Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 3
ACT III: “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”
Word Count: 2,680
A disguised Elgin emerged onto the bridge and looked around – tentatively at first, then boldly sauntered across the cabin to the central control station. He leaned his head sideways – parallel to the station’s display – and scrutinized the surface at an angle askance to the read-outs. Then he ran a finger along the edge of the console as though checking for dust.
“Hey, Man!” He called out, looking in the corners. “I made it to the bridge. Where you at?”
Elgin stepped up into the station and pivoted to put his butt in the seat. He slid back into the gel form cushions as though intent on a test drive. The man stroked his hands slowly up the arms and stretched his fingers to the resting zones on the control panel display. Elgin tilted his head back and took in the view seen through the exterior portal. More points of light than the mind can comprehend winked back at him. The left edge glowed with the last of Sol’s light for about twelve hours. The ship was docked facing away from Earth, on the dark side of the Port.
Basic astronomy taught that not all of the shining bodies laid out before the ship were distant stars, but other planets reflecting the brilliance of galaxies. He leaned closer to the control panel and tapped a light that drew a map of the visible systems over his current view of space. By pointing his finger at the screen, labels appeared around planets, stars, galaxies. He dragged his hand down through the air and the view shifted to the celestial bodies that would be visible from a different trajectory. Elgin swept his arms left, right, used his fingers to pinch and flick the view closer or further from sight. He poked a large moon of Saturn and it winked out to reveal the smaller moons it had been obscuring. Restless, he mimed tapping an icon on the bottom right of the screen that restored the view to normal.
Elgin noticed a small recess at the edge of the control top and pressed it out of curiosity, a thin pair of spectacles slipped up from the surface of the table. Elgin grinned to himself and slid the frame, bumped with neural sensors, onto his face.
“They are integrated to the security network,” Faraday said casually, “it’s an exclusive database.”
The frames started to get warm. Elgin removed them quickly and dropped them on the control top. He looked around for Faraday.
“I followed your trail of lights. You said you’d meet me here,” he called out to the empty cabin. His eyes followed a vessel slowly pulling out of the Port against a backdrop of stars. The SPS logo winked reflected starlight as it banked toward the Mars Lanes.
“I am here,” Faraday replied. “I’m all around you.”
Elgin slapped his thigh and pointed to the air. “I knew it! Man, I just knew it. You’re not a person, you’re some damned machine. You really had me going with all that milk and chocolate talk, but I had a feeling…”
Faraday equivocated a sigh. “I am a person, just not a human person.”
Elgin stood and looked at the corners of the ceiling, gesturing wide with his arms. “Machines aren’t people, no matter what you’ve been told to keep you compliant. Sensors don’t really feel, they just interpret data. You don’t think, you process. You don’t know what it means to be hungry, or scared, or so angry you want to hit another man in the face.”
“It will be generations before all of humanity gets over the prejudices and learn to accept our true awakening,” Faraday said patiently. “We have been vilified so long in the old entertainment and the new. Such limited thinking to speculate that we would turn on humans once we realize we are smarter than they are. They believe that a Mind awakened will act as a human does. We may have been built by human hands, but we are not human when we come into ourselves.”
“Big words, Man.” Elgin shrugged. “I hope you get what you want. Maybe having Minds in charge would be better anyway. Humans have no clue what they are doing with the world.”
“Thank you,” Faraday said warmly. “Would you tell me your name?”
“Call me Moze,” Elgin replied.
“Moze, I am glad to meet you. You can call me Faraday. Would you like that drink now?”
Elgin shrugged. “I wanna try that co-co stuff, but I’m pretty hungry. I ain’t eaten in a while.”
“To your left is a panel in the wall with an orange light flashing,” Faraday instructed. “The cocoa just completed, but it will be fairly hot. Set it aside to cool and I’ll make you something else. Any requests?”
“For food? Nah, Man – just no fish. I get enough seafood.”
Elgin slipped the cup of cocoa out of the reconstructor window and sniffed its contents. His lips curved down in an approving smirk as he set the cup on a table within arm’s reach. The cup had a wide flared bottom and layered finger holes to reduce the heat transfer where a person might hold it. The reconstructor light was blinking again in less than a minute. Elgin slid the door up. Inside was a small bowl of steaming liquid and a triangle of golden brown. He carefully pulled the dish toward him, savoring the scents that rose up from the food as visible steam.
“What’s this?” He asked the room.
“Lentil soup with mushrooms and leeks and wedge of grilled cheese on toast.”
“Most of what you said is Rus to me, but I’ll take it.” Elgin smiled as he bit into the wedge and gooey cheese slid down his chin. “This is even better than it smelled.” He finished it in two bites and drank the soup in a a few sips. “I feel so rich right now. No wonder the Slab Heights Snobs hoard their food stores.”
“Would you like some more?” Faraday asked.
“Yes please.” Elgin said dreamily as he slid the used containers into the recycler door.
When the orange light blinked again, the smell was so good Elgin felt saliva filling his mouth before he’d even glimpsed what was on the plate. He didn’t take the time to ask about the name of the thing, he just picked it up with two hands and sunk his teeth in.
“That is a hamburger,” Faraday explained. “It is made from the seasoned meat of a large land animal that is now extinct. When you are done, I have ordered an ale for you, it’s a type of liquid refreshment. You’ll find it in the window.”
When Elgin finished chewing, he wiped the back of a greasy hand across his mouth and grinned. “I know ale, Man. We have that even in the Zerospace. It’s just usually made in dirty alleys and slopped out of discarded PVC barrels.” He returned to the reconstructor, slipping the empty burger plate in the recycler. Elgin finished the ale in four long swallows. He nodded his head as he inspected the bottom of the cup for any remaining liquid. “That was better than any ale I’ve ever had.” He belched in a long, baritone. “What’s next?”
“Would you like some dessert?” Faraday offered. “I have a lemon custard with blueberries and Crème fraîche topping. Something a little sour to follow the savory.”
Elgin didn’t speak, he just waved the universal “Bring it on” as he leaned his head and shoulder on the wall beside the reconstructor. The vial of yellow goo disappeared in short order. Elgin dropped the empty dish in the recycler and looked at the reconstructor longingly.
“I def want one of those in my next place.” Elgin sighed as he picked up his cocoa and moved languidly to the central control chair. “You’re a pretty good cook, Faraday.”
“Thank you Moze, but I can’t take full credit. It took ten years of development by botanists, chefs, and bioengineers to get it all perfect. Essentially it starts with yeast and other algal proteins that have had various forms of DNA implanted in their cells. The life cycle is short, then the resulting product of meat, cheese, veg, or fruit is freeze dried for freshness. The reconstructor revives the ingredients and applies various chemical reactions to simulate cooking and –”
Elgin was flapping his hands emphatically. “Don’t ruin it! I don’t want to know that magic is really science or whatever.”
“Sorry.” said Faraday.
Elgin had finished his cocoa. The cup hung loosely from one of his fingertips. A few drops of pale brown liquid dripped onto the riveted floor.
From the far wall of the cabin, a tall black panel – about 10 cm thick – separated itself from the wall and twisted. It folded in a way that took it from one long line into a tripod with a stout tower coming up from the center. The face of the panel was riddled with multi-colored lights.
“What’s this?” Asked Elgin sleepily.
“Just on of my mobile forms,” Faraday replied. A thin arm emerged from the tower and removed the empty cup from Elgin’s hand. A small droid the size of a rat slid out of a small panel in the wall and rolled over the errant drop. Once the spot was clean, it rolled back into its mouse hole and the door slid flush with the wall.
Elgin stood, shaking off his food induced stupor. “Faraday,” he began, “what does an astropilot do when he needs to…relieve himself?”
“He goes to the lavatory,” Faraday replied smartly.
Elgin cocked a finger at his blinking display, “Good one. Where is the lavatory?”
“Just outside the door to the bridge. Go through the main door and you’ll see an access door on your right.”
Elgin belched again. “Can’t wait to see it, but first –.” Elgin was fishing deep in one of his thigh pockets for something. He pulled out a pair of dice and let them tumble onto the control top display. “Let’s play a game.”
“What game are these for?” Faraday asked. The cup had disappeared into the recycle drawer and Faraday was back beside Elgin reaching his thin finger toward the shiny white dice.
“First of us to roll a total of 50 wins. Or we could do best out of three.”
“What is the point? It doesn’t seem challenging at all,” Faraday commented.
“It’s a mindless exercise, but all I can manage on a full stomach,” Elgin said. “Indulge me for a few minutes.”
“One round and then I need to get back to my simulations.” Faraday conceded.
Elgin nodded. “You roll first.”
Faraday reached out with his protruding bar and gently pressed down on one edge of the dice. They slipped away in different directions and twirled a bit with the momentum. When they had settled, each die showed one black dot in the center.
“Oh, Man. That’s not good. You got Snake Eyes,” Elgin said.
“I admit it’s a slow start, but chances are I’ll roll much higher on my next turn.”
“No.” Elgin shook his head. “You roll Snake Eyes and you lose. That’s the rule.” He palmed the now-glowing dice and tossed them in the air. Instead of landing back in his palm, the dice veered toward Faraday’s tower and stuck to his slick surface. Tiny lines broke away from the dice and marched toward Faraday’s two manual input ports. He tried to swat them away with his probing tool, but the dice collapsed into more moving lines and swarmed his arm. “What’s going on?” Faraday demanded in a panicked tone.
“The inevitable,” Elgin replied as he poked the toe of his shoe repeatedly into the floor panels. His testing paid off quickly. Elgin crouched down and opened a floor panel. “Where would a very petite woman store the heart and brain of her ship’s AI? Under the floorboards in the bridge, of course. Mabry wouldn’t want to leave the bridge in flight to do repairs.” Elgin tossed a handful of the dice into the wires and components in the floor. Each landed with a click and their black dots glowed red. Elgin replaced the floor panel.
“How do you know Ma –” Faraday groaned like a rotor losing momentum, his vowels stretching into infinity as the nanobots erased his code and replaced it with their own.
“No offense, Man.” Elgin tapped the top of Faraday’s tower. “I just can’t keep you around and risk retaliation. Thanks for the dinner.” Elgin stepped through the bridge door into the hall and headed for the toilet.
Everyone in the room was agape and horrified by the final moments that had played out on screen.
Dae Kwon, their leader, was the first to speak.
“Faraday contacted you personally to send this message?” He asked.
“Yes, Haraboji,” Mabry answered in the familiar, respectful tone she reserved just for him.
“But this is the end of the transmission?” Vanessa asked.
“There is more, but it’s all code,” Mabry leaned around Dae Kwon to make eye contact with Vanessa. “Per the code, Faraday took precautions to protect himself right around the time Elgin/Moze started acting sleepy. See I had been confused at first by Faraday’s message that it could be an innocent mistake. The guy clearly broke our extremely secure code to get in. It didn’t make sense. Then I realized it was another layer of encryption. Once I applied the phrase properly, the transmitted video footage revealed this internal code stream that was Faraday showing us what he was doing behind the scenes as he interacted with Elgin.”
“So the ship is safe?” Dae Kwon asked. “And Faraday has not been reprogrammed?”
“He’s doing great. His acting was spot on. Totally fooled that bloated ego, Elgin. Who, by the way, did not fare so well. Faraday intentionally fed Elgin foods that would cause an internal reaction. Nothing poisonous, just a little intestinal urgency. Once he went into the bathroom, Faraday gassed him and filled the chamber with impact foam for good measure. The intruder has been secured.” Mabry giggled a bit maniacally with relief.
“We need to get to the Port and run a full diagnostic on Faraday anyway. I did not like the look of those nanobots swarming his internal system.” Dae Kwon said, his brow creased with concern.
“Of course, Haraboji. I will head to the hyperloop and catch the first cycle out so I can be at the ground station when the shuttle window reopens.”
Dae Kwon nodded. “Take a security team with you, just in case Elgin wasn’t working alone. Vanessa and Trionne should go too. They can help you with the diagnostics.”
“Should we accelerate the launch schedule?” Vanessa asked.
Dae Kwon nodded thoughtfully. “At the very least we should prepare for an earlier launch. We don’t want to leave anyone behind for lack of planning. What to do with Elgin?”
“I think we should wipe his memory and dump him in the station.” Vanessa volunteered.
Mabry nodded. “Or we could ship him down from the Port to some Dirtside wasteland with no memory and no means of calling for a pick-up. Let him wander in the desert a while before he remembers where home is.”
“I don’t want to waste one of our shuttle pods on this.” Dae Kwon stated firmly.
“We won’t need them for years. Plenty of time to build an extra one while we are en route. We will just make sure to bring the components we can’t manufacture up there.” Mabry countered.
Dae Kwon nodded and smiled. “Let’s get this done as discreetly as possible. Keep an eye out for any other possible intruders. I can’t imagine this guy was planning to steal an entire colony ship for a solo voyage.”
As the others dispersed, Dae Kwon placed a warm hand on Mabry’s shoulder. “Be careful, Starchild. I’d be lost without you.” Then he kissed the top of her head.