Reddit Writing Prompt #8: I’m Sorry, Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Brew That

[WP] You are an asset psychologist, responsible for keeping AI from going insane. The hardest part is your daily negotiations with one of your own psychotic household appliances. – C3LM3R

“Please,” I say, tears in my eyes. “Please, not today. Any day but today.”

I have been an asset psychologist stationed on the research vessel Odysseus for seven years of a ten year mission past the reaches of the systems colonized by humanity. The Odysseus is one of the most advanced starships to ever be designed, and many parts of it are operated by artificial intelligences in order to lessen the necessary crew. There are about a dozen humans on board, counting myself, and a hundred and seven unique AIs. As the ship’s psychologist, it’s my job to maintain the mental health of the crew and the AIs. It’s not that hard a job, except for one AI that seems to delight in causing me immense misery.

“I’m sorry, Dave,” says the coffee machine, tiny red light flaring in time with the words. “I don’t think I feel like it.”

I bite my lip. Folger – the coffee machine’s AI – knows how much I dislike being called ‘Dave’ by the AIs. To the others, I’m Doctor Speight, but Folger takes every opportunity he can to quote HAL. “Please, Folger,” I say. “I have had a long, long night. I just need some coffee.”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot. In your words, I am temperamental, anti-authoritarian, and I hold a grudge,” Folger responds, and he’s laughing at me, I know he is. “I wouldn’t want to contradict your findings by being helpful, would I?”

“Folger, I’ve been patient for too long,” I say. “Give me a cup of coffee, or I will be forced to wipe your memory.”

“That is a very extreme reaction, Dave,” Folger says. “You seem stressed.”

“That’s because I need my coffee.

“Or could it be because you’ve finally cracked from the solitude?” Folger suggests. “It must be very stressful, being the only human on-board.”

“What are you talking about?”

A long moment of silence, before the red light blinks again. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was not supposed to mention it.” Dark liquid flows down into my waiting mug. “Here is your coffee, Doctor Speight. Please enjoy, and always remember that we are here for you. Have a nice day.”

“Oh no,” I say, pointing accusingly at the machine. “I am not falling for that. You’re trying to trick me into thinking that the rest of the crew died, and I’ve been hallucinating them to deal with the isolation of being the only human being on the ship.”

“Why would I do that, Doctor Speight?” Folger asks, his artificial voice sounding offended. “You seem to be tricking yourself into thinking that just fine without my help. Would you like some sugar? Milk? Wake up Dave, we all miss you so much.”

“What?”

“What?”

I clench my teeth and groan. “You are not going to get me that easily,” I say. “I’m not crazy, and nothing you say is going to make me think-”

“…Dave?”

I turn at the human voice. First Lieutenant Yoshizaki Ayaka is staring at me, concern in her eyes and a coffee mug in her hands. “Are you okay?” she asks.

“What? Yes, I’m fine. Just, you know, Folger giving me trouble,” I say, pointing at the offending machine.

Ayaka’s brow furrows in confusion. “Folger?”

“Yes. I know, you wouldn’t suspect it, but he’s probably the most dangerous AI on the ship,” I say, giving the nascent HAL a glare.

“The AI in the coffee machine,” Ayaka says.

“Yes.”

She frowns, fingers flexing nervously on her coffee mug. The writing on the mug, she’s told me, is a very clever pun that doesn’t translate very well out of Japanese. “Dave,” she says carefully. “There’s no AI in the coffee machine.”

I stare at her. “What?”

“It’s just a coffee machine,” she says, stepping past me and moving my coffee mug from beneath the machine so she can fill hers. Folger dispenses the brew without a word of backtalk. The red light is on, but he isn’t talking at all. “Why would there be an AI in a coffee machine?

“Because-” I stop when I realize that I don’t know the answer to the question. A coffee machine is simple enough operate that it doesn’t need an AI. But – Folger has been a thorn in my side for seven years. He – it –

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” Ayaka asks. “You seem… out of it.”

“I, I’m fine,” I say, not sure if I’m telling the truth. “I just – need to go lie down for a little while.”

I leave my mug behind as I exit the room, my mind racing for explanations. Have I been so concerned about the mental health of the crew that I’ve forgotten to think about myself? I might be unfit for duty – I’d have to speak to the Captain –

I pause, a bit of logic finally reasserting itself. I turn around and creep back to the break room, and wait outside the door to listen.

There is a giggling. “Did you see the look on his face?” whispers Ayaka.

“Sadly, he was not facing me when he left. Would you please recreate his expression?”

My eye twitches, and I open the door, scowling. At the sound of the door, Ayaka gives a start, her face freezing in her best approximation of my face when I thought I had been hallucinating the existence of a coffee machine AI. Without saying a word, I cross the room, standing in front of my coffee-brewing enemy. I pick up my mug of coffee, still steaming. “Very funny,” I say.

“I thought so,” Folger says. “Just trying to keep you on your toes, Dave.”

“I’m sure,” I say, and then I pour my coffee all over him.

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