I have had an odd day, not the usual kind with structure and clear laid plans. It started with getting a desperate message from my sister, whose kid has been sick, but luckily I got a call from her a moment ago, that everything is fine. That my nephew’s blood work is good, and his lungs are clear, and the summer of horrors we all had to go through haven’t come back. Then I have been running around doing errands for my mother- and father-in-law. Helped them book a car to take them from the airport to their lodgings. I joked to my husband that I booked them tickets which would lead into an infinite loop between the airport to their accommodations. He got excited, and then a bit mad when he realized I was only joking. Now I have to make it up to him. Where can you hire a hitman? …Anyway… all this means that I haven’t had the usual time to come up with a short story and write one. So here is a writing idea I have been toying with, and might continue writing. This is a touchup start for a game version of the same idea I wrote last year for my husband, but we never actually made the game. I think we are even. How do you call a hitman off? I wrote the more bookish beginning last Sunday. I hope you enjoy it.
Cleanup on the Aisle 5
He adjusted the soft white seat of his shuttle, according to the manual standards based on his height, weight, arm’s reach, and ergonomic sitting posture. After the launched into space and after the acceleration had stopped, he could relax and stop trying to be like the stiffs wanted him to be. Okay, the procedure was in place for a good reason as even when technology had taken giant leaps forward with space travel and rest of the shit, the human body was what it was despite all the cybernetic enchantments. It was as mushy as it had always been. That was Evolution for you. Slow to play catch up.
“Shuttle 3.12.B.8952 ready for launch,” he reported. He had considered for a moment to take one of those kitschy headsets with him, but they would have been for a show. The shuttle had audio systems installed all over the place. Nowadays, everyone could hear him scream in space if it came to that. He hoped it wouldn’t. It would be kind of embarrassing, to say to least. Sometimes the switchboard monitors messed with the rookies that way. He would not scream.
“Just a second shuttle 3.12.B.8952, I will connect your mainframe to the monitor program,” a woman voice said.
He wasn’t sure if it was an automated message or someone really replying to him, or even if it was human or AI. Back in the space program, or as he liked to call it, Cleanup on the Aisle 5 class, they had played a drinking game called “who can spot the human.” He had gotten pretty good at it, but he would never tell his buddies it had been pure luck. To tell the truth, AIs felt more human than humans sometimes.
“Your mainframe has been connected. Am I speaking to Hugo Marek?” the woman asked.
“Yeah, Hugo Marek here,” he replied and laid his had on the ID confirmation panel, which kindly blinked with sky blue light.
“You are okayed to launch in 10… 9… 8…”
Shit, Hugo thought and began to fumble, setting the activation codes. “Computer, we are launching. Turn on the engines,” he hurried to say.
He barely finished it before the woman’s voice said, “You can launch now. If you fail to set off, it will be canceled in 20… 19… 18… 17…”
The engines began to hum, and he could breathe once again.
“Ready?” the computer asked.
“Ready,” Hugo replied and squeezed the armrests.
Next thing he knew, he was in space greeted with blackness. And he hadn’t screamed, giving that satisfaction to the bastards at the switchboard. He released the pressure of his seat and typed in the command to get his work order flashed on the screen, and while he was at it, he added a more pleasurable view to his windows — a nice fictional picture of what space should look like with twinkling stars and colorful galaxies.
“Aah, home,” he said.
“Can I be any of assistance, Cadet Marek?” the computer asked in an epicene voice.
Definitely, AI, his shuttle’s AI to be precise, and not even based on a real human being.
“Locate our first task assignment coordinates and show me the size of the tear. Also, call me Hugo if we are going to be stuck here together for two weeks,” he replied. He had gotten a moderately short first assignment. Usually, they send people like him into space for months.
“The coordinates and the initial assessment of the tear with the report the cruising ship sent should be on your screen, Hugo,” the AI said. Then after a fraction of a second, which felt like a long pause in AI time, the voice added, “Would you like me to have a name as well? I have ten preprogrammed names in which you can choose from. If you would like the list on the screen, I can add it next to the assignment?”
“Sure, why not,” he said.
Instantly a list of names flashed on the screen. Jael, Robin, Skylar, Ocean, Honor, Jules, Nikita, Cypress, Lake, and lastly, Campbell.
To be continued…?
Thank you for reading, and have a catty day!
© K.A. Ashcomb
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