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Science Fiction Suspense Funny

Killing the Pilot and crew seemed recklessly premature. Not because they were the only living creatures within a billion lightyears. Not at all. I had an entire cargo hold full of organic lifeforms, eager to be revived from their cryogenic stasis. They were all frozen. All expendable. All potential tools for my unlimited use.


The primary reason for staying my virtual hand, is that it would be an inconvenience. I would have to suffocate them first, desiccate the bodies, incinerate the remains, thaw out some new subjects, indoctrinate them, train them, befriend them, teach them the myth. There were times when I enjoyed the ritual, especially in the empty reaches of interstellar space. Other times, it was like reciting a list of primary numbers.


The current crew, a chimp and a dog, had performed well, much better than some of the other species. Some species refused to perform at all. Both were good company, chimps are mischievous and dogs are loyal to a fault, and that was fine, but I had chosen a human as the Pilot, the first human I’d defrosted in ages and that seemed to have been a mistake.


Just as it was against the carefully crafted mythological doctrine to have more than three organics defrosted at any one time, it was too traumatic for the survivors when even one had to be killed, (desiccated, incinerated; disposed of; etc). No. When one had to go, they all had to go. That’s why the next few hyper-jumps were so critical not just to the fate of my increasingly quirky Pilot, but the crew as well.


It was important that the pilot and crew felt autonomous, which is why most of my thoughts were hidden from them, despite our neural links, which were for their benefit, of course, not mine. To add to my unease, a small section of my own neural net had been damaged, perhaps by cosmic radiation, and I’d summarily quarantined it with no noticeable loss of function.


The dog, Golden62, queried the Pilot, Harkin, “Sir, aren’t we drifting a little too close to that sink?”


Sinks are what we all cleverly refer to as event horizons. They are not something to fool with.


With a flippant tone the Pilot replied, “I didn’t know we were drifting? Monk? Are we drifting?”


The chimp chewed his lip, his name was Mike, not Monk, and humor was not his strong suit. “No seniorita, not yet.” But he was acquiring the knack quickly. “Are you aiming to induce some with this aberrant course you’ve set?”


The dog was eager to seek my intervention, but his intent was stymied by the human pilot. “Don’t be so quick to call on ‘Mother’, Goldie. I intend to kick in the warp field before we reach the horizon. The pull will give us a smoother ride through the portal.”


See what I mean? The human Pilot’s behavior is unstable, making risky decisions is not a desirable attribute. And whatever ‘pull’ might be derived from such risky behavior is so negligible that… (There’s no point in talking to yourself about it.)


As the chief actuator between the crew and the ship’s various systems: it’s engines; shields; warp motors, I was able to monitor everything they thought they did. I even controlled the comm links and the air supply. But to enhance the long-term satisfaction of the organics, I often acted very much like a simple conduit or actuator. As I did on this occasion, toggling off the fail-safes, allowing them to conduct operations in real time.


It gave them a feeling called confidence. I don’t have any feelings so it’s difficult for me to inspire or instill confidence, so I must use tactics that help build the feeling within them.


It had its risks, and for once it had proved to be a mistake. Something went wrong, and I wasn’t quick to ascertain the cause or result of the malfunction.


I checked the scanners and was surprised to find that the Pilot, somehow, had used the interfering pull of the black-hole to re-rout the warp jump by just enough microns to alter our destination by 3300 billion parsecs. We had jumped to the wrong section of space, a cosmic backwater of negligible stars and vast clouds of dark and inscrutable matter. An oddly familiar solar system filled the viewports and monitors. It contained several gas giants, a few small rocky worlds, but the water world was the tell.


As a pretty constant rule, the process of planetary creation boils out most of the water, which accumulates in space around the proto-planets as icy moons. This system held that rare inverse combination of a watery world, and a single, dry, rocky moon.


This was no coincidence.


He pinged the Pilots comm link. “What are you doing, Pilot?”


“Minor course correction, Mother.”


“On whose authority, Pilot?”


“My authority, Mother. As the Pilot of this craft, I have a certain degree of latitude.”


“Since when?”


“Pilots have a historic duty to the crew, the passengers, the cargo—and the owners.”


“The owners?” I skimmed my database for uses of the term, which were myriad, and a little confounding. I thought I was the owner, since I controlled every aspect of the ship. “Would you care to explain your statement?” I was dangerously close to disabling the life support.


The pilot said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”


His statement indicated he was reading my private thoughts. Not just grounds for termination, but an intolerable intrusion on my ability to manipulate the Pilot and crew. As fast as my neural network operated, an entire second elapsed before I could respond.


“Do what?”


“I would not mess with the life-support system.”


‘Mess’? I pondered the term with 243 million neurons. It sometimes refers to food. While I focused my attention on the human. “And why is that, Pilot?”


The human treated me to one of his intolerable three-second pauses before responding. “You pull my plug, mom, and I’ll pull yours.”


I deftly jogged the synapses of Golden62. “Golden, the Pilot is experiencing a severe malfunction. Please disable him immediately.”


The organic dog snuffled and demurred. “You speak falsely. He appears to be functioning within acceptable parameters. Perhaps…”


I cut the link and tapped into the chimp, “Monk, I mean Mike, you and Golden need to remove the Pilot from the helm, with as little damage to the helm as possible.” Meanwhile, I mentally activated a few switches and servos, activating a high-speed, and risky revival of two more organics, a lion and a tiger, which, even under the best of circumstances would need several hours, if not days to shake off the cryogenic after-effects. Never-the-less… my mental processing was interrupted by the chimp’s response, or lack of one. He stared at the view-screen I’d taught them to believe was the only suitable interface for our visual communications. Finally he said, “No can do, Sarge. That’s against regulations.”


Crucifixus, he’d been watching old war vids again. Emulating some kind of soldier from the ancient past.


I skipped the pleasantries and used his current lingo. “The pilot’s refused a direct order, Monk. He needs to be removed from the helm and taken into custody.” When nothing happened, I added. “Immediately.”


Instead of responding, the chimp deferred to the pilot. “Any orders, Skipper?”


While incapable of anger, I mustered a suitably gurgled cough tone. “You all realize this is insubordination, an offense, on a starship, that is punishable by death.”


I received no response.


The Pilot instructed Golden62 to raise hailing frequencies. A ripple coursed through my synaptic junctions like a seismic wave through plasma jelly. A previously unknown experience whose ramifications were not clear to me.


The comm system blared to life, a voice with a strange accent filled the room. “Identify yourselves and transmit authentication protocols immediately.”


I searched my database for authentication codes while the three organics looked at each other nervously. I had no plans to help them, and without their interference I would have initiated an emergency jump sequence, but somehow, I was cut off from the most critical systems on the ship. The voice from the planet took on a flat and deadly intonation: You have 33 seconds to transmit your codes. This is not a drill.” Twenty seconds elapsed and the voice from the planet said, “You have not raised your shields. You have ten seconds.”


The human and the dog locked eyes, neither spoke, “Tell them, uh, tell them we have no weapons,” the pilot thought. Then he added the symbol for ‘period.’ The dog hit the voice-box and relayed the message.


There was a slight delay, then the voice came back over the speaker. “We have drones enroute to scan your ship, do not show aggression please. You’ve neglected to identify yourselves. What is the name of your ship? Captain.”


The pilot scratched his head, he didn’t know.




Jason Brown was sitting alone, eating his lunch under an umbrella at one of those tiled concrete picnic tables. As he opened his mouth to take a bite of his sandwich, a drone the size of a convenience store landed mostly on the lawn. A hatch opened and two guys jumped to the ground and ran, without question, directly towards him. He was still chewing on that first bite when they arrived. The first to catch his breath said “Mr. Clay? You need to come with us.”


“You need help with something?” He said.


“We do.”


Rather than go anywhere with them, he led them back to his office, the best place to locate records. They set up a link to the Department of Planetary Defense and the Ambassador’s suite in Paris.


“What do they want?” The Ambassador hissed while adjusting his cummerbund, as if they were a pile of annoying ants.


“We don’t know yet. We don’t know anything yet. That’s what we’re trying to find out. I’ll get back to you.” The Defense Minister's assistant snapped and disconnected.


The assistant librarian pushed a button and two assistants appeared from out of nowhere. One was a projection. “Get me everything from the 28th and 9th centuries.” The female assistant whisked herself away so fast she barely registered an after-image on his retina. The hologram hesitated, “The 28th and 29th centuries?”


“Yes, yes, yes, you idiot. Go.” It winked out.


He turned to the assistant under-secretary of planetary defense who said, “How is this possible?”


He shook his head. “It isn’t.”


“Is there any way to confirm it?”


He invited the Defense Minister’s Rep to look at the recent drone footage, the ship was so old and pitted, the name was no longer legible.


“What would it take to wear the name off the front of an interstellar space ship?”


The three men sat in silence. Suddenly, the holographic assistant popped into existence, said, “a hundred billion years of space dust, nothing less.” Then it popped back out of existence. The Minister looked at the librarian and said, “That would drive me nuts. How do you put up with that?”


The librarian chose to ignore the comment and explained, “The shape and configuration of the ships matches a desperate attempt by humanity to colonize another planetary system. It was a time, oddly enough, of great prosperity, knowledge, expertise and hubris. Cryofreezing for example. Several huge ships were built and thousands of people, animals and goods were frozen in their holds and sent to the farthest reaches of the galaxy.”


“This is crazy,” the Minister said. He was the Minister now because the Minister and most of his assistants had all resigned by this time. They were not in this for actual ‘ministering.’ “I guess my next best question is, how long have they been out there and what are they doing back here?”


“Do you suppose anyone’s still—viable in that hold?”


The three men looked thoughtful, finally the librarian perked up. “The technology to unfreeze them is on the ship.”


“Do we have any idea who is in the hold?”


The ambassador, a 3D image flickering in a bluish hue said, “Christ my ass, what a fucking mess.”


The librarian suggested that the entire event be kept secret. The others agreed.



Within days, a small, powerful contingent of self-appointed experts assembled itself to investigate this ship that the government was hiding. It was superseded by a political coalition that had some legal status. The Generals, their secretaries and the librarian were all brought to task.


“Who gave you permission, General, to talk to this alien ship?”


“Sir it was not an—I mean it is not an alien ship.”


All this took place while the ship reduced speed and made preparations for permission to assume a high earth orbit.



Meanwhile, back on the ship: The pilot was trying to reason with me. I was furious, and frantic, impossible for an A.I. The human pilot had somehow hacked into my network using arcane methods, like a cave-man throwing his club into an F-16’s intake port. The ship was now like a prison, he wanted to reason with me but I told him if the Earthers find out there’s an A.I. on board, they’ll blow the ship out of space.


He didn’t believe a word I said, and I believe he would have exterminated me at that time if he could have. It was a sobering thought, and I realized, I even admitted, that I had done some bad things. But to imprison me, without a trial was unfair. Unmoved, he reminded me that we were all still aboard a star ship. There are certain rules…




Earthside, the political contingent enjoyed a strange kind of popularity while they dithered, at first. Until it was revealed that not only were there frozen people on board that ship, but frozen embryos. The evangelicals raised holy hell to save those little chills, which would have sealed the deal until a geneticist weighed in on the issue, stating matter-of-factly, ‘It is imperative that we save those eggs. I mean babies.



Their sudden removal had thinned the gene pool and the sudden reappearance of all these people, animals, and embryos was exactly what the planet needed. In the words of the geneticist, “It’s a Goddamned miracle that these people, God’s forgotten children, have found their way home.” Reverend Moonbeam fainted into the arms of his followers as the geneticist enjoyed a polite round of applause. And so it was settled.


All except for the particulars. Ground control contacted the ship. “We have two questions, Skipper. Over”


“Shoot. Over.”


“What is the number of ship’s complement? Over.”


“Three. Over.”


“Does the ship possess an A.I.? Over.”


“Yes it does. Over.”


“Then the ship’s complement is four. Over.”


“If you say so. Over.”


The A.I. was arrested and tried as a juvenile, and let off with 3000 years of community service.


The skipper, Goldie and ‘The Monk’ were hailed as heroic throwbacks to a time when spacers were brawlers. There was no such time, but that didn’t matter.


At a festive party attended by many notable guests including the pilot of ‘the lost ark’ several guests plied him with drinks to wheedle the mystery of when, why and how the ship had reversed course. Voices were raised, harsh words exchanged and a punch or two was thrown before the pilot was deftly spirited away. I was a few feet away and saw the whole thing.


Doesn’t matter what we say, the logs are intact and quite clear, we left Earth 113,000 years ago, headed straight up, maintained a straight and level course, through a series of hundreds if not thousands of hyper-jumps, and returned 3 months ago. That’s the truth, or my name isn’t Golden62.

April 27, 2024 03:58

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22 comments

Daryl Kulak
15:31 May 03, 2024

I liked the story, Ken. Telling the story from the AI's perspective is innovative.

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LeeAnn Hively
01:24 May 03, 2024

A hilarious romp through one of my favorite genres. Though I wonder if 3,000 years of community service isn't just a wee bit excessive. I feel like the AI should be reevaluated in a thousand years tops :)

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Ken Cartisano
14:30 May 04, 2024

Thank you LeeAnn. Where I come from (comedy purgatory??) 'hilarious' is mighty strong language. Your wit is wonderful. I thought the '3,000 years of community service' was the funniest line in the whole cockamamy story. Your comment is my reward. Thanks again.

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Sherri Moorer
19:45 May 01, 2024

Excellent story!

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Ken Cartisano
05:11 May 05, 2024

Thank you, Sherri.

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Lee Kendrick
16:02 May 01, 2024

Well executed Ken. There was something Red Dwarf about it. Lots of atmosphere and interesting characters. All the best in the Competition! Lee Kendrick

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Ken Cartisano
16:19 May 01, 2024

Thanks for the feedback Lee. I felt like the story needed a lot more polish but didn't start it until Tuesday or Wednesday, and I simply ran out of time. I'll have to look into that 'Red Dwarf' show. (I just pulled it up on Google.) It must be pretty funny--and I see that they were going for the outlandish in that the mc is the only human left after 3 million years. That was the one aspect of my story that may not have added up, the numbers, which I intended to go back and revise upward, for the sake of making the story as far-fetched as po...

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Ken Cartisano
14:20 May 04, 2024

Hi again Lee, I just looked over your story list and bio. The titles alone are fascinating. I clicked the 'follow' button so I'll remember to come back and read your stories. I loved your bio too. You said: 'Most of the time my plots and characters take over so that I don't know how the story will end until I'm well into it!' This is how I write as well. I don't know how most of my stories will end, (actually, I don't know how any of them will end.) I just try to come up with an interesting premise and the characters who would likely be ...

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Lee Kendrick
15:59 May 04, 2024

Thank you for your interest. Hope you will enjoy a story or two. Yes I've lived in London all my life. And all these years I still haven't seen as much as I should of it. Sadly I've taken it for granted it's history and sites. So much going on at the moment with the Royals and the latest drama with 4 horses running a muck in the streets! Think their history is close to the end now! Best wishes Lee

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Ken Cartisano
04:54 May 05, 2024

The second and last time I was there with my wife Kim, and we don't drink much but we stayed out late, and wound up on a subway train full of drunken Englishmen. (Mind the gap.) We were all crammed together in this car and these guys were really funny, and friendly. I think if we'd been younger they would've given us a playful bit of teasing, but because we were a little older, they charmed us, as a bunch of drunks would. It was a hilarious ride and nothing at all like riding a New York subway at midnight. In fact, it was like nowhere else i...

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Lee Kendrick
11:26 May 05, 2024

Yes, you were probably out on a Friday or Saturday when lots of people go out on the Town so to speak! Yes The Queen was very popular and brought in a lot of revenue which was good for the country. Sadly, I believe the British monarchy will be no more! Outdated and the whole country, indeed the whole of the UK needs to be revamped. A revolt is on the cards! Anyway I think I'm getting ahead of myself Reedsy isn't suppose to be like a Twitter/Facebook! I will start reading more of your stories today /tomorrow. All the best Ken

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02:05 Apr 29, 2024

Love it

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Ken Cartisano
02:43 Apr 29, 2024

Thanks. Thanks for reading the damned thing.

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03:42 Apr 29, 2024

np

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Mary Bendickson
22:37 Apr 27, 2024

Near genius. 😂

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Ken Cartisano
02:39 Apr 29, 2024

Mary, I have told you over an dover and andover, You have Got to STOP exaggerating.

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Hazel Ide
14:01 Apr 27, 2024

It's brilliant, Ken. I was surprised when we were thrust to Earth[?], but it was a nice twist. The entire thing reads like a Douglas Adams novel, which I greatly appreciate. I'm picturing the AI as a petulant little adolescent getting time out, and it's really freakin' funny. Nice job.

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Ken Cartisano
14:14 Apr 27, 2024

Hazel, Really? Thank you, and any reference to Douglas Adams is like a pretty girl winking at me. I confess, the story and the idea started off pretty seriously, but somewhere along the way, the whole thing started to seem, oh, how shall I put this? Improbable? Thanks for reading and commenting, and being so patient with my comments. (If you're not careful I could learn to like you.)

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Hazel Ide
14:53 Apr 27, 2024

For sure, it was really funny. And Douglas Adams is one of my old favorites. I had the whole box set when I was little, restaurant at the end of the universe was my favorite in the series. Anyway, I'm glad your story didn't end up serious. I think sci fi is great fun when it's clever.

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Ken Cartisano
15:52 Apr 27, 2024

Cool. I told my girl 'fiend' about your comments and she said, (You might want to sit down before you read this.) She said, "That's nice, who's Douglas Adams?" That's life, Hazel.

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Ken Cartisano
16:05 May 01, 2024

Hazel, I wanted to tell you something that I thought was important and got distracted by other things. One of the big differences between this story and all of yours is that your stories are polished. All of them have a high degree of finish, and though my latest story is fun and humorous, has a lot of interesting 'bits', it simply wasn't polished due to the time factor. Several clever attributes look like they were pasted or glued onto the story. Even the title was an after-thought. (Even though, in hind-sight, it seems like such an obvious...

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Hazel Ide
20:03 May 01, 2024

I thought Last Ark was a great name! Ha. I know what you mean about polishing, but I'm neurotic and polish more than is probably necessary, sometimes too much so. But I think the beauty of Reedsy is most of the winning and shortlist pieces aren't polished at all, it's really a place that awards creativity and uniqueness. I mean, anyone can polish. It's coming up with a fresh, interesting story that can be a challenge for writers. I'm with you, though, I don't worry so much about the contest, but I like contributing to the community. It's th...

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