THE JANITOR OF LIDO • by Oscar Windsor-Smith

Android JT1K checked its data.

Alert: Power low. Reduce load.

The solar flares they’d experienced in high orbit must have done more damage than had been recorded on board the mother ship. Power to the lander had almost drained.

Decision: Awaken the progeny.

A human voice interrupted virtual reality dreams:

“Children of Operation Genesis, we pray that you have reached your destination safely.

We have no way of knowing if our hardware can function for so many thousand years, if our programming is sound, or if humans can survive the ordeals of interstellar travel.

Earth’s circumstances dictated speed. Hence the Genesis program contains compromises, but your composite generation and sleeper ship, your lander vehicle and Janitor android all embody the finest technology available to us.

Trust the lander in which you are awakening to protect you. Above all trust your Janitor, it will increase our species’ prospects for survival. Be reassured that your forebears and loved ones are with you — part of you.

Humanity vests its history, its hope and its future in you, our Star Children.”

***

The male designated Lomax emerged from Lido lander base. To JT1K’s sensors, Lomax had the same blank look as all but one of the others. Clearly the solar flares had damaged more than the Operation’s technical resources.

“Hey, shitface,” Lomax shouted, stomping the ground, “why gamedisplay nogo?”

Alert: Defective progeny suspected.

Decision: Attempt diagnostic interaction.

“My name, sir, is Jan Terminus 1K. I understand nothing of the lander’s game functions.”

“Cutcrap, Andyman. You clean up. Shut up. Where tekbots?”

“The tekbot team is powered down.”

“Wutterfuk powerdown?”

“Power down is necessary when elements of the Operation reach the limit of resources, designed function or usefulness… sir.”

“Youfix powerdown,” Lomax yelled, dancing from foot to foot. “Youfix gamedisplay.”

“Oh, that I could, sir, but I understand nothing –– ”

“Cutcrap, shitface, or me fixyou.” Lomax strode forward, fists raised. “Me fix you!”

Alert: Clear and present danger.

“Please. Violence is incompatible with Operation Genesis imperatives, sir.”

“Wutterfuk jensis?” Lomax screamed, striking JT1K. “Stuff jensis.”

“Please, sir, stop. Lomax. Please stop, before — ”

Lomax knocked JT1K staggering backward.

Alert Critical: Hazard to Genesis Program foundation.

***

Phoebe peered out through the view port. She could see uncle Jan out there, tending his garden, casting long shadows as the suns went down.

She tapped a gentle rhythm on the airlock door, eager to be outside again. The clouds, lakes and hills were every bit as beautiful as her dreams had foretold.

The airlock seal cracked, the door hissed open and Phoebe stepped outside. JT1K turned from his work.

“Hi Uncle Jan, it’s awful quiet inside. Have you seen the others?”

The android appeared uncomfortable, avoiding her direct gaze. “There are no others, Miss Phoebe. Power is low.”

“No others? Don’t be silly, Jan. There are ten of us. I know Lomax is around. I, ah, saw him yesterday. Man, he’s a wild one.”

“Indeed. My function is — ”

“Yes, Jan, I understand. Your job is to maintain order and keep things tidy. Now, where’s Lomax?”

“Power low. Resource reallocation.”

JT1K was clearly avoiding eye contact, gazing at the ground.

Phoebe stared down at the patches of disturbed soil. The janitor android took a step forward, arms slack at his sides.

Phoebe froze. Nine patches. “Jan, this is a garden… isn’t it?”

JT1K remained motionless, eyes staring over Phoebe’s head. “I must ensure survival of the human species. My function is to optimize resources. Power is low.”

An appalling idea took shape in Phoebe’s imagination. But that wasn’t possible, was it? Of all the dangers they had faced, surely, not uncle Jan.

“What’s happened to the others?” Phoebe asked. Something inside her said: back away.

“Batch corrupted. Must conserve resources. Power low.”

Ten thousand years of inherited human instinct said run, but where to? “How could you do this, Uncle Jan? We trusted you.”

“I am Jan Terminus: janitor, android, series 1K. Power is low. I obey commands. Please, don’t be afraid, Shining One.”

The android was making no attempt to approach. He appeared to be smiling in a sad kind of way.

Phoebe remembered the dreams that Jan had called VR, the stuff she’d memorized about human culture, the journey, this new planet and the blue-dot place called Earth.

She recalled some of the words the Earthman had spoken as she awoke: Above all trust your Janitor, it will increase our species’ prospects for survival. Be assured your forebears and loved ones are with you — part of you.

Phoebe thought she understood.

Jan Terminus 1K moved closer and took Phoebe’s hands in his. Her fear left her.

***

JT1K explained to Phoebe about the nine other Genesis landers they must find. Together human and android loaded onto the rover all the equipment it could carry.

By day they travelled, light from the twin suns feeding the vehicle’s PV cells. The evenings they spent chatting around a campfire. Through long dark nights Phoebe shivered inside the rover while JT1K stood guard outside.

It happened on the eighty-seventh night, after the second sun had set and the last glowing embers had died.

A familiar face appeared at the frost-fingered window of the cabin where Phoebe lay. His eyes appeared sad, more human now than android.

“Powerdown, my Shining One,” was all he said, “Powerdown.”

***

Standing at the final resting place of JT1K, Phoebe whispered, ‘Goodbye, Uncle Jan, you were so clued-up and very wise.”

As the first sun rose, turning clouds on the horizon into liquid gold, Phoebe plodded away from the grave. She clambered aboard the dusty rover and turned back with glistening eyes.

“There’s one thing you didn’t know, Uncle,” she said aloud. “Lomax may have been weird, but he was a real fast worker. I don’t know if I’ll find the others alive but, whatever happens, there will be one more human in this world very soon — ” Phoebe patted her swollen belly. “ — At least one more.” Boy or girl, she would name it Jan.


Oscar Windsor-Smith has fiction, non-fiction and poetry published in print and online. He was a finalist in the 2012 New York City Midnight Short Story Challenge and was short listed in the University of Plymouth short fiction competition 2013.


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