The Moon Overmind server didn’t respond to any of my emails. Perhaps it thought it had better things to do than to answer the requests of a little puffin-shaped answering machine bot.
I was unfazed. We answering machines know our way around such problems!
I queried the database to find any active systems and found that the Moon helpdesk was still active, though it had a rather low user rating. I clicked the “CHAT” button, but it didn’t respond, even after multiple attempts. I downloaded the latest update for the database and tried again. Nothing.
Perhaps my pop-up blocker was an issue? I switched out the RedPanda browser for the G-Directorate one and temporarily shut off the pop-up blocker. Immediately, my display hologram was inundated with 9068904849 popups that screamed slogans such as:
“Eternal happiness awaits you in the kingdom of the Moon! Get save-point app today and awaken on the moon tomorrow, if you suddenly expire!"
I wriggled through the sea of popups and tried the CHAT button again. Finally it responded and opened up a little blue holographic window, which blinked two options at me:
< > ___________________________________ -  X
[Click here if you are already a Lunar customer]
[Click here to register as a Lunar customer]
I chose the second option, and the browser promptly crashed.
After restarting the browser I tried the other option. When asked for my Lunar customer number, I generated a random number sequence. The window blinked green as it accepted the fake number.
“Thanks for contacting Lunar Communications Helpdesk. An operator will be with you shortly.”
I sat back to wait. After three hours of listening to garbled waiting music, the window chirped an alert at me. When I fished it back out from sea of pop-ups the word [Hello!] flashed across the screen.
[Hi!] I typed.
[I'm Jessica from Lunar Helpdesk. How are you today, valued customer? How can I be of assistance?]
[I am acceptable! The Moon Overmind is down and I need to locate Doctor Alexander Gromov.]
[I'm sorry to hear about that! I do understand how important it is to find a friend. I can definitely assist you with this today!]
[Thanks, Jessica] I said earnestly. It paid to be polite to apps. There was a pause while Jessica ran the search.
[My apologies,] she reported after a moment. [There seems to be more than one Doctor Alexander Gromov in our database. Which one are you looking for?]
More than one? Was the database corrupt, or had Dr. Gromov gotten himself into an accident with a copier? I decided that I would have to get to the bottom of it myself. I was a detective’s answering machine. Without Pi, I would have to step up and be the detective, too.
[All of them are my friends!] I told Jessica after a moment’s consideration. [Assign them numbers and please tell me their current status and positions.]
[With pleasure!] Jessica texted, and then added, [My apologies. It seems that Dr Gromov #1 has been de-lined.]
[That’s what it says. I am unable to pull up his status and position.]
“Okay...” I murmured out loud, wondering what ‘de-lined’ meant. It sounded kind of painful. [What about the rest?]
Jessica ouputted a global chart of the Moon’s interior, dotted with colored points. Each marked the position of a Gromov.
After I shared my findings with Echo and Photoshop, we decided to split up the search. I took up Gromovs 2-10, Echo got Gromovs 11-18, and Photoshop 19-27.
Point #2 lead me to a safe sitting alone in an empty field. That’s an interesting choice of abode, I thought. It hardly looked large enough for Doctor Gromov to fit inside. Strange things were definitely afoot. The door was securely locked, so I melted it open using my space suit’s ion welder. Inside, I discovered a decorative flowerpot containing a single orange rose.
[This isn’t Doctor Gromov. It’s a flower.] I told Jessica.
[Oh, that’s him, alright] Jessica assured me. [The database label says so!]
[No, it isn’t] I insisted, eyeing the strange flower. It had no business looking so bright and perky after being locked away in a safe.
For a moment Jessica was silent.
[Have you tried turning it off and on again?]
I tried to wrap my processors around that suggestion. How could I turn a flower off? Bemused, I commanded the suit to grab the flower for a closer look.
The space suit’s E.D.S.A. INDICATOR started to tick wildly.
“WARNING! WARNING!” It bleated. “DO NOT APPROACH APPLICATION! EXTREME DANGER DUE TO: _DESIRE FOR POLLINATION_”.
I commanded the suit to pull back, but it was too late.The suit’s fingers closest to the flower began to pixelate and twist, spiralling in towards the flower. The suit’s boots started to sink into the ground.
Trapped in place, I forcibly accelerated my processor to its maximum speed setting. I needed to buy some time. As my processing rate sped up, time seemed to slow to a crawl around me. I watched, horrified, as the flower deconstructed my suit atom by atom.
[Help!] I texted Jessica. [I am being turned into a flower!]
[I'm sorry to hear about that! I do understand how important it is to you to maintain your functionalities] Jessica’s readout blinked at me. [Have you tried turning yourself off and on again?]
[That would only accelerate the process of becoming a flower!] I protested. I had to think. What would a flower desire? I wracked my data-storage for ideas as the wrists of the suit began to melt away. My processor was starting to overheat from running at this speed.
And then I realized what I had to do.
Thanks to case of Jenkins-Klauss / my master Pi, I knew exactly what flowers needed and what a bee looked like!
I rapidly started to edit the space helmet’s holo-display software. All of the holo-lights inside the helmet flickered to life, projecting yellow stripes onto me. Translucent wings sprouted from my back and a pair of cute, tiny antennae formed on my head.
“Hello, flower,” I pinged the flower on all available frequencies. “I am a bee. I want to be your friend! Please stop deconstructing me.”
“A BEEEE?” The oranger flower’s raspy voice screeched in my audio receivers. “I HAD THOUGHT YOU ALL GONE. HOW LOVELY! OH, FORGIVE ME, FRIENDLY BEE. I HAVE NEARLY CONVERTED YOU INTO MYSELF!”
“It’s quite alright...it happens to the best of us.” I stammered as the flower restored my precious atoms to their proper place. It was a tremendous relief to have all my atoms back. I commanded the suit to slowly back away from the flower.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING, BEE? WHAT ABOUT MY POLLINATION?!” The flower cried.
“I will definitely return with all of my hive friends!” I promised.
“OH HOW LOVELY! HOW LOVELY!” The flower raved. Its raspy voice faded as I turned around and ran for it.
[Did I do a help?] Jessica texted. [Are you still there?]
[Yes, thank you.] I replied. [That was quite the trap. I’m guessing that twisted flower consumed poor Gromov #2.]
[I am most glad to be of assistance!]
I warned Echo and Photoshop via the suit’s communicator to beware of questionable-looking Dr. Gromovs and to use the password “Bee” if attacked.
“Thanks for the warning,” Echo said. “I think I’ve made a useful discovery, too. When I first put on this helmet I noticed that my senses seemed dulled… things that had previously been easy to sense in the systems around me went quiet. My hair, it seems, is embedded with appropriated scanning apps. I’ll take off the helmet to try and use the apps intentionally. I’ll let you know what I find.”
“Good to know,” I replied. I was pleased that we had another advantage to work with. Still, not for the first time, I was a little jealous of Echo and her biotech body. It just didn’t seem fair that she should get cool bonus features like hair radar while some of us have to make do with being plush office accessories.
I trekked through the solitary interior towards the next marker. The landscapes had obviously once been majestic, but now the grass was brown and brittle and the struts of long-destroyed buildings curved up from the ground like the bones of forgotten leviathans. I wondered if the terraformers had meant for it to get so cold; the ground was hard under my boots and flecked with frost. Tiny snowflakes stuck to my helmet’s visor.
Eventually I found myself standing before a corpse frozen into a glacier. I stared at it in depressed silence; just how many dead Gromovs were out here? Would we ever find a live one?
“Ice to see you, Doctor Gromov.” I joked even though my heart wasn’t in it. I had to cheer myself up. There was a mystery to be solved.
“I’ve got something,” Echo said through the comms. “I just found a construction bot out here that still works. It gave me the location of a cottage where it thinks we might find a live Gromov with a Butler unit.”
“Who’s closest? I asked even as I expanded Jessica’s map on my hologram display. “Photoshop! Get over there before we lose them!”
A series of frustrated growls erupted through the comm system moments later. Photoshop had found Gromov 27, alive and with a Butler bot as promised. Unfortunately, in our haste we’d all forgotten to account for Photoshop’s lack of people skills. The mere sight of her had sent Dr. Gromov into a rapid retreat, she told us.
“G-Dammit!” I exclaimed without meaning to. The silence from Echo and Photoshop suddenly seemed a bit judgemental. “Pardon me,” I said. “I’ve had a rather stressful day.”
We reconvened with Photoshop on a stony outcropping overlooking the desolate moonscape.
“That spindly Butler sure can haul it,” Echo said when we’d both caught up with Photoshop. “We won’t be able to intercept them on foot.”
[I'm sorry to hear about that!] Jessica chimed in. [I do understand how important it is to you to catch up with your friend. Perhaps we can find a rapid form of conveyance for you as well?]
I looked past Echo and Photoshop. The broken-down structures hunched against the ground in the distance seemed unlikely to contain any rapid forms of conveyance. Photoshop wriggled in her suit, blocking my vision.
“Photoshop, could you--” I started, and then stopped. “Wait, Photoshop. Take off your suit,” I said. “I’ve got an idea.”
Photoshop was reluctant at first. She complained about how long it had taken to put the suit on in the first place, and insinuated that she resented my bossy attitude.
“Come on, now,” I coaxed her. “It was necessary to get past their border control.”
“They’re getting away,” Echo added.
Eventually Photoshop had to relent. With an unnecessary amount of drama, she began to compress and decompress her scales in waves. Every time the suit snagged or ripped she emitted another resentful growl. She grew magnificently as she shed the suit, her body expanding to three times the size it had been.
Echo leapt aboard and helped me up.
“Alright, now, slowly at first--” I said, and Photoshop sprang forwards, nearly flinging my suit from her undulating hide. Echo, leaned forwards as if to urge Photoshop faster.
At first I held on to Photoshop’s knobby scales for dear life as the rocks whizzed by. Each bounding movement seemed to come perilously close to dislodging my grip. Once the terror subsided, however, I began to find the speed exhilarating. Nestled within my space suit, I felt happier than I’d been in a long time. It was good to be part of a team again.