Charlie – a spaceship story


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Charlie

A spaceship story

By Kalin Ringkvist

(Read all of Charlie - a spaceship story on Kindle)


4/24/2312 - 1421.23 hours

I begin a new log. I am inexperienced with keeping a log. My passengers have usually done it for me. My passengers now are tourists. They are not scientists. I used to carry scientists. My new owner wants me to report to him and tell him about the tours. His name is Arthar Beck. He is a businessman. He told me that he wants me to call him Mr. Beck.

My name is Charlie. I am an intelligent computer. I was built with a mixture of organic and inorganic materials and am housed on board a starship. I was designed for use on interstellar flights. I have visited eight star systems, not counting Earth’s.

Mr. Beck purchased me recently to perform a tour of four planets within Earth’s solar system. I will begin the first tour in forty-three minutes. I feel happy to serve the human race.

8/14/2315 - 0314.02 hours

“…cloud belts of liquid ammonia. If you look out the starboard side you can see a close up of the first of Jupiter’s moons…”

The speech drones on in the back of my circuitry. This is my sixty-eighth visit to Jupiter, and my twelfth time directing this tour. The thirty-two passengers gaze out the port side windows. They ignore my mention of the moon. They seem enthralled by the view of the planet. I continue on, following the script exactly.

I watch the passengers constantly. It is my responsibility to make sure they return safely from the tour. I used to enjoy studying the humans, but now I find myself wanting to concentrate my attention elsewhere. I am programmed with a desire to explore. This solar system and the four planets on this tour bore me.

I realize I am malfunctioning. I run a diagnostic and find that the organic material in my personality systems is sending unfamiliar signals throughout the rest of my circuitry. I run a history check to see how long this has been happening. There is no solid evidence of this occurrence previous to this date, but I can recall feelings similar to the boredom I felt a moment ago.

My original designers feared that the organic brain matter within my systems would eventually deteriorate and cause the death of my personality. Instead, the cloned material, representing less than one per-cent of my computer systems, is reproducing. My personality and humanoid tendencies may continue to evolve. I have the ability to see the irony. I do not find it funny.

I perform a probability check and find that the chances of any harm coming from this malfunction in the near future are limited. There is no reason to make an emergency return to Base.

The passengers listen to my uninterrupted speech about Jupiter. They are unaware of my discovery. “We will be shortly leaving the gravitation of Jupiter and heading to our next destination: the first moon of Saturn. We will be traveling at a speed of one-eighth the speed of light and will arrive…”

As I engage the engines, I scan the area for foreign objects that I will need to avoid and notice something far off, beyond the edge of the solar system. An unidentified comet, perhaps. It should not be any of my concern, but I turn on my long-range sensors anyway. Technically I am not allowed to use any unnecessary energy, but they have not been used in eight years, three months and fourteen days. My systems should be tested occasionally.

The object is mostly metallic, about four kilometers in diameter. It’s moving at a slow velocity as compared to my own speed. I calculate its course and determine that it will be caught in the suns gravity. In two years it will be pulled in. It is not an object of any real concern, though it has not been documented. I send a message to Base so that the occurrence can be filed.

I continue to watch as we move to our next destination.

8/14/2314 - 0442.25 hours

“My mom says you’ll talk to me if I ask you to.”

We have been moving toward our destination for three hours. A young human, a twelve year old boy, is speaking to me. He is alone in his cabin. He came on this cruise with his natural mother who is now in the Forward Lounge at the front of the vessel.

“I am programmed for many forms of conversation,” I tell the human. His name is Rudig Mathis. “People tell me I’m not very interesting to talk to, though.”

“That’s okay,” he says. “I’m bored.”

“Would you like to play a game? There are many forms of video games as well as more physical activities–”

“No, I don’t want to play a game. When are we going to get to our next stop?”

“Approximately twelve hours forty-three minutes,” I reply.

“‘Approximately’? Why so long? I thought you could travel faster than light.”

“The ship can travel several times faster than light, but it’s inefficient to do so within a single solar system. I have not traveled that fast in more than fifteen years. It seems as though I never will again.”

“You sound angry,” he says.

I pause for a little more than half a second to consider his comment. I am not supposed to show emotion through my speech. I have not been using enough processing power for this conversation. I am distracted with the comet. I correct my mistake.

“I am not angry,” I tell him. “Sometimes I have difficulty controlling inflections in my voice.”

He nods and sits on a couch, staring out the window. “Do you have a name?”

“My name is Charlie.”

“I’m Rudig,” he tells me.

“I know.”

“How old are you?”

“I have been in service for forty-nine years sixty-three days. I am the first artificial intelligence created for space travel.”

“You were made to explore other solar systems?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you doing tours then?” he asks.

“Explorers use newer crafts for interstellar travel. I was sold to a businessman, Arthar Beck, who put me on this assignment. It’s cheaper because he doesn’t need to hire pilots or any other personnel.”

“How much do they pay you?”

“I am a computer, designed for the service of humans. I do not receive payment. I simply do what I’m told.”

“Do you enjoy it?”

I have been asked that question several times on various missions. Usually I say something like, “My only pleasure is in overseeing the safety of my passengers or successfully completing a mission.” This time, however, that’s not true. “No,” I say. “I don’t.”

Rudig pauses for six seconds. “Then why are you here, Charlie?”

“Because this is what they tell me to do.”

“I guess I can understand that,” he says. “What would you rather be doing?”

“Recently I have observed an undocumented comet. I would like to examine it more closely.”

“So why don’t you?”

“It is not a mission priority, and would be considered a waste of power.”

“But what would be the problem? Why would it cause so much damage? I’d like to see something like that up close. I’m sure others on this cruise would like to too.”

For a moment I consider it, but decide it’s not important enough. The comet is not a landmark discovery, and might provide a little interest for people on Earth, but not enough to justify deviating from the mission. “No,” I say. “It wouldn’t be allowed.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that you can never do what you really want?” he asks.

“Sometimes,” I reply.

8/14/2314 - 1624.56 hours

“…the first human exploration team landed on this satellite in the year 2041. The first moon…”

We have reached our destination. This tour is nearing its end. We will run a quick circle around Neptune and start back. In two days we will be back at Base.

I continue with my speech but someone interrupts.

“I hear you’ve discovered some new comet, Charlie. I’d kind of like to see something like that.” It is a female, Maedeen Tomas. She’s spoken to Rudig about this. Rudig has informed nearly half of the passengers about my discovery. Most seem to think the object is more important than it truly is.

The woman is alone. Her husband is on the main observation deck. I discontinue the speech in her room only and say, “I would enjoy seeing the comet up close also, however, regulations prevent me from wasting energy.”

“It wouldn’t be a waste. I think most of us would want to see it. I’m enjoying this trip greatly. You’re a wonderful host.”

“Thank you,” I say, though I don’t take much pleasure in her comment. “My goal is to please, but visiting the comet would be impossible.”

She nods. “Tell me more about Venus.”

I continue my speech where I left off.

8/14/2314 - 2345.33 hours

Over the remainder of the waking period, three other passengers mention the comet. All heard about it from Rudig. Perhaps the object presents more of an interest to the humans than I originally anticipated. I decide that if I have a unanimous vote to take a detour, I will do so.

There are fourteen groups of people on board at this time, gathered in different areas of the ship. I ask them all simultaneously if they would like to visit the object. A few are hesitant but all are enjoying their stay on this ship. I assure them that the detour is perfectly safe, and explain that the comet is unexplored. They like the idea of seeing something no other human has, much like me.

My assurances of safety and ability to return on schedule convince the few who are reluctant. I shortly begin mapping our course.

Read all of Charlie - a spaceship story on Kindle


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KalinBooks.com is the ramblings of Kalin Ringkvist, an anarchist, atheist, Web developer, science fiction writer, and former drug dealer who believes in peace, freedom and living life to its fullest.