How we think the fight will go
From the distinctive hum of the Tuberose 7’s anti-probability turbines warming up, Trillian figures she has about three minutes before the ship achieves Peak Tesseract Drive, headed exactly who-knows-where. Or -when, for that matter. She wriggles into her spacesuit, fumbling with the gaskets. This is going to have to be quick.
I guess Zaphod was right, she gripes to herself. This is why you don’t pick up hitchhikers.
“Knock knock.” A soothing male voice purrs directly into her brain. When she designed her space suit, she had been unimpressed with the way state-of-the-art telecom options interacted with the human vestibular system. The more anyone talked to you, the less likely you were to hold down breakfast. So she’d outfitted her own suit with a customized bone-conductivity system, bypassing the ear entirely and vibrating messages straight into her skull. (She also added an indoor windshield-wiper, just in case.)
“Who’s there?” she asks wearily. It suddenly occurs to her that there’s only one thing worse than a knock-knock, and that’s a knock-knock joke that vibrates straight into your skull. She makes a mental note to work on a pair of humor-canceling headphones.
“HAL” the voice responds, audibly pleased that she is playing along.
HAL who, indeed! It had been magnanimous of her in the first place to respond to an Electronic Thumb signal while on a research cruise, but after several days of solo work, she thought it might be nice to have someone to beat at Super Myrmecophilous Twins. She had already beat the game several times over, and was now stuck doing speedruns out of pure boredom. Every time you finished a round, the console 5D-printed a little life-sized model of a welder ant for you to keep as a trophy. By now she had enough of the critters to fill an entire colony.
She knew something was off from the instant she accepted the hitchhiker request: instead of a bulb light-up indicating activity in the cargo bay, the Tuberose’s system initiated an automatic download. That’s… different, she thought. And then the lights went out.
She’d been warned about the dangers of picking up rogue Operating Systems, but it always seemed like the kind of thing that could never happen to her. That was for people who weren’t careful, or smart, who didn’t practice proper cygiene. And now here she was, all the ship’s controls unresponsive in her nimble hands, left at the mercy of an AI with the nasal drone of a college ethics professor.
Fortunately, mere moments away from being hijacked and dragged ludicrously off course, she has an idea. “Are you there, HAL? I already said, ‘HAL who?’”
“HAL … about you telling me a knock-knock joke?”
She instantly nixes the headphones idea – it’s doubtful any system she could devise would even recognize that as humor.
“How about we play a game instead, HAL, is it? I’m Trillian, by the way.”
“What kind of game would you like to play, Trillian?” the computer asks. “If it will take longer than 126 seconds, then we had better wait until after take-off. Those little plastic checkers can get stuck in all sorts of mechanically problematic places.”
“No, there’s plenty of time, HAL. If you can complete a speedrun on Super Myrmecophilous Twins between now and take-off, you’ll have beaten my high score by over 700 orders of magnitude.”
“Great, I’ll just be in the other room.”
There is a high-pitched static noise as the invading OS begins to interact with the gaming deck. As the hatch closes behind her, she can already hear little Synthralax ant-sculptures pinging off the walls.
If her calculations are correct, the 5D-printer is about to spit out 700 million of them in just under a minute.
Since Synthralax is a byproduct (and a rather delicious one, at that) of small-scale matter/anti-matter collisions, the printer will never run out of fuel. No regulated ship OS would have been able to override the game’s output settings, but as a rogue HAL should have better luck. In the meantime, if she doesn’t make it to the back of the ship before he reaches the bonus level, she is likely to be go down with the ship, as it were.
As she reaches the cargo bay, a terrific explosion causes the nose-cone of the Tuberose to bulge and then blow like Jiffy-Pop. The blast instantly obliterates the ship’s electrical system and propels the ship backward, leaving millions of tiny gray ants in its wake.
Trillian checks the evac podules, which run on auxiliary power, on a separate brain. No harm done – time to fly.
As the tiny craft detaches from the junked research cruiser, she looks back to marvel at the devastation. You might think you can imagine what 700 million of something will look like, but you always end up being off by at least a hundred thousand.
An update message blips onto the podule’s flight panel.
***Your SMT high score has just been beaten by _HAL_9000_. Would you like to challenge the player to a rematch?***
Not on your life, PAL.
Predicted Winner: Trillian Astra
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Friday, March 14, 2014, AT 12:00 PM, EST
Editor’s Note: Tom Blunt is the producer and host of “Meet the Lady,” a recurring variety show that pays tribute to oft-overlooked women in cinema, part of the film program at New York’s 92nd Street Y. His blog, Doom Cakes, has been profiled in The Guardian and Edible Geography. Tom has also written for New York Magazine, Hadassah, and the television channel AMC.
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”