Friday, April 28, 2017

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer #AtoZChallenge


X is for Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer  

In a nutshell: Possibly the most luckless space explorer ever, Xavier specializes in getting into scrapes, and counts on Larry, his ship's computer, to get him out of them.
Biggest Secret: Most of the time, he thinks of Larry as human.

No quote, because you get a whole story! Xavier was invented several years ago to allow me to write a flash fiction for the A to Z Challenge, and he's hung around, with an ever-growing collection of tales of his adventures (see list under Short Stories, above). Today he takes another dive into a voyage of dubious desirability.
I also have a late-breaking reminder that this is #Flashback Friday. I'll consider this a flashback, even though it's a new story, because using Xavier for X is a bit of recycling!

Xavier Xanthum and the X-Galaxy Error

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, leaned back in his command chair and closed his eyes. He had just finished his greatest triumph to date over Larry, the AI who thought he ran the Wanderlust.

Larry thinks he knows so much, but I still have the navigational skills to plan a route better than any he proposed! Xavier savored his triumph.

This trip would prove, once and for all, that a human was better than a machine. Larry had laid out a course to Gamelon X, his best effort, but Xavier had found a way that would save two days, making use of a tight passage between two planets. Xavier’s time wasn’t worth much—he didn’t have anything to hurry for—but two days worth of food and fuel was money not spent. Rather, it was food and fuel he could use exploring, in hopes of finding something that would bring in enough cash to buy more supplies and head back out.

Xavier took a minute to savor his triumph, relaxing in his chair with a smile on his face. When he opened his eyes, a pair of disembodied eyeballs hovered in midair in front of him.

“What is it, Larry?” Xavier knew he sounded smug. He had a right to. Larry was just an AI. It wouldn’t even hurt his feelings, because an AI couldn’t have feelings. Xavier closed his eyes again.

“You changed my route, Captain.” The artificial voice sounded hurt. That wasn’t possible.

Xavier opened his eyes enough to squint at the eyeballs again. It was never good when Larry called him “Captain.” Was the AI trying to imply there was something wrong with his calculations?

“I found a way to save us two days.” Xavier sounded defensive even to himself.

“I think that might not be advisable, Captain.”

There he went with the “captain” again. “Oh, yeah? Two days, Larry. That’s a lot of credits worth of fuel. Credits I might spend on some new peripherals for you.” Xavier dangled the suggestion like a bribe.

“Only if we arrive.”

Xavier stiffened. “My calculations are good. Admit it: my human mind can see things your AI can’t.”

Larry was silent a moment, as though he needed time to think out his response. “Very well, Captain. We will take your route.”

“See? Hey, maybe you can learn to be human after all! It takes humanity to admit to making a mistake, right?” That silenced Larry. Xavier knew the AI was trying to be human, though Xavier wasn’t quite sure why. The infinite confidence of the computer seemed a pretty good deal to him.

“Yes,” Larry said eventually. “To err is human.”

Later, Xavier would remember that response as more ambiguous than he heard at the time.

Two days later, Xavier’s route began to fall apart. It wasn’t his fault, of courses. How could he have known that a Vargian fleet was holding maneuvers in what should have been empty space between the twin planets? The Vargians weren’t—currently—at war with the Post-Earth Federation, but that could change. In any case, they were never very friendly to Independents, and Wanderlust was registered as a free-lance explorer. Unfortunately, the space between the planets was narrow, and now it was crowded with Vargians. Xavier and Larry were in agreement that they didn’t want to get too close to the fleet.

Besides, the Vargians were using live ammo in their maneuvers.

Xavier re-routed around the far side of Varga B. He might have asked Larry to do it, but the AI claimed he was experiencing issues and needed to do some self-analysis and repairs. Xavier suspected he was sulking.

“Well, that will cost us one day, but I’m still a day ahead of your plan,” Xavier pointed out.

Larry said nothing.

A day later, Xavier was sweating bullets, his backside welded to the nav chair. Where in the cosmos had that festering asteroid shower come from? Lucky for him he’d recognized the danger in time, but now he had to run the ship manually while he worked his way back out of the danger. There was no question of either turning control over to Larry or of shutting him out. It took both of them to handle a crisis like this.

Xavier handled the controls, dodging the space-debris that Larry scoped for him. They were a good team, and had done it often enough to have it down to an art. The Wanderlust came through without a scratch.

When they were clear, some twenty hours later, Xavier fixed his sleep-deprived gaze on the fuel levels. They’d make it, but it was clear that the fuel he’d expected to save by his better route was long gone. Disgusted, he pushed himself out of the chair.

“Larry? Set a course and get us to Gamelon X. I’m going to bed.”

“Very good, Xavier.”

So Larry had dropped the “captain” bit. That meant Larry figured he’d won. Well, let him. Xavier strapped himself into his bunk and instantly fell asleep.

He woke up when the first signal came in from the spaceport. Unstrapping, he pushed himself over to the com unit, to run through the formalities for an unscheduled approach. How long had he been out, anyway? He’d have guessed it would take another 17 hours to reach Gamelon X.

“What the devil, Larry?”

“Is there a problem, Xavier?” Larry even managed to infuse a sort of innocence into his tone, a feat that as far as Xavier knew, none of the other AI could manage. The logs showed he’d only been asleep 12 hours, and fuel levels were much better than he’d expected.

“No. No problem. Just a little surprised how quickly we made it here.”

“I found a faster way, and saved a bit of fuel in the bargain. I do hope that was the correct decision?”

Xavier didn’t bother answering. Larry didn’t wait for him.

“Might I respectfully suggest that it is as we agreed…to err is human?”


  1. That was a lot of fun. Sort of a cross between Buck Rogers and Jeeves and Wooster. Loved it!

    X - Brother XII, Canada's Own Crazy Cultist!

    1. Oh my. I hadn't thought of that...but yes. Or maybe Spaceman Spiff instead of Buck Rogers :D

  2. chuckling away as I do whatever I'm doing next :)

  3. What a great name. That needs to get out there.

    1. I'm thinking of making a collection of them for sale. Unlike with Gorg, I don't want to try to turn XX's stories into a novel. I just want to bundle them.


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