I’ve been busy the last few months–publishing a book. Yikes! But I finally got back onto the flash-fiction challenge. This week at terribleminds the challenge is to start a story with the sentence “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.” Here’s my result:
The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber. The people inside the chamber lie twisted haphazardly amongst the cushions, blowing smoke rings and mumbling to themselves. The man that has noticed the android, however, sits up with a straight back and clear eyes. The android pauses.
“Come here,” the man says.
The android moves into the room, stepping carefully over the sprawled body of a woman. Her mouth is open and she snores heavily.
“Do you have a name?” The man squints at the android, his brows furrowing. The android considers the question.
“My serial number is NX/5733456.”
“Nix. Tell me, are you alive or dead?”
The android looks around. A few people are sitting up. One scrubs heavily at his eyes and then yawns. There is a fetid smell in the air. Androids are only allowed into the wondering chamber if they receive an explicit invitation, and this one looks as though it has not been cleaned in days.
“I do not have enough data to answer that question.
“What data do you need?” The man leans forward, his movements quick, eager, a strange counter to the languid figures around him.
“Please provide an explanation of the difference between a state of ‘alive’ and a state of ‘dead’.”
The man laughs, raggedly, in the back of his throat. The android determines that he sounds unwell. The air smells of more than sweat. In normal circumstances, the android would begin to clean. In the wondering chamber, however, he is powerless to act unless instructed.
“Well. Alive is when you aren’t dead. Dead is when you’re not alive anymore.” The man fingers a pocket and pulls out a tobacco pouch. He rolls expertly, with yellow fingers.
“The two states are mutually exclusive,” the android says. “What methodology do you employ to determine which state a being resides in?”
“How would you know if I was dead?”
The android runs a program. “You would cease to move, your heart would cease to beat, there would be no lung movement, electrical activity in the brain would cease. Currently, you are in a state of alive.”
“So. Are you alive or dead?”
“You wish me to run the diagnostics program on myself?”
“Just answer the bloody question,” the man snaps. His flicks a lighter, a lick of flame that catches the end of the cigarette and makes it burn a dull, angry red.
“I can confirm that I move, that I do not have a pulse, that there is electrical activity in my intelligence unit and that there is no lung movement.”
“I am neither in a state of alive or a state of dead.”
“But those states are mutually exclusive!”
The android does not reply. The people around them lose interest, slide back into lethargy.
“Are we in Hell?” The man sucks hard on his cigarette and blows smoke at the android.
“I do not have enough data to answer that question.”
“Useless, bloody useless, scrap iron, all you’re good for. Get out of here, GET OUT!” The man shrieks the last word, his voice a rusty saw hacking at his throat.
The android withdraws, stepping carefully over the woman. She has ceased snoring. Curiosity flickers, and the android runs the diagnostics program. The woman is in a state of dead. The android pauses for a second to see if anyone will ask him to comment on the woman, or request a clean up of the chamber.
“Get out, I said! Go back to your damned spaceship and your damned journey to nowhere!” The man rocks backwards and forwards, tears streaming down his face.
The android leaves the wondering chamber. Once in the corridor it resumes cleaning, carefully buffing the steel wall until the metal shines and ripples. It reflects the android: empty eyes, mouthless, egg-like face. The android pauses, listens. The wondering chamber door has closed, the humans crowded within. The empty corridor stretches for a mile.
The android pings the mother. “Are there any outstanding requests?”
The mother replies: no.
The android waits. Then it turns and returns the way it came. This time, the android is ignored as it passes the wondering chamber.