TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Samantha Schorsch. She grew up telling campfire stories at Girl Scout events. When writing short stories, horror and science fiction have been her preferred genre for the past six years. She strives to use her unique perspective on being a woman and person with mental illness in her work to broaden public thought on said subjects and experiences. This is “Nine Dash Zero Dash Zero Dash Five.”
“Excuse me. Excuse me. Bettina. Excuse me.”
The robot’s voice echoed with metallic confusion in the small voyager pod. The repeating message cut off sharply, as an electric charge crackled and Bettina pulled a circuit out of its mechanical noggin. A spark of her soldering pen later, and she was finished. The ship computer interface was merged with the robot, along with a few mild alterations to the formality protocols.
“Be-be-bettina…tina…Tina. Hello Tina.”
Tina sighed with relief. “Well thank fuck for that.”
“Yeah, yeah hello to you too. Whoever you are.”
“I am Rubbish Bin, biohazard and sewage system maintenance model 9-0-0-5.”
“They didn’t name you?”
“I do not understand.”
“Okay whatever. Well, I’m not calling you that so…rubbish bin…rubbin..rube…ah!” Tina snapped her fingers at the robot. “Ruben. You can be Ruben. You like?”
The robot calculated for a moment.
They had been in space for months looking for habitable conditions on other worlds. Somewhere safe from the pandemic that forced the Refugees of the 500 to flee into the Principality Evac Craft Concordia. They left them all there, family, friends, to die alone and in agony rather than fight it off. Nihilists among them at the time had expressed satisfaction with the new plague in terms bordering on Übermench eugenics, which always made Tina deeply uncomfortable. For she was the last of her family, and had watched her younger sister rot away as her veins collapsed and she coughed up her organs in a mush of black, acrid bile. She doubted the death happy men on board had ever been close enough to the disease to see what it did up close. If they had, she thought, they wouldn’t be so fucking cavalier about it.
Her voyages were usually brief and provided minimal if any hope for a life off of that claustrophobic hunk of metal, but she had hoped this time would be different. She had picked up an accidental passenger on this leg of the journey, her new companion, Ruben. It was likely her own fault; she never checked her ship thoroughly enough anymore before heading out and she must have missed the little guy trying to do his job in the waste bilge, but Tina had hoped that having a robot specialized in biohazard would help her narrow down the options for habitable spaces once she merged its consciousness with the ship’s computer. Alas. Mostly he just played the godawful elevator music radio station that the manufacturers thought would soothe people in a contamination zone.
About fifteen hours from the Concordia, Ruben relayed an emergency transmission.
“Do not come. Repeat. Do not come.”
Tina flipped open the comms channel. “What are you talking about?” She asked. “What’s going on?”
“Live birth 48 hours ago. Infant was a carrier. Compromised birth mother almost immediately. Spreading quickly. No removal bots for biohazard. Don’t know where went. Stay away. Live the rest of your life however you see fit. You will be the last of us.”
“But I have-”
“This is an order, Bettina.” The comms link closed.
“It’s TINA!” Tina slammed her hands on the dash controls in frustration. How. Fucking how could this happen? They took every precaution every test, every…
“Money…” Tina murmured. Of course. Someone pulled the pregnancy begging and paid people off to let her on, even though fetal contraction of the outbreak was the most common form of exposure outside of someone bleeding on you or biting you.
A metallic arm came to rest on her shoulder, and Ruben cleared its throat with a rattle.
“Are we not going home, Tina?”
She snapped. “Home? What home? It’s a tin can and now a tin can of disease because fucking idiots don’t know how to say no to money which doesn’t even have a fucking use anymore because there is nothing to own or buy!”
“Home is diseased…my fault?”
“How would it be your…” a lightbulb went off in her head, “…fault…oh my god it’s you! They’re missing you!”
“But if I go inside…”
“But if you don’t. ”
It was a long shot at best. Even if they did get to the vessel before everyone was infected and/or rotting to death, what would a single robot do for an in-progress contamination of by now at least 200 people? Even if it was specialized for it…But on the other hand if they didn’t even try…
The research ship was lonely enough. Did she really want to be the last one? Why shouldn’t she just leave them all like they left everyone else, her family, her entire world?
But if someone had tried would her sister have lived? If people even tried to help?
How many children were rotting from the inside on that vessel…
She woke up from her thought spiral and looked at the robot.
“Bettina, are we going home?”
She looked at it, silent.
“I would like to go help. Please. It is my function.”
They sat there for what felt like eons in silence, until a small sigh from Tina echoed in the cockpit. She closed her eyes, flipped the hyper speed override, and sent them speeding off towards the Concordia.
Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.
Devon Elizabeth is a Chicagoland area performer and musician. Most recently she performed with Elgin Theatre Company’s radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” .Other places your might have seen her include performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire with Pub Crawl, Alma in Vero Voce’s production of Christmas Schooner and sharing her obsession of Disney with Drunkenly Ever After, a livestreamed performance found on Facebook. She is thrilled to be a part of this production and hopes you enjoy the show!