Friday Flash: Downtime

As Michael slipped the trodecap off his scalp, the first sight to great his real eyes was a placid-faced uniformed policeman, sat directly opposite him on a lab stool.

A hand came down on his shoulder.

“I assume the simulation has not yet been terminated as per my instructions, Oppenheimer?” rumbled the voice of Gunnersson, Michael’s CEO.

“No, sir, I was just collating … getting final data …”

“The window is closed, Oppenheimer. The two hundred days of our sim licence expired yesterday morning, and Officer Dalrymple here has been sent down from the Agency to ensure that we’re keeping to the rules.”

Michael stood quickly, spun round, and grabbed Gunnersson by the lapels. “We can’t switch it off now. It would be murder. No, it would be genocide! They’re alive, damn it!”

Gunnersson, his professional calm unruffled, detached Michael’s hands from his jacket. “Oppenheimer, need I remind you that your career – and mine, and that of the entire company – hinges on our obedience to the Simulation Agency protocols?”

“Mr. Gunnersson, sir?” came the cop’s voice.

“It’s all right, Officer. Oppenheimer here is just very attached to his work.” Gunnersson’s cool blue gaze shifted back to Michael. “And he is fully aware of the penalty for an individual breach of the Protocols. Aren’t you, Oppenheimer?”

Michael said nothing, considering whether being locked away or shot by Dalrymple would be better than what he was about to have to do. Maybe it would … but someone else would do it even if he refused. For a hysterical moment, he wondered if this was the responsibility of godhead the preachers shouted about in the streets; the cold knowledge that all you created – all that you loved – would have to be destroyed, by your own hand.

He turned from Gunnersson and, under the patient watchful eye of Dalrymple, walked to the server rack, and slowly rested his finger on the cool red plastic of the power cut-off.

He blinked away a sudden hot rush of tears, and whispered “I’m sorry, Wendy.” Then he pushed the switch.

[Notes: OK, so this is my first piece of flash ever, so any criticism or comments very gratefully received – I figure learning under the public eye has got to be a good way to speed up the curve.Incidentally, the above is actually the final section of the original piece; there was a previous scene about four times as long again with Michael talking to his virtual paramour, but I woke up this morning and decided that, since brevity is one of the cardinal virtues of writing, I’d cut the whole thing off as unnecessary. Having done so, I’m unsure if it now works as a story at all. Meh.]

7 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Downtime”

  1. Welcome aboard, Paul. Nice story. There are a lot of philosophical issues here, which makes it feel like it could be expanded into a longer piece.

  2. Well, since you asked for it, three things:

    1) The ethics of AI were already looked into by philosophers working in AI in the late 80s (and I’m quoting from a discussion we in the IZ team had about a submission last year). Possibly William Gibson tackled the theme first in fiction, but I’m not sure.

    So the theme is old hat, which doesn’t need to be a problem if you can throw new light on it. But I think you didn’t.

    2) They couldn’t just make a backup of the sim? Freeze it until they renew their licence? Also, stopping the sim by cutting off the power seems rather crude: it’s like logging off from a website by flicking the power switch of your computer. It works, but there are easier ways…;-).

    3) “trodecap”? I suppose — after some thought — it’s short for electrode cap, but this neologism right in the first sentence made me frown (and I’m used to something). It might throw readers off.

    Having said that, flash or short-shorts are one of the most difficult lengths to do really good. Fredric Brown was an old master of the form.

    Finally, cutting off as much of the beginning as possible is basically a good thing, but I would say that, right? (I’ve rejected stories for exactly that reason, most recently tonight.) I think the decision in this case was a sound one, though, as I had no problem following the story.

  3. It works as a story, and I think for a short-short you did the right thing cutting the front 80% off. Of course, it works as a story because I’ve read the story before, but the mechanics are sound.

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