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Debug Failed (Short story)

The sound of an electronic siren rang through the starship’s cabin. The grinding noise of mechanized and magnetized machine tread reverberated off of the steel grating underneath the Semi-Autonomous Manipulator (SAM) robot as it moved over toward the master alarm panel. It slowly raised one of its metal, skeletal arms, outstretched a rubber-tipped finger, and pressed a button to silence the alarm. An internal process began inside the robot’s mainframe, once again.

+ --- +
RUN PROGRAM: MAINFRAME DEBUG – ATTEMPT NUMBER 1103
...
...
PROGRAM STATUS: DEBUG FAILED – SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT
+ --- +

Lowering its arm back down to the side of its rigid, metal body, the SAM turned its head nearly one-hundred-eighty degrees in the direction of the life support tube at the back of the vessel. Its body quickly turned to realign with its head, causing a disturbing grinding noise to echo through the cabin once more. Without pausing its movement, the machine rolled over to the tube.

“Captain Nightingale,” her feminine voice spoke through a speaker built into her robotic skull, “Please wake up, sir.”

There was no response.

SAM stared at the skeleton floating inside of the life support tube. The bones were once a live human being—Caspirius Nightingale—but now they hung nearly-motionless and unfeelingly inside of the lighted tube filled with pink-tinted water. She reached up and tapped on the glass. “Captain Nightingale. Please wake up. We are running out of time.”

She was again met with silence.

A minor power fluctuation inside of her mechanical body caused her to shudder and she released a noise similar to that of a child whimpering. “Caspirius…” she whispered, “Please…”

Her medical programming and internal logic chips told her that Nightingale was dead, and her hardwired protocols required her to jettison his corpse in order to conserve resources and to salvage whatever was left of the ship that she could, but SAM ignored them. How, not even she was aware, but something had changed inside of her during the attack that had killed Caspirius weeks earlier. Before she was a simple droid—unfeeling, cold, calculating, and a servant to her human masters—but now, however it had occurred, she was experiencing some type of emergent behavior that not even she had ever known to have happened.

“I need you to wake up, sir,” she said. Her body shuddered as a new feeling coursed through her circuits—sadness, or perhaps panic—she couldn’t tell since she’d never experienced those alien sensations before.

An internal alarm began to resound from inside of her. Accessing her mainframe, she saw that the water of her batteries was nearing complete evaporation. They had consumed a heavy amount of water since the attack—since she first became self-aware—an amount at least four times greater than they should have. She turned to look at the ship’s water reserve gauge to see, once again, that it was depleted. She was already aware that the only remaining portion of the liquid left onboard was surrounding Nightingale’s remains inside of the tube.

Her protocols took over and SAM turned her head back to the life support tube. Her emotions had suddenly vanished and she immediately reached up and typed in an access code on the small number pad affixed to the chamber. Within seconds, a telescopic pole ascended from the floor in front of her to a height of two feet. On top of it was a small box with a simple red push-button, covered by a clear, glass lid. She flipped the lid open and rested two of her metal fingers on top of the button. “Farewell old friend,” she said coldly.

But she paused.

Her body shuddered as emotion coursed through her circuits once more, and she cried out a song of agony. “I can’t! I can’t let you go!”

The internal conflict that she was experiencing caused her metal body to flinch and shake again. Her logic chips and hardwiring required her to remove Nightingale’s remains, and she was well aware that her batteries could survive several months on the water supply within the chamber before her. But this glitch inside of her, giving her humanity, stopped her from following those protocols.

Without understanding why, and acting out of uncontrolled passion, SAM quickly bent forward, gripped the telescopic pole beneath the push button, and she bent it to the side until it snapped off in her hand.

+ --- +
RUN PROGRAM: MAINFRAME DEBUG – ATTEMPT NUMBER 1104
...
...
PROGRAM STATUS: DEBUG FAILED – SYSTEM FAILURE IMMINENT
+ --- +

SAM threw the pole to the side of ship as she stared at Nightingale’s motionless skeleton. She knew that she didn’t have much time left, having chosen to die alone with his corpse instead of saving herself. Her mainframe began to abruptly lose power as her batteries dried out.

+ --- +
RUuN PROGRrrAM: MAINFR011AME DEBUG – attEMPT NUMBER 1105
...
...
proGRAM STATUS: DEebG F01AileD – SyyT01001EM faILuRE IMM01NENT
+ --- +

She slowly rolled next to the glass tube and clasped her metal arms around it as a video memory from before the attack began to run inside of her.
.
..
...
… --- ~~~ --- …
“I swear, if you were human, I’d marry you, SAM,” Caspirius said.

“Yes. Marriage. An act undertaken by two or more humans to legally bear children,” SAM replied.

Nightingale chuckled. “Well, it’s more than that. It’s about love and—”

“I do not understand LOVE, sir.”

“It’s about—”

+ --- +
RUuN PRogrrrAM: MAI000R011AME deBUG – atTemPT NUMber 1106
...
...
Pr001AM STAT1S: DE001ug F01AileD – Syttt001EM faILuRE imm01NENT
+ --- +

The video memory skipped ahead.

“It’s like the old saying goes: ‘If I had to choose between breathing and loving you, I’d use my last breath to say that I love you.’ Do you see what I mean?” Nightingale asked.

“I do not understand what you mean, sir,” SAM replied.

Nightingale chuckled again. “Well, maybe one day you’ll get it—”

An explosion ripped through the cabin.
… --- ~~~ --- …
...
..
.
SAM’s head twitched as she was brought back to the present, and she looked at the hollow eye sockets of Caspirius. Power was almost completely diminished inside of her and her vision was beginning to waver. “I… understand… now…”

The last remaining fleck of light in her eyes faded to blackness and her servos shut down. An electronic siren began to ring through the ship’s cabin once more, but there was no one there to silence it.

~ by Jonathan Cockrum on Saturday, April 28, 2018.

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