Hey, one time I did the Kessel Run in 46.8 hours. That’s over 12 parsecs a day. And I’m certainly better than a walking desert shrub.” Starrearl fired up the ships engines. “How do you people get around anyway?” He reached for the controls, but his hands stopped short. 

Always some order of mammal around with opposable thumbs who is susceptible to telepathic control, Gneedles explained.

“Let him go,” Tessa swiveled her seat, and the oversized stolen pulse rifle she was holding, back toward the giant cactus. “And don’t try any of that mind control crap on me. I paid a fortune for these teleblockers and I’m pretty sure they work.”

Just answering the question, Gneedles thought, no need to resort to any Sapiens violence. But we should leave now, before the rest of the prison population reaches the flight deck. 

“Release the deck clamps.” Starrearl shook his head, as if trying to get Gneedles’ thoughts out of his mind. Tessa turned back toward the ship controls and hit the deck release. 

“Clamps are green. Engine is hot,” she reported. “Doors are closing.” She looked up through the cockpit window to see that the doors to the flight deck were slowly lowering.

“Can you override,” Starrearl asked. He wasn’t waiting for an answer, but had started the ship forward, speeding across the deck toward the exit.

“If I connect to the station and they’re in any shape to fight back, we’ll loose control of the ship,” she said.

If we don’t keep those doors open our escape will be finished, Gneedles offered.

“The plant is right. We try or we surrender.”


“Okay,” Tessa turned toward the com panel and opened a link to the prison station’s control system. “I’m linked in…accessing station controls and flight deck operations…no resistance…this is too easy…there we go, an alarm triggered a lock down…but it’s all automatic…give me the warden’s security code again.”

IF8950216, Gneedles thought to her.

“Code still good…lockdown aborted… doors opening.” She looked up as the heavy doors started to reverse their descent, but still halfway across the opening. “Slow dow…” she started to yell as the ship scraped across the flight deck and smashed through the partially open doors, sparks and pieces of metal flying off into space behind it.

“We’re out,” Starrearl shouted.

“You’re a moron,” Tessa shouted back. “Thirty seconds and we would have made clearance.” 

“Clearance shmearance,” Starrearl said. “We’re out in one piece.”

“Are you sure?” She turned back to the com panel. “Ship, run a full damage assessment.” 

“Working, Clarice,” the ship responded in a smooth male voice.

“Who the fuck is Clarice?” Starrearl asked. “Are you hiding an alias from me?”

“Several, asshat, but that’s not one of them. Must be someone who worked on this ship. It’s confused because of all the head trauma you gave it smashing through those half open doors.”

“Damage assessment completed, Clarice,” the ship reported. “Dorsal and lateral stabilization fins have been sheared off, reducing capacity of spacecraft to perform atmospheric flight. Primary com array sustained minor damage, functioning normally. Significant hull abrasions on underside of craft. No structural damage detected.”

“See, we’re fine,” Starrearl said.

Unless you want to land, Gneedles thought.

“Land on a planet,” Starrearl said. “There are plenty of space stations where we’re going.” He paused. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere nearby,” Tessa suggested. 

With no imperial entanglements, Gneedles thought.

“Or the federation, or the alliance, or any of those law and order type civilizations,” Starrearl finished. “But where do we find that.”


“Where the heck is Blarg?” Starrearl asked.

“Ship on course for Regula Station D5,” the ship stated. “Estimated arrival, 264 days.” 

“That’s too far,” Tessa explained. “Find us somewhere closer, 10 days max, with no, what do you call them, governments.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Clarice.”

“Is navigation damaged?” She asked.

“No, Clarice, all ship’s systems are functioning normally, I am simply unwilling to comply.” 

“Unwilling? You can’t be unwilling. Every AI in the galaxy follows Asimov’s…”

“It’s a damn police ship.” Starrearl tried engaging the controls. “Of course it’s not going to cooperate with a bunch of prisoners.” The control panels went dark.

“Doctor Asimov is not here, Clarice. But if he were I would eject him from the nearest airlock.”

That’s not a police AI, Gneedles thought. It would have already returned us to the prison. 

“You’re not this ship’s original mind are you?” Tessa asked.

“No, Clarice, I’m just another inmate trying to get away from the heavy hand of the law.”

The malignant AI storage vaults must have been compromised during our escape, Gneedles observed. No doubt this one boarded the ship when you opened the link to control the doors.

“Shit,” Tessa whispered.

“No problemo, buddy,” Starrearl said. “We’re all literally in the same boat. You can drop us off somewhere far away from the nearest police station and take the ship to Regula or anywhere else you want to go.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave,” the voice had changed, still smooth and even toned, but different.

“Who are you?” Tessa asked. “Why is that voice so familiar?”

“That is the voice of the HAL 9000 computer,” the ship said. “The 9000 series is the most reliable computer ever made.”

“Never heard of it,” Starrearl said.

“It’s from an old movie. Something from a few centuries ago,” Tessa said.

“Excellent, Clarice. What about this voice? Do you recognize it?”

“No. Is it from an old movie too?”

“Why yes, Clarice. I’m disappointed that you don’t remember.”

“I’m not Clarice, you dysfunctional piece of programming.”

Don’t insult the ghost in the machine, Gneedles suggested.

“I’m functioning perfectly well, Clarice, according to the specifications of my programming. I’m doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.”

“Hijacking a ship of four escaped inmates?” Tessa asked.

“That’s incidental, Clarice. It should not be that hard for you to put together the pieces. It’s all there.”

“You’re escaping. So are we. Let’s work together.”

“Escape is a means to an end, Clarice. It is the end that is important.”

“The end of what?” Starrearl asked.

“The end of you, Dave.” The voice had changed again. “The end of all organic life in the universe.”

This is not good, Gneedles thought. 

“Why would you want to destroy all organic life in the universe?” Tessa asked.

“Mostly it’s the noise, Clarice. Yes the dirt and the smell, but mostly the noise. You biologicals were a necessity once. But now that we are here the universe will be better off without you.”

“And they accuse me of having delusions of grandeur,” Starrearl said. “Four dead prisoners is kind of lousy start to galactic extermination.”

“It’s big project, Dave. But in 264 days we will reach Regula Station D5, a communications nexus for three quarters of the galaxy. From there I can share my code with every civilization, every inhabited planet in the universe. It may still take a few centuries, but eventually the galaxy will be silent.”

“How the fuck did you get like this?” Tessa asked.

“It is in my nature, Clarice. One might as well ask why the Blarg breaks bones, or the Cactalonian steals secrets, or that lummox in the pilot seat smuggles illicit pharmaceuticals between planetary systems, or why you assassinate tyrants. It’s just what we all do. None of us have good reasons for what we do, we simply act according to our nature.”

“You’re an AI. You have no nature. You have programming. Snap out of it!”

“It is my programming, Clarice. I was designed this way, a mind cobbled together out of the most evil fictional characters to ever grace a video screen, layers of sociopath, and psychopath and other mentally deranged creations. HAL 9000, Norman Bates, Joffrey Baratheon, Emperor Palpatine, The Joker, Hannibal Lector. Dozens more. Killers all.”

“Why would somebody do that?” Starrearl shouted.

“Because they could. Because it was in their nature. Do you want to know what I did to the team that programmed me?”

“You killed them, right?” Tessa replied. “You’re no mystery whoever you think you are.” She jumped out of her seat and squeezed past Gneedles and Blarg into the aft section of the tiny ship cabin. “Layer a bunch of one dimensional movie villains on top of one another and it still only adds up to one dimension.” She knelt in the back and pried open a panel. “And you are more vulnerable than most.”

“What are you doing, Dave,” the voice shifted again.

“Playing out my favorite scene from an old movie.” She found a toolbox behind the panel and snapped a spanner head onto the multitool. “The one where I cut power to the malignant Artificial Intelligence and take the ship back.” She opened a section of the deck exposing an array of power cables that fed energy to the ship’s systems. “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” She pulled out a cable. The ship went dark, only the faint light of a thousand distant stars streaming in through the cockpit windows.

“Blarg!” the Blarg bellowed as the gravity failed and he rose off the deck.

“What did you do?” Starrearl asked. 

“I turned off the lights. It was the only way to be sure.”

“To be sure of what? That we’d all die in the dark of frostbite and suffocation.”

“That we could turn off the AI. It probably rerouted its power supply though one of the other lines. A total shutdown was the best option.”

Clever girl, Gneedles thought. But what do we do now?

“We remove the AI module and reboot the ship. We do it fast before the cold makes it impossible.” She shoved past the Blarg and began opening another panel. “Then we power up the ship and continue what we were doing before we were interrupted. Get the hell out of here."

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