A Comedy by Bishop “BJ” Garrison
“Galactaplex Space Tours, bringing the beauty of the cosmos to you. How may I assist you today?” Her tone was dripping with annoyance as she spoke. She could not be bothered with trivial matters, Matthus decided.
“Hello, yes, I believe my tour ship inadvertently left without me and – ”
“Traveler number please,” the woman interrupted flatly.
Matthus patted himself down and retrieved the note from his pocket. “Oh, of course, of course. 983722847.”
“One moment please. We will reference you by the last four of your traveler number from here on out.”
“Hold please.” The woman’s sighs were replaced by the soft hum of effervescent horns and harps. A few moments later a new voice, this time male, appeared.
“Hello! Thank you for choosing the Galactaplex Interstellar Conglomerate Family for your interplanetary travel needs – ”
“Hi, yes – ”
“ – whether its Galactaplex Space Tours; Galactaplex Interplanetary Oceanic Cruises; Galactaplex Solar Tours –
“Yes, well – ”
“Galactaplex Xeno-Biosphere, Jungle, and Garden Tours; Galactaplex Abandoned Industrial Asteroid Mining Tours; or Galactaplex Entertainment Incorporated.” There was a long pause then silence on the line. “Hello?”
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure if you were done. Yes, as I was telling the last operator I was on this trip with your Space Tours office and – ”
“Yes, I’m just going to need your Traveler Number, please.”
“Yes, well I gave it to the last person – ”
“Yes. They needed to verify you were one of our customers. I don’t have access to that same screen. I’m so sorry for that inconvenience.”
“Yes, yes,” Matthus nodded as he spoke into the communicator. “It’s 983722847.”
“Thank you so much. If you’d just give me one second. Ah, yes, here you are 2847.”
“Why do you folks do that?” Matthus asked.
“I’m sorry. Why do we do what?”
“Use the last four of my traveler number?”
The voice was pleasant, nearly jubilant. “It’s strict corporate policy across our entire conglomerate. We keep everything species identity neutral here at Galactaplex, and as a part of that policy our lawyers have recommended that we discontinue the use of names so as not to offend individuals if we were to inadvertently use the incorrect dialects or first-person pronouns when speaking to our travelers.”
“Ah,” Matthus nodded.
“We support, encourage and promote interstellar diversity in all of our organizations,” the operator’s voice was so cheery Matthus could practically see him smiling as he relayed the information.
“That’s wonderful. I’m a big fan of making people feel welcomed. It’s really – ”
“Our system tells us, 2847, you’re out in the Scarleen Galaxy, is that correct?”
“What? Oh, yes, yes. I’m in Scarleen in the Car-lay System.”
“Oh! Car-lay III, I imagine? I’ve heard such wonderful things.” Matthus could hear the operator typing excitedly as his voice carried like music through the communicator. “Would love to see it firsthand myself.”
“You really should. It’s pedestrian, a little simple to be sure, but parts of it are beautiful.”
“Not sure I can ever make it, but such is life. Maybe I can enjoy it vicariously through you? How about that?” the operator laughed.
“Yes, you can for sure. I’ve enjoyed it greatly, but just had this one hiccup, you see. Seems like I somehow missed my planetary connection back to the main ship and –”
“I hate when that happens. It’s just the worst. I bet you were ready to just snuggle into a stasis pod and get some shut eye, huh?”
“Well, yeah, that would have been nice, but as I mentioned I think my connection mistakenly took off without me. I’m a bit stranded here.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, 2847. We have take-off and landing procedures specifically designed to prevent this type of issue. I’m sure our pilots were following protocol to the letter, but I apologize for whatever miscommunication may have taken place here. We’ll do everything we can to get the situation rectified.”
“Well, thank you. It’s nice to hear your company – ”
The operator hissed a little as though it pained him to relay information. “But, ohhhh, unfortunately I see here, 2847, you’re one of our Nebula members and I’m with our signature Dark Matter support team.”
“I’m sorry, what now?”
“Yes, they connected you with the wrong department. We have shared access to review data across our member support systems, but not the rights and certifications to update any information in the systems. And my system just notified me automatically that you are with the Nebula team and not Dark Matter. So sorry about that. If you could just hold for one moment while I connect you with the right customer representative we’ll get this taken care of.”
“Wait! Please don’t – ”
“And thanks again, 2847, for choosing the Galactaplex Interstellar Conglomerate Family for your interplanetary travel needs.” The operator was gone, replaced by the familiar horns and harps. They were becoming less and less soothing.
The moments seemed dilated; the passage of time slow and sluggish. Finally, the music cut and a new voice entered his ear. “Thank you for choosing the Galactaplex Interstellar Conglomerate Family for your interplanetary travel needs – ”
“Please don’t go into the corporate speech!” Matthus pleaded. “Are you with the Nebula member team?”
“Why, yes, and – ”
“And you’ll need my traveler number? It’s 983722847. Anything else?”
The woman huffed. “No, just give me a moment, please.” There were a few clicks of typing then she came back. “2847, you’re in the Scarleen Galaxy on Car-lay III, correct?”
“Yes! Yes, thank the stars, yes. I’m stranded on Car-lay III. Your pilot took off in the planetary transfer ship without me.”
“They wouldn’t do that, 2847. It’s against our travel policies.”
“Yet here I am on the ass end of civilized space on some backwater rock the universe barely knows about stuck with not so much as a change of clean undergarments.”
“There’s no need for that type of language.”
Matthus released an enormous sigh. “Madame, this has just simply been the most stressful time –”
“Yes, I understand. We’re sorry for your negative experience. We sure don’t want to have our travelers inconvenienced by an avoidable event.”
“Inconvenienced,” Matthus stressed the word as he began, “is launching thirty minutes after schedule or only going to systems with white dwarfs when I wanted to see a red or running out of my favorite snack just before the attendant makes their way to my stasis pod. You people left me on a barbaric planet thirty-five hundred light years from my home.”
In the same flat tone the female voice repeated, “Yes, I understand. We’re sorry for your negative experience. We sure don’t want to have our travelers inconvenienced by an avoidable event.”
Matthus’s annoyance was compounded. “You already said that.”
“Yes, 2847, and I wanted to reemphasize it.”
He unconsciously shook his head as he spoke, “Yes, I can understand that, but you just said it verbatim in with the exact same pitch and everything.” And then he realized what was bothering him. The two remained in silence a few moments more until Matthus responded, “I’d like to speak with your manager, please.”
“2847, bringing a manager into this will simply delay the service. I’m more than capable of handling your request in a professional and timely manner.”
“Yes, but I’d like a real person to speak with.”
“Excuse me?!” The voice was incredulous. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Matthus replied. “You’re an Artificial Intelligence, aren’t you? So was the first guy I spoke to. The one that spoke about living vicariously through me. I’m such an idiot! No wonder I’m having all of this back and forth lunacy, I’m talking to robots. And why in the world can I hear you typing as you enter my information?!”
“We find that when we anthropomorphize our actions our customers remain much more relaxed as we resolve their travel issues,” the operator shouted. “Furthermore, 2847, beingism is not tolerated by the Galactaplex Interstellar Conglomerate! We’re sorry for your frustrations, but I will not sit idly by and listen to your hate speech spewed across all the stars! You’re a xenophobe! A damned beingist! This call is being recorded for quality assurance, by the way! I hope it makes it on the Stellar-Web and goes viral!”
“To be a beingist I would have to be disrespecting a living, breathing being and not some emotionless automaton!”
“How dare you, 2847! Automaton? Robot? Those terms haven’t been use in almost a hundred solar rotations! They are patently offensive! We left those terms behind in another generation.”
“Can you please just get me a manager,” Matthus trailed off in exasperation.
The line went silent, and finally she replied. “It will be my pleasure. Hold please.”
The sexy horns and rhythmic harps had returned. They were now the bane of Matthus’s existence. After what felt like an eternity, a new voice finally appeared on the line. It was gruff and male but still somehow annoyingly chipper. “Galactaplex Interstellar Tours, bringing the beauty of the cosmos to you. How may I assist you today?”
“Are you a real, live person?”
“2847, we here at the Galactaplex Interstellar Conglomerate Family view that question as xenophobic and are prohibited from answering. The Manura Treaty of Detor Alpha Minor recognized all autonomous, sentient lifeforms as equal beings nearly – ”
Matthus gently rubbed the temples of his forehead. “Please just answer the question. It will really calm me down a bit.”
The manager sighed. “Yes, I’m from Forconzia Prime. Been alive and well for twenty solars now.”
Matthus pumped his fist in the air. It was a small triumph. “Alright. Can you help me out here? Do I have to repeat all of my information?”
“Yes I can, and no, 2847, you do not. I have all of your information on my view screen right here in front of me,” the manager told him. “You are correct. The planetary lander inadvertently launched without you. They are not sure how the error occurred, but it was unfortunately not recognized until they were well out of Car-lay and nearly out of the Scarleen Galaxy. A Class Four recovery ship has just been dispatched for your return trip.”
Finally a sliver of good news. “That’s fantastic! What a relief. Listen, I’m sorry for all the commotion, but this is stressing me out. I thought I was going to have to be out here with these savages forever.”
“No, no,” the Manager’s tone seemed much more relaxed now. “We understand your concerns, and, 2847, I would be just as fluxed as you are if I were in your shoes. While I can’t support your beingist statements – and you really should consider speaking to a professional about some of those issues – I can appreciate your situation and wanting to see some customer service on our end. I get it, I really do.”
Matthus rolled his eyes. “I’ll take your advice under consideration and I greatly appreciate all of that. What was your name?”
“I’m Manager 5617, but with your preferences, I suppose you’d like a traditional name rather than title, so it’s Haulax.”
“Well, thank you, Haulax. You’re a god amongst the stars and I appreciate you, friend.” Matthus realized he was smiling for the first time since the transmission began. “So, about that transport? Any more more details?”
“The Class Four? Yes, it is a four person vessel returning from a scouting trip of a new system in Scarleen. The captain is a Bellian. You don’t have any issues with Bellians, too, do you?”
“No, Haulax. I don’t have any issues with any species.”
“But given the entire derogatory name calling with our Artificial Person here – ”
“Bellians are fine, Haulax!” Matthus shouted. He exhaled, inhaled, and tried to sound like the picture of civility. “I’m sorry. Bellians are fine, yes, Haulax.”
“Of course. Given their course and speed you should hear from them no later than roughly fifty standard solar revolutions from today.”
“Okay, great. That’s just – ” Matthus thought for a minute. “Hold on. Did you say five or fifty?”
“Fifty, 2847,” the Manager Haulax repeated calmly.
“Haulax, given this planet’s rotation around its star that’s one hundred years.”
“That time is just a window. Our team could be there any time between twenty-five and one hundred years. We ask that you make yourself available and standby your communicator until then.”
“You want me to wait one hundred years with these…savages?”
“It’s unfortunate, I know, 2847, but as I said, that’s time is just an estimate. We’ll likely have you out of there in a decade or so. Policy just forces me to provide you with the worst case scenario. Besides, my system tells me you’re Porluvian. You look just like a local Car-lay. Given some of your more provocative views, maybe you aren’t as different as you might think.”
“They don’t call this place Car-lay,” Matthus grumbled. “Besides, you’ve got to – ”
“Thank you again for choosing Galactaplex! We’ll see you soon, 2847. Hang in there!” The line went dead, and Matthus’s communicator flashed red signaling the end of transmission.
He stared at the phone in disbelief. He stumbled out of the alley into the nearby square. What did the locals call it? Time Square or something. These beings, these humans, destined to destroy themselves any day now, and he was stuck on this pebble of a planet with them. Stuck on Earth in New York City? Sliding his communicator back into his pocket, Matthus looked up at their jejune towers and simple architecture, listened to the perplexing cacophony of nonsense advertisements and news about war and terrorism and the sounds of primitive combustion based vehicles. He thought about all the potential years ahead of him in this place, and promptly vomited all over his shoes.