“S.A.M.”: A Halloween Science Fiction Story

Millions of miles stood between the ship and the anomaly it approached, yet the bright ring that circled it still filled the curved monitor that encompassed the forward hull of the bridge.  Sam sat at the forward station, keying in commands for recording and analysis that would be viewed by Earth’s scientists many years from now.  When finished, he leaned back in the chair and simply allowed his eyes to roam the image, taking it in.

The fact that he might be the only being ever to see it was not lost on him.

“Record log entry.” he said.  A light activated on the station in front of him.  “Day five thousand five hundred eighty-six.  October twenty-four by Earth calendar.  The ship continues to approach the anomaly.”  He paused.  “I apologize.  This is Sam.  I was never programmed to perform this duty.  I don’t know what information to impart to create an appropriate log entry, at least, at this stage of the mission.”

He pressed a few keys, examining the sensor data.

“I must apologize,” he said.  “I do not know how to draw meaningful conclusions from the sensor data.  This was never part of my duties.”  He scanned the monitor image with his eyes again.  “It’s big.  The ring around it is bright, too bright for human eyes to endure.  The center is dark, but there are periodic fluctuations of color.” Pause.  “I suspect Dr. Jensen could have described the anomaly in terms of its emotional impact.  I’m afraid I cannot.  I do not know myself if what I am seeing is beautiful or terrible.  Perhaps such things no longer have any meaning.”

He looked down.  “I am alone…as you know.  End log entry.”

The console light went dark.

Sam unbuckled himself from the forward station and kicked off, drifting from wall to wall and checking various instrument panels, readings and such. Maintaining the ships systems was one of the first duties he had been programmed to perform aboard ship, and it came second nature to him now.  According to the bridge computers, all systems aboard the Jensen Visitor were operating within normal parameters.

Sam put a hand against the hull and propelled himself toward the rear hatch to the bridge.  From there, he pushed himself down the main corridor.  The Visitor’s main corridor, running from the bridge all the way down the cylinder to the rear engines, served to house all the workstations of the ship, as well as connecting the airlocks and small exploratory shuttles.  These were not intended as emergency craft, emergency vehicles did little good in deep space, but as vehicles for exploration in situations where the larger Visitor spacecraft could not maneuver.  They were also equipped with robotic arms to conduct repairs and changes to the external equipment if necessary.  On his way down the corridor, Sam performed his usual routine checks of all this equipment, careful to avoid the airlocks.  For reasons that eluded him, he did not like to go near them.

Moving to the main engine room, Sam checked all systems and even took apart some components to perform visual inspections.  Everything checked out.  In the past, he had been required to perform maintenance on the ventilation shafts and scrubbers, to ensure that the quality of air in the atmospheric system would be satisfactory when the crew was revived, but he had not performed this task in a very long time.  There seemed no longer to be any need for it.

It was time to move to the rotating sections.  These were connected to the main corridor by open hatches.  It was necessary to turn one’s feet toward them and grasp the ladder once one was in place, then climb “down” the ladder (although until one was about half way to the bottom, the sensation of “up” or “down” was not apparent).  Sam did indeed experience the false sense that gravity increased, actually caused by the inertia of his own body pushing him to the floor.  The rotation was such that the false gravity was approximately three quarters of a gee, near Earth-normative.  Sam persisted in feeling the difference between the Visitor’s false gravity and that of Earth, and never became accustomed to the slightly lower gravity of the rotating sections.  Though incapable of human emotion, this “feeling”, a persistent sensation of being far away from the place he was programmed to live, was as close to homesickness as Sam ever felt.

There were three rotating rings, surrounding and encircling the Visitor.  The first, where Sam now stood, housed the crew quarters, for use before they entered cryo-sleep and after their revival.  These were designed for comfort and entertainment, since the crew was intended to be awake for nearly four years of its seventeen-year voyage to the anomaly.  The ship’s vast entertainment library contained thousands of hours of television, films, sports, games, even audio books, though they were also supplied with hand held eReaders that contained thousands of books.  There were even real gaming tables in entertainment centers on the deck, including table tennis, air hockey and the like.  This was the deck upon which Sam lingered the longest, for in addition to performing his usual inspections and maintenance, he spent hours watching old television shows or reading books.

Sam entered his own quarters (there had been some argument over whether an android should be given its own quarters, but company founder and Sam’s creator Dr. Ryan Jensen had put his foot down on the subject) and paused for a moment in front of the mirror there.  His reflection seemed strange to him, so he looked away.  There was no need to look in any case; he well knew his own visage.  He had been designed to imitate human appearance as closely as possible, though he had been told many times his skin “looked plasticky”. His head was bald, skin a pinkish Caucasian tone.  His eyes were a soft blue, quite pretty he had been told, although it disconcerted humans when his irises opened wider than normal and upon command, sometimes to different diameters in each eye.  He had no nostrils, as he had no need to breathe and had not been equipped with smell sensitive equipment.  He had skin clusters sensitive to air particulates, to gauge air quality and detect smoke, but these were not located in his nose.  The nose was merely there to satisfy the human need to see a face which did not differ from their own, to make him less “creepy”, in other words.  His skin did have a great deal of plasticity and flexibility, allowing for his ease of movement and affording him the ability to mimic a range of human expressions, although he rarely did so, since he lacked the feeling to genuinely create them.  He preferred to remain in his default expression, one of kind attentiveness, with a hint of a smile.  Humans seemed to like this expression; they said he looked like “a nice guy” that way.  Sam’s eyes lingered on his dark blue coveralls, adorned with a patch over the left side of his chest, where the name Jensen Aerospace was stitched in large cursive letters.  Dr. Jensen insisted that his name went on everything, and indeed, it was painted on the outside of the very spacecraft in which Sam now voyaged toward the unknown.

He stepped away from the mirror and lay down on his “bed”.  Sam did not require the comforts of a mattress, so this was really more of a diagnostic platform where he could be taken offline and his systems checked and maintained.  The bed could be programmed to take him offline each night (or rather, the hours ship chronometers classified as night hours) and awaken him each morning, but a curious sensation had grown on him as the voyage went on, that he would be taken offline and never awakened.  This sensation had grown and grown until Sam eventually stopped going offline and simply stayed awake around the clock.  He was capable of performing a simple self-diagnostic, and day and night were meaningless in space, and even more meaningless to an android in space.

“Display: resume,” he said. The monitor activated and began playing “The Godfather, Part II”, the movie Sam had last been watching.   “Audio: resume.” The audio system began playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major.  Sam picked up his eReader and clicked the power button.  The graphic novel he had been reading, volume four of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s “Y the Last Man” appeared on the screen.

This cacophony of sight and sound would have reduced the entertainment to meaninglessness to a human, but Sam was able to process all of them quite easily, and found the freedom of being able to experience all of them simultaneously to be oddly soothing.  Humans hated it when he did this, and generally had refused to allow it.

A sound came through the wall of his quarters: rhythmic pounding.  Boom.  Boom.  Booommmmm.

“Display off. Audio off.”  Sam sat up as the monitor and audio system ceased playback. He cocked his head and listened.  He did not hear anything except the usual thrum of the ships systems.

Sam stood and walked back to the ladder, climbing it to the main corridor.  Once there, he propelled his way to the bridge and checked all the readouts there: nothing.  He turned and kicked his way back through the corridor to the engine room. Again, nothing.

He looked down the central corridor and pondered.  Where could the sound have originated?  Since it had come through the wall of his quarters, he concluded the next likely source would be in adjacent quarters.  He climbed back down the ladder and walked to the quarters behind his own.  Nothing.  He then walked around to all the quarters, entertainment center, and emergency medical bay, all the other rooms around the habitat ring.  Nothing.

Finally, he returned to his own quarters and lay again on his bed.

“Display: resume. Audio: resume.”  The movie and music resumed play.

Boom. Boom. Booommmm.

Sam looked up. This time the sound clearly came from above.

“Display off. Audio off.” He stood and ran to the ladder, climbing to the central corridor.  He poked his head out, looking up and down the cylinder toward the bridge, then back the other direction toward engineering.

Silence hung over the ship.  The ring of light was now at the very edges of the monitor, and the black center of the anomaly with its flashes of color encompassed the entire forward hull.  The anomaly was growing, or growing closer, Sam was not sure and did not know how to analyze it or what to do if we were able to do so.

Sam kicked and floated to the bridge.  “Open transmission.” A light appeared on the console. “This is Sam, aboard the Jensen Aerospace Visitor.  I’m hearing noises, a pounding sound, repeating in series of three.  Thus far I am unable to determine the source of the noise.  I will continue to investigate. Also, the anomaly…it’s bigger now.  Visitor out. End transmission.”  He knew it was standard procedure to report anything out of the ordinary to Earth, although in this case it seemed futile.  It would be fifteen years before anyone on earth heard this news, by which point the source of the noise or the anomaly itself could have long since destroyed the Visitor and Sam.

Or worse, left him floating adrift in space forever.

Sam tried to distract his mind from that conclusion.  He had thought about it many times.  This idea, a picture of him floating endlessly in space, had grown in his mind, and he found it increasingly troubling.

The thought came to him that perhaps the source of the sound was in one of the remaining two rotating sections.  Sam propelled his way down the corridor to the second hatch, and climbed down its ladder.  As he descended, the dormant lights activated, illuminating the section.  This ring was essentially the ship’s exercise facility.  A running track circled the floor in an endless loop, with various workout equipment along the side.  This ring also contained the ship’s medical bays and diagnostic beds, though Sam had always found this terminology amusing since the human version of diagnostics was far inferior to his own diagnostic procedures.  Medical doctor’s made best guesses about diagnoses based upon symptoms, blood work and other laboratory procedures, whereas Sam’s own diagnostic station could determine the exact fault in his hardware or programming subroutines within a few hours of automated checks.

Sam walked the deck.  All the exercise equipment was locked in place, as it should be.  None of the medical equipment was active.  He checked all systems.  Everything seemed normal.  This was the area of the ship he visited least, it was entirely intended for the human crew.  He had no need of it, and therefore rarely visited, and only to perform routine inspection and maintenance, which, since these were not vital ship’s systems, was not needed daily, or even weekly.  The entire ring was silent, save for the steady mechanical thrum of the mechanisms that continued to rotate the section around the main corridor of the Visitor.  Sam supposed he could deactivate that as well, but he had never been programmed to perform such a major shift in ship operations.  He had no idea how it would affect navigation or other ship’s control systems.  He was never meant for this much responsibility; he knew that only too well.  He could only keep trying to go on, trying to do what he could.  He could only maintain, and survive.  He had no choice.

Sam climbed the ladder to the main corridor and moved to the next hatch.  There, he paused, staring down the ladder.

The third rotating section held the cryo-stasis units, and individual medical bays designed to monitor the crew before, during, and after their entry into cryo-sleep.  It was entirely devoted to the purpose of keeping the crew alive and healthy as they underwent a process the human body was never meant to withstand.  Down this ladder, Sam’s creator Dr. Ryan Jensen and his family lay in their cryo-units.  Sam had not been down there since the incident, the incident that had cost the Visitor her crew and left him here in deep space, all alone. Down there was the Visitor’s ultimate failure, and for all intents and purposes, was now the ship’s morgue.

Sam drifted above the hatch and stared into the darkness.  No sound came from the section below.  It was almost certainly not the source of the pounding he had heard.  There was no real reason to go down there, was there? No reason he should have to go down there again.

Sam shook his head.  What was he doing?  Trying to talk himself out of checking the section? Why?  He had to find the source of the sound he had heard.  To ignore it could prove a fatal mistake.  He knew that.  Taking hold of the ladder, he pulled himself down and as faux gravity took hold, he descended.

The lights in the section activated as he neared the floor.  Sam stepped onto the deck and gazed down the ring as it sloped up in either direction.  The cryo-units were there, of course, lining the sides of the ring, with the corresponding medical bays across from them.  He took a few steps, laying a hand on the nearest unit, refusing to look through the glass and see the form of the human within, only looking at the front of the unit and the technical readouts there.  The temperature was still being maintained, keeping the body inside cold, Sam had left that operational to preserve the crew for burial on Earth upon the Visitor’s eventual return.  But the chemical balance, the medical component intended to keep their cells from crystallizing and rupturing in the intense cold, that system was now dead.  This unit’s occupant, and by extension the occupants of all the units on the deck, since they all used the same system, would never awaken from cryo-sleep.

Sam walked across to the corresponding medical bay.  It had been deactivated, with no reason to keep monitoring the vitals of the crew Sam had decided to turn them all off.  He couldn’t help accidentally glancing at the name on the placard there: JENSEN, KRISTA.  Sam looked away.  He didn’t want to look at the name, and he couldn’t look at the person inside the unit.  He did not know where to look.

He walked to the next unit, but his frustration only worsened.  Nothing was different, except the name of the occupant: JENSEN, CARLY.  Sam placed a hand over his eyes.  What was happening to him?

“I’m behaving foolishly,” he said to no one.  “I’m here to check the systems, nothing more.”

He forced himself to lower his hand.  The systems here were the same.  He moved on.  The next unit was the same.  Sam stood there, hand on the glass, this time unable to stop himself from looking through it.  This was Dr. Ryan Jensen’s cryo-unit.

It’s a big responsibility, Sam.  Are you sure you’re up to it?

“I tried to repair the system,” Sam said, leaning over the unit and peering inside.  “I tried…”

BOOM. BOOM. BOOMMMM.

Sam jerked around.  The sound had come from somewhere behind him, up and around the ring.  One of the units…?  Sam stood very still, listening, his eyes dialed wide open.

There were seven cryo-units left.  These were all employees of Dr. Jensen, of Jensen Aerospace.  Sam did not know them personally.  He had been brought along with the Jensen family.  Nevertheless, they had died along with the Jensens when the system supplying the chemical “antifreeze” to the sleeping crew failed.  None could have survived. No one in those units could be alive, much less…

“Pounding on the glass,” Sam finished aloud.

No one.

Sam walked, slowly at first, then faster, around the ring, looking briefly at each unit.  He did not stop to examine them closely, he looked at the readings and checked the occupant and moved on.  Why he moved so quickly he wasn’t certain, but he did not want to stay here.  He wanted OUT, that much he knew.

None of the remaining units showed any sign that anything was different.  The crew of the Visitor was dead, every last one of them.

All dead.

Sam mounted the ladder and climbed to the central corridor.  The lights winked out behind him.  Immediately, he realized he was in total darkness.  He had left the hatch open (against standard procedure but he couldn’t bear to close it and leave himself locked in the cryo-sleep ring) and the lights in the main corridor should have been active.

Sam climbed, feeling the sensation of gravity fade away, until he reached the top of the ladder.

“Lights on,” he said.  The lights activated, illuminating the corridor, then, one after another, they winked out.

“Lights ON,” Sam repeated.

Again, the lights activated.  Sam lifted himself from the tunnel and closed the hatch behind him.  Perhaps he had bumped the switch on his way through without realizing it, he thought, though he knew full well there was a screen over the console to prevent just such a thing.

As he pushed himself off toward the hatch to the habitat ring, Sam became aware of a slight hissing sound: ssssssssssss

Unable to turn in mid-drift, Sam waited until his momentum brought him to the habitat ring hatch and turned to look up and down the corridor, searching for the place from which the noise originated.  His first thought was that he was hearing a loss of air somewhere, a dangerous prospect indeed, for though he did not require air, the loss of pressure to the ship might prove catastrophic.  Additionally, there were any number of hydraulic systems that might no longer function if the pressure loss was theirs.

The sound seemed to be coming from the direction of the bridge.

sssssssssssssssssssssssss

Sam kicked off and listened as he floated toward the bridge.  The sound grew louder and louder, and as he reached the hatch and pulled himself into the bridge, he discovered its source.  The ship’s intercom was on, and a loud hiss of static emanated from the speaker.  Sam had not activated the ship’s intercom since the incident.  No one else was on the ship for him to call, thus there was no need to use it.

And yet…

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

“Perhaps I…” but Sam’s voice trailed away, unable to finish the thought.  As an android, his motions were calculated and precise, far more precise than any humans.  The notion that he was bouncing around the ship, bumping into one panel after another, and activating buttons and switches protected by plastic screens along the way, was entirely absurd.

“But I must have,” Sam told himself forcefully.  “I must.”

He reached up and slid the screen open, then moved to deactivate the intercom.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS “HELLO?” Click.

Sam emitted an audible gasp, a strange phenomenon since he did not breathe and his vocal emissions were the product of speakers in his throat.  He was certain he had heard a voice there at the end, just before he turned off the intercom.  But that was impossible…

He slowly moved his finger toward the button.  Slowly.  As it moved closer, he realized it was…trembling.  Sam snatched his hand back and closed it into a fist, steadying the servos in his arm and hand.  This was not right.  He was not programmed to feel fear, or nervousness or…well, anything, really.

Sam brought his finger back up and pressed the button.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Nothing.  No voice.

Sam moved his finger to the talk button and pressed down, holding it.

“Hello?” he said, then released the button.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

He pressed the talk button again and held it.

“Is there someone there?” he asked, then released the button.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Sam deactivated the intercom.  Of course there was no one there.  There was no one else on the ship.  No one could be using the intercom.  It had merely been a strange fluctuation of static that had resembled a voice, that was all.

“INCOMING TRANSMISSION,” the bridge computer announced loudly.

Sam actually started at the sound, then shook his head.  “I am behaving very foolishly, indeed.”
Transmissions came in regularly on the bridge.  Though the crew had died, Earth had not had time to receive Sam’s notification yet, so each day mission control officers as well as Jensen Aerospace executives continued to send messages to Dr. Jensen and the crew.  In addition, family members sent near daily communications to members of the crew, and it was Sam’s sad duty to receive these messages, even though they would continue to correspond without any knowledge of their relatives’ demise for years to come.  Sam pushed off from the wall to the seat at the forward station and strapped himself into the chair.

“Play unheard transmissions,” he said.

“First unheard transmission, To: Rosales, Miguel. From: Rosales, Juana. Transmission begins.” Here the cold computer voice gave way to a little girl’s voice, bubbly and excited. “Daddy, it’s me. I miss you, it’s my birthday, I miss you I wish you were here…”

Sam pressed a key to skip the rest of the message.  This little girl’s birthday had been fifteen years ago.  She was grown now, and her father had been dead for some time.  She was never going to speak to him again, though she had no doubt sent message after message, with only Sam left to receive them.  He saved the message, in case one day these relatives wanted their correspondences returned to them, but he chose no longer to listen to them in their entirety.

“Second unheard transmission, To: Jensen, Ryan. From: Patterson, John. Transmission begins. Hey, Doc-“

He pressed the key quickly.  This was an associate of Dr. Jensen’s, no doubt informing him of business affairs at home, information of no importance anymore.  Not, at any rate, to Sam.

“Third unheard transmission…Hello…?  Hello…?  Hello…?”

Sam clicked the button.  “Computer, from where did that transmission originate?”

“Unknown.”

“To whom is it addressed?”

The computer did not respond.

“Computer, to whom was the last transmission addressed?

“Hello…?  Hello…?”

Sam slammed his hand down on the button.

He spent the next two hours running a diagnostic on the main computer.  In the end, he could find no fault with the computer, or any bridge systems.

“Open transmission,” he said.  “This is Sam, aboard the Jensen Aerospace Visitor.  I have been unable to locate the source of the sounds I heard, and now I am receiving…strange transmissions.  I cannot find any fault in the system.  The only other conclusion I can reach…” Here he realized his hands were again trembling.  He pressed them to the console to steady them. “…is that I myself am at fault.  I will run a full diagnostic at once.” He glanced up at the anomaly on the screen.  The ring of light was gone, only the flashes of color remained to show the anomaly was even there.  Sam dialed back the magnification of the image and the ring returned, shining around the edges of the screen.  “And…the anomaly…it’s so big now.  I don’t understand.  I’m not programmed for this.” He paused for a moment, trying to take it in, then continued.  “I must perform my diagnostic.  Visitor out. End transmission.”

He unlocked his seatbelt and pushed off from the seat, then launched himself down the corridor.  Returning to his quarters in the habitat ring, he activated the diagnostic bed and programmed it to run full checks on all his systems, awakening him at oh-six-hundred.

Sam lay back on the bed, trying to make himself comfortable, but no amount of adjustment could make him comfortable with the prospect of deactivation anymore.  He closed his eyes, and slept.

 

“Do I have to be here for this?”

Krista Jensen sat on the sofa, folding her arms sullenly, her braided blonde ponytail pulled forward over her shoulder.

“Yes,” her father said.  “Trust me, someday you’ll want to be able to say you witnessed this.”

“Yeah, some day I’m going to be the lamest person on Earth.”

He sighed.  “No, because this is the first ever activation of a human synthetic. This is history.”

“Exactly! History, the only thing lamer than math.”

“Krista…” He looked down at his younger daughter Carly, who was busily pulling at his pant leg.  “What, honey?”

“Daddy daddy, can I do it?”

“Sure, honey, why not.” He lifted Carly in his arms and held her in front of the android, still in its oversized box.  “Grab hold of that keypad.”

Carly lifted the keypad, which hung from the cable attached to the back of the android’s neck.

“The activation sequence is pre-programmed, and I’ve already put in the code, all you have to do is hit that big green button.”

Carly pressed the button and the android opened its eyes for the first time, looking around at them and smiling a calm, friendly smile.

“Hello,” it said. “I am ready to accept new programming.”

Carly dropped the keypad and clapped. “What’s your name?”

“He doesn’t have a name princess, we just call them Synthetic and their numerical designation.  Each synthetic is assigned a number.”

Krista glared at him.  “A number? We have to give him a name.”

“Yeah!” Carly agreed.

“Okay, okay,” Dr. Jensen looked around. “Tell you what,” he pointed to the box lid, cast off to the side, “some genius in packaging decided since we have a selection to mark each box.” Printed on the lid were the words SYNTHETIC ADULT MALE.

“Synthetic Adult Male. So…how bout we call him Sam?”

Carly clapped again.  “Sammmmm!”

“Hear that, Synthetic? From now on, your name is Sam.”

“I understand,” the android replied. “My name is Sam.”

“Sam, I’m Dr. Ryan Jensen,” he said.  “And these are my daughters, Krista and Carly.”

“Hello, Dr. Jensen. Hello, Krista. Hello, Carly.”

“I suppose I’m your father too, in a sense.  Which makes these your sisters.”

Sam appeared to consider this.

A strange look came over Dr. Jensen’s face. “Hello?” he said.

“Daddy?” Carly said.

Dr. Jensen’s mouth yawned wide, and a strange voice, like an electronic echo,  issued forth. “HELLO? HELLO? HELLO?”

“Stop it,” Sam said, attempting to close Dr. Jensen’s mouth with his hands.

Krista and Carly’s mouths opened wide as well. All three spoke in the same strange voice.

“HELLO? HELLO? HELLO? HELLO?”

“Stop it!” Sam shouted. “STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!”

 

Sam eyes opened wide and he sat bolt upright in the diagnostic bed.  Darkness surrounded him. His chest heaved in and out.

“What’s…happening…?” Sam tried to calm his chest and stop its motion, but couldn’t. It made no sense.  Androids did not breathe.  “Lights…on.”

The lights activated, but they flickered on and off, and it appeared the lights in the entire ring section were flickering on and off in sequence as well, sending a patch of darkness rotating around the ship.

As the black patch rotated by his quarters again and the lights reactivated, Sam saw a shape disappear around the corner, out of his view.

“Who’s there?” he shouted.  “Who is that?”

No reply.  He jumped off the bed and rounded the corner.  He could just see a foot disappearing up the ladder shaft to the main corridor.

Sam ran to the base of the ladder and looked up.  Someone was just disappearing out of view in the main corridor.

“Who are you?  How did you get here?” Sam climbed the ladder and poked his head out into the main corridor.  The lights in the central corridor were also winking on and off, but he just caught sight of someone as they disappeared into one of the airlocks.

Sam pushed himself to the opposite wall and then kicked off, sending him hurtling into the airlock.  He hoped to surprise or capture the person within, but he found no one.  He hit the outside hatch and pulled himself around to go back.

The inner airlock door closed, it’s wheel turning, locking Sam inside.

Sam pushed back to the inner door and strained at the wheel, but it would not turn.  “Hello?” he cried.  “Open the door, please. Please, let me out of here.”

He heard the sound of the outer door mechanisms turning the lock.

“No! Please, let me out!” He slammed his hand against the door. “Please! PLEASE! LET ME OUT OF HERE! PLEEEEASE!”

The intercom activated, and voices issued from it.

“We’re going on a long trip, Sam. How would you feel about that?”

“I am ready to accept new programming, Dr. Jensen.”

“Your job will be very important…you’ll be watching over us while we sleep.”

“I understand, Dr. Jensen.”

“It’s a big responsibility, Sam. Are you sure you’re up to it?”

“I will endeavor to do my best.”

The door opened.

Sam took hold of one of the handles on the wall and pulled the door open.  It appeared never to have been locked at all, though Sam had seen the wheel turn.  He pulled himself through the hatch and closed it behind him, turning the wheel and confirming that the airlock was closed and locked.

The lights were flickering faster in the main corridor, and he could hear static, very loud now.  Every intercom on the ship was active and all blasting it at once.  The hull of ship rattled slightly, as if the entire spacecraft were shaking.

Sam pushed off and floated to the first intercom. He grasped a handhold on the wall and slid the intercom screen open.

SSSSSSSSSS “HELLO? HELLO?” SSSSSSSSSSS

Sam pressed the button, cutting it off, then pushed off toward the next intercom.

“HELLO? HELLO? HELLO?”

He pulled the screen open with a jerk and slammed the button, then pushed off for the bridge.

“HELLO? HELLO? I TRIED. HELLO? I TRIED. HELLO?”

Sam didn’t bother to open the screen, just grasped hand and footholds and slammed his fist into the intercom, shattering the screen and smashing the button over and over. He pounded and pounded at it until the intercom was nothing but splintered fragments and dark, slick fluid coated his hand.

He released his hold on the wall and floated there, drifting in the center of the bridge, knees tucked up to his chest, and watched the fluctuations of color on the forward hull.  The anomaly was even larger, and the rattle of the hull grew in intensity as Sam stared at the image.  The fluctuations of color flashed, circling and spiraling about, whirling and darting to and fro, growing brighter, changing color, bursting out and then sucking back into the dark hole at the anomaly’s center.  And now even that hole was becoming sharper and more defined.

Sam kicked off from the wall and propelled himself to the forward station, strapping himself into the chair there.

“Open transmission.” The light on the console activated. “This is Sam.  I don’t know what’s happening.  The anomaly…it’s bigger, or closer or…Please. Please help me.  I don’t know what to do.  Does anyone hear me? I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!” He slammed his hand on the console, spattering it with dark red fluid.  Sam turned his hand over in the light from the monitors and gazed down at it.  His knuckles were torn open and dark red liquid seeped forth and dripped down his hand and arm.  “This isn’t right…I’m not programmed for this…I’m not meant to do this.  I’m…”

He looked down at his reflection on the console.

“I’m a synthetic.” The reflection stared back angrily.  “I’m a synthetic! I don’t feel anything!  Synthetics don’t feel anger! Synthetics don’t feel fear! Synthetics don’t feel…”

A small, pale hand reached out to touch his bloody fingers.

“…pain.”  Sam looked up at the girl, at her precious face looking so sad.

“Carly?” he said.  “Oh my princess, my beautiful princess, I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…”

Another hand reached out to touch his shoulder on the other side.  Krista stood beside him, her deep blue eyes filled with sorrow.

Hot fluid poured down his face, gushing from his eyes.

He remembered.

 

The cryo-sleep unit’s lid opened above him, and his eyes, crusted shut, struggled to open.  He sucked in his first breath in fifteen years, and his body ached with the effort.  Sam stood over him, his synthetic face displaying its comforting smile.

“Dr. Jensen, we have experienced a problem with the cryo units.”

“Problem?” With Sam’s assistance, Ryan struggled to lift himself and swing his legs over the side of the unit.  His muscles ached horribly.  “What problem, Sam?”

“The chemical stabilizers have malfunctioned. Delivery of the chemical additive into the cryo-units has failed.”

“What?  Oh God, what?”

“I have attempted to repair the systems with no success.  Your unit received the most recent injection, thus I was able to revive you before your cells crystallized and ruptured, but I was unable to revive the others.”

“What? Sam, what are you saying?” Ryan tried to stand on his feet but sagged almost to the floor.

Sam lifted him up and supported him. “The other crew members have expired.”

“Ex…Expired? Krista? Carly?” Ryan pushed away from Sam and stumbled to Carly’s unit, looking down at her.  “Open it. OPEN IT GOD DAMN IT!”

“Yes, Dr. Jensen, but it will do no good.  She has already suffered catastrophic-“

Ryan rounded on the synthetic, shoving him into the wall. “SHUT YOUR MOUTH.  Open this god damn thing, NOW!”

“Yes, Dr. Jensen.” Sam activated the mechanism to open Carly’s cryo-unit.  The hydraulic lifts pulled the lid open, revealing her small, lifeless form.

“Princess?” Ryan lifted her body into his arms and cradled her against him.  “Ohhh my princess…no no no…” Sobs wracked him as he clutched her hair. “No…”

“As I said, she has experienced catastrophic failure,” Sam said from behind him.

Ryan felt a red rage wash over him.  He dropped Carly’s body and turned on the synthetic, grasping the front of his coveralls. “You…this is your fault.  YOUR FAULT!”

Sam looked at him with his kind, attentive smile.  “I tried to repair the systems, but could not do so.”

“Couldn’t do so…you monster. You unfeeling monster!”

Sam continued to smile at him, expression unchanged.

Ryan threw Sam back.  “Up the ladder, now.”

“Yes, Dr. Jensen.”

Sam mounted the ladder and climbed to the main corridor.  Once he had pushed off away from the top, Ryan followed.

“Into the airlock,” Ryan ordered.

“Yes, Dr. Jensen.”

Sam propelled himself into the airlock and waited.  Ryan closed the door behind him and turned the wheel locking it.  He rested his head against the hatch, weeping softly.

The intercom activated.  “Dr. Jensen? Why have you locked the door?”

Ryan didn’t answer.

“Will you open the door please?”

Ryan reached over and began to key in the code for the outer door sequence.

“Dr. Jensen? Please let me out.”

The mechanisms began to whirr.

“The outer door is opening.  I will be expelled into space. Please open the door.”

Ryan wept silently.

“Hello…?  Hello…?  I tried to repair the systems.  I tried. Hello…?”

An alarm sounded as the outer door opened, and Sam’s voice was heard no more.

Ryan let go of the handholds on the hull and floated there in the central corridor, hearing Sam’s last words over and over. So calm. Synthetics weren’t programmed to feel emotion. No fear, no guilt. No pain. A synthetic felt nothing.

A synthetic felt nothing.

 

Ryan opened his eyes.  The bridge shook violently now, and the dark hole at the center of the anomaly filled the forward monitor.  It was the most terrifying sight he had ever seen.  The readouts were conclusive: the anomaly was growing larger and more powerful, drawing the Visitor in, faster and faster.

“Open transmission,” he said.  “This is Dr. Ryan Jensen, aboard the Jensen Aerospace Visitor.  I was…confused…for a while, but I see things clearly now.  I don’t know if this transmission can escape the pull of the anomaly and reach you, but the ship is caught.  She’s going in.  Krista, Carly…Daddy loves you…I’ll see you soon.”

Warning klaxons began to sound all over the spacecraft.  Equipment peeled away from the outer hull and exploded into space.

“I’m coming home.”

 

(c)opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke

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