Two-for One: L is for Lars and Larry

Today it's one from my stories, one from Jemima Pett. 

Lars Nilsson
In a nutshell: Asteroid miner with a murky past and uncertain temper, trying to get through life with as much leisure to enjoy women as possible
Biggest secret: His motto may be 'if you can't beat them, join them'

Lars is one of the central characters in the Viridian System books by Jemima Pett.


The second character is mine: Larry the disembodied eyeballs.

In a nutshell: Larry is the manifestation of the AI/onboard computer of the good ship Wanderlust, home of Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer. Being an AI, he thinks fast and knows everything, but has a little trouble with things that require hands.
Biggest Secret: Larry is trying hard to develop a sense of humor and other human attributes.

Xavier, Larry, and the Wanderlust (and the ship's cat, Kitty Comet), feature in a series of flash fiction on this blog. Stories about the intrepid space explorers appear at random intervals when I'm inspired. Xavier had his inception when I needed a flash fiction for "X" during the 2013 A to Z Challenge. Check out the first story here. And because this is Friday, which is my customary Flash Fiction day, the crew gets another outing, a bit shorter than my usual flash fiction, at just under 600 words.

With the End in Sight

Larry was bored. Maybe a computer can’t get bored, but the AI system of Wanderlust had plenty of cause, and maybe more motivation than most. There wasn’t much to keep even a mid-quality AI busy in a one-man ship on a long journey across mostly empty space. Larry had to find his own entertainment.

Creating his physical manifestation had been fun for a while. Certainly the shock those glowing eyeballs gave Xavier Xanthum had been fun, and Xavier’s reaction gave Larry the incentive to go on with the impossible project he had in mind. But that had been ages ago. Xavier had long since ceased to think of Larry as anything odd, taking both his conversation and his eyeballs for granted. Maybe that proved he was succeeding.

Did Xavier, in fact, think Larry was human?

“Xavier, what am I?”

Xavier Xanthum, space explorer and at the moment, napper extraordinaire, jolted awake. He’d been dozing in the nav chair with Kitty Comet. They were nearing the end of the current crossing, and Xavier liked to be on hand in case Larry needed him for any tricky bits, though the computer hadn’t needed him so far.

Larry’s question had nothing to do with navigation, and Xavier was grumpy at being wakened.

“What are you talking about?”

“What am I?” Larry repeated. He had, quite literally, infinite patience.

“You’re Larry.”

The AI dared to hope. His eyeballs glowed.

“You’re the Wanderlust’s AI,” Xavier finished, dashing Larry’s hopes. Still…

“Can an AI hope?” Larry asked the question aloud as it occurred to him.

“Say, what’s this all about, anyway?” Xavier was more awake now. “Is there something wrong with your processor?”

“No, Xavier,” Larry replied with dignity. “I was merely…wondering.”

“Wondering what? Are you looking for some systems upgrades?” Now Xavier sounded worried. Changes to the ship’s computer were expensive. “We didn’t do all that well this trip, you know. But if there’s anything left after fuel and resupply, I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“I don’t believe I require any upgrades,” Larry said. “I merely wondered…”

“What? Come on, spit it out, Larry. What’s eating you?”

The eyes floating near Xavier’s left hand blinked. “Eating? I don’t—oh!” He had scanned his data banks and come up with the relevant references for the expression. “You are asking what I am worried about.”

“Yeah, that. What’s eating you?” Xavier drummed his fingers on his armrest and waited for the bad news.

“I just wondered,” Larry began for the third time. The sentence seemed to be giving him a lot of trouble, which was odd for something that could think as fast as the computer did. Comet looked up from her perch on Xavier’s lap, spotted Larry’s eyeballs, and reached out a paw to bat at them. “Hey, watch it, Kitty!” Larry actually sounded a little panicked.

Xavier laughed. “Relax, Larry! She can’t hurt you. Geez, you sound like you think you’re alive or something. Like those eyeballs have substance.” He laughed, then checked the nav screens, dismissing Larry’s odd behavior. “Well, trip’s nearly over. Looks like time to get to work.” He pulled the keyboard toward his lap, displacing the cat.

The eyeballs blinked and vanished.

The trip might be over, but it looked to Larry like he had farther to go. Xavier might treat him like a partner, but it seemed he still considered Larry a machine. As he retreated into his computations, Larry took comfort in that moment when he’d flinched. It was such a human reaction.
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©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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