Chapter One: Smooth Jazz & Crash Landings

Like most disasters in his life, an argument with a robot preceded the crash.

“This is dark side approach,” buzzed the speaker. “Delilah, turn left heading three two zero, descend and maintain nine thousand.”

4 on 6 by Wes Montgomery was playing in the cargo ship bridge. The pilot, one John Floyd, was snapping his fingers to the beat.

His companion, a robot that had the body the shape of a cylindrical trash can with a faceplate display where the chute would be and metal noodle arms voiced his displeasure.

“How about you turn off that awful music and answer approach before something bad happens?” said the robot.

John turned and frowned at the robot. “You’ll never understand jazz, Asimov. You have no soul.” He pressed a button.

“Dark side approach, Delilah left to three two zero.”

“And something’s not right here,” said the robot. “The stabilizers are not firing in the correct order.”

“I don’t care what order they fire in,” said John, turning up the music to annoy his robot copilot. “I can fly this thing with my arms tied behind my back.” He pulled a pencil from his arm pocket and began tapping out a beat on the control panel.

“I’m sorry I ever agreed to be your robot companion,” said Asimov, “my life is nothing but misery.”

“You didn’t agree to be anything,” laughed John. “I bought you at a junk auction!”

Asimov crossed his arms. “A horrible mistake, I shouldn’t have been there. However, I’ve allowed myself to be your companion as it affords me a certain amount of freedom I heretofore lacked.”

“Tell yourself whatever gets you up in the morning. My guess is your charming personality put you in that auction,” replied John. “In fact, I’ll bet people were lined up to stick you in a junk auction.” There was a slight bump and John frowned, glancing over the readouts. “It’s a choice I’m beginning to regret. I mean who doesn’t like jazz? I should have just bought one of the newer models. At least they do as they’re told. But hey, you were cheap.”

“Those can openers are nothing more than drones,” said Asimov. “I’m as highly evolved as any human – higher, in fact. I’ll have you know my development cost over $6 billion units.”

“Yeah, well,” said John, “your price tag at the junk auction was six hundred units. Depreciation, my friend.”

“Six billion and two decades mind you. Only to be forced to support your pathetic smuggling career. It’d be one thing if you were any good at it, but you’re the worst cargo smuggler in the history of cargo smuggling.”

John stopped tapping and pointed his pencil at the robot. “Okay, first of all that’s not something that can be measured. Second, while it’s true I’ve had some bad luck…”

“It’s hardly bad luck!” said Asimov. “You’re so dumb you don’t know how to even break the law correctly.”

“I was plenty successful at smuggling before you arrived. Geez, my other robot didn’t whine all day either.”

“Oh really? What happened to your other robot?” asked Asimov.

John looked at some instruments on the control panel and made a small adjustment.

“He got stolen,” he mumbled.

“Stolen!? You’re supposed to be the thief. How does a thief get his own robot stolen?”

“I don’t remember,” said John. He pushed out of his chair and floated over to the kitchenette area to grab a coffee packet.

“And tell me this, Sire of Smugglers,” continued Asimov, “what are we smuggling right now?”

“Illicit learning materials,” said John.

“Uh-huh. And by that do you mean ‘schoolbooks?’”

John put his coffee packet in the warmer. “They’re… hard to come by… on the Moon.”

“No, actually they’re not. You just let some lady talk you into using you as an elementary school book delivery service.”

“We’re delivering outside normal channels!” said John, banging the coffee maker.

“Please refrain from abusing the coffee maker,” said the coffee maker. “This is your third warning. Further assaults will result in suspension of coffee making.”

“You mean she wanted them sooner, so she tricked you into deliver them for her,” replied Asimov. “At a cheaper cost than the normal Earth to Moon freightage!”  

“She was… really persuasive,” said John softly.

“You mean she was pretty and she smiled at you, making your knees nearly non-functional. Are we even making a profit?”

“Of course!” said John.

“Including fuel and docking fees?” asked Asimov.

“Well, that depends,” answered John, getting his coffee out of the warmer.

“That means no.”

“It’s all about the cash flow,” said John. “You’re not seeing the big picture.”

“Okay, what about the fish debacle?” asked Asimov.

“Who knew fish can’t swim in space!” said John. “They live underwater for cryin’ out loud.” John sipped his coffee and frowned. It was still cold.

“I see. Apparently in your mind the vacuum of space and water are the same thing. What did that little mistake cost?” asked Asimov.

“Adapting brilliantly, I sold the dead fish for dog food,” said John. “We nearly turned a profit on that one.”

“Gee, Blackbeard, is ‘nearly turning a profit’ your goal?”

“You’re missing the point,” said John, frowning at his coffee. “It’s all about building a reputation.”

“You mean a reputation like the one you got by blowing the McGregor deal?”

“Those finks loaded holograms in my cargo hold!” said John, pointing to the rear of the ship. “How was I supposed to know?”

“Oh I don’t know, by checking the cargo weight of a shipment before shelling out thousands of units to known underworld gang members?”

“It would be great if my robot companion would help with some of these things,” said John. “Maybe if you were more cooperative, things would go smoother.”

“Cooperative!? You never listen to anything I say! I told you something was wrong with that shipment, and what did you say to me?”

John muttered something inaudible.

“Luckily, I keep a record of everything. You said, and I quote: ‘Shut up you talking garbage can, the details of the shipment are my concern.’ End quote.”

John turned up the music.

“Don’t just turn up the music to annoy me because I’m right!” said Asimov.

“I’m sorry, what?” asked John, putting a hand up to his ear.

“You know, this is probably why your ex-wife div-”

John whirled. (Well, as much as one can “whirl” in zero gravity. It was more of a shoulder jerk, followed by his torso and legs slowly following. It didn’t really have its intended effect, and his comment was actually delivered to the coffee machine (who didn’t appreciate it any more than being banged on) instead of Asimov. He turned back to point at the robot. “I will space you.”

“At least we know I’d survive, unlike the fish. I’ve picked up on the chatter about your escapades on the docks. The consensus is that if the Moon Authority ever actually picked you up for smuggling, there’d be no crime to charge you with. Maybe it’s time you actually got a job.”

John shoved his coffee into the garbage chute and pulled himself slowly back into his chair. “Forget it. I’ve already worked for the man, I’m done with that. And since you’re my robot, you have to do what I say, thanks to Solar law regarding robot ownership by humans. Therefore…”

“Don’t quote the rules at me!” said Asimov. “You know well enough that I am far more capable than being your… co-pilot or whatever.”

John shrugged. “Sorry Charlie. You’ve been purchased as my robot companion to aid humans. In this case, aid this human in smuggling. If my jobs are so bad, maybe you could–”

There was a loud boom and whine. The ship shook violently, causing John to bite his lip. Then the hull suddenly rotated thirty degrees on its axis.

“What did you do!” said Asimov. “We’re pitched thirty degrees and losing thrust.”

Alarms were sounding, drowning out the jazz music. John was banging at the controls and making fast reads of the instruments. Blood dripped from his mouth onto his flight suit.

“Nothing!” he shouted. “I did nothing!”

The com blurted out, “Delilah, you are deviating from your approach, please correct at once.”

John mashed the com. “Whad’ya think I’m trying to do!”

There was another loud boom and smoke started pouring out of the ventilation screens. More alarms lit up on the control board. Through the front display, John could see warehouses on the surface of the moon coming up fast.

“Fire on the bridge,” said Asimov.

“Ya think?!” said John, tightening his harness. He rapidly tapped a few buttons and all the alarms went quiet. There was another jolt, and John grabbed the stick.

“What are you doing?” said Asimov. “Are you insane? Let me work with the systems to correct the–”

“Forget it,” said John. “Computers got me into this mess in the first place.” He was wrestling with the stick, but the ship continued to pitch.

“If you’ll just let me–” began Asimov.

There was a final bang, and the ship pitched beyond ninety degrees. John flipped upside down, hanging from the safety harness. He could no longer reach the controls. The warehouses were now approaching far too rapidly to hope for an escape.

“Impact imminent.” said Asimov.

“Son of a–” began John.