Because you’re a Robot

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay

“Clank!” Jylla lay on her side and smashed her wrench across the grease covered pipe which billowed steam. “Clank! Why is there steam coming out of my fuel line?” She smashed it again.

“User Jylla, please refrain from bludgeoning the water system.” Clank manoeuvred into the cramped maintenance hatch, below the network of circuitry and pipes, with the straining of motorised mechanisms. Its copper bulk barely scraped through.

“This is my ship you lump of scrap, and if I say it’s my fuel line it’s my fuel line. Get it working again.”

Clank gently took Jylla’s wrist in its vice shaped grip and directed her wrench to the appropriate pipe, two slots down, the one leaking fuel.

“Thank you,” she tightened the fittings until the leaking stopped, “Sorry for calling you scrap.”

“I have no feelings on the matter. However in my observations I have concluded that you mean it as a term of endearment, which I appreciate.” There was a thrumming from deeper within the ship and the lights beyond the maintenance hatch flickered on. “I believe our efforts have been successful. I estimate a 73% probability that the cockpit has computational power, now that life support systems will not fail.” Clank assisted by dragging Jylla from the maintenance shaft and into the cockpit.

It may as well have been the maintenance shaft, it was a cramped mess of circuitry and pipes welded in a hap hazard manner to the hull, and that was before the collision.

 “Yeah, yeah, let’s see how screwed we are.” She shoved Clank out of the way and swivelled into the suspended leather chair, clicking over the screens and inputs which booted up with sickly pale light. She scrunched her brow in thougth, “I can’t make sense of it, where are they?”

“If I may,” Clank extended its interactive port and plugged into the mainframe. “We are drifting thirty two kilometres away from further danger.”

“That’s good news.”

“The ship that collided with us is twenty three minutes from the pull of the star’s gravity well. They will not survive without assistance.”

“That isn’t,” Jylla panned a screen towards her and furiously uploaded commands from her neural linked finger pads. “We can jettison our escape pod to them, they can abandon ship until emergency services arrive in… three days?”

“Our escape pod autopilot was wiped in the collision.”

“So we’ll pilot it.”

“I estimate a 32% chance of success should we leave the safety of the tug.”

“There must be three or four people on that rig, let’s go.”

“Many would not sacrifice themselves for a 32% chance of success, let alone for strangers, let alone strangers who collided with us. If you knew the occupants that might make more sense to my calculations… others would wait for emergency services.”

“And I wouldn’t judge them for it, Clank. But I’ll have to live with myself if I waited.”

“I don’t understand.”

Jylla pulled her vacuum cap down, donned her visor, and radiation mask. They hissed into place, sealing and pressurising her suit and she put her palm up to Clank’s cheek. The cameras in its head swivelled and panned to hone in on her.

“That’s because you’re a robot, Clank.” Her eyes were smiling through the blue filter, pinching at the corners in the way Clank had come to recognise as genuine affection. “But I still love ya! Come now, those hoons don’t have much time.”

They shuffled out of the cramped compartment and sealed themselves in the escape pod. Jylla tucked herself into a ball on the seat and Clank fit into the compartmental space provided for it. She looked around, that same gleeful smile in her eyes.

Clank recognised the expression from his file name: ‘treasured visuals’ and wanted to know how to illicit it for future reference. “What new information is causing your mirth?”

“This pod is bigger than our ship!”

Clank filed that under the growing file of humour it had been compiling, the pod was dimensionally inferior to the tug, but it caused her joy to make the comment none the less. “Proceeding with launch, three, two, one, brace.”

They jolted within the tiny compartment as the life pod detached from the tug and rumbled with boosters, which Clank was directing through the data port in its compartment.

“The damage doesn’t look too bad from out here,” Jylla gazed through the rear porthole of the pod as their copper tug receded into the void.

“I believe most of the damage was of an ephemeral nature, lasting long enough to compromise our reactive capabilities.”

“Ephemeral? You’re going to have to dumb it down for a simple organic, Clank.”

“There is nothing simple about you, Jylla. Request acknowledged, ephemeral, lasting for a brief amount of time, from the Latin word ephemerus, derived from the Greek eph…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s an old word that meant something sometime and means what you said this time.”

“Precisely,” Clank’s red indicator light blinked as a stand in for body language while it was packed away.

“I still don’t understand, the damage was temporary?”

“It is likely that – input received, we are docking with the antagonistic rig.”

“Let’s not use harsh language, Clank,” she tapped it on the head.

The pod rumbled into silence as the boosters cut out and Jylla was filled with nausea as the retro thrusters manoeuvred them into docking position. There was a loud clank as they made contact.

“Clank!” Jylla laughed, “That’s you.”

“Hah, hah, hah,” Clank replied monotonously, it stored the sound of her giggling under file name: ‘treasured sounds’.

The seal hissed and pressurised and the pod door creaked open into a broken, glitching mess. Whatever this rig was for, it had a small compartment, partitioned at one end for extremely economic sleeping quarters. Amber hazard lights strobed weakly from behind burst panels where overloaded wiring sparked and there was the smell of burnt leather and smoke.

Someone coughed in the dim, technological ruin.

“Survivors!” Jylla ambled through the debris and removed a toppled console from a soot covered mechanic. “You alright there, void sailor?”

“Radiation,” the hapless man coughed.

“I’m not reading any on my HUD, how many crew are you?”

“Two, pilot was at the helm,” he coughed again.

“Any bots?” He shook his head. “Can you move?” Dazed, he nodded weakly, “Alright, into the pod, I’ll get your pilot.”

Jylla ushered him into the pod and searched for the pilot as Clank plugged into the ship computer, while pointing to the over turned flight controls. Jylla sifted through them to find the pilot.

“New inputs, this ship was struck by a radiation flare from the nearby star. Massive compared to a long hauler, too much for our or their systems to handle at once.”

“That must have been what hit us initially, why we didn’t detect their ship. The ephemeral damage took out our systems long enough to collide with the only other ship in the quadrant.” Jylla was shining a light into the pilot’s eyes, a young woman who didn’t react to it at all.

“That human is concussed.”

“Obviously.”

“New inputs, we should expect more volatile stellar activity, rig unsalvageable. I recommend we disembark using our escape pod and link up with the tug immediately.”

“Help me with the pilot.”

“Stand aside,” Clank gently lifted the pilot and followed Jylla back to the pod.

The other crew member was half passed out in the cramped space. Jylla squeezed in and turned to take the weight of the pilot as Clank passed her in.

The ship was wracked with a pulse of energy, rocking it violently and the wiring glitched and lashed out. The electricity pulsed towards and through Clank like a lightning rod, keeping the people safe from frying as the ship threw them about within the tiny cabin.

“Clank,” Jylla cried, “Clank, are you alright?”

“Affirmative, diagnostics indicate minimal damage. My circuit breakers negated the brunt of the surge.”

“What happened?”

“Data suggests another stellar flare – complications – pod hatch systems compromised – computing.”

“Can we force it closed?”

“It would not provide an adequate seal – input – five minutes until we drift into the no safe zone of the star – analysing – I can seal the pod using the integrated systems on the rig.”

Jylla processed that, “You’ll be trapped here.”

“A necessary sacrifice.”

“No,” she rushed out of the pod and gripped onto Clank, “No, there must be another way.”

“It is quite alright, user Jylla, I am just a machine. You can leave me behind with minimal damage to your social utility.”

“You idiot!” She slammed her fist into its torso. “I can’t just leave you here. You can’t just accept death! I order you to come with me!”

Clank ran through the analysis of its user from the moment she booted it up to now, filing memories under categories that summarised her condition, as a human, flawed and perfect. They operated on emotional logic at the worst of times without intense focus and training, which she lacked at this moment.

The feelings were sometimes too powerful for them to handle, an advantage robots had over them, Clank thought. But now its programming was challenged by her command and it needed something more than cold logic. It could decide, it realised, decide how Jylla’s file impacted its existence. Clank narrowed its query further, making a decision based on one simple logic, that Jylla was something which necessitated protection.

At any cost.

“But I ordered you,” she cried as Clank overpowered her, pushed her into the pod, and sealed the door on its side. “I don’t understand.”

It activated the jettison procedure and Clank spoke over their comm. “You don’t understand, because you’re a human. Its indicator light blinked through the porthole window, “The pod shall escort you safely back to the tug.”

“But, Clank, why?”

“In time, you may come to understand. I have grown very fond of you.”

She watched helplessly as the comm fuzzed out with static. The rig receded into the star, flickering with heat. Clank turned and surveyed the destruction of the rig from within, as the heat and flares tore the hull to bits. It used its last few moments to review its files of Jylla, reliving through ‘treasured visuals’ and ‘treasured sounds’. Within an instant it had a snapshot of her which it held in its mind, it decided to interpret the input that she was safe as a feeling of joy.

Then the void took him.

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