Friday, September 22, 2017

Flash Fiction Friday: It Ain't Fixed Until You Break It

This week's Wendig Challenge was simple: write a story around the idea that sometimes you have to break something to fix it. I suspect he was thinking about politics, but it made me think of good old Xavier Xanthum, since he's pretty good at messing up. 

And hey--if you like flash fiction, consider joining us next week for the Fiction in 50 (words) feature. Write your 50 words, post your story, and link back to my #Fi50 post (goes live on Sunday).

It Ain’t Fixed Until You Break It

“Blethering belugans!” Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, cursed as he struggled to reach into the narrow adjustment slot for the left thruster, scraping the skin off three knuckles. Wanderlust was showing a decided tendency to veer off-course if he or Larry didn’t keep an eye on it, and Xavier wanted to save the cost of a repair.

Of course, Larry had two eyes he could keep wherever he wanted, along with enough bandwidth to do everything else around the craft at the same time. At the moment, he was adjusting their course for Xavier’s favorite vacation planet, watching the human struggle with the thruster, and fine-tuning the programming on the coffee maker so that it would produce a cup more exactly to Xavier’s liking. He was also, though Xavier didn’t know that, re-reading the works of Shakespeare.

Larry was the Wanderlust’s AI. He manifested himself (to Xavier at any rate) in the form of a pair of disembodied eyeballs, but he was the brains of the ship. The one thing he couldn’t do was anything requiring actual hands.

He could fuss, though.

“Captain, I can keep the ship on course until we reach Fiji 3. Then the spaceport crew can fix the thruster while you lie on the beach and drink those funny things you like—the ones with little paper umbrellas.”

“PiƱa coladas.” Xavier’s focus wavered as visions of warm sand and strong drinks danced in his head. He sternly pulled himself back to the job at hand. “I’ve got this. Just be patient, Larry!”

He’d have sworn he could hear whistling coming from the speakers as the AI pretended to be waiting. Xavier ground his teeth. He’d show that know-it-all Larry! Xavier Xanthum didn’t need to pay for some dirtside mechanic to fix his ship.

“I believe I have persuaded the coffee maker to produce the beverage as you prefer it,” Larry said after several minutes of quiet cursing from the human half of the space partnership.

“Huh?” Xavier, startled by the announcement, jerked and banged his head on the tight space. “Festering farge-worms! What the blarg did you do that for?”

“I merely thought you might enjoy a break and the opportunity of some refreshment, Captain.” Larry sounded innocent. Too innocent. When Larry called him “Captain,” Xavier knew that either he was up to something or something was radically wrong.

Xavier was pretty sure nothing was wrong, and coffee was exactly what he needed to clear his head. He crawled out of the service bay, glanced over the controls to see all was in order, and shoved off for the galley.

When he’d finished with the cup of coffee—strong, dark, and with exactly the right amounts of “milk” and sugar—Xavier prepared to return to his task. But Larry called his attention to a discrepancy in the nav charts, and he spent a couple of hours tracing the error back to a bit of salami that had left a deceptive stain at a crucial point on the manual used to calibrate the charts.

That called for another cup of coffee. Lunch was followed by a third cup, and only several hours later did Xavier squeeze his body back into the service bay. Taking up his tools, he prepared to finish the fussy adjustment. He could see now exactly what was needed.

Just a little prod here, and a nudge there. Oh, yeah. The third set-screw didn’t want to turn. That was what had been holding him up. He took a tighter hold on the screwdriver, trying to control the shaking of his hand.

Blast Larry, anyway. That coffee had been strong. Perfect, but strong. Now he had the shakes. He ought to go wait it out, sleep it off, something. Xavier suspected that was what Larry had been angling for--enough of a delay to bring them to port. He gritted his teeth and bore down on the set-screw.

With a sudden jerk of his hand, the screwdriver slid out of the screw head, dropped into the mess of tiny wires at the heart of the thruster-control, and in a shower of sparks the whole thing flared and died.

Coughing, choking, and cursing, Xavier backed out of the service bay.


“I have it, Captain. Left thruster control is unresponsive, but I can compensate. We make landfall at Fiji 3 in 17 hours. Do I take it this damage is beyond your ability to repair?”

“Yes, curse you! Why’d you let me drink so much coffee, anyway?”

Larry offered no answer to what they both knew was an absurd question.

When they had completed docking procedures at Fiji 3—getting a priority slip due to the damaged thruster, which made Xavier smile for the first time in 17 hours—he left it to Larry to explain the problem to the repair crew.

“I’m going to the beach. Have fun with the repairs.” He stalked off down the companionway, fidgeted through the entry inspection, and disappeared in the direction of his favorite beach bar.

When he was gone, the mechanic stuck his head into the service bay, took a look, and backed out. “You’re going to need a whole new control unit. Looks like this one got thoroughly fried. Captain Xanthum tried to repair it himself?”

“For days,” Larry confirmed. “Until he slipped and it shorted out.”

“Well, that older model is the devil to adjust. We’ll put in the new version, and you shouldn’t have any further problems. Sometimes,” he added, “with a guy like Xavier, you have to break something before you can give it the real fix.”

“Is that so?” The floating eyeballs blinked a time or two. “I’ll bear that in mind.”


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!


  1. Yay! Let's hear it for Larry! And for Xavier, of course.

    You do realise that when you finally get your Xavier Xanthum space series out, I will finally be able to complete A to Z reading challenges.

    1. Well, that's fitting, since he came into existence for an A to Z Challenge post!


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