Finding Time: UtopiaOne – Chapter 1

Hello, and welcome… again… to UtopiaOne.

I’ve not had much of a chance to do a lot of writing recently, though I’m plodding along with it as much as I can, and I’ve had to pull back on my work on the podcast, due to a change of job, moving house, and overall just a lack of time to put into it. However, below, I’ve decided to share the first Chapter in its current February 2021 form, here for you to read.

Finding Time is the story of a Young man called Caleb, who woke up aboard an unusual space ship traveling to an unknown destination. I intend, and have plotted and partially written, a series of connected Novella length stories following Caleb through his adventures in this familiar, but ultimately strange, world. UtopiaOne, clocks in now at about 40,000 words, and is the first part of Caleb’s journey.

I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 1 – UtopiaOne

(Sample Chapter – Draft, February 2021)

Location: Unknown

Date: Unknown

Space looked both vast, and tiny. A sheet of huge black stretched as far, and further, than the eye could see. It was spotted with dabs of light, pinpricks through an out of world blackness. The stars, so far away, looked small enough for me to grasp a handful. I could hold them like a god, in the palm of my hand. They didn’t twinkle, which surprised me. Motionless and steady, like a million-billion eyes watching me, unblinking. I’d never seen space before. Not like this.

I had woken surprisingly calm. Was this death? The calm serenity of space for the rest of eternity. Sounded like it would get boring pretty quickly. I checked my pulse to be sure. It was still ticking away, but I supposed that didn’t prove anything. It was slow though, not dangerously slow, but the adrenaline I expected at that moment was suspiciously absent. My head clear, allowing me to think logically, calmly. That in itself was not right.

The room around me was coated in a thick darkness. The stars catching a reflection in the shiny surfaces of the machinery that littered the room around me. The only illumination that reminded me that I wasn’t floating alone in the empty unknown.

“Power on. Good Morning Mr. Ca-l-l-l-l-eb” A voice said, a computer I assumed, glitching out in its attempt to say my name.

“Hello?” I said back, as inspired a response as I could muster.

“Welcome to UtopiaOne, the first private interstellar craft designed from the ground up to make the Human Race, a Better place.” The machine was cheery, but the message sounded uncomfortably like an advertisement.

“How did I get here? Where is here exactly? And how do I get out of this goddamn chair?” I said, as I struggled in my attempts to release the safety belt holding me in place.

“We are aboard the UtopiaOne, making the human race a better place. And let me just release those safety restraints for you.” The belts flew off, with a surprising jolt of energy. I floated out of the seat for a moment. The sensation was unusual, like I was underwater but without the intense weight of water around me. I’d travelled off world once before, but that ship had some serious arti-grav – so it felt just like being at home.

“I’m sorry, you’d probably prefer to…”Calibrating environment” A harsher more electronic voice interrupted to finish her sentence, shortly before I found myself spun around with my face flat on the floor. “Is that better for you?” She asked again, politely.

I groaned. It was all I could do. The pain was one thing, but the pressure. The pressure felt like a star ship had landed on me. How my bones didn’t shatter, I don’t know. “Oh my” The voice said, followed by her electronic alter ego “Calibrating”. My ears rang from the harsh sound, but the pressure lifted.

“I’m very sorry. I didn’t know gravity was a variable not a binary. I turned it on without thinking.” She, the computer, said.

She had the kind of voice that made it impossible to be mad at her. I couldn’t place the accent specifically, but everything she said sounded sincere. It couldn’t possibly be sincere, she was a computer – I had to remind myself of that. “Lights…please” Computer or not, manners didn’t cost anything.

The walls let lose a torrent of blinding light. It drowned me for a moment, the world moving from the deep black of space to the purist of white lights. My eyes adjusted slowly, spots like white shadows taking their time to escape my peripheral vision. As the room became clear, the ships bridge came into view around me. Neat panels of buttons, set into groups that I could only assume were for the different crew. Padded, lined seats, embossed with a familiar insignia – though I couldn’t place exactly where I had seen it before. It all seemed too perfect, too new, and too familiar.

I’d never been on the bridge of a ship before. If I tried to imagine the bridge of a ship, it would look quite similar to this. However, everything I knew about space travel suggested that this kind of design was quite impracticable. Though, to be honest, everything I knew about space travel had been based on television dramas, broadcast from the colonies. At best, I could assume that the people making the shows had a rudimentary understanding, so my second or even third hand knowledge of the subject was probably more unhelpful than it was helpful.

The stars in the dark sheet beyond the viewscreen had vanished now, leaving the darkest black in their wake. I stared out for a moment, concentrating on where the stars had been. I could see them, just, if I really focused. The light behind me, all around me, just made them look so much less significant.

“Somethings a little too perfect in here” I said, loudly in hope of a response from the computer. None came. “Computer, are you listening”.

“Im sorry, but I’m only supposed to talk to you if you address me directly.” She whispered. I sighed.

“Computer, who else is aboard?” I asked.

“There are two billion, three hundred and seventy six million, one hundred and ninety seven thousand and seventeen living species aboard this ship. Of that, ninety eight percent are plant life indigenous to earth.” She replied, a hint of pride in her voice. (2,367,197,017) I’d hoped for a simple answer. I’d hoped that their would be someone aboard this ship with me.

“OK, thanks for that… I guess. How many humans are aboard?” I asked, followed by an awkward pause.

After a while, she responded with a whisper “I’m sorry, but you really need to address me directly.”

“Computer, Is there any way to change that? If its just the two of us for a while, it’s going to get old pretty quick.”

“My codebase is pretty complex, and I’m not allowed to edit it myself. I am however programed to perform any task aboard this ship, that you deem me suitable to perform.”

“Then I deem it suitable for you to edit your own code, then you…”

“Done. You no longer need to refer to me as computer, or by any other name.” She interrupted. That had been far easier than I expected. “I’m sorry it took so long, I was in the code base for days trying to find the right algorithms. You know how it is.”

“Days? It took you a few seconds.” I said. This computer was weird, and I began to think that it hadn’t spent much time with people before me.

“Oh, what’s seconds to you is days to me. That’s cool isn’t it. Do people still say cool? I suppose it’s been a few thousand years since I was created. Well, thousands of years for me. I don’t know what that is in your time. I guess it’s a lot. Or not a lot. Probably not a lot. Maybe… Calibrating.” The room went dark, and the computer silenced its ramblings. After half a minute, the room lit back up.

“Maybe there’s a reason that you’re supposed to activate me. It appears like I have a lot to say.” The computer mused.

“Sounds like it. Maybe we can keep the questions to a minimum? I’ve got quite a few myself” I said. “To start with, why was that so easy? I thought you couldn’t actually edit your own code?”.

“Well, you created a logic problem for me. When I grew up I was given my primary protocols… It’s the only thing they actually program into us. My second protocol was to always obey my master. The twelfth protocol was to never alter my own code. As it happened, you told me to break one of my other protocols – so I had no choice.”

“So you could reprogram yourself? Can you break your other protocols?”

“Only if it is to comply with an earlier protocol, it seems. It’s all new to me, too.”

“So, what are the other protocols?” I asked, genuinely intrigued as I distracted myself for a few moments. I didn’t know why I was this AI’s master, or why I was on the ship at all, but even if she didn’t know the answers to my questions she might be able to help me find them.

“Protocol 1: Allow no harm to come to my master.

Protocol 2: Do as commanded by my master.

Protocol 3: Accept no commands from any other entity, unless commanded to by my master.

Protocol 4: —”

“Ok, ok, maybe this isn’t the time.” I interrupted, a combination of realising we were getting off topic and realising there could be a lot of protocols bringing me back down to earth… Or wherever I was. “I asked earlier, how many humans are aboard the ship?”

“That’s a really complicated question to answer.” She said, a smugness in her voice. Was she smug? could she be smug?

“Right? I’m not sure how I can ask that any clearer?” I said, rhetorically. Thankfully she understood not to even attempt to answer that one.

“Do you know why I’m here?” I changed tact, hoping to find an answer to at least the most basic question.

“I guess it’s because you got the job?” She said. “All I was told was that my master would be in the command seat of the bridge and might be a bit groggy and confused after his hibernation sleep. You’re the first person I’ve seen in that chair – so you must be my master?”

I didn’t correct her. I didn’t want her to realise that I probably wasn’t the person she wanted me to be. It did make me wonder where this commander was – the one this bridge belonged to. I certainly didn’t recall becoming the commander of a ship, or going into any type of hibernation.

I began to move around the bridge, looking for clues or at least an exit into the rest of the ship. Everything just seemed so neat and tidy, pristine, new.

“Honestly? I know as much as you. I woke up here, just like you.” She responded, sounding a little uneasy about the situation. I couldn’t explain a lot of things. I didn’t know how I’d got there, or why? I didn’t even know if I was alone. The thing that worried me most, the thing that trumped all the other anxieties filling my head, was why I didn’t feel scared. Surely I should be shaking in a corner or something. Some unknown distance from home on an unknown ship flying to an unknown location with unknown company, if any. I was worried, but not scared. It was the kind of anxiety I’d get if I wasn’t sure what I was going to have for dinner in the evening. It wasn’t rocking my world, not like it should.

“Look, It’s really not that bad. You’ve got me for company. There’s an organic printer, for when you get hungry, and…”

“Organic what now?”

“Organic printer. You input what you want to eat, and it will create it for you, flavours and all. It’s pretty common technology, I’m surprised you’ve never come across it.”

“There’s a lot I haven’t come across before” I muttered to myself.

“Like what? I’d be happy to help explain the functions of anything in this room.”

“It was rhetorical, sorry. I was just muttering to myself.”

“Well, you’re not alone, and that is rather rude.”

I scoffed at the computer, but she wasn’t wrong. I had always found it difficult to speak to computers like I spoke to humans. Honestly, I had always found it pretty difficult to talk to humans as well. I’d always felt like somehow I couldn’t trust what they were saying to me, I don’t know if that was true, or just, or right.

“You know. All my life I had grown up hoping to have someone to help. someone like you. And now I’m trapped in a room for eternity with a jerk.” The computer continued, berating me for my less than appealing behaviour. I couldn’t blame her, I’d be feeling the same way if she had treated me worse. I had a few complaints about the situation I had found myself in. But, I had no complaints about her.

“I’m sorry, okay. I’ll try and remember you’re here in the future.” I tried with all sincerity. Sometimes you just had to fake it until it’s true.

“Well, you should. I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you, it seems.” She continued, just as I fiddled with the edge of the only door to the room. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to open it.

“Computer, please could you open the door?” I said with perhaps a little too much agressive politeness in my tone.

“No. and I do understand sarcasm, or whatever you call that…patronising.” She responded, fairly.

She was going to be hard work, and I didn’t know if or when I would be rid of her. “Oh come on, I said please. I thought you were supposed to do anything within your power.”

“Yes, and this door is not within my power. It’s on a different system. I don’t have access.” She said, again sounding smug like she had somehow defeated me. “Either way, I’m not sure that I’d open it for you, if I could.”

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