A Sticky End
By William Cohen-Kiraly
The Prompt: An astronaut spends some quality bonding time with a robot
“Spider, turn on your recorder please.” said the astronaut.
“Yes, Boss,” replied the robot. The slender human and the multi-armed machine floated gracefully in the center of the airlock with just enough room so they could rotate without scraping against the bulkhead.
“Hi guys,” The astronaut’s voice cracked a bit before he could continue. “This is Russ and I guess this is my final goodbye to you all.
“I can’t believe this, what an incredibly fucked up way to die…
“Here we’ve traveled 230 million kilometers, half our trip to Io, we’re the first humans to go past the inner planets, and I’m going to die because of a stupid glue-gun accident.
“Spidey and I had to do an EVA to fix a couple of damaged hull plates. Looks like it was a small space rock, made a nice hole in the hull and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to get any bigger or leak our precious air. No big deal, right. I got in my suit and Spidey and I took the high-pressure glue gun and a hull patch outside and fixed the hole and climbed back inside, no problem, no big deal.
“We’re in the airlock and it’s re-pressurized and I’ve taken off my suit and I am floating here in my skivvies before I see little beads of liquid floating around the airlock and one of them floats by in front of me. I know what it is… Something must have nicked the glue gun and globs of the Liqui-weld are floating around. One comes at my face and like an idiot, I try to jerk away by kicking off the wall and I fall backwards against Spidey here.
“Hit my head against him and it hurt like hell. Then I realized my head’s not moving away from him and the back of my head is on fire. This shit burns like hell when you get it on your skin and now–and I want you to picture this so I can give you one last laugh–I’m stuck to Spider here along my neck and the back of my head with the rest of my body floating around uselessly.
“I’ve picked up a bunch more glue drops and some some of my fingers are stuck together and I got burning drops of that damned glue on my balls and it’s all I can do to keep from screaming.
“When Spidey finally gets in to wake you guys up from your deep freeze, God knows what parts of me will be sticking to him and what parts of me will be floating around this damn airlock but I don’t envy you waking up to the site of Spider with bits of Russ Hennessy stuck to him.
“And guys, sorry about the mess I’m gonna leave you with in the airlock but if you’re going to survive, I have to get Spidey through that airlock to take care of your machines and wake one of you up. He can just about barely fit through the hatch by himself what with all those arms and legs flying around.
“It’s time to run some of the maintenance tasks that keep you alive and I’m afraid I’m going to have to remove myself from the duty roster kind of permanently. I know Spider can do a lot of the tasks and he can wake the next one of you up. I’m going to ask that he wakes Meryl up because I think he has the strongest stomach of all of you.
“I don’t think I have a lot of time here. The chemicals in the glue are already starting to make me feel a bit wobbly and since I can see no way to separate myself here in the airlock without ripping… let’s not get graphic here, without fatally injuring myself, I want to get it over with without spending any time suffering or starving or dehydrating. This glue ain’t gonna be coming off on its own and here in the airlock, there’s nothing for me to eat or drink or even try to get myself free.
“So here goes, Ivanna, I want to tell you that you make zero gravity look sexier than any female astronaut I have ever flown with and I’ll miss your wicked sense of humor.
“Don, remember, I won the last chess game so that makes me the best player even if you used to win more games than me.
“Hiroshi, thanks for teaching me that Japanese guys really can play guitar.
“Meryl, I really did like your cooking on earth but you suck making lunches from space rations.
“Elisse, thanks for those long, long, philosophy, science and sports debates that made some of those early months of this flight pass by in fun rather than dreariness.
“Tom, the Browns will still beat the Steelers next year.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work with all of you on this incredible voyage we have all undertaken here, bringing humans out farther into space than they have ever yet gone. Godspeed to you all and safe travels and watch out for broken glue guns.”
“Thank you Spider, you can turn the recorder off now.”
“You’re welcome boss,”replied the robot.
“And hey Spider, that goes for you too, it has been a pleasure working with you on this voyage. I’d reach around an pat you on one of your many shoulders but my hand would probably stick there too and we need you to get through that hatch with as few parts of me stuck to you so you can keep the others alive.”
“It is my pleasure to work with all the humans on this ship, thank you for the kind words” replies the robot.
“So big guy, are you gonna miss me when I’m gone?”
“I’m sorry boss, I am not programmed to feel grief. I do not have the ability to feel emotions the same way you do.”
“Well, you always seem to enjoy being with us. Are you telling me now that’s just an act?” asked Russ, smiling a bit. He knew Spider didn’t have emotions but couldn’t resist the temptation to try to wind him up one last time, hopeless as that may be. He didn’t really feel like he had a lot of options of others to talk to.
“I am programmed to serve and I am programmed to be as pleasant and polite as possible.”
“Well, you know, sometimes you seenm kind of human inside that big metal body of yours.”
“I am programmed to be human enough to make you feel comfortable working with me but to not appear to be too human which would also make you uncomfortable.”
“I don’t know, maybe its just a human mind trying to see inside your mind but sometimes, you feel just a bit more than just a machine. I’m not complaining, just noticing that. “
The robot made no reply.
“Okay Spider, we need to figure out how we are gonna do this. I need you to scrape me off you so you can get in through the inner airlock hatch and go wake Meryl. I guess, before you try scraping me off, I’m gonna want you to kill me as quickly and painlessly as possible.”
“I cannot do that boss.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am not allowed to harm or kill a human. I am programmed to help you and protect you in any way I can. I cannot harm you.”
“It’s okay Spidey, I’m dying anyway. This glue is poison and its seeping in through my skin. I need you to do this to save the others.”
“I cannot kill you.” replied the robot. “I am not allowed to kill or hurt a human.”
“But if you don’t do it, you will be killing all the other humans on this ship.”
“I cannot kill or hurt a human.”
“But you are hurting me if you don’t put me out of my misery before this poison get in my mind. It hurts like hell already and it will probably only get worse. That’s hurting me.”
“I am sorry,” said the robot. “I cannot hurt or kill a human. It is how I am programmed.”
“Okay, crap. Can you dispose of a human’s body after he is dead.”
“If other humans are not around to do this, I am programmed to dispose of bodies to prevent infection and other problems associated with corpses.”
“Ah, well, you’re nothing if not direct and right to the point. I don’t have a lot of strength left right now, but can you turn me so I can reach the outside airlock door.”
The robot said nothing but used its flexible arms to rotate itself and the astronaut towards the hatch and within reach of the release.
“Thank you Spider,” said the man. “now can you do one more thing for me and sing to me?”
“What song would you like to hear, boss?”
The astronaut told him and when David Bowie’s voice sang the words
Here am I floating
round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.
he pushed the button to open the airlock to the vast vacuum and cold of space.