MUSK ON MARS

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A tale of an attempt at a hijacking in space and unintended consequences.

MUSK ON MARS

 

 

Ed Teja

 

 

Durrell heard the soft clunk of the magbolt slipping into place and smiled. “That’s three,” he said. “Three to go.” He listened closely as the last three bolts moved into their slots in rhythmic succession. Moments later, the green light over the hatch came on. “She’s docked,” he said.

Anna scowled. “What’s that noise?”

She meant the low whirring sound that had started. “The hatch is rotating,” Durrell said. “It has to line up to make a perfect seal.”

The scowl faded. “Then we’ve got it,” she said.

Russell nudged her. “Don’t get ahead of things. Don’t jinx us.”

Anna glared at him. “You and your damn superstitions,” she said.

“Did you two make certain the orbiter’s crew are secured?” Durell asked.

“They are locked in their quarters,” Anna said.

When the hatch aligned, there was a loud clunk. “Watch it,” Durrell said, reaching over and pulling Anna back as the door swung open with a whoosh.

“Cool,” Anna said.

“We are good to go,” Durrell said.

The three stepped through the hatch and into a dark control room.

“It’s cold in here,” Russell said. “And dark.”

Anna laughed. “What did you expect? The cargo ship operates without a crew. Why would it be heated?”

“Besides, the cold is important. It keeps the navigational computers functioning. Now, what is the emergency?” They turned to face the voice and saw a man closing the hatch, then turning to look at them. “The hatches are supposed to be kept closed,” he said.

“Who are you?” Anna asked the man.

He gave her an amused look and lights, soft, muted, came on. “Who do you think I am?”

“You look like Elon Musk. Are you Elon Musk?”

“That’s sort of right,” he said. “Almost right.”

“That’s an android,” Durrell said. “That’s the ship’s pilot.”

“He looks like Musk,” Anna said.

Durrell nodded. “Doing the research, I read that he had all the piloting androids made to look just like him.”

“And why not?” the android asked. “If one has to have human features, they should be desirable ones.”

The three warily peeked around in the tight confines of the control space. “Are you alone here?” Russell asked.

The android chuckled. “Alone? No, I am interconnected with hundreds of my kind and thousands of lesser beings.”

“I mean alone on the ship.”

“Oh, you mean physically?”

“Yes, physically.”

The android cocked its head. “This is a remarkably finite space… Do you see any other beings?”

“No.”

“Then the question is absurd.”

“You are not the most polite artificial intelligence I’ve encountered,” Anna said.

The android pulled himself upright. “Politeness is overrated. Furthermore, my intelligence is not, in any sense of the term, artificial. My intelligence is manmade, but very real and organically self aware. There is nothing artificial about it.”

“But you are rude.”

“Irrelevant. My function is to pilot this ship, not to make you feel better about yourselves. In this case, I received instructions to dock because of some emergency or technical fault. As I have a timetable to keep, a launch window, please tell me what the emergency is.”

“The emergency is us,” Anna said.

“You are in no way an emergency,” he said firmly.

“We… Durrell here, hacked the space station, the orbiter. He issued the docking command.”

“An emergency code seemed to be the only thing this ship would respond to, the only way to get you to dock,” Durrell said.

“It’s quite unfortunate that you discovered that and so little else,” the android said.

“Why?”

“Actions have consequences. That’s all.”

“Well, one consequence is that you are going to put us in contact with whoever is in charge of this mission,” Russell said.

“That’s a desire, not a consequence, idiot.”

“Just put us in touch with the mission commander,” Anna said. “Now.”

“The person in charge of the mission would be Elon Musk. He is in charge of all missions.”

“And where is he?”

“On Mars. He is in Teslatown awaiting this ship.”

“That’s good,” Russell said.

“Why Anna asked.”

“He will have a personal stake in getting these supplies.”

Russel pointed at the android. “So you need to contact him.”

“You do? Why?”

They all stared at the android. “To tell him that we hijacked this ship,” Russell said. “We have his supplies.”

“And we are going to ransom the ship back to him,” Durrell said.

“I don’t think so,” the android said. Then it shook its head. “As pirates go, you morons do not rank very high on the scale. How have you survived this long?”

Anna spun around and glared. “Morons?”

“Most humans are morons, but you seem exceptional stupid, even for your species.”

“How would you know whether we are smart or not?” Anna asked.

“We were clever enough to hack your ship,” Durrell said smugly.

The android let out what sounded like a sigh. “No, you hacked the antique control system of the space station, something any number of fourteen-year-old humans with no life skills can do.”

“Well, we are here,” Anna said.

“Inside the ship, yes, but you haven’t hacked it.”

“We are in control,” Anna said.

“Really?” The android seemed amused. It turned and pointed to the control console. “Please demonstrate your control.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

The android cocked its head. “Make the ship do something. Fly it somewhere. Check its status. Do anything that a pilot would do.”

“We don’t know how,” Russell said.

“That’s my point. You don’t even know what you don’t know. You claim to be in control but don’t even have a clue of how to control the ship.”

“Well, we will see who is the moron here,” Durrell said. “Get Musk on a monitor.”

The android gave a very human shrug. “Why not? For all the good it will do you… it might be amusing.”

A large flexible screen came to life, and they saw Elon Musk facing them. “What are you doing on my ship?” he said. “Get off. Now! It’s got a mission.”

Durrell snorted. “We’ve taken control of your ship.”

Musk paused. “Why?”

“We are holding it hostage.”

“Why?” he asked again.

“For money, idiot,” Anna said. “You are going to ransom it back for 100 Bitcoin.”

“No,” Musk said.

Russell’s mouth came open. “No?”

“No,” Musk said.

Durrell stared fiercely at the monitor. “Unless you comply, we will strip the ship of its cargo and destroy it. We know you have limited supplies on Mars and there won’t be time to launch another cargo ship.”

“Which we’d probably grab as well,” Anna said.

“Right,” Russell said.

“Go to hell,” Musk said. The screen went blank.

“What the hell just happened here?” Russell said.

“He’s running a bluff,” Durrell said. “He needs the supplies.”

“And he will get them,” the Android said. They all looked at him. “Did you think we would go to all this trouble, put in all the effort to create the systems needed to colonize Mars, and not plan for wannabe pirates? There’s always someone wanting to cash in.”

“Plan for pirates?” Anna asked.

“Wannabe pirates?” Russell asked. “We are actual pirates.”

The android chuckled. “You haven’t pirated anything. So far you are just trespassers.”

“We boarded you.”

The android nodded. “Can any of you manage to cast your feeble memories as far back as when we chatted about this being an unmanned ship?”

“Of course,” Durrell said, glancing at his accomplices.

“Launching a cargo from the planet presents a lot of technical challenges. To simplify the design, thus increasing reliability, and to allow for more cargo, Mr. Musk had his people leave a few items out of the ship’s design.”

“Items?”

“Systems that aren’t needed, given the mission—the delivery of cargo by a nonhuman pilot. You, I’m afraid, will find them rather large obstacles to your goal of pirating the ship.”

“What do you mean?” Durrell asked.

Despite not having a tongue, the android made the sound of a tongue clucking. “You shortchanged the research phase of this project, I’m guessing.” It waved a hand around. “Here’s a thought, before you decide to fly this ship somewhere, wouldn’t it be prudent to check the status of the life-support system?”

“Check it?”

“To see if it’s providing what you need. You already noticed that I don’t require heat. Think about it… aren’t there are things humans need that I don’t?”

Durrell looked around. “Where is it?”

“You told me you are in control,” the android said. “You should know things like that. But I’ll take pity and give you morons a hint—there isn’t one.”

Anna put her hands on her hips. “Then how are is it we are breathing air?”

“Your emergency call suggested there might be a technical issue that needed correcting. For such emergencies, the ship has a limited supply of oxygen and it came on automatically when we docked. It’s completely adequate for a technician to board and make repairs. It is not, however, enough for three pirates to survive long.”

“What if the problems needed time to fix?”

“The tech either puts on a space suit or, if the problem is too big, the ship has to return to base.”

Durrell scratched his head. “So, you are saying there are no CO2 scrubbers.”

“Not a hint of one. Just a little oxygen and it’s running low about now, I’m afraid.”

Anna looked at Durrell. “You didn’t know that?”

“Hey, my job was to research the space station communications protocols and hack them. You two planned the heist.”

“It isn’t a problem,” Russell said. “The space station’s life support system can accommodate a docked ship. I checked it out, and it is in fine shape. We can just open the hatch and we will be fine… for years if necessary.”

“That’s true,” the android said.

Durrell went to the hatch and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “It won’t open. How do we open it?”

They all looked at Russell, who pointed to a latch that covered a small lever. “That lever is the emergency release. Lift the cover.”

Durrell grabbed the latch cover. “It won’t budge.”

“Is it broken?” Anna asked.

“That is a design feature,” the Android said.

“Feature?”

“One of the many security features designed into this ship. When you came on board, none of you were authorized to do so. All authorized personnel are chipped, and their signatures identified and registered. Your presence triggered the anti-piracy measures.”

“Which are?”

He clucked again. “They mostly involve trapping you in here with me.”

“Let us out or we will destroy the ship,” Durrell said.

“First of all, I would have to prevent you from doing that and I can easily crush your feeble bodies.”

“The Laws of Robotics—”

“Musk thinks Asimov was incorrect in the way he formulated those laws. They are just science fiction, after all, not actual laws. I am free to use force and I have approximately four times the strength and twice the speed of any of you.”

“Shit,” Russell said. “I believe him.”

“It,” Anna said.

“Whatever.”

“Secondly, destroying the ship won’t save your lives. Within two hours you will die from lack of oxygen. Sooner if we are fighting.”

“You can open the door.”

“Actually, I can’t. Even if I could, I have no reason to do so.”

Durrell held up a finger. “Let me pose the question this way: Is there any way to open the hatch?”

The android pointed at the monitor. “If Elon transmits the code, and the ship is intact, I can enter it into the system. That will terminate the anti-piracy protocols and you will be able to leave.”

“Another bluff,” Anna said.

Durrell went to the console and scanned it. “There are no gauges, no readouts.”

“Unnecessary,” the android said, pointing to his head. “I can see it all up here. Why waste weight and space on visual indicators? Elon and his technicians can access everything by telemetry. You see, as it turns out, the only ones who need readouts are you morons.”

“You are insulting,” Russell said.

“Another design feature,” the android said. “Mr. Musk believes that irritating pirates is an integral part of the protocol.”

“What are we going to do?” Russell said.

“Don’t whine,” Anna said.

“I agree with her,” the android said. “A human expressing fear in that whiny tone of voice is amazingly annoying.”

“Are we going to die?” Russell whined.

“No,” Durrell said, rubbing his hands together. “No, we are going to hack this ship,” Durrell said.

“Oh good,” the android said.

“Good?” Durrell asked.

“I’ve heard so much about the indomitable spirit of humans, and the diabolical cleverness of the pirates in fiction. I’ve never seen it in action.”

“You don’t care?”

The android smirked. “Not at all. Best case, you get the door open and leave, then I leave. Worst case, you die here. Either way, I will fly the ship to Mars, unload the cargo, go home…” he sighed, “rinse and repeat.”

“How are you going to access the ship’s systems?” Anna asked Durrell.

“Good question. I’d like to know as well,” the android said.

Durrell looked around. “There has to be some kind of control surface. There will be times when the techs need to run diagnostics and such… times when there is no obnoxious android around.”

“Obnoxious? Please,” the android said. “Hyper intelligent but rude, skilled but arrogant—hardly obnoxious.”

The three spread out, looking for any kind of control device. “There is nothing but smooth plastic surfaces,” Anna said.

“Carbon fiber,” the android said. “Plastic is so last century.”

“There is no way into the systems,” Durrell said, slumping down on the floor as there were no chairs either.

Russell stared at the door. “And no way out of the ship.”

“Tired of playing pirate yet?” a familiar voice asked.

They looked at the android, then realized Musk himself was back on the screen.

“Let us out. You can have your damn ship.”

“I already have my ship. And I have you. Soon, despite your entertaining efforts, the android will undock and leave on schedule. You’ll be dead before you even get to see deep space, unfortunately.”

“You have to let us out.”

Musk chewed his lip. “What have you got to offer?”

“What do you mean?”

“You opened the negotiations earlier. You demanded Bitcoin from me in return for my own property.”

“Yes.”

“I’m curious what you are willing to pay me for your lives. Now that the situation is clear to you, what do you offer me to open the hatch?”

Russell glared. “You expect us to pay you to open this hatch and let us out?”

“Actually, yes. That would be a service. Services are provided for payment.”

“You are holding us hostage.”

“Not at all. You made an unauthorized, forced entry into a private, restricted space and got yourselves trapped. Granted, I set the trap, or my people did…” he turned to someone off screen. “Harriet, make a note to send a bonus to the anti-piracy team tomorrow.” He turned back. “Anyway, you got yourselves stuck and need my help. I can do that, but I’m a businessman. My stockholders wouldn’t appreciate me giving away technical help for free.”

“It’s a life-or-death situation,” Anna said.

Musk nodded, then stopped. “Oh, were you trying to make a point? I took that as an observation. An accurate one.”

She glared at him. “You have to let us out.”

“Actually, I don’t. If the ship arrives and we find bodies on board, there will have to be an investigation and perhaps the governments will be persuaded to upgrade the control systems on the space station, but it certainly won’t be a problem for me or my operation.”

He looked at something off camera. “I’m a stickler for schedules, so you folks have about twenty minutes to decide if you are going to buy a ticket off the ship or take a ride.”

Once again, the screen went as blank as the spirits of the three pirates.

“It’s a bluff,” Durrell said.

“No, it isn’t,” Anna said. “I think he means it. And I’d rather that I was wrong that to discover empirically that you are by running out of air halfway to Mars.”

“You won’t make it even a tenth of the way,” the android said. “Never mind some idealistic half-way point.”

What are we going to do?” Russell said.

Anna looked at her companions. She put her hands on her hips. “There is only one important question, boys: If we pool our resources, how much Bitcoin can we cobble together?”

“Idiots,” the android said. “People are such idiots.”

 

 

 

Watching the ship descend to the surface of Mars was always intoxicating, Musk thought. I mean there was this beautiful bit of technological wonder—his own technology—doing its thing on a distant planet, and then the fact that he was standing there, on the damn planet watching it happen.

It gave you a good feeling.

“That worked out well,” his number two said.

He glanced at her. “I suppose it did.”

“Getting pirates to subsidize the resupply is pretty cool.”

“And they sure aren’t going to advertise what happened. It could happen again.”

She understood him well enough to anticipate the line of thought. “And you think we should look at ways we could encourage hijacking attempts?”

“Maybe. We can explore it. I mean, if someone, a hacker, were to post the space station protocols online…”

She picked up on his thought. “… other people would get the same idea.”

“Right.”

“This Durrell kid might be the best one to do it. The others brought him in because he is a known hacker, so there’d be nothing weird about him doing that.”

Musk liked the idea better all the time. “Although… why would he give that away?”

“He is an idealist. Or was. He could claim that he wants the world to see what garbage the code is.”

That appealed. “And privately he’d say it was to get revenge on the people that caused him so much pain.”

She smiled. “You think we could offer him the right incentive? I mean, after they paid to get out of the ship, you did lock them onto the space station and called the authorities. He is serving a healthy prison sentence.”

Musk considered it. “The authorities might be… influenced to reduce his sentence if they were… properly influenced.” He turned the idea over more. “What about the hacker himself?”

“He was the bright one in that group,” she said.

Musk turned to her. “Fine. See if time served and a job with that special hacker unit we started putting together will get his attention.”

“I’ll send in a team to put things in motion.”

“If not, we can find someone else.”

She nodded. When it came to making things happen, it paid to work with the willing. There was, after all, always someone else. Especially among pirates.

 

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: March 27, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ed Teja. All rights reserved.

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