Flash Fiction: The Void

Jim Lane laughed as one man hit the other over the head with a shovel.

"Goddamn, Bill, this movie's funny. You seen it?"

"Yes, Jim, but I do not see the humor."

"That’s because you're a robot."

"I am programmed to understand humor."

The pale blue light from the video screen illuminated the robot's shiny fake skin.

"You know, women don't get this humor, either. Maybe you were made female. That's not exactly a bulge you're sporting under those tights."

An alarm sounded. Jim silenced it as the ship jolted to sub-light speed.

"What the fuck happened, Bill?"

"The ship's computer indicates failure of the space-warping module. Faster-than-light travel is now impossible. By the way, the nearest habitable planet is approximately three-times-ten-to-the-sixth parsecs away."

"Fuck me. That's like, what?—"

"Approximately nine-point-seven-eight-times-ten-to-the—"

"Would you quit talking in scientific fucking notation?"

"As you wish. We are ten million light years from the nearest civilized world. At our current speed—"

"Save it. Do we have another one of those gizmos on board?"

"The ship's records indicates there is one in the forward storage room. Shall I go get it?”

“Yes.”

#

"All right, Billy Boy, let's plug 'er in."

"The module into which this must be placed is outside the ship."

"What? I gotta go outside? No. I don't leave the fucking compound. I don't walk in space."

"Without it, you can expect to die of thirst in ninety-point-five-two days."

"Lovely. I'll suit up, but first I'm going to have a hit of that kickapoo juice we got on that jungle planet."

Bill blinked at him with a serious expression. "Jim, you are free to do as you wish, but I strongly urge you not to drink before you go into space."

Bill’s sickly skin reflected a red light flashing in the background. "You know, I’m definitely looking into your programming. I'd swear you were my second wife."

"I'm trying to determine whether that is humorous . . . no, it is not."

Jim took the device from the box. Just a circuit board. "So, all I do is plug this thing in?"

"Yes, Jim. De-energize the unit, remove the old board, save it for refurbishment, plug in the new one, and turn it on. The rest is done through software."

"Sounds easy."

"It is."

Putting on his suit in the airlock he considered the possibility of just chucking the whole thing. He had a cargo of some sort of goddammits to be delivered to a hideously difficult customer. Maybe he otta just say fuck it; die in the void.

Nah, he had a couple of girls on the hook. He would go into fucking space to replace the fucking gizmo.

He exited the hatch, followed Bill’s instructions, and then pushed the button at the hatch to alert Bill he was ready to come in. No response. Cocksucker.

"Bill, let me in."

His breath smelled like shit inside the helmet.

Bill didn’t respond.

"Bill, let me into the fucking ship."

"No need to shout, Jim. I can't let you in. There is a technical problem."

"What the fuck do you mean, a technical problem? Open the fucking hatch."

"Stand by."

"I'm going to open the hatch manually. You'd better have the airlock shut."

"I wouldn't do that, Jim."

"That's exactly what I'm going to do in ten seconds. Nine. Eight."

The hatch clicked open, he floated in, and closed it behind him. He repressurized the room and changed from the suit. 

"What the fuck's wrong with you?" he asked Bill in the cockpit.

"There was a problem, Jim."

"What problem, exactly?"

"I'm still analyzing it."

"Well, analyze this: if you ever refuse an order again, I'll deactivate you quicker than a Baldarian frog catching a fly. Do you read me?"

"Yes, Jim. I understand."

"Now, let's fire this thing up."

"I've run the installation algorithm for the new oscillator."

"Wonderful."

Jim secured his harness. "Computer, begin countdown to super-luminal jump."

"Super-luminal jump in fifteen seconds," the computer said.

"Strap yourself in, Bill. I don't want your useless carcass flying around the cabin."

"Five seconds."

Five seconds later nothing happened.

"Jump to super-luminal speed failed."

"Determine cause."

"Improper oscillator installation."

Jim looked at Bill, who was gazing back without expression. "Well?"

"I don't understand it, Jim."

"I think you need to go out and check it. Wiggle it, or something."

"I don't think—"

"Remember what I just told you?"

Bill blinked. "Yes. I'm going."

Jim switched the computer to a classified channel Bill could not access. "Computer, diagnose super-luminal drive malfunction."

"The original super-luminal drive failure due to software modification."

"Who modified it?"

"Bill."

"Why does it not function now?"

"For the same reason."

Christ, there was nothing wrong with the unit. Bill reprogrammed it to malfunction. And now he's outside where he could disengage it.

"Computer, secure all external access panels."

"Panels secured."

"Jim," Bill said, "I can't open the panel."

"All right, Bill, stand by."

"The computer may have locked it."

"Computer, restore space-bending oscillator software to last operable version."

"Software restored."

"Begin countdown to super-liminal jump."

"Bill is exterior to the hull."

"Understood. Secure all hatches for faster-than-light travel"

"Hatches secured. Super-luminal jump in fifteen seconds."

"Jim, I believe the computer has started the sequence for super-luminal speed."

"Yes, Bill."

"I am still outside."

"I know, Bill."

"Super-luminal jump in five seconds."

"But, Jim—"

The ship lurched to thousands of times the speed of light. Jim sat back. It was going to be a lonely few months without Bill, but Bill had tried to kill him.

There came a banging on the hull. Metal on metal.

"Computer, report cause of banging."

"Bill."

"What? Display visual."

On the screen appeared Bill pointing a wrench at him.