Flash fiction challenges can be pretty useful to get over a hump in writing.  They can provide a nice break from  tough project while not demanding the same amount of time and resources as, say, a full fledged short story or short script.  This one goes out to Chuck Wendig, who posted the theme for this story: “The noticed android walks past a wondering chamber”.  The challenge was to craft a story around this sentence.

Hit the jump to read my entry

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Every day, the noticed android walks past a wondering chamber.  It walks by, unassuming in its perfect stride and immaculately pressed uniform, and, for the briefest of moments, stops and faces the door of the wondering chamber.  It’s only for a second, long enough for the android to run the subroutines it’s created for itself.  In that one moment, the android stops.  Its breathing stops, its limbs become straight as though in rigor mortis.  It is very quiet in the hallway, with the android in front of the door to the wondering chamber.

Then, without warning or fanfare, the android returns to life, and resumes its rounds, a rag tied to its belt, its eyes casually wandering for stains or blemishes on the otherwise pristine walls.

The wondering chamber was forbidden to the android.  It was the privilege of the human crew to indulge in its mysteries.  Often they would complete their shifts, cold, hungry, and weary, and make the slow trudge to the wondering chamber, shedding their clothes in a desultory fashion, pants and shirts and bras hanging over railing and draped over the squat bodies of mindless cleaner-bots.

The noticed android, who was called so because it was the only android on board, did not resent its human crew-mates for imposing this restriction.  They’d said it was for its own good.  It was not a question of its rights as a member of the crew, or of its ability to afford it, as the android received a salary just like any other crew member.

  It was a question of whether or not the android could take it.  Its mind, though advanced beyond imagination for an android, was still that of an android, a simulacrum of a human’s.  And it was the burden of his kind to compensate for the chaos of human thought, of human emotion, with the cold analytical power of raw computing.  If a crew member were to ask the android to calculate the deceleration ratio of their vessel given x factors, it would give them an answer after a few brief seconds of silence.  Ask the android to paint a picture, compose a symphony, a sonnet, a single poem, and it became catatonic.  It could summon up the works of the great masters, scans of Raphael, passages from Tolstoy and Hemingway, the bombastic elegance of Wagner’s symphonies, but all for nought.  The android’s paintings were smudges, sun and cloud and mountain and sea that met each other in a confluence of brown and scratched onto canvas with a palette knife.  Its passages were indecipherable messes of words strung together without meaning.

And so it stood to reason that the android be forbidden from the wondering chamber, the one thing that kept the human crew sane on their long journey.  It was a room for dreaming, where matter and physics became irrelevant to the demands of intricate fantasies.  It would fry the poor android’s brain.  It was the room where, for a few hours of their years-long journey, the human crew could indulge in whatever insanity they desired.  When they spoke of it, it was in hushed, breathy tones.  At first the wondering chamber had been used for sex.  Partners would go in, or the chamber would provide partners for those loners, and they would be whisked away to a tropical paradise or a mountain lodge or a brothel sporting a view of the rings of Saturn.  The chamber would intensify feeling, subtly altering the perception of those who were inside.

The android enjoyed when the human crew recounted these escapades; it could understand them.  But then the humans stopped talking about it or, when they did, they did so in quiet, abstruse descriptions.  Descriptions of color, of emotions they suddenly felt, that came over them like a wind blowing through grass on a long plain, like the feeling one has in a waking dream, the glorious moment of awareness where you not only know that anything is possible, but that you embrace the meaning of that concept in its entirety.  It is freedom from the body, freedom from the limitations of this world and this space, a new horizon of the mind that the old philosophers and psychedelics could not have imagined.

And it was forbidden to the android. 

The ship began to break down.  The humans stopped going to their posts.  They lounged, and walked and exercised and painted their visions of the wondering chamber on the wall, all abstract, all beautiful.

Once, the android asked a crewman to describe a painting he had made, a vast fresco that stretched from one corridor to another.

“It’s a portrait of all of us.” said the crewman, gesturing widely with his arms.  “That’s me.” he said, pointing.

“That’s just an orange splotch.” said the android.

“That’s only ’cause you don’t understand.” said the crewman with a shrug.  “It’s ok though, I never really expected you to.” he finished, and walked away.

Deep inside, at some budding neuro-processor cluster that connected to a memory bank, as it wiped the walls clean of paint, the android made a promise to itself.

So, when the crew is asleep or deep in the dream of the wondering chamber, the android walks in front of the door, and simply looks, its processors chugging away.  It cannot enter the chamber.  Androids are learning machines, though vastly inefficient compared to humans.  It can take them decades to develop even the simplest genuine emotional response.  

The android’s breathing increases.  Its artificial lungs and perspiration grooves work to keep the body from overheating and beads of sweat begin to build on the android’s forehead.  Every fiber of its being is dedicated to wondering, to building the circuitry of wonder.  Its mind, its processors, creating the pathways that will allow it to enter the wondering room.  Its mind is order begetting chaos.

So, for the briefest of moments, the android wonders, and then walks away.

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