[Foreword: A short story about tomfoolery and practical jokes in the 33rd century, using 33rd century technology.
As with the other short stories on this blog the setting is the science-fiction computer game world Frontier:Elite. Knowledge of the game isn't important and the story can be read and understood without knowing anything about it. It's just an environment to experiment with different ideas, like a proverbial 'sandbox world'. A sandbox world is one that anyone can express themselves in without any consequences. It's what makes fiction and fantasy so valuable: that a world can be created without consequences.]
Carry on AI..
Location: Hope, the Gateway system
Date: April 1st, 3213
Space travel, ahh, there's nothing like it. A sturdy ship to surround you, a giga-ton of thrust behind you, and a thousand star systems all beckoning for you. Mmmm, it's a grand life that many a man has made his own, and many a man has enjoyed. It was this joyful life that I had in mind all those years back. Back when I had a full head of hair that would blow in the wind like some intergalactic movie star. Ya know, the dreams of a young man. A young man with a grand plan to make a wod of cash while cruising around with my feet on the dash, listening to 'easy listening' tunes over the radio and generally livin' it up. A thirty-third century interstellar truckers life, that was the life I had in mind. Sigh, well you know what they say about the best laid plans..
It was all going grand, at first. I was making 'loadsamoney' (tm) hauling precious stones and minerals around the Gateway system. With all that money I bought a new and bigger ship with the intention of hauling luxury goods inter-stellar between Alioth and Gateway. So I bought a bigger ship, and that bigger ship needed a crew. I hired these two goofy looking kids from the Alioth system to work on board it: Ernie and Roderick. The kids looked a bit tricky but on the whole good lads. That's what I thought from first appearances. Yet as they say looks can be deceiving.
It wasn't long before they started pranking me. You know, small time jokes, like painting the door to the toilet cubicle with invisible paint, that kind of joke. 'Har har' they laughed as I walked head first into the door, 'har har har'. God, if I only knew that those kids would've driven me spare with their practical jokes I swear I would never have hired them up in the first place.
The invisible painted door painted was only the beginning. Other 'jokes' that I have been the target of have included: False radar warnings indicating we were being attacked by a battle fleet of space pirates, a zillion more jokes using invisible paint (like spray-painting the backside of my trousers as we walked through a shopping mall), using remotely-operated electro-dermal technology to make my arm muscles contract while I was trying to eat my lunch, filling the ventilation unit to my cabin with Superslo gas and laughing as I run in slow motion trying to catch them, creating a holographic image of me naked and having it walk around the ship while my insurance agent appraised it, switching my ready-brek for Qoaglian beetle larvae while I was reading the paper and then watching in horror as it walked all over the table, the list goes on.
The next joke took the biscuit.
Every space-ship has an AI (that's 'Artificial Intelligence' for all the troglodytes out there) that controls all of the main systems, and it's user friendly and interactable. You basically speak to it and it can perform that operation, like raise the temperature in the crew quarters, or perform a routine systems check, that kind of thing. And most of the AI's have a personality of sorts, just to make life more pleasant. So that instead of speaking to an AI that has Stephen Hawkings voice and a car parking attendant's personality, you can have Bruce Willis' voice and John McClain's personality. It makes life more bearable. And it did. Note the use of the past tense.
It was all peaches and cream until Pinky and Perky, my two juvenile ship mates, decided to replace my ships AI personality disk with one that had the personality of none other than Frankie Howerd. You know, Frankie Howerd, the well known camp comedian from Earth in the late 20th century. Needless to say I was not a happy chappy about it, and made out to impress upon the two aspiring comedians this fact.
"Okay okay, which one of you smart alecs switched the personality disks on the ships AI unit?" I said to the two other crewmen as I walked into the mess-hall. The two men were sat by a table eating sandwiches and looking like mischievous school children.
Giggle guffaw snicker. They laughed.
"Do you know the kind of camp jokes I've had to put up with all bleedin' morning?!"
Guffaw snicker titter. They laughed some more.
"I'll tell you what, if he keeps up with his sexual innuendos I'm gonna go into the central computer suite and kick the living fibre optics out of it!"
The AI unit spoke up over the mess-hall speaker. "Ooh I say! Have you ever heard such language ladies and gentleman? It's enough to make a sailor blush." The quip was followed by some 1970's style canned laughter.
"Well?!" I demanded.
"It wasn't me cap'n" said Ernie.
"Nor me sir". Replied Roderick.
"Look, I'm not gonna make a fuss, and I don't care which one of you did it, I just want the old disk re-installed. It's a long journey to Alioth and I don't wanna have him keeping me up all night with his antics. Right?" I asked once again.
"Oooh I say, there's an offer I can't refuse!" the camp AI unit said.
"SO, where is it?" I said looking at Ernie.
"Well don't go looking at me?" Ernie said.
"What do you mean don't go looking at you? I'm the one who gave it to you to hide." Roderick said to Ernie.
"You what?!" Ernie replied.
"Yeah, don't you remember? I said go outside in the spacesuit and hide it behind a solar panel so that the cap'n wouldn't find it."
"You did?" Said Ernie with an air of innocent stupidity.
Roderick slapped his face.
"Oh.. Err.." stuttered Ernie.
"I'm not likin' this. I'm not likin' this one bit." I was getting miffed.
"Err.. It was.. Umm.. I put it err.." Ernie stuttered some more.
"You've gone and lost it haven't you. Oh please don't tell me you've gone and lost it?!" I was now well and truly miffed.
"Ooh! I don't think Ernie's the only one going to be losing it tonight ladies and gentleman!" Said the AI unit backed with some more 1970s canned laughter.
I looked over my shoulder and gave a withering look at the mess hall speaker unit.
"So..?" said I. "I'm still waiting."
"Umm. How about I go and look for it? How about that?" Ernie replied trying to placate the angry boss man in front of him.
"Good idea. Come and get me on the flight deck when you've found it. And make sure you bring your arse with you, so I can give it a damned good kicking afterwards."
I turned around and headed back toward the flight deck.
"Well there's a boss I wouldn't like to work under ladies and gentleman. No, I'd much rather be on top of him, if you know what I mean." The canned audience whooped with laughter. "Oooh not like that you saucy devils!" The AI teased.
I muttered a menagerie of four star words under my breath as I walked out of the mess hall.
Later that afternoon Ernie still hadn't located the old AI's personality disk, and time was getting short. I had to get cargo shifted to Alioth soon, otherwise I wouldn't make enough money to pay my taxes for this quarter. And if that happened then I would be up the creek without a jet propulsion unit. 'cause money is all important to traders like me.
In a bid to make a quick buck I'd arranged to meet a local tropical-fruit grocer who was looking to sell some produce on the cheap. She was clearing out old stock in her warehouse to make room for the latest fashionable fruits. The old stock consisted of various odds and ends that she'd had stashed in Kelvin (zero-entropy) Boxes: coconuts, Arcturian swamp melons, monkey fruits, nothing special, but the price was cheap enough for me to be able to resell in Alioth and make a tidy profit. We would meet onboard my ship and she'd bring a sample of her goods with her for me to give the once over. I thought that the meeting would go just like every other goods appraisal meeting I've had in the past. My AI unit though had other ideas. God, those crazy kids and their puerile pranks...
"Would you like to feel my coconuts." Asked the grocer lady.
"Ooh madam!" Remarked the AI unit.
I muttered quietly under my breath at the cursed AI unit. "Yes please." I picked one of the coconuts out of the crate of various produce. "They certainly feel firm enough."
"Well I never! It's all going on here ladies and gentleman. It's like a regular country fayre. First thing he's feeling her coconuts, next thing you know she'll be bobbing for his apples!" The canned laughter audience breaks out into hysterics.
The grocer lady gave me a quizzical look. "Is your AI always this crass?"
"No he isn't. Sorry about that. We've been having some uhh.. difficulties.. his err.." struggling to find the all important lie that would allow me to keep face and not make me look like a second rate spaceship captain crewed by intellectual adolescents. "his.. data disk has gotten corrupted."
"I'm not the one he's going to be corrupting tonight my dear!"
My heart cringed.
I smiled at the grocer. The kind of smile you make to a stranger when an eccentric member of your family keeps making embarrassing faux pas after embarrassing faux pas.
'Please ground, open up and swallow me whole.'
If she was feeling awkward then she certainly wasn't showing it. Thankfully this meeting wouldn't go on for much longer. All that she had to do was to figure out a price for the goods then we'd be done, and the whole embarrassing scenario could be over.
The cringingly embarrassing meeting with the the grocer lady eventually came to an end and we agreed on a price for the goods. After loading them into the ship we took off from the starport and made orbit around the planet.
Ernie came up to me on the flight deck looking twitchy. "Umm.. It's bad news boss. I still haven't found the old AI personality disk boss. I..."
I motioned for him to be quiet, turn around and walk out of the flight deck. His brain, small as it was, understood that it was in the interests of his arse to leave me alone until he'd found the disk. So he turned around and quietly left the flight deck, leaving me alone to plot the course to the Alioth system.
"What are you going to do now captain?" Asked the AI unit.
"I'm going to sit down in the flight chair, open up the starcharts and navigate a course for the Alioth system so we can hyper-space jump there and do some trading."
"Well now.. that reminds me of the time I was in the Alioth system, wonderful place, but the people are terribly vulgar, oh they are, terribly vulgar those Aliothians. They are 'un-civilised'. Completely un-civilised. Couldn't tell a Shostokovich from a Shawaddywaddy. You know, 'those' sorts of people. Anyway, I was..." The Frankie Howard meandering anecdote went on.
I stared through the windshield into the distance with a 'Oh God! When will this ever end?' look plastered all over my face.