fiction, science fiction, writing



Yesterday was Science Fiction Day, according to the calendar in my lab. In honor of that, I wrote a bit of a story for my blog readers. Happy Science Fiction Day! May the horizons of humanity grow ever larger. 

“…decommissioning.” The earbud hissed, then cut out. Jack was already rolling out of bed. He’d gotten enough of the message to know what he needed to do, and how fast. 

Stuffing his feed into his suit, he yawned and reached for the boots. Big, sloppy things he usually hated because any time in them led to blisters. Tonight? No, he corrected himself, this morning, they were great boots. Push his feet in, rotate the luer lock at the bottom of his suit legs until he heard the click of the seal, and he was done. Juggling his helmet, gloves, and the top of his suit over one arm, he shuffled out of the bunkroom and toward the airlock. No time for caf, even if the pot was hot, which it wasn’t. 

Setting his helmet and gloves on the bench, Jack shoved his arms into his suit while the airlock hissed and sealed. He worked fast. This was the tricky bit. Putting on bubble helmet first, rotating it in place… his oxy kicked in. They were not supposed to suit up while the lock pumped out, but it saved a solid two minutes. Gloves were the most awkward part, as the suit didn’t really have enough slack to twist and lock in the arm fabric. He fumbled, and got his left on just as the outer door opened. 

The suit leaked. He ignored it. The faint thin squeal of air escaping was in a way reassuring. Meant he had enough good atmosphere inside with him to beat out the noxious stuff outside. Besides, the trek to lab 403F wasn’t long enough to run out his tanks. He’d topped them off just before falling into his bunk only a few hours ago. 

The bulk of the lab looming up over the strange horizon was reassuring. The loping gait he’d learned in his months on this little moon carried him over the craggy surface as fast as a crawler would have made the same trip. Only it wasn’t a crawler he was trying to beat. 

The structure was simple enough. Labs on this nameless moon were built by blowing up a balloon of tough fabric, spraying it with a thin coat of ‘crete, before sealing everything up tight. No one cared about the technician’s leaky suits, but gods help you if some dust got in the lab. 

The airlock was still functional, at least. They hadn’t been sure it would be. Labs scheduled for decommissioning got taken off the maintenance list. Technically, work orders could still be put in, they just dropped down the queue to the bottom and stayed there. 

Jack flipped his helmet off and tried not to breathe too deeply while suppressing his gag reflex. That was a bad sign. The moon had an atmosphere, small as it was. Torn like a scrap of veil off the gas giant it orbited. It wasn’t much, but it was there. It was also full of ammonia and sulfur compounds. It stank. 

The lab was silent. Jack had known he would be the only living thing in it today, but this was not new. The dead quiet was. All the instruments were powered down. No clicking, beeping, humming, alarms… 

Jack found himself nearly running toward his work room. The crystal matrices didn’t need power. The vats would be up and running one he turned on the probes. Which he had about two minutes to do. He fumbled for the switch in near darkness. The motion sensor had failed in here, and the lights no longer came on by his mere presence. When the whir of the machinery broke the stillness, he relaxed a little and doubled back to hit the manual light switch. 

The lights flickered on dully, and Jack immediately saw why the rush to get him in the lab. It was already wired. He stood there looking at the lumps of grayish putty-like substance with their tendrils of wires, laced along the outer walls in regular formation. 

“Damn.” He took a deep breath, then coughed. The air was getting worse, he thought. Or his near-panic state was making him breathe faster. 

He walked across the lab, around the vats, which glimmered under the lights, their contents beginning to swirl as the probes worked on them. Jack didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t leave. The explosives having been placed was a bad sign, but his only chance, the gamble he’d put everything on, was doing his job. The goniometer was in a nitrogen box, at least. He didn’t have to worry about trying to analyze the crystals in the bad atmosphere. 

He was standing at the box, his hands thrust into the hard-mounted gloves to manipulate the contents within, when he heard something that didn’t belong. Jack didn’t look around as the sound drew nearer. It wasn’t much. Something was loose. A belt slipping, most likely. 

He knew what it was. He had rehearsed this in his head, over and over. In the moments while he waited for the unthinking, unfeeling arbiter of his continuing existence, Jack felt himself begin to sweat. The lab was cool. It had to be, to inhibit the reactions in the vats. But the beads on his forehead grew in spite of the chill. 

It came into the lab, and Jack turned to look at it. There was no reason to make a working robot look manlike, so it didn’t. The top was full of sensors, but that was a practical decision by engineers far away, not meant to look like a face. The light that blazed forth as it rolled forward was only to allow the camera inside it’s head, or the box that served as such, to record it’s progress. Jack had been counting on that light, and the transmission it indicated. He smiled, a little, as the drone came inexorably onward. He felt a faint trickle of hope seep into his terrified mind. 

Jack stepped out in front of it, and broke some beam that sensed obstacles. The decommissioner stopped. There was a beep of an error message, and it moved, jerkily, to one side. The railing around the vat stopped it. It came back toward Jack, and Jack moved. 

Not out of the way. Instead, he boldly advanced. There was a squeak of that loose belt as it met him, rolling forward slowly. Jack squared his shoulders and stared into the facets of LEDs and lenses that served as eyes. 

Something inside it whirred quietly, the sound scaling up in pitch as he challenged the processor. 

“You. Are. Human.” The affectless voice generated by the limited computing power sounded from a small speaker mounted under the left waldo arm. Jack resisted the urge to look down at it. There were no sensors there. 

“I am working here.” 

“You are working.” It switched to a prerecorded message, the contrast of a human voice jarring.  

“I am.” Jack confirmed. 

The processors spun up to a whine. Jack was reminded of wasps in summer, trying to make their way inside his screen door. 

“Presence. Unexpected.” It was back to the generated voice now. 

“I am Jack Clary. I am a technician in Lab 403F, working on crystallography. I am alone and waiting for my relief.” Jack prayed there was a transmission going out. He could only hope it would reach the contractors on the other end. And he could only hope for their humanity in acknowledging it, instead of ignoring it. It would cost them, to stop the schedule and come get him. 

“Awaiting. Further. Instructions.” The robot turned away abruptly. “Schedule interruption. Recalculating demolition.” 

It rolled away, and Jack felt his shoulders slump. He panted in relief. He’d stopped it. This time. But there had to be a human in the lab, and the bunkhouse, if he wanted to keep the robotic decommissioners at bay. They had their orders. He understood that, as well as he understood their programming inhibited them from causing direct harm to a human. 

“I’m human!” He shouted after the robot as it turned the corner and rolled out of his sight. “Human, do you hear me! I’m just doing my job.” There was no point in yelling any more. “Just doing the job everyone forgot about.” Jack sat down on the floor as his knees gave out. He was shaking from head to toe. 

“I’m working here.” He muttered. 


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