A little Sci-Fi on your Wi-Fi, by Anthony O’Dugan
Qwert’s Ship Log: The Box
The flares from the star system’s three suns were whipping The Clompf all over the emptiness the ship was currently occupying. Granted, even a small flare was capable of dislodging the most sophisticated of virtual anchors. Perhaps to mimic the extraordinary turbulence, or perhaps for lack of excitement, Qwert had programmed the ship’s interior scenery to mirror that of a deserted island. Massive gusts of wind batted the tops of palm trees causing coconuts to fall to the ground below where Qwert sat, reading. This had gone on for two days.
Despite what all the Inside Space and Decorating Tips To Brighten Up Your Space magazines said, space was, rather consistently, two things, and not much more: it was one, very empty, despite the numerous star systems, galaxies, and life-forms; and two, it was a veritable junkyard. The latter is what truly interested Qwert, as it was this fact that persuaded him to become a pirate in the first place. Over the past six months, he had collected enough lost, misplaced, unguarded, and left behind material that he could easily have built a most impressive interplanetary conveyor belt. But if bringing people together and uniting the gaps of space with roads, railways, and flight paths was what it was all about, Qwert would have gone into a different profession long ago. Actually, being a rogue pirate suited him quite well, as one of his defining characteristics was that he severely despised other people. This, therefore, made it very easy for him to claim ownership of anything he happened to come across, and this also explained his complete lack of remorse in taking that which, clearly, was not his.
Qwert lazily flipped another page of his comic book. It wasn’t really a good comic book, just something he found in his last bit of rummaging. He considered taking a nap, but didn’t feel it was worth the effort.
“Boss. Boss. Large unidentified…purple tops and jelly beans…quadrant three at 17 degrees…and please don’t use the “crushed ice” setting” called a voice over the intercom.
Qwert closed his comic book. “I’ve got to fix that” he mumbled to himself. Sitting upright and readjusting his headgear, he slowly made his way to the control center.
“Now approaching annadzpoggle ripvantmsbobija woop woop…by way of element 288. Clamps engaged and awaiting command. Now approaching — “
“I heard you! Shut it” he shouted at the intercom. He scratched his chin and squinted one eye, then pressed a series of brightly colored and various shaped buttons as importantly as he could. Loud metal clangs echoed outside the ship. Seconds later, two large silver arms stretched before the starboard camera. “Come here you little bugger,” he said to his new junk, “nice and easy…gotcha!” With the extreme precision that only two large, semi-mobile, aluminum-alloy, flyswattery robot arms can provide, Qwert latched on to the cargo. He pressed another few buttons, apparently some type of retract-sequence, and scuttled to the delivery bay.
“Incoming delivery. Clear the bay!” he shouted. Of course, no one was around to hear him, or to clear the bay, for that matter, but it was an issue of formality, nonetheless.
What was moments before a solid, thickly carpeted floor, suddenly became a large gaping hole to the overwhelmingly penetrating emptiness of space. Tucked softly into this infinite blackness was a smallish, rust colored box, which was slowly being pushed into the ship’s bay.
“Har” Qwert managed. For being experienced in looting, plummeting, and expert rummaging, he knew that the best junk-prizes often came in small packages. He rubbed his hands together excitedly.
“Bay doors now closing” the intercom spouted.
Qwert delicately lifted the box from the re-carpeted floor and gingerly placed it on his inspection workbench. He sorted through a drawer of screws, rocks, and waxed lips and found his glasses. Slowly, carefully, methodically, he placed his glasses on his face, tugging gently at the ears to test snugness, then slid them slightly down his nose. Reaching into another box, he retrieved a large golden eyepiece. Using the same care and procedure as before, he screwed the eyepiece onto the glasses over the right lens. On the table to his immediate right, specifically and painstakingly arranged, were his tools. He rubbed the dirt from his hands, then grounded himself in case of having just generated an electrical charge. Hypnotically, he reached for his first tools — a pry bar and tweezers. He raised the pry bar to his eye and surveyed it carefully. It twinkled and gleamed in the light. He examined the tweezers — sharp, precise, exact. Qwert exhaled a mighty breath and fixed the pry bar just below the lip of the lid. So began his inspection ritual.
Qwert’s Ship Log: The Contents of the Box
“Nina, I need more light” Qwert called over the intercom.
“Roger” the intercom replied, and lighting was increased.
Qwert wiped his brow with his free hand, took another breath, and then applied the slightest bit of pressure to the pry bar. Surprisingly, both to Qwert and to the pry bar, the box opened; it didn’t even put up a fight.
A very small, almost undetectable gust issued from the box. Qwert carefully laid his tools to the side. Placing one hand atop the box, and another along the side, he prepared to open but was again surprised by the box’s helpfulness. Almost as if opening by suggestion, the lid gently raised itself up and back and rested fixedly upon its hinges. This was already, by far, the most exciting find Qwert had experienced.
“What have we here?” he said to himself. He changed into a better pair of glasses to formally indicate that his interest was firmly established. He noticed a small booklet affixed to the underpart of the lid. In the belly of the box he found what appeared to be a transistor radio.
He opened the booklet.
“Use radio” it read.
He picked up the radio and turned it on.
“Hello?” Qwert whispered.
“Hello? If you can hear this, you must help me. Please.”
Qwert put the radio down. He hadn’t heard another voice, another human voice, for many, many years. Was this one real? He turned the volume up.
“Hello? Please. If you can hear this — I need your help. Please. Turn the dial two revolutions. This broadcast is being mon…”
The voice went silent.
Qwert banged the side of the radio.
“C’mon,” he shouted, “work you bloody box.”
He reopened the booklet, “Use radio.”
Nothing else? Not why, or how, or by the order of so and so? Preparing to be disappointed, he turned the dial.
He banged while cursing and fine-tuned while banging.
His eyebrows almost raised into orbit above his head.
“Please. Thank you for listening. Hurry. There isn’t much time. I, we need your help. There is only so long that…hold the book into the light. I cannot guarantee the radio will last for…”
The abrupt break startled Qwert and caused him to fall out of his chair.
“For what?” he pleaded. He shook the radio vigorously, “for what!”
He chucked the radio back into the box and scrambled for the booklet. Desperately, he held the book into the light.
Only one word reached his lips, “Oye,” he said, and quivered very slightly.
Qwert’s Ship Log: The Voice, The Booklet, and The Mission
Qwert wiped his eyes in disbelief. How could he not have seen it before? Had the radio not worked, he would have thrown the booklet away after a quick first glance. After all, it only instructed the reader to use the radio. That was until the radio had given additional information. When held up to the light, the previously blank pages had now become full of diagrams, mechanical illustrations, and what appeared to be a set of instructions. Qwert wasn’t necessarily an expert mechanic, as was evidenced by his trouble interpreting the diagrams and instructions, but he was undoubtedly competent and often surprised himself with his skill. However, he quickly realized that the contents of the booklet were far beyond his understanding and capabilities. He had never seen anything like what the instructions were suggesting.
Qwert cleared his workbench and unrolled a large sheet of paper across the top. He began copying down the diagrams. He worked tediously for the next several hours. So immersed in completely copying the information, when he paused, he noticed that he had grown very tense. He needed a break to clear his mind. Nothing a little swig from his hip flask wouldn’t take care of. He took a swig and let the liquor settle in his mouth.
“We’ve got contact!” the intercom boomed.
Qwert had just reached Level 4 of a self devised meditation program and nearly choked on his last swig.
“What are you on about?” Qwert grumbled as he approached the bay.
“Frequency one two eight seven shows low, but detectable transmission. I rerouted the signal to the console and amplified it seventeen ostrich.”
Qwert frowned at his holograph cohort. “Nina, when are you going to use the units I programmed?”
The purple octopus smiled and pushed up her glasses.
“If you can hear this, then you have found the booklet. If you’ve held it to the light, then I can only assume that you must be utterly confused. The diagrams were intentionally un-numbered and arranged in reverse order. The booklet contains the instructions for a robot, a very sophisticated and technically superior…[static]…but don’t use those. If you do, you may cause irreparable damage which…[static]…build from the inside out. You must hurry. We cannot continue without…” the transmission ended.
Qwert and Nina looked at one another.
“Is that all? There’s nothing before that?” Qwert asked.
Nina punched a few buttons and adjusted her earpiece, “nope. It’s just that. It’s on a loop too.”
“Figures” Qwert said. He went back to his station to have another look. A robot, huh?
After a few moments of careful discrimination, Qwert began to understand. He slowly removed his glasses.
Qwert scribbled the words Use Radio on a piece of scratch paper. On a whim of curiosity he keyed the words into the ship’s decoder software. Exactly 3.14 seconds later, the computer responded, “DECODED: A robotic weaponry device — Universal Space Eradicator. Renders Anything Destroyed If Operated.”
“Nina,” he called, “I’m going to need you to unlock my Tools. And could you get Chancellor Vmelt on the phone? This one is a little out of our league.”
He chewed on the end of his glasses. He reread the decoded message.
“Sir, it’s Chancellor Vmelt” Nina advised.
Qwert’s Ship Log: The Chancellor’s Command
“Qwert old boy, we haven’t heard from you in quite some time. What’s on your mind?” a scratchy voice asked over the phone.
“Chancellor, yes. Well, I sort of crossed paths with a bit of information a great deal out of its flight path, if you follow?”
“Let’s not beat around the bush here, son. We waved goodbye to courtesy with these new long-distance rates, eh? What did you find?”
Qwert took a deep stabilizing breath and continued, “Sir, I believe I can stop the great war.”
“My word!” the voice chuckled, “have you gone mad? The next time you want a laugh at my expense, leave a message! And the laugh’s on you, chum. Expect a bill for the call.”
Qwert clenched a fist and banged the phone against the wall. “No, I’m serious! I have mechanical instructions for a Universal Space Eradicator!”
The chancellor interrupted in a very serious sounding tone, “listen to me. This is a recorded line. If what you are saying is true, you must destroy all evidence. Burn it, blow it up — I don’t care, just get rid of it. This is of grave importance. Qwert, this is a command. We’ve traced your coordinates, but I doubt it will come to that, right?” His tone changed to a more friendly, sing-songy sound. “Forget you found it, forget we spoke…and why, why don’t you take a vacation, yes. Yeah, go somewhere nice, our tab, of course. We’ll send you a retinal charge-account upgrade. Well, if that’s all, I must be off. Buried in work, you know, the usual. Hey, be sure to send us a card, yes? Alright, Qwert, nice hearing from you. Out.”
The call ended.
Qwert rubbed his chin in frustration and thumbed through the booklet. He chucked it on the table with disregard.
“Nina? What’s that planet with those flying turtles?” he called over the intercom.
Qwert’s Ship Log: The Decision
Nina spoke over the intercom, “boss, I’ve got the details. Why don’t you come up front?”
Qwert closed the lid to the box and made his way to the command center. He looked over at his co-pilot, Nina, her fantastically crazy eight busy arms, and her ever elated bespectacled face. “So where are we headed?” he inquired.
“The planet is called Gorblong, I think I’m pronouncing that correctly, and it’s seventeen light years past Zu-zee. It appears that the turtles do, in fact, fly there.”
“Brilliant” Qwert added distractedly.
“What is it boss?” she asked.
“The radio, those people, I can’t sit back and do nothing” he said.
Nina placed a hand on each of his shoulders and one gently under his chin. “But you can’t stand up and fight a war that’s not yours either. Suppose you did build it. Suppose it worked. It would give them a tremendous advantage. And what would happen if there was a struggle for power and the leader of the colony was assassinated? There would be a power vacuum and a new, more powerful evil leader would emerge and take over — and he’ll have the weapon. What then?” she asked.
Qwert looked into her big goofy eyes and smiled. “How is it that your situational ethical-political factoring program works flawlessly, but none of the other programs I uploaded seem to work?”
Nina smiled, “don’t know,” she said. “So, this trip is paid for by the chancellor, huh?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah,” Qwert replied, “why?”
“No reason,” she said and tied a lobster bib around her neck.
The two quickly and quietly sailed off toward their vacation destination as the Great War progressed without interference.