This story is by Austin Alaras and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Computer, can I go outside?” I said, clearing the only plate from the dining hall.
“No, you cannot Cray. The ship is still 36,894 lightyears away from its destination. The vacuum of space is unfit for the human body, hence going outside would lead to death; I will not allow it.” A voice responded over the intercom of the ship. It was a monotone shred of a voice, not much of a symbol of hope for the passengers on board.
To say “Passengers” is an incorrect statement. It was only me.
“Aw, come on. Just where is our destination anyway?”
“I cannot tell you that.” The electronic voice followed me as I moved from the dining hall and to the kitchen area where I proceeded to wash my dish. The ship had a dishwasher; however, I saw dishwashing by hand as something to do, it wasn’t like there was much else.
Not when it is just myself that is.
“Why not? You said that last time too.”
Computer would do that every now and again, just not respond. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or just it outright ignoring me. I guess, the occasional unresponsiveness gave Computer some human-like attributes, unfortunately, one of the more irritable ones.
“Computer, as the last remaining soul on this ship I demand you to tell me where the hell we’re going!”
Still no response.
“Fine, be like that!” I threw down the dish and watched as the pieces scattered over the smooth metallic flooring until each piece lay by itself, alone. I didn’t bother to pick them up, but rather, simply retreated into my designated chamber.
What would be the point of cleaning it up?
What is the point of anything anymore?
I sheltered myself under my bedsheets and cocooned myself within them. Computer probably still knew where I was, actually, Computer always knew where I was, but I didn’t care; only clouds of anger plagued my brain.
I guess “not caring” began to eat away at me as tears began to river down my face.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing has changed. I still didn’t have a clue where I was going. I only knew where I wasn’t.
“Please take me there.
To the place I once was.
To the old sun’s glare,
the place once loved.
Please take me there.”
I sang to myself and only just to myself, never wavering over a whisper.
“I just-” The words clumped in my throat choking me up.”-want-” Oh god, the words hurt so bad,”-to go home.”
“Everything ends at one point, Cray. Home is no longer inhabitable for you; I recommend you focus on the future to lower your stress levels.” The blankets did very little to mute out Computer.
“I know that!” My voice cracked as I wept out, “I already know that.”
It hurt to say, it hurt to confront, but Computer was right, there was no going back, there was no more home.
“Computer, distract me, tell me a story or something.”
“I have 500 stories on file, which one would you like to listen to?”
“Out of those 500, how many have I heard already?”
“So far you have listened to 499 of the 500 stories I have on file.”
“Play me that last one.”
I sat up from my bedsheet cacoon to listen to its story, but in the end, I only half-listened to the whole thing. It was something about a guy who went on a trip to an island but in the process gets stranded there. After failing to get home he ends up making a life for himself on the island and ends up living there. The rest I stopped paying attention to.
It really was a bore to listen to. In no way was that the writer’s fault, in this case, it was the reader’s. Computer was able to retell any of the 500 stories perfectly, not a single stutter or mispronunciation from Computer, not once, not ever. But I would argue that its perfection was nothing more than a flaw; the performance was nothing more than ones and zeros, nothing more than a text-to-speech algorithm, leaving no trace of humanity to be discovered within the lines. Computer could recite a story but would never be able to really “tell” it, not as a human could.
It was always like that. Not just with storytelling but with conversation too. Dialogue between Computer and I were nothing more than coded messages, not a single genuine emotion behind the words.
A one-sided conversation.
No different than talking to myself.
No different than being utterly alone.
As Computer continued to tell the story, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I had seen it from outside of the window of my chamber, a small circle in the wall that gave me a small view of the vastness of space. The object was quick, not lasting in my view no longer than just a few seconds but I did indeed see it.
“Computer, did you see that?”
“Cray, I lack a physical form. Can you please specify what you mean by ‘Computer, did you see that?'” Any human would have spoken with a sense of urgency; however, Computer held no such tone.
“It was a ship!” I specified as I propelled myself against the glass, hoping to get a second look. “There was a ship, right outside flying by! It was small just like ours but I saw it!”
I could hardly believe it. I’d never expected to actually see a ship out here, I thought I was the only one.
There was no guarantee that a ship meant another person, but the chance sparked something inside of me, hope.
“Computer, you have to let me outside! There is someone out there, there was someone in that ship”
“…” Computer did not make a single sound.
“Computer! Take this seriously! You have to let me out there!” This was my chance; my chance to finally make contact with someone, something, anything.
“Let me out! We have to meet them.” I began pounding on the window. The sound would never reach them nor even exist in the first place, but I had to try.
Trying was the only thing I could do.
“Cray,” Computer repeated, “none of my sensors are picking up nearby ships. Thus said ship does not exist.”
“No! I know what I saw.” There’s no way. I saw it with my own two eyes, “Computer, let me out and I’ll show you. There’s an exit on this ship, right? Lead me there and I’ll show you.” I was not about to let this chance escape.
I sprang from the window and moved to open the door of my chamber; it was an automatic door, meaning my approach simply should have opened it. That being said, the door wouldn’t open. Not couldn’t, wouldn’t.
“Computer, open the door now!” Computer had master control over the whole ship, and that included my chamber door.
“Hey! Let me out!! Let me out!!” The shred of my voice clashed with the percussion of my fists against the door creating a song of despondency.
“Cray, you need to calm down. Your blood pressure is at a dangerously high level indicating a state of extreme distress. Before I release you from the room, you first must revert to a healthy state.”
“Cut the crap. Just let me out.” My fists began to cry out in pain only for me to ignore their pleas as I continued to smash them against the hard door.
I would never break the door, not just with my hands, but that was something I already knew. Nothing I did would change anything, not as long as Computer opposed it. In that sense, Computer had more than control over the whole ship, but over me as well. If time had sent me one message, it was that Computer never listened.
“Computer, can I go outside?” My body sank to the floor. I no longer had the strength to yell. I no longer had the strength to stand.
“No, you cannot Cray. The ship is still 36,894 lightyears away from its destination. The vacuum of space is unfit for the human body, hence going outside would lead to death; I will not allow it.”
“Where is our destination?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“Where is our destination?”
“I cannot tell you that.”
“You cannot or will not?” I rebutted
“Cannot” is an inability, “will not” is a choice. The inability to would mean-
“Computer, do you even know where we are going?”
“…” Computer did not respond. That was fine, silence said everything.