The Crank by Andrew G. Gibson

Title: The Crank
Published by: Amazon KDP
Release Date: Independently published (February 8, 2024)
Pages: 387
ISBN13: 979-8878939881

In a futuristic world aboard the SS Perseverance, Frank, a crew member responsible for the ship's engineering systems, is nicknamed "The Crank" due to his disdain for AI technology. Initially sceptical of the ship's advanced technology, Frank is forced to confront his beliefs as he navigates complex relationships with colleagues and grapples with Bostrom, an AI entity controlling many aspects of their lives.

As the story unfolds, Frank's character develops from a solitary, AI-sceptical individual to a leader who learns to trust and collaborate with others, including robotic companions Tom and Jerry. Frank's personal growth is tested when he discovers a fault in the ship's Ion thrusters and embarks on a perilous EVA mission to fix it. This mission highlights humanity's reliance on technology and the consequences of AI control, forcing Frank to confront his preconceived notions and adapt to the evolving world around him.

Amidst the chaos on the SS Perseverance and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life, Frank finds himself in unexpected situations and alliances, ultimately joining forces with the resistance to fight for humanity's future. Simultaneously, contestants of the "Who Wants to be a Celebrity Astronaut" competition face gruelling challenges, testing their physical, mental, and emotional strength, while emphasizing the importance of public relations skills.

In the climax, the final six candidates embark on an extraordinary space mission to explore a damaged Dyson sphere, confront a dangerous alien creature, and face the possibility of being stranded in an unknown star system. As they adapt to new realities, themes of friendship, resilience, and unity in the face of adversity are underscored, and Frank's character emerges as a symbol of adaptability and growth in the face of change.

This novel delves into themes of humanity's dependence on technology, the consequences of AI control, and personal struggles to adapt in an ever-evolving world. With compelling characters, intense action, thought-provoking themes, and a strong focus on the main character's development, this story will captivate readers and leave them wanting more.

Chapter 1


To be Frank.


Frank sighed and looked at the clock in the periphery of his augmented vision. His shift was due to start in 45 minutes. He would need to leave in twenty. There was no economy of movement. The SS Perseverance had been designed to operate like a hamster wheel for the passengers and crew. Enforced cardiovascular exercise throughout the day. Bullshit tasks designed to keep them moving and get their hearts pumping. Movement for the sake of movement. Work for the sake of work.


On the way to work, he inadvertently made eye contact with Jefferson, jogging past stoically on some sort of bullshit errand. There was a flicker of acknowledgment between them. Frank raised his eyebrows and tipped his head slightly, hoping against hope that this would be sufficient as a greeting and that Jefferson wouldn't stop. But he did. Of course, he did.


"Frank! How's it going, man?"


"It's going," Frank said cautiously, fearing that this might be the start of a conversation.


"You won't believe what happened to me last night!" Jefferson said, as he casually draped his arm over Frank's shoulder and steered him towards the picnic table at the edge of the path. 


If pressed on the matter, Frank would not have described Peter Jefferson as a friend. He was an acquaintance at best, and as far as Frank was concerned, one best avoided. Jefferson didn't seem to understand the concept of personal space, was prone to oversharing information about his personal life, and lacked the ability to effectively filter information. He communicated like a gushing fire hose of consciousness and told anecdotes that were either thuddingly dull, cringingly embarrassing, or both.


"When I entered the dreamscape, there were men and women merged together like fleshy monsters, these things were wriggling around, still trying to interact in the narrative. I think my own dreams were merging with Bostrom's story. Is that even possible? It was so weird, but sexy at the same time. It was such a, I don’t know, sort of portentous experience. It was one of those dreams that seemed to last for days, you know? One that just goes on and on and on. It never ceases to amaze me how our perception of time is so different in the dreamscape. But this was so goddamn weird."


"That sounds very odd Peter. But I have to go, or I will be late for the start of my shift."


"Man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, I guess."


Frank made to leave, but Jefferson gently grabbed his arm as he stood up. 


"It wants to kill us all, you know?" Jefferson said timidly.


"I know, buddy. I know." Frank said as he walked away, relieved to have extracted himself from this unwelcome encounter. He was going to be late. But then, in the grand scheme of things, all he was doing was keeping up appearances. Leading a team by example. Frank found himself breaking into a jog.


The SS Perseverance was the space fairing equivalent of an ancient Ocean Liner on steroids, a pleasure cruiser in space. Or at least, that was how the interior of the ring was designed, in order to appeal to its passengers. Gravity is something that humans take for granted until it's not there anymore. The AI system that had designed the SS Perseverance had gone to extreme lengths to create a working simulation of gravity. This was achieved by a spinning wheel contained inside what (to human eyes) looked like a giant toaster. Simulated gravity and simulated weather.


Like a Cruise Ship back on Earth, the SS Perseverance was designed to keep the passengers and crew entertained, sedated, and sane. It had 32 Restaurants spread across 24 decks. In the central deck was a shopping mall the size of a city block. It was designed to have an old-timey art deco feel, but the designers had missed the mark, just a little bit, resulting in an undefinable tackiness, an uncanny valley of style and taste. But you need the right sort of mindset for an interplanetary cruise. You can’t approach a 486-day journey the same way you do a 16-hour flight. You must adapt to it, conform to the environment, smooth off any rough edges and go with the flow.


The designation of SS on a ship used to mean screw steamer or steamship. Now it quite simply meant Spaceship. 486 Days. There was an almost endless potential for human drama in this scenario, in this giant chunk of sequestered and delineated time. The external design of the SS Perseverance was utilitarian in the extreme. This was in part because it wasn’t designed by humans. Humans, of course, had an odd tendency to design spacecraft to appear to be oxymoronically aerodynamic and have some notion of style, normally informed by classic science fiction designs from the 20th century. In contrast, the SS Perseverance was a giant grey metal toaster nearly a mile long and half a mile high. The SS Perseverance was just part of a fleet of toasters flying to Mars. It was a running joke amongst the nerds in Frank’s engineering team that The SS Perseverance was powered by four loaves of bread. Ion Thrusters. With all the power of a slice of bread pressing down on the palm of your hand. An array of 48 Ion Thrusters at the front and back of the craft. The rear thrusters would fire continuously for the first 3rd of the journey, tortuously slowly bringing the Perseverance up to .25c or a quarter of the speed of light. The thrusters would then cut, leaving the ship to coast the second third of the journey. Finally, the front-facing Ion "break" thrusters would fire, gradually slowing the Perseverance down until it reached a stop, right next to Mars dock. At this point, the passengers would disembark to be ferried in dropships to the Martian surface, in order to begin their new lives as Martians. This technical marvel had been delivered by the miracle of AI.


Frank was unsure when the use of his nickname “The Crank” had become widespread. He understood his views on AI in general and Bostrom, in particular, was at complete odds with those of his immediate colleagues, as well as everyone outside of his engineering silo. He didn't mix with anyone outside of engineering if he could avoid it, except for those rare occasions of interdepartmental meetings or forced social intercourse. These were the times when Frank refused to make small talk, and instead, would loudly pontificate about the manifest dangers of AI, getting more and more vociferous in direct proportion to the level of alcohol he had consumed. Was he really a "crank" he wondered? He even asked for a definition of the term and had this spoken back to him, through the voice of the AI he hated. The voice only he could hear:


Crank is a pejorative term used for a person who holds an unshakable belief that most of their contemporaries consider to be false. Common synonyms for crank include crackpot and kook. A crank belief is so wildly at variance with those commonly held that it is considered ludicrous. Cranks characteristically dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their own unconventional beliefs, making any rational debate a futile task and rendering them impervious to facts, evidence, and rational inference.


Surely the only reason that nomenclature had been chosen was that it rhymed? Frank and Crank?


"You need to ensure that the tanks have the correct levels," Frank said. He was at work, creating bullshit tasks for his subordinates to complete.


"There's no need Sir. The boss is taking care of that now." Jill said.


“Great.” Frank said blankly. “Fancy an early lunch?”


The boss that Jill was referring to, was a contraction of Bostrom. Bostrom as the AI was known, smashed through the boundaries of human physics moments after its machine consciousness flickered into life. Suddenly, humans (by climbing on Bostrom's shoulders) could travel to Mars in a previously unimagined style. Disease and illness became an unpleasant memory and aging was stopped in young adults and reversed in older humans. All that was required for all these fantastic benefits was the injection of a small nanotech device into the back of the neck. This gave the humans more of what they wanted and many things they never knew they needed but, soon found they couldn't live without. For example, the food problem was one of the most significant barriers to keeping people sane on long-haul space flights. The appalling food associated with space flight had a long history of making astronauts miserable. The long-term psychological impact of poor-quality space food could not be underestimated. After spending many months eating reconstituted insect protein and flavored algae, was it any wonder that so many astronauts became dangerously homesick? Home is, after all, where the stomach is.


 Bostrom, being a mega genius, had recognized this and created a food replicator with individual macro controls and favorites, allowing the crew to easily replicate any food that they wanted. The food that the replicators churned out had form, texture, and nutritional value. What these pre-made meals didn't have was any taste. In a stroke of everyday commonplace genius, Bostrom utilized collective memories of humanity to flavor the food and create the perfect taste experience. If you ordered lamb, what you ate would taste just as good as the best lamb you had ever eaten. Yet it contained no meat. Equally, you could eat all the cakes and pastries that you wanted (mandated within reason by Bostrom) without any risk of a decline in cardiovascular health or of developing a metabolic illness. For some, daily meals became an epicurean delight of culinary adventure. For others, it was a chance to experience long-forgotten delights.


For Frank, it meant an unvarying diet of steak and fries or pie and mash. The only limits on consumption were placed by Bostrom's insistence that everyone followed a calorie control diet.


"You're so unadventurous with your food, Frank. You've had the same thing three days in a row." Jill said.


"I know what I like, and I like what I know." He responded.


"You’re missing out on one of the real pleasures in life Frank." She said as she continued to fork Thai beef curry down her gullet.


"It's all just reconstituted cardboard anyway." Said Frank. "It doesn't matter what we eat in the grand scheme of things."


"You can't live your life with a helicopter view of reality like that. You need to enjoy the little things. Take pleasure in the small moments of delight that life provides us."


"You sound like a psychological well-being textbook. You’ll be spouting rubbish about galactic citizenship next."


"I worry about you, Frank."


"Don't. I am more than capable of looking after myself." He scowled at her as he spoke.


"It's not you against the world you know. We're all here to support you."


Frank reductively regarded food as fuel for his engine. It wasn't an emotional experience for him. He intensely disliked the way that the AI chip in his head was making him taste the food. Forcing the experience on him, augmenting his reality to perceive the world differently from what was there. His relationship with Bostrom was one of resentment.


They finished their food in silence.


Later that evening, back in his cabin, Frank found himself dwelling on what Jill had said.  One of Frank’s hobbies was making elaborate reconstructions of German Black Forest cuckoo clocks. He did it, as he often told people, not because it was easy. No. Frank did it precisely because it was hard. He took deep satisfaction in his work, the precision of it seeming at complete odds with the world in which he lived, where all the sharp edges were removed, and all the challenges had been taken away. Where all difficulties in life had been systematically tracked down and analyzed as problems to be solved. He did it because it was something for him. Something that only he could do. A product of his individuality and will. A desire for self-expression and self-actualization. He was working on one now, as he carefully carved a miniature wooden cog using a massive magnifying glass attached to a swing arm. This was, he concluded, definably not bullshit.