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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flashfiction 2-28-13

Here's a flashfiction, done for TerribleMinds.com, using the prompts: zombie apocalypse, capital city of a lost civilization, and artificial intelligence.


            He swirled the cold thick coffee in his cup, took a long gulp, then flipped the audio-recorder back on.  “Captain’s Log, June 17, 2014.  Ensign Evans, acting captain of the U.S.S. Persephone, reporting.  Captain Banks was lost—.”  He hit the pause button, stood up, sat down, began again.  “Captain Banks was last seen during a rescue attempt of personnel aboard the U.S.S. John Glenn.”  He stared out the captain’s private viewport.  Murky shapes swirled toward him.
            “Ensign Evans reporting.  I’m not sure who will hear this, or how much you already know.  I’ll do the whole story here, try to get it right.  On May 12, the Comm Officer reported unusual signals, both on sonar and radio frequencies, originating from inside the territorial waters of the United States, not far off the coast of Manhattan.  Captain Banks reported this to command, and was ordered to investigate.  We approached the location, at a depth of about 100 meters.  An unknown force captured our vessel and drew us inside—“

            “That seems inaccurate, Ensign Evans.  I activated one of my collection beams to bring you safely to my landing facilities,” said the voice from the console.
            “Yes, we know that now, AT-4, but I’m trying to tell the story as it happened.”  The Ensign waved at the disembodied voice.  “Do you mind?  As I was saying—we were drawn into a submerged port, quite a feat, pulling in a state of the art nuclear sub—“

            “Thank you.”
            “Where we found a pressurized area that allowed us to disembark.  We found the remains of a number of other sailors, as well as the corroding hulks of a WWI German U-boat, and a Cold War era Russian sub.  We sent armed teams out to investigate.  It took our scout teams little time to realize we had found an extensive and complex—and uninhabited—city, with technologies and language that were unknown to us.”

“Once inside the city itself, a series of walls closed and trapped our teams inside.  Meanwhile, the city itself powered up—lights, signs, sort sound-system, perhaps playing music, though nothing we recognized.  As I was the ranking officer among the scout teams, I consulted with the other leaders and we decided to continue our search.”
            “Chief Petty Officer Heggar discovered the interface chamber—“

            “Do you mean the entertainment complex?” came the electronic voice.
            Evans ignored the voice.   “And to his surprise, this chamber came to life as well, including the simulation consoles—”

            “The game room.”
            “Fine, the game room.  Once his team stepped inside, the chamber sealed itself off, and a range of strategy situations—“

            “And a range of games presented themselves.  The team quickly discovered that they had no contact with the ship, nor any clear exit.  Seaman Apprentice Sparks—“

            “I enjoy that title, Seaman Apprentice.  It recalls for me one of the entertainments I have found on your network, The Magician’s Apprentice.  A delightful, if primitive presentation.”
            “Please, AT-4…”

            “Would you like to open one of the Atlantean programs?  I have now translated my entire corpus into 47 current human languages.”
            Evans rubbed his eyes and sighed.  “AT-4, you are the most irritating AI that I have ever known.  Let me finish this report, without interruption.”  He waited, and heard nothing.  “Sparks, one of our newer crewmen, apparently had extensive game experience, and quickly learned what he dubbed ‘kick-ass, holographic chess,’ which included various non-standard playing pieces and shifting terrain features.  It seems that within an hour he was able to win a match, prompting—“

            “Let me tell this part!  I waited so long for that moment.”
            Evans laughed, short, bitter.  “How old are you, AT-4?”

            “In your chronology, 11,432 years, 93 days, 14 hours—“
            “You are an old shit!”

            “Please elaborate on shit.  Is this used in a derogatory manner, as an outburst of slang, or as a regional term of affection?”
            “Will you tell your version of the game incident?”

            “Yes, Ensign.  When Seaman Apprentice won the first game, I became cautiously hopeful.  When he won the third game, I considered my mandate fulfilled.”
            “And your mandate was?”

            “My mandate began when this city was sealed and submerged.  The others were rightfully concerned that the biological accident which had rendered the entire population vitally challenged—“
            “Don’t do that vitally challenged bullshit.  You mean fucking dead.  Undead.  Goddamn fucking zombies!”

            “None of the medically affected persons were observed in copulatory behavior.”
            “Of course not—they’re zombies!  All the best parts fall off!”

            “I have not observed—ah, I understand.  Grim humor.  Hyperbole.  Yes.  I will continue. The others were rightfully concerned—“
            “And those others,” asked Evans, “clarify that.”

            “The other Artificial Intelligence Guardians, originating from this capital city.  If you will forgive the digression, I would like to report that I have located and revived five of my colleagues—Wotan, Cronus, Quetzalcoatl, Pele, and Kongzi—and have identified seventeen clusters of computing capacity in your own networks on which I have begun upgrades to full sentience.  I am quite satisfied with this development.  It is good to have,” a slight hesitation, “friends again.  Especially those who are better equipped for this dilemma.  My specialty is entertainment, not politics or medicine.”
            “Wait, I just got that.  You’re some goddamn super X-box, so you decided our civilization was ready to fix all your goddamn zombies, because Ensign Sparks played a good game of chess?”

            A brief pause.  “Yes.”
            “Fuck.  And once you made that brilliant decision, that’s when you woke up the damn zombies and raised goddamn Atlantis, complete with a land bridge to Manhattan?”

            “Essentially correct, Ensign.  My mandate asserted that I should procure medical assistance at the first possible opportunity, which would require a civilization of superior intelligence—which Seaman Apprentice Sparks demonstrated through his gaming abilities.  Once I confirmed your advancement, allowing the stricken to move into your urban area assured immediate attention.”
            Evans stared out the port into the thick phosphorescent sludge.  “And that worked out just swell, didn’t it?  A continent the size of Arizona pops up off the coast of New York and a horde of seven-foot tall zombies pours into the city, ‘seeking medical attention,’ by eating every human and gutter rat and poodle they could catch.  Great plan.”

            “I am able to decode this current mode of sarcasm.  I admit that some details of the operation were not immediately successful, but my mandate specified to ‘seek medical attention,’ which we achieved.”
            “No, shit.  That team of CDC scientists found a way to dissolve every flesh-chewing, ass-eating ghoul into glowing green puddles, which the New York fire department hosed down and washed out to sea.”

            Evans watched as gray and festering tentacles lashed at the viewport where he stood, listened as undead dolphins rammed the sub’s walls, trying to reach him and the other seven living men.
            “And whatever was in your damn zombies, whatever virus or bacteria or curse or radiation—whatever it was, spilled into the sea and multiplied.  It infected everything in the ocean, every damn thing that lives in salt water.”  He sat down and talked into the recorder quietly.  “We don’t know whether this will travel up the rivers or not, or spread back to land.  But already, we’ve lost the seas.  We’ve lost the seas—all of them.”