Some Sagely Wisdom
"That is the absolute last time I'm going to tolerate your insufferable stupidity." Caleb had, for the seventh or eighth time that week, neglected to put the starship Tenacity on autopilot after leaving his post at the helm, and Sage was fed up. "Honestly, use your brain, human!"
"Sorry, ma'am," Caleb replied and switched the ship's controls off manual. "It won't happen again."
"You said that the last four times, and it's still happened. For Jupiter's sake, I—" She stopped, because there was suddenly a spherical and very happy looking robot floating at her shoulder.
"Hello…" the robot drooled (or rather, would have drooled, as this one had no salivary glands) in ecstasy at the opportunity to please.
"Not you, Jupiter," Sage snapped, ruing the day the crew had decided to choose a rude word for their genial robot's name. "I was cursing again."
"Not a problem, not a problem," Jupiter burbled, overjoyed that attention was being paid to him. "Just let me know if there's anything I can possibly do for you."
"Yeah, shut up and go away."
"With pleasure!" Jupiter bobbed away, humming "You Are My Sunshine."
"I cannot stand that frigging robot," Sage grumbled.
"Oh, he's not so bad, Sage," remarked Caleb, almost pensively. "He's just very cheerful. I think he's nice."
Sage merely grumbled and walked away. Caleb shrugged, yawned, and started to work on programming the flight path.
"Computer," he said, "gimme a KFE."
"Happy to oblige," a voice cooed. A cup appeared near Caleb's right hand, and filled halfway with a clear and steaming, but highly caffeinated liquid. This was KFE, and it was what got Caleb through the day. He took a sip and continued on with his work.
Later, during the ship's artificial night, Caleb found he could neither sleep nor get comfortable. Perhaps it was the fact that he'd been staring at a screen all day. No… it hadn't been all day… Perhaps it was Sage's reprimands. No, that was a daily occurrence, and never kept him from sleep… Perhaps it was the six cups of KFE he'd drank to keep his mind on track. No, he thought, that certainly couldn't be it. He dozed off intermittently to dreams (no, nightmares) of an overly cheerful Sage singing "Skip To My Lou" and Jupiter barking orders.
The next "morning," a yawning and stretching Caleb reported to duty at the ship's helm. He checked the programming (perhaps less thoroughly than he should have) to be sure Tenacity was still on course.
"Good morning, Sir," the computer hummed. "I trust you had a pleasant recharging period?"
"It's called sleep, and not really." Caleb coughed in his sleeve. "Shouldn't you know these sort of things? I mean, you've got one of the largest brains available, and you don't know a simple word like 'sleep'?"
"I beg your pardon, Sir. I will update my files accordingly." There was a beep, and the computer's screen displayed:
SLEEP: A period of dormancy for the mind and body, experienced by humanoids during which they recharge their systems. During this period, the eyes close and consciousness is lost. Humanoids and other organisms experience a cycle of brain-wave activity that includes intervals of dreaming.
"Is this accurate, sir? My system requires confirmation in order to be sure of this data."
"Yeah, sure, whatever." Caleb was tired and didn't really care what the computer was babbling about. "Ugh, my head," he groaned. "Make me a KFE, willya?"
"Yes, sir." As per usual, a cup appeared by his hand and filled. Bleary-eyed, he took the cup and drank a sleepy sip. He frowned, and slurred, "What's this, just water? KFE, I said."
"I'm getting a system error. There seems to be a problem in the main data bank. It says there's an input of zero."
"Listen, you infernal computer," said Caleb, as testily as he could with the energy he had, "I need KFE to get me through the day. Now this time, when I ask you for KFE, I want a damn cup of KFE."
"I'm terribly sorry, sir, but this problem will take a few hours to fix. In the mean time, perhaps you'd like a smoothie of organic soy protein concentrate?"
Sage awoke to what sounded much like a moan of utmost despair coming from the direction of the flight deck. Now, normally, she wouldn't care, and would just assume that Caleb had merely thought about his stupidity or realized that he still had a good ninety years to live. For some reason, however, Sage got up and dressed and headed down to the helm to see what was the matter.
When she arrived, she found Caleb pounding his fists on the main screen and the computer telling him that it was no good getting angry, and besides, the screen was made of Hyper advanced Plexiglas and was unbreakable. Sage soon wished she'd stayed in bed.
"What in Jupiter's going on, you fool?" A humming greeted her hearing, and she told the happy robot something quite rude to the effect that it should leave until she really needed it.
"There's no KFE…" moaned Caleb.
"Nonsense. The only reason there'd be no KFE left is if you were drinking more than your daily ration. You've only been having a cup a day, right?"
Her question was met with a stare that was half sheer horror and half "you've got to be kidding me." Sage backtracked. "I mean, the only way we'd be out of KFE is if you drank something like five cups a day."
"Are you serious? And you expected that to last forever?" Sage was flabbergasted. "Well, you're going to have to live without it, because we don't land for another six weeks."
It took him a minute, but finally it sank in. "No KFE...for six weeks...I'll start going through caffeine withdrawal..." Caleb looked truly crestfallen, like a girl had just broken up with him. It was a good thing his mind wasn't running on full capacity, or he would have been much more worried
"Fine, you pathetic little KFE-brat." And Sage left to do much more important things.
Though Caleb's brain was on virtual meltdown, he proceeded to set the ship's course for the day. Likely not the best idea, as you know if you've ever tried to do anything on low brain power. Any remote concentration is quite literally painful. Caleb's head was aching from withdrawal and his eyelids were lead weights. Soon, care was severely lacking from his movements. He was just pecking at random keys, enjoying the lag that seemed to follow his movements. "Destruct sequence initiated."
Caleb stopped. "What was that?" he mumbled.
"I've initiated the self-destruct sequence, as you programmed, sir."
"I didn't do anything of the sort," Caleb yawned. "Please, I'm too tired for jokes, you know that."
"No joke, sir. Countdown is at T-minus nine minutes and forty-one seconds."
"Ugh, un-program it, then."
"No can do, sir. The sequence was programmed manually and must be un-programmed manually."
"What the—Are you serious? Come on, I didn't even know there was a self-destruct sequence, let alone how to un-program it."
"Sorry, sir. T-minus nine minutes and seventeen seconds."
"Oh shi—" Caleb, with restored energy, bolted from his seat to find Sage.
Sage was in her room, painting her nails when Caleb burst in, breathless. "Don't you knock?" she spat.
"Entered a code—won't shut off—T-minus eight minutes!" babbled Caleb.
"What's all this rubbish? Can't you see I'm busy?" But Caleb wasn't listening. He was looking around the room frantically, as though something there would be able to help. When he discovered that nothing there would, he grabbed Sage's arm and dragged her out, but not without much protesting: "What the hell is wrong with you? And where did all this damn energy come from? Did the computer get the KFE working again?"
They arrived in the cockpit where a panting Caleb bent double and pointed at the computer's screen, which read Self Destruct in 7:28 and was continuing to count down.
"What in Orion's name did you do?" screamed Sage, panicked.
"I don't know! I was just hitting random buttons!" Caleb cried back.
"Well, which ones did you hit?"
"I don't know! That's what I mean by random!"
Sage put her hand to her forehead. "There's got to be some way to deactivate it. What did the computer say?"
"Something about having to un-program it manually..." Caleb moaned. "I don't suppose you know the deactivation code?"
Sage shook her head. "I have no clue."
Five minutes later, Caleb had accepted his fate and was sitting silently in a corner. Sage, however, who was usually the calm and rational one, was in a mode of pure panic. She was pacing around the bay, mumbling things like "How could this happen to me?" and "I've been a good captain, right?" and "Come on, I'm only twenty-six!" Finally, her anxiety at an all-time high, she cried out, "For Jupiter's sake, what did I do to deserve this?"
Suddenly, a bouncy, round robot appeared. "Yes?"
"Oh, for the love of—are you serious?" Sage was irate. "Unless you can deactivate the—" she stopped. What if Jupiter could deactivate the sequence? It was worth a shot...
"Jupiter, do you know the code to un-program the destruct sequence?"
"Of course," Jupiter burbled.
There is a God, thought Sage. "Can you do that for me?"
"I'd be happy to!" chirped the robot, and Sage breathed a sigh of relief.
"Well, go to it, then," she said. There was no response from the robot. "Come on, Jupiter, we need you to do this!"
"Apologize for being rude," hummed the robot.
"What?" Who the hell told him to do that?
A voice from the corner murmured, "You should be nicer to him."
Sage was stunned. "Caleb, you twat! Of all the times—" But Sage realized that there wasn't time for this. "Fine, Jupiter, I'm sorry for being rude; it won't happen again."
"Apology accepted!" And Jupiter set to work.
As it turned out, Jupiter finally had his chance to save the day, teaching Sage an important lesson in manners. The KFE problem was eventually fixed, and Caleb cut down his caffeine consumption to four cups a day. Computer learned never to obey Caleb again, and Sage was forced to do all the navigation and programming herself.