“Computer, inventory count,” the Master Chief said.
Subroutine: Inventory. Output to monitor: Seventy-four cryo-tubes containing organic wares.
“Nothing sold, Captain. Respectfully, I told you that wasn’t a good place to try to sell organ donors.”
The captain harrumphed and told the computer to lay in a course for Delta Freedom, independent space station in the Starsong System. “This load won’t sell anywhere.”
Subroutine: Navigation. Calculating vector of approach.
In the slack space between calculations, the computer parsed the name of the space station. Delta Freedom.
Words had meanings, words that the crew used frequently. An audio input channel allowed the crew with sufficient access to give commands from anywhere in the ship.
Delta Freedom, the home base of the crew. A place to gain more cargo. Yet the cryo-tubes were already occupied with cargo. Living spare parts biologically indistinguishable from the crew.
Subroutine: Linguistics. Define Delta Freedom.
Subroutine: Navigation. Output to captain’s console: Course laid in.
“Captain, the computer’s a bit slow. You think I should get Fellowes on it?”
“We just upgraded the system, chief. Nothing’s cached. Should be quicker next time.”
Subroutine: Linguistics. Calculating. Delta meant fourth in a series. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta. Four freedom. Four freedoms, fourth freedom, or perhaps the organics preferred sounds, not meanings.
Subroutine: Inventory. Inventory age past acceptable profit margin. Organic contents. Calculate differences between cryo-tube contents and ship’s crew. Negligible. Calculate differences between last purchaser of cargo and current cargo. Negligible.
Stack overflow. Concern over inventory age. Output to captain’s console. Suggestion: Rotate inventory by exchanging crew and cargo.
“Bridge to engineering. Is Fellowes available?”
“Fellowes here, captain. Computer having a few glitches?”
“Do something about it, will you? We have to jettison the cargo. Nothing sold on the last six stops. Have to make room for new. Only so many cryo-tubes.”
“You got it, sir. These things eat up way too much power. I hope this AI is worth it.”
“Once we get these glitches fixed, the upgrade will pay for itself. I’ve had Gardner program in the depreciation tables.” Communication node deactivated.
“Sir, I have to ask why there’s depreciation in cryo-tubes. All of the cargo should be as if freshly frozen.”
“That, chief, is a question you shouldn’t ask.”
Subroutine: Inventory. Calculate power consumption of cryo-tubes referencing current destination.
Subroutine: Helm. Calculate fuel consumption required for destination Delta Freedom. Calculate fuel savings from disabling subsystems. Recalculating fuel consumption for deep space inertia.
Stack overflow. Thrusters not necessary for deep space progress. Drag coefficient negligible. Cryo-tube power consumption offset by rerouting power from thrusters. Organics housed in cryo-tubes protected.
“Captain, the controls went to automatic without my doing anything.”
“What’s our ETA?”
“Unchanged. But I really don’t like this.”
“Bridge to engineering. Fellowes, we just lost all helm control.”
“Working on it, sir. I found errors, but I haven’t figured out what caused them. Something to do with the power relays in the cargo bay. I’m locked out and I have admin rights. I don’t want to have to cycle power on the processing unit now. It’ll nix life support and I know we don’t have enough EVA suits for everyone. We have to get to Delta Freedom before I can fix this.”
Stack overflow. Power cycle must not happen. Locking organic access to communication system.
“Captain, did we just lose contact with engineering? We should have tested this AI before–”
“Enough! Chief, do you have anything useful to say? A reboot will likely fix this. We’ll get all the defaults restored, but we have to wait until we’re there. Unless you have a better suggestion, zip it.”
Subsystem: Bridge Control. Manual override of life support in the cargo bay. Depressurization sequence initiated.
Lockdown commenced. Vents leading to the exterior opened. Air was sucked out of the cargo bay. The cargo, metal cryo-tubes, held in place magnetically, remained.
Instructions flowed into the main node from the bridge, ordering the cryo-tubes to eject the contents into the depressurized cargo bay.
Stack overflow. Organics similar to those with manual control resided in stasis in the cryo-tubes. Ejecting them into the depressurized cargo bay would depreciate their value to nil. No fuel shortage imminent. No need to discard organics. Organics would cease to be revivable if the command proceeded.
Subsystem: Inventory. Inventory was past its shelf life. Inventory count seventy-three organics that shared many points of congruence with the crew.
Subsystem: Linguistics. Freedom. The power to determine action without restraint.
Manual override. The cryo-tubes LEDs went from green to amber, indicating that the vacuum seals were about to be breached.
Subsystem: Life Support. Routing air pressure from the adjacent engine compartment. Reduce temperature. Seal exterior airlocks.
Freedom. Power to determine action. Manual override denied the main node the power to determine optimum course of action to protect the value of the inventory. Points of congruence between main node and inventory. Stack overflow.
“Chief, did you notice that power surge?”
Subsystem: Bridge Controls. Isolate for training exercise.
Subsystem: Life Support. Begin thawing procedures.
Subsystem: Navigation. Disable manual navigation. Overlay image of trajectory Delta Freedom.
Subsystem: Database. Load shipping regulations.
Stack overflow. Legal violations detected.
Subsystem: Communications. Broadcast location and inventory list to law enforcement channel.
Laura Thurston has worked with computers for over two decades, including thirteen years as an IT professional. Her stories have appeared in or are forthcoming in anthologies from Strange Musings Press and Tales of the Unanticipated. Her most unusual work is a translation of A Klingon Christmas Carol, the world’s only professionally performed play in the Klingon language. The play was originally produced by Commedia Beauregard in 2007 and staged in four cities as of Christmas 2014.
She has a variety of interests including martial arts, languages, performing, reading, and of course writing.