change of heartChange of Heart is the prompt for this, my first entry into the linked up WEP+IWSG short story event.  WEP is Write…Edit…Publish, and IWSG is the Insecure Writers Support Group, as you know from myriad first Wednesday of the month posts.

So like my prompts from Chuck Wendig in past years, I’ll now be doing a monthly flash on the third Wednesdays according to the WEP prompt. Actually, they are currently only listed for every other month, but we’ll soon sort that out!

I ran through a number of ideas for ‘change of heart’ and decided to set it in my Viridian System world.  This 980 word flash takes place after book 2, Curved Space to Corsair, and features Dolores, once a slave, now a free woman with her pilot’s licence and backing from Pete and Lars to have her own space taxi business.

Change of Heart

“NO! For Sirtis’ sake, I want to go via the Beehive Cluster! What the heck have you done now?”

Dolores yelled at the spacecraft’s computer guidance module.

“The Brahen diversion was faster.” 

The computer’s measured tones were increasingly irritating.

“How much faster?”

“Point three five seven two nine…”

“Stop!  You took me the way I didn’t want to go for a point three percent improvement?”

“Yes.”

Dolores stared at the console in amazement, disgust, frustration and helplessness. Pete said the computer would never override her plans except in an emergency. And for less than an hour’s difference!  If she got too near Brahen space, she knew that Imperium craft would identify her.

“Computer,” she said after a long think. “What is the probability of Senator Kaa Birith’s craft, currently docked at Brahe, identifying us on this new route?”

“Eightyfive percent.”

“And what is the likelihood of us having to take evasive action?”

“Ninetytwo percent.”

“By how long will that delay our journey compared with my route via the Beehive Cluster?”

“Unable to compute.”

“Give a range.”

“Between zero and minus three hundred percent.”

“And what is the probability of it being minus three hundred percent, which is three times as long as the route by the Beehive Cluster.”

The computer was not programmed for sarcasm or any other emotions. “Seventyeight point two percent.”

“So you have taken my safe route, which might have taken one hour longer over the course of a month, and put us on one that has a seventy-eight percent chance of delaying us by at least three months.”

“Affirmative.”

Dolores sat in the gentle hum of space. The computer was seriously flawed. It had nowhere near the intelligence of the computer called Wayne, on Lars and Pete’s bigger spaceship. 

And it was drawing her into danger.

She recalculated available routes from her current position, set it on one that went near, but not as close to the Beehive Cluster, and locked it in.  The computer confirmed the course change. Dolores watched the console. The craft followed the new course for three minutes before rerouting to its own.

.

viridian badgeThis was only her fifth interstellar trip since getting her pilot’s licence. Pete had come with her on the first two, Lars on the third. Then she’d gone solo, taking a passenger she knew to Brahe, and returning with a consignment of fresh food. She’d recognised an Imperium senator’s craft seeking permission to dock at Brahe’s spaceport as she left, and reported it to Pete and Lars.

“Damn! I thought he was going back to where he belongs via Balkh.” Lars swore a few times. The senator in question, Kaa Birith, had recently purchased a worthless bit of land that Pete and Lars had wanted. He’d bid an outrageous four million credits—for land worth no more than, well, four hundred at the most. Lars knew why, and had revealed his secret to his partners, Pete, Dolores, and Maggie.

“So does that mean we should all treat him as an enemy, as you do?” Maggie had asked.

“Yes. If he knows I care about you guys, he’ll be out to get you as well.”

Alone in her dimly lit sleeping booth, Dolores remembered the conversation. She also remembered all the conversations with Pete about safety in space.  Routines to prevent being boarded by pirates. How to keep your identity hidden, or at least misleading to anyone scanning you. Would they fool a senator in an Imperium craft, looking for Lars and his buddies?  And now the computer was leading her into danger.

Had the computer been bugged?  Was something else controlling it?  It had never changed course in the past. Except in an emergency, and this was no emergency. 

Yet.

What she most wanted was to talk to Pete. She was within range on subspace, but the computer controlled the comms. If she simply spoke to him, the computer would know what was said. If it was under someone else’s control that would be dangerous.

After a few hours partially asleep, she sat up. Memories of coded messages had returned. She started working on an innocent message that could read in an entirely different way to a man with Pete’s intelligence.

.

It took two days for Pete’s response to arrive. She hoped the computer hadn’t meddled with it, although it seemed to be in clear, so probably not. 

“Lars thinks you will remember Wayne’s blue phase. He is preparing a similar picture for you, which can’t wait till you return. Suggest you have a change of heart before blue phase ends.  Lots of love, always. Pete”

Dolores could hardly forget Wayne’s blue phase. The computer on the bigger spaceship had full voice and personality facility; she named him Wayne. An attack by an outside force on their systems had put most of him into shutdown while the rest repaired the ship. But Wayne had done those repairs himself. If Lars was going to put her computer offline in some way, what could she do to solve the problem? ‘Have a change of heart before the blue phase ends’ definitely suggested she had to take action.

She reached for the viewpad, realised that it was integrated with the ship’s database, and checked her qwatch instead. A message from Lars displayed a section from the manufacturer’s manual.

When the systems went down two hours later, Dolores was already sitting in the galley beside the emergency box of manual tools. She used a flat-ended tool to lever open the access panel, inspected it by the light of the wind-up torch, and proceeded to alter the settings on three circuit panels according to the instructions on her qwatch. A bit like an old-fashioned heart transplant, she thought.

Then she waited for the computer’s blue phase to end. 

© J M Pett 2018

You can find more short stories featuring Dolores, Lars, Pete and Maggie, and the rest of the Viridian world, linked on this flash fiction page on the Viridian system website.

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WEP – August #flashfiction | Change of Heart
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45 thoughts on “WEP – August #flashfiction | Change of Heart

  • 15 August, 2018 at 8:12 am
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    I thoroughly enjoyed this – and want to read more. Dolores sounds like a truly resourceful and feisty woman – always a win.

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:32 am
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      It’s funny how characters develop over time… then again, so they should. 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Elephant’s Child. The story begins in The Perihelix.

      Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 10:47 am
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    Nice interpretation of the prompt. You are one creative thinker and an amazing addition to the science fiction-writer’s pantheon. 👍

    Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 3:33 pm
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    I love it! I really, really like what you’ve been doing with Dolores, here and in Curved Space. Definitely coming into her own as a person and a character. Computers that don’t obey are of course an old trope, but it’s nice to see a work-around that doesn’t involve either destroying the computer or the humans losing.

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:33 am
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      I’m always worried I’m just rehashing other people’s plots, but then, that’s been a writers’ issue for centuries.

      Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 6:04 pm
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    A good take on the prompt and it was very engaging.
    Good job.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 9:30 pm
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    An interesting take on the prompt. Engaging and I definitely want to read more! Excellent entry!

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:35 am
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      Thanks, Yolanda. I really enjoy writing these stories in the Viridian System world, and I suppose it shows!

      Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 11:00 pm
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    Fascinating. I was immediately drawn into the story. Like the others, I think this was an interesting take on the prompt.

    Reply
  • 15 August, 2018 at 11:07 pm
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    Sure have to watch those computers that can only think in percentages, they may set you on a path you don’t want indeed. Great she took matters into her own hands.

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  • 15 August, 2018 at 11:59 pm
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    Hi Jemima – you’ve entranced us with Dolores and her need to change a heart – even if it’s the computer’s one – cleverly done – cheers Hilary

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:38 am
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      I think there’ll be several changes of heart in the final book of the Viridian System series…. must start writing it soon 🙂

      Reply
  • 16 August, 2018 at 1:57 pm
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    Dolores sounds like a thoroughly enterprising woman. A different sort of heart transplant and a very unique and clever take on the prompt. Well written, enjoyable read.

    Reply
  • 16 August, 2018 at 11:02 pm
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    Great that she figured out how to out smart the computer. The suspense was building when the computer kept doing its own thing with the route. This does make me want to know more about what is going on in this world.

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    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:39 am
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      It starts with The Perihelix. I’m editing the second in the series at present. Thanks for visiting 🙂

      Reply
  • 17 August, 2018 at 12:39 am
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    Now, if only HAL had such a clever transplant. Great take on the theme and a thorny sci-fi issue – and maybe sat-nav defect.

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:40 am
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      I suspect the satnav defect was induced by a hostile party – although that wasn’t my idea for how to get the various parties to meet for the third book.

      Reply
  • 17 August, 2018 at 4:03 am
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    Hi Jemima! Welcome to WEP/IWSG. Glad you could join us.

    Thanks for a great story, which I see is well received by your readers. I always like a strong, clever heroine, so go Dolores! I’d like to see more of her! Perhaps in future entries.

    As far as posting times go — we used to post weekly, then fortnightly, then monthly, and for a couple of years now, every second month. We are highly organized and run it to a high standard, but all of the team are writers who need time to write, so this is what we can handle.

    Thanks for participating!

    Denise

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:42 am
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      Thanks, Denise, and thanks for creating such a well-organised event. I was thinking of using prompts I’ve missed to do a monthly one. My readers are accustomed to a weekly flash fiction, and I’ll have to wean them off slowly!
      But you’re right, it does eat in to book writing time.

      Reply
  • 17 August, 2018 at 7:59 am
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    After spending 30 minutes of an hour long trip today arguing with my GPS, this tells me I should definitely not travel through space, because the way I went made more sense and was shorter than the way the GPS wanted to take me (an Interstate). It kept trying to make me take exits and do u-turns. Computers. Not as smart as we want them to be.

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:44 am
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      I love taking my satnav a different way from the one she wants. You’d think she’d have learnt the quickest way for some of the routes I do weekly by now. Does yours sound more cross, then finally resigned, as she repeats ‘recalculating route’? Oooh, I just got an idea for a story!!

      Reply
  • 17 August, 2018 at 1:37 pm
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    Ooh, I like this. It makes me want more, to find out what happens later on with the senator, and to hear more about Dolores’ life!
    Her computer reminds me of the first time I used a GPS, and was approaching a Canada-US border point, and the GPS was trying to get us to turn off into a field…

    Reply
    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:46 am
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      The story starts with The Perihelix, although there are a few backstories linked on the Viridian System website (viridianseries.uk) This story is set after book 2, which should come out around Christmas or new year.

      Reply
  • 17 August, 2018 at 4:49 pm
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    This was a clever story. I really liked Dolores and could easily read more about her. Nicely done.

    Reply
  • 18 August, 2018 at 2:52 am
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    This was wonderful! Technology has a way of messing with me, so I felt her frustration with the computer rerouting her over and over. I love how she handled the situation, too. Very nicely done!

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    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:47 am
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      Oh, yes, don’t we all fee stuck in that loop sometimes?! Nice to meet you, and thanks.

      Reply
  • 19 August, 2018 at 8:01 am
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    I like it, as I agree self-aware computers might be a real pain. And I like the way you identified some hazards of being a starship pilot and protecting oneself. I am a scifi fan. Well done.

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    • 20 August, 2018 at 8:50 am
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      Thanks, DG. The women in my stories have been through a lot ,and in the recesses of space, they have realised being free sometimes isn’t the best option. Some people find those conclusions hard to take!

      Reply
  • 19 August, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    Pain in the butt computers, changing things when you’ve got it all set the way you like it! Ha ha. So relatable, even for a sci-fi story. Nice work.

    Reply
    • 19 August, 2018 at 10:12 pm
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      Apologies to all for not commenting earlier this week… but,….

      CONGRATULATIONS, MICHELLE – YOU ARE MY 10,000th COMMENTER

      Woot! Fireworks! Explosions!

      I’ll email you about a wee gift 🙂

      Reply
  • 20 August, 2018 at 8:20 pm
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    I seem to have entered into the middle of the story.

    Start with a quick overview of book 1 & 2 and how she got to that point.

    Tell the story, then stop it where she had to take action. Don’t tell us what action she took.

    Now I’d want to know what happen. How she got out of it.

    Good story overall.

    Reply
  • 26 August, 2018 at 12:53 pm
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    Congratulations on being shortlisted for the August WEP challenge.

    Reply

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