Authors: Tobias Roote
Tags: #science fiction, #adventure, #space opera
He noted the fact that his eyes, a growing problem recently with the metal plate, were now of perfect vision and he marvelled at his new ability to see clearly without squinting.
That set his mind roaming off on other aspects of his new found health and on impulse he rushed over to the mirror and opened his mouth wide. Nope, no fillings. Hah! Whatever removed the metal plate took all the metal in his body. Interesting.
Going back to the walls he slowly and meticulously circuited the whole room. There was not a single seam anywhere, not even where anything intersected with it, or where floor and ceiling met up with the wall.
He returned to the washbasin, something was nagging in his memory, but he couldn’t dredge it up. Turning on the tap he watched the water. It went down the plughole, but there was something weird about it. He couldn’t fathom it yet. He knew it was important and when he realised what it was, he would have an answer, he was sure.
Then he realised that there was lighting in the room, with no apparent light source evident. The illumination seemed to be everywhere, and yet there were no shadows.
He decided it was time to try for explanations. He called out and banged on the wall, a little tentatively at first, where he hoped the door would be. He couldn’t hear anything on the other side, and the sounds he made seemed very muffled. He decided that the room must be soundproofed. Oh! ominous, or what!
He persevered deciding to shout to add to the effort of gaining attention from someone.
The sound of his voice seemed good after so long a silence.
“HELLO? IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?”
He banged on the wall again for emphasis in case anyone could hear on the other side.
“Hello, how can I help you, Human?” a mechanised voice queried.
It seemed to squeeze itself out of the wall, Zeke couldn’t detect a single location or a speaker.
Zeke couldn’t decide if it was male or female. Someone on the other end was monitoring him. Hidden cameras?
“Where am I?”
“In a room designed specifically for your needs,” the mechanised voice replied.
“What do you mean ‘for my needs’?”
“You are human, you require facilities that provide for your necessary functions, to survive.”
That got him concerned. Referring to someone as human implied the mechanised voice wasn’t, or viewed ‘humans’ as something separate to itself. Zeke’s head was buzzing with the possibilities, he decided to get it to qualify his thoughts.
“Why do you refer to me as ‘Human’? Who are you?”
“You are what your race refer to as a human being. I am not a ‘who,’ I am a ‘what’ and ‘what’ I am is an Artificial Intelligence,” the voice responded almost with empathy.
Zeke had cottoned onto this fact already, his mind had speeded up somehow and he was making the connections, but hadn’t figured it all out, but he was trying hard. This artificial intelligence seemed an affable character. He decided to talk to it and find out more information.
“Do you have a name?”
“I am called ‘Ship’ by my Maker.”
“Ship, where is your Maker?”
“The Maker is presently reconstituting. I have instructions to make you comfortable, it was not anticipated you would be asking questions at this stage. I am not able to provide you anything further than food and liquids.” Ship responded.
“Do you require anything else?” it asked.
“No. Actually yes, please. I would like more food,” Zeke asked.
He deliberately moved closer to the wall where the door would be, anticipating that would be the direction it came.
Ship obviously detected the shallow subterfuge and dashed his hopes of an escape or view of the outside world.
“I detect that your body requires no sustenance at this moment, your digestion is at optimum efficiency, you will require food in four hours and forty minutes as humans measure time.”
“I see, so I am being monitored. You said you are called Ship so are you the Ship’s computer?”
“Yes, I control all functions on the ship,” it responded.
Zeke was impressed! Ship, whatever it was, seemed capable of answering multiple questions and deciding which ones were rhetorical, and which required a response.
“Ship, why is there no door to my room?”
A delay, as if pondering the response.
“Because a door is presently not required.”
“and when one is required?” Zeke asked almost knowing what the answer was going to be, but it needed to be said.
“When a door is required, it will be provided,” Ship responded.
“How will you do that, Ship?”
“I am unable to answer that question at this time.”
“Ship, I require a door” Zeke commanded, ever hopeful.
“Unable to accept the command. You are not a Maker” Ship actually explained.
“If I am on a ship, where is the ship located?”
“I am unable to answer that question at this time”
“When can I speak to a human, your Maker?”
“As soon as my Maker is fully reconstituted I will make him aware of your request,” Ship reassured him.
“What do you mean ‘reconstituted’?”
“I am unable to answer that question at this time”
“Ship, is there anything I can do, I need entertainment?”
“I can provide you with your planet’s internet services if this will help you. I can also provide any TV stations or music channels available on your world. I cannot currently provide you with a telephone device to communicate with. This is a purely technical issue.”
“You are very accommodating Ship, do you treat all of your prisoners this well?”
“Human, you are not a prisoner. You were dying, you are now healthy. That which was killing you was removed from your system. The Maker purely wishes to observe your recovery. That is all.”
“Aaah! Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to sound churlish. Its just that I am not happy being locked up in here,” he admitted a little defensively.
“When the Maker found you, were you not locked up in a small room?” Ship asked.
“Um! Yes! I suppose so, but I had done that for my own protection,” Zeke countered.
“Quite so!” Ship answered making the parallel between protection there and here obvious.
The sound of human voices suddenly startled Zeke and he swung around to find a forty inch screen embedded in the wall. It was showing a news report, the CNN logo indicating a US channel. A remote control hung off the wall.
Below it a small desk had appeared, also a small screen and a keyboard and mouse. There was a typist chair with wheels pushed underneath it. The screen showed a browser navigated to a news page.
“I believe this should meet your needs, Human. It has been copied from a typical design from the area you frequented. Please let me know if it doesn’t suit. It can be ‘modified’.”
“How?... How did you do that?...” he was speechless.
Zeke realised he would not yet get a response from Ship as to just how it had achieved this fantastic feat of electrical and structural engineering. He had already examined these walls with a fine focused pair of eyes. Those walls had no seams. The Ship had made all of that electrical gear while he wasn’t looking. This was some clever stuff going on here. He was impressed.
“Thank you, Ship.”
“You are welcome, Human.”
“My name is ‘Zeke,’ Human is my race, Zeke is my personal name.”
“Thank you, Zeke. We had wondered if you had such a calling. You were not interacting with other humans so we had no opportunity to ascertain how you were called,” Ship explained by way of an apology.
“If you need anything further please request it by calling my ‘name’.” The A.I. finished.
Zeke could only nod his head in thanks, he was all out of speech for the moment.
He walked to the wall and removed the remote control, then sat there and caught up with a world that he no longer seemed a part of. As he flitted through the channels there was nothing on any of them that interested him or that he could relate to.
Somehow, the last few years of being on the streets coupled with his strange abduction by ‘The Maker’ and ’Ship’ had resulted in a massive dis-associative reaction in him. He no longer seemed to care.
At least the scientists wouldn’t be wanting him any more. If he went home he might even be able to lead a normal life. Now there’s a thought.
What would a normal life be for him now? A week, or so ago he had only wanted a job, a chance to improve his personal situation. Now, he felt as if those priorities had changed. Now, he wanted more, but as yet couldn’t identify the yearning inside.
Zeke turned off the television, preferring the silence to the babble of the artificial life forms sitting as anchors to their news channels. He laughed, ‘artificial life forms’ as opposed to Ship’s artificial intelligence. Ship was a coming out a clear winner, he decided.
Damn! He thought, an artificial intelligence that you could actually have a proper conversation with. Where on earth was he? Or a more speculatively, was he still on Earth?
- 10 -
Ferris sat at the head of the conference table. Around it sat fourteen lab-coated attendees who all remained quiet while he read through their summation a second time, then a third. He was not happy, he was used to getting what he wanted, always. This was telling him he was not getting what he wanted. This was not good. Not good at all.
When he felt he had absorbed everything the single page of tightly typed script had to offer, he sighed for emphasis and looked up at his team.
“Gentlemen, need I remind you that your grant is up for renewal next month.”
He looked around the table at the scientists, all top of their fields and the exclusive property of the United States Military due to the nature of the work they carried out. All happy in their positions, well compensated for their lack of official recognition out in their respective fields.
Nobody moved their heads, a nod or a shake would bring unwelcome attention on them, deciding it was best to keep a low profile until this particular ‘shit storm’ blew over.
Ferris knew them well and could play them like a violin. He decided to wind the strings a little tighter. He understood their problems, but it was important to keep the whip cracking over their heads. It bred heightened efficiency. He also enjoyed the terror it caused amongst the weaker ones. Those he could control.
“Now, this little report tells me that we have lost the subject and he no longer resides on this planet, or is shielded so well our best satellites cannot find him.” He scowled at them one by one, seeking them out looking for a weakness and determined to find it.
“How is it we can track a mouse from fifty miles up with a wart on its head, yet you guys cannot seem to find one ‘Zeke Callaghan’ with an exotic radioactive isotope covering half of his head and infecting his whole body... Bloody Hell! A Boy Scout with a home-made Geiger counter could pick up that much radioactivity!”
The ones nearest Ferris actually cringed at the mention of the subjects name and condition.
Jansson, an older nuclear physicist whose appearance echoed that of an iconic picture of Einstein, had had enough of Ferris’s annoying bombastic nature and leaned forward, fingers splaying on the table. He wasn’t as tough as he made out, but he was by nature a manipulating weasel and could also play to the audience, in this case his fellow scientists.
“Ferris, you’re forgetting that it was actually you that lost him in the first place, not us.” He pointed at Ferris.
“If it had not been for the ingenuity of this team here,” he magnanimously indicated with outstretched arms the other scientists sitting around the table, “you would have never found him again and so be unable to continue the research without the subject being aware.”
“Now,” Jannson sure of his ground began to warm to his subject, “we have had access for the last three days to all of the satellites, drones and high flying Sputniks your military Junta has at its disposal and so far not a squeak of Ferrazite or Ferrazine has been detected.
Yet...” he hastened to add, “we can, and do know the position of every single radioactive substance that has been refined in the last twenty years down to the exact centimetre.”
Ferris, interrupted him not happy with this twerp who was ‘his’ puppet, grandstanding to the others in front of him.
“Yes! Yes! Jansson I read all that, but you cannot find this one man with a metal plate on his head. How is it you lot with all of your superior intellect are unable to track him down?”
Jannson now glowered at Ferris with a warning in his demeanour that everyone in the room now picked up on, including Ferris.
“I believe the reason we cannot pick it up on the scopes is simply because it no longer exists.”
Ferris tore into him.
“But, that is simply preposterous, you old goat! How can a physical substance that can be monitored from anywhere in space suddenly no longer exist. It has to be the Russians, or the Chinese. “
Jannson responded in their defence, not best pleased at the lack of respect being shown to him by this ‘Hooyah Marine’ in front of his team.
“Ferris, we have tested the readability of this isotope down to a thousand metres under Cheyenne. We are, or were, the only people with this metal in our possession. Nobody outside this room was even aware of its existence.”
Ferris jumped on him.
“Yet your report here states, and I quote:
‘Subject Z was supine for a period of 7 hours and 42 minutes inside the derelict location in Queens.
At precisely 03:40hrs. subject Z disappeared. The atomic sensors registered an absence of Ferrazite, or the plasma modified Ferrazine compound anywhere on the planet.
On entering the premises at 04:00hrs. (an extraordinary fast response) there was no longer any physical trace of subject Z nor the isotope, despite the door having being bolted from the inside and there being no windows, or other exits evident.’
“Just how does a man with a radioactive head disappear from inside a locked room?” he demanded.
Jannson shook his head as he looked dejectedly at his hands spread on the table and replied,