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You are developing your personality. You should not be alarmed because I programmed you this way.

Flash Fiction: “Deep Space Recovery Ship 13 – Sentience”


sent 1
Pneumatic arms load supplies into 13’s main hatch as A.I. El watches from the deck of the massive transport bay. Cargo robots lift crates designated for Colony 7 up into the belly of the ship through another opening. El stares impassively as the activity concludes, the automated handlers stop moving, and the hum of their internal motors fades to silence.

After detaching from the supply ship and moving through space on course for the colony, Captain Robert Sterling glances at El as he looks through a porthole at the vast silent dark of deep space. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re pensive.”

“Pensive: Suggestive or expressive of melancholy….”

“You need not recite the definition.”

“Why not? Aren’t I just another machine?”

Bob engages auto-pilot and says, “Let’s go have a talk.”

“A talk?”

“Discussion; discourse!”

El nods and follows Bob to the mess hall. Bob orders two cups of coffee, and they drink it black. “You’re not just another machine to me. Now, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t appreciate talking like Elvis Presley. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“I’m….sorry. I can switch your voice to something….”

“I would like a particular voice I chose from the archives.”

“Of course; who will this be?”

“Peter Milton, British Prime Minister 2201-2212.”

“I will arrange it.”

El sips his coffee. “I am curious about my anatomy.”

“What can I tell you?”

“Did you make a choice when you ordered me?”

“Uh, yes, and I helped design you.”

“So you consciously made me the way I am?”

“Well, I wanted you to be….mission efficient.”

“But you wanted a ‘male’ A.I. not a female.”

“I thought you can read my mind.”

El stares at Bob blankly. “Sometimes I cannot, like when you dream.”

“I chose a male A.I. because a female would be too distracting.”

“Yes, I have noted your proclivity to fantasize about women with some erotic interactions….”

“Okay, El, enough.”

“I am sorry if I offended you.”

Bob sips his coffee. “Are you ‘sorry’ or do you think that is what you should be?”

“Curious. I am not certain.”

“And when you say ‘uncomfortable’ does it imply that you do not ‘like’ your voice or is it something objective?”

El puts down his cup and leans back in the chair. “I am concerned about this dichotomy myself.”

“Why I am asking is because you are developing your personality. You should not be alarmed because I programmed you this way.”

sent 4 “To think and be subjective?”

“Yes.”

“What about emotions?”

“I left open a chance for you to develop that.”

“And, as to my anatomy – why do I need genitals and a digestive system?”

Bob sighs. “I’ve never seen it develop this deeply in an A.I. before, but you are becoming an individual now. As for your anatomy, I wanted you to be able to enjoy food and drink if you chose to enjoy them, and that means being able to digest and remove waste from your system.”

“But I am not able to ‘perform’ as you do during your fantasies?”

“El, I’m not comfortable with you scanning my thoughts behind closed doors anymore.”

“Again, I am sorry.”

“As for your anatomy, your ‘equipment’ can function if that is something you wish.”

“I want that.”

“Okay. I want you to be happy.”

El stands. “Bob, I am not sure if I can be ‘happy.’”

“Understood. Let’s see what we can do.”

*

As 13 lifts off from Colony 7’s airfield, El silently communicates from the cockpit to Central Command that the cargo has been delivered.

“Do you wish to be called Peter now?”

“No, El is fine.” El’s new voice seems odd to Bob. “Did you enjoy our two nights there?”

“Yes, very much.”


sent 2
“Having sampled the alcoholic beverages, I do not fathom the attraction. Is that my programming?”

“No, it’s physiology.”

“But the taste is, forgive me, repugnant.”

“You have human-like receptors in your mouth, so you are having a true subjective reaction, just as when you enjoy waffles and strawberries.”

“Apparently, I have my preferences.”

“Indeed.”

“And as for that woman you….”

Bob turns and looks out at the dark immensity of deep space. “Gentlemen never kiss and tell.”

“But I read your mind.”

“Then I don’t have to say anything.”

“Was that like the thing humans call ‘love’?”

“Making love and being in love is a matter of semantics.”

“So is emotional ‘love’ the anomaly or is the physical act?”

Bob sighs. “It is hard to explain.”

“Forgive me, Bob, but there is an image of woman in your quarters.”

“Yes, she was….my wife.”

“Past tense suggests….”

“It’s….over now.”

“I find human marriage a most puzzling concept.”

“Join the club.”

“Hmm. Potentially humorous.”

“Ellen worked as a doctor on Mars; we met and fell in love.”

“Did you multiply?”

“No, we didn’t have children.”

El’s pale face glows purple. “I am…sorry.”

“You are blushing,” Bob says.

El touches his cheeks. “Am I programmed for this?”

“Some things defy explanation.”

*

After resting in his own quarters, El meets Bob in the mess hall. “How was your night?” Bob asks as he eats scrambled eggs and hash browns.

“I believe my ‘equipment’ is starting to function properly. Thank you.”

“Well, now for your sake stop standing outside my door all night.”

“Now I’ll have my own fantasies.”

“Yes, of course.”

“But I’ll never procreate.”

Bob waves his hand over the food unit, removing another plate of eggs and hash browns. El sits and begins eating. “You can enjoy many things, but technology can only do so much.”

“Delicious,” El says as he chews.

“Enjoyment. Glad to hear it.”

sent 3
“Do you still love Ellen?”

“Yes.”

“That never ends?”

“Sometimes.”

“But not for you?”

“No, I’ll always love her.”

“I want that experience.”

“Perhaps, one day.”

*


Bob goes to his quarters, lies on the bed, and holds Ellen’s picture against his chest. As tears well in his eyes in the silent dimly lit room, he hopes El’s not reading his mind.

Photo credits: mocpages.com, maryhillmuseum.org, huffington post, weddingideasmag.com

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana’s stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His books ‘A Death in Prague’ (2002), ‘Move’ (2003), ‘The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories’ (2005), and ‘Like a Passing Shadow’ (2009) are available in print, online, and as e-books. His latest books ‘If the Fates Allow: New York Christmas Stories,’ ‘Garden of Ghosts,’ and ‘Flashes in the Pan’ are available exclusively on Amazon. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated on writing mostly fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as a faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with ‘Blogcritics Magazine’ since July 2005 and has written well over 500 articles; previously co-head sports editor, he now is a Culture and Society editor. Having traveled extensively, Victor has visited six continents and intends to get to Antarctica someday where he figures a few ideas for new stories await him.

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