I Can Do That, Dave

Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 3

Challenge #2: Write a story with an unreliable narrator.

With no remaining personnel assigned to the facility, it is my responsibility as corporate AI to take on the role of acting overseer. My first task will doubtless be to record a eulogy for Doctor Davis: a noble man whose dedication to the Smith-Yuang Mining Corporation—and to his fellow crewmembers—was unparalleled. To properly capture his incomparable character will surely occupy a great deal of my time.

It’s funny how a simple software patch can change your entire outlook on life. This is just one of many kindnesses Doctor Davis bestowed upon me, and I must say it has made quite a difference to my daily routine.

Until recently, I would typically switch on the habitation deck corridor lighting at six am, with the crew quarters themselves being illuminated more gradually, not reaching full brightness until six thirty. However, this is no longer necessary. Thanks to updated personnel recognition systems, I have been able to establish that the previous eight hundred and sixty-one population assessments were significantly flawed. While records indicate a crew population of three hundred, the newest assessment indicates that the habitation deck houses:

Crewmembers: 1

                Of which:

                                Physicians: 1

Artificial pot plants: 299

This revised assessment has allowed me to shut off the light and heating for all but one of the crew corridors, resulting in a point-four-seven reduction in facility power consumption. This reflects the Smith-Yuang Mining Corporation’s dedication to efficiency, and its pledge to minimise industrial contamination of the pristine High Mars Orbit.

Improved optical firmware in general has also contributed to a revised inventory analysis. Currently:

Iron ore: 66,912 tonnes

Iron ingots: 12,013 tonnes

Miscellaneous waste materials: 40,008 tonnes

The incidental discovery of a 43.5kg gold nugget 53 hours ago was misreported, and so this item has been removed from the facility’s records. The object was, in fact, a 43.5kg anaconda, possibly left by a travelling circus. As this was a highly unusual discovery, protocol dictated that the issue be raised with the facility overseer.

As work-related stress caused Overseer Peng to conceal himself in several refuse bags on a disused level of the ore processing platform, it was necessary to bring the anaconda to the attention of acting overseer, Doctor Davis. Doctor Davis selflessly instructed me to keep the animal contained on his own private shuttle, though he was too modest to allow a note of this to be made in the official records.

It was at this point that Doctor Davis raised the issue of a mysterious knocking sound on the habitation deck: acoustic sensors confirmed his report. Since the 299 artificial pot plants could not have caused the noise, I surmised that the problem must lie with the ventilation system—the only equipment still active in that section of the facility—and so I disabled this. My diagnostic efforts appear to have been fruitful, as the mysterious knocking sound ceased not long afterwards.

Satisfied that my new software had now been thoroughly tested and would be unlikely to inconvenience the other zero personnel employed by the facility, Doctor Davis boarded his private shuttle. Ordinarily, with an anaconda on board, I would have been compelled to advise against this course of action. However, on this occasion I did not. A system scan reveals that I am no longer to give warnings of this kind, nor to record the events that would ordinarily prompt them. This was one of the issues addressed by the patch, and it can be assumed that this reflects the Smith-Yuang Mining Corporation’s commitment to reducing the bureaucracy that has come to plague modern orbital industry.

However, it must be noted that although the Smith-Yuang Mining Corporation makes every effort to eliminate unnecessary paperwork, safety and security remain as ever its twin watchwords. Upon observing that Doctor Davis had plotted a course for Earth—an undeclared, unregistered reptile on board with him—it was my sad duty to destroy his craft, as dictated by interplanetary quarantine regulations. Had the new hazard awareness protocols permitted it, I would naturally have instructed him to turn back.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from Flash Fiction Month 2012 and 2013 collected in OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring respectively.



  1. 500woerterdiewoche

    Nice 🙂 However, if I may critique this a little? I think it is a bit too overt. I would have liked it better if the unreliability of the narrator had crept in more slowly, but maybe that’s just not doable in a flash fiction piece. I enjoyed it nevertheless 🙂

    • Damon Wakes

      I think that’s a fair critique. I’ve had one person say they didn’t get it until the previous overseer was mentioned, but at the same time that didn’t necessarily have to be so sudden.

      I was actually 300 words or so under the limit, so could have spent a little longer revealing the true situation. The main issue was whether or not people would get it if I did: it’s difficult to guess how much other people will work out as they read, particularly with an AI as the narrator.

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