“Uh, sir, we have a situation.”
Captain Jason12 frowned. “What kind of situation?”
“A girl situation, sir.”
The captain sighed and leaned back in his command chair, while the fifty or so technicians on the bridge looked up anxiously from their posts. The soft glow of thousands of input feeds scrolled across the main display screen, barely illuminating the dark room with their shimmering letters and numbers. Jason12 drew in a deep breath.
“Optical Recon, report,” Jason12 commanded.
“Yes, sir,” answered one of the technicians. “Subject is female, brown hair, about five foot six, age estimated at eighteen to twenty-two, approaching on foot at twelve o’clock sharp. Processing name and association.”
“Bring it up onto the main screen and give us a live visual.”
“Already processing, sir.”
The numbers and letters scrolling across the main display screen blinked out, and the bridge became something of a giant theater, giving the captain and all the technicians in Main Cerebral the view from outside. Trees and red brick buildings came into view under a blue sky with puffy white clouds. A large crowd of students walked across the college campus, packed in a tight, swirling mass off to the left, but spread out more sparsely to the right.
Directly ahead and about ten yards away, a young brunette walked towards the viewers. Her long, straight hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and her bright blue eyes had just started to turn upward. Judging from the female’s movements as processed through Optical Reconnaissance, though, it didn’t appear to Jason12 that she’d identified them yet.
The events on screen advanced in slow motion, about twelve microseconds measured externally for every second measured internally on the bridge. That was real time for Jason12 and his men aboard the Chris Murray.
“Captain, association determination is complete,” said the technician at optical. “Subject identified as the Michelle Walker.”
A short collective gasp escaped from the captain’s men. Jason12 clenched his teeth together slightly.
“Association identified as classmate, friend, and secret crush of the Chris Murray,” continued the technician at optical. “I have a reference on file here to the decisions queue, line LZ1527.”
“Captain!” shouted one of the technicians overseeing the core reactor complex behind the bridge, “I’m picking up a series of new fluctuations in the Emotions matrix!”
Of course, thought Jason12. After all, every system on Main Cerebral automatically fed into the core. Jason12 was captain of the Chris Murray in name, but all the truly meaningful decisions were made somewhere inside the mysterious inner core.
“What sort of fluctuations are you reading?” he asked.
“It’s too mixed to say, but we’re getting a lot of them. Excitement, attraction, desire, self-consciousness, and about twenty other unidentified frequencies. At the current rate of acceleration, the matrix will blow in just under twenty milliseconds.”
“Reroute the energy overflow to the solar plexus.” That would give the Chris Murray instability in the stomach and the upper intestinal tract, but the Emotions matrix would hold. A fairly standard procedure.
“Sir! I’m getting a new command from the core.”
“Put it on the main display.”
A line of command code text superimposed itself over the video feed from outside. It read:
So far, things were proceeding exactly the way they had the last time they had encountered the Michelle Walker. Now was the time for some creative thinking—but nothing was coming to Jason12.
“Feed the core the memory file associated with the line in the decisions queue. We’re not going to let the inner core forget that decision.”
The captain walked to the motor skills section of the bridge. “How long before we reach expected verbal communication range with the subject?” he asked the technician in charge of the sub-unit.
“I’d say perhaps nineteen hundred milliseconds, give or take fifty.”
“Not much time.”
“Attention, captain,” came a voice over the loudspeaker, “this is Optical Processing. We have established eye contact with the subject. She has returned contact and appears to have a reading on us.”
Sure enough, on the main screen, the female’s bright blue eyes had turned up. A smile spread across her face in slow motion.
“Sir,” cried a technician back at the matrices, “I have a new fluctuation in the Emotions matrix. It’s spiraling out of control!”
“What is it now?”
“We have a new frequency and it’s blowing up fast. It appears to be a sharp dose of fear.”
The captain stomped his foot in frustration and cursed. “Great Anencephaly!”
“The Emotions matrix is overflowing. It’s overflowing!”
“Begin adrenaline pump. Give us a sharp jolt and maintain at thirty percent.”
“Initiating adrenaline surge, sir.”
The captain clenched his hand into a tight fist. Though the inner core of the Chris Murray had quite a positive association with the Michelle Walker, there was still a very real barrier of fear that needed to be brought down in order to execute the decisions queue. It was going to take a large dose of courage to overcome the fear barrier and execute the crucial decision—courage that the systems aboard the Chris Murray simply couldn’t muster in the 1,600 milliseconds before expected verbal contact.
“It’s too late,” cried the matrix technician. “We have overflow into the Cognitive matrix. It’s short-circuiting the logs and freezing everything!”
“Schizoid!” Jason12 cursed.
With the Cognitive matrix frozen, he knew that no amount of thinking would bring the Chris Murray to execute the decisions queue. In fact, the thinking only served to prolong hesitancy. And since the Emotions matrix was so unstable, an appeal to emotions would probably bring a flight response, hardly something conducive to the situation. Main Cerebral would have to issue the command itself—and Main Cerebral was unable to issue the necessary commands without assistance from the matrices.
Jason12 didn’t know how he was going to get out of this one. The last time this had happened, the previous captain had been demoted. He had to do something, but what?
At that moment, a brilliant idea flashed into his mind. The necessary assistance didn’t have to come through the matrices, if he could somehow override the matrix interface…
“All right, men!” said captain Jason12, “I want a direct command line to the inner core. We need to get the Chris Murray to stop thinking and just take action.”
“But captain, you know the protocols. We can’t—”
“Yes, we can. Disconnect the main command console from the Cognitive matrix and wire it into the subconscious download interface. We can begin the command line by splicing it with a line from the Memory matrix, since the memory already feeds directly into the subconscious. Once we get a positive response from the core, we’ll hack it from there. Bring up the memory feed on my main console.”
“Yes, sir! What label conditions should we set?”
“Give me search results from the philosophy section only, with search terms ‘act,’ ‘think,’ and ‘do.’”
The captain sat down at his command console. A tremendous jumble of raw data flew across the screen, but his mind instantly made sense of it all. He set his face against the screen and furiously searched through the data for the code he needed.
“ETA?” asked the captain without taking his eyes off the screen.
“Nine hundred milliseconds and counting,” called out the technician at Optical.
The captain worked faster. After only a few seconds, his eyes lit up with recognition. He isolated the data, brought up the code, and turned to the nearest group of technicians.
“All right, I want a command line brought up and spliced with this line of code right here,” said Jason12. He turned to the matrix technician. “And I want a direct wiring link established between my console and the core!”
“I’m on it!” said the technician. He’d already sent in a few of his men behind the glass to rewire the matrices. They worked frantically to rebuild the system, surrounded by switchboards and tangled masses of unplugged cords.
“Out of curiosity,” said the matrix technician as the men behind the glass finished their work, “what’s the memory file we’re splicing?”
“It’s a quote from Winston Churchill.”
“Line established,” called out the technician from behind the glass. He had just finished rewiring the interface.
“Very good,” said the captain, “let’s get that command line spliced.”
“Excellent. Begin direct feed.”
A quotation came up on the main console. It had been taken directly from the memory matrix, and read: I never worry about action, but only inaction.
“What now?” called out one of the junior technicians.
“Now,” said the captain, “we wait for a response from the core.”
The milliseconds ticked down slowly. On the main display, the Michelle Walker drew closer. Eye contact was still holding, and she appeared to be initiating a smile.
“ETA?” called out the captain.
“Two hundred milliseconds.”
“Captain, captain!” called out the matrix technician, “I’m receiving a response from the core!”
“Superimpose it on the main display.”
“Rerouting through Cognitive matrix.”
A new command came up. It read:
A shout came up from the technicians on the bridge. “We have direct command line established! Repeat, we have direct command line established!”
“Excellent work, men!” said Jason12. Now, with the direct command line, he could prompt the inner core without having to go through the already overloaded Cognitive and Emotions matrices.
“Captain, we’re receiving a verbal signal from the subject. Processing raw data feed from main auditory.”
“Process it quickly.”
A few more milliseconds passed. After a brief wait, it came up on the main display, with an audio replay in synced time.
It was exactly as Jason12 had expected. He was already typing in a prompt through the direct command line. When it was finished, he hit Enter and sent the feed directly to the inner core. Now he’d find out just how strong that direct line really was.
“ETA is zero. We are within expected window of verbal communication.”
“Captain, I’m receiving a new command from the core. It’s responding to your prompt!”
“What’s the command?” asked the captain.
“I’m reading multiple commands for the Gustation and Motor systems, with verbal line :system.out.speakln(“hey Michelle!”);”
The direct line prompt had worked. The Chris Murray wasn’t acting on thoughts or emotions alone, but on “gut feelings.” The feelings weren’t really coming from the lower abdomen, however—they were coming from Main Cerebral. From Captain Jason12 and his men.
“Excecute the command.”
The captain watched the main display as the verbal signal transmitted. The Michelle Walker came to a stop.
“How is the Emotions matrix holding?” called out the captain.
“I don’t know! I’m getting a lot of mixed signals! The system is still very unstable!”
“Increase adrenaline to forty percent and lock down Cognitive and Emotions matrices. I don’t want any interference from either one to botch up this operation!”
“Receiving auditory signal from subject!”
“Process and display it on the main display,” said the captain.
A new line came up on the screen, superimposed over the image of the Michelle Walker.
Jason12 smiled. He knew what to do from here. He performed the splice himself and sent in the prompt through the direct command line.
A couple of milliseconds passed. The tension in the room was growing. The feed to the core had been quite large that last time, and timing was everything now.
“Sir,” said the matrix technician, “I’m receiving a new command from the core.”
“Send it up.”
He read the command quickly. It was quite large—larger than he’d expected it to be. As he read it, he allowed a smile to spread across his face.
The command went from the main console out to the Gustation and Motor processing subunits. The technicians worked furiously at their stations to translate the prompt into raw nerve signals that the various muscular units could execute. They worked quickly and efficiently, and despite the breakdown of both the Cognitive and Emotions matrices, the Chris Murray executed the full action as it had been relayed to them.
Hey, Michelle, I heard about this great new exhibit at the Springville Art Museum this weekend, and I was wondering if you wanted to go there with me this Saturday?
There was a long wait. Main Cerebral was utterly silent. The captain closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. The other technicians tried to find tedious things to do to pass the time.
“Receiving a new feed from Auditory.”
“Process it and display.”
After some time, a message flashed across the screen.
“Emotions matrix is destabilizing!”
“Great Anencephaly! Increase the adrenaline and make sure she holds.”
“Receiving a new command from the core.”
The captain read it and nodded. “Execute immediately.”
Once again, the technicians furiously went to work. The time passed painfully slow until the vocal gustation unit sent out the auditory signal.
We’d probably leave around three o’clock and stay for a couple of hours.
“Captain, the Emotions matrix is breaking down. We only have ninety milliseconds before we lose the direct command line.”
Jason12 nodded grimly. He’d done all he could do, and now all they could do was wait. Still, at least he’d succeeded in executing decision LZ1527—the decision to ask Michelle out on a date this weekend.
But had the decision been executed well? Had it been executed with confidence? With feeling? Or had it come across as too mechanical, too awkward? Yes, they had technically executed the decision, but Jason12 might have botched it up after all. He’d made a risk in running the direct line—the inner core had simply been following prompts, not synthesizing an optimal response on its own. And no matter how much maneuvering they managed to do on Main Cerebral, they weren’t capable of independently synthesizing all of the command sequences to transmit the interrogatory in the most optimal and effective manner. If the response from the Michelle Walker came back negative because of the awkward manner in which the Chris Murray had executed the interrogatory, there was more than a 50% chance of long-term destabilization in the inner core. If that happened, then surely it would be the lower intestinal tract for Jason12.
The tension grew in the room with each millisecond. The technicians didn’t speak. They just fidgeted tediously as they stared at the main display.
“Emotions matrix has overheated. Line broken!”
“Come on,” murmured Jason12.
A few more milliseconds. The tension in the room kept growing and growing.
“Captain! Receiving new feed from Auditory! Processing it now!”
A new text superimposed itself over a smiling image of the Michelle Walker.
Yeah, that sounds like fun!
A loud cheer sounded across the bridge
“We did it! We did it!”
“Captain, we’re receiving a new fluctuation in the Emotions matrix. System is reversing polarity, repeat, reversing polarity!”
“Begin reduction of adrenaline flow and initiate endorphin release at 40 percent maximum.”
Amid the cheers and congratulations, Jason12 sat back down in his command chair. Communication between vessels continued, establishing minor details about the planned mutual encounter on Saturday, but these could be handled without hardly any trouble at all. He issued commands to reboot and clear the Cognitive matrix, which would then restore normal interface with the core. The Chris Murray was stabilizing quickly and enjoying a huge rush of positive energy, and the technicians all shook hands and congratulated each other, anxiety giving way to triumph and relief.
Jason12 closed his eyes and sat back in his chair. What a day. But the real ride, he knew, would begin at three o’clock on Saturday.
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