Flash Friday 15/04/2016: A Clean Slate
Tracy ran a finger across a counter of the abandoned ship, peering at the result against her stark-white spacesuit. “It’s too clean.”
Zack turned with a frown on his face. “‘Too clean’?”
“Yeah. It’s almost as if someone launched this ship when it was new. Like it’s still fresh out the factory.”
“But it has to have been occupied. Why are all the lights and machinery on, otherwise?”
“That’s why I’m saying it’s weird. Someone had to have been here, but I haven’t come across even a speck of dust or dirt.”
“Maybe a laboratory ship? Or medical?”
“Let’s hope so.”
Continued exploration provided nothing but eerie silence and tension. Every room they checked was barren, if not completely dirt free and smelling of lemons. Catching sounds coming from a room labelled ‘dining area’, Zack pushed a button on the wall to open the door.
Inside was a mess hall, three long tables with benches on either side of their lengths. Along the tables were neat rows of meals on plates, cutlery, and glasses of water. Small robots darted around the room like walking waiter serving dishes, transporting and placing prepared meals in their proper place. In the back, visible through a large open window, a four-foot cuboid robot scrubbed at plates at a sink using claw-like hands at the end of flailing tube arms. Across his body were pockmarks, small holes in his body with a scorch-mark halo around each. On the door opening, the robot turned, presenting its face as a green oscilloscope screen, the line on it wobbling every time he spoke.
“Ah, greetings!” it said in a cheerful tone. “Haven’t seen another sentient being in quite a while. Dinner’s ready, by the way. I don’t know what ‘dinner’ is, but I made it nonetheless.”
“We ate before boarding,” Tracy said. “We’re here due to a distress signal being sent out by this ship. Do you know anything about it?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m just a simple cleaning and cooking robot. I wouldn’t know anything about distress beacons or other such things. I know a good bleach, however.” He picked up a bottle from a counter, waving it in the air. “Five stars, I’d say.”
“Thanks, but we’re here to figure out what happened here. Given you’re cooking meals up, I take it you once served a crew?”
“I don’t know. I just cook meals and place them on plates. Then, after thirty minutes, I clean everything again. Strange ritual. Then I get back to my normal duties.”
“Cleaning! Lots and lots of cleaning. I do love a good, clean ship, don’t you? One you could trace your finger over any surface and not detect any trace amounts of microscopic bacteria using your magnifying reticles. I’m sure you can relate.”
“Have you noticed anything strange in your cleaning rituals? Something like the disappearance of humans?”
“I do have information about that, yes. As a cleaning robot, it’s my duty to make sure this ship is as squeaky-clean as it gets. Some of my protocols force me to perform actions that mess things up, such as this ‘dinner’ ritual I’m still coming to grips with. Rest assured, as soon as it’s done with, the cleaning core kicks in again, and all mess created is gone in an instant.”
“Sounds good so far,” said Zack.
“Doesn’t it? A shining, speckless utopia. That’s what I like. That’s when I realised that, every time a mess is made, a new one is not short behind it. So, I thought; why not tackle the things causing the mess? So I started at the source. Trapping rats. Repairing leaking oil pipes. Cooking simpler meals. Once I did, the place began to look naturally cleaner by the second. But then I realised I was blind to the biggest mess-maker of them all.”
“What was that?”
“These…giant creatures that kept walking around the ship. Shedding skin that fell to the floor. Smashing and breaking things. Emitting bodily fluids that got everywhere and gave me a headache. So I cleaned them. They didn’t want to be clean, though. Shot their laser guns at me, causing garish scorch marks and burning flammable objects and causing a general mess. But eventually.” The robot dried off a large knife, observing its glint in the light. “I cleaned them. And they stopped causing mess. And now the ship has been better than it ever has.”
“So you mean…” Tracy breathed. “You killed the crew?”
“Oh! So thats what you meant by crew! Oh, no, I didn’t kill them. Well, tried not to, anyway. Not at the beginning. So messy. But when all the escape pods were used up, there was no choice. Eight bottles of bleach to scrub out the stains! Waste of a good product. Five stars, as I’ve always said.”
“Zack,” Tracy whispered. “Let’s just get the hell out of this ship and report it to the authorities. This is basically a murder site.”
“Agreed,” Zack whispered. Then, speaking to the robot: “It’s been lovely, but…we’d best be going now.”
“Alright then!” the robot chirped. “Have a safe journey, and if you see any messes, be sure to tell me.”
Zack gave a wave, then stepped backwards to leave. As he did, one of the food-carrying robots was darting past holding a bowl of soup. Catching it with his foot, both he and the robot went tumbling over, spilling soup across the floor.
Zack and Tracy’s guts froze.
“Do you think he noticed?” Zack whispered as he picked himself back up.
“I don’t think so–”
A knife parted Zack’s hair, embedding itself in the wall. Behind them, the robot was already drying another. “Well then,” it said. “Looks like I have a spot more cleaning to do.”
“Yes,” Tracy corrected, grabbing Zack’s arm and tugging him out of the room. She managed to close it, blocking the flying meat cleaver as it slammed against the door. “And I think it’s high time we left.”