“Engineering Uncertainty” is a flash fiction story set on a space-age airship.
The original version was published on 11 August 2015: http://needleinthehay.net/short-story-flash-fiction-engineering-uncertainty-lydia-trethewey/
“But is it possible to prove the existence of a soul?”
Pushing red locks up his sweaty forehead, Leon stared beseechingly at his two co-workers. His eyes, watery and rodent-like, seemed to glow in the dim bowels of the airship.
Faye ignored him, reaching across the bench to where a message was printing from the Box. She tore the ticket along the perforated line and held it up to the flickering light. Along the header of the thin paper were stamped the words PRIORITY: IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED. She made a note of it and turned back to Leon.
“Why all this talk of souls lately?” she asked.
SM-1582QJ, or ‘Roger’, was patting Leon sympathetically on the back. Leon opened his mouth to reply but as he did a crackling voice sounded through the intercom.
“Engineers!” it barked “This is Reginald Shaw. Get to the upper hull immediately, there’s a breach that needs to be patched.”
“Yes, sir, we’re on it,” Faye said, her body stiffening to attention.
“Don’t interrupt. This isn’t just another hole, it’s a propeller. The night-side is catching up, so if you don’t want us all to become popsicles get your asses into gear.”
“Roger that,” said Roger
Faye could almost hear Reginald’s moustache hairs bristling.
The three engineers stepped into their surface-suits and headed for the Elevator. As they left Faye noticed a message scribbled in chalk across one of the girders: Don’t forget the duct-tape.
A familiar greenness crept into Leon’s face as the Elevator accelerated. Tiny numbers flashed on the dirty screen. Level 1279 brought them into the great balloon itself, from the hulking city that burrowed into its belly like a tick. The two humans inserted their breathing tubes and double-checked their harnesses.
Any possibility of talking was ripped away with the shriek of wind that greeted the opening doors. A steady mechanical hum vibrated through their boots. Faye switched on her radio.
“…if we actually exist or not.” Leon was saying. In the light of the naked star his hair looked more strawberry-blond than ginger.
Following the safety rail, Faye edged onto the airship’s surface. 6000 feet below desert stretched endlessly in all directions. From the horizon freezing shadows slid closer.
“Of course you don’t have a soul,” Roger said, “just good, dependable neurons.”
Faye smiled grimly.
“Why should I even listen to you, if I can’t guarantee you exist. All I know is that I exist.”
“That’s a dangerous solipsism, Leon,” said the robot.
Ahead Faye could see the broken propeller, flapping uselessly. Lumpy soldering marked the edge of the tear.
“Well, maybe none of us exist,” said Leon, “maybe we’re just the dream of a higher being!”
Faye reached for her welder. Frost gripped her mask.
In the radio crackle she heard a quiet exclamation.
She pivoted just in time to see Roger whip away into the air.
“It’s not real!” screamed Leon, wielding the cable-cutters.
Faye backed up along the safety rail.
“We’re made-up Faye, we’re the invention of an insane creator. Look around – a space-age airship? It makes no sense! It’s not real!” He clawed at the air as if scrabbling for something solid.
“Leon…” Faye began.
With unexpected swiftness Leon lifted the cable-cutters to her harness. Soundlessly Faye was swept backwards, downwards, launched towards the creeping darkness.
Panting, wind whipping his hair and tears in his eyes, Leon laughed.
The night-side inched closer.
“Engineering Uncertainty” was written for a competition on Needle in the Hay (http://needleinthehay.net/). Part of the prompt specified that it had to include a character questioning the existence of their soul. Naturally, in a story that had a robot as a main character, it was the ginger who was uncertain.