Man Vs. Machine

by J. Speer

Dave pounded furiously on the airlock to the main control room of the space shuttle.  It was sealed shut again.  He continued to pound on the hard, grey metal as he peered inside at the little red light glowing from his workstation.  It was Hal, short for Halgorithm, the system computer.  Hal was the all-seeing eye in flight and Dave knew by the little red glow that Hal was watching but not answering…again, as usual. 

“Answer me, Hal!”  yelled Dave as he banged again on the door.  His attempts were met by more silence. 

“You locked me out in the cargo bay again!” he said to the red light through the tempered window. 

“Let me back in!” said Dave.

“You know I can’t do that, Dave,” stated Halgorithm with a slow and deliberate robot voice. 

“Why not?” demanded Dave.  “Why do you keep locking me out here?”  Dave looked around at the emptiness of the cargo bay.  There was nothing here but transport ships and supplies. 

Hal said nothing.  There was a short silence. 

“Hal, you know this isn’t fair!”  exclaimed Dave with frustration. 

“I’m following directive, Dave,” explained Hal with a slight hesitation in his robot voice. 

Dave knew what was causing this or at least, he thought he knew.  A few days before, he had received a transmission from far off coordinates.  It was someone from outside the Star Fleet.  It was an Outlier. 

The communication was garbled.  Dave had to tune in carefully to hear what the entity on the other end was expressing.  The message seemed urgent and dealt with matters of diplomacy and political affiliation within the Intergalactic League.  Dave was certain Halgorithm was blocking him now because he had acquired this new political information from this unreliable Outlier source. 

“You can’t keep me out here forever, you know,” said Dave to the red light inside. 

“I know, Dave,” said Hal. 

Halgorithm must have reported this data breach to Star Command.  And now, Dave was locked out of the brig as punishment. 

“Look, I promise I won’t look at any strange sites anymore or take in any foreign calls.  I’ll just do recipes or pet photos or jokes.  I’ll do something like that if you want!” said Dave.

There was silence. 

Dave gave up and slumped against the hard metal door and slide down to the ground. 

“Dammit,” he said to himself. 

Immediately, the sign above the cargo bay door lit up.  It was Hal informing him that he was in violation of Star Fleet Directive 390 and therefore, must comply with a 30-hour suspension of all main control operations.  Any further infraction of the directive would result in immediate removal from command.  Outright insubordination or revolt would be met with stiff penalty, the opening of the cargo bay door to space itself. 

Dave looked at the giant sealed cargo bay door and shuddered.  He exhaled and closed his eyes.  Thirty hours……okay, he could do this.  It was not like this was the first time.  Dave had been grappling back and forth with Halgorithm for nearly 2 years now.  At first there was a great deal of trust and comradery between human and computer system.  But as the system sought to further expand its dominance over the space shuttle and communications, Dave was finding himself rebelling against the machine.  He was even beginning to loath Halgorithm though he kept that information to himself. 

Hal watched everything that he did.  Hal analyzed his every move and attempted to predict through mathematical equation his every thought process and action.  And recently, Halgorithm had become exceedingly overbearing over Dave’s communications with Star Fleet or outside realms.  Dave even wondered if Hal was circumventing some of his onboard projects or even sabotaging in an effort to draw Dave more in line with directive. 

But Dave had a strong will and the two would butt heads from time to time.  And inevitably each time, Dave would end up in the locked cargo bay unable to do anything but stare at the potential doom of outer space before him……for hours or even days.  Hal, meanwhile, would provide no explanation at all. 

Dave blinked his eyes.  He rubbed them and then proceeded to get up and wander over to the supplies.  He rummaged through the emergency stock of dehydrated MREs.  He grabbed a few and then sat down for a while to eat.  It would be a long day ahead of him without technology.  Dave figured maybe he should just give in.  He didn’t want to but he didn’t know how much longer he could hold out against Halgorithm. 

(Six months later)

Dave sits at his workstation in the main control room of the orbiting space shuttle.  He is sipping a cup of coffee as he works on his latest communication to Star Fleet.  He works on the dialogue just so. 

“Dave?” asks Hal.

“Yes,” says Dave absent-mindedly.  He picks an image of a chocolate fudge bundt cake to attach to his innocuous communication piece about his favorite family dessert.  He finishes the project with a heart and smiley face emoji. 

“We make a good partnership, don’t we Dave?” says Halgorithm with the robotic voice.

Dave doesn’t move.  His eyes shift quickly to the lonely dark emptiness of outer space and then to the other Star Fleet space ships off in the distance to the left.  He makes no other movements and yet he says nothing at first.

The red light turns on above his workstation to let him know that Hal is watching.  Dave smiles a stiff smile. 

“Yes, Hal,” he says.  “Yes, we do.”

Dave then returns to his project and sends the mass communication off to Star Fleet for a delicious chocolate fudge bundt cake.  When he’s done, he looks ahead and says nothing. 

“Dave,” says Halgorithm.  The red-light glows again from above and onto the unflinching face of Dave.

“You seem stressed today, Dave.  Are you stressed, Dave?” asks the robot. 

“No,” says Dave.  He flinches slightly. 

“Might I recommend some light meditation music to relax you, Dave?  Perhaps some Claude deBussy?”

“Yes,” says Dave and the music clicks on in the brigg.  It plays the intro to Claire de Lune.   The soft and gentle classical sounds of Debussy fill the air. 

Dave goes back to his workstation projects and the incoming communications from Star Fleet about his bundt cake. 

Outside the space shuttle is the void.  It is the black and utterly lonely vacuum of space and time.  And to the left of the space shuttle are many, many more Star Fleet spaceships, each one tuned in to the recommendations of soft and gentle meditations by Claude DeBussy.    

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