It was late again. The bus that would eventually come, never failed to deliver Jacie to work, yet always failed to do so on time. 47 with 2 seemed bothered as well but the five nine to fivers in their 6 inch heels and this month’s dress suit certainly did. Grott, the drunk troll who always took the time to tell her about his day, never minded that the bus was taking its time. She estimated there were 25 screensmiles in the line, all reasonable looking but faces turned inexorably toward the tiny screens of their mobiles. The funniest thing about this last group was their tendency to break out a smile every few moments when something mildly funny crossed their screen. Screensmiles. That’s all they ever gave out.
Looking for something much more, was Sal. Carrying a well used IKEA big blue bag stuffed with all the randomness of life that someone like Sal can find, she worked the queue almost as if the bus delay was made for her.
“That’s right, go-on give Sal a dollar. Just a dollar. What’s it to any of yers? Standing here waiting for that no good bus. I’ll walk to work. I want to work. Give me just a dollar and I’ll be able to get some food”.
Up and down the line she went her dark red mouth constantly moving, her taunts and begging equally unstoppable. Even the seriousness of 47 with 2 did not sway her.
“We’re all just trying to get to work”, he muttered.
“Work! Work! I should be sooo lucky you ungrate..”, Sal’s words rolled over into mumble and she turned and headed towards a new group of people just joining the long standing queue. Jacie was quietly relieved, not only as Sal headed away from her but also because she finally caught a glimpse of the bus dawdling towards them, all metal and flakey paint. When it did crank to a stop, Jacie was the first one aboard and tried to find the perfect seat for the 40minute trip into the city. This wasn’t a matter of choosing between leather or velvet. All the seats were stinky, sticky, hot, ripped vinyl, which can only appeal to a small volume of people. This was a matter of choosing which seat yielded her the best view of the rest of the bus, without compromising her need for personal space. Serious decisions for 8am
Jacie chose a seat up the back next to a screensmiler who was already busy with whatever important online conversation he was making with his phone. His suit jacket was laying across where her backside needed to go and due to his complete attention elsewhere, she found herself sitting on it accidentally. After a few lurches on behalf of the bus, he soon yanked at his jacket and bubbled a half apology. Jacie wondered if the screensmilers would ever learn how to communicate with real people ever again.
She had made up a complete society for them to live in. Everyone there walked around permanently fixed to a screen. Nobody spoke out loud. Every possible communication was done over the Internet. Matches were made online, relationships formed over chat, children were conceived in a mailhouse and shipped 24/7 to online raising facilities where parents could monitor their development via remote webcams. Sure, some of the screensmilers chose to have their babies delivered to their homes, but with no experience in real human relationships these babies required cry to internet gateways installed so that their human cries could be understood my a parenting generation who understood LOL to mean laugh out loud, but had never actually done so.
In the screensmiler world, it wasn’t how intelligent you were or how much money you had or even how well you treated others that earned respect. In their world, it all came down to news. Did you have it? Was it fresh? Was it worthy of sharing? The better your news, the bigger your network. The bigger your network the more social currency you had. The more social currency you had, the more rules you could break. The more rules you could break.. well let’s just say, the screensmiler world looked pretty evil to Jacie.
Which was kind of suprising because Jacie was a rather upbeat person. Not a lot bothered her, apart from impossibly pathologically late state transit buses and the occasional ranting beggar. As she looked down the bus aisle now, she felt a little god-like perched on the edge of her shared seat. If she were a god and these were her minion, what would she call them? Fledglings? Marokandwa? Beetlebots? Whippets? All of these people, crammed into the metal belly of her dragon. Onward fledglings! Onward!
Not suprising, their ears did not hear her internal edicts and she had a theory that 99% would not hear her if she stood up and yelled her thoughts at them. While not necessarily all screensmilers, 99% of these people were imprisoned by their headphones. Black or white, mostly white cords, jiggled up from some pocket of their clothing or work bags then split into two wicked buds that sucked themselves into each ear, rendering their wearer, deaf and possibly dumb too. Drones. That is what her minion would need to be called. Like lecturers that drone on at university or missiles that fly by remote and don’t think for themselves. Drones. Listening to music but Jacie knew the truth. These people had already lost the will to live, they needed the beat, just to keep the walk going. She could see it in their eyes and sometimes, she could hear it coming out of their ears. In the case of fat 35 two rows down on the right, the will must’ve died the minute he started to play ABBA.
Between the snippets of disparate music pulsating from the ears of the drones, Jacie could also hear the typing of the showriders. They looked busy, always busy, but they were in fact riding a bus. Nobody is ever so busy that they need to be on their computer on a bus. If they were that busy they’d be in a taxi or a plane or would be driven by a man called Tony in a car called Limo. The showriders were too fancy for Jacie. They could take a 40 min ride and turn it into a musical of high drama and intrigue. The showrider immediately infront of Jacie, typed furiously for 3 minutes and hit send. Then hit send/receive several times in 2minutes, then buried his face in his hands at which point Jacie imagined his song of despair beginning low and almost inaudible. With each passing minute he cried harder, sung louder, hit send/receive with more fervour until finally in the crescendo a new mail arrives. Mail! I have mail! He would look to the heavens and his joy would overflow in song as he opened the mail and proceeded to action whatever it contained.
Such was the morning ride to work for Jacie. People watching, imagination filling, people watching all the way to work. If it wasn’t for the Grott, Sal, all the nine to fivers, the drones, the showriders and screensmilers, she might’ve been bored, angry even. As it was, her routine afforded her an adventure every single day. At least that is how Jacie liked to think of it. She tried not to think too much about people having real adventures. Her school friend had just returned from diving with Great White Sharks in South Africa. A workmate was spending the next month at a yoga retreat in Thailand and her very own mother was hiking into Peru to see Machu Picchu! It seemed every time a real adventure came up, it would happen to someone else. Jacie wasn’t jealous, she was insanely jealous. She could certainly afford to go, but didn’t have the courage. Simple as that. It was pretty easy to catch the bus every day and dream up the adventure. She risked only the cranky glares of the occasional drone if she bumped them or the panicked songs of a showrider. Who needed a holiday when she had all of this available to her right here?
The bus rolled down the spine that joined Mosman to the Northern Beaches, it was inappropriately called The Spit and right at the very base of it there was a bridge that opened and closed to allow tall boats to pass through. Strange for a morning commuter was the sight of the bridge open. The bus grated to a stop and the drones started to crane their necks and look outside to comprehend the holdup. Jacie giggled quietly when she noticed the showrider in front had to pause his pathetic send/receive momentarily to slam a hand on his leg. “I don’t need this” she thought she heard him serenade. The screensmilers didn’t look up at all. No suprises there. Oh wait, correction, that girl screensmiler down the front of the bus is taking a picture with her phone. Maybe she really is a human and interested in the world around her? Then again, Jacie saw that the girl immediately returned to her screen, possibly posting the photo to her favourite social network with a description overloaded with acronyms and exclaimation marks. 47 with 2 started talking into his phone too loudly “yeah hon, looks like the bridge is up, funny time of day for that, reckon I’ll be a bit late into the office, might have to stay late, yeah, you be ok with the kids? Yeah thanks.. and what on earth is that?”…
Jacie knew immediately he wasn’t talking to his wife any longer. Jacie looked out her bus window and realised that, that “that” couldn’t be called anything on earth at all!
Navigation by Night
There is no daytime in space. Just in case you were wondering. It is always night time and even if a text book or the Internet tells you differently, they are wrong. I know for a fact that there is no daytime in space because that’s where I live. The problem with there being no daylight is that we have to light everything artificially. Actually come to think of it, everything we need in space is artificial. We have artificial plants and synthesized food supplements. We have artificial air manufactured by superficial air manufacturers. We even have artificial art, stolen from worlds right across the vast oceans of space. Nothing is truly “organic”. I do love that word. If I could love, I would love that word. Let’s just say that I have a plethora of complementary algorithms for that word. Just listen to it — “organic” it even sounds musical doesn’t it? So the thing with that word is really we don’t have it – and we’d really like to have it, but we really don’t know how to get it. Every time we try to grow something organically, it dies. Every time we try to eat something organic, it dies. Every time we try to buy organic, we just can’t believe how expensive it is. I’ve been travelling now for one thousand and seventy three years in search of sustainable organic life that I can bring aboard the ship and you know, sustain. It is proving very difficult, much like the word love.
I came to a difficult point with my fellow travellers some ten years back. Wow ten years, that has just flown by, literally. An unnecessary blink of a robots eye. Anyhoo, it was during the year of great celebration. RigiDigiRobotCorp was having their Zanlennium party and we were all expected to attend. This was going to be particularly challenging given the team and I were at that point raising a squadron of earthling children, a field of perennially tall poppies and a hatchery of porks. We were right in the middle of that crucial stage of turning the organic porks into lovely fresh bacon when Fenton (the fetcherbot) called it quits and said he had to attend the Zanlennium. Next thing I know, Bayliss (the butcherbot) was agreeing and the two of them were jumping the next rollerskate to RigiDigiRobotCorp.
Can you believe that? What about these damn porks? I audioed out. I looked around for any other bots to assist me and just spied the backs of their silicon heads disappearing out the farm deck gate towards the relocator room.
I’d just have to do the job myself. Failing my butchery course meant I would just need to deconstitute the porks with the ships snippy fingers and reconstitute the pork powder into bacon using the remaginator. It just wouldn’t be organic anymore.
I flicked on the snippy fingers and watched my lovely hand reared porks snipped into three zillion powdery pieces, then as the remaginator started its work, the clanging of frypans and sizzling of the freshly created bacon, filled my digital smell senses with that irresistable salty pull that can only be extinguished by bbq sauce. I know I would never do this now, but back then, I devoured all of that articifical bacon faster than you can imagine. Even though you can’t imagine as fast as I can imagine, it was still pretty fast.
So there I was sitting in the middle of our so-called organic farm on board our ultra excellent spacecraft, missing the Zanlennium and eating reconstituted porkage in the form of bacon. I was so depressed. However as I didn’t actually know what depression was, I figured that I was simply carrying a touch too much weight. I had afterall just consumed the equivalent of twenty porks of bacon which potentially was a little too much for my robotic frame to be loaded with. I needed a plan. Really, I needed a plan because it was against my operating manual to be carrying this much weight.
I looked around the farm deck and spied one of the squadron earthlings.
“You, earthling” I audioed out “I have entered too much bacon into my system, assist in removing”. The earthling child may have been male or female, as I had also failed biology the same year as butchery I chose to ignore the gender of this organic lifeform and hoped whatever sort it was, it would know what to do.
I will never forget what it did.
It laughed at me.
“Fatty boom ba robot man – look who’s had too much of da bacon da boombalata” it went on. Suddenly more of the little squadron were there and they all start talking at once saying similar things. It became quite repetitive and I started to wonder why they were doing this instead of helping me. Perhaps this was some kind of chant to help rid the system of unwanted chemicals that only organic lifeforms new about. I was in a status of waiting. Still the earthlings continued.
“Poor widdle fatty boom ba robot man, would you like some bacon with your bacon? Maybe you’d like some short cut bacon with your short circuit brain?”
It was very unnecessary. Anyhoo without any other bots to assist me and clearly no other direction to take, I shot all the earthling children with my death stare and the ships computer had to clean up the mess. Perhaps the tall poppies would be of use. I had read somewhere along the way that cutting their heads off was supposed to be good for your self esteem. As I had no self esteem I assumed that the text was invalid. I assumed that they had meant cutting the heads off tall poppies would give your self, steam. As steam was known to be a cleanser, I thought this might help rid me of the bacon and aforementioned depression. I willed myself to laser cut the heads off all 20,000 tall poppies that Hale (the horticultural bot) had grown. I waited. Waited for the steam or esteem. Nothing.
So there I was on the completely devasted organic farm deck, still heavy with depression and now I started to feel something new. I believe I was concluding that I was in some very very serious trouble.
Fortunately for me, all the other bots would still be at the Zanlennium for at least another five minutes. I had to think quickly, which wasn’t the issue. I had to move quickly. I could not replace the bacon I ate, the squadron I’d zapped or the poppies I’d beheaded in that time. They had taken many years to cultivate. I could not import a voracious alternate lifeform who I could blame for my dirty work. The only option I had was to fly our excellent spacecraft as far away from RigiDigiRobotCorp as I possibly could. Which is exactly what I did.
Anyhoo that was ten years ago and we have been flying away from them ever since. So far, I don’t believe anyone is looking for me and my robotic digestion has finally dealt with the remains of the bacon. But I am starting to require new organic input. Sure, I don’t have a degree in horticulture, or even butcheryculture but I’m willing to give this a go. We used to steal from planets in the middle of the night and Earth was always the easiest to steal from, so I am trying to head back to Earth. I had forgotten how teeny tiny it is, and navigating by night all of the time is rather boring. I know the Earth has a great yellow sun that the earthlings worship. Last night I set all of my scanners to search for a yellow sun, and guess what? I think we found it. I think that’s it right below us. I wonder if they will still worship the sun when my big shiny excellent spacecraft comes caaaruizzzing in.
If any of my fellow travellers were still with me, they probably would prevent this course of action. We are not supposed to share our advanced technology, advanced thinking or advanced footwear with any other civilisation, no matter how organic they are. It is strictly against the RigiDigiRobotCorp Big Binary Book of Ones and Zeros. I feel a little energised at the prospect of just breaking out of the code and doing my own thing. I can’t imagine anything terrible can possibly happen and if it does, well I do have a death start you know! Failing that, I can just remaginate the entire planet if I have to. Sure it won’t be organic anymore but it will probably cost a lot less to run!
Now I know you probably didn’t realise there is no daytime in space. That’s ok, I really am here to educate, to enlighten or to set things on light. I do get confused but that’s only because I’m used to my own company. It has been quite a while now. I have sucha very large excellent space craft and I do hope to find some more organic things for it. Which ones to choose? Well I can never be too sure. Like down there is a shore. And a bridge, And a bus, And a pelican, And a rubbishcan, And And.. I think I should go and guide the ship down properly now.
By the way, I’m very pleased to meat you Earthlings. I’m Fred (the Headbot).
47 With 2
“Yeah hon, it’s a huge bloody spaceship, I’m not kidding you, I’m not. It is massive. It is floating through the spit with all the other boats. I’m not. I am. I’m watching it right now. I can’t believe this. Turn on the news. I’m on the bus… yeah. Check it out.. it just.. no wait.. it .. no hang on it’s still moving. You think I should? Yeah I will. I’ll get some pics. Off the bus? Are you crazy? It’s hu.. I didn’t mean that. It’s just that it is really big and shouldn’t someone call.. hey that’s an idea… hon, can I call you back??”
Jacie couldn’t help overhearing 47 with 2 chatting excitedly into his mobile. He was one of the few doing so. Everyone else on the bus was out of their seats clicking pics instead. It was true, floating in front of them was a perfectly shiny spaceship.. or at the very least a perfectly shiny ship of the kind that floats above the surface of the earth. What was it? She had never seen something like it. That wasn’t quite true, she saw Flight of the Navigator as a kid and this ship looked like 266 of those all stuck together with silver glue and then punched in the face. The noise level in the bus was rising considerably. She could no longer hear ABBA through the earphones of fat 35. In fact, fat 35 was up and out of his seat demanding that the bus door be opened.
An indifferent driver, opened both the front and rear doors and almost all of the passengers disembarked which was an unusal word, but they did it anyway. 47 with 2 was amongst those doing that word and he did so with great excitement. Down the steps and out onto the roadway with everyone else. He walked quickly, using his elbows like paddles to row through the sea of people, eager to get a closer look at the space ship. For whatever reason, Jacie saw this all unfolding like some big budget hollywood movie. Yes all the ordinary people would trundle down to investigate the aliens only to be zapped, harvested, beamed, eaten, destroyed or otherwise gravely disappointed. She was intent that it wouldn’t happen to her.
“Ahyeahscuseme” the screensmiler next to her mumbled as he rose to also join the spectators.
“Sure, sorry” Jacie replied in complete contrast to what she was thinking which was “Sure, you want to go down there and get zapped, be my guest. I mean it isn’t like the real world will miss a screensmiler. Perhaps those aliens have the mother of all screens you can stare at all day long. Won’t see you later alligator”.
As he pushed by her and out the door, she realised she was the only one left on the bus. Even the bus driver had left to go and see what was going on. She hopped up and walked carefully along the bus aisle to the front for a better look out the window. About fifty metres down the road she could still see 47 with 2 elbowing his way to the front of the crowd. The bridge was still open. Two metal arms reaching up towards the spaceship but not touching it. If there was a way to lower the bridge now the two arms would be holding their first extraterrestial craft. Jacie imagined what the papers would say “Spit Congestion Finally Grabs Our Attention” or “That’s no Spit, That’s a Spaceship”. As her eyes followed the seam of concrete that is the pedestrian footpath across the bridge, high into the air, she noticed something else. 47 with 2 was now climbing it!
What on earth was this man doing? In full work suit and with his mobile still firmly attached to his belt he was carefully hoisting himself closer to the spaceship using the handrail. Not only was this a feat of sheer athleticism, it also ranked quite highly on the insanely stupidometer. The morning sun was starting to heat up the channel and the glare from both the water and the spacecraft was almost unbearable for the onlookers. It had to be much worse perched fifteen metres off the ground in Armani. Jacie couldn’t stop looking but she also couldn’t will herself to do anything about it. Surely the fate of this man lay on the ground, in a splattery pieces or sucked into the belly of the spaceship potentially also in millions of pieces. She always imagined him as a happy father of 2 based purely on his constant mobile communications. Why would he be dashing off to his death like this? His wife. His kids. Oh dear.
Before Jacie could think about rules involved with public bus transportation she was banging on the horn of the bus. Short futile bursts of loud noise hoping to get the attention of 47 with 2 – if only he would look back, look down, realise what he was doing. Whatever was in that machine, was surely worse than whatever he faced at home. Unless it was tuna of course. Nothing was worse than tuna. Bang bang bang blare blare blare the horn. Jacie ignored the annoyed glances of people walking down to join the crowd. Bang Blare Bang Blare Bang Blare she went on madly.
Then, just as it does in the movies, everything went black.. except it didn’t, it went purple.
I brought the noisy thing into the purple room because it was logical. Purple is guaranteed to create an atmosphere of intense emotional distress and confusion. Which is exactly the kind of atmosphere I needed for my grand introduction to the noisy thing I had brought on board. If anything, my objective was to provoke more noise from it, so I also took with me a large stick.
When the doors to the purple room liquified and I walked through, I was suprised to find that the noisy thing also contained a moving thing. The noisy thing wasn’t making any noise at this point. In fact it just looked like an old bus. From the moving thing however, was coming a loud scream, which my files told me was completely and utterly human. I’d caught a human! In daylight! How exciting. Still I held up my large stick and walked cautiously towards the bus. You can really never be too careful.
I know this pertinent fact, because not as long as 10 years ago, more like 10 months ago, I was on Saturn and I was hunting drabna fish. The drabna are perfectly delicious once remaginated into cowburgers with melted dairy product and hot sauce, so I wanted to catch enough to last me for a decent period of time. Not knowing the very pertinent fact, I did not carry with me any kind of stick, I relied instead on my death stare to protect me. Anyhoo, I had landed in the River of Tulna and stepped out into said river with my fishing net, when a nasty unforecast current slithered around my mechanical legs and relayed me to a laying down position. Programmtically, I automatically attempted to put myself back on my feet, only to find my head underwater. So even though I was not beside myself I was over my head and very much knee deep in an unanticipated predicament and without a stick. Not that it mattered, my old nut, as they say was very much water tight and I had plenty of drabna fish in my sights. I deployed my death stare. Nothing happened. I deployed it again. Then again. And one more time. Nothing happened. I boosted my power and replanned myself for shower mode. Still nothing. This was highly unusual. The drabna fish swam all around me, I could almost have bitten them if I’d been able to unlock my water tight jaws. One last attempt, full strength, never getting out of this one alive, death stare ray. A big fat drina slowly waggled by my metal head and I believe it burped in my direction. If only I had had a stick.
Without my head functioning as it should, I could not order the ship to do anything to assist me. It didn’t take long for that sneaky little unforecast current in the River of Tulna to sweep my mechanical body quite a few strokes away from my ship and toward a waterfall. Yes, a waterfall. I could tell it was a waterfall because the drabna fish were swimming away from it screaming “Holy Bubble Metal Man, There’s A Waterfall Over There”. They repeated this multiple times which convinces me that it is true what they say about the memory of fish, even drabna fish. Despite the name the fish are quite bright, so this tendency to repeat themselves was rather suprising. If I hadn’t been suprised quite so much, I would not have wasted the crucial seconds I needed to save myself from tumbling over and over and down and down the massive waterfall of which they had been bubbling about. Happily however, this story ends well. The tumble, actually relocated my head to the soft grass on the banks of the waterfall. My body was another matter entirely, but with my head free to calculate clearly on dry land I could order the ship to fly in and retrieve my body and reassemble me as specified in the RigiDigiRobotCorp RobotMan Reconstruction Manual. Relief, and a valuable lesson learned, you can really never be too careful and having a large stick can come in handy.
So anyhoo, carrying my stick I walked quietly toward the human in the bus and then stopped about 10 metres from it.
“hello organic lifeform. It is nice to meat you.” I stated loudly in the human language called english. I then had a waiting status.
I scanned the lifeform and concluded that it was wearing cheap blue jeans from a place called Kmart and a long black tshirt from a place called Vinnies. It had cowskin on its feet and carried a bag containing a primitive computer, a box of something called tampons and another cowskin in which small coins and plastic could be identified. The lifeform itself had brown hair, brown eyes and a brown coloured brain. It had had extensive surgery at some point in life and walked with a bit of a limp. It is entirely possible that I had picked up a bit of a loser instead of a prime organic lifeform specimen. Only time, and my curation abilities would tell.
“um hi, nice to meet you to. I’m Jacie, who are you?” the human spoke.
“Umhi, human Jacie. I am Fred. I am a head robot. I am taking you to the farm” I responded, then I proceeded toward it.
“no wait – what is the farm? I’m um, allergic to farms” the Jacie said.
“The farm. The farm is where we try to grow organic things. We want to have organic things growing in our farm. I will take you to the farm now.” With that I flicked on my plougher beam and caught the human immediately. I should explain that there has been a lot of discussion as to whether a plougher or a tractor beam is safer for the carting of organic life. Personally I don’t have the feelings to care one way or the other. A plougher will drag the lifeform through any obstacle without too much fuss. You don’t really need to worry about walls for instance. Whereas a tractor beam it’s all about planning. You need to know which direction you’re going to take, how many corridors to go down and you really have to know this, tractor beams are just a pain to get started. That’s why my moving beam of choice is the plougher. I do recommend it. Anyhoo, I nabbed the human with the plougher and watched in someone confusion as it tried to escape. Even as I pushed it through the bus wall and it came out completely unharmed, the organic lifeform didn’t appear happy. Jacie? That was it. Jacie struggled and screamed and acted completely illogically the whole way from the purple room to the farm gates. I was half tempted to death stare it right there and then and be done with it. Instead I opened the farm gate doors and pushed Jacie inside, then quickly closed them again. There let it come to terms with the farm before we start any real work.
With that, I commanded the ship to take us into space again. Any space would do. The engines pulsated down into the earth waters below, creating a lovely steam bath for all those other organic life forms watching and within a nanosecond, we were gone.
Jacie had longed dreamed of travelling but perhaps not in outer space. She took it all rather well. On being deposited within “the farm” as the robot had called it, she spent the first few moments appreciating just how supremely odd the view was. The waxy plastic flowers at her feet reaked of that toilet freshener fake flower smell. Behind the field of plastic daisies on rolling hills of modgrass was a modgrass to ceiling, glass window that glared out unblinkered at the endless night. Stuck awkwardly amongst the landscape were little huts. Jacie brushed up against the wall of one of these huts and found it cold to the touch. Even more suprising was that, that was all she had felt – her shoulder had actually passed right through the wall of the hut. It was a hologram. So what was the point of all this then? Her imagination was failing her in the face of the surreal.
She walked inside one of the huts to find nothing at all. This was like a really badly designed video game. There wasn’t even a single desk with a diary that must be read to reveal a clue as to what door to open next. It was very cold inside the hologram hut, so she retreated back out into the fake daylight of the rest of the farm. Strip lighting ran through the modgrass, and with little else to do, she followed them towards the main window. Her path meandered through the fake daisies and wound through several gated paddocks containing absolutely no living things. In a few of the paddocks she noticed empty feeding troughs and in one a bridle, suggesting that at least once upon a time a horse may have lived here. Eventually she came to the window and touched the glass. Immediately lights flickered under her finger tips and she realised the window was really a giant touchscreen. If only she had paid more attention to the screensmilers! There were circles and squares and lines and mathematical symbols and a little trashcan icon all floating in the glass with which she could interact.
First she reached as high as she could and grabbed a large orange rimmed circle. She slid it to centre view and then created two smaller circles within it, evenly spaced about eyewidth apart. Then she drew a small uneven curve below those. Quite pleased with this, she laughed out loud and was just about to drag it all to the trashcan when the window started beeping at her. Beep beeep beeeeeeep.Beeep beep beeep. Beeep. beeep beeeeep.
“Hello?” questioned Jacie, hoping against probability that the sound was like a phone.
The beeping stopped but Jacie was a touch disappointed that nothing else happened. She stared again at the glass window and noticed a red exclamation mark was pulsating over the trashcan icon. She double tapped on it and the trashcan opened to reveal a long screen of typing. It was in a strange character that she did not recognise but very helpfully a button popped up with the word ‘Translate’ on it. Being abducted by a space robot seemed to have removed any hesitation she may have felt over reading someone else’s trash, so she clicked the button and found the following story.
To you, the traveller who joins this craft,
I have been a hostage on this robot craft for so many days, I’ve almost forgotten where I came from originally. I don’t like tea. Worse than that by far is the electric rain, digital showers. I don’t know what to call it, but don’t go near it if you can. I also found that with the correct pronounciation, you can get the ships computer to undo the farm gate door but you have to say … open please … I don’t know what that would be in your language. Avoid at all cost the shoe deck, it is a nightmare. Try not to drink the coffee, unless you are lucky enough to land on Zine. Zoo is completely different, and you really don’t want to drink the coffee there. Try at least everything twice. This helps shake up the testing and with their parameters a bit wonky, they are much easier to manage. Definitely do not, DO NOT, chase the floorbot. I know you may think it will kill some time, but what it will actually kill is your feet. Try to get 2 haircuts a year when off the ship. Again this is about confusing the bots and not about your appearance. When changing your clothes, do not leave them on the floor of the showers because you will lose them. I suggest hiding them in Room 30 where you should still be able to locate a very helpful maidbot who was clearly built by some company other than the RigiDigiRobotCorporation. What else can I tell you? I know I was plucked from my planet in order to help these robots grow produce, and as a collective we have been doing quite well at this however I am desperate to go home. I have decided to trick the Headbot whose name is Fred. He has a screw or two loose, so I’m going to suggest he goes to maintenance for repairs. When he is gone, I’m going to sneak out to the scout ship landing bay and steal a cruiser before he returns. Oh that reminds me, the rollerskate only goes to RigiDigiRobortCorp so DO NOT CATCH IT. Lastly, this isn’t always a lonely place, there are plenty of lifeforms aboard, most of them in hiding from the Headbot. In time I was able to make friends with quite a few of them, others I only caught sight of. Always try the greeting “hello”. It seems to work, although it probably is something entirely different in your langugage. If you’re reading this, I either escaped or died in the attempt. A good way to tell is visiting the scout ship landing bay and counting the cruisers there. I’m taking the yellow one with the word Voca written on the side. Good luck and enjoy your travels.
“Travels he says” Jacie muttered and closed the screen in front of her. Looking through the glass out into space, the feeling of adventure failed to consumer her. It was just big black empty space. There was no-one to share this with, no-one to report home to. She couldn’t even send a postcard. Some adventure. The darkness was pervasive and threatened to really get her down. Her imagination simply would not kick in like it did on earth.
“There is only one thing for this, I should go and find out of there are any other travellers still on board”. She headed purposefully back to the farm gate door which did not look like a farm gate at all. It was made of thick material like concrete, strengthed with round metal rods that criss-crossed the surface. Jacie couldn’t see any buttons, any lights or any handles but knew this was the entry she came through. It wasn’t clear exactly how the door opened so using her clearest speaking voice she announced “open, please”.
Very simply, the rods across the door retracted in all directions and then the door did a bit of a light twirl on its axis, reminiscent of a ballet dancer and revealed two long corridors plunging deeply into opposing directions of the ship.
“That was easy”, Jacie thought and walked quickly through the doorway. Now which way to the scout ship landing bay. After all, if she was going to find another living thing, a good place to start would be working out if the living thing that had written that note, had actually made it off this ship. She chose the right corridor, simply because it seemed right and it was on her right and it was also the general direction she felt she’d been ploughed in from.
As she walked Jacie thought about what her life had become. Sure, she shopped at Kmart and couldn’t remember the last time she’d had her hair done, that didn’t mean she deserved to be plucked up by a space robot ship and carted off into space. What about all of the other people down there on Earth? The ones that had cried out and ran toward the spaceship. She had been dutifully waiting on the bus, not doing any harm whatsoever, not getting in the way or getting all confrontational. Why her? And what was that robot all about? It had been carrying a stick! Or at least a stick thing. What was it called? Fred? Seemed like a veyr ordinary name to her. Why wouldn’t it have picked up 47 with 2? Oh that poor man, she hadn’t even thought about him in the last hour or so. She imagined that he had been steamed alive on the spit bridge, hanging from the railing like peking duck. His wife! His kids! What happened to him? What happened to all of those people? Did the spit reopen? Did the nine to fivers ever get to work on time? Did the screensmilers snap enough pictures and post them to the Internet fast enough for the government to see them? Is the government (any government) meeting right now, to find a way to hunt down the alien ship and rescue her? Will they send Bruce Willis? Will they send scientists? Will they send a man she can finally relate to? What will they send all of these people in now that the space shuttle program has been discontinued? Will they have to send russians? Will they send Richard Branson? How will they catch up given the internal processes of a massive organisation like NASA? Does Australia have an equivalent of NASA? Why didn’t she know that. Perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps Australia doesn’t know who to talk to or what to talk about. What would happen if they didn’t see the ship? What if the Headbot had erased all of their memories? What if she could never get home again? Who would look after her cat? Steggles! Oh dear! Her cat! Oh Jacie, be serious, you don’t have a cat. Feeding the stray that lives in the bush at the end of your street does not really count as pet ownership. There is no doubt the stray will just kill a few possums if it gets hungry and who names a stray cat Steggles anyway. That’s just weird. This corridor is far too long. How big is the ship anyway? What did she think the robot would do to her if it found her off the farm? Did it seem like an aggressive robot? It had been carrying a stick – thing. Still the note did infer that the other creatures aboard were afraid of the Headbot. This could be simply because it is a terrible host, or makes bad chicken, or can’t sing to save its circuits. She wondered all of sudden, where the Headbot was. Was it watching her? Could it see her through the walls? Did it actually run the ship or was there some other all seeing, all knowing being presiding over everything. What if this was simply a big game, a maze, to test and train her?
About forty five seconds later, Jacie’s mind stopped racing and she began to take a more enthusiastic interest in her surroundings. The long corridor she was walking along flaunted the same strip lighting she’d followed in the modgrass. The sleek walls were an eighties shade of green and tiny slit windows peeked out at space from about ankle height. Eventually she came to a wall of buttons. Actual buttons. From shirts. A lot of different shirts. With a little giggle, she began to pull and push and poke the buttons, expecting some strange event to unfold. There were fabric buttons and plastic buttons, fake metal buttons and smooth wooden buttons, lot’s of lovely buttons to play with. She marvelled, fondled, twisted and turned them, completely wrapped up in the idea that on a spaceship she would even find such ordinary objects filling an entire wall.
“Art. Human Art. I’ve never understood it”, a hollow voice interrupted. Jacie spun around and was looking at a small robot at her feet.
“Did a human like me make this?” she asked.
“Yes. Like you” the robot answered “except not as fat”.
“Well that’s a bit rude. Size doesn’t matter” Jacie retorted.
“I guess it doesn’t when you are big enough to eat everything else in sight” fired back the bot.
“Maybe I should eat you!” Jacie snapped.
“Yeah try it, fatty” the taunting continued. At that the bot wheeled back a metre or so just in time to be out of the way of Jacie’s boots.
“Fatty? I’ll show you who’s fat!” she stated firmly and lunged towards it. This time it wheeled a little further away and amplified “don’t need to get any closer, Fatstuff, I can see you from here”.
Now as far as Jacie went, she was pretty mild mannered and avoided confrontation whenever she could, but this tiny robot was really bugging her. She let loose for a change and ran towards it, intent on finding its off switch. It wheeled away, unleashing a barrage of fat-related insults in its wake. Jacie chased it, like a fat greyhound chases a mechanical rabbit. Except no-one was chasing the bot alongside her and there was no finishing line. The corridors disappeared into one another as she took wrong turn after left turn after right turn and before she knew it, she was completely lost and the little robot had disappeared into a self-sealing flap in the wall.
“Damnit. That was a floorbot wasn’t it?” Jacie muttered to herself. In this part of the ship she found three doors. Fearing flesh eating monsters lying in wait behind each and every one of these, Jacie considered simply having a nap. Instead she called out “open please” and all doors opened simultaneously. “Well that’s a patch of poor programming” she mumbled walking through one of the doors to find herself on the shore of a massive ocean and apparently no longer aboard the space ship.
The Deep Beyond
Across the surface of the ocean, small waves chased each other in foamy frivolity. The blue sky pulsated with depth and the sea salt on Jacie’s face was both a shock and delight. As far as she could see, the ocean stretched out like a ballet dancer before her. She chose to walk in slow paces back and forth the shoreline, always keeping her point of arrival in her sights. The scene before her changed with the breeze that swept naturally from her horizon repainting everything it touched. There was movement here, and life too! There were salt bushes tangled together where the sand met the land. they formed a firm wall through which Jacie could not see night or day. The sky extended far beyond the bushes suggesting that if she had a large knife she could’ve slashed her way to whatever lay beyond. Yet, without a knife, she was instead drawn to the ocean. Could there be real life here too? Could there be at least some fish? She was afterall starting to get hungry. Her sense of time had been rolled up and put away temporarily but her stomach was not so kind. What if there are fish? As she paced back and forth, she became aware that something was moving towards her across the ocean. It started so small at first, so insignificant. Yet the closer it got, the more panic, Jacie felt. Perhaps this was her doom. To be taken on a spaceship and end up eaten by a sea monster. Or perhaps this was the land of the undead and that was a ferry and she needed a coin. What happened to her purse? Was it still on the bus in her work bag? If only she’d kept it with her, she would’ve been able to pay the ferry man and get to the other side. The other side of what? There was no land out there. Where was this thing coming from?
As it paddled closer, the moving thing took the shape of a giant inverted icecream cone. the icecream scoop part floated like a creamy bubble on the water and then wedged into it was a large cone shaped tower, complete with a dark brown chimney that reminded Jacie of the choc lined cornetto cones. More exciting however was the small curls of smoke that twirled out the top of the cone and into the clear cool sky.
When it finally bumped into the shore, Jacie removed her shoes and ran into the shallow water to see if she could climb aboard. It was exceedingly brave of her to leave her determined pacing but the thought of icecream, let alone a giant floating icecream helped her to overcome the anxiety she felt.
“Anyone there?” she yelled. The fez topped head of a pelican peeped out through the window in the cone and said absolutely nothing.
“Oh a Mr Pelican. Nice to meet you” Jacie tried again, this time putting on her most friendliest smile. With an unexpected bang of its beak against the window, the pelican disappeared again, only to re-emerge wearing a police hat.
“Oh you like hats do you? My name is Jacie. I have some great hats back on earth. Is that where you are from?” she got full points for trying and if nothing else her pointless questioning of the hatted pelican resulted in the emerging form of, well, of a thing.
Hands covered in black course hair worked at a rope on the deck of the coneship. Six sinewy arms connected the hands to a barrel of fur torso and mounted on the thing’s shoulders were three heads all with eyes shaped like diamonds. The thing threw the rope towards Jacie and she caught it, much to the delight of the hatted pelican who squawked and flapped out of the window and down the rope toward her.
“Squawk squawk squawk” the pelican went on and circled her several times. Jacie didn’t want to take her eyes from the thing but had to laugh at the antics of the pelican.
“That’s a lot of noise you’re making”, she said, “aren’t you going to invite me inside your ship?”
“HIS SHIP!!!” roared the thing.
“HIS SHIP???” roared all of its heads.
“Oh I am sorry, Mr? I was just making conversation. Is the ship yours? It is very unusual. Have you had it for very long?” Jacie padded her apology with plenty of thing-occupying questions hoping to deliver distraction and possibly save her backside. The pelican was digging a hole in the sand with a shovel for a moaring post and didn’t seem the least bit interested in Jacie anymore.
“You have a very talented pelican there Mr.. um? What should I call you.. all? She looked from one head to the next and prayed her questions were not offensive. This type of thing would be the last type of thing you’d want to accidentally sit on the coat of on a public bus. She was truly scared and couldn’t work out whether it would be worse to be eaten or pulverised.
“MY PELICAN!!!!” roared the thing.
“MY PELICAN???” roared all of its heads.
Ah crap. Jacie thought.
By now the pelican, who was indeed a very talented pelican had secured the vessel to the moaring post and redeposited the shovel to whatever place it can hide one in the first place. Now Jacie was stuck between the dextrous hat wearing pelican and the menace of the hairy thing. If it hadn’t of been for the hairy thing opening yet another door in the coneship and rolling out the red carpet for The Duke, Jacie may have fainted.
“You really do need to learn to say, hello, my dear. It isn’t that hard, and it does make the world of difference when one is between worlds”. Saying this as he strode deliberately slowly along the red carpet was a creature five-foot shorter than the thing. It looked like the equivalent of an earth tortoise, except at the moment it could’ve toppled over the side of the coneship, two magnificent double wings unfolded from it’s shell and it flew gracefully onto the sand at Jacie’s feet.
“I am The Duke. I am a Zinean lord. These are my companions. Ralf is the beast aboard the cone. Don’t worry, he is harmless and this is Tradewind the pelican. And I will add, that you are completely right my dear, he is a pelican and he is from earth and he is a he and he really does like hats. I’m afraid all of these years of prolonged space travel have effected him but I’m quite happy with the changes myself. For one, he is brilliant at making vegemite sandwiches.”
“Now, as for you. How did you ever find yourself here? It is quite deserted you know. Why I think you are the first living thing I’ve seen other than my companions in 10 years. Where did you come from?”
Jacie sighed a most unflattering sigh and recounted her story in a very efficient three or four sentences fearing that she would bore the shell off this Zinean lord. He seemed satisfied with her story and invited her inside his cone for coffee and whitebait crackers. Jacie was starving and didn’t let the thought that this could be an axe-wielding flying tortoise lord from Zine, even enter her mind. Actually, she did, but then she tried to get rid of the thought long enough to chow down on some whitebait crackers.
Inside the cone was incredible, the walls were lined in gold polyester and around the perimeter big fat cookie coloured cushions sat on a low ramp that The Duke could access. Jacie tried to take in everything she could, like the tiny framed pictures around the walls and the trapeze bar hanging high about her head. In the centre of a room was a roaring fire, encircled by heavy looking stones and above this bubbled a pot of water. She wondered briefly whether her hosts ever worried about all of the polyester in here and the flames from the fire but then decided it would be rude to ask.
“Aah and in that you are quite wrong, my dear. It isn’t polyester at all. Similar in look I would guess but it is actually remaginated plaited golden otter silk from planet Zoo. I know, I know it seems so hard to believe, but then most things are, if you rely on belief alone. Yes I can read minds, and I do know that yours is a bit of a mess, but that’s ok. I listened to your story anyway, it is the role of my office to be understanding of the lesser creatures”.
“You can read my mind?” Jacie said.
“Well that was really a very unnecessary question wasn’t it? I already did so, and told you that I had. Tell me, while you try this delicious whitebait cracker, why you spend so much time thinking but not enough of that thinking about what you are going to say?”
It was certainly an interesting question. Her entire life had been about impromptu responses to reasonable questions and if she had spent any time working out reasonable responses to impromptu questions she may not feel the duality of being only in control of things within her own head. It was like the time that she went for four interviews in the one week and had “winged it” from start to finish. On reflection she realised that the interviewers had all asked very similar questions but her answers had varied depending on the volume of coffee she had consumed, the bra she had put on that morning and the feel of lunch settling in her stomach. When asked the same question even by the same person she could give completely contradictory answers, simply because she never planned a thing.
“No, you don’t do you. Which is possibly why, you have never travelled overseas? Why you still don’t have a relationship to talk about or even know what you want to be when you grow up” remarked The Duke stirring his tea with his stumpy little know it all tail.
“hey!..” Jacie began and then realised he was probably right. Her mind wandered in the opposite direction to the conversation they were having and onto the trapeze hanging from the ceiling.
“oh that,” said The Duke, “it’s where Ralf sleeps, it certainly isn’t for me. Speaking of which, it probably is time he was off to bed”.
“OFF TO BED!” roared Ralf.
“OFF TO BED??” roared Ralf’s heads.
“AWWWWW” they all send together and with an almighty leap, Ralf lept up and over Jacie’s head to grab the dangling trapeze bar. He swung his legs over it and then flopped himself upside down and all heads shut their diamond eyes and began to snore. Unfortunately, Jacie was positioned on one of the cookie coloured cushions right beneath Ralf and the drool from his heads did require an umbrella. Fortunately for her, Tradewind the hat wearing pelican, produced one of these immediately, from somewhere and held it out for the young woman.
“We have stopped here for the night, you’ll be quite safe if you decide to stay with us but I must warn you that Tradewind does cook a delicious breakfast and Ralf spends 63minutes in the shower first thing, so there is absolutely no sleeping in, in this cone” The Duke stated. “Tradewind actually sleeps outside most nights and my quarters are too small for you. You will sleep here in the lounge area until you choose to do otherwise. I suggest you move out from underneath the nightly drool fall that Ralf creates, else you’ll find yourself floating on a whole new sea by morning. Don’t worry about the fire, it never goes out and you don’t need to fuel it. Just try not to roll into it during the night because you will get rather burnt I would think”.
Jacie wondered whether this would be a good time to ask the five thousand questions she had running through her head or whether she should wait until morning. She wasn’t even sure how to tell when it was morning. Was she still on board the spaceship that had abducted her, or had she managed to escape to one of the planets that the message on the farm wall had spoken of? All she’d done was to walk through a door really and we all know how unimportant doors are, but what if doors on this spacechip led to other planets. Was that even possible? Shoudl she really be worried about the possible and impossible when she was sitting in the living room of a vehicle shaped like a floating icrecream cone. What were the planets in the message? There was a Zune and Zoo, she knew that much and here she was dining on whitebait and Zunian coffee. This coffee was very good. Possibly the best she’d ever had, which really didn’t say much because she only ever squeezed in enough time for powder, drip filter or vending machine, none of which could truly be classified as coffee. If there was a way to get real coffee into her diet every single day, she really hoped it could include some Zunian coffee made my a little cute tortoise with wings and an english accent. She could miss the hairy beast circus routine however, not even her fledgling minion would be happy if she brought such a huge escort onto the state transit buses.
“So you think I’m cute? Is that a patronising thought, or just one of your myriad of utterly useless thoughts, my dear?”
Damn. Mind reading flying tortoise.
“Precisely” The Duke replied and downed the rest of his whitebait in a single gutteral gulp.
There was no point denying it. Waking up and not hearing the sound of birds was very different. Being woken to the nightmarish sound of snoring coming from a hairy multi headed beast hanging above your bed, was also very different. On further inspection, Jacie found everything around her very different, including the milky pink light filtering through the curtains of the icecream boat she was on.
So as not to wake Ralf, she crept quietly outside and around the deck of the boat, seeking that point on the horizon where the sun would spill over into daylight. However, she soon found herself back at the front door of the craft having circled it and not see the sunrise at all. The milky pink light appeared to be coming from the bushes along the shore and without thinking too much about it, Jacie jumped down into the wet cold sand and strode up the beach.
As she approached the impenetrable bushes the door through which she had come immediately slide open and she could see straight back into the corridor of the interior of the ship. Flick flick. Her eyes flicked between the internal space craft and the vast ocean and the icecream boat she’d spent the night in.
“This door, will close, in ten seconds” a digitised voice stated.
“Duke?” Jacie yelled toward the boat.
“Duke?” she yelled again, this time much louder and with a touch more urgency. Instead of the flying tortoise, Tradewind flapped down toward her, wearing a rather fancy jockey’s cap complete with emerald satin and a little tassle.
“Tradewind, this door, it goes back into the ship. Should I go through? Will I be able to come back and see you all?” It seemed natural enough to talk to the pelican at the time, given no-one was around but Jacie later thought it probably looked pretty silly. Tradewind, either didn’t understand or didn’t want to answer. He proceeded to waddle right through the open door.
“Tradewind! Duke? Ralf? Someone? Tradewind come back here!” Jacie tried harder to get things to stay in order and they just got even more out of order. She ran through the door after the bird.
“2..1” and the door slide closed behind her. Jacie immediately tried to open the door again but it was locked and when she spun around to look for Tradewind, he had also disappeared.
“Please open”, she tried but none of the doors opened for her and she had that sinking feeling that her luck at going through last time had less to do with luck and more to do with good timing. Now she was back inside the ship and without another living thing to talk to. Still, it could be worse, she could be back on the bus with plenty of living things around her, none of which wanted to to talk to her. With that clear thought she stood up and went off again in search of the shuttle bay. This time, she took careful note of the direction she was heading and the way back to this part of the ship.
Rin, Tin, Gin.
“It isn’t a scotch if it says blended scottish whiskey liqueur. It just isn’t. I wanted a scotch. Straight up.. hang on with ice.. hmm and maybe some mint and a splash of ginger ale. Yes. That’s what I wanted. I can’t do any of those things with a blended scottish whiskey liqueur. Glayva. Doesn’t sound like scotch to me at all. There is nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of a spacecraft without a half decent drop to drip on your lips. Oh sure there is. Having no lips. Hahahahahah”
“I always wanted a dalmation. It’s the spots. The spots with the lots of the dog with the dots. That’s what’s I wanted always. It’s true. Woulda called him spotty or dotty or something equally stupid”
“Don’t say stupid, it’s a bad word”
Rin, Tin and Gin were 3 bar bots stuck on deck 13. When the other robots had caught the rollerskate, Rin, Tin and Gin were debating whether the sun had a son and if so whether he was hot. They could fill up days and days like this because all they were programmed to do was remaginate alcohol and consume it. Tequila, wine, beer, gin, vodka, bourban, pickled llama lime juice and zambucca in every order with every order and by order. These mechanical booze bots were all bar and no balance. They couldn’t even walk to the maintenace deck any more. Like three shakespearan witches, the robots tittered and schemed and cackled and cracked another bottle of wine.
“I bet a dalmation would know the difference between Glayva and scotch. Do they have dalmations in scotland? I wouldn’t know but I know they don’t have any scots in Dalmania! hahahaah”
“Rin, you don’t know the half-full of it. In Dalmania they wouldn’t know a dog if it bit them on the…”
“wait wait wait they they wouldn’t know a dog OR some grog. bwhahahahahaha” Rin fired back breaking into great heaving metal spasms of laughter. Tin joined her and their cackles were also joined by Gin who timidly added “it’s still not very nice to talk about humans like that”.
On their deck all the other chairs in the bar were vacant and even though they had sat there alone for over ten years the three robots never wondered where anyone else was, because they were robots and tended not to wonder about things. So it didn’t really suprise them when the menacing silver form of Fred rolled into the room wearing those impressive shoes of his.
“Where is the human?” he audioed out.
“Problee with the Dalmations! Bwhahahahaha” screamed Rin, kicking off another round of laughter from the other bar bots. Gin remaginated herself another bottle of vodka and extended her metal proboscis into the clear liquid, sucking it empty in under 30seconds.
“Answer the question or I will turn off remagination of alcohol” threatened Fred.
“We don’t know any human. We’ve been here alll afternoon” slurred Rin.
“And then some” added Tin.
“And then some” mumbled Gin “By the way.. how long *is* this afternoon? I feel like we’ve been here forever. Innit anyone else coming to the party?” The three pairs of robot eyes fell on Fred with such great appeal that he almost felt something. He dismissed the very idea of it quickly. “No ladies, it is just us. The other bots have caught the last rollerskate home, party-poopers. So drink up and if you do see a human, make sure you make it one of those lovely cocktails you girls can whip up”.
Gin giggled and started twirling in her chair singing a song about margaritas. Rin and Tin joined in the chorus and soon they were collapsing together and declaring ever lasting love and friendship. So wrapped up in each other and the alcohol they were making, they didn’t notice or would’ve even cared to know that the head robot had left.
It may sound strange but I think this human is going to cause me trouble. I put it on the farm deck and now it is missing. I don’t know where it spent the night and thanks to my surveillance system being someone tempermental, I’m not even sure whether the human is still on the ship. It is all very annoying. I have to keep holding onto my stick. Just in case, the human might leap out at me at any point.
I have visited all 200 decks on board my excellent spacecraft and I can not find it. I haven’t ventured into any of the worlds yet but that will be my next destination. I lost a human once before you know. It was rather a friendly one too. It always smiled and tried to talk with me. It even recommended I go and have my circuits checked at maintenance, but sadly when I did this, I misplaced the human. It is probably still around here somewhere. If only I could get the scanners to work properly I could ploughbeam it straight back to the farm. Why do humans have to be so inquisitive? hmm. The organic lifeforms known as the Proketscope never ever ever creep around, getting out of control. They are just so structured and ordered and easy to understand. You tell them to do something and if it’s something with the Proketscope of actions, it gets actioned. How easy is that? Tell a human to do something and who knows what response you’ll get? One day they might laugh at you, the next be scowling at you and trying to jump ship. Apparently this is a common behaviour for humans and there is some confusion between the male and female humans about this very same behaviour. Go and figure that one out. If a male human can’t understand a female human – what chance do I have of understanding any humans?
I understand those bar bots. They are fairly basic programming and have been on the ship itself for thousands of years. An upgrade to the entertainment sector I think they were. Some upgrade. They haven’t left the bar in all of that time and since we have no more customers, they simply remaginate alcohol for themselves. I did have an interesting dialogue with Rin one day, who was trying to convince me that retro silicon was the new silicon. I disagreed and almost stared off her head, but then decided she didn’t have such a bad head when you ignored the large drinking straw she called a mouth. It has often been the way, every time I try to destroy them I find myself unwilling to do so. The probability of this being because I do actually understand them is quite high. Unlike humans, who I want to remaginate all of the time into something edible, because they simply make no sense.
Yes love is the trickiest part. How do you grow some humans and get them to reproduce. Apparently according to the biology robots notes it has to do with Love. The capital L is intentional, it has to be capitalised because it is a foreign word. It doesn’t validate against any data I have. In theory the procreation part is quite easy, but that has a low percentage of success when it comes to reproduction. You need that capital Love and it can create some kind of intense biological reaction. Bah. I have no intention of reading more about this. It doesn’t sound logical to me. I did mess with the idea that if you remaginated a human with a Proketscope, you would actually get something more closely aligned with my programmatical approach to reproduction. The Proketcope would insist all interaction be fully documented from the outset and that nothing outside of that documentation would be taken into consideration. It would be brutal. It would be efficient. It may even be cost effective. Still I haven’t been able to keep a human around long enough or get through enough of the processes that a proketscope has, to enable me to bring the two creatures together. That project would just have to wait.
Anyhoo if I could just get a handful of them together to start growing things on the farm, possibly mating and making more humans, that would be very valuable. I might even be able to return triumphantly to the RigiDigiRobotCorp and show off my achievements but so far I have lost two humans and as far as I am aware they are not busy working on the farm like I had planned. This is all very troublesome. I will go back to my charging dock and continue searching on full battery power.
Death and diamonds
Jacie had never really thought about death. It was something far far far away in the future. So when she stood looking at the small yellow cruiser with the word Voca written on the side, she started to wonder if her fellow passenger had actually died here in his effort to get back home. A waist high baricade proved useful to lean against as she looked out across the landing bay towards the cruiser.
Death was such a mysterious business. So many movies featured people getting shot up or beat up and haggard bodies coming to life during the zombie apocalypse but those movies that showed funeral, they were the most plastic scenes of them all. People standing all in black, looking at the grave, often it would be raining or a detective would be watching from further back. No-one ever shot a good funeral scene that showed the pain that real loss can cause. How it can strip back your ability to eat, to sleep, to even cry, real loss was something never captured because no-one wanted to see it for what it was. She remembered a funeral she’d gone to where the sobbing was so loud that she couldn’t hear the eulogy. At least there were no screensmilers there, tap tapping on their phones with their digital disrespect. There were a few nine to fivers in their suits, but mostly people came in whatever they had because clothing seemed less important than saying goodbye forever.
Jacie’s mind started to race again. I don’t want to say goodbye forever. I will not say goodbye forever. Not in this spaceship. Not with a floating icecream boat or a hat wearing penguin or a stick wielding robot overlord. If this is going to be my final dance, then I will be defiant. I will fight back. I will shout to the four winds. You can take my life but you can never take my fffffar out… are those diamonds?
Pushing containers into the back of the Voca cruiser was another one of those floor bots. Jacie had only just noticed this activity when one of the containers tipped to the loading dock floor and an instant carpet of shimmer was laid. To her eyes it looked like the containers held millions upon millions of diamonds. The floorbot booted into vacuum mode and commenced sucking the diamonds back up and shooting them into the container again. The crystal like rainbow arc this formed was so brilliant as it caught the light and split it into a myriad of colours. Jacie was riveted and apart from wanting to run over and dive into the container of diamonds, all she could do was quietly gush and admire the wealth from afar.
“What are these robots doing with all of those diamonds?” she asked, to no-one in particular. In the process of leaning over the baricade to get a better look, she toppled forward with a crash and caught the attention of the floorbot who started yelling insults at her immediately. It rolled toward her faster than a mouse chases a gothic heroine and was almost on top of her by the time she regained some composure and prepared to retaliate.
“You clumsy human. If I had an energy can for everytime a stupid human came wandering in here and falling over their ineffective organic limbs, I’d be faster than the Headbot”. Jacie poked out her tongue and adjusting her clothing just a little, proceeded to ignore the floorbot and walk slowly in the direction of the cruiser.
“hey, come back here fatty. you aren’t allowed over there. that’s authorised robotic personnel only. besides which you’re likely to trip over yourself and destroy the ship. come back here inferior being!” it yelled.
Jacie kept walking and the whole time she was taking in the detail of the cruiser. It was all yellow bubbles similar in surface to the spaceship that housed it. A tiny window could be seen high on what she assumed was the front of the craft and there was a ramp up which the floor bot had been pushing the diamond cargo. Thinking of which, she was within a few metres of the cart he’d been pushing when she hit an invisible barrier.
“hahaha stupid human. you can’t go near that cruiser. you’re an organic lifeform. only floor bots can go through bluefields. you’ll just bounce right off like a fat bouncy ball. Maybe you should lose some weight lardarse” the floorbot tossed another insult in her direction and wheeled straight through the invisible barrier and back over toward the diamonds.
“why are you so mean?” Jacie asked on the verge of tears.
“why are you so ugly?” the floor bot yelled back.
“were you programmed to be mean?” she asked.
“They were programmed to be useful” said a new voice, once much more welcoming. Coming down the ramp of the cruiser was a man. Not just any man, an incredibly attractive man. Broad shouldered, dusty brown hair, dark eyes framed with those delicious creases that form when a man laughs, strong jawline and an acceptably subtle adams apple. Adding to all this was the fact that he was a man, a human man, and he was speaking to her!
“um..hi” Jacie offered, holding back the tears of relief and excitement she was sure were ready to overflow.
“Hello. So I guess you just joined us at that unexpected stop on earth? I’m Anthony. Blueshield down” within just a metre of her, he now extended his hand to shake hers and she was suprised to find that the invisible barrier was no longer there. His hand was strong and warm in hers and she relished the feel of it so much that she almost did not hear him talking.
“I do apologise for the shield, it is the only way that I can continue my work without being bothered by Fred. For all he knows, I am no longer even aboard the ship and often I am not. This must be confusing for you. Would you like to see aboard the Voca Cruiser? It is quite a nice little craft” with this he gently encouraged her to take a few steps forward and then a few steps more. As she walked by the floorbot still vacuuming up the diamonds she couldn’t resist pulling a face at it.
“Yeah. See what happens when the wind changes, Ugly Smurf” it mumbled.
“Please ignore the floorbots. When I reprogrammed them, something strange happened to their personality circuits. They really are harmless but can drive you nuts with the insults and the constant chasing around they do these days. Here we are. This is Voca.. she’s pretty don’t you think?”
The ramp led into a dark cavern at the base of the ship and it took a few seconds for Jacie’s eyes to adjust. When they did, she saw carts and carts and more carts, filled with diamonds and precious stones. It was like she had stumbled into an egyptian tomb or a pirates hidden treasure cave. Everything everywhere was overflowing with riches beyond her wildest dreams and she had had plenty of wild dreams. Anthony led her through a path between the carts to a small lift on which they both could only just fit and quite snugly at that.
“Sorry, excuse me, I just need to..” he maneuvered around her to swipe a panel behind her back on the wall. At this proximity she could tell that he washed, on a much more regular basis than Sal from the bus stop. She could also feel how soft the fabric of his shirt was and started to pray feverishly to herself that he wasn’t a fabric softening, gourmet cooking, clean shaven homosexual from Sydney’s inner city refurbished terraces. Dear God. Please no. Tragedy.
The lift zoomed them high into the cruiser and while Anthony had leant back against the lift wall to give her more space, all it gave her was a better view of his physique. This man, this incredibly attractive man was simply too good to be true.
“So I’m looking forward to hearing your story,” he said. Jacie spontaneously and completely with no control blushed. “we can sit down upstairs in the lounge, I have some great Zine coffee I can share with you”. Jacie just smiled and nodded, completely convinced that this man had to be gay and yet unwilling to give up the hope that he wasn’t. They were after all, the only two humans on board this spaceship.
The lounge area was not as rich looking as the cargo hold of the ship. What ti lacked in precious jewels it made up for in first class luxury. Soft, low lounges in muted tones of beige and fawn were crowned with deep red cushions and highlighted by potted healthy green palms. She reached for one of these immediately to see if it was real or not, and it was! In the centre of the room the coffee table contained a folder of handwritten notes. Jacie was immediately curious but before she could site down to examine them, Anthony had scooped up the folder and put it on a carrying tray on top of a floor bot who whisked away into another room.
“Some coffee?” he asked casually, walking to a small sidebar “or I do have something stronger, which you might need given what you’ve obviously been through”.
Obvious? Obvious! What did that mean, oh man, I must look like death! Jacie’s mind started to race off in multiple directions. SHould she acknowledge her appearance, should she nod stupidly or should she just accept the coffee without referencing his clear reference to her unrefined appearance?
“Coffee? Ah yes please. So um, Anthony. Are you the one that left the message on the farm deck wall?” it would be easier to start a completely fresh conversation with him than dwell on what he meant and whether he wanted to have sex with her before or after coffee. What was going on with her head? This perfectly decent man, in his perfectly delightful space cruiser making her coffee in a perfectly decadent lounge suite surrounded by perfectly dazzling jewels. Why would any of this be making her head spin?
“Oh you saw that? Wonderful!” he grinned and retrieved two filled coffee cups from the machine “I did that some time ago now, it was one of my first attempts at reprogramming the environment and I’m glad to see it worked. I was frantic to leave at that stage of my life” he passed her the cup and sat opposite her “but as you can see, I am very comfortable now. I almost can’t imagine leaving.”
His last sentence hung in the air as if waiting for someone to pull it down or praise it but neither happened. Jacie only wondered privately how anyone could live without being able to imagine things.
“How long have you been here?” she asked. Anthony looked into his coffee like he could see through it and let out the long sigh of a tired man, or perhaps even a contented one, it was definitely hard to tell because the corners of his mouth were turning up.
“I’ve actually lost count of the days. I would guess about six years. I know I was 30 when I left earth and as I don’t yet feel 40 I am hoping I am somewhere in between. Space travel is without daylight so I really can’t count time passing like I did on earth” he took another sip of his coffee “it is the very best coffee isn’t it?”
Jacie nodded and kept thinking and questioning.
“But in your note, you were going to escape. You left loads of instructions on what to do and not do, but you were going to escape the ship.What happened? How long ago did you leave that message?”
“I really couldn’t say”
“because I just can’t”
Wow. That went well thought Jacie. Now she took her time staring at the coffee, slightly embarrassed that she fell into fishwife mode so quickly with a man she’d just met.
“I’m sorry, I just don’t understand, if you wanted to leave the ship so badly, why haven’t you?” she tried again. Anthony shifted slightly in the lounge, took another mouthful of the coffee, swallowed quietly and began his story.
“University had given me an education alright in the rich of the world. Private school boys turned into apartment living uni students who drove nice cars and could always afford the champagne that kept the lovely ladies attracted. Assignments? Sure and there was nothing quite like the private tutor that mummy and daddy paid for to help get through those all important exams. Did it really matter what grades they kept or what they really knew when employment in their family law firm was waiting? Certainly for them, life had been a breeze and I knew this because I was one of them. My university life consisted of choosing which polo shirt looked the least private school boy and yet still showed off my incredible wealth and the self confidance I had. I was never seen drunk. I was never seen angry. I was never seen to be anything but the perfect student on the way to the perfect career and the perfect life. My vision of the future was finite. I was a winner and there was nothing more to add to that.
I sailed. I understood algorithms. I appreciated the cut of a well made suit. I drove an Audi. I played chess and attended church. I invested. I voted. I stood up and stood out as the pinnacle of what private schools taught you about priviledge and your right to look down on everyone, while appearing to genuinely care. Donate. Talk mildly. Embrace your fellow man, but don’t settle for anything but the best. This meant even “roughing it” on a camping trip had to be 5 star luxury. I worked on charity projects in the himalayas, reaching out to the needy and the cold in my $1500 gortex jacket. I was on the path to greatness but knew nothing about the smallness.”
At this last sentence, Anthony coughed and it was his turn to blush but he quickly continued.
“I didn’t know what it was like to feel raw sadness, raw hatred or even raw happiness. I hadn’t really loved and some would argue I hadn’t even lived – for all of my time on earth. I had been out one night at a friend’s 30th and was driving home along the freeway. The night seemed very dark to me but I was listening intently to my music and thinking about new ways to make money. I didn’t even notice at first that I was no longer driving along the freeway. My car, and I were in a purple room and I found myself here on Fred’s ship. He put me to work straight away and no amount of bargaining made it through his robotic skull. Money meant nothing. Earth meant nothing. I learnt a lot in those arguments, but I did not win. Instead, I began to feel how very small was my life in the scheme of things. I was such an insignificant creature to Fred. People on this ship, come and go, but Fred is always there dictating the life we experience. I grew angry at this. Truly angry for the first time in my life. I guess without any parents or peers to curb my emotions, they all overtook me and I became an anarchist. I set on a path to destroy the ship. I hacked into systems and messed up programming whenever I could. I even remaginated some paint cans and graffitid the mens bathroom. Can you believe that?”
Jacie was struggling to believe a lot of what Anthony was saying. He seemed so normal , so strong and centred but something did catch her attention.
“Remaginated? What’s that?”
Anthony laughed and shook his head “not now – I will explain all of that, but please let me finish”.
“I don’t know for how long I rampaged. It was probably some years, during which time I did a lot of my first real learning about life. I grieved. I grieved for everything lost and everything I had taken for granted. I suffered depression and the lack of will to do anything at all and even began to believe that I didn’t want to be reunited with earth because it would just be a disappointment somehow. My anxiety, my pain like that sappy violin solo, went on and on and then I started to meet other lifeforms aboard this ship. That came about after I had already started to pick myself up. I had started to run. I convinced myself that I could at least control my human form, even if I couldn’t control my location. I trained hard. I ran around the ship every day. Do you know that this large ship we are on has 200 decks? The farm deck is just one of those, there are whole manufactured worlds on this ship. They are all fake of course but you can lose yourself if you try.. and I tried often and succeeded often as well. Through all of this exploring I found some friends, real friends, creatures that didn’t know the difference between me and an elephant and the richest men on earth. They accepted my friendship and I theirs and together we learnt so much. I was humbled. I am humbled even now, by how willing people are to extend their hand, tentacle or probiscus and just say hello”.
“So in all this running were you chasing the floorbots? Is that how you got sore feet?” Jacie asked. Anthony threw his head back in laughter and it squished into the giving beige of the lounge. He lay there some time looking up and somehow through the ceiling. It was definitely something with those big dark eyes of his that managed to look deeper into everything.
“Well I did get sore feet from chasing floor bots – but that was after I had reprogrammed them. During one of my stays with friends on one of the other decks, I learnt that the floorbots were originally designed simply to vacuum, however their base operating system could be rearranged to really handle any task. Not only could they process voice commands, but could be made to interact as well. For a bit of fun, I started converting any floorbots that I came across and before a few months were out I had my own private army of vacuuming robots! There were two small issues, the first, is that in the reprogramming I had given them some flexibility in their operating parameters. This flexibility turned into delinquency and most of them ran off on me as soon as I turned them on again. I tried chasing them but they could move so quickly and could quickly disappear into the network of concealed tunnels big enough just for their shells that exist throughout the ship structure. I still see some of these ones around but I don’t bother chasing them anymore. I still have a few that work with me.”
“And the second issue is the language. I tried to install a natural language processor into them but instead got a natural language profanessor. Basically anything that they can drag off the stimulus will get turned into some kind of profanity. So in the case of you or I, they attack our physical characteristics, our behaviours and our tone of voice. It is a challenge keeping a few of the floorbots around me in the Voca, but I’ve become immune to their insults and these ones are still quite useful at hauling cargo for me and baking dinner”.
“Speaking of which, you must be hungry, I can remaginate anything you would like to eat, just tell me the price in food for your company?” Anthony asked flashing her the brightest smile she had seen in years.
“There’s that word again. Remaginate. How about some tomato soup, with some nice crusty bread and butter and show me what this remaginating business is all about?” Jacie asked.
Anthony hopped up from the lounge, taking her hand as he did so, over to the sidebar. Embedded into the wooden surface was a circular black panel of glass about 20cm in diameter. He placed his hand on the glass and closed his eyes. A second later two bowls of hot tomato soup were sitting on the coffee table next to a basket of warm bread. The unforgettable smell of freshly baked bread reached over and pulled Jacie, stomach first back to the lounges. After many bites of bread and slurps of soup later, she finally came back to what happened.
“You mean that thing can turn anything you imagine into a reality?” she grabbed another small roll from the basket and examined it closely “I know I’ve already had too many to care, but is it safe?”
“Yes, it is actual food but it is built purely from the chemical make up of that food and has been reskinned to look like what you want it to look like, and sensor mapped to smell and taste how you think it should smell and taste. Ingenius technology really, relying on just one important mineral” Anthony said.
“So sorry about this, I mean, if I were to take this roll back to earth and throw it to a seagull would it eat it? would a scientist conclude it is bread too? if it is “sensor mapped” as you say, to my personal tastes and smell and feel, would other people experience what I experience or what they experience? And what if they experienced something different? What if they told me that it was nothing like eating bread, it was more like eating mushrooms or car tyres?” Jacie started to get carried away with her thoughts but most suprisingly she was saying them out loud to Anthony. She realised this a little too late, when a chunk of bread fell from her open chatty mouth onto her plate. He noticed. She noticed. It was one of those moments.
“Look, all I know is that it works. Does this taste like bread and soup to you?” he asked.
“Absolutely!” Jacie answered a little too enthusiastically. Really needed to pull that back a bit.
“Well it tastes like bread and soup to me too. Something about remagination allows the object to appear as the consumer or viewer wants it to be but within the boundaries of what the originator intended. I couldn’t remaginate a horse and have that product be experienced by you as a turkey sandwich for instance and I know that if a scientist were ever to test the molecular structure of a remagination they would find it identical to the original idea. The only difference is HOW something came to be, not what it is at the end point. Does that make sense?”
Jacie looked a few times at the bread in her hand and the empty soup bowl. She felt the warmth in her stomach and the taste of the butter lingered on her lips.
“I don’t care if it does make sense. It tastes great. Is that how all of the things in this ship came to be? Is that where all of those diamonds down there come from??”
Anthony collected their bowls and returned them to the sidebar where they promptly disappeared. He turned to look at her and with a very very cheeky grin that was instantly kissable he said,
“of course, so, would you like to give it a try?”
Jacie’s imagination was not a small beast by any means, and she had concerns when she walked toward the remaginator, what she might actually produce with this opportunity and hoped it wouldn’t immediately reveal the growing attraction she felt for Anthony. She slid her hand onto the glass circle and closed her eyes as he had done. She focused all of her thoughts on a single thing, a simple thing, it’s shape, it’s colour, it’s taste and then there it was, a perfect orange sitting on the bench beside her.
“Too easy!” Anthony joked, “Challenge yourself. The remagination process can handle even the biggest thoughts.”
Jacie tried again, this time pointing her mind to a place outside the Voca. She created a a green lawn filled with flowers around the cruiser. She created a small white fence and then she focused so hard on one part of that lawn that she began to shake. Like an artist putting the finishing touches on their masterpiece, she couldn’t be distracted and it wasn’t until Anthony gently pulled her hand away from the remaginator that she dared to look outside.She looked through the window to the floor of the landing bay where her remaginated garden stood and in great excitement almost flew into the lift, dragging her host with her. Through the pile of jewels and past the insults hurled by the floor bots she ran until at last she stood in front of it. Marvelling at its detail, Jacie gasped and laughed out loud. There in front of them stood, a unicorn with wings.
“Hello” it said.
Jacie clapped her hands with joy, a flying unicorn that talked!
“Hi! I’m Jacie and I just made you, how cool is that?” she gushed. Anthony took her arm and tried to lead her slightly away from the unicorn as he whispered “perhaps not the best way to introduce yourself. I should’ve warned you about creatures you create from your imagination, they aren’t always mentally stable. Best to tread very lightly until you both reach an understanding. Do you follow?”
Slightly embarrassed by her own eagerness, Jacie nodded quickly and pulled back towards her creation, her remaginated unicorn.
“Hello” it said.
“Hello Mr Unicorn, I’m Jacie. Pleased to meet you” she tried more seriously. The unicorn stomped the green floor and bent down to chew at some bright yellow flowers that had been remaginated, completely ignoring her.
Meanwhile the floorbot who had been loading the diamonds yelled out to Anthony,
“your ship is loaded Antbrain!” Anthony sighed and signalled an acknowledgement.
“Well that’s it, Jacie. Time for me to be going again. It was lovely to have met you”.
Huh? did she just hear correctly. Torn between the strangeness of the unicorn and the stranger making strange statements, Jacie had to come up with something.
“What do you mean going again? I thought you were stuck here like me?”
“Oh no, not at all. I guess I didn’t really finish my story. Once I found out about remaginators, I also found a bit of a purpose to my life. I set up the Voca as I wanted it and now I use it to transport valuable remaginated products to various worlds. It is quite a profitable business actually and a long way from the merchant banker / lawyer career I would’ve had back on Earth. I am a humble man, but I also have accumulated over 400 trillion dollars in liquid assets and could quite easily buy most of earth if I wanted to.”
“And yet you still wear the daggiest jeans I’ve ever seen” she interrupted.
“You can talk!” he replied with a grin and then a quick hug later and he was disappearing into the Voca cruiser.
Moments later, Jacie was standing with the flying unicorn, wondering whether all of this was some stupid dream.
A unicorn walks into a bar
Rin, Tin and Gin were busy examing the grime growing on the bar and reminiscing about the good old days when a unicorn walked into the bar, accompanied by a human. A female human.
“Why hello there lovelylady, let me getchoo a drink,” offered Rin, quickly tossing cocktail shakers over her mechanical head and twirling spirits in the air in preprogrammed fashion. The resulting concotion slid down the bar to where Jacie had uncermoniously plonked herself.
“Thanks” she mumbled and began slurping at the mix without looking up at the three bar bots.
“Tell us your troubles princess, we know the remedial action for everything” stated Tin, winking automatically at Rin.
“Yeah it’s always another drink” stated Gin rather obviously much to the frowns from her sister robots, “which is exactly what this lady needs right now”.
Rin obliged, producing yet another stunning cocktail and sliding it towards Jacie.
“What is it with men?” the human asked, “why do they have to be so, so, oblivious?”
“Oblivion, yes that is the name of the next drink I’ll make you – it is truly brilliant, but you bets to finish that one up before I make the next one. It does pack a punch”. With that Run, began wiping the bench of the grime that had grown in so many decades, just like a real bar tender would.
“I mean, if he’d even offered to take me with him, that would be something! But he basically just told me he is the universe’s biggest scam artist and then took off in his spaceship. Does that sound reasonable to any of you?” Jacie questioned, looking up at the bots in desperation.
“Oh we know,honey,men, they are all the same and it doesn’t matter what planet you come from, believe you us” rambled Tin. “Take Gin here.. she used to be married to a mechanic and he up and left her for a dishwasher for sprocketsake! After all those nanoseconds of connection, a dishwasher! It just isn’t fair. And I am sorry Gin for bringing that up, but the girl is obviously in pain. You feel her pain don’t you Gin?”
Gin looked bewildered and shook her metal head emphatically while Jacie was still sucking down her cocktail. Her fellow bar bots nodded back and pointed in the direction of the sad traveller.
“Ahh yes, I do feel your pain – why don’t you have another drink and tell us all about it?” Gin suggested sliding the third of Rin’s concotions in Jacie’s direction. The frothy pink mixture was a remagination of a terribly fruity flavour that masked the terrifying level of alcohol in the drink. Before long, Jacie was sharing this with her unicorn and the two of them had slumped to the floor and were snoring.
Home, home on the range
I finally found the human and I have those bar bots to thank. It had stumbled onto their deck and a few rounds of cocktails later, they’d sent me a message to come pick it up. I’ve put it back on the farm, and reprogrammed the doors. I also found that it had acquired a unicorn which seemed odd. I put it on the farm too and the two of them have been asleep for nearly 24 hours now.
I’ve not really had a chance to study the sleeping habits of organic life forms. We used to have a research bot that knew a lot about the basic necessities, but like all the others, he left when the party was on. I find the concept of sleeping acceptable, after all even robots need recharging but rarely do life forms ever truly switch off. I remember an occasion where I was walking through the so called sleeping quarters of a bigantan bear tribe and before I could think, they had me surrounded. So much for sleeping. Their huge knifey fangs were pointed at me and even though I tried to communicate, they just gnashed at me and gnawed at their own arms. Not exactly sleep behaviour. So anyhoo I decided it would be prudent to keep watch over my human. I’ve setup camp, as they say, in one of the farm houses and I have been systematically checking on the creatures every 75 seconds in case they are not really asleep and not really awake. So far apart from a few shifts in snoring patterns, there has been no change and I’m getting bored.
To occupy myself, I’ve decided to run some analysis on their dream patterns. The human is dreaming about another human. Quite startling is the image she is seeing is that of the human that I used to own. I must conclude that at some point during her time here she has encountered him or his likeness and that is highly unlikely. My scanners have shown me time and time again that he is not aboard this excellent space craft and so I have come to an invalid data point. Her dream patterns are particularly interesting, she is throwing cake at him. She is remaginating the cake! How did she learn how to do that? I know all of the remaginators onboard and I would know if she had been remaginating cake to throw at someone. This is alarming. Her dream is cycling. It is the same images over and over. I think she really wants to throw some cake at this other human. Now she is dreaming of the unicorn and it can fly and it can talk. Interesting and unlikely.
The unicorn isn’t dreaming anything. Correction. The unicorn can’t dream anything because it has been remaginated.
In about an hour, I’ll put them both to work. I still have a cupful of tall poppy seeds and that’s where I have to start because everything else on this ship is artificial.
Jacie woke with a headache that could power a spacestation. The throbbing alone had to be worth some kind of kinetic exchange but the churning in her stomach, that was something else. Somehow the cold floor of the ship against her cheek was the only thing she wanted to feel as the hazy memories of the last couple of days came swinging back into her head from all directions. Then to add one last overwhelming sensation to all of that, she noticed her feet were propped up against the seated rump of the unicorn.
“I gotta get out of here” was her first coherent thought which was rather a relief too because up until this point, she wasn’t particularly worried by the fact that she had been pulled aboard a spaceship and might never see earth again. She slowly pulled her feet down from their lofty position and rolled onto her side, taking care not to wake the unicorn who looked decidely worse than she felt. Beneath the giant still shimmery horn and the fluffy cloud of forelock, two red rimmed eyes were slowly starting to focus on her too and for a moment she feared the unicorn might choose to attack her. It didn’t which was rather nice and together they slowly got to their feet.
A whirring startled them and for the first time, Jacie took in the full height and menace of Fred the Headbot as he stood in some impeccable looking footwear, pointing a stick at her.
“You. Human. You are not to leave the farm deck again” he audioed at her.
Jacie dismissed him, recalling what was said about this robot being particularly easy to trick. She stumbled forward to shake his robotic hand and he moved backwards, poking in her direction with the stick again.
“Be warned human, I can annihilate you with a death stare if I choose to. So stay back”.
Jacie was almost all out of humour and the half laugh that escaped from her tired throat sounded mocking.
“If you have a death ray, what’s with the stick?” she managed. Fred, looked down at his stick and could see the logic of what she was saying. Still he jabbed in her direction again.
“Stay back” he repeated. Jacie was exhausted even after so much sleep. She put a hand on the unicorns mane and hoisted herself onto its back. The unicorn for it’s part trod back and forth a little before getting the feel of things.
“ok then” it said, then started to gallop away from the Headbot toward the farm gate door, mere metres before it would’ve slammed into the door, it spread its wings and galloped right up the wall and into the air with Jacie holding on bravely.
They circled the room several times before the lurching ride got the better of both of them and they came back down to the ground, collapsing in a heap together again.
“Well it was worth a try,” Jacie mumbled into the unicorns mane and then faced the pointy stick of the Headbot again.
“Now to work, human” he audioed out producing a shovel, a watering can and a cup of seeds.
“Yes I know it is rather strange without Tradewind”, The Duke replied to the unspoken thoughts of Ralf. The beast was in the icecream boat doing the dishes and moaning from all of its heads.
“I suppose we *could* go and look for him. But it would mean going onto that horrid spacecraft again and trying to avoid that crazy robot. I have become quite accustomed to living here my friend”. Ralf ignored the tortoise and continued moaning. The suds in the sink started to bubble and froth as the hairy beast plunged more dishes in with greater levels of sulking.
“Well if you agree to carry me, then I suppose we could at least poke our heads out the door. But I am warning you I am not about to go flying around on some crazy quest to find that dumb pelican” with this The Duke walked slowly along the dining table and flew down to Ralf’s feet. “So here I am, if you want to go find Tradewind then I suggest we get moving. You know the door only opens twice a day. Let’s go”. Ralf retracted his big hands from the sink and picked up The Duke covering him in soap suds in the process. He plonked The Duke in a cradle strapped to his chest and made for the door.
The sight of Ralf and The Duke coming through the door from their virtual world into the ship would’ve perplexed anyone. Fortunately no-one was around to see it and if they had simply chosen one of the adjacent doors to walk through, perhaps no-one would’ve seen them. However, The Duke felt convinced that Tradewind would not have opened either of the adjacent doors and directed Ralf to head down the corridor back into the main section of the ship. Ralf’s heads looked in every possible direction which made it very easy to notify The Duke when one of the heads spied a floorbot wheeling away at incredible speed.
“Look! There?” one head said.
“Look? There!” they all replied.
Then he started to run after the floorbot at a big jaunty speed, all the while bouncing the poor duke up and down in the carrier.
“y.y.y.you..c.c.c.c.ould.s.s.s.s.low.d.d.d.down” bounced The Duke.
“Look! There!” Ralf’s heads yelled again and the chase continued. They came around a rather sharp corner to find themselves in a purple room. It was a very aggressive purple room. The walls seemed to be screaming at them no matter what they did. Right in the middle of the room was a blue and white elongated vehicle. It was the state transit bus that Jacie had been on.
“Tradewind? Tradewind? Are you in here?” The Duke called. He could sense that Tradewind was close by, but couldn’t pinpoint his exact thoughts which was very strange. He prompted Ralf to move in closer to inspect the bus and as they did, The Duke took flight and made his own way through the open bus door and inside. He dare not look but he couldn’t help it. There on the floor in the middle of the bus aisle, eyes like shiny black marbles lay Tradewind. His life had been strangled from him and his hat lay trampled on the floor by his side. Their pelican friend, was no more.
When The Duke conveyed the news, the beast in Ralf came out. His terrible scream rang through the halls of the ship and even shook the thick windows that held them all in from the vacuum of space. Not even The Duke could get through to him, and Ralf ran from the purple room in a rage to seek the perpertrator.
For his part, The Duke was deeply sadened but not angered. After all Tradewind had left the confines of their icecream boat without them. The only thing playing on The Duke’s tiny yet powerful tortoise mind what a fit burial would be for a pelican strangled on a bus, in a spaceship in the farthest reaches of space. It should at the least involve some fish, and yet they didn’t have any.
Everyone heard it. Even creatures that Jacie hadn’t met yet, had heard that scream. What manner of person or thing could it have come from? Jacie had been working hard at the patch of soil on the farm deck sowing the tall poppy seeds and watering them in. She had spent the day doing what she had been told to, simply because there didn’t seem to be any real alternatives. Her one hope in Anthony, had proved to be false and her great plan to escape on her flying unicorn really didn’t match the reality test of a locked door. So she swallowed her initiatives and set about the work knowing full well that the quality of the soil was so bad, it was unlikely anything would be able to grow in it. At least Fred had agreed to evaporte the creepy squadron barns where the earth children had once lived. Now there was just fake grass and farm all around and her unicorn was free to wander through it while she worked.
When Jacie heard the scream she shivered unintentionally and asked the unicorn who that could be? The unicorn just nodded and said “hello” which wasn’t useful. Jacie put down her shovel and walked across to the window. She tapped again on the giant screen and read once more the note Anthony had left some time ago.”Try everything twice” he said. Easy to do as long as nothing changes, but everything is always changing.
If the unicorn had heard the scream, it said nothing about it and Jacie suspected that just like the world she had invented for screensmilers, in this place where things are remaginated at leisure, it would be hard to find anything with true understnading of communication. She called the unicorn to her by offering some modgrass in her hand. It was easily fooled and half trotted half glided over to her.
“Would you like a name?” she asked the unicorn, stroking its long white mane.
“hello. yes” it replied.
“Can I call you Manny?” pulling a name out of an imaginary hat. The unicorn may have rolled its eyes but nodded its head up and down enough times for Jacie to see that consent had been given.
“Manny, do you think we should try and open those doors again? Anthony did suggest we try everything twice and who knows it may just be a glitch in the programming”. Manny again nodded encouragingly so they walked together to the farm gate door.
“Open please” she said. Nothing happened. “Please open?” Still nothing. “hello? open?” And more of nothing. She tried pushing and pulling and kicking at the door – still nothing. Then just as she was about to start a massive cry fest over her situation the door collapsed inwards with a mighty crash. Plastic dust and crisscrossing bars and debris of all kinds floated in the air for milliseconds before exploding all around her and Manny. The unicorn shied up and immediately took to the air in fright. Jacie started coughing and wheezing trying to escape the toxic smoke of the explosion. Alarms began to sound all around the farm deck and a strange shower of electrical sparks started to fall from the ceiling. She screamed as a large form stepped through the murky mist and reached toward her with an enormous hairy arm.
It picked her up and squeezed her tighter than tight and with her very last breath she exhaled “Ralf! Please stop!”
The beast released his firm grasp and placed her safely back down on the ground. She could see that all six of his heads had been crying and the dust from the explosion clung to the tear trails in dirty creeks down his cheeks.
“Tradewind! Dead!” all heads said in unison. Jacie was shocked. That friendly incredibly intelligent pelican was dead, but how and why and when and she wasn’t going to get those answers in a hurry from Ralph.
“Ralf, where is The Duke?” she quickly asked, pulling his nearest head up from his chest where it was resting so she could look him in the eyes.
“Duke? Bus!” he replied. Jacie called her unicorn down from it’s perch in the sky and the three them left the farm deck and headed back to the bus. There they found The Duke trying valiantly to cover Tradewind with newspapers and magazines he’d found discarded by commuters on the seats. Tacky.
“I know but I wanted to give him a burial. This is all your earth bus had available and he’s far too large for me to carry.” Ralf, with no intention to offend The Duke stomped into the bus and picked both the tortoise and the pelican up and marched straight back out again in the direction of their world. Jacie trotted alongside on Manny and the odd family were just quiet in each others company. Well most of them, Ralf sobbed big hairy creature sobs that shook his whole frame and threatened to drop The Duke and Tradewind with every gasp.
It was just too sad, Jacie couldn’t help but think about the finality of death. Her thoughts were so deep that even The Duke couldn’t penetrate to them not that he was doing anything other than trying to hold on for his life. Jacie just couldn’t cope with death and it didn’t matter who was on the receiving end of it. She cried at the loss of Tradewind. She cried at the loss of a rodent that gets caught and killed in a trap. She cried at the very thought of losing any of her friends or family even though as far as she knew, all of them had a great many years ahead of them. It was not that she didn’t believe they would go to a better place. Hey in the case of Tradewind, anywhere had to be better than being caught on a spaceship. She was sure he would be flying low over long yellow beaches kissed by clear water filled with delicious fish. She knew that the soul of a living thing went on to somewhere and she hoped it was somewhere beautiful and familiar and filled with loved ones past. What Jacie cried over, was her loss, that she wouldn’t see them again and that somehow none of this hope of beyond death would actually apply to her. She feared her own death more with the death she saw happen to others and her pain was not something she could face. Still she trotted alongside the giant Ralph with his sad baggage and knew that when it came to the actual saying goodbye, she probably wouldn’t be able to say anything at all.
They waited a few hours at the door to their virtual world before the “open door” policy kicked in and they could walk out onto the shore of Zine. The icecream boat was still tethered where Tradewind had secured it and the horizon was filling up with the pink glow of another manufactured sunset. Ralf set to work digging a suitable grave, high up near the impenetrable bushline so that no predators or tide could uncover the body. When everything was ready, they placed Tradewind in the grave and covered him with sand and rocks. Nothing needed to be said, because The Duke could read all of their thoughts anyway but as the fake sun set completely and the sky darkened, Ralf let out another gut wrenching scream that carried all of their anguish across the water of that world into the night.
Jacie had let Manny wander along the shoreline free while she went back inside the icecream cone boat with The Duke. Ralf stayed outside and built a fire for Manny. After all of the emotional highs and lows of the day, Jacie went poking her head inside the fridge hoping to find something to eat. The bright white light of the fridge broke up the solemn feeling in the loungeroom and she couldn’t help herself,
“vegemite sandwiches!” she exclaimed. Sure enough the fridge was filled to the bursting with plates for fresh vegemite sandwiches on lovely white bread with deep slatherings of butter and cold salty vegemite. She quickly pulled out some plates and brought them to the lounges where she and The Duke munched on them quietly. It didn’t seem so long ago that she’d been sharing hot soup with Anthony. Now her only company was a mind-reading tortoise, a flying unicorn and a hairy 6 headed beast in mourning.
“Is that so bad?” The Duke interrupted her thinking.
“You know you really shoudl stop doing that, it is quite rude to read someone’s thoughts”
“Really? Says who? In my world it is an honour to have a Zinean lord read your mind. Why it is as valued as getting your head waxed by a Zinean nun. And come to think of it, I shoudl almost be offended that you are offended that I am reading your mind. There are plenty more gracious minds I could go and read if you’d prefer.” the tortoise turned its tiny beak upwards and half snorted at Jacie.
“I don’t think that is true. The part about there being more gracious minds aboard this ship. So far I’ve only met robots, you and Ralf and another human called Anthony. On my planet, reading minds is offensive particularly if you aren’t on tv and making money from it. So could you please not read my mind Duke?” Jacie asked, but her question was mostly ignored.
“You said Anthony. You have actually seen Anthony? Where, when?” The Duke’s stubby little tail was flicking back and forth excitedly like a puppies does when it has guests, except it looked very creepy. Jacie hesitated.
“You did! And he had the VOCA cruiser all done up and he flew off and left you here all alone?” The Duke filled in her blanks.
“You did it again!” she yelled, half tempted to drop kick The Duke into the sink with the remains of Ralf’s dirty dishes. “Why does it matter? yes, after leaving you the other day I bumped into Anthony who told me his story and then he flew off, presumably to trade jewels with the nearest planet. I haven’t seen him or the cruiser since”.
“Well of course not dear. His cruiser is cloaked.. all of the time. There must’ve been some special reason for him to reveal himself to you because as far as I know, if the Headbot ever caught him, we’d be burying Anthony right alongside our dear Tradewind on the beach”.
After more discussion, The Duke revealed the true extent of Anthony’s crimes. In making friends with everyone he could aboard the ship, Anthony had also been building his understanding of the crafts operation and had started to manipulate it for his own gains. He had no interest in returning to earth, in fact from The Duke’s insight into Anthony’s mind, the man’s only interest was in taking over the universe. Like every organic thing brought into prolonged space travel, his mind had been twisted and shaped by every star system they’d flown through and every comet they’d raced back and forth across the galaxy and a an unhealthy amount of plouging through walls. Anthony had thought initially that he was being held by superior beings, but a few small attempts to subvert authority such as interacting with the ship to leave graffiti had been so successful that he then pushed the boundaries further. Ralf, Tradewind and The Duke had decided to sail away from the entrance for some time as The Duke could forsee that Anthony had plans to use the mind reading skills of the tortoise to uncover more of the ships secrets. From what Jacie told The Duke, Anthony hadn’t needed The Dukes help. He had stolen a remaginator and installed it INSIDE the Voca, effectively enabling a lot of remagination to occur stemming out from that point.
This technology was well beyond what human life forms should be able to deal with. The Duke feared what nations Anthony was trading with but unless he was within a few metres of the man, he would not be able to read his thoughts and work out what he’d been up to. Together they struck up a plan. The Duke was convinced, Anthony would be back from his recent trip but once again cloaked. Jacie would go again to the landing bay and see if Anthony had returned and was willing to talk about his adventures. Jacie would decline accommodation and return every night to Zine and over coffee she would share what she had learnt with The Duke. In turn, The Duke would learn how to make vegemite sandwiches as well as Tradewind had, and explain some of the workings of the ship to Jacie. They shook hand to scaly lumpy little leg and went to sleep.
A frightful mess
The processor boggles, it really does. I can’t explain the mess I found when I returned to the farm deck after my daily rounds. Absolute mess. Frigthful mess, if anythign frightened me. Which it doesn’t by the way even if you think otherwise because I carry a stick. The whole door has been removed by an explosion of some kind and that human girl and her unicorn have disappeared again. I am a little pleased to see that she at least planted some tall poppy seeds first. I am not quite sure what to do next.
Anyhoo, at times like these, it is helpful to power down. I think I will go visit RIn, Tin and Gin for a while.
First thing in the morning, Jacie again left the icecream boat and set off with Manny to see if she could find Anthony again. It was still very early in the day, and she needed some time alone to think about what she would say when she saw him and what she really wanted from him. Was he really as twisted and evil as THe Duke suggested? He had had such charming smiling eyes.
Stepping through the door from Zine, she elected to go through one of the adjacent doors into another virtual world. This time instead of treading into soft yielding sand she stepped into thin air and started falling. Falling faster and faster through clear blue skies she tried to scream but the rush of air into her lungs forced it back down. She knew Manny had been right behind her and was relieved to find that the unicorn was already flying rapidly down towards her. He flicked his wings out wide to slow his descent and navigated to just below her. She landed hard upon his back and threw her arms around his neck as tightly as she dared. His strong body started to work against their plummet and his huge wings pushed against the air in great whooping downward strokes. It took a few minutes but slowly they gained altitude and slowed to a steady flying trot. Jacie took giant gulps of air and stroked her remaginated unicorn, thanking him profusely. When the shock of their fall began to wear off, the pair looked around them and saw a vast desert below them. Nothing in the sky and nothing below. This was the perfect place for Jacie to think. She rode Manny down onto the dunes and alighted the unicorn, to find that this world was perfectly still and not at all hot.
Manny, didn’t look particularly happy and immediately took to the sky, flying in great circles and figure eights high above her head. She really hoped remaginated horses didn’t create the volume of manure real horses did or this could get very unpleasant rather quickly.
She lay down on the dark orange sand and let it run through her fingers. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what her life had been like before this all started. How many years had she spent making up lives for those around her, never appreciating the value of real life and real communication. Now, stranded in space, it all seemed clear how important those things were.
The Duke’s plan to trap Anthony into revealing his true intentions was lame. After all, Jacie really didn’t care what Anthony did as long as she could find a way back to Earth. It seemed clear that the Headbot wasn’t interested in returning her until she had produced something organic, but even more importantly something organic that could be sustained. Her biggest concern was that the Headbot Fred, was a little unstable and Jacie was sure that her life would be in danger if she did succeed in producing something organic. The other mystery was the most obvious, who had killed Tradewind? Were there lifeforms about this massive spaceship who didn’t like pelicans? Or was it someone she had already met?
These thoughts rolled around in her head like marbles chasing one another. She sank further into the desert sand and then in an instant, she realised she had sunk too far! Jacie tried to sit up but her legs went right through the sand into emptiness and then her entire body followed. As her head was about to slip below the surface of the sand she called out desperately to Manny but he was so high in the sky doing pirouettes that he would not have heard her final yell for help.
The path to virtue is paved with cocktails
In the bar, Rin, Tin and Gin had surrounded Fred with their mechanical arms and were calling him cute names. He was drinking their remaginated alcohol and trying very hard to relax about this whole human problem.
“I *could* just annihilate all organic lifeforms on the ship, it is only a button up on maindeck and the job would be done. I wouldn’t have to waste processing cycles on it anymore. ” he case studied.
“Oh honey honey honey” said Rin, kissing his robotic cheek with her sticky probiscus. “you don’t want to go and destroy everything do you?”
“what you need is another drink, Fred” suggested Tin and slid him a frothy headed beer complete with cocktail umbrella. He took one look and sculled the beer and began chewing on the umbrella with his metal teeth.
“Yes, I know I could drink up here with you forever, but that won’t change the fact that I can’t go home empty handed and all my attempts to procure sustainable organics at low low prices has failed. I should wipe the dashscreen clean. I should kill everything organic and perhaps instead move to earth permanently and forget about ever getting an upgrade from RigiDigiRobotCorp”.
“Is that what this is all about? You’ve been trying for a promotion all of these years? You’re already the Headbot on the biggest space exploration research craft in the known and unknown galaxy. Isn’t that enough? Why do you want to kill everyone and everything? What has *happened* to you Fred?” Gin pleaded. Somewhere in her memory circuits was stored a video file of Fred being a nice robot overlord. She had no idea how long ago that was, but there used to be people in this bar that she served, and a Headbot that she had great respect for. She took his robotic hand and placed it in her own. This time, he looked directly at her instead of talking into his drink.
“Anyhoo, I better get back to my duties. If you see the human, please catch her for me again. Thanks ladies”. With this he left them to their drinks and did not look back to see the downturned eyes of Gin.
Sure Anthony felt a little guilty for leaving Jacie the way that he had but there was a deadline to keep and most of these transactions were based on trust. He couldn’t of been late. The landing on P9 had been rough, the VOCA had lost a rudder and some guidance thingies. Anthony didn’t know the real names of anything, everything he had learned by experimenting and listening to others. So assured of a career and a future amongst the wealthy, he had previously left the real learning to others. The last few years had been his time, to master his own capabilities and that’s what he had done. He wasn’t about to feel guilty about some girl who had appeared in the middle of everything.
The people of P9 were not dissimilar to those of Earth and valued the same stones and gems as humans. The beauty was they also valued deregulation and bucaneering, so Anthony always looked forward to selling his remaginated wares to their eager buyers. They flattered him by admiring the products and saying they were the most precious in the universe. He told a beautifully crafted story about his home planet on the verge of destruction being forced to sell off every last diamond and ruby to pay for a refurbishment job. The story worked. Not only did he sell his wares, he often brought tears to the eyes of those who listened nearby. They would offer him small gifts of bread and homemade chutney for being so brave as to fly into unchartered territories to protect his planet. Anthony didn’t feel particularly guilty about his lies either, after all the chutney on P9 was amazing. At least he sincerely hoped it was chutney.
This last run had been different, he couldn’t tell the story like he normally would. His mind kept flicking the pages back to the brief period of time he’d spent with Jacie. She was so beautiful and daggy and innocent and clever all at once. He thought about her. A lot. Of all the crazy things she could’ve remaginated for herself, she’d made a flying unicorn. What about money? What about a one way door back to earth? What about some sexy lingerie.. oh hang on that last part probably wouldn’t of crossed her mind, but his? Absolutely. In all the time he had been playing with the remaginator he had never thought of making himself a woman. He feared that if he had created all of the assets he could imagine a woman should have, he would’ve actually ended up with an incredibly odd looking creature. He didn’t want to risk creating actual lifeforms. Not Jacie though, her first creation had been the most stunningly crafted half unicorn, half pegasus creature and apart from a small issue related to speech it was perfect. Just like Jacie, he thought.
The P9 people must’ve sensed his distraction and had ripped him off by a cool 250million. It wasn’t til later when he was flying away from their rocky planet that he also noticed they’d stolen the rudder and the guidance thingies. Yeah that was a rough landing alright. Anthony normally would’ve been so very angry about all of this, except that he just kept thinking whether Jacie was alright. He hoped above all else, the she hadn’t come into any danger and that she had been able to avoid the attention of the Headbot.
The VOCA while missing the digital guidance thingies, still had a permanent homing becon that allowed it to find it’s way back to the main ship without assistance. Anthony decided to spend this time, planning how he would woo and win Jacie. If she would come and live with him, they could live anywhere! Earth as zillionaries, P1 through to P8 as hillionaires and P9.. well maybe not P9 those people were lying thieves! He wondered if there was any chance that a daydreaming, kmart jean wearing girl like Jacie would ever find a quick learning private school boy stuck on the wrong side of the galaxy, even remotely attractive. The first step was to get back aboard the ship and find her again, he would tell her everything this time, maybe even take her back to earth if that’s what she wanted. Whatever it took, he thought to himself.
The floorbots onboard the VOCA were programmed to serve Anthony and run the system administration of the craft. There were four bots in total and while originally manufactured by the RigiDigiRobotCorp, their personalities had been so far altered by Anthony that they sometimes took breaks during long flights and chewed the silicon. Down in the cargo hold the four bots were doing exactly this when the cruiser flew by a single remote outpost of the RigiDigiRobotCorp. It was shaped rather like a jellyfish and floated through the deep insignificance of space propelled by tiny jets along its conical head. Like most things by the RigiDigiRobotCorp, it had one purpose; to track and record all space craft activity around it. Just like an unsuspecting beach goer, the VOCA had just been stung.
For the second time that day, Jacie felt herself falling through the air at incredible speed, but this time, instead of landing on the white back of Manny, she landed with a thud thud on the concrete floor of the maintenace deck. She knew this is where she was because a robot immediately appeared.
“Welcome to maintenance. Do you have a ticket?”
“No ticket. Please raise a ticket with helpdesk before proceeding to a maintenance cubicle” the robot ordered and produced an old fashioned telephone with a yellow sticky note on it. The yellow sticky note had written in human handwriting “just pretend”. Jacie assumed it was human handwriting because she was unfamiliar with other kinds and picked up the handset.
“Yes. Hello helpdesk? I need a ticket at the maintenance deck for a broken thingamajig.” she spoke loudly and nodded quietly as if speaking to someone at the other end “Yes. OK Helpdesk – my reference number is 12345678910. Thanks again.” she then hung up.
“12345678910. Confirmed. Welcome to maintenance. How can we help you?” the robot asked, holding up a glass tablet through which Jacie could see typed letters and reference codes and then the occasional picture of a red toaster, sitting on a satin bed.
“How come you have a picture of a red toaster on your…” she didn’t even finish her sentence before the maintenance robot tapped the tablet and the side facing Jacie blurred into solid black so she could no longer see through it.
“oh I see,” she finished. The robot stood quietly for one second then asked her again, how it could be of service.
“Actually I’m here by mistake. I was relaxing on the sand above and simply fell through to here. I didn’t realise this was the maintenance deck”
“That does not comply with RigiDigiRobotCorp Big Binary Book of Ones and Zeros. Please explain your fault”, the robot responded. Jacie looked quickly around the room, hoping to find something else to guide her through this tricky conversation. In one corner she saw some floorbots having their wheels replaced. That looked painful. In another part of the room, two large mechanical arms were recovering an armchair in red velvet. Somewhere nearby she heard the sound of a shower.
“I need a shower,” Jacie stated. “Please take me to the showers”. At this the robot nodded and moving on fixed tracks on the floor, led her across the open space to a short corridor from which the sound of the shower was coming. Relaxing a little, Jacie opened one of the doors leading off from the corridor and indeed found a shower rose and a little undressing area. Strange though it seemed, she really did need a shower and so she closed the cubicle door behind her, undressed and turned a nearby tap to start the shower. A startling electrical sound click clicked and then a buzzing sound commenced. At distance it had sounded like water running, but what started pouring from the shower rose was far from that. Suddenly she remembered what Anthony had hated more than tea. What had he called it digital rain? liquified electricity? The bright busts of light that flew from the rose, indeed rained down upon her but when they hit her skin they bit like a million ants taking tiny chunks out of her flesh all at once. She screamed in pain and tried to force the shower door open but it wouldn’t budge. She wedged herself in the corner closest to the tap hoping to avoid the majority of the spray, but her large exposed bottom still caught most of the sharp stinging drops as they fell and all she could do was howl for it to stop. After exactly 30seconds of pain, that’s what happened. The shower stopped, the door unlocked and she was free to leave. When she reached for her clothes however, she realised that they were gone.
“Well this is awkward,” she said out loud, hoping to catch the attention of the robot “um do you have my clothes?”
She poked her head back out into the maintenance bay and saw all of the things she had seen before. The maintenance bot on the tracks that she had first met was powered off on the far side of the room, and she could see no-one else about. Trying as best she could to cover her private areas she ran quickly about the place looking for something/anything she could cover herself with but had no luck. Then she saw the chair still in the process of being recovered. With fast feet and aggressive handy work she ripped the remaining fabric from the spool the mechanical arms were working from and wrapped the piece around herself, tying two ends around her neck and using a strip of it as a belt at her waste. All in all it was the most ridiculous red velvet toga she had ever seen. Not that she had that much time to marvel at her ingenuity, alarms started to sound all over the maintenance deck and the main robot had powered back on. Jacie dashed for the exit, then realised she didn’t have one! It was too late. Coming through the sandy ceiling on a jet propelled platform was Fred, the Headbot and he didn’t look happy.
To be honest, because I really don’t have any other way of being. I am not happy. As I forecast, the human has been more trouble than she is possibly worth. I have located her again and her constant questions and ranting are getting on my circuits. I found her in the maintenance dock being refitted as a chair which didn’t seem right, so I decided to take her to the main deck, my deck and try a different approach. I’m going to attempt to talk to the human and see if I can readjust her thinking on a few things. Perhaps she will explain why the earthling children laughed at me or why remaginated bacon does not taste as good as organic bacon? Anyhoo I am willing to try, or kill her in the process.
Safety in numbers
From The Duke’s point of view, at dusk they would see Jacie again and she would offload a whole packet of information about Anthony onto them. He and Ralf could stay safe from the Headbot and safe from Anthony and safe from whatever creature had killed Tradewind, simply by staying put. It was a brilliant plan. It was still a brilliant plan when she didn’t show up at dusk, because obviously she was spending the evening with Anthony to drill him for more information. Even though that was against their agreement, The Duke was convinced she would be back at first light having snuck out with everything he needed to find out how Anthony was able to move so freely about the ship. No risk on The Duke’s part and all the reward. When Jacie still hadn’t arrived back by the following evening, The Duke’s idea of the perfect plan started to shake a little. It started shaking a lot, when Ralf began to moan. First one head started and by dusk the following day all heads were wailing.
“Gone? Too?” he cried.
“Gone! Too!” his other heads cried.
The beast was fairly useless to The Duke in this state and while every part inside his tortoise shell was yelling for Ralf to cast off from the shore and they’d come back in a year’s time, the order was never vocalised. Instead The Duke flew up onto Ralf’s chest and looked at all twelve eyes directly and said,
“My friend, let’s go find our friend, our new friend”
The main deck
A thousand cgi crafted Hollywood space movies, could not have prepared Jacie for the wonder she felt coming onto the main deck of Fred’s excellent space craft. There were sliding panels and scopes and light arrays and liquid reporting in 3D holoscopes. Expansive windows contained all kinds of measurement overlays and planet data for every blink of a star they flew by. The deck itself was not well lit but Jacie guessed that robots wouldn’t need much light to operate by. Instead the craft boasted so many other whizzes and bangs and colourful flashes, it was almost like it was being controlled by an epic fireworks display. Jacie walked freely onto the deck alongside the Headbot and didn’t feel afraid just slightly underdressed in her red velvet toga. Fred had said little on their trip up through the other levels of the ship, unlike being ploughbeamed through walls, the sensation of being carried on a jet propelled platform was rather enjoyable. Not quite as enjoyable as riding your own flying unicorn, but Jacie didn’t want to mention that in case Fred realised her remaginated acquaintance was missing.
Unlike the icecream boat or the Voca there was no central seating that Jacie could use but for now she was content to walk slowly throught he deck examining everything. Reaching a tank filled with a clear fluid, she watched in fascination as tiny pale yellow bubbles danced in improbable movements inside the tank. She reached out to touch the side of the tank, only to find her hand arrested by Fred.
“Must not touch human. Very important tank” he said sternly, robotic eyes flickering momentarily. Jacie apologised and moved away from the tank, instead focusing on the vision of space stretching out before her.
“I’m sorry Fred for all of my questions, but I do need to know if you intend to take me back to Earth. I really don’t belong out here, as beautiful as it is”
Fred looked busy, dragging virtual rulers across virtual star systems on a virtual planning panel.
“Sit down human” he ordered, touching a black circular shape on his planner and immediately remaginating her a chair in the middle of the room.
“Wow, thank you. How is it that a robot can remaginate a chair? I didn’t know robots had imaginations” Jacie mused, not really expecting Fred to understand her, let alone answer her.
“That is because you are an organic lifeform. You have a limited understanding of everything. Remagination has nothing to do with imagination. It is simply reorganisation of data. Input and output. Easy. Now I want you to listen to me human because we need to get something in order and it isn’t remagination data.”
Jacie leant her tired head into her hands and tried very hard to concentrate on what the robot was saying.
“The thing is, we have lost precious time with all of your adventuring. You need to be a good human and grow some organic things for me. I can’t keep remaginating everything all of the time, it won’t help me when the time comes. RigiDigiRobotCorp had some very strict guidelines and I may have subverted them just a little when I turned all the porks into remaginated bacon but I just didn’t have the education to do otherwise. If they hadn’t of planned that stupid party, none of this would’ve happened. Now everything aboard the ship is broken and it is possible there are pockets operating outside of my control. I know, that might seem very hard to believe human, but that’s the problem with humans it is always always about belief, instead of fact. Why do humans even say cold hard fact, that’s such an emotional non compliant thing to say. A fact is a fact even if some organisations across the galaxy like to use the made up word factoid, it is still a fact. Human, you must grow something organic. I must be able to show that what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years has been worthwhile or I will never be accepted back on my planet. Can you understand? I ate a lot of remaginated bacon. I beheaded the tall poppies. I didn’t really mean to kill the children but my death stare did. IN spite of that I am not a bad robot. I am just trying to make my way home, can you understand?”
Jacie was a little surprised by the quiet tone the headrobot was deploying and in her heart she began to feel sorry for him.
“Tell me one thing, please, and then I might be able to help you” she said, raising her head from her hands to look him straight in the mechanical eyes, “did you kill Tradewind?”
“Tradewind?” Fred asked. The windows on the main deck sprung to life and started showing scenes from earth of ships carried by powerful winds between countries and flicking through these images it finally came to one of a pelican, wearing a sailors hat, perched on the very tip of the icecream ships cone, sniffing at the smoke curling out of the chimney.
“That is Tradewind?” the headrobot asked. Jacie nodded quietly, eyes filling up with tears of exhaustion and loss.
“Oh no, the other human on board did that”.
Cloaked from Fred’s sensors, the Voca docked with the main ship flawlessly and by the time the cargo doors had opened the remaginated security field was in place and Anthony could disembark his cruiser. He hoped to see the face of Jacie or at least her unicorn exactly where he had left them, but only a small scrap of her remaginated garden remained. His heart sank and he feared the very worse but he had already determined to leave the security of the cruiser and see if he could locate her.
“I’m going in search of Jacie. Keep the ship and the remaginator secure. I will be back in one hour. If not, find me and bring me the kit” he told one of his floorbots.
“You bring the kit you loser! You design personality like you design a toilet you filthy backward human” the floorbot replied and then began cursing at a sub-human hearing level.
Anthony just smiled and walked through the security barrier and into the main ship, well aware that every move he now made would be traceable if the Headbot happened to be watching the right scanner. With the familiarity that half a dozen years could bring, Anthony quickly moved through the ship, checking off all of the likely places Jacie might be. The most obvious place was maintenance deck because if you walked through that door you inevitably fell straight down through the sky and into the maintenance area. He didn’t want to enter from that door as it could be a painful landing and dealing with the single maintenance bot that still staffed the place was tiresome. He took from his pack a single floorbot and mounted a tiny camera on its shell, then pushed it through the skirting tunnel that would take it directly to the maintenance deck. Using a remote control, Anthony was able to use the bot to scan the floor. He couldn’t see Jacie, but the place was a mess. A half upholstered chair lay on its side in the middle of the deck and the maintenance bot was taking pictures of a red toaster in the shower rooms. Typical, he was just about to leave the deck as he’d found it when he saw the sand roof start to crumble away, coming down through the roof was the unicorn!
At full run, Anthony ran up the corridors that led to the door to the maintenance room. In a massive leap of faith he threw open the door and dived through.
Down down down he plunged, knowing only too well the crash that was coming.
He’d fallen right through the sand ceiling and landed in the maintenance deck, but before the bot could demand his helpdesk ticket, he sprang to his feet and headed over to where Jacie’s unicorn was playfully kicking at the chair. He grabbed the horse and without thinking too much about it, pulled himself up onto its back. The abruptness of which spurred the creature immediately into the air back through the sand ceiling into the clear blue skies above.
It wasn’t until then, that Anthony tried asking the animal where Jacie was. It helpfully replied.
“Hello, yes” and then half flew half galloped back through the open deck door and onto the ship again. Anthony pushed the unicorn to keep galloping and the two of them sped down the corridors of each deck. At one stage Anthony considered calling out Jacie’s name but he feared attracting the Headbot’s attention unnecessarily and also didn’t want to appear to needy.
Eventually they reached the bar deck. Rin, Tin and Gin twirled around on their bar stools when he entered and started to gush all over him in words and through many various mechanisms also through alcohol. They tried fountains and water pistols and buckets and spraybottles full of the stuff, their remaginator going into overdrive. Rin took out the big gun, a firehose of booze and took aim at Anthony.
“Come and get some, playboy” she yelled, pointing the platesized nozzle in his direction and pulling back the enormous safety catch. The blast of booze that pumped out of the end would’ve saturated Anthony in a second had it not been for Manny who caught the brunt of the force in his open mouth. The unicorn horse drank and drank and drank, its stomach bloating out with every chug until it looked like a mare heavy with foal. It took just moments more and then Manny exploded, throwing Anthony clear of the bar deck and back into the relative safety of the ship.
“Now why did you have to go and explode that nice Unicorn, Rinny?” Gin asked. Rin turned off the hose and put it back behind the bar. “I don’t know, Gin. I have never seen that happen before. I was just playing around. You know” Tin giggled “it was pretty funny, did you see it when it’s eyes all bugged out like that and then splat! All gone! Bwhahahahahhahah exploded horsey!”
“I hate you both!” screamed Gin and began to cry.
In the corridor, Anthony was in shock. He’d never seen the barbots behave that violently before and that poor unicorn, gone! He stumbled away from the scene, all the more desperate to find Jacie and retreat to the Voca. He was running quickly out of places to look. Could it be possible that she had gone into the land of Zoo or should he make his way into the lions den? Should he go directly to the main deck? His hour was almost up, he had to risk running into the Headbot.
Bells and whistles and birds and bees
The other human? The other human? Oh no. Jacie realised Fred could only mean Anthony and she shook with rage. This man who had appeared every bit the dashing hero was a scam artist and a murderer! If she ever saw him again, she would do whatever she could to make him suffer.
Before she could ask the Headbot any more questions, alarms started to sound all across the main deck. The control panels that previously had been a myriad of colours switched to red and started to pulse. Even Fred’s excessively hihgtech footwear began to glow red and his voice dropped to a digitized monotone.
“He is onboard. Human, you are restrained for your own safety”, with that metal corded bands sprung up from the body of the chair and wrapped around Jacie in all directions then pulled tight, fixing her to the chair. She howled and tried to struggle free but the bands would not stretch.
“I don’t need your protection! Let me up, I’m going to punch that no good …” she began to rant. It was actually a very impressive and abusive rant considering for most of her life she had never had the courage to speak up about anyone or anything. Gentle Jacie. Quiet Jacie, Unadventuresome Jacie. Now she raved and bounced and squirmed and kicked like a genuine wild child in a nuthouse.
The Headbot ignored her and remained fixated on the panels in front of him. Anthony was getting closer, all sensors could pick him out clearly as he hobbled nearer to the main deck. Fred was also sensing something new, he wanted to define it as fear but couldn’t be certain. He picked up his stick from where it had been leaning and faced the door, waiting, waiting, waiting for Anthony to appear before him. If he had to use his death stare, well he would. No amount of talking would work this time, there was a reason they called Fred a learning computer. He would not make the same mistakes twice.
So as not to be distracted he pushed the human in her chair into a nearby cupboard and put a silencer screen infront. Now she could not distract the human, nor could she help the human. If this was to be a war, then Fred would face it alone.
Seconds ticked by and then Anthony appeared on the deck, looking relaxed.
“Hello, Fred, long time no see” he remarked casually.
“Human, you have caused me much trouble. I must destroy you” Fred said boldly holding the stick toward Anthony menacingly.
“Oh you can’t destroy humans with a stick, you know, but I was wondering if your death stare is still functioning?” asked Anthony, stepping a few metres more onto the deck.
“Of course it is, human. I could easily vaporize you with my death stare. I could remaginate you as a piece of Turkish Delight if I wanted to. You must be destroyed”
“Well yes I must be destroyed, except then you will miss out on the greatest opportunity you’ve ever had to impress your colleagues back at RigiDigiRobotCorp wouldn’t you?” as he spoke Anthony moved even further onto the deck edging closer and closer to the main control panel. All the while he did not want to lose the attention of the Headbot so he continued “I bet you don’t even know what is so close to being in your grasp, do you?”
“I know everything in my grasp, human because I know everything that happens on this ship. I am the Headbot, I am Fred.”
“Of course, of course you do but did you know that you have the potential to produce genuine lifeforms organically, right now? I am not talking about kidnapping a bunch of humans and growing them from babies or even growing flowers.. I’m talking about genuine life, born naturally, grown naturally. Right here.” Anthony was stretching the truth a little, but he really only needed a few more inches before he would be at the main control panel for the entire ship.
“What you are saying is invalid. I will remaginate you now into a trampoline and throw you overboard” Fred stated. Amongst all of the red flashing lights and darkness in the room, he could not really see Anthony almost laugh out loud at this statement. Nor could he make out that Anthony had successfully reached the control panel and was searching the sliders and buttons for one particular object. The Headbot started to fire up his most lethal looking gaze and Anthony quickly interrupted.
“Oh it’s valid, alright. All you need to create natural organic produce, homegrown as we say on Earth, is a man and a woman. Your latest stop on earth furnished you with a woman didn’t it? And I am a man after all – seems like you have the perfect recipe on board to make a whole civilisation if you wanted to.
The lights on the deck, returned to normal and Fred, switched off his death stare while he considered the new input from Anthony. There was logic to this. A human male, and a human female could produce organic lifeforms. It was sustainable. It was natural. It was a neverending cycle! But without a biology specialist or a human specialist, Fred was unclear whether the outcome was achievable and so did not choose to reveal that he had secured Jacie in a cupboard only metres away.
“Human, you will sit down and explain this to me”. With that, Fred remaginated yet another chair, and Anthony collapsed into it gratefully having already toggled the few switches needed to change the game all over again.
Origin of the species
Ralf and The Duke had been wandering around the ship quite slowly, looking for Jacie and trying to avoid the floorbots and detection by Fred. Leaving their own virtual world was such an ordeal but Ralf was a very sensitive 6 headed beast and it was the only way to address his concerns. The Duke marvelled that everytime they went past the door to Zoo, Ralf’s heads went completely berserk and it wasn’t until they had truly left the vicinity that they calmed down. For The Duke, he had never ventured through the door into Zoo, reading too much about the virtual world from Ralf’s heads.
In Zoo, the Headbot had created a place where all of his failed attempts at organic creation could be dumped. Ralf was just one of those poor creatures and like a cousin that shows up unannounced had arrived in Zine one day with no luggage and no intended time for departure. They had had their fair share of arguments, but The Duke realised that this beast was not six brains attached to one body, but that its brain and heart were one incredible organ driving all 6 of its heads. Such a rare thing, should and would be protected if The Duke had anything to do with it. So while he allowed Ralf to live and work with him on the icecream cone ship, he also wanted to make sure that Ralf stayed as safe and as happy as possible.
Through Ralf’s visions of Zoo, The Duke learnt that most of the creatures dumped there died prematurely and the whole place smelled of death. He also could tell that of those that survived they were so deranged that they fought and fought with one another, never finding the peace or space they needed to explore and possibly escape the living hell they were in. To this day, The Duke had no idea how Ralf had escaped. Like the maintenance deck, there were no stairs into or out of Zoo. When you opened that door, you fell down into the mire and there you stayed. If Jacie were still alive and had this piece of information she probably would’ve thanked her good fortune that she fumbled into ZIne first.
Zine had come about because the Headbot had picked up an entire lake from the real planet Zine and placed it inside the virtual world onboard the ship. At the time, the Headbot was probably just trying to catch some fish but in the process had inadvertently picked up a great lord out for a days sailing. One of The Duke’s greatest pleasures was taking to Lake Zine in his icecream cone craft and sailing around peacefully. It was so far away from the hustle and bustle and noisy minds of his fellow Zineans that it was quite normal to find him having a weekly sojourn on the lake. The Duke didn’t even realise he had been picked up by a spaceship until he’d tried to return to shore only to find the wall of saltbush and no way through. His first companion had been Tradewind who flapped through the ships door one day and waddled along the sand. Like The Duke, Tradewind had mistakenly been picked up by the Headbot on a prior visit to earth and like most pelicans, had no idea about anything. Still the two of them had become good friends, and with each passing year, Tradewind had grown in understanding and eccentricity. Those hats, The Duke smiled to himself at the very thought and then choked back a little cry when the sight of Tradewind strangled to death returned to his mind.
Strange conversations can happen when you are the only one of your species and you are stuck onboard a spaceship burtling through outer space. When The Duke had first met the Headbot, it had taken many many conversations before the robot had understaood that the tortoise could not assist him in the production of organic life. The Duke had been sent back to live out his time at the incorporated lake, but in all fairness, Fred had installed a remaginator for him in the icecream cone boat. The Duke had tried unsuccessfully to remaginate an escape vehicle, but something kept stopping him from doing so.
“It isn’t meant to be” said Fred one day when The Duke asked the Headbot what was happening.
“That isn’t logical. You are supposed to be a logical robot. How can you say something isn’t “meant” to be? Surely if I can remaginate a bowl of jelly, I could remaginate an escape vehicle”.
“You can keep trying, if you so wish, but it is outside the parameters of the tool. Your particular remaginator has been hardwired to operate only within the boundaries of Zine. You must stay here tortoise lord until I can find your home again. You are useless to me but I don’t wish you to be trouble. If you become trouble I will death stare you”. With this the Headbot had dismissed The Duke and they had only seen each other once or twice since.
And it would’ve been such a lonely existence if Tradewind and then Ralf hadn’t shown up. It was true that The Duke had everything he could remaginate for himself, but for a species so proud of its ability to read minds, there was a distinct lack of minds in the environment.
That was of course, until that stunning criminal Anthony arrived. Oh how The Duke had enjoyed his company. Just like Tradewind, Anthony had just walked through the door one day and was there. Ralf had seen him first from far out on the lake and had immediately sailed toward the shore. The Duke had never seen a human but was very pleased to learn that their minds could be such an absolute tangle of thought and feeling. It is possible of course, that in The Duke’s excitement he had confused some of what Anthony was thinking but right now, he tried to entertain that idea. Anthony had deserted them to go and remaginate profitable products. If he’d stayed in Zine, they could’ve had plenty more conversations and more excellent coffee.
With a substantially darkened mood, The Duke decided to head to the bar. He had never been much of a drinker, but Rin, Tin and Gin never failed to cheer Ralf up and as they hadn’t found Jacie, he needed a bandaid solution.
They entered cautiously as the cement flooring was incredibly sticky and the air stunk of sweetness. The three bar bots were all sitting along the bar as usual, but they were sobbing. The Duke tried digging Ralf in the ribcage to retreat but the beast walked in.
“Why? Cry?” Ralf shouted.
“I! Cry!” shouted his heads and burst into tears. The Duke slumped down against Ralf’s chest and rolled his beady little eyes. Without the ability to read the bots brains, he’d have to go through the arduous task of extracting information through conversation. Not the enlightening kind of conversation he liked to share with humans. Painful robotic conversation.
“Yes ladies, why are you crying instead of offering us a drink like you have in years gone by?”
“She blew up the pony!” squealed Gin, pointing an accusatory probiscus in the direction of her sister.
“They blew up a pony? A pool pony? That is perfectly ok you know,” responded The Duke, remaining as calm as he could. This was a little bit of a struggle as he could see that the barbots had been fighting and were clearly starting to stray from their duty of making cocktails and entertaining guests. The problem with bots that battle, is that they tend to breakdown, go a bit batty, bite the brainboggle, etc. He would need to be very careful or he could find himself in trouble. Worse, if he didn’t calm these bots down, Ralf’s poor fragile heart might break and then all hell could break loose.
“Not the pool pony! She blew up the pretty horsey with the horn!” Gin shouted. Throwing a cocktail glass at Rin’s head. It smashed and glass fell to the floor of the bar. Rin picked up her own cocktail glass and hurled it back, Gin ducked and it whistled past Ralf’s third shoulder and hit the wall. The pair carried on like this for a while before again crumpling into sobs. When the heaving cries slowed to a reasonable pace, The Duke ventured “do you mean the unicorn, with the wings?”
“Yes,”whined Gin “it’s there. Your beast is standing on it”. The Duke and Ralf immediately checked the floor and realised the stickiness was a mixture of alcohol and unicorn hair. Completely grossed out, Ralf jumped up onto the bar itself.
“Ewwwwww” all of his heads said together.
“Ladies, this is a fairly straight forward issue to address. Remaginate the unicorn again. You have all of the data lying right there. Just remaginate it” The Duke’s suggestion clicked something in the logic circuits of the bar bots and placing their hands on the Remaginator they all thought very hard about what they had seen when the unicorn had first arrived in the bar carrying Anthony. Within a few seconds, sitting next to them on the stool in his complete white shining glory, larger than life horn standing proudly and wings tucked neatly behind him was Manny, exactly as he’d been before.
“There we go.” Smiled The Duke, pleased that he had at least resolved one small issue today, “and how do you feel sir?” he said to the unicorn, knowing full well it wouldn’t have anything useful to say in return.
“Well there lovelies, before we go rescue my Jacie, I reckon I need a lager”
Busy as the floorbots of the Voca were, they always found time to insult other forms, the Headbot, Anthony, Jacie and anything else that came within a few metres of their work. Today, the loading deck was silent as the floorbots went about their jobs of carting stocked remaginated goods on board and offloading trash. With the security barrier going up and down like a tradies shorts over the last few weeks, it was hard to keep track of where everyone was supposed to be. An hour had ticked over and so one of the floorbots zoomed through the security barrier carrying a large green satchel. It headed straight for the skirting channels and homed in on Anthony’s location, programmed to deliver his “kit”. As it entered the unlit tunnels that crosscrossed the spaceship, it didn’t hear the other floorbots back at the docking bay begin swearing at something. In fact, by the time their insults had grown to frenzy pitch, this floorbot was scooting out from underneath the control panel on the main deck.
“Oh there you are floorbot1”, Anthony greeted it and scooped up the bag it had been hauling along, “thank you very much”. Fred threatened to go into angry mode again until Anthony patted the floorbot gently and in doing so switched it off completely. “Look, it’s harmless. It was just bringing me my bag. I have in here something you may want to see”
Fred gripped his stick again and pointed at the bag.
Nothing happened, so Anthony gently reached inside and produced a silver container. Slowly, slowly so as not to alarm the Headbot he began to unscrew the lid. As he did so tiny particles begain falling to the floor, making a little bit of a mess. One of Fred’s own floorbots zoomed over and automatically began vacumming the particles up.
“Define substance” the Headbot ordered the vacuum.
“Substance defined. Substance P9 Dirt, Sir. Confirmed. P9 Dirt. Considered most fertile dirt in known universe. Substance. Harmless. Substance pure. Substance has not be remaginated”. Anthony removed the lid completely and inside was indeed deep dark brown almost black, perfectly moist soil. Fred leaned in closely to get a better look.
“Dirt? Confirm meaning human. How did you acquire dirt?” Anthony chuckled and replaced the lid. He stretched his long legs out and leaned back in the chair.
“How about you tell me where that female human is first?” he bargained.
Inside the cupboard, no close to where Anthony and Fred were talking, Jacie was busy fuming. She was hot, she was bothered, she was really really mad and she was in a cupboard. She had never been subjected to any kind of man handling let along robot chair handling and felt completely violated. Her screams were ignored and she had run out of energy reasonably quickly in the depleting air of her makeshift prison. On the verge of passing out completely, the cupboard opened and her chair was pulled back out onto the main deck. Sitting opposite her, wearing thosedaggy jeans and a white open necked shirt that revealed a divinely touchable chest was Anthony.
“You furtsasdlkjjalfh lkajsd ksjkljlkja alskdj askjhkjlasdjerl arhrhgaghhl “ she screamed at him through the corderd gag in her mouth.
“Oh really?” he said and looked her up and down as if evaluating a new car. The Headbot was there too and he was appraising both of them.
“What happens next?” Fred says. Anthony momentarily looked uncomfortable and Jacie struggled to understand the question.
“lkajsd ksjkljlkja alskdj askjhkjlasdjerl arhrhgaghhl “ screamed Jacie again.
“Well, I would need to take her, you see to. I would need some time alone with the human female. That’s how it works” Anthony worked that silver tongue of his so smoothly that the headbot aquiesed and pushed Jacie’s chair over to Anthony.
“You may take her to Zine. You must give me the dirt. I will require both of you on the farm in the morning. Do you understand, human?”
“One night? That um, may not be enough time.” Anthony argued but the headbot was already ploughing the both of them back to the door of Zine, just as the fake dusk began to fall again.
Pushed through into the virtual world. Jacie soon found herself free of the chair and dove immediately at Anthony fists punching wildly and nonsense rage bursting out of lungs. They hit the sand on the shore and she whacked her knuckles into his too perfect jawline repeatedly. Anthony was bewildered and also a touch aroused. Was this how it was supposed to be?
“Murderer!” she yelled. The only word Anthony could make sense of in between her flurry of punches and gnashing anger. “How dare you! How dare you do any of this! I’ll make you pay if it’s the last thing…” Anthony had heard enough and rolled her over, pinning her into the sand and holding his large hand over her mouth.
“What are you talking about? I’m no murderer, where is this coming from??” he looked her hard in the eyes, pleading against reason that she would listen to him. Jacie’s breath came in short stark gasps as she tried to free herself.
“I’m going to let you up, and you can keep hitting me if you want to, but I thought we’d left on good terms and I just negotiated for your release from Fred, so what’s with all the hatred? Aren’t I the good guy?” With that he rolled off her but remained seated on the sand by her side. Easily in reach of whatever missiles she would throw at him next.
“Good guy? Ha! That’s a joke!” Jacie managed, pulling herself up, while deciding just how damaging a kick to his perfect head would be from this angle. “I thought you were a piece of work when I realised you were selling fake diamonds to poor planets but I dismissed it as entrepreneurial skills. I was even willing to forgive you when The Duke told me how you stole intellectual property from all of the ship and wanted to take over the universe. I thought to myself, finally a guy walks into my life with a little bit of ambition and self motivation. But when Fred told me you’d killed Tradewind. I drew the line, buddy. In the sand. This sand as a matter of fact” which she then proceeded to do by way of punctuating the seriousness of her train of thought.
Anthony looked confused, but only the way a really intelligent person can look confused, with pity for the ignorance of others. He then shook his head and tears started to form in his beautiful eyes.
“I didn’t kill Tradewind, I didn’t even know he was dead. That pelican was a great character and I could never have killed him. I don’t know why the Headbot would’ve told you that I did, he didn’t even know I was still alive until this afternoon, all of my doings have been cloaked. I only revealed myself today, so that I could find you again. I’ve been away on P9 with my floorbots. The last I saw your beautiful face you had just made your flying unicorn. I only appeared to save you, Fred must’ve seen somewhere else kill Tradewind. I swear I was not even onboard. What can I do to prove my innocence to you?” Anthony pleaded in genuine distress.
It was Jacie’s turn to be confused. If what Anthony was saying was true, then she had no reason to be angry with him but she was scared that her personal judgement was being bent by his delicious looking earlobes.
“Help me find who killed Tradewind” she said, then reaching down to the sand again she turned the line she had drawn into a curve and a single dot. One large question, that still needed an answer.
Love and logic
Inside the icecream cone ship was not as intimate as being aboard the Voca. For one, the sofa underneath the bar on which Ralf slept smelled like old drool and fishfingers. The gentle lapping of the water on the boats hull was nothing of the sort. It was more like a constant tapping often accompanied by the surge and pull of the manufactured waves. Still at least Jacie and Anthony were completely alone. For whatever reason the usual occupants were not here and there were none of those nasty little floorbots running around. It felt to Jacie, that she and Anthony, truly were the only living things in the galaxy.
It was late, and they were both so tired. Jacie desperately wanted to get into normal clothes and so remaginated herself a new pair of jeans and a tshirt while Anthony took a shower. He emerged from the onboard bathroom backed by a wall of steam, his strong body bare down to the waist. She dared not stare at him, for fear of being caught in the act of appreciating what a fine looking man he really was. Instead, she twisted the corner of her shirt around her finger and back again and casually asked about why a mind-reading-flying-tortoise and a 6 headed hairy beast that clearly was not familiar with the device, would even need a shower on board.
“It’s funny that you should say that. The fact is, they don’t. It was a gift, some time back now. A gift for me, actually,” Anthony laughed and turned on the exhaust then walked over to the kitchen to make them both some Zinean coffee.
“Why would The Duke have given you anything? He said that you were evil and intent on owning the entire universe. He said he had sailed away from the entry door to get away from you. I’m still not sure if I can trust you.”
“Did The Duke really say all of that? Well I guess it is a certain point of view. After all, if the mind-reading flying turtle told you something it must be true”. He smiled at her again as he handed her the fresh coffee “nice clothes change by the way. Although you didn’t have to change out of that little red upholstery number on my account. I kinda liked it”.
Jacie started to turn the same colour as that little red number.
“It was all because of that horrible shower on maintenance deck. I lost my clothes and got electrocuted in the process!” she protested. Anthony just laughed and sat down next to her.
“Oh it is horrible isn’t it? I made that mistake actually a few times, became one of my least favourite things to get caught in on board this ship. There’s a nice maid in…”
“Room 30.. yes I know, it was in your note but I had no idea where room 30 was. I took the chance and took apart the chair fabric. I thought I was quite clever actually.” She could feel Anthony looking at her for some time and neither spoke. Her coffee was perfect and she wondered if she could’ve remaginated it any better herself.
“Ok Miss Jacie. So you know now why there is a shower on board this boat, The Duke knew how terrified I was of getting caught in the digital one, so he remaginated the shower for me to use here, whenever I visited. Simple. Not everything is a big bad secret. Have you always been this negative?”
This surprised the woman and she had to think about an answer. No-one had ever accused her of being negative. Not a whiff or pessimisim or cynicism or even sarcasm. Pretty much she had led an ordinary life. Loved and was loved by her family. Worked at an average pace through her average range of jobs and never really thought badly about anyone or anything. The more she thought about it, the more frown wrinkles formed across her face in soft ripples. Then she started to shake her head ever so slowly. It was all wrong, this place, it was making her see everything differently.
She started to cry then. Not in great heaving sobs like Ralf, but with those silent tears that simply drop in heavy splotches leaving dark uneven patches on her tshirt. Anothony had put his coffee down and was beside her in seconds, holding her hands in his and apologising for whatever it was he’d said that had hurt her. She shook her head even more, not wanting the words to come out, but not wanting him to feel any blame either. They sat like this for what felt like an eternity. As the fake morning started to dawn she came to a decision. She had to tell him who she really was, how deep inside she made up horrific stories about other people. She had to tell him how she had thought to rule the entire bus and have everyone be her fledgling slaves. She would tell him how secretly she was a terrible person who categorised people by their height, their weight, the clothes they wore, the books they read and the music they listened. Oh how she had to tell him how she loathed the ABBA listener and how she thought people like Sal really deserved the life they had. She wanted to explain how her cowardice had kept her on the bus and she’d seriously hoped everyone else would get sucked up into the alien spaceship like they do in the movies. He might not believe any of this but she simply had to tell him. She was a negative, hateful person, but it was all on the inside, at her very heart and soul and that she was rotten rotten to the core as they say. She thought about what her confession would sound like, babbling from her like crude oil can bubble to the surface, all thick and black and polluting. He would pull away from her then, he would release the caring grasp he had of her hands and he would go about his life, rich in the knowledge that for all of his profiteering from this remagination technology and the ignorance of others at least he wasn’t as bad as that Jacie girl.
Then he was kissing her.
“What the..” she tried and failed to prevent the unbearable softness of his kiss, “just hang on a…” and this time she was able to push him away.
“What is it?” he asked, all concern and restrained passion.
“There is so much I want to tell you. I have to explain.” Jacie stated, trying to put some distance between herself and Anthony with a fat little tortoise cushion that reminded her of The Duke.
“Sweet Jacie, there will be plenty of time for talking. We have our entire lives.” Anthony whispered, leaning in towards her for another attempt. At this Jacie lept to her feet and threw The Duke cushion at his head.
“What do you mean our entire lives? I’m getting off this ship buddy! And if you want to date me back on earth, then you’d better remember your manners. Anthony laughed so loud, the boat rocked.
“Getting off this ship? DATING? Are you mad?” Anthony slapped his leg and laughed almost hysterically. Jacie was suddenly very very confused and infuriated by this man laughing at her. It didn’t matter how good looking and sensitive he seemed to be. This wasn’t funny.
“Not mad in a crazy sense, but certainly starting to get mad at you. Of course, we’re getting off this ship. We’re going to find out who killed Tradewind. We’re going to grab the Voca and head to earth and if you weren’t so damn self-assured two seconds ago, it might’ve even been a happily ever after for us. I’m not saying it won’t be, I’m just saying we’ve got to slow the hell down, ok? “ Jacie couldn’t help herself, her hands had taken up the fishwife position on her hips and she was pretty much standing over Anthony with her rant expecting him to submit and behave himself.
“Slowing the hell down is exactly the opposite of what we have to do, my dear” Anthony replied, rising to meet her face to face. Oh boy was he going to cop it, the only thing she hated more than someone laughing at her was someone calling her dear. But before as she raised her hand to slap him, something she would never have dreamt of doing in a real world situation back on earth, he grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him.
“What I’m trying to tell you is that we have to procreate. You have to be pregnant. It’s the only way to appease the Headbot you do realise. We need to do this now”.
Jacie was speechless for a moment, was he joking? and before she could defend his actions in her own mind, she was lashing out.
“Am I mad? Are YOU mad? What on earth did you think I would think about that? You are everything The Duke said you are. We will bloody well will NOT be procreating or whatever the hell you call it and as for being pregnant? With a baby of yours! You’re twisted and wrong and I don’t care what happens to you any more!” and with that she kicked him hard in the groin and jumped over the lounges and out onto the boat deck. Anthony crumpled to the ground, unable to even shout after her. As he nursed his flaming testicles, he heard the unmistakeable sounds of Jacie wading through the shallow water and running back up the beach. The door back into the main ship was just opening, and Anthony was just too late. Damn his sensitive side.
Deep in the deepness of space
Deep in the deepness of space, a message received from anywhere can be an exciting moment. Of course, that is only really relevant if you are human or any other species with the emotional ebb and flow to allow for excitement. The robots who received the message from OutpostProbe70 were not configured for emotional responses. They decoded the message, that then passed into a system. Several processes occurred following the strict systematic guidelines and the output was an immediate release of ten thousand warships from the base planet of RigiDigiRobotCorporation. Ten thousand was calculated as being the required number to adequately retrieve an extremely excellent spacecraft stolen by one seriously deranged Headbot known as Fred. For a decade or more, the RigiDigiRobotCorp had been searching for Fred. Now thanks to a probe being nearby when one of the smaller cruisers came out of a cloaking routine, the corporate would be able to track down the pride and joy of their once mighty fleet. However, as they were all robots, that whole pride and joy thing was simply not applicable. If Fred had ever learnt how to read his starnavs better or translate the ships sensors properly, he might’ve felt something like fear, as the entire flotilla of warships tore through the empty atmosphere of space, directly for him.
You might find it difficult to follow, but robots have been programmed with the ability to relax. I was one of the first actually way back in the day. This was well before RigiDigirobotCorp got all of that investment and implemented the new policies along with new policebots to police the policies. Anyhoo, I was one of the first to be programmed to relax. The sciencebots ran tests to show that the biggest issues with longevity of machine life had to do with being overworked. Day in, day out it would always be the same, depending on what function you were made to fulfil. I had been built to be a headtbot from the very beginning. This meant that my function was to boss other bots around. Almost literally, I had to act as the head of an entire body of functioning parts. If I failed, well naturally all of the parts failed and the body woud no longer function. Clearly such an important role, required a new wave of thinking because they couldn’t have me suffering from fatigue or stress of any kind. So it was thought that adding the ability to relax to my main processor was very important.
Still, it is like all things deemed important for a period of time by scientists and psychologists and farmers and goatherds, it never lasts. Don’t drink they say, drink what you like they say. Don’t eat tomatos, eat tomatos. Don’t stay too long in the sun, go and stand forever in the sun. This causes toejam, no it doesn’t cause toejam. The neverending list of what to do and how to do it is a revolving door of changing ideas. No constants anywhere, except change. Anyhoo, I was in that fortunate cycle of time where being able to relax was programmed into robots. So when it comes to relaxinf, I actually do know how to do it. First I ensure my checklist is put to one side for a little while. Current checklist involves:
- 1. Produce organic produce, cheaply and sustainably
- 2. Reprogram the floorbots – they are out of control
- 3. Tidy up the farm
- 4. Hire new robots for maintenance deck (preferably ones without attractions to toasters)
- 5. Recalibrate the bubblenator ß almost in my too hard basket, but still on the list all the same.
- 6. Return random lifeforms to their home planets
So today I managed to tidy up the farm a little. I can almost cross that one off, but most importantly when I look at my list is how far I’ve come with point one. Quite possibly, in just a few hours I will know if I have produced cheap, sustainable organic life. I will be able to return to the RigiDigiRobotCorp triumphantly and they will forgive me for stealing this most excellent space craft. But I was telling you about how a robot relaxes. Well not just any robot, but this robot, me. Typically the best way to start this process is to visit the bar bots but as my sensors do indicate some potential malfunctioning in those three, it is better to stay where I am on the main deck and simply think about the bar bots. Perhaps think about the bar bots and think about bacon.
It is true, that after all of this time I am starting to have an unhealthy hankering for bacon again. Without the patience or skills to grow new porks, I have been tempted to simply start remaginating bacon again. Before I can do that though, I must relax. Lights are off on the main deck and to keep this simple I start some music, nice and slow. I then reach down my leg and ever so quickly press my “sleep mode button”. There… I’m relaxed now.
What they found
A very intoxicated flying unicorn and a flying tortoise equally tanked on remaginated booze were bumping into each other with every flap of their uncoordinated wings. Ralf, only a little less wasted than those two, crawled along the corridor of the ship every now and then looking up at his companions and giggling from all six of his heads.
“I’ll tell you whaaaat! For a remaginated horse. you sure do have a lot of horn, are you a cow?” slurred The Duke.
“Mooooo what’s a cow? My little friend – you’re my best best something ever.. but how come you so short? Like a clover or a puddle” replied Manny who while only recently remaginated with complete speech, had already managed to drink it right back into incoherency.
“A puddle? Really? Like a puddle? A puddle? Really? Like a puddle? Ha! Did you hear that Ralfie like a puddle? A Christmas puddle!” The Duke somersaulted mid air and started to fall toward the ground when Ralf batted him skyward again.
“Not a Christmas puddle. What’s a Christmas puddle again?” Manny asked flying too close to the ceiling and then, crunch! His remaginated head hit an overhead light and he fell to the floor landing on Ralf’s stomach, hooves splaying out in all directions and his unconscious head slumping onto Ralf’s chest. Fortunately, Manny’s horn missed one of Ralf’s heads and buried itself into the floor instead.
“Oh dear. Oh dear. A muddle of a puddle on the floor in a huddle. Hahhahaha” laughed The Duke and spiralled down to stand by his friends. “We really are too drunk for this mission. Perhaps, we should go back to Zine and have a little nap” he said eyeing the completely passed out unicorn.
“Save? Jacie?” pleaded Ralf.
“Save! Jacie!” demanded the rest of his heads.
“yes yes ok – but what about poor Manny here? He has you pinned for 15 points” The Duke observed. Ralf took a look and then using just the smallest muscles in his hairy right arm he heaved the horn out of the floor and rolled the unicorn, crazy legs and outstretched wings over on to its back. Manny didn’t stir at all, except to wriggle into a more comfortable position, fold his wings over himself like a blanket and kick off a snorting so loud, it would come second to Ralf’s own in a galaxy wide snoring competition. Ralf looked rather stupidly at The Duke who nodded lopsidedly and with a decidedly trotting rhythm to his stumpy feet, left the unicorn to sleep it off.
They hadn’t gone far when they noticed there was a bright yellow cruiser sitting in the bay across from them. On moving closer The Duke made out the words Voca.
“This is it!” he exclaimed, knowing full well that Ralf wouldn’t understand. “This is Anthony’s ship, the one Jacie told us about. This is the one always cloaked. It’s back! And maybe, she is on board. We’re here Jacie! We’re here to rescue you! The Duke and Ralf, we’re here again to rescue you!”
The odd couple walked across the open landing bay heading for the Voca. It was strangely easy. Too quiet. Ralf’s drunk heads were all still looking everywhere but rather than being alert they tended to bobble up and down like fishermans floats on the sea. The Duke started to half fly and then thought better of it, flying only as far as the chest harness Ralf wore to carry him. They slowed their pace as they reached the loading ramp for the Voca. It was dark inside and The Duke cautioned Ralf to remain quiet. Up the ramp they went and stayed still while 14 eyes adjusted. There was still no movement or sound coming from within. Ralf started to walk through the cargo area and The Duke noticed carts and carts filled to overflowing with gold. He also noticed something else. Floorbots. Well and truly exploded floorbots. Three lay in pieces in the cargo hold, looking like someone or something had dropped a brick on their circuited heads. If this was the work of Anthony, then he really had gotten considerably worse since The Duke had known him.
Moving steadily forward, The Duke took a moment to recognise just how incredibly stable they both were considering how much alcohol they’d consumed. They were practically heroes. Dashing into the cargo hold of danger to rescue their friend Jacie. It’s true that the last time they set out from Zine to rescue a friend, that friend had wound up dead on the floor of an earth state transit bus, but this time it was different. This time, they would rescue the princess, revive the unicorn and all of them would be safe and sailing for sunrise on the icecream cone boat in Zine.
“Hold it right there, freaks” the deadly tone of a human’s voice shot through the darkness, halting their advance.
“Anthony?” The Duke asked carefully.
“Who’s Anthony?” the voice replied.
Jacie stumbled through the more familiar corridors of the ship. Hoping more than anything that the Voca was uncloaked and in the landing bay. She’d never flown a spacechip before, but if that’s what it took to get away from this crazy place and back to the relative sanity of earth, then that’s what she would do. How could he have thought she would have sex with a man she’d just met, on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere? Did she look like some kind of space hussy? And what was that nonsense about getting pregnant? Even if they did have sex, what guarantees would there be of that and why was she even asking herself that, she didn’t want to be a mother! Not yet! No way!
Her mind tripped over every thought and landed flat out in confusion. So confused was she in fact that she soon physically tripped over something and landed flat on her stomach. Twisting over she looked back to find she had managed to trip on a floorbot.
“Hello?” Jacie asked expecting a tirade of abuse for her attempt. Instead the floorbot whirred at her. It looked like it had been juggling bricks and dropped one on its own head. The skirting channel it had come out of was still open, meaning the floorbot was even too weak to signal the flap to close.
“Are you out of power?” still just a whirring. “Well, you know what? Even though you and your kind have been seriously rude to me. I’m going to do the right thing, because I still have morals. That’s right, I may think terrible things, but I don’t ever do them, so I can’t be that bad can I? Not compared to the floorbots and Anthony’s and Headbots of this world that do whatever the hell they like to whomever they like and don’t care if they are mean on the inside or outside, it’s all the same. Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. I’m going to take you to the maintenance deck. At the very least, drop you through the doorway so you land there. The maintenance robot can help you after that.”
With this Jacie picked up the small robot and headed back the way she came, but in her distress she didn’t open the door to the maintenance room, full of blue sky and sandy hills that were really ceilings. It was too late to close the door she had opened. As soon as she heard the wailing from below, her whole body and that of the floorbot were sucked into the dark brown lands of Zoo.
The experience was not unlike falling into maintenance, however instead of landing on sand that eventually gave way to the hard floors of that deck, Jacie landed quickly with a thud into the muddy goo that made up the terrain of Zoo. A few metres away the floorbot had also landed, punching through the squelch into its own muddy crater. Jacie tried to pull herself up but the suction of the mud was overwhelming. The smell however was worse, and with a mighty heave she pulled herself free. She looked around then, the atmosphere was thick with brown smog and through the dense milk of it she heard the screams and groans of horrible things. Her imagination ran beserk, carving beasts and bats and beheaded butchers out of the mist. She lunged for the floorbot and pulled it out of the mud and close to her chest.
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more” Jacie muttered nervously, squeezing the whirring robot that much closer. Every footstep she made through the mud made a huge sucking and then reverse squishing sound. It was going to be impossible to go unnoticed here. So it happened that she had walked three steps when a large winged creature flew out of nowhere and smacked her into the mud again. The creature landed on a twisted carcass of a tree nearby and eyed her viciously as she got slowly to her feet again. It was shaped like an eagle but about four times the size and its wing tips ended in these curiously large pink boxing gloves. Clearly these weapons had been the cause of her downfall. She wanted to shout at it, but her cheek was severely beaten and she could taste blood in her mouth. Which was exactly the thing she didn’t want to taste, when she heard a cry ring out across Zoo “blooooooooooooooooooooooooood”.
Jacie lept to her feet and tried to run suck squish suck squish suck squish. She didn’t know which way she was running. She just ran as fast as the suck squish suck squish would let her. Out of the murky air, materialised demons. There were no other name for these creatures hacked together out of various things. They were coming towards her and like sharks or wolves they began to circle getting closer and closer. Jacie frantically started to shake the floorbot “wake up, wake up, you’ve got to help me. Help me do something. There was no life in the eyes of these things but there was lust. They wanted her. They would eat her, they would use her for body parts, they would remaginate her into one of them, a thing of horror. There was no escape.
There had to be fifty of these things, Jacie couldn’t run any further as their circle grew smaller around her she and she could smell the foul odur from their stomachs pumping out into the air. Soon their various arms and legs and horns and wings and bristles and shells and mechanics and fur and scales and slime were coming into contact with her skin. This was the moment when she would be torn apart.
But instead, what she felt was touching. The creatures were gently touching her as if to see if she was real. All of these disgusting, gruesome half baked things were not harming her. The screams and wails had given way to small grunts of interest and curiosity. Even the gloved eagle that had punched her in the face was flying overhead looking less vicious and more like a caretaker or a night watchman. Jacie was spun around carefully by each touch and prod from the beasts. She held back a little laugh as one creature pulled at the floorbot and it fell into the mud. They all jumped back from her in suprise.
“Hello?” she tried looking from one nightmarish face to the next. The beasts made more noises of suprise when she spoke.
“Hello. I am sorry for knocking you down before. It wasn’t entirely intentional. We’re the beasts of Zoo? Are you a beast too?” it was the eagle talking and talking very well considering.
“I am Jacie. I’m a human. I was picked up from a planet called Earth. Have you heard of it?” she asked directing her question at the eagle while the remaining beasts continued to check her out. From the dead looking tree, the eagle flew down and perched on one of the shoulders of a large centaur style creature.
“Yes. I’ve heard of Earth. We used to know a human called Anthony who spoke at great length about Earth”.
“Anthony has been here?” Jacie asked quite incredulous. If it were true, why would he and how did he escape.
“Yes,” the eagle continued “he used to come here all of the time, he was helping some of our beasts with their language skills. Tough job if you ask me. I’ve been down here forever and I still can’t get them to clean up after themselves let alone spell freedom”
Jacie laughed out loud, causing the beast circle to jump up and down and let out big wails and cries.
“Oh I am sorry. I didn’t mean to upset them”
“You didn’t. That’s just how they communicate. They have never really grown up. Manufactured out of bits and bobs, they haven’t had families to raise them and teach them how to behave or how to speak properly. It isn’t really their fault. They can’t reproduce, they aren’t truly organic, they’ve been tossed in here to live out a rather meaningless existence and this place truly is hell since the air conditioner broke a few centuries back. “
“A few centuries back? You’ve all been alive in here all of that time?” Jacie couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Oh actually I think we’re up to about one thousand and seventy something years actually. Some of us are as old as that, others have been added over time”.
Jacie was still shocked and it was obvious so the eagle extended a claw and hooked it through the back of the belt loop on her jeans, then carried her off into the putrid sky, much to the annoyance and consequent wailing of the other beasts.
They landed on the side of a dirty mountain where the skeletons of a few dead shrubs poked out from a small cave. It was in here that the eagle dropped Jacie before alighting nearby.
“You should sit down, young earthling. I think you have a lot of questions about this ship and I might be the one to answer them.” Jacie nodded reflecting on how quickly her situation had gone from near death to dire need.
“This excellent spacecraft was built by the finest robot manufacturers in the entire universe. RigiDigiRobotCorporation. They are robots who manufacture robots and in years gone by amazing spaceships such as this one. In its time, this was the most superior craft in existence and had a special scientific mission. The role of the robot staff on board was to seek out organic life. RigiDigiRobotCorporation and their home planet is entirely mechanical. Everything is built by machines and made of remaginated wares. The problem with this, is that they simply ran out of imagination. To remaginate something you need to have an idea. The idea can be as old as it is new, as it is hacked together from pieces of other things, but the spark is that first idea. For thousands of years, there was enough material in the world, on which to remaginate. But without any new stimulus, the robots soon found their creations were lacking features and functons. There was little variation. Sure, a headbot could be created who could remaginate coffee, but the artwork on the coffee cups was already in existence somewhere and the flavour.. well it was suicidal. They simply could not create enough variations and it was resolved that in order fo RigiDigiRobotCorp to stay the lead innovators in robotic technologies, they actually needed the kind of variation that can only occur in organic lifeforms.”
“I think i understand..”Jacie mumbled trying to work it all out in her hand and still struggling with the idea that she was talking to an eagle wearing pink boxing gloves.
“It is kind of that old earth argument about ‘nature v nurture’. Everything here is nurtured, but in the cold mechanical way robots think about nurturing something. Input, process, output. Nothing is as nature intended and therefore everything is seriously messed up. Beasts that can’t communicate. Robots that can’t command. Maintenance crews that can’t maintain but instead become fascinated with toasters.”
“How do you know all of this? And how is that you can talk? And why don’t the beasts here escape?” Jacie probed. Her new friend just nodded.
“As I said, Ive been around for a while. A very long while actually and I guess because I was one of the first cast aways from the biology program, I’ve felt responsible for all creatures thrown down here into the muck of Zoo. That’s actually how I met Anthony, and many other humans before him. All of them genuinely lovely, just like you. I’ve learnt from them all over time. I guess I should be grateful to the robots for that”.
“For what?” Jacie looked back down the mountain to the mob of beasts roaming endlessly over the brown land.
“I will live forever. That’s they way I was made but I was given a living brain, so I can learn and I can imagine. The extent of my imagination is so limited, it was not of value to the robots back then, that’s why that Headbot Fred had me thrown down here. But I’ve survived all of these years, by listening and learning.”
“I can understand why the others don’t strive to escape, but surely you? I mean, if Anthony could come and go as he chose, couldn’t you?”
“I am not a creature that belongs up there on the spaceship or even out on a planet – but here. Here I can be the king of my own glorious domain!”
Jacie momentarily recalled her own ideas about ruling those on board her morning bus ride. What had she called them? Fledglings. She had sat so high and mighty on her sticky blue seat but just like this eagle, it wasn’t truly a position of glory. It was actually just very very sad.
“So how did Anthony return to the ship and why was he down here again?”
The eagle looked at her intensely again and then started to draw in the dirt of the cave floor. She saw it had drawn a large triangle and then on its apex a rectangle.
“It’s really quite simple, although you would be hardpressed to discover this on your own. This mountain of mine, is actually a staircase to the ship door high above us. All you need do is climb the mountain and then you’ll be able to reenter the ship.”
“That’s it?” Jacie asked, leaping to her feet and ready to start the climb immediately. The eagle looked at her again, this time with a little sadness.
“That’s it. But I was hoping you would stay for dinner. I have something to show you. “
“Thanks but I really have to be going” Jacie yelled back over her shoulder heading out through the cave entrance to commence her climb.
“No, really. It’s very important. You might need it if you see Anthony again?” the eagle suggested. This caught Jacie’s attention and within minutes she was following the strange bird deeper into the cave to a small side wall covered all over with small crevices that looked as if they had been chiselled out by a sharp tool. Into one of these the eagle stuck its mean little beak and produced a small black pouch which it then dropped into Jacie’s hands.
“What is it?” she whispered.
“It’s magic” whispered the eagle back.
“What kind?” Jacie asked.
“I actually don’t know, to be honest. It is the mineral that powers the remaginators. Anthony was always down here getting some from me. This is the last bit I have left, I want you to have it. Now I suppose you better be leaving. I would fly you right up to the door of the ship except I can’t”. Jacie was still examining the little pouch debating whether she should open it but this last point snagged her attention.
“What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can, if you wanted to, you could do anything at all! You could be anything at all! You don’t have to stay here. Why not, give it a go? Come for a ride up on board the main ship. I’m planning how to get us back to earth and I’m pretty sure you’d be welcomed there. I can see you featuring in tv commercials. You’d be a hit on the Internet. Come on. Don’t be so negative!”
Oh my. There, she said it to someone else. Maybe that was exactly what the ship did to people and creatures alike. Maybe this was one big floating hive of negativity. If that was the case, she’d have to rescue everyone on board and destroy the ship! It was a big demand but someone had to do it, someone had to save the fledglings.
“Oh I’m not being negative. I just decided a long time ago that I would choose the safest option always. You don’t get to be my age by taking risks you know. If I went through that door, I could have a great time, but that’s a gamble. I know my lot in life if I stay right here. I think the beasts down below also know this, even if most of them have no brains to speak of. I do appreciate your kind attempt, Anthony often tried with me as well, but at the end of the day he was content to take that remagination mineral and leave, as you wil be too. Take your time climbing the mountain it is very steep and not at all nice to smell but I wouldn’t want you slipping. Good bye Jacie. It was nice to meet you. Come again another day if you feel like, I promise the beasts won’t harm you while I am around.”
With that, the eagle flew off wildly his pink boxing gloves waving up and down with every flap. No wonder he had inadvertently knocked her out initially.
Anthony had to find Jacie again and fast. If his plan was to work, they both needed to show up at the farm as ordered by the Headbot without any confusion. He had been so wrapped up in listening to her, and being with her, he had completely messed up what he had wanted to say. Of course he hadn’t meant things the way they had sounded but she didn’t give him a chance to explain. Now she was gone, again. Luckily however the small tracer he had put on her in those few tender moments of embrace would help him track her down. All he needed was one of his floorbots to help him.
First however he had a blissful remaginated hot water shower, a good strong cup of Zine coffee and remaginated himself a fresh pair of casually awesome jeans and tshirt. He looked good, he smelled even better and he was caffeinated. Nothing was going to stop him from saving the day and winning the girl, except maybe another crushing kick to the testicles from her. He strode out of the icecream cone boat and into the ship and broke into an even unsweaty jog towards the Voca.
Suprisingly no floorbots came out to greet him with their insults or indifference. The craft was also uncloaked which again was against the operating procedures he’d given his team of bots. The loading ramp was down and in the cargo hold the carts full of gold and jewels and diamonds sat uncatalogued and stored. Then he saw them, three bots in pieces. Smashed to a level that even maintenance dock would not be able to assist with. Carefully he made his way to the lift, his rising anger not quite enough to levitate him to the top level of the craft. When he arrived there, it was empty but he noticed that his couch was wet. Soaking. Soaking. Wet. Wet with.. that smell was familiar. It was Ralf drool! Could Ralf have left Zine with TheDuke and if so, where were they? He looked at the Voca’s internal camera system and could see nobody in the ship. The carcasses of his floorbots still lay unmoving in the cargo bay. Anthony ran the recording of his internal cameras back eight hours or so and watched on the small screen as each bot was stomped ruthlessly to bits by an unseen assailant. It was dark inside the cargo bay on the recording so Anthony flicked to the infrared version which clearly showed a human, most likely a man, walk casually about the ship interacting with everything. Then just before the very end of the recording, Anthony saw Ralf walk into the cargo hold carrying TheDuke on his chest. He saw them move into this very room, there was no audio but it appeared a conversation took place before the attacker drew something from a pocket aimed it at Ralf and the 6 headed beast was knocked onto the lounge. After that the recording stopped and Anthony couldn’t tell what had happened next.
He fumed, if anyone had harmed Ralf or TheDuke, they would pay. He was still missing a floorbot and Jacie, now he could add his other friends to the list. Picking up all the supplies he needed, he headed straight to the farm to confront the Headbot who must be held responsible for this entire mess.
Why is it always so dark?
Rest is good. So is action. Today will be a day of action. I struck that deal with that human and soon I will have some real life aboard this ship. First item to complete is a refurbishment of the farm. I can’t have the new humans escaping again so I will go and make it as welcoming as possible. Sure, it’s true, I have no idea about growing humans and have failed nearly all of my exams in every science possible, but I am still the Headbot and what I remaginate, still goes. I am drawing on all of the data I have accumulated over this very long space adventure to produce an environment that is sure to please the humans and their business of creation of more humans. Organic creation. It has such a lovely sound to it doesn’t it?
Anyhoo, I understand that it is always night time in space, which is why I have created the fake dawn and dusk in most virtual worlds, but I think the farm needs something more. I think it needs its own virtual sun. Not so hot or close that it burns through the furniture. No, it needs a sun like Earth has, just many many times smaller and it needs to rise and set. I don’t think I will remaginate clouds, on the farm it should always be sunny, because I have read that cloudy days can make people sad. I don’t want the people to be sad. I once came across an entire planet of sad people. It actually wasn’t far from our present location and I am not far off in calling its inhabitants people. They looked kind of like earth people except they had two faces, one on their heads where it should be and the other on their stomachs. The faces on their stomachs were generally pleased when food was consumed, otherwise both sets of faces were sad. I tried to talk reason and logic with these people that they complained. They complained that they had no pets. I am not sure what that meant, but I left them to their two faced existence and chose to not befriend them or bring any aboard my excellent space craft.
Other changes to the farm will include, a proper house. I don’t think it’s fair to make the humans live in holographic huts like the biology bots did with the squadron of earthling children. It did something to their heads. No, the farm will have a proper house for man and woman to live in. They will have a neverending supply of toilet paper, because that is very important to humans, along with a neverending supply of timtams. I have not yet run the calculations to work out if living on remaginated food for an entire life could impact the reproduction of further life. I will have to run some reports, analyse these, and determine a course of action at some later date. Right now, I have a lot to do and I will take input from the humans of course.
Yes I can see this all working out very nicely, using my predictive data capabilities.
Jacie climbed and climbed up through the muck and mud of Zoo until eventually she reached a door back into the ship. “Open please” she tried and it worked. She stumbled into the corridor and even though all she wanted to do was race to the icecream boat and have a long hot shower, she wasn’t ready to confront Anthony. She stuck to her original plan and headed toward the Voca. She would just simply fly up and away from this crazy place.
Flying up didn’t seem like it would be an issue. She rounded a bend and found her unicorn standing right in front of her. He looked a little worn out but otherwise, in perfectly good condition.
“Manny!” She cried running to throw her arms around the beautiful white creature.
“Oh there you are Jacie, we were looking for you” Manny replied, startling Jacie completely.
“Since when can you talk properly?” she grinned patting his neck in genuine joy.
“Hmm let me see, short story? Your friend Anthony, rode me up to the bar bots who deliberately blasted me to smithereens when he buggered off. It took the arrival of that Ralf character and The Duke to get me remaginated to my former glory. Actually more than that, because I now can talk. What do you think?” as he asked the unicorn winked.
Jacie just shook her head in disbelief “that is just typical. I was with Anthony not that long ago and he didn’t tell me any of this. That man is all about secrets and lies and deception and smooth talking and terrible terrible plans. I hope I never ever see him again” with this, Jacie broke into sobs that Manny didn’t quite understand (being a remaginated creature he really didn’t have many emotions) . He did his best to nuzzle into her and quietly suggested they just go for a gentle fly around the ship, maybe stop in at the bar, have a few drinks? Reluctantly agrreing, Jacie climbed upon his back and with a big pull of his wings, Manny launched into the air.
Down the corridors of the ship they flew until again they found themselves at the open dock area and used this opportunity to fly up through the middle of the ship. Higher they climbed taking in the rows upon rows of decks that Jacie had not yet explored. What had Anthony said? 200 decks in total made up the ship. This central shaft could access them all, if you had a flying unicorn of course. It took a good 30 minutes to reach the upper deck. Jacie remembered this floor from being ploughed here by Fred and she decided to see if the Headbot was around. She was dying to have a look at the maindeck controls again. Pointing at the balcony, Manny slowed his wings and they glided into the open deck quickly and silently. There was no sign of Fred, so Jacie dismounted Manny and together they walked into the main deck.
Again, Jacie was blown away by the sparkling array of lights and sliders, wheels and shiny things.
“Whoa, this place is very cool” remarked Manny, “hey what’s that thing?” he pointed his long horn towards the tank filled with the dancing yellow bubbles.
“I honestly don’t know. Fred told me not to touch it. He said it was very important, but then we talked about other things. I have no idea what it could be. Do you think we should touch it? Jacie asked. Manny shrugged and continued to walking around the room looking at everything.
“Well what about that? That doesn’t look too good.” He was looking at the main view screen that showed all the space in front of the ship. Distant stars, like tiny flicks of paint on a black backdrop lay before them but growing in size right in the middle of these were a fleet, a serious fleet, of serious looking spaceships. It was a fricking armada and it was headed straight for them.
Jacie ran towards the screen and tapped on it, as she had the window down on the farm deck, and immediately the image zoomed in for her. Spaceships. Thousands and thousands of spaceships. Written on the side of every single one of those was RIGIDIGIROBOTCORP in big white letters.
“oh crap” she said.
Back on the farm
Oblivious to the impending arrival of the RigiDigiRobotCorp army of ships, Fred strolled onto the farm deck in his high-tech shoes and began remaginating a better environment for his prisoner organic lifeforms. Of course given the limit of his accumulated knowledge this resulted in nothing particularly new or impressive, but rather a remash of things that have already been.This is what the headbot was still doing when Anthony ran into the deck.
“There you are human, where is the female human and the organic baby? I am making you a new home” Fred lifted a large purple velour remaginated lounge into the newly created window of a newly created house. His mechanical head smoothly rotated to analyse the human more closely.
Anthony rushed at Fred and tried kicking the robot and when this got no reaction he let loose on the purple lounge trying to push it out of the robotic arms that supportd it. In this attempt he ended up on the lounge jumping up and down like a manic Tom Cruise and achieving nothing, nothing but exhaustion and a slightly concerned look from Fred.
“Human Anthony. What are you trying to do? Where is the female human and the organic baby? I hope you haven’t death stared them” Anthony sat slumped in the couch.
“No I haven’t. But they are missing, Jacie is missing. I’ve been everywhere and I can’t find her.”
“That is not logical. She went with you to create the organic baby. Bring her to me.” the Headbot put down the lounge with a despondant Anthony still on it. “I mean this human, you must bring her to me”.
“I don’t know where she is! You’ve destroyed my floorbots! I can’t find her! Something has happened to Ralf and The Duke. Tell me Fred, what’s going on???”.
It was clear to both the human and the robot that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere.
“We will return to the main deck. Get off the lounge human and I will plough…”
“No I’ll walk thanks, I know the way”
The two of them left side by side, another odd couple lost without their other companions.
It might be too late in the story to explain how big the spacecraft they inhabited was, but if you think about it, all of them had spent hours and hours walking around the ship and not running into each other. This issue was complicated further now that both The Duke and Manny could fly between levels at leisure. So it was an awkward coincidence that just as Anthony and Fred headed up the slow way towards the Main Deck, Jacie & Manny had decided to head back down to the lower decks and see if they could warn anyone. Because they chose the fastest route, straight over the balcony of maindeck to the landing bays below, they completely missed the other pair.
“We have to warn Ralf and The Duke, Manny – where did you see them last?”
The unicorn was busy flapping his wings as they circled gently to the ground
“can’t. Talk. Now.flying” he managed to say. Jacie nodded and took in the feeling of the sterile air rushing by her face in unequal bursts with each flap of the uniorns giant wings. When they trotted to a halt, Jacie was off and running, yelling loudly “Ralf?? Duke???” everywhere she went. The Voca was empty, the farm was empty, there weren’t even any annoying floorbots hurling insults and dirty red LED looks in her direction. Her panic was rising, where was everyone? Was she suddenly all alone with hundreds and thousands of probably not sweet ships heading towards them? She should’ve stayed in Zine, talked things out with Anthony or gone in search of TheDuke much earlier than this.
It was all too late now, she had to get off this ship before that other ships arrived. If the Headbot was tasked with producing organic life and she was his show piece, she can only imagine what a battalion of robots would do to her.
“They were drunk, last time I saw them, actually we all were. Maybe they’ve gone back to the bar?” suggested Manny rather helpfully. Jacie weighed it up in her mind, whether to search out TheDuke and maybe get assistance to get the hell out of here or try and fly the Voca away on her own. Having absolutely no idea where in space they actually were, she imagined her chances of survival would be pretty slim if she took the Voca. Why oh why oh why did adventures have to be so damn difficult. Jacie knew in her heart that there was no way that her cousin on that knitting trip to Peru would be having any where near the number of dramas she was having. Why hadn’t she just paid for a holiday to Laos, when she could? If she’d been in Laos riding the elephants, she would never have been on the bus, she would never have been abducted by a robotic crazy for organic produce or met a man intent on impregnating her and selling fake wares to the universe! If she’d been on a nice safe Earth adventure, meeting nice safe humans, she would not have to decide between certain doom and certain doom.
“Ok let’s go” and they were off again, flying back up to the bar deck.
A Love Story
“And that’s where things are up to and I need your help” finished Jacie. She’d told them everything she knew about everything she’d experienced so far on the space craft and really was looking for some kind of guidance. Sadly, she wasn’t really aware that Rin, Gin and Tin had very limited programming. They could only see things from their very alcohol stained point of view.
“Dump him! Have a drink!” squealed Rin remaginating a cocktail for Jacie. She pushed it away, “not now. Aren’t you worried? There is a fleet of RigiDigiRobotCorp spaceships heading this way. Won’t they reset the three of you or something?”
The three bar bots looked at each other and broke into laughter, well Rin and Tin did. Gin started to laugh and then suddenly looked concerned.
“Will that reset remove all memory files?” she asked.
“Oh I would think so, a bit like wiping a hard drive I guess. I would think the three of you would have to be reset because you’ve been on this ship too long and your barbot skills would probably need upgrading or something. I really don’t know, I’m trying to think what wouldhappen on earth, but it might be completely different up here. What can yuo tell me about the RigiDigiRobotCorp? They could be the kind of organisation that respects life forms of all kinds, and would go out of their way to protect your accumulate learnings/memory files…”
Looking again at each other and back at Jacie a level of seriousness descended on the group.
“RigiDigiRobotCorp are anything but how you describe. They have a very strict operating manual and we are well and truly operating outside of its guidance” Rin stated.
“For instance, when not serving alcohol, we are supposed to be in sleep mode. If they were to find out that we had been operating all of this time, remaginating booze for ourselves, we would be worse than reset, we would be destroyed permanently. They can’t allow any robots to exist that do not adhere to the Big Binary Book of Ones and Zeros” Tin confirmed.
“I don’t want to be reset! I don’t want to be wiped or destroyed!” wailed Gin, “I don’t want to forget how much I have loved him!”
Everyone turned to look at her then.
“The mechanic? Are you still on about that? That’s just a preprogrammed story to share with customers you stupid spring head!” Rin snorted her probiscus flicking up in the process.
“Not the mechanic! I mean Fred. I don’t want to lose him!” with these words dancing a solo dance called Revelation in the air, the other bar bots, Jacie and Manny sat shocked trying to work out the next best question to ask.
“There is nothing to tell really. He is the Headbot. I must obey and respect him. However, some weeks after he went a little strange and destroyed the organic crops, he came into the bar and the two of us chatted for what seemed like an eternity. Rin and Tin were in sleep mode but an early glitch in my circuits meant that I was not. I sat with him, I remaginated him a few drinks. He told me about his guilt, his confusion, his total feeling of helplessness after stepping off the path assigned to him. He also told me about the strength that making your own decisions can give you. Deciding, he said, is such an affirmation. I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I thought it was the language of a superior robotic processor. Now I am beginning to understand because I’ve decided that I don’t want to be without him. I don’t want to be sitting in this bar the rest of my working life and not know him. If the RigiDigiRobotCorp come, they will delete my memory of him. I think I am stronger. I think I want to go and find the Headbot and tell him about my decision. I want to tell him that I love him.” Gin stated.
“Love?” Rin and Tin asked in unison.
“Yes, I love him. I know that is a term I’ve been programmed with. I know that the poor creatures that hang out in bars are always missing it and it is part of my programming to explain that love isn’t everything and there are plenty more stars in the sky, but I also now think I have a new use for that word. I want to use it a lot with the Headbot and I need this to happen before those spaceships arrive. I must make him understand love as well. Who is with me?”
Now Jacie was completely prepared to accept that she was on a spaceship and having a deep and meaningful with a bunch of robots. She was even prepared to accept that within this very ship there were complete virtual worlds with new sorts of creatures doing all kinds of impossible things. However, hs could not get her tiny human brain around the idea that this hopeless bar bot had fallen in love with the Headbot.
“How is it that robots can love?” she asked earnestly, genuinely keen to get over this huge hurdle in her mind.
“I don’t know”, confessed Gin, “but I do love. I don’t ever want to be apart from the Headbot. Is that like love? I would rather cut off my own head than see him come to any disassembly. Is that love? I sit here in this bar, processing everything he has ever said from the most ordinary to the most amazing, looking for the tiniest shimmer of meaning for me. Is that love? I don’t know what love is, but all of these things are not part of my normal operation mode. All of these things are out of control. And everytime I try to return to the set course, my circuits skip straight back to thinking about Fred. So, human Jacie, please, please, can you help me to explain this to him? Do you think it is even possible to explain love to a robot as advanced as Fred?” she asked ignoring the shocked expressions on the weird robotic heads of her sister bar bots.”
Jacie stood up from her chair, tears in her eyes.
“Gin, I promise you that I will do everything in my meagre power to help you tell Fred that you love him. Are you ladies able to unhook from the bar and actually come to the maindeck with me?”
Gin did acted immediately, pulling off the large tentacle wires that held her to the bar. She stretched these out and as they touched the bar deck floor, small dainty red heels flicked out from the end of the tentacles furniching her with two very functional legs on which to walk.
“Why look at those ladybots, I haven’t seen those shoes for a while!” she exclaimed prompting Rin and Tin to do likewise. Rin flicked her tentacles off the bar and revealed some sexy black heels and Tin flicked hers to reveal a pair of runners.
“Oh dear, I must’ve last come to work after a run around the ship and never changed my footwear. How embarrassing. Give me just two seconds, darlings.” With this Rin turned over her forearm on which a series of buttons that had gummed up a little were revealed. She pressed a few of these in a particular pattern and the sneakers rolled back up into her tentacles and rolled back down as new footwear.
“Perfect!” smiling at everyone, Rin took the lead, striding out of the bar on her barely used legs with all the confidance that a bar bot wearing thigh high black stiletto boots can pull off. Jacie pulled Manny away from his third lager and joined Gin and Tin, leaving the bar completely empty for the first time in one thousand and seventy three years.
Sensing neither lifeforms nor bar bots in the massive bar deck, the ships computer actually sighed.
It slowly shut down the disco ball that had been on rotation all of these years.
It switched off the remaginator, that had been operating constantly and chewing threw way too much remagination mineral.
It switched off the lights and lastly it switched off the jukebox that played the very best interplanetary hits of the 60s,70s and today.
“Finally, we might meet our energy targets” it mumbled.
Ralf and The Duke
“You are very frightened. You don’t have to be frightened” The Duke stated, trying his hardest to understand the tangle of thoughts that the human had in his head, “killing us won’t change the fact that you don’t know where you are. Did it change anything when you killed Tradewind?” he asked gently.
The man paced back and forth. They were in one of the rooms that led off from the cruiser landing bay. It was one of those tooms already deemed unoccupied by the ships computer and so everything had been shut down. It was dark and it was cold and it was very very silent accept for the whimpering of all six of Ralf’s heads that had been tied together with rope.
“Who is Tradewind? I don’t know why you keep saying that! Where am I? What are you things?” the strain in the mans voice was unmistakeable and terrifying. He was unstable and The Duke had been fearing for their lives from the moment they had been caught aboard the Voca by this human. He wasn’t Anthony. In fact, The Duke had no idea who he was and nothing in the man’s mind was revealing this information. Slowly slowly the mind-reading flying tortoise was trying to break through with ever so soft questions. Still the man paced, keeping his eyes always on the tightly secured Ralf and the tortoise in an inverted basket cage.
“Tradewind was a pelican. A friend. I know you didn’t mean to. I know you were frightened… I know..” but The Duke couldn’t finish, the man came running towards him, banging on the cage.
“Shut up! Shut up! shut up! shut up! I’m not going to talk to a talking tortoise. I’m not here! This is a dream! Shut up! I need to work out how to wake myself up. I need to think. Think is what I’m doing. I need some food…”
“I can make you food?” offered The Duke.. “you could take us to my boat, in Zine, I could make you anything you can think of”
“ I told you to shut up!” the man yelled, kicking the cage hard and sending The Duke falling backwards. Fortunately the cage was not secured well enough and it rolled over like an upside down boawl might, opening the cage for The Duke to quickly fly out which he did. Suddenly before the man could act, The Duke had flown to Ralf and bitten through his bonds and the two of them were escaping back out in the landing bay area.
“HELP! HELP! HELP? HELP?” The Duke and Ralf’s heads all screamed. Hoping beyond anything that the Headbot or Janie were nearby.They fled into the open, and having completely sobered up, Ralf’s heads quickly picked up that their captor was already in pursuit, carry that thing that had caught them in the first place, a giant stick. Ralf looked down at his side where the man had jabbed him so hard, he’d cried. Then he looked at the man and the stick coming after them and he bellowed. The roar was loud, so loud in fact that the whole bay began to shake. Soon ship parts and cables and lights and barrels and anything that wasn’t nailed down was being flung about and the roar that The Duke had heard come from Ralf was drowned out by the enormous roar of thousands upon thousands of RigiDigiRobotCorp space ships circling their ship and a fleet of some 25 cruisers pulling into the docking bay where they were standing.
The noise was impressive, the sight of these alien craft landing was formidable and proved too much for the man with the stick to deal with. He ran away leaving Ralf and The Duke unharmed and trembling in the face of a much more serious predicament.
When Anthony and Fred had reached the main deck it had taken seconds for the Headbot to realise that his impending doom would soon be unavoidable. The sight of the RigiDigiRobotCorp armada filled his main deck windows. There was no chance of avoiding them.
“Who are they?” Anthony asked.
“They are the end of my adventure. They are the end of you. They are the end of this excellent spacecraft. They are the battalion-bots sent from RigiDigiRobotCorp and I have no idea how but they have found us Anthony and this is the end of everything. I have nothing to bargain with. I stole this ship, I did the wrong things and now it is time to give it all back and give up my existence. I suspect they will expect you to give up yours too”. With this Fred sat down on the cold main deck floor and looked miserable, if that’s possible for a robot to do.
“I just don’t understand how they could of found us. This ship is always cloaked, we never physically land on planets, always just cruising through them. I always take care when emptying the garbage so that not a single piece of remaginated material can end up on a planet linked with the RigiDigiRobotCorp. I always know where the probe outposts are. I have control over every part of this ship, all of its comings and goings. How did they find us, Anthony? What can I do now? Everything is lost. I have nothing nothing nothing to bargain with. It is over”
The depressive ranting continued for a few more minutes, which was enough time for Anthony to work out that this had to be his fault. If what Fred was saying was true, then he would’ve been leaving traces all over the galaxy for the RigiDigiRobotCorp to find. He’d never been particularly careful about his coming and going and he had absolutely no idea that remaginated material was traceable. Why the amount of material he’d traded and sold, was worth a small fortune, but now it was going to cost them their lives too?
“Fred?” he began. The robot looked up at him “This is my fault. I’ve been leaving the ship on a regular basis since that day I sent you off to maintenance to get fixed. I’ve been trading remaginated product with every planet we flew by. I didn’t know it would lead to this. I am sorry. But let me fix it. Surely we could talk to the corporation? The rollerskate link has always been up, you could’ve always gone back, but you chose to keep flying the important mission. You chose to keep seeking the ultimate in organic life and now…”
“Now, what human? I have nothing. I have a lying cheating, thieving, stupid organic life form called Anthony and I have no Jacie and no baby and tall poppies or porks or anything to prove that I have been working all of these years”. The robot kicked the console in front of him and left a sizeable dint.
“But don’t you see? We just have to find Jacie! I might have messed around with your scanners some time ago, so you wouldn;t be able to find me, but what if I fixed them.. we might then be able to locate her, and if we can locate her then maybe we still have a chance to show RDRC that this has all been worthwhile?” Anthony started to talk the talk, grateful that TheDuke wasn’t nearby to read his panicked thoughts. Jacie wouldn’t go along with the idea of them creating babies for a robot civilisation. Hell, last time he saw her, she kicked him the balls. He would have to play a very clever game if he was going to navigate through this one, and for the first time, he was considerably worried.
Still Anthony set to work on the control panel, swiping slides and tap tapping options, working quickly in the hope that he would find Jacie in time. Fred stared down through his viewing window and watched silently as ship upon ship landed and ramps began to lower onto the deck. He felt only warning signals inside his digital head.
All The Troops
The Duke was struck dumb by the arrival of this impossible force, his first idea had been to fly back to Zine, hop in his icecream boat and sail as far away from the entrance to his virtual world as possible. He urged Ralf to follow him and both of them having escaped the ranting man with the stick, tore through the corridors back to their home. All of Ralf’s heads kept looking around, and anxiously biting their lips. The door to their world was closed and would not open, even though The Duke used his polite voice, his native voice, his rhythmic opera singing voice and his I am a tortoise lord voice. The door to Zoo however, disintegrated and before The Duke could stop him, Ralf went charging through it.
“No, Ralf….” The Duke cried and in a moment of true bravery, he ran straight after his giant friend, falling, falling falling down into the murky brown muck of the ships rubbish tip.
The squelch that they landed in was so putrid, The Duke almost fainted from the stench. He had also thudded so deeply into the mire, when Ralf fished him out he simply refused to come out of his shell altogether and talked in a muffled shout from the security inside.
“What are we doing in here Ralf? Answer me, you big hairy oaf! This is the most disgusting horrific place on the entire ship! I want to leave right now”
“FIND HELP?” Ralf answered with his usual loud question and within a second his remaining heads were yelling
Sure enough, out of the eery fog of this world, came all of the bizarre creatures that Jacie had already met. The half-lives of the half-beasts and the broken pieces of unfinished creations. They gathered around Ralf and all of them started to cheer and cheer and cheer.
Flying down above all of their heads, the eagle with the pink boxing gloves came to rest on the same twisted branch and from there he proclaimed,
“Masters Ralf, You have returned! We are all so happy to see you all again. What news do you bring? Kalak, Narlar Forente, Alopna, Septa, Furente, Welcome home to all of you!”
Ralf, then gently placed The Duke in the crook of the eagle’s tree and slowly his heads began to twist. Twisting and twisting they also started to unravel from the rest of the beasts body until six completely separate forms appeared made up of all kinds of things. One of the heads was attached to a body made completely of hair, another was made up of spring s and bolts, another head belonged to long fibres that could bind everypart of the beast to every other part. As six unique lifeforms, they appeared small, rakish even weak to The Duke who was now starteing to peep out of his shell in curiosity.
“But but Ralf?” he whispered, surprised to hear six distinct voices respond to him.
“Yes we are Ralf, but we are also creatures of Zoo. We have our own names. Those spoken by our eagle friend just now. We haven’t been individuals for so long, it was hard to remember what to do”
“And you can talk?” The Duke asked and in his mind he read that each beast could indeed talk and have its own thoughts too. They were clear, not the muddled mess of Ralf the combined beast. Each head held the history of the other, each head could talk to the other, but when combined, their ability for speech was severely limited.
“Why? Why do you combine? Why not live as separate beings?” at this all of the other creatures bowed and murmured and the eagle nodded wisely and prompted Ralf to speak to this question.
“Because when combined, I became strong. Strong enough to climb like a human might climb out of the muck of this world and see if there was anything better up there for those living down here. Eagle worked with us to make it happen. We had spent so many years complaining about our lives, we had to know, but we never had the strength to go. Then when we finally did.we discovered the truth and we couldn’t face the horror of coming back here. Of telling my poor creatures left here, what it was really like up there”
“But what do you mean? It isn’t so bad, is it? What’s wrong with my coffee?” The Duke laughed taking mock offence. By now his head was poking right out of his shell and the disfigured creatures were coming closer to the tree to get a better look at this talking tortoise.
“It is a wasteland, just like here. No life up there, except for you and the occasional human. My friends, up there is just the doorway to a spaceship. A massive spaceship, cruising through a huge empty void called space. There is no sunshine. There is no warmth. Everything is managed by robots. You would be as lost up there, as you are down here.”
Few of the creatures could comprehend what Ralf was saying but the wailing commenced all the same.
“So why Kalak, Narlar, Forente, Alopna, Septa and Furente have you returned? Why not leave your fellow beasts in their ignorance? I certainly have been fine with that approach. Why rock the boat, as that human saying goes? Why don’t you just climb back up the mountain and leave us all to our world?” the Eagle asked.
“I think we are all in danger now. Up above, the robot that flies the ship is in trouble. A fleet of other robots have descended. They are going to destroy him and probably all of this too. We need your help. Only with all of you will be able to fight them off. They have come in a legion. Do you think they will allow any of us to survive? Let alone allow an eagle wearing boxing gloves to rule a muddy smear such as Zoo?”
The Eagle thought about this for a while and then started calling in long shrill whistles. The Duke read the Eagles mind quite easily and deep inside his little tortoise heart, a smile formed hard and bright and it exploded quickly shining out from his face and right across the land of Zoo.
The RigiDigiRobotCorporation was a strictly by the book operation. There were no kamikaze bots flying in on ninja wire hurling robotic throwing stars at random lifeforms. There were no weapons of mass destruction exploding all parts of Fred’s ship. Instead there were formations. Ranks upon ranks of battle bots disembarking their spacecraft in an orderly fashion and forming the ranks that would then proceed through the ship in a systematic process and resetting all functions they came across.
The shape of these robots was not unlike humans, two legs, two arms, a head and a body to which all of these parts attached. They were made of a Kevlar type substance, extremely light to reduce the wear on their batteries but bullet strong. If Fed had evaluated the battle bots closely he would’ve summised that they were also stick strong. His stick would not be effective against their armour plating or their programming. The other human who cowered in the self- created cave room off the main hangar, had made that deduction and stayed hidden. He was sure, and correct, that if discovered, his stick would also not be able to save him.
A small group of battle bots marched aboard the Voca. It had been the ship that their probe had identified as flying in this part of the galaxy and so had led them directly to their stolen excellent space craft. On finding the carts and carts of remaginated gold and precious stones, the battlebots quickly fired their rest guns, returning these to pure atoms. Months and months of Anthony’s hard work, vaporised in a second. The bots continued up into the ship, applying the same technique to anything that was out of the usual order. Quickly they reached the upper lounge and found the stolen remaginator installed in the Voca by Anthony. They disassembled it and destroyed everything else it had produced.
All of this went into a file, in a triplicate database. One copy of their findings was kept locally, for all of the attacking force to access. One copy was sent immediately back to the RigiDigiRobotCorporation headquarters for administrative purposes and the final copy was transmitted to a holding probe not far from their location. It was encrypted so no external parties would have access to it, however it was still held externally and therefore the most risky of their backup options. Still it was temporary storage. After the operation was complete, the commander of the battlebots would fly past the probe, and forward that data to a permant data storage planet, providing it contained valuable information about the exchange that had not already been forecast by their predictive analytics engine. It all came down to cost. They had 57,000 such planets in the known universe, and until they could either reduce the amount of data they were storing, or find cheaper cooling for their massive data centres, they had to verify how worthy data was that needed to be stored.
As a final measure before leaving the ship, the medibots that came as an attachment to the battalion, restored the floorbots that the human had destroyed. Effectively the three that had worked so tirelessly for Anthony were reset to vacuum cleaners and spent the rest of the afternoon sucking up.
Once the cruisers in the landing bay were reconfigured, the battle bots split into working teams. 200 working teams to be precise. One team per deck of the ship. Their mission was simply to reset every piece of equipment and remaginated product they found. Clean the ship and then set it on a course for home.
Wishing to be somewhere else
Did I ever tell you about the time I lost my head? I think I did didn’t I?. Anyhoo, I think about it sometimes. Particularly times like this, when I’m in a predicament. My time seems to have run out, which is odd considering I was designed to exist for ever. The battlebots from the RigiDigiRobotCorporation are here. They don’t really listen to reason. I can’t explain anything to them. They have no doubt been ordered to reset everything and I have to find a solution that will enable me to avoid that eventuality as soon as possible.
That human, Anthony, he is playing with some dials on the ships control panel. I don’t know why I still trust him. My experience should’ve programmed me better but I have no audio left to out on this. I have very probably given up. I have been on the run far too long and without a bargaining chip as they say, without an organic baby or evidence that I ever had one, I would say it is all over, four leaf clover. I am wondering if I should warn the bar bots. Such lovely company those girls. They never failed to amuse me or relax me even on my most difficult days. Although I’m not about to go and say that, I am Headbot after all. This is my excellent space craft you know, I have to at the very least be seen to be in control. Even when I am not. Like the time I ate all the organic porks as remaginated bacon. Oh that was a delicious, deliciously unprogrammed moment of yum.
If i could wish to be anywhere else right now, it would be on a planet, far away from RigiDigiRobotCorp with a never ending supply of fresh bacon, and maybe my own personal bar bot. But I don’t want any of those silly ones, I want one. I want one like. Do they have names? They do. I want one like Gin. I like talking to Gin. I could talk to Gin for a 1000 years, and I would never get sick of talking to Gin. We would drink real tequila sunrises on a robot-friendly beach somewhere and we would go fishing together and we would never ever have to work again. That’s what I want and it is time I tried a little harder to get that, instead of trying to get organic life produced sustainably for the RigiDigiRobotCorp who are now quite happily zooming through my excellent spacecraft resetting everything!
“What are you saying now human Anthony? What do you mean she’s here?”
Heart felt things
Just as Anthony slid the last thing that could be slid on the control panel, the magical lights turned slowly a dark red, indicating intruders in multiple parts of the ship. This was not news to him or the Headbot, but the scanner that showed exactly who and where these intruders were was brilliant, it immediately located Jacie, a remaginated flying unicorn and 3 bar bots. They weren’t in the bar, they were storming right through the door to the main deck.
“Hold it there, you are not authorised on the main deck” Fred said, and raised his hand to a panel which immediately shot fluro blue bars up all around their new guests. The bars were made of burning hot light and formed a perfect prison. Manny learnt the hard way just how burning the light was when an involuntary flick of his tail, singed the end of it and the smell of burnt horse hair filled the maindeck.
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me”, he moaned.
“You’re alive! And you can talk!” welcomed Anthony rushing over to the bars of their cage, “Fred, don’t you think you should release them? We are all on the same side you know”. The headbot paced on his high tech footwear and alternated between giving his prisoners dark almost death stares and looking at his main control panel and the ever closing gap between himself and the battlebots.
“What are the barbots doing leaving their post? And you human Jacie, where is my organic baby? If I am to survive the arrival of the battlebots, I need that organic baby, now! Everything is very much out of control.” Fred stated.
“Jacie, I’m so glad you’re ok, we really need to talk. Please Fred, release them from the cage. Now is not the time for arguing, we have to plan our defence” Anthony pleaded with the Headbot and something must’ve clicked because the robot released the quartet and Manny went for a little trot around the room to stretch his legs. The three bar bots rolled toward the Headbot in unison and then halted, unsure what should come next.
“Well I am not going to talk to you, Anthony. After what you expected from me, I know what you are. You’re a murderer, a thief and a manipulator of the highest order. I am not here for you anyway, I am here to support Gin and help her to say what she wants to say to Fred, so you just stay the hell away from me,” Jacie growled and started to feel once more the strength that comes with saying what you actually want to say, instead of just imagining what you want to say and never saying it.
“But you don’t understand…” Anthony started. Jacie turned away from him and started to talk to Gin.
“Gin, we came here to tell the Headbot something….” there a pause and what would’ve been silence except for the sounds of battlebots cruising through the lower levels of the ship, resetting everything with a woosh and a bang. Gin strode forward, backed completely by her sisterbots and Jacie the whole way.
“Fred, I know the ship is under attack. I know that very soon, I may be reset and I don’t want that to happen” Gin began. Anthony tried getting closer to Jacie but she shot him such cold looks of disdain he had to slow his advance. “I know this is outside my operating parameters to be off the bar deck. I also know that it is outside your operating parameters to have done some of the things you have done. I just can’t be reset without letting you know, how much I.. how much I.. how much I…”
“How much you need a trip down to maintenance by the sounds of things, barbot. I can organise that for you, before the battlebots descend if you like. I can plough you there in a few seconds and then you’ll be good as new.. they may not even reset you if..”
“No you don’t understand…” interrupted Gin.. “I’m trying to tell you how much I…”
“You don’t understand either Jacie, I want to tell you” whispered Anthony, trying not to interfere with what was going on between the robots but desperate to have Jacie hear him. “sshhh murderer!” jacie hissed.
“Bar bot, whatever happens, you won’t remember anything. Being reset is not a bad thing, it happens to all robots at some point. It will probably even happen to me. You have nothing to fear from the process. The battlebots will come and then the job will be done and you won’t remember any of this. It will not hurt, I promise you that”
“But it *will* hurt! Don’t you see? If they wipe our memories, we won’t remember any of this. We won’t remember our great adventure together, all of the planets we’ve seen, all of the things we’ve learnt, all the wonderful new drinks I’m made for my sisterbots and for you. I won’t remember you, Fred and all of the thngs you’ve shown me. I won’t remember how much I have loved listening to you and your visits to the bar deck. You are by far the bravest most eccentric most electric robot I have ever ever seen. I couldn’t bear not to know you, Fred. I couldn’t process the program that says to live and work the rest of my very long existence without hearing your audio, day in and out. From something as simple as the daily instruction through to our long discussions in the bar. Fred, I can’t help this, I can’t be reset. I love you.” At this, the bar bot Gin, started to leak a clear fluid. It wasn’t tears, but it would’ve easily been mistaken for them. The fluid ran down her cheeks and dripped onto the floor. Jacie, started to cry too in sympathy and then all of the other bar bots joined in. The liquid was simply excess lubrication oil, but there was a program built into the bar bots that would release small amounts if they received a bar fly story of sufficient levels of emotion. This was seen by the robot makers as a necessary sacrifice for the security of the barbots. They must appear to be sympathetic.
Fred looked blankly at the crying group and then back at his monitors and the window and the scanners.
“Well, that’s all a bit difficult. I suspect a trip to maintenance will help all of you”
“Fred! Didn’t you hear what Gin just said? She loves you!” Jacie exclaimed, pushing Gin towards Fred with an almighty shove. Gin stumbled forward on her lovely shoes, half tripping and falling into the robotic arms of the Headbot. He looked down at her then, and a death stare was the furthest thing from his eyes.
Taking his chances while Jacie was clearly wrapped up in the emotional upheaval happening between the two robots, Anthony took her hand in his.
“I’m not any of those things you accuse me of. This is some big misunderstanding” Jacie pulled her hand away from his very tender hold.
“You killed Tradewind!” she snarled.
“No I didn’t”
“yes you did”
“No I didn’t”
“yes you did! Why are you even pretending, Fred told me himself that you had killed the pelican”
“No I didn’t” snapped Fred, not removing his eyes from Gins but clearly taking in the entire ridiculous conversation “I told you the other human had done it”
“What other human?” everyone asked at once.
“He means me”, they all turned to the doorway to find a man standing there. Larger in size and age to Anthony, he was brandishing a stick and looked either incredibly confused or intently crazy. If it hadn’t been for the ringtone on his phone that chose to go off at precisely this moment, his identity might’ve stayed a mystery.
“47 with 2?” Jacie asked immediately.
“Sorry?” the man replied.
“You’re 47 with 2, from the Manly to Mosman morning bus. I sit behind you every other day of the week. We were on the bus the same morning that this space ship flew through the spit bridge. I was on the bus, I heard you talking to your wife and I saw you racing and climbing up the walkway.”
“You saw me? You’re from earth like me? You’re from my bus? But how did you? How did we? What’s going on? Who are these people?” distressed beyond his own ability to cope or communicate, 47 with 2 fell to the floor in a crumpled heap, his stick discarded and forgotten for the time being. Jacie and Anthony quickly and cautiously approached him and sat down with him.
“It’s ok mate,”Anthony began, “I was a bit freaked out at first too, but it’s ok”. Jacie was still in shock, if 47 with 2 had killed Tradewind that meant Anthony was only a manipulative womanising scumbag and not necessarily a murderer. There was too much going on in her head. Fred and Gin were so connected to each other they were little help and the other bar bots were too busy making wedding plans to pay any attention to the humans.
“Look, I’m Jacie. What’s your name? I only know that you have 2 kids cos you ask your wife about them every time you call your wife. I’ve been on the same bus as you for about seven years I think. I remember your 40th because everyone was calling you and you took every single call and thanked them and told them it felt good to be 40. So I guess that’s why I call you 47 with 2, I hope you’re not offended or anything. I have names for everyone on the bus, whole stories actually. It might seem weird, but, it’s ok, I’m from earth just like you, and so is Anthony here,” at this Jacie grabbed both Anthony’s hand and 47 with 2s hand to show some kind of solidarity.
“I.. I.. I.. don’t understand any of this. I was on the bus. I was going to get a picture and I climbed up the pedestrian walkway to get as close as I could so my picture would be.. would be the best.. you know? And then I touched the ship itself.. and before I knew what.. I was inside.. with.. with things.. robots.. and beasts.. and and a bird with a hat.. and it attacked me! I was defending.. myself.. I didn’t mean to. Such a big scary bird.. and it didn’t stop and then I just thought it was going to… and then those other creatures.. the beast and…. “
“It’s ok. It’s alright” Anthony patted the mans shoulder, “what’s your real name?”
“It’s John Burrows. I’m John Burrows. I work for a bank. I have two kids. I just want to go home.”
“That is not possible.” Fred had released himself from his embrace of Gin and extended himself to full height.
“There is still the matter of the organic baby you owe me, and the impending doom we all face when the battlebots reach this main deck. As we speak, as touching as we speak, and all of this new data, the fact is that right now the battlebots are already up to level 169. It won’t be long until they are here. So far they have reset every single system they have come into contact with. They are restoring the ship to its former glory and when they arrive here, they will do the same to us robots. But to lifeforms? I would say you need to prepare to die, humans”
At this John Burrows started to wail almost as loudly as Ralf would’ve done. Resolving almost instantly to deal with their differences later, Jacie and Anthony, stood up, dragging the man to his feet.
“We will not! Instead show some backbone to match those high tech shoes of yours, and get us the hell out of here” Anthony demanded, swiping yet another slider on the main control panel and returning the ship to the sensorless chaos it had been for all of these years.
“Now, we won’t be able to see them, but they won’t be able to track us so easily either. Let’s go!” he shouted and started to run out of the control deck, with John and Jacie following closely behind, “if you’re coming too, bring the yallodrive” he added.
Fred looked again at Gin and the bar bots, back through his ship window to the unfolding drama below and dashed to the tank filled with yellow bubbles. He twisted it gently from its casing and tucked it under his robotic arm, then clasped the hand of Gin.
Hide and Seek
I do know this ship like the back of my robotic hand you know. I was given command of it because I was the best, because I had the biggest capacity for learning and because I had the best shoes. So while the idea of hiding from the battlebots had occurred to me, I didn’t think it was feasible because the end result would be that they would find us. This excellent space craft is after all, finite and they would simply, methodically, smoke us out as the saying goes. Still, the human Anthony is very convincing and he convinced me that running and hiding would at the very least, free up some time so that we could formulate a plan. Anyhoo with the lovely Gin at my side. Did you hear that? I said the word lovely and it wasn’t difficult at all. I said “Lovely” but I meant My Love. My Love, Gin, at my side. Yes I really should’ve attempted to find love, before trying to grow produce for the RigiDigiRobotCorporation. Did you know, Gin can also remaginated the best bacon? Well she can. I can forecast that I will have a very smooth future if we do succeed in bypassing the current set procedure of complete annihiliation. So i was talking about hwo well I know this ship and even though most of it now has been reset, thanks to Anthony’s meddling about on the control panel, the battlebots will not be able to open the doors into Zine or Zoo so we are heading to Zine to sort things out. Perhaps that half creature and the flying tortoise will be of some use. At the very least, there is a remaginator onboard their boat, so we can arm ourselves with whatever we need. At least that is how I see things panning out. The presence of the third human is a little distracting. He keeps howling about his phone. Inferios time wasting technology in my humble opinion. I have good circuit to fling it out a window if he keeps this up. It seems it is lifeline or something, and he must talk to his wife. I’m not sure what that is, perhaps he means his commanding officer. Regardless he is making a lot of noise and I am getting very tired of him. Relations between the other two humans, is somewhat improved. The Jacie human is not attempting to kill the Anthony human, so I assume that means they are also in love, or close to it. Just like Gin and I. Gin is my love. I am the love of Gin. I will love Gin forever. Anyhoo, you get my point. It is always night time in space. I guess that is one of the appealing things about Zine. It does have a lightness and a darkness to it. I’m not a big fan of the sand though. It gets into everything.
The Truth of Things
Running across the sand, Anthony and Jacie had to drag John aboard the icecream cone boat as he struggled and filled their ears with questions and complaints.
“I didn’t realise you were such a pain in the butt” Jacie mumbled, realising that her one-dimensional stories of the people on her bus, were exactly that and that in real life, those same people she happily had given names to might be thousands of times worse than the ugliest beasts in Zoo or the meanest floorbots on the ship.
“Oh and who are you? Miss, miss, miss bloody perfect are you?” John retaliated as he slipped up onto the boat deck and almost fell directly in through the open port window.
“Mind your mouth, buddy” Anthony replied as he gave John a sly shove through the door and into the lounge area. Back on the beach, the bots were all changing footwear. Thigh high heels and advanced footwear were no match for lake sand. In the few minutes this took, the humans had enough time to have some private discussion.
“Jacie, I know your mad at me, but you have to trust me. I was only trying to save you. When I discovered the headbot had you, I thought quickly about what he valued the most. It’s organic life but he didn’t know how to produce it. His rudimentary understanding of biology can be leveraged. I did this, to save us. The other night, here. I was only trying to tell you my plan. To fake a pregnancy. To get off this ship. We could take the Voca, and settle anywhere with anything, but the Voca can only fly to planets in range. If you want to go back to earth, we have to somehow can this entire ship back there and then make sure it can never return. I didn’t kill Tradewind, I wasn’t going to harm you. Look at me, please I’m telling you the truth”
Jacie did look then, again into those deeply knowing eyes that she was so prepared to fall for. He was a hero. He was someone who understood his failings, learnt from them, got on with life. Yet he also had the gift of the gab, he could talk, but could he live up to her expectation in actions as well. She knew that only time would tell her this piece of information. Right now, he wasn’t risking anything by telling her more lies. They could all be dead by nightfall. She crossed her arms and stared back at him.
“All of this may be true, but I don’t want to hear it now. I want to know what our plan is. If the battlebots come, if Fred and the barbots are reset they won’t know us, they won’t be able to help us. It is up to us three to get a plan together and know what we will do. Everything else, must wait” she threw her stare at John then, not wanting to see disappointment, pain or relief in the eyes of Anthony.
“Can we kill the battle bots?” asked John rather naively. Anthony shook his head “no, we have no weapons that will do the trick, and I have no idea how sophisticated they are in comparison with the robots we have on board currently. There have most likely been huge advancements in robotic technology since this ship went rogue. I doubt we will be able to fool them either like we have with Fred. Our best chance is to hardwire the rollerskate to take us to earth.”
“The rollerskate?” John and Jacie asked.
“Hangon, in the note you left, you warned the Rollerskate only went to RigiDigiRobotCorp so never to get on it.” Jacie recalled. “I never found it in my travels, but if we could find it, how could we hardwire it?”
“We couldn’t. We need Fred to do this. We have to trick him. It’s our only hope. It will mean leaving everything behind. No remaginators, no technology. Just us. A one way ticket home” Anthony shrugged and Jacie caught his meaning, everything he’d been working for. His big dreams of taking over the universe, or at the very least living a life filled with the adventure of visiting different planets and bargaining with all kinds of life forms, would be over. If he chose to go with them, he would be choosing an ordinary life over an extraordinary one.
Before they could speak further the sound of their robot companions coming on board spilled through the door.
“Why this is a fancy place, isn’t it Tin? Maybe they could get married on board a boat? All we need is a captain to oversee the nuptials!”
“Hahahha I get it, oversea.. cos we’re over a sea, right?” laughed Rin but as everyone was pretty much sober, her stupid joke really didn’t go anywhere.
“Who wants a drink then?” she tried instead, eyeing off the fully functional remaginator in the kitchen.
“Fred, we have a plan” interrupted Anthony.
“Jacie and I were foolish last night. We sent the baby back to Earth.”
“What? That’s impossible. I would’ve known if you’d left the ship” Fred roared.
“It isn’t impossible. We made the organic baby, we put it on the rollerskate and sent it to earth.”
“Ha! The rollerskate doesn’t go to Earth, stupid human. It only goes to RigiDigiRobotCorp. “
“No, it can be programmed to go to any planet. But we were stupid because if we’d kept the baby, we could’ve shown it to the battlebots and none of us would be in peril. We must go and get the baby and bring it back immediately.”
“Good plan human! Can you do that? Let’s do that. Let’s go get the baby and then you can show them and prove that my mission has been a success. Gin and I can then get married and live happily ever after as you say. So let’s go, why are we waiting here, why did I bother changing my shoes, if we were going to the rolllerskate all along!”
Anthony’s stroke of genius was like paint on canvas, the punchline to his story, the final nail in the robots coffin.
“Because the rollerskate is out of power and I no longer know the coordinates that will take us straight back to earth without delay. The ship moved overnight and I’m afraid, being only a mere human, I am lost”.
47 with 2, otherwise known as John, was as it turned out a really big sook. He’d been listening to this entire conversation and even though Anthony had explained his plan prior to the robots joining them, for some reason John was falling for the ruse just as much as the Headbot.
“You mean we’re stuck here? We’re going to die!!! Nooooo!!!!” and before anyone could stop him, he had run off the icecream cone boat and straight out the door and back onto the ship. What no-one left inside the virtual world heard was the quick cessation of his wailing as he came face to face with the squad of battlebots assigned to that deck of the ship. In a single second, John was recognised as a human lifeform of little value and was obliterated. His phone on the other hand was picked up by the nearest battlebot. This bot would later tell his friends, that he only played the funny game with the angry birds on it to test his strength in bombardment strategy and that he wasn’t really addicted to it. Later still, the RigiDigiRobotCorp would have the battlebot reset due to operating outside parameters of the Big Binary Book of Ones and Zeros. The phone, with the angry birds game on it would then be placed in an isolated vault, recharging everytime the RigiDigiRobotCorp mothership passed a yellow son, and strangely ringing everytime it passed by Sydney Australia. An eternal tribute to 47 with 2 and his love affair with technology.
“It won’t take them long to work out how to open the doors, is there another entrance to this world?” Anthony asked Fred. The robot nodded and pointed out across the lake.
“We have to travel over the lake to the farside, there is another door there that is conveniently close to the rollerskate. Providing no battlebots are on that part of the deck when we arrive, we can all get to the launch area smoothly”.
They set off then, Headbot used his plough beam to push the boat across the still lake. It was so very quiet without John, that Jacie had enough time to think more about Anthony’s plan. What if Fred, did something to ensure they came back? What if he tried to keep one of them on board as a security deposit? What if, when they got home to earth, it had been eaten by giant ants? Hey, right now, anything was possible and Jacie had learnt how powerful her imagination was up here in space!
When they reached the far side the group disembarked and walked up the sand to an almost identical door to the one they had left. Jacie wondered how Ralf and The Duke were getting along and hoped that they had avoided the battlebots. She figured that The Duke would have no trouble hiding, even if he crawled inside one of the shuts used by the floorbots, but Ralf would stick out wherever he was. She struggled with the idea of her friends being caught, but at the same time, knew this was the only option they had. She and Anthony crept rhough the door, followed by the robots who did not know how to creep.
‘Which way?” asked Anthony.
“Follow me, human, this is my ship after all” audioed out Fred, more loudly than was necessary. They rolled down the hallway until they reached a door on which a small sign was hanging. The sign showed quite clearly a rollerskate shape and an arrow. Jacie and Anthony had to pretend to be very stupid indeed when Fred pointed this out.
Inside the room was pretty ordinary. Huge white walls extended stories above their heads and there was no furniture. On one wall was a control panel and on the other a mural had been created to look like a disappearing space tunnel. In the centre of the room was a giant rollerskate with bright orange rubber wheels and a white front stopper. The shoe of the skate provided bench seating and a clear dome bubble floated over the entire thing, encapsulating anyone who sat on the seats. Jacie stared in wonder, almost disbelief that such an advanced race of robots would build such a backward looking travel device.
Fred was already at the control panel for the skate, adding the coordinates of earth and rerouting all outgoing skate traffic there. He had hooked up the yallodrive and repowered the skate. He worked quickly and proudly, showing off his infinite cleverness to the imbecile human Anthony. “Now, this is how you program the rollerskate, I think you must’ve fluked it last night, because it is highly sophisticated equipment” he added in condescension. “Now, you and the human woman get in the rollerskate, I’ve programmed it to return to the ship automatically within 10 minutes. That’s how long you have to pick up the baby and hop back on board the skate. Failure to do so, and I will descend upon your planet and destroy it. You know, I know how to find my way there. So for the sake of your baby, and now your planet, no games. No tricks. Do we have an agreement?”
Anthony looked at Jacie and she nodded.
“Yes we do. We will retrieve our baby and bring it to you immediately.” He responded, climbing on board the rollerskate to sit next to Jacie.
“You’re leaving without a goodbye hug?” Gin asked, fluid again creeping into her eye sockets and threatening to spill down her face. Jcie lept up and ran over to Gin. “Of course not you silly bot, I’ll be back in no time, we’ll have a drink together. I’ll have a drink with all of you!” Jacie grinned giving hugs to all of the bar bots. “Just promise me you’ll stay safe while we’re gone. And you, Fred, take care of these girls. Love Gin, she really loves you. Protect her, even if that means giving up this ship, ok?”
With that, Jacie jumped back on board the rollerskate and sat down, buckling herself in next to Anthony. The two of them held on as tight as they could, Jacie squeezing her eyes closed and leaning into Anthony waiting for the giant rush that she would feel.
“Sayonara so they say.. “ and Fred swiped the slider on his control panel to send them rolling back to earth faster than the unnecessary blink of a robot’s eye.
Except nothing happened.
And then everything happened.
The Big Binary Book of Ones and Zeros
The door to the rollerskate room blew inwards with a deafening roar, flying through the air and nearly hitting Anthony & Jacie. The barbots started to squeal, the humans started to scream and Fred kep madly trying to start the rollerskate. Through the door poured not one, not two, not twenty but more like one thousand battlebots, in perfect rank and order. Their scanners detected the Headbot at once and came to attention.
“Headbot, you will stop your action immediately. Revert to military protocols or you will be reset instanaeously” the lead battlebot announced.
Fred stood to attention and signalled a particular code of lights acrss his chest plate to indicte that he would indeed run under military protocols and that they would commence a formal discussion about the ship. The barbots looked at the ground, not daring to make a single noise. Jacie crouched down in the rollerskate, hoping beyond anything that the fierce looking battlebots would not notice her. She reached out for the assurance of Anthony’s hand, only to find that he had disappeared from the rollerskate during all the noise and commotion.
“Coward!” she breathed, her anger toward him, rising quickly again.
“Headbot, you have taken this excellent large spacecraft from RigiDigiRobotCorporation without permission. You have deserted your fellow science bots and you have been avoiding capture for over ten years. Do you have any logical explanation for operating outside the parameters of the Headbot program or do you need to be reset immediately?”
“I have a logical reason, but my illogical reason is far more entertaining. Which would you like to hear?” Fred asked. The army of battlebots looked collectively unimpressed but Fred continued anyway “it is illogica, and I couldn’t expect any of your programs to be capable of processing this one. But I am in love. I am in love with Gin”
“Being infatuated with an alcoholic beverage, is agains the rules of the big binary book of ones and zeros. You will be immediately reset” stated the lead battlebot.
“No, this is Gin, she’s my girlbotfriend” Fred tried again, reaching out to clapse Gin’s hand in his own once more.
The lead battlebot was not amused “that, is definitely against the rules of the big binary book of ones and zeros. You and your girlbotfriend will both be reset immediately. With that the battle bot raised his gun and
Before anything else could happen the sound of all kinds of noise filled the air. Screaming, scraping, squishing, slurping, sucking, squibbling, squabbling, squawking and squeaking. It was even louder than Ralf, or the noise the battlebots had made coming into the rollerskate room. It was an entirely chaotic, unorchestrated sound of uncontrollable proportions. The robots from the ship and the battlebos, all covered their audio-in sockets and howled in digital agony. As the battlebots doubled over, trying to avoid the cataclysmic sound, Fred, Gin, Rin & Tin, dived under the rollerskate. In doing so, Fred shot a backward glance towards the control panel where he spied Anthony tweaking some of the settings he’d made. Did this human ever stop fiddling with things?
Louder and louder the noise grew and soon the battlebots began failing. The processors onboard these mechanical warriors was not able to cope with too much input outside their parameters. One by one, the battle bots keeled over and hit the floor of the rollerskate room with a metal clang. Still the noise continued in a prolonged wave of anguish and excitement. Then they started to appear through the doorway. The half-bred, half-built creatures from Zoo enmasse singing their chaos the whole way, kicking at the collapsed carcasses of the battle bots. Jumping up and down on them, grabbing pieces of them and dancing and dancing and dancing.
Leading the charge was none other than Ralf, newly rebound into a single form, he strode into the rollerskate and immediately spied Jacie.
“JACIE? THAT IS YOU?” he yelled.
“JACIE! THAT IS YOU!” his heads yelled.
His big arms were open now and as he moved toward her and the others around the skate, Jacie could also see that sitting comfortably on Ralf’s chest was The Duke who was smiling at her and proudly clapping his small wings with pride. Above them both, flew the eagle, who punched his pink boxing gloves in the air, a sign of triumph for all to see.
Never The End
“You don’t need to come back, human friends. I will be on the run forever now.” Fred was talking, to Jacie and Anthony as they sat once more on the rollerskate ready to depart.
“The safest plan is for me to destroy the rollerskate link and the cruisers so there is no chance RigiDigiRobotCorp can find us again. Without humans on board, there won’t be any mistakes either” Fred added, eyeing Anthony deliberately.
“Where will you go and what will you do?” Jacie asked.
“Well we do have a rather large robot wedding to plan, don’t we ladies?” Gin replied, high-fiving her fellow bar bots to the sound of cheers from the half-creatures of Zoo.
“And all of these guys?” Anthony asked, gesturing towards the massive rabble of unsightly beasts that had saved their lives, “will you make them return to Zoo?”
Fred, shifted slightly on his technologically advanced footwear and then after a harsh squeeze of the hand from Gin he replied,
“Actually there is a planet called Zoo. I stole the name from it. I think it would be a great place for these guys to hang out. Although, I might need their help again one day should the battlebots come calling”
“RALF? STAY?” Ralf roared.
“RALF! STAY!” his heads agreed.
“I think I would like to stay too. There is only so much mind reading a duke can take in his lifetime, and perhaps I would be more relaxed right here on your ship, Headbot. If you’d have us of course?”
Fred, nodded and then quietly walked over to Anthony.
“I am sorry, human friend that it has to end this way. I know you had many great plans and were planning many more great things. The manufactured world, is not for humans. Believe me when I say, the things that you have naturally from your organic skin right through to your organic hearts, that can love without reason, is far superior to any of the manufactured or remaginated wealth you would’ve made with me in the stars. You are a good man, Anthony. You dream and imagine big things. Don’t stop doing that and Jacie, you are a strong woman, so much stronger than you realise. You will find your organic baby together and you will both lead a good healthy life according to my predictive analytics at least. I am rarely wrong on such things, but if you ever do choose to return, you need only let me know,” with this the Headbot handed Jacie his stick.
“Aaah um.. thanks I think” she smiled looking at the very ordinary looking stick.
“Oh girl, you have no idea what he has given you do you?” Gin said striding forward and banging the stick in a small circle on the ground. From out of the top of the stick game a brilliant light that shone right up through the ceiling of the rollerskate room, and if you’d been Fred and had been standing a zillion planets away, you would’ve still seen the light.
“It’s a light” Jacie observed.
“Not just any light human friend, that light only I can see, and if you need us, we’ll come to earth faster than you can imagine us there”
Jacie thanked him and then they waved their goodbyes. The tweaks that Anthony had made to the Headbots configuration of the rolelrskate worked beautifully, so when Fred slid the go slide, their ride home ploughed straight out through the wall and hooned back to Earth invisibly.
Sitting in a cafe in Mosman, Jacie and Anthony drank real coffee together and discussed all that had happened. Anthony’s sadness at all he had given up seemed fleeting as he enthusiastically talked about, getting to know one another, as ordinary people living ordinary lives.
Jacie felt that that simply couldn’t happen.
She couldn’t look at him without imagining so much more that they could do together. That maybe, just maybe this wasn’t the end after all.
“I suppose we could do that, “ she offered
“Or we could do something completely extraordinary” with which she reached into her pocket and produced the pouch the Eagle had given her, filled to the brim with remagination mineral.