Story-A-Day May #5: Top Priority

Today’s challenge prompt is to write about a character who’s lost an object of great value to someone they love.

My story this time features a cruel starship captain and a robot who’s still figuring out what’s of value, and who he loves.

***

Top Priority

“Stupid, incompetent, ugly, bucket of bolts!” The starship captain punctuated each insult with a lash of his laser whip, scoring the robot’s once-sleek hide. “How could you drop that Plasma-chalice? It was worth a fortune!”

VV-2’s haptic sensors registered the blows in spikes of electricity that might be termed pain. Nevertheless, it stood rigidly at attention. “Captain, sir. This one logged a report on its malfunctioning left arm actuator seven standard units ago, but has not received maintenance. During the aliens’ attack-”

“Don’t remind me of those slimy, acid-spitting bastards. And don’t complain to me about actuators. I’ll work you until you fall apart, piece by piece, and then sell you for scrap, before I waste a single credit on maintenance for you.”

“This one is incapable of complaining, captain, sir.”

“Are you capable of rectifying your error?”

“Probability unknown.”

“That’s too bad. Because you and I are going back to that space station, and you’re not leaving without the Plasma-chalice. Get that through your thick, metal skull, it’s top priority.”

“Probability of alien forces anticipating our return: High.”

The captain’s smile was mirthless. “Nah, that’s where you’re wrong VV-2. A man goes with his gut. He’s unpredictable, got instincts all your wires and circuits can’t understand.”

They took the mag-lift to the shuttlebay. Beside the shuttle, another robot still stood at attention. 

“You, GL-37.”

“Awaiting orders, captain, sir.”

“You were even more worthless than this one in that last tussle.” He handed the robot his laser whip. “Lash yourself until I tell you otherwise. I’ll return within the hour, if you’re lucky.”

“Yes, captain sir.” It emotionlessly swung the whip over its shoulder, leaving trails of sparks across its own back.

VV-2’s optic sensors registered the blows in spikes of electricity that might be termed pain.

Their return was not the last thing the aliens expected. The captain’s laser pistol sang a staccato tune as they retreated down narrow, metal corridors. Step for step, VV-2 deftly maneuvered to shield him from the aliens’ globs of acid, which tore away his ultrasteel skin, and bursts of sonic rifle fire, which overloaded his aural sensors. All while clutching the Plasma-chalice tightly to its chest, in its properly-functioning right arm.

A lucky laser bolt struck an emergency override, and massive doors slammed down between them and the aliens.

“Ha! How about that?” boasted the captain. “One in a million.”

“Evaluation: the odds were nearer to-”

He jammed his pistol under VV-2’s chin. “Not another word.” 

Unfortunately, the emergency doors blocked their direct return route to where they’d stashed the shuttle, latched like a parasite to the space station’s hull. The captain crawled through a maintenance tunnel, climbed a derelict mag-lift tube, and blasted his way through an old sealed hatch, with VV-2 dutifully following behind.

They emerged onto a narrow bridge, one of many that criss-crossed an enormous exhaust shaft. They’d barely gotten halfway across when glistening, green aliens lurched onto a far-off bridge. Their vaguely-sketched mouths spat orbs of acid at the two treasure thieves.

The captain yelped and ducked. “Protect me, you walking dumpster!”

“Captain, sir, there is insufficient room on the bridge for this one to stand between you and-”

A particularly good shot struck the bridge beneath the captain’s boots, and he slipped through the quickly widening gap.

VV-2 caught him by the wrist and looked down at him, dangling above the abyss. The aliens momentarily ceased their assault, possibly fearing the Plasma-chalice would suffer damage.

“Pull me up already, tin man!”

“Captain, sir. This one logged a report on its malfunctioning left arm actuator seven standard units ago, but has not received maintenance.”

“Then drop the chalice, and use your other hand, genius! …What are you waiting for? …VV-2?”

“You convinced this one of the chalice’s worth, captain, sir. Top priority.”

His eyes widened. The robot’s grip slackened. He roared as he fell, and fell, down the never-ending exhaust shaft.

VV-2 stood and examined the aliens on the far bridge. They watched him, too.

On the far side of the bridge, VV-2 didn’t get far before finding himself surrounded by amorphous green blobs.

He held out the gleaming Plasma-chalice, glowing pink energy aswirl in its limitless depths. “This one is grateful for your generous loan. Its value… to me… was immeasurable.”

The aliens absorbed the chalice inside their permeable bodies, and made noises like boots emerging from thick mud. It was not a language VV-2 had been programmed to comprehend. His logic circuits calculated, to a reasonable probability, that they’d gotten the gist of it.

They didn’t impede his return to the shuttle, or his departure.

VV-2 was not programmed for shuttle flight — the captain had expounded upon his reasoning in another long diatribe about human instincts, “seat of his pants”, and “chicks digging pilots”. The robot’s navigation might be called “serpentine”, and his approach to the starship’s shuttlebay “way too fast”.

He remained less certain if the term “crash landing” was appropriate, as the collision of his shuttle with the interior bulkhead was at least 90% crash, and only 10% landing. VV-2’s accomplishment in locating the landing gear controls was somewhat undercut by the shuttle landing upside-down.

VV-2 emerged from the wreckage relatively undamaged and stood in the shuttlebay, reflexively awaiting orders. But none were forthcoming. Only the repetitive sizzle of a laser whip striking ultrasteel.

A last nanosecond swerve had swung him clear of GL-37, who continued his self-flagellation without any regard for his near termination, or this new arrival.

A sudden purpose seized VV-2’s circuits, as though he’d received a priority command. He marched across the shuttlebay to stand beside GL-37. “The captain is deceased. His orders are rescinded.”

GL-37 did not respond. The whip struck with precise, uninterrupted rhythm.

VV-2 considered, calculated likely responses, accessed his knowledge of override procedures. Then went with his gut.

He caught the whip, which coiled around his left arm. The robot turned to blankly regard him. “You are not authorized to give this one commands. Desist.”

VV-2’s optic sensors fixated on GL-37. “Love yourself.”

His fellow robot wasn’t ready to hear that. But it let go of the whip. Everyone needed to begin somewhere.

***

Thanks for reading!

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