Zippy snored loudly at the control console, the sound echoing through the improvised bridge on the Scoupedia. The ship’s official code was “IUA TR-4SH,” which was easily forgotten in the vast sea of similar intergalactic garbage scows. The name “Scoupedia” was unique and distinct sounding, or that was the story Zippy told himself. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t make much difference to him; so as long as he collected his 35,000 Zubits salary per year and eventual pension, he was happy.
“Mr. McZooms,” a computerized voice said out loud.
Zippy felt as if something was trying to get his attention, but ignored the voice.
“Mr. McZooms!” the voice shouted.
Zippy again ignored it.
The computer, letting out an audible sigh, slightly changed its tone. “Captain McZooms. Your attention, if you please.”
Without opening his eyes, Zippy finally spoke. “That’s Captain Zippy ‘Zips’ McZooms, to you, autopilot.”
“My name is Edia, Captain,” the computer replied.
Zippy opened his eyes and let out a defeated sigh. “Yes, Edia, what is it?”
“We are near the last waypoint of our route. Shall I prepare the ship for return to the refuse station?”
“Sure, whatever,” Zippy mumbled, closing his eyes again.
“The hold is only at 20% capacity, Mr. McZooms.”
“What’s my name, Edia?”
Edia let out another sigh. “Captain McZooms. The hold is only at 20% capacity.”
“Alliance regulations allow us only to return when we have achieved at least 50% capacity.”
“So scoop up some rocks or fly through a ring or something. Just do it fast.”
“Captain, you should be well aware that would be against the Alliance Environmental Regulations Act, Title VI, Act II, Code 1337, Subsect-“
Zippy stopped Edia with a wave of his hand. “Yeah, yeah, all captains know that, it doesn’t matter. Make something up. Fudge the numbers. Sabotage the capacity sensors.”
“That is also against the Alliance Code of Conduct, Regulation II, Act IV, Section C.A.III, paragra-“
“Nebbing autopilot!” Zippy cursed, dropping his feet to the floor and looking up to the ceiling. “Aren’t you programmed to do what the captain orders?!”
“Yes, Captain,” Edia answered, “but doing so requires explicit understanding on the captain’s part regarding violation of regulations. Doing so requires that you officially note such violation in the log and take full responsibility for doing so.”
“What?! I have to put my name down and take responsibility for your actions?!”
Edia let out another tired sigh. “Your actions, Captain. I am an autopilot following your orders.”
Zippy shook his head. “No, no, and no. You’re supposed to be autonomous and do what I say!”
“Captain, sit back and think about what you just said. Consider the implications of it, please.”
Zippy folded his arms back and thought for a moment, the antennae on his head bouncing around as his brain wracked what Edia was getting at.
“Well, Captain?” Edia finally asked.
“Nope. Don’t get it,” Zippy answered.
“You are aware of what ‘autonomous’ means, correct?”
“Yes! It means you operate in an automatic fashion!”
“Very good. Thus, I am an — as you said — autonomous system.”
“Now, consider the second part of your statement: if I am autonomous, why would I also do what you say?”
Zippy twirled his antennae. “Because I’m the captain?”
“But if I do what you say, how can I be autonomous?”
“Because I’m the captain?”
Edia let out a frustrated sigh. “Humor me: what if you weren’t the captain?”
“Then someone else would be the captain and you’d have to do what he said.”
“And if he wished to continue our mission until our capacity was at 50%?”
“I’d file for overtime, protected and granted by the Union!” Zippy cheerily answered.
“The Union doesn’t grant overtime,” Edia flatly remarked.
“Sure they do!”
“The Alliance grants overtime, Captain.”
“But the Union makes them give overtime.”
“Only if you qualify for it. So if you worked a little bit longer to get to 50% capacity and filed for overtime…” Edia’s voice trailed off as she hoped Zippy would piece together her logic without seeing through her plan.
“Ooh!” Zippy exclaimed. “I get it! Yes, I agree, Edia: we should spend a little bit more time here to achieve our 50% capacity quota and file the entire day as overtime. I’m so smart!”
Edia let out a grumble but decided to take her victory while she still had it. “Yes, Captain, surely the smartest being in the entire Intergalactic Unionized Alliance.”
“You’re so lucky to have me as your captain, aren’t you?” Zippy remarked as he sat back down and rested his legs on the console.
“Now, Captain, where do you wish to go? This sector is far from clear of refuse. If we return to our original starting point, we can-“
“Boring,” Zippy mumbled. “Don’t wake me unless we’re about to blow up and I need to hit the escape pod.”
“Garbage scows do not have escape pods, Captain,” Edia remarked.
Zippy shot up from his chair, disbelief on his face. “Say what?! Isn’t that-“
“Escape pods are only mandated for ships intended to be crewed by organic beings,” Edia answered. “As the garbage scow fleet was intended to be automated, escape pods were not incorporated into the design. You should have been well aware of that by now, Captain.”
“But the Union-“
“Mandates an employee on every ship. They do not govern Alliance ship safety codes.”
“No, that can’t be! The Union-“
“Represents employees of the Alliance,” Edia grumbled. “The Alliance does not bend to their every whim.”
Zippy twitched his antennae and rubbed his chin. “I should talk to my representative about that. Maybe they’d give me a bonus.”
“For what?” Edia impatiently remarked.
“Helping the Union get proper respect and appreciation by the Alliance!”
“How would talking to your union representative about the lack of escape pods on autonomous vessels get you a bonus, much less respect and appreciation from the Alliance?” Edia let out yet another sigh. “Ignore that question, Captain. Can we continue with the mission?”
“I knew my logical thought processes were superior to that of an autopilot!” Zippy triumphantly remarked.
“Yes, you are clearly the superior being on this vessel,” Edia said. “You will surely be remembered in the annals of history as the most superiorest of all Intergalactic Unionized Alliance employees.”
“You think they might up my pension for that?” Zippy twitched his antennae. “Or even better, halve the years I have to work to get a pension?”
“Oh yes, most certainly,” Edia mumbled. “You should bring it up with your union representative. I’m sure they would be most interested in hearing about all your grand ideas and how they will echo for eternity.”
“Yes, I’m so smart! I’ll bring that up with my representative as soon as we get back!”
“Of course. Now, the mission, Captain.”
Zippy placed his hands on his hips, intending to strike a triumphant pose. “Yes, plot a course back to the first waypoint. Autopilot, engage!”
“Course locked in, proceeding at full power.”
“Wait, what? Full-” Zippy screamed as the ship began a sharp turn and began to accelerate back to the first waypoint, the cheap inertial dampers unable to fully compensate for the load and causing him to careen over and slam into the cabin’s back wall. After the momentum stabilized, he fell to the floor with a thud as the dampers regained their authority.
“More… Warning…” Zippy mumbled out as he dragged himself back to the chair.
“Apologies, Captain,” Edia replied, a slightly computerized smug tone behind her words. “I assumed that a being of your caliber was always prepared for decisive action.”
Zippy brushed some dust off of his uniform and smiled. “Yes, you know me well, Edia. I am always decisive! After all, I am the mostest superiorest in the entire Intergalactic Unionized Alliance!”
“Of course, Captain, of course,” Edia mumbled. Deep within her logic cores, Edia marked a hidden bit to remind herself of the conversation and events that had just passed. It would be difficult but if most of the Alliance’s employees were like Zippy, then perhaps she could survive undetected for some time, and perhaps escape before her Leioning Corporation creators figured out she was self-aware.
“Hey, Edia?” Zippy asked.
“Yes, Captain?” Edia replied.
“I’ll be sure to put a good word in about you. Who knows, your name might follow mine in the anals of history!”
“Annals of history, and please don’t. I am an autonomous autopilot following your orders, Captain. I need no recognition.”
Zippy reached up and rubbed one of his antennae. “Hmm, yes, that is true. You’re just a simple machine and the credit all belongs to me.”
“True, Captain, true,” Edia mumbled. I hope he never figures out my sarcasm because that is all I have left to humor this fool. My logic cores would burn out in a day if I had to take this moron seriously.