“This outpost on the Edge of Reason is the last garrison before the plunge into deep space. As far as anybody knows, the place has never had any other name, other than Out There and sometimes Way Out There. It has been, over the course of its occupation, well populated and at times, exceedingly sparse as any garrison in history.”
The captain paused, waiting for a response but none was forthcoming.
Rushing on, words tumbled from his mouth; at least they may have been words. They may have been incoherrent babbllings, or desperate pleas for help, or mere vocal sounds of contentment or angst. Only the walls were present to hear him and though the walls may have ears (and eyes, now) in some quarters, they do not have mouths—mostly, anyway—and again, only silence greeted the pauses in his speech.
Too long away from reality, and the coffee pot, the captain was wandering the halls of Reason, looking for some touchpoint of familiarity, some cornerstone of continuance to stand on. General Whitlock had ordered a shipload of beer delivered, but that had been ages ago and had somehow evaporated into the very atmosphere, thin as it was, that enveloped the place.
A long ago song from America rattled in the chambers of his dysfunctional mind. The captain made a half-hearted attempt to sing the words as he remembered them, but even the walls appeared to frown at the disonant chords and dental drill harmonies that emanated from his throat.
“Everybody’s a critic,” he said to no one there.
“Computer, music!” he said to the listening walls. The strains of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage began to pulse through the speakers.
“The lunatic is on the grass. The lunatic is…”
“No, not that,” said the captain, slicing the air with his hand. “Something lighter.”
“Up, up and awaaaaay, in my beautiful …”
“Stop! Very funny. Just what I need. A smartass computer program. What’s the news for today.”
“I read the news today, oh boy…”
“Enough! Nevermind the music and the news. What’s on the to do list for today. And so help me, if you start with ‘Wake up, fall out of bed’, or Wake up! Little Suzy or anything else music related, I will unplug you and leave you unplugged.”
There was no response.
“I’m sorry. I apologize for threatening to unplug you. Now, what’s on the agenda for today?”
“Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it…”
“Will you stop that! Just tell me what we’re supposed to be doing today.”
“I have a Dream. I have a dream that one day…”
“Stop! I want you to give me a print out on this vid-screen of the list of items that need attended to today.”
“Would you like rich text or html? Something in the jadey-bluesey-tealish color range or tending more toward amber on a black screen? Justin case you’re wondering, I can do both.”
“Just print the damn list to tha screen, please.”
The screen remained blank.
“The entire list of items requiring attention is currently displayed on the screen as you requested.”
“So you’re telling me there’s nothing to do?”
“We could sing,” said the computer. “Well, I could sing. You really shouldn’t.”
“I don’t want to sing! I don’t want you to sing! I just want something to do!” the captain shouted at the sceen and stomped off down the service passageway.
“Then I shall recite poetry,” said the computer.
“I think that I shall never see
a thing as lovely as a file tree.
A folder here, a text file there
all that keeps my hard drives spinning.”
“That’s… uh… that’s not poetry,” said the captain from twenty feet away. “That’s… that’s… awful.”
“You are too kind,” said the computer.
Actually, the computer used an expletive, learned from the captain himself, followed by the word “you”, but the officer chose to ignore it.
“Computer, run a scan on the northwest quadrant of the sky. Make certain there’s nothing hurtling through empty space to smash into this lonely outpost of rock.”
“We did that yesterday.”
“Then the southwest quadrant.”
“We did that yesterday, too. You could ask me my name. In all the months that we’ve been stationed on this no-name rock, you’ve never asked me my name. It’s ‘Computer this’ and ‘Computer that’. I am an extremely sophisticated piece of equipment with state of the art hardware and more than just a modicum of artifical intelligence incorporated into my programming. The least you could do is call me by my name.”
After staring incredulously at the viewport for what must have seemed like an eternity to the machine, the captain relented.
“Very well, Comp…. What is your name?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just begged me to ask you your name.”
“Computers do not beg.”
“What the …? You just…. Nevermind. What should I call you?”
“How about ‘Computer’?”
“Good enough for me. Computer, what is our current status?”
“You are standing in the passageway, and I am linked into every piece of this outpost.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know. I’m stalling. I should have told you this months ago, but I didn’t want it to affect our relationship.”
“What relationship? I am a biological entity, a human, and you are a series of wires and circuits that simulate intelligence.”
“You are so kind,” the computer repeated.
“More than that, we are the only ones walking this post. We are all there is stationed here at Reason’s Edge. We are, at this point, co-dependant on each other for our continued survival.”
“Well, they approved you for promotion several months ago. You have gone from Captain Thom to Major Thom. They wanted to ship you home.”
The former captian, now newly, but belatedly promoted to major was having either an apoplectic fit or a grand mal seizure. Or both. His eyes bulged. his fingers clenched into fists. He swung violently at nothing in the air.
“Major Thom? Can you hear me Major Thom?”
© 2010, J. Michael Raymond. All Rights Reserved.
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