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A PRIMARY FUNCTION • by C.L. Holland

This time when Roo woke them up, some of the colonists began to cry. They looked around with eyes still bleary from deep sleep, at the medical robots that stood ready to check their status and Roo waiting to take them to their scheduled entertainment, and burst into tears.

Being an android, Roo did not understand. There was no obvious reason for their tears: the medical scans revealed them all to be in perfect health. Tears could mean a number of things, including sadness, pain, or joy, but Roo did not know enough about human emotions to tell which. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function, and so Roo stepped towards one of the women.

“Why are you crying?”

The woman cringed back from Roo’s smooth dull-silver hand. “Let me go back to sleep,” she begged. “Please.”

“Sleep will be resumed after the entertainment,” Roo told her. “The health of each passenger must be checked, as must the status of the hibernation pods. A film has been provided for your enjoyment during this interval.”

The woman wailed and fled into the arms of the person from the tube beside her, a man called Aaron Blake. Blake glared at Roo, who returned to the task of shepherding the colonists into the auditorium. They stood single file in corridors that were dimmed to protect their newly-awoken eyes. Tears tracked silently down the cheeks of some, others stared blankly, while a few sobbed openly and were consoled by those in front or behind.

Like those on so many other ships the colonists were heading for an unknown destination, to reseed their civilisation on planets far away from their own dying Earth. It was one of many plans conceived by mankind to save itself. Computers were created to design and build the ships and their android crews, and selected those passengers most likely to succeed in such an endeavour. Roo watched the humans file into the darkened hall.

Rows of tiered seats faced a screen that took up a whole wall, and the aisle was marked by gentle lights set into the floor. The humans sat down in their designated seats and Roo moved back towards the doors. A man stepped out and folded his arms, blocking the aisle. It was Blake again, the man who had shortened the designation R00-1RX to Roo. Recognising that humans felt better appending names to things — animals, vehicles, weapons, and now androids — Roo had not corrected him. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function.

“Why?” Blake demanded. “Why do you keep doing this to us?”

“I do not understand, Mr Blake,” Roo replied. “The film was especially chosen to lift your spirits during the maintenance of the hibernation pods. It contains family values, romance, hope, victory against oppression, and songs to foster a sense of community.”

“We’ve seen it fifty times!” Blake caught at Roo’s arm. Roo could have broken his grip easily, but instead chose to let him express his frustration. “Look, Roo, can’t you just show us something else?”

“I am afraid not, Mr Blake. The film was especially chosen…”

“To lift our spirits. I got that. There are other films that could cheer us up, right? We wouldn’t even mind if it was another musical.”

“There are no other films, Mr Blake.”

Blake stared. “What?”

“There are no other films. It was not anticipated there would be a need for them, and so no other films were brought. There is after all a significant interval between viewings.”

“For you, maybe.” Blake’s shoulders sagged. He looked like he, too, was going to cry. “Roo…”

“I must ask you to take your seat, Mr Blake. The film will start shortly, and another group is scheduled to begin maintenance once it has finished.”

Blake’s face crumpled and he didn’t resist as Roo steered him firmly but gently to his seat. Roo moved back to the doors and closed them. A moment later there was music and a young woman’s voice was raised in song as she proclaimed the landscape to be alive with melody. There was a collective howl from the audience: not singing but screaming.

Roo moved up to the projection room. There were controls there to release gas into the auditorium, to temporarily paralyse the humans should it be needed. It had been fitted after a group of them had refused to go back into hibernation. Roo would use the gas if necessary, if they showed any inclination to harm themselves. The wellbeing of the colonists was a primary function.


C.L. Holland has a Bachelors degree in English with Creative Writing, and a Masters degree in English, and was a winner of Writers of the Future for 2008. Her secret identity is that of a humble officeworker. She has an evergrowing collection of books and expects them to reach critical mass any time now.


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A PRIMARY FUNCTION • by C.L. Holland, 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
Posted on June 15, 2009 in Humour/Satire, Science Fiction, Stories
Tags: ,
  • http://adladspad.wordpress.com/ Ad Lad

    A fun idea, but I think the central premise is flawed. Would they really only give a ship one film? Even if is something as fantastic as The Sound of Music!…

    (I hope I’m not alone in being a huge fan of Julie Andrews http://adladspad.wordpress.com/2009/06/page/2/)

  • http://rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com rumjhum

    Enjoyed this thoroughly! Five! :)
    Btw, did you watch “Sound of Music” one time too many? LOL

  • Bob

    Very cute idea, and nicely executed.

  • http://conversationsfromlandsedge.blogspot.com/ Alan W. Davidson

    I understand Ad Lad’s point that it would be odd that they would make such a journey with only one film. I wasn’t too bothered, though, as androids had made the flawed decision (I think) and in their logic one inspriational(?) film would be enough. Great story.

  • Kathleen

    I think you’ve watched Sound of Music once to often. LOL. Liked the story.

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    I know I’d go bonkers if I had to watch that (censored) movie over and over and over! But what can you expect from a bunch of androids?

  • http://jfjuzwik.blogspot.com Joyce

    Another peek into our dark future? The Sound of Music? Oh brother.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Have others noticed all the continuous action in the small space of the room of the spaceship? The heavily expressed emotion throughout? And the caring at the end? This is a STORY which could be adapted easily for movies and become as warmly loved as THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Of course there might be political and even business repercussions if the film used THE SOUND OF MUSIC. The same effect might be had using home videos of people smiling and waving at eachother, also expressing warm love.

  • Jen

    Fun story! Not sure how I feel about all The Sound Of Music hate though. Though if it was the only movie I ever got to see…

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Jen – I think the “Sound of Music hate” is an expression of annoyance against those who join a short story forum and then want to eliminate all stories which don’t support acting or filmmaking. The “adaptation” from one medium into another is more of a “translation” – even harder, and some works lose their original sense and emotion altogether. One might as well learn about other kinds of constructed fictional word-works without defining them out of existence. A sugar-coated movie reference was given to remind them of “chariot race” and other excitement flicks.

  • Jen

    I was really only teasing with the “Sound Of Music hate” comment.

  • C.L. Holland

    For the record, I don’t hate The Sound of Music….

    Thanks for all your comments. :)

  • Margie

    There are some movies that never get old, to me and The Sound of Music is one of them. ;~) Maybe I’m an android.

  • Bob

    Keep in mind, folks, that the crew members are in deep sleep between viewings. Subjectively, they’re being forced to watch the movie over and over and over again without a break. Their entire voyage is, to them, just one interminable Sound of Music marathon.

    That movie gets to me toward the end of just one viewing. By the time they get to their destination, that whole crew is gonna be crackers!

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Many, many years ago, Mad Magazine ran a feature titled “The Sound of Money.” Now THAT was enjoyable even if the movie it satirized was not.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I meant “the same effect might be had using home videos of people smiling and waving at eachother,” which are also such expressions of human warmth as THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

  • http://www.wormsview.com Rick O’Donnell

    So few stories surprised me anymore I love it when one does. 5 stars.

  • Sharon

    What a twist! Rod would have been well pleased.

  • J.C. Towler

    A cheeky sci-fi humor story.

    (Too bad they weren’t showing “Star Wars”. I haven’t seen it 50 times, but the first dozen or so have been enjoyable.)

    –John

  • Errol Nimbly

    Ms. Holland, I really felt for your victims. There must be a room in 21st century Hell like this. What a great premise. It’s very much a tribute to Philip K. Dick in spirit. I was reminded of something he wrote in 1970 with a similar setting, but your story is definitely original with great atmosphere and a great tragicomic twist. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gave it a 5.

  • Chris

    @ Errol Nimbly – Bang on with the PKD reference. Roo could so very easily be a “FASRAD”.

    I loved this story – (C.L.’s). I too got that the decision to just bring the one film was made by AI. It all gets me wondering about the cumulative “Clockwork Orange” effect this will have on the fated colonists.

  • Rod

    Great job, C.L. :D
    It’s wonderful how you can translate the characters’ horror into humor for us. ;D

  • karen

    C.L. Great Job! I believe a lot of us can get caught up with trying to satisfy someone with what WE think they need. “Oh NO!”, came out of me at the clever way you introduced the kicker. Thanks, Karen

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Rod – Do you feel horror at that film too?

  • http://www.erinmkinch.com Erin

    I really enjoyed this story. Well written, and the punch line of the actual movie was great. I even liked the robot POV and how it differed so greatly from that of the humans.

  • pooja

    very interesting idea!!

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