HAPPY FREE BOOK SUNDAY, DEAR READERS!
What on Earth would my science fiction novel CRIMSY -- about how a University of Washington (UW) research team discovers a harmless bacteria on Mars in the late 2030s -- be doing in a BookFunnel promotion featuring 28 novels with robots, androids, and cyborgs as main characters?
Well, now. The hints are all there, leading up to one of sci fi's biggest twists. But the clues are subtle, and I don't think many readers have figured out where they lead.
The closest the story gets to a full-on admission of what's *really* going on happens toward the end, when the main character and narrator, UW grad student Jennifer Zendeck, encounters an operating system called MAMA aboard the Deep Space Gateway space station, where the bacteria is undergoing safety tests.
Like HAL from 2001, MAMA has a malevolent streak. Unlike HAL, only Jennifer and RANDI -- an actual, identified humanoid robot -- can hear MAMA.
MAMA -- the creation of a trillionaire space entrepreneur ala Elon Musk -- is unusually protective of Jennifer, demanding that RANDI, who goes dangerously rogue, leave her unharmed.
So what's the big twist? How about some clues in these excerpts from CRIMSY.
Doctor's office at Johnson Space Center during astronaut training, after Jennifer saves the life of a fellow trainee, earning her even more admiration from Alison, a former Air Force fighter pilot training for a mission to Mars.
Alison sat on the doc’s stool and rested her chin affectionately on my hand and chest. She looked at me and grinned.
“What?” I asked.
“Stop.” I gently swept the hair from her eye and forehead.
“I sing the body electric,” she said, staring at something beyond me.
“The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them.” She slid around on the stool to the other side of the bed, reciting the Walt Whitman poem. “They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them.”
I joined her in the last line. “And dis-corrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.”
Alison picked up the gadget on the hospital table. “Combo Ohm meter,” she said. “Volt meter. And amp meter. Learned to use one in the Air Force.” She stuck its two steel probes into the wall socket.
“Looks like a short,” she said. She withdrew the probes, held them up, and turned the knob. “If you crank the sensitivity way high, it’ll pick up the charge in the Cloud.”
She showed me the meter. She moved closer and the reading jumped. Toward me the readings rose, away from me, they fell. “The force is obviously with you,” she said.
“This force, maybe.” I wiggled the pulse oximeter attached to my finger, which was sending electronic measurements of my heart rate to the Cloud and probably what the meter detected.
“Killjoy,” she said.
The training pool rescue
I don’t know what got into me or what I was thinking, but I ripped the air hose out of the scaffolding. It was heavy and spewed bubbles all around and I throttled it like a twisting snake until two divers took it.
I grabbed my fellow trainee around his waist, and hauled ass to the top of the pool.
Fortunately it was a straight shot—no space station obstructions—and the divers, bless their cautious hearts, helped propel us along. A full-on emergency crew greeted us at the top and started unlatching the guy’s suit and pulling him out of the water.
The inconclusive Deep Learning Algorithm (DLA) test.
Medical wouldn’t need pre-qualification bloodwork. And my psychological testing was limited to simple stress prompts and an IQ test. My lung capacity was terrific (the medical technician who administered the test looked befuddled, even when I bragged on my championship swimming days) and I did better than the tech (so he said) on a grip strength test.
For the broadest overview of my long-term well-being, Medical also got a Deep Learning Algorithm test, like the one Nathaniel Hawthorn took, that would tell me the day I would die.
“You guys, too?” I asked. “A friend did a DLA.”
“It’s pretty accurate,” the technician said. “Had a master chief in my office, healthy as a horse, retiring from the Navy in a few weeks. But when his DLA came back, it said he had only a few weeks. He died before we could go over the results.”
“TOLD YA SO,” I was dying to say to Nathaniel Hawthorn, when my DLA test came back “inconclusive.”
Seems it’s not so easy after all to predict when someone’s gonna die. From the looks of the charts and explanations on it, my car accident threw the whole thing off.
I should have died then, no doubt, but since I had lived, all bets were off.
“Hmph,” said the med tech at the space center clinic during the “formal going over of the results,” which he combined with some in-depth questions about my state of mind post-pool pandemonium.
“Everything seems good, but doc still wants a look at you,” he said. “So, hey,” he asked, before stepping out. “How’d you rip that air hose—”
The whole thing was a blur of bubbles and wet suits. The scaffolding it got tangled in was sharp and probably cut it.
“No idea,” I replied.
MAMA commands Jennifer to do the impossible.
“You’ll be just fine,” Mama said. “Do you see that large bolt on the wall? See it? The large, chrome-plated bolt. Unscrew it.”
Ridiculous. I couldn’t budge it.
“Do it, please.”
“Why?” I said.
“Wrap your hand around it, squeeze, and turn.”
“Get out of my head.”
“If you don’t do it, you won’t leave,” Mama said. “Captain Gillory cannot fix what needs fixing.”
“Turn the fucking bolt.”
I got out of my seat and wrapped my gloved hand around the bolt, got a grip, and turned. And turned. It started turning. What the hell?
Thanks for reading! Until next time,