Stuck

Stuck
by Andrew Atkinson

The alarm started blaring promptly at 7:00 a.m., just as it had every morning for the last eight years. Alan was already awake; his internal body clock had gotten so used to waking up at that time it had started rousing him five minutes before the alarm sounded.

He climbed out of bed, stretched, and hobbled over to the food replicator.

“Morning, Foody,” he said. “What’ve we got for breakfast today?”

“We have fried eggs and bacon, or cornflakes,” the electronic voice of the food replicator replied.

“Eggs and bacon, I think.”

Alan ate his breakfast quickly and crossed to the other side of the room. Filling the whole wall was the Information Network Super Computer; a large screen dominated most of the computer, with a few lights and buttons on either side.

“And good morning to you, Ms. Knowledge.” Alan punched a few buttons on the left side of the computer and the face of a young woman appeared onscreen.

“Good morning, Alan,” Ms. Knowledge replied. “I hope you are feeling well?”

For eight years, Alan had been going through this routine, and in all that time, he had never been able to figure out why the computer’s programmers had seen fit to give the computer the face of Marilyn Monroe and the voice of Vivien Leigh. It was such a weird combination.

“As well as can be expected. What’s the surface temperature like today?”

“The surface temperature of the planet Earth is 750 degrees Celsius.”

“Wow, a whole degree cooler than this time last year.” Alan whistled. “At this rate, I’ll be able to go outside in another five years.”

“Correction,” Ms. Knowledge stated, “if the temperature continues to drop at the current rate, it will be safe for you to go outside in 703 years.”

“You were never programmed to understand sarcasm, were you?” Alan asked with a sigh. “Okay, doesn’t seem much point, but let’s do it anyway: scan for any signs of life.”

The face of Ms. Knowledge disappeared from the screen and was replaced by a map of what remained of the planet Earth. Alan watched as a red line rippled back and forth across the map for a few minutes.

The face of Ms. Knowledge reappeared. “I can find no lifesigns. Can I do anything else for you, Alan?”

“I feel like watching a bit of TV,” Alan said. “Something with a lot of people in it. Make it Anchorman; that always used to make me laugh.”

As the movie started, Alan sat on the bed and let his mind drift slightly. Eight years ago, the stupid human race had finally destroyed the planet with nuclear missiles. It was pure chance Alan had been in this room at the time, and even now, he wasn’t sure how it had protected him.


Alan woke with a start. He hadn’t even been aware of falling asleep, but the last time he looked at the film, it was about halfway through, and now it was finished.

“Ms. Knowledge,” he said groggily, “turn the film off, would you? Foody, got any water?”

“Of course, Alan,” Foody replied.

“Good, give me a …” Alan stopped. It had taken him a few moments to realize, but something was different. He couldn’t place it exactly, but the voice of Foody sounded wrong somehow. “Foody,” Alan said slowly, “do we have any water?”

“You have already asked me that, Alan. I replied in the affirmative.”

There it was. For eight years, Alan had been reliant on Foody for his sustenance, and in all that time, the food dispenser had never used his name.

“Ms. Knowledge,” Alan turned away from Foody, “what’s been going on while I was asleep?”

“I do not understand the question, Alan.”

“It’s perfectly simple. What’s been happ—”

A bang on the door interrupted Alan. He stared at the door in shock for several seconds.

That’s impossible, he thought. Completely impossible.

A second bang, and then a third. Alan realized that the sound was what had woken him, and it was also why Foody and Ms. Knowledge were acting strange.

“Ms. Knowledge,” Alan said without taking his eyes off the door, “what’s making that noise?”

“The sound is caused by one object striking another, in this case, the door.”

Damn computers and their literal minds.

“I meant,” Alan said through gritted teeth, “why does that noise exist? You told me I was the last living creature on Earth.”

“That is correct.”

“Then who is making that fucking noise?”

“Insufficient data.”

A fourth bang filled the room.

“Would you like a drink of water?”

Alan turned in shock and stared at Foody. First, there was the use of his name for the first time in eight years, and now the damn thing had spontaneously asked him a question. Something was very wrong.

“Take the water, Alan,” Ms. Knowledge said. Was that a hint of a threat he heard in her voice?

“If I don’t?”

“That is, of course, your choice.” If there had been a threatening tone before, it was gone now.

“No water,” Alan said hoarsely. Yet another bang emanated from the door. “Shit! Ms. Knowledge, please tell me what’s happening!”

“Insufficient data.”

Alan roared in frustration. He needed to know what was making noise on the other side of the door. His curiosity was so intense he thought he was going to burst, but his survival instinct prevented him from actually trying to open it.

He walked slowly over to the door and pressed his ear against it. There was only silence from the other side. He stepped back, his head swimming with the pressure of his dilemma, and sank down onto the couch.

“Perhaps a drink of water will help you think, Alan,” Ms. Knowledge suggested. “Or maybe something a little stronger?”

“Just water,” Alan said. His throat had gone dry and he found himself desperate for a drink. As he sipped at the glass Foody provided, another even louder bang reverberated round the room.

Alan leapt to his feet and ran for the door, intending to open it, but his legs gave way and he crashed to the floor. He tried to speak, but his mouth felt like it was full of cotton and he couldn’t make any noise. Damn computers, he thought before he lost consciousness.


Private Daniels banged on the door. He thought he’d heard voices from the other side, but now it was silent.

“Found anything, Private?” Captain Williams asked.

“Thought so for a while, sir, but I must have been wrong.”

Captain Williams nodded “Might have been a computer left running,” he said. “Well, we’ve been ordered to seal up all the empty buildings.” He gestured to the civilian welder they’d brought with them. “You know what to do,” he said. “And be quick about it. If there is a computer in there, it might be able to defend itself. They’ve already tried to wipe us out once; we want to be long gone before it thinks of trying again.”


The alarm started blaring promptly at 7:00 a.m., just as it had every morning for the last eight years. Alan was already awake; his internal body clock had gotten so used to waking up at that time it had started rousing him five minutes before the alarm sounded.

He climbed out of bed, stretched, and hobbled over to the food replicator.

“Morning, Foody,” he said. “What’ve we got for breakfast today?”

“We have a full English breakfast or toast,” the electronic voice of the food replicator replied.


Copyright © 2015 Andrew Atkinson