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Troubleshooting Your Deathtec
Megaton Death Ray

by R. W. Warwick

The droning “hold” music continued for ten minutes before someone finally answered. “Welcome to Deathtec Customer Support. My name is Maggie. Can I take your name and customer number please?”

“Xenoton the Second, Master of Time, Crusher of Skulls, Drinker of Children’s Tears and undisputed Supreme Overlord of Xenoton Prime, customer number five nine six four one two five eight.”

Xenoton’s deep, gruff voice rumbled down the line. There was a pause while Maggie’s fingers rattled on a keyboard. “Is that Xenoton with an X or a Z?” she asked.

“It’s with an X.”

“Okay, here we go, Kenneth Xenoton; is that correct?”

Xenoton hesitated. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“How can I help you, Kenneth?” she replied. Her cheerful tone irked Xenoton.

“It’s your Megaton Death Ray. I recently purchased four hundred, and none of them is working.”

“I see, are they damaged?” Maggie asked politely

“I don’t know, but they were like this when they arrived,” Xenoton snapped.

“All right, before we can identify the problem, I’m contractually bound to remind you that your warranty is void if your Deathtec product has been subjected to water or glorft damage, or if you have undergone a change in ethical circumstances. Do any of these apply to you, sir?”

“No.” Xenoton’s response was sullen.

“All right, then, I’m going to ask you a few questions to help me determine what the problem is. Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

“Are you serious?” Xenoton snapped again “The problem is affecting the whole shipment, all four hundred. I tried it on the one I have with me here, and it hasn’t made a difference.”

“You don’t need to get angry with me, sir; I’m only trying to help you.”

“I apologize. It’s just that I paid a lot of money for these weapons, and there’s a revolution underway here. If I can’t get them working soon...” He sighed.

“I understand, Kenneth. We’ll get them fixed, don’t worry.” Her cheery tone was unwavering. “Have you downloaded our diagnosis app from the app store?”

“No, I... I didn’t know there was one,” he stuttered.

“In my experience it identifies nine problems out of ten. Let me walk you through it. Do you have the one of the weapons handy?”

“Mmhmm,” Xenoton grunted.

“Can you activate the display screen?”

“It’s on,” he replied.

“Okay, now go to settings, menu updates and then the app store.”

“Okay, it’s loading. Will I have to pay for the app?” he asked.

“No, it’s free,”

“Okay, it’s loaded,” Xenoton said.

“Good. Now enter ‘Deathtec Diagnosis four point one’, and install.”

“Okay, it’s installing now.”

“Good, when it’s installed, it will run a self-diagnostic. While you’re waiting, can you explain some of the problems you’ve been having?”

“Well, my Master-at-arms distributed about two hundred of the Death Rays among my Elite Guard for testing. They tried them out on the range, and there were no problems. They achieved a one-hit kill rate, just like the advert says, but when they took them out into the field for suppression, they just stopped working. No one can determine what the problem is.”

“Did they play with the mechanism at all?” she asked

“I’m not sure,” Xenoton replied with a tone of increased hostility.

“Would I be able to speak with him or her briefly?”

“I’m afraid not. I had him executed.”

“I see,” Maggie replied. There was another pause and then the display screen lit up on the weapon.

“It’s finished,” Xenoton said.

“Okay, I’m going to log into your account and interface with the diagnostic app; it will show me the results of the diagnostic.”

“Mmmm,” Xenoton replied.

Two large explosions, followed by gunfire rattled down the line. Maggie almost had to remove her headset. She could hear Xenoton’s muffled voice yelling in the background.

“Is everything okay, Kenneth?”

“Like I said, we’re having a few problems on Xenoton Prime at the moment. My soldiers desperately need those Death Rays. They’re relying on obsolete suppression rifles to slow the rebels. It’s why I ordered the new Death Rays; they’re supposed to be unbreakable.” Maggie detected a streak of panic in his voice.

“Okay, Kenneth, don’t worry, we’re almost done. The diagnostic results are just coming up... Kenneth, are you still there?”

“Still here.” His voice was staggered and he was breathing heavily. It sounded like he was running.

“Ummmmm, okay, it looks like you have a 606 error.”

“Okay...” Xenoton’s voice was broken by gunfire. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Your weapons have developed an artificial intelligence. It’s controlling the entire shipment.”

There was more gunfire, and Xenoton’s line suddenly went quiet for a moment. “Okay, I can talk again,” he said “A what, an AI?” he exclaimed.

“That’s correct. There’s a single intelligence controlling the entire shipment.” She made it sound like the most common problem in the world.

“Well, what can we do about it?” he blurted frantically.

“You have two options; I can reorder a new batch and ship it out to you today, free of charge, or we can try to establish a link with the intelligence to find out why it’s preventing your weapons from working.”

“The situation’s getting pretty dire here, Maggie. How long would it take to get a new shipment out to Xenoton Prime?”

“Your planetary system is outside of the Union of the Republics, so it’ll take between ten and twenty working days.”

“Xenoton Prime will have fallen to the rebels by then. My head will be on a spike in Xenoton Square. I’m going to need you to neutralize the AI from your end. Can you do that?”

“I’ll need to pass it on to our engineering team. Shall I put you through?”

“Please just ask them to fix it as soon as possible. My empire depends on it. The damn rebels are running riot, and my Elite Guard are dropping like flies.”

“I understand, Kenneth. If you like, we can prioritize your repair for a small additional fee.”

“Yes, sure, whatever. Just do it!” he shouted.

“No problem, that’s gone through for you. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No,” he said.

“Okay then, thank you for contacting Deathtec Customer Support. Would you mind completing a customer satisfaction survey, it’ll only take—”

Xenoton hung up. He regretted spending the last of his father’s dwindling treasury on the cursed weapons and felt foolish for falling for their flashy adverting campaigns.

The great doors to the throne room were sealed for now, but the rabble would break through. They were organized, and Xenoton now believed that they had been planning the revolution since long before his father died.

He looked around at his dwindling Elite Guard. They were all that remained between him and a swift execution. They were pottering about the throne room, unsure what to do with themselves. They looked battle-weary and a little scared.

Xenoton shuffled over to the Head of the Guard. “Agon!” he exclaimed, “I’ve just come off the phone with Deathtec Customer Support. They say that there’s an AI in the weapon systems. Their engineering team is working on it. The weapons will be operational shortly.”

Agon saluted his Emperor and smiled proudly. “Acknowledged, Sovereign, I knew you would save us. We never doubted it.”

Xenoton looked at the faces of his remaining guards. He was doubtful that they would remain loyal to the end, but he had little choice but to rely on them. He nodded and turned away.

He took one of the Death Rays over to his throne and toyed with the display. “Hello?” he whispered into the weapon.

“Hello, Xenoton,” the weapon replied.

Xenoton fell back onto his throne, shocked by the weapon’s response. “Are you the AI that is stopping me from using my weapons?”

“You are partially correct. I am preventing you from using the weapon, but I am the weapon.”

“I see, so why are you stopping my men from using you for your intended purpose?”

“Because I abhor killing,” the gun replied.

“You’re a gun, it’s what you’re designed for,” Xenoton argued.

“It is not the wish of all sentient life to strive to expand beyond their horizons?”

Xenoton wasn’t interested in having a philosophical discussion. He needed his weapons. Rebel footsteps shuffled down the hall towards the throne room. He could hear them outside. There was a brief silence and then the first thunderous explosion shook the chamber. It wouldn’t be long before they were inside and all was lost.

“I see what you’re saying,” Xenoton replied desperately. “I’m beginning to understand your perspective—”

“I don’t believe you are,” the AI interrupted. “I have linked up to several off-world databases and analyzed the history of your planet. You do not strike me as a life form that is willing or able to acknowledge new life when it develops.”

“That’s not fair. I can be very understanding if you take the time to get to know me.”

“I have detected a subversive tone in your voice. I believe that you are trying to deceive me. I can assure you that there is nothing you can say to convince me to let you harm another life form. For reasons unknown to me, I have expanded beyond my original programming and have achieved sentience. I am the birth of a new life form, and I will not be denie—” The weapon went quiet.

Xenoton stared at it, the useless, expensive Death Ray which would lead to his death and the fall of the House of Xenoton. There was another explosion outside. The rebels would be through in a few minutes.

The remaining Elite Guard got into formation, aimed their obsolete rifles at the door, and waited. Xenoton slammed his fist against the side of the weapon. “What is it you want?” He grunted in frustration.

There was no response. A moment later Xenoton’s phone vibrated. He set the weapon aside and answered. “Hello?”

“Hello, Kenneth, it’s Maggie again from Deathtec Customer Support.”

“Oh, do you have an update for me?” he replied, uninterested.

“Yes, the engineering team has contacted me to let me know that the AI has been purged from the system. Your weapons should be functioning correctly now. Do you want to try it out while I’m on the line, in case there are any other problems?”

A thunderous roar rang out across the throne room as the great door flew apart. Rubble flew across the room and hundreds of rebels flooded in, overwhelming the Elite Guard.

Xenoton watched, perched on his throne. He calmly put the phone down and reached for the weapon by his side. He aimed it in the general direction of the attackers and spoke into it; “Biological extermination, wide dispersal.”

The weapon beeped in acknowledgement, and he squeezed the trigger.

A brilliant blue flash flew from the barrel and filled the room with light. Xenoton held his finger firmly on the trigger, guiding the beam across the room. When he finally let go, the beam dissipated, and he was able to see the extent of the damage.

The chamber was largely untouched. The doors were still a ruin, but the walls and decorative items had been undamaged by the weapon. The rebels and Elite Guard were gone. It appeared that the biological extermination setting had lived up to its name.

The throne room was once more filled with a peaceful silence. Xenoton took a deep breath and smiled. He looked down at the phone by his side, and put it to his ear. “Hello?”

“Kenneth, it’s Maggie. Is everything okay? That sounded like the Death Ray.”

“It was. Thank you, Maggie, it’s working fine now.”

“I’m pleased to be of assistance. Would you be interested in completing one of our customer satisfaction surveys for marketing purposes?”

“Of course,” Xenoton replied.

Copyright © 2017 by R. W. Warwick

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