Space Cadet

Originally published in Future In Flash in January 2013 (offline, pdf)

The International Space Academy was a place of order, a place of
perfection, effectiveness, and absolute cleanliness. A place where even
donuts and bagels were square to optimize the baking tray’s space, and
butter came in precut thin slices to prevent waste.

The general population would often refer to the cadets as machines, most
likely due to their signature haircut, blend uniform, and similarly
sculpted faces and thinned lips.

And then there was Dennis.

I met Dennis on my first visit on the Space Station, during its maiden
warp-speed voyage around the galaxy. Honestly, it was not on my agenda to
be disconnected from the world for four years, and mingle with the machines, but who would decline something like that in exchange for
a good bullet point on their resume?

Dennis was born to a family of regulars, in some deep hole of Arkansas. He
was conceived during the Martian war, and that took a toll on his
childhood, no question. His mom, Arlene, used to buy his lightsabers at
Home Depot, can you even picture that? A young kid running around with a
saber designed to cut through ivory tiles and metal pipes? I can’t tell you
how many cats lost their heads that summer, or so he claims, with deep
sadness and remorse.

His father was an overly-traditional robot cow farmer. He only used
disposable materials, all recyclable, and his robots had five acres of
pristine fields to run through. He would even go as far as put on a cow
costume and mingle among them, just to hear what they say.

Dennis told me that one time he joined his father inside the cow costume
and they both heard the cows talk about the takeover. He didn’t pay much
attention then. That was 20 years ago.

When his father started to chat with him and tell him about the
developments of the robo-cows, Dennis, in his infinite wisdom, shared this
information with his superiors. And that’s when I came into the picture.

“So, Dennis,” I said, stretching my legs over an ottoman that crawled
closer to my recliner, “when did you start dreaming that the cows will take
over the Earth?”

He looked quite uncomfortable on the inclined stretcher. “Is it necessary
to keep me tied up?” he asked.

“The doctor said you jumped at him, holding your fingers above your head
like horns, mooing loudly.”

“I just wanted to give them a glimpse of what will happen when the cows
take over the Earth.”

I took a deep breath.

Oh, I forgot to mention, all cadets on the Space Station are created
artificially on the station. They never get to see Earth, unless there’s a
war or something. Everything I mentioned above is what we programmed deep
into Dennis’ memory, something that he can relate to and forget that he was
bred for war.

The cow program was also my idea– it’s just so difficult to get real
material for a PhD these days. I figured that “Delusions of an artificial
mind,” would get me a good grade. I was wrong.

There was one tiny aspect I forgot to take into account. Dennis loved those
cows we put in his head. He really did. So much so that he started to feel
that the world would actually be better off if ruled by cows. This was
about two years into his treatment.

When the Space Station returned home, four years later, all attempts to
contact Earth failed. The Space Station itself was self-contained and
couldn’t establish any contact during its warp speed voyage. But when we
got back, not being able to contact the main land made everyone extremely
uncomfortable. Everyone, except Dennis. He just stood there, smiling and
giggling. Every now and then I would hear him mumble something like ‘you’ll
see.’ I blamed it on his insanity, instead of his genius mind, like I
should have.

After our failed attempts to connect to the Earth station, we all boarded a
ship and went down. When the gate opened we were greeted by an army of
robo-cows, armed with lasers and lightsabers.

Apparently, Dennis found a way to communicate with Earth during the warp
speed and cooked up a plan that involved hacking into the Earth’s mainframe
and have the system design a new type of mass-produced, self-replicating
robo-cows, and programmed them to take over the world.

When we got there he leaped out of the ship raised his hands up and
screamed: “Finally, we won!”

A robo-cow stepped forward, pointed its laser gun to Dennis and shot him

“Why did you do that for?” I screamed.

The cow turned toward me. “He knew too much.”

Needless to say, I never got my PhD.