Best Wishes: a short story by: GF Willmetts.

May 2, 2016 | By | Reply More

Farday Lumo looked up at the sky. A binary star system but the smaller star was on the far side. It would take a month for it to get around the orange giant. It wouldn’t help her situation. Crashing on this desert planet was her only option after her spaceship decided it was safer to rescue her than die in the battle four parsecs away. It’s last task before it crashed into this planet was to eject her pod here. There was enough supplies in her encounter suit to last for a while but she would need shelter and alternatives. It wasn’t the heat that would be a problem but this planet’s rotation would quickly put it into sub-zero and the solar panels on her suit’s sensor declared weren’t fully charged to last its long nights.

Her only choice was to make her way to the distant mountains and hope there was a cave or somewhere equally insulated to make a proper camp. Something to extend her supplies and let her cannibalise her suit’s units to create an alert rescue status alarm. Someone might hear it. There might even be an opportunity to take off her encounter suit and feel some unrecycled air on her skin. At least the air was breathable but no source of what kept the air fresh. Maybe this planet had life once.

pulpy pulp

She turned her suit’s sensor up. There might be anything in this desert that she could take advantage of. The temperatures this planet had from time to time might have yielded some glass. What else could be made out of all this silicon compound. The survival manual had said that focusing it on something could generate heat. More likely it was done to keep the mind occupied. She had nothing else to do on this walk and certainly wouldn’t sacrifice her helmet. There had to be something keeping the oxygen going on this planet but if there wasn’t.

It was then that the sensor clicked on and gave direction. Beyond any sort of luck, it had found something. Shame it couldn’t give a shape. It could be anything. Even the debris of another spaceship. Pensively, she turned her track the full 360, just in case she wasn’t the only survivor here. One could never be too sure of anything in this war. If not people, then certainly traps. With a desert of sand and rock, it would be the ideal place to catch anyone. Lumo raised the level of her detector for anything out of the ordinary and got a double ping.

Not only was it glass but something else as well. Even better, whatever it was was only a minor deviation from her chosen route. Adjusting her compass direction, she headed in that direction. Although the manual insisted on not to speculate until something could be assessed, Lumo had to consider the options, chiefly how dangerous could this ‘object’ be. If it was a mine of some sort, a rescue craft could easily detonate it if it came searching for. That would also mean more people dead or marooned. Putting a beacon near it would at least warn of the danger. Beyond that was anyone’s guess.

As it turned out, it was a large bottle. No labels and the sensor scan regarded it as 95% harmless. That raised Lumo’s eyebrow. What 5% wasn’t harmless and how deadly could it be? Putting back on her helmet and double-checking her seals, she gingerly opened the top with her sensor turned onto max. It might drain her batteries further but better that than dead from some poisonous gas.

A fume drew out of the bottle. Nitric acid was Lumo’s first thought for fuming chemicals but her knowledge of chemistry depended on the sensor and it wasn’t that. More so, as it expanded and literally fleshed out into a physical being. The mist being a medium that supported what looked like a hologram, verified by her sensor. It surveyed where it was before turning and apparently looking at here. Lumo released her helmet and let it slip down her back. No sense wasting her air supply or gasping as it extracted purified air to refill its supply. The hologram had a humanoid look but that didn’t mean anything as it probably typified the look of the nearest person to it.

‘You speak?’

‘So do you.’

‘Just what I need, a sarky AI. You are an AI, I take it? Not some hypothetical genie in a bottle.’

‘I can see the similarities. The bottle is to preserve my fog medium. It makes me look more solid.’

‘Are you actually here or is your CPU somewhere else?’

‘That may conflict with my instruction for self-preservation. You awoke me. What do you wish?’

‘You’re talking like a genie after all. How many wishes am I allowed?’

‘Three is best. I find people wish to restore things the way they were after the second one.’

‘Let me lay a ground rule. Don’t take anything I say as a wish until I say so directly to you. I don’t want to take anything out of context. Do you understand?’

The AI nodded. ‘Oh very well, yes, I understand.’

‘Do you have a name?’

‘My protocol allows the person who reactivates me to name me. It helps in adapting to different languages.’

Lumo shrugged. ‘That must have been interesting when a bunch of people find you. All right. I’m going to call you Jinn. J.I.N.N. Older name of genie and a reminder of what you can do for me. Is that acceptable?’

‘A name is a name. Perfectly acceptable.’

‘My name is Farday Lumo. Call me Lumo. Please talk straight with me. You must have belonged to a starship. Does it still exist?’

‘Maybe. There are several starships on this planet and why should I speak straight, I like talking sideways.’

‘Just a little. Can you give directions or take me there? You must be running on battery and want to be properly charged.’

‘Is this why you have not made this a wish, Miss Lumo?’ the Jinn asked with sudden seriousness.

‘If you wish to address me by rank, I am a major. I am not civilian. The fact that you did not say it was not destroyed means I can find it without your aid. Why waste a wish.’

‘But you still need my help.’

‘It just quickens the location. I’m sure my sensor will find it.’

‘The sand will hide any signal. There is a metallic content to the sand.’

‘Which is why you haven’t returned to it?’

‘As you said when you first let me loose, Major Lumo, I am a genie in a bottle. I have no means of transportation.’

‘So my carrying you to your starship will benefit us both.’

Jinn smiled. ‘Except I cannot find it. My ranging is off.’

‘Then I might as well leave you here.’

Jinn looked down. ‘I cannot access that part of my software. For that, I need a direct order or wish. I can take us in the best direction until a space vessel is within range. I have seen others past my bottle from time to time but they never came back.’

‘Swell! OK, let me frame the wish. Can I do that?’

Jinn smiled.

This time Lumo paused to think. ‘I wish to be taken to a fully operational starship where I will take command and take us off this rathole. Does that constitute one wish?’

Jinn nodded. ‘You sound like you have instructed AIs before.’

‘Only what I read in the manuals and learnt not to take any lip. The AI on my fighter was nowhere as sophisticated as you.’

‘You have not asked my source.’

‘That would be a wish. I’ll work it out when we get to a starship. Are you programmed to get me to waste my wishes?’

‘I do not know, Major Lumo. I am the result of my programming not watching it.’

‘Well, we better get started. Which way?’

Lumo picked up the bottle and Jinn pointed.

‘How far?’

‘My distance directive was not functioning when I was ejected.’

‘How were you going to return to it.’

‘I hoped one day that the winds might sweep me that way or…’

‘Yes?’

‘Someone would find me.’

‘Like me?’

‘Very probably.’

‘Would a wish change things?’

Jinn nodded.

‘I’m beginning to think this is part of your protocol to get me to use those last two wishes. If I did that, then you’d be back in your bottle and back to a long wait.’

‘Indeed, Major.’

‘I might even smash the bottle in frustration.’

‘You’re welcome to try, Major. I believe my makers chose near indestructible materials. I believe they found me precious enough to survive beyond their own lives or I would not have survived the crash.’

‘And, of course, you could protect yourself.’

They continued to walk or rather Lumo walked and Jenn floated slightly off the ground next to her.

‘For a nit-ox planet, there seems to be a lack of life, unless its concealed. Is it likely that I’m likely to be attacked from below faster than my sensor can detect?’

‘Is that a wish?’

‘No. Self-preservation…for both of us. You might be indestructible but it would also slow your progress back to your starship if your bottle sunk deep into the sand. I doubt if you can offer whateveritis wishes.’

Jenn pointed a slightly different direction. ‘Just for your safety.’

Behind them, several giant tentacles reared out of the sand but far enough away not to reach them. Despite the proximity alarm from her sensor, Lumo continued on, firm in the belief that the Jinn would protect them both. Her encounter suit absorbed the sunlight and powered the fridge unit to keep her cool. Without it, she was sure she would have ditched it or at least some of the components hours ago. On thought, doing that on such a hostile planet as this would have ended her life. At least she wasn’t delirious or talking to herself, unless the Jinn was a mirage. She paused. At least the Jinn wasn’t telepathic.

‘You are tired, Major Lumo?’

‘Only of walking. I hope this direction of yours isn’t going to take us around this planet.’

‘There are some cavities over there.’

‘Cavities?’

‘Holes. Vent holes. Why bore a hole when they can take advantage of something natural.’

‘I thought you said they crashed.’

‘My rocket did. I said nothing of the rest of the spaceships here.’

‘So why now?’

‘Near another source of energy, my inhibitions are reduced.’

‘Does that mean you can do more?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Like selecting which of these vent holes to lead to a starship?’

‘Yes’, the Jinn smiled and pointed. ‘That way.’

As they entered the vent, Lumo’s suit illumination kicked in, automatically but not penetrating far into the darkness.

‘Are we likely to bump into any of the local inhabitants?’

The Jinn took a glow of its own but even that didn’t penetrate any further than Lumo’s light. ‘Is that a wish?’

‘Leave it.’ Cautiously, Lumo did draw her gun.

They continued down the route.

‘You don’t seem to show any fear, Major Lumo.’

‘Is there anything to fear since we missed that creature out there?’

‘Not that I’m aware.’

‘Good. I don’t like surprises.’

The route suddenly took a sharp turn and dip into a massive cave. Their limited lights showed something large ahead.

‘If that’s a starship ahead and you’re connected, can you turn on the floods and open the hatch?’

‘Is that a wish?’

‘Do you want to get off this hellhole?’

‘Yes, Major.’

‘Then do as I say for both our benefits. Do you think anyone else would find you down here if I dropped your bottle?’

Immediately, the floods of the starship kicked in. Lumo stopped short, missing being hit in the eye by a protruding antenna.

The starship filled most of the cave…cavern, she corrected herself. This wasn’t a crashed vehicle. The Jinn had been as good as its word or wish…so far.

‘I thought you were dropped off a crashed starship?’

‘I was. This isn’t my starship. I said I saw other space vessels over this planet. Some must have landed or been abandoned.’

‘It’s certainly not one of my people. Let’s go inside.’

‘One moment. I’m recycling the air. It will be stuffy otherwise.’

‘You’re not planning to take over yourself?’

‘Your wish was to command a starship. You cannot do it dead.’

‘Don’t forget that.’

After a few minutes, the hatch swung down and they entered with lights automatically turning on.

‘A good thing all spacefaring races design the same way,’ Lumo muttered as they entered the flight deck.’

She searched while the Jinn waited patiently, looking around disenchantedly.

Finally, Jinn asked, ‘What are you looking for, Major Lumo?’

‘A ship manual. They must have a palp version in case their computer ever broke down.’

‘A wish could find it.’

‘Very probably but then I’d only have one left. Couldn’t you pilot it for me?’

‘Your wish said to give you command of an available starship. That would include being its pilot.’

Lumo winced. ‘I thought I covered everything. Wait a second. I am not in command, this starship isn’t working yet.’

‘That was not stipulated. Your ability to command doesn’t mean I could endow you with knowledge of piloting.’

After a fruitless search of the control deck and the captain’s cabin, she sat down on the captain’s chair, looking around. The starship wasn’t human but ran by humanoids. Without a native language, understanding the controls would be a problem. More so if they could be run verbally with a language she didn’t know. She looked at the Jinn who was practically willing her to make another wish. She couldn’t even figure out where the food dispenser was. The food supplies in her encounter suit wasn’t infinite. A week more at most if she heavily rationed herself.

‘I take it you aren’t going to help me out of the goodness of your heart then?’ she finally asked.

The Jinn shrugged. ‘I’m safer in here than out in the desert.’

‘But you’ll get bored and shutdown after a while. All you have is a bigger bottle.’

‘But fully charged.’

‘Fully charged boredom and all because you won’t fire up this starship.’

‘It’s a big wish.’

‘Really? You got the floods and hatch open. I don’t imagine the interior lights came on on their own. How much more complicated to get this ship working? You must be connected to it to be charging up.’

The Jinn smiled. ‘Yes and no.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I only have access to some of the functions. My software won’t go beyond some limits…’

‘…without my wishing? Why this obsession for me to wish? It isn’t like you’re going anywhere when I’ve had my third. You’ll just hang around with nothing to do or until someone else found you.’

‘But I wouldn’t be granting wishes.’

‘But that’s part of your protocol.’

‘I am allocated three wishes per person. It is to prevent one person becoming too powerful.’

‘Doesn’t that depend on the wish? I mean, if I wished to have the powers of a deity, wouldn’t I be omnipotent?’

The Jinn paused in thought. ‘Which deity? Which abilities? There are many pantheons to choose from.’

‘So if I specified a god that I would like to resemble, you could do that?’

‘Yes.’

‘That sounds like a trick answer. As most gods are either in the form or a painting, statue or disembodied, I can see me cut off in a wish and couldn’t use another wish to return to normal.’

The Jinn bowed. ‘Your wish?’

‘Er…no. I presume no one’s worded that wish entirely correct.’

The Jinn nodded.

‘It’s almost enough to make me wish to become a Jinn…’

The Jinn raised its hand.

‘I said almost. I have no wish to be digitally linked to a bottle or share yours.’

‘But I do need to make a wish to control this starship? You couldn’t just point out what the controls mean and how to operate them?

‘Do I look like the crew of a starship?’

‘As an AI, you would know how to do such things but as I put myself in command you can’t even if you wanted to.’

Lumo pursed her lips and exhaled deeply. ‘I’m going to have another look around.’

The Jinn was still in the same position when she returned, carrying her encounter suit and hung it on the wall before wandering off and returned a second time with a tray of plasties.

‘I got the amenities working. No more peeing in my suit. Got the restaurant working and food suitable for humans. It won’t let me take off but at least I won’t starve now and time to work out everything else. Let’s hope I don’t confuse the weapons panel with the flight controls.’

The Jinn turned with a raised eyebrow.

‘I mean,’ continued Lumo, ‘I’ve got to blow a hole in this cavern before we can get into space. I could also accidentally destroy ourselves.’

She looked serious at various controls and screens. ‘I wonder how far into the future you’ll have to wait for some archaeological team to find you if I make a mistake? Not that you couldn’t survive but you’re bound to be a relic. It might even be longer if its nuclear with a long half-life.’

Lumo paused over a switch. Well, it looked like a switch to her. She moved her hands over the controls, pausing occasionally before she walked over to another set of controls. The Jinn looked on with interest but didn’t say anything.

‘Y’know, I could just pour my drink over the controls and short things out and rebuild from scratch. I found a toolkit in engineering.’

The Jinn looked on but didn’t say a word.

‘You can drop the poker face, I found the manual.’

Lumo hit several buttons and the starship came to life. She sat back in the seat and from a control there initiated a sonic wave that shattered the cave roof and the starship rose through the atmosphere. The planet dwindled below them as Lumo clipped a module from her encounter suit onto the navigational panel. Immediately, the starship changed orientation and faster-than-light mode kicked in. It wouldn’t take long to get those 4 parsecs back to the battle but enough time to fathom the battle controls of the starship.

‘There! I did it all without your help.’

The Jinn didn’t reply.

‘You said that the wishes were precious after the second. I’ve worked out from every wish is precious. I would rather have two in my pocket than have to use the third to change things back. My way, I can use the third for something more worthwhile as well.’

The Jinn didn’t reply.

Lumo walked over and waved her hand all over the Jinn’s smoky appearance.

‘Hah! As I figured. You’re a hidden survival mechanism of my encounter suit. Once I took it off, you couldn’t function. So much for those last two wishes.’

She returned her attention to the combat controls, constantly referring to the manual as she looked them over, occasionally stopping to eat from one of the plasties. It was only a proximity alarm that drew her attention to a monitor.

Moving back to the main controls, she watched as the screen deciphered the wreckage around the starship. The battle was over. Judging by the responders kicking in, it looked like her side had lost. There were far more of them than of the enemy.

Lumo drew her hands back over her hair. She was too late. Far too late.

‘Damn, damn, damn!’

She looked over the manual to see if it could track where they were going. It could. Her home planet. Even at light speed, she would never get ahead of them.

‘I really wish you were real and could obliterate the enemies of my people from existence.’

The Jinn turned. ‘Your wish is granted.’

The starship turned and several missiles shot off at a planet further into the star system and then turned and pursued the enemy fleet.

‘I thought you weren’t real?’

‘Without a wish, I have no function. I was resting and charging.’

Behind them the planet exploded.

‘We’ll never catch them.’

‘They will return as they see their home planet destroyed and then face our onslaught. A relatively easy wish to fulfil, Major Lumo. I only need to use the equipment available to me here.’

‘But you’re going to exterminate an entire species…’

‘…that was at war with your people and were just about to destroy your planet.’

‘Can it be stopped.’

‘That third wish. Most people use it to put things back the way they were.’

‘With the war killing my people and me marooned back on that hellpit.’

‘If that is what you wish.’

‘When I make my third wish, what happens to you? Do you return home or shutdown, waiting for the next person to wake you and you grant three wishes? Is that all you have in life?’

The Jinn paused.

Lumo continued. ‘You’ve replaced a desert of sand with the much bigger desert of space and this starship is under my command so it can only go where I want to go. Of course, you’re always going to outlive me and take control then but what if my final choice was to shoot this rocket into a sun. You wouldn’t gain by it.’

‘It has never been about my gain.’

‘To go back to my people after this would see me as a saviour to any other alien war.’

‘That is a good thing?’

Lumo paused. ‘No. I could end up creating my own people’s empire. I don’t think they are quite ready for that yet. If I use up my last wish, one of them could do something even more devastating. I presume my second wish will protect them from all enemies.’

Neither of them spoke for a time.

‘Complete the wish. My people don’t know I’m alive. Let it remain a mystery to them how they survived and are protected. Let’s find somewhere pleasant to go instead.’

‘Is that a third wish?’

‘Hell no. That will take some serious thinking. I just want to explore the maps I found for now. ’

end

(c) GF Willmetts 2016

All rights reserved

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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