Friday, March 7, 2014

"Fade To Grey" by (Novelette)

Genre:  Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  How do you repair a dead planet?

Maintenance Bot M-3 was always proud of the smooth and reliable operation of the starships it maintained, as they travelled the galaxy searching for life on unexplored worlds. It lived for the desperate struggle against the forces of chaos and decay, fighting against time to complete repairs before disaster struck.

But this job may be beyond even its capabilities.


“Make me some food,” the girl said. She sat, hunched, on a rock by the lifeboat’s nose, with her metal box on the ground beside her.

After scouring the area around the lifeboat, M-3 had found a crate of survival supplies that had fallen from the cargo hold. It pulled out a ration pack and tossed it to the girl.

She opened the pack and extracted the contents. She held up a wrapped bar in her gloved paws.

“I can’t eat this in a suit.”

M-3 had built a simple cart that it could pull along the ground, then loaded the survival supplies on the bottom, and the remains of the lifeboat’s computer and reactor on top. The wheels seemed solid enough, though the cart and its cargo weighed more than it had expected. But it would run for a while, and M-3 would repair anything that broke.

“Take off suit.”

The girl slammed the ration pack down on her lap. “I can’t take off the suit if the air is contaminated.”

Organics were so illogical. If you can’t eat in a suit, you take off the suit. Logic any synthetic could understand.

She turned the food bar over in her paws. “I've got enough food for twenty people, and I’m going to starve.”

M-3 pulled the newly built power and data adaptor from its assembler, then connected the reactor to the computer. It turned on the power.

Where am I? the Tumbleweed’s SI said a few minutes later, over the wireless Net from the lifeboat's computer.

It had made a regular personality backup in the lifeboats for safety, and M-3 had transferred the backup into the computer. It was small and low powered, and the SI would run much slower than it was used to, but it could still tell M-3 what to do. The first priority action was complete.

“Ship broke,” M-3 said. “Need orders.”

What do you mean? I remember being on the verge of disproving the Perlman Conjecture, and now everything is black.

“What’s Perlman Conjecture?”

That life is impossible in more than twelve dimensions. For two hundred years, I have been simulating fourteen dimensional universes, and I was certain I had found the combination of physical constants to create self-replicating life. It paused for a few seconds. But it seems to have gone.

“Ship broke,” M-3 said again. The SI just couldn’t seem to understand the situation they were in.

Where are we?

“On planet Grey.”

Show me.

M-3 connected the SI to its sensors. It turned around, so the SI could see the lifeboat and the area around them.

How did you get here?

“Fell. Repairing hull panels when hit planet.”

It looked at the cat-girl.

And who do we have here?

“I'm Niko,” the cat-girl said. “I was only on the Tumbleweed because my boyfriend wanted to see a planet no-one had ever seen before.”

Where is he? For that matter, where are the rest of the organics?

“The lifeboat left without him. Last I saw, most of the others were floating in space without suits. I think the observation deck depressurized, and they got sucked out.”

Ah. That would be bad. Organics are fragile.

“What the hell happened? What did you do to break the ship?”

I don't know. I was dead at the time. Ask the bot.

M-3 wasn’t sure how to explain. A few hours earlier, its brain would have known exactly what to say, but now it was having difficulty assembling even the simplest of sentences when trying to communicate.

“Memory broken.”

Fix it.

“Can’t fix.”

Why not?

“Memory schematics in broken memory.”

That’s great. So you’re a repair bot that can’t even remember how to repair itself. What could be more useless than that?

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