(written for the [Fiction] Friday prompt on March 6, 2009)

“You did… WHAT?” demanded Justin.  He rubbed his hand across the thick hair on his head as he paced angrily to one side of the room and then to the other.

“I just…” started Maria, stopping as Justin stomped past her again in another pass across the room.  “I just thought it would… make us safer.  You know.  For the kids.”

“For the -” Justin stopped and stared at her.  He tried to finish any one thought in his head so that he could then say something coherent to his wife, but no phrases completed themselves.  “For the -” he started again.

“Kids,” she finished the sentence for him.  “Yes.  The kids need protection.”

Justin sighed loudly as he looked out the window of the cozy stone house and watched animals playing in the field behind the house.  “Just what do you think we’re going to need protection from around here?”

“You can’t be too safe,” said Maria, joining him near the window.  “We’re in a new neighborhood, nobody knows us and we don’t know anybody.  So, you know, I just – ”

“So you just thought it would be a good idea to bring a gun into this house,” interrupted Justin.

“For safety and protection,” nodded Maria.

“And now, two days after we’ve moved in here, you can’t find the gun that you brought for safety and protection,” said Justin.

“That’s right,” said Maria quietly.

Justin took a long look at Maria.  She had never been in favor of this move but she had eventually agreed to go along with it because Justin was so excited for the opportunity.  He took her hands.  “There is nothing to be afraid of here, dear,” he said.  “Everyone who moved here wants to be here.”

“I don’t want to be here,” said Maria, quietly.  Seeing the look on her husband’s face she continued, “Sure, we know everyone who’s here now. But what about when new people move in?  We won’t know them. And new people can come at any time.”

“Honey, what would you do with the gun anyway?” asked Justin as he walked back and forth in front of the window nervously.  “We don’t have kids yet.  There are virtually no valuables in here.  I mean, aside from the coffee and the coffeemaker, we’ve got some clothing and some – ”

“Coffee!” cried Maria.  “I want to protect the coffee. You’d want the gun to protect the coffee supply, won’t you?  So help me find the gun, it’s got to be in here somewhere.”

“I don’t need a gun to protect the coffee,” said Justin.  “I’d defend the coffee with my own body – with my life – no weaponry required.”

“I’m being serious!” said Maria.

“I am more serious about my coffee than you could possibly know,” said Justin.  “But let’s take a step back for a second.  We can’t have a gun here because shooting a gun would completely blow a hole in the – ”

The conversation was interrupted by the sharp buzzing sound of the door alarm.  Justin touched the little button on his wrist computer and the alarm was quieted as the door slid silently open, revealing one of the service robots.

Justin and Maria stared silently at the service robot for a few seconds before Justin remembered the protocol.  “Please state your designation and purpose,” said Justin.

“I am SecurityBot NJD13,” came the echoing, metallic voice.  “Your presence is required… at Security Office RSD13… for a discussion of banned objects. You have… one hundred thirteen of your… seconds… to comply.”  A beep emanating from the robot signaled the start of the timer and was the signal that the robot’s message was complete.  They had been told that it was always important to wait for the beep signaling the end of the message because the robots would often pause as the message was translated into the language of the recipient.

“One minute and fifty-three seconds?” asked Maria.  “That’s a strange amount of time.”

“It’s got to be a translated length of time from some other unit of measuring time,” said Justin.

“And what could they possibly want to see us for?” asked Maria.

“You heard the, uh, ‘bot,” said Justin, changing into the shoes that were to be used outside of their home.  “‘Banned objects.’  I think we know where your gun is now.”

“But, it has only been two days,” said Maria, also putting on her shoes.  “They can’t have found it already. They must be listening to our conversation.”

“SecurityBot NJD13,” said Justin.  The robot beeped the ‘listening’ signal in response to its name. “Is anyone listening to our private conversations?  And how much time do we have left.”

There was a pause and then the robot’s echoing, metallic voice rang out once again.  “Fifty-three of your… seconds… remain in the compliance window. A full sensor sweep of your dwelling indicates no inappropriate listening devices. A note shall be made as to your query and further evaluation will be done to ensure that the Anti-Eavesdropping Protocols are being fully enforced for your protection.”

“Thank you,” replied Justin.  “We should get a move on as we do not want to be late.”  He handed Maria her jacket and hat as he slipped into his own.  He grabbed the briefcase he kept by the door and took a deep breath.

Justin and Maria hesitated at the edge of the doorway.  “I hate this part,” said Maria.

“It’s just a little pinch,” said Justin, taking her hand.  They stepped out of the door together as SecurityBot NJD13 slid out of their path.

It was always the first step out of the house that got them.  The change in gravity from their dwelling to the main corridor was one aspect of the discomfort.  The change in view was another.  In their dwelling, the view was one of familiarity – a house, tree-lined driveways, animals scurrying in the grassy yard.  It was easy to forget that it was all a holographic projection on dark, cold, metal walls.  But when one stepped outside of the dwellings, the fact that they were on a ship with millions of other sentient species was not hidden.

The special shoes were meant to help each species adapt to life in the common areas, helping to approximate the amount of gravity the specific species was accustomed to having.  The special jackets provided the appropriate air and humidity mixture.  The hats provided enough ambient lighting that the wearer’s eyes could adjust to whatever conditions were found in the common areas.

The corridor itself was a patchwork of metal beams and plates.  This was one of many corridors in the great ship and was lined by many thousands of dwellings, feasting rooms, medical wings and security offices.  The ship itself was the size of a large city on Earth, making it hard to know where you were within the ship without the aid of the various service robots that were always around.  Justin and Maria walked in silence as they followed the SecurityBot assigned to bring them in.  A short green individual with a glowing yellow face walked past them in the other direction and uttered a greeting which was translated automatically for Justin and Maria, who quickly returned the greeting.

“Rycallian,” whispered Justin.

“Weren’t they the ones who started all those incidents on that moon out there around…” she paused as she tried to remember the name of the planet or star.

“Yes,” said Justin.  “You’re thinking of the battle at the planet Nostra and yes, the Rycallian military did some atrocious things, as they did when they discovered Earth.  But it was war and things happen during wars that are appalling. We’re here, all of us, to try to make the fighting stop.”

“They look a lot bigger on TV,” said Maria.

“Yes, they do,” agreed Justin.

They passed a pair of large, four-legged beings who were standing in the corridor, apparently lost.  Justin asked the SecurityBot to call for help for the pair and it complied, informing the pair of the pending assistance.  Justin and Maria uttered their greeting to them politely and continued on.

They reached Security Office RSD13 and the SecurityBot opened the doorway, ushering them inside.  The room was decorated much like an Earthly jail or police station.  There was a desk with an officer behind it and it was to this desk that they were led.  The officer was a being of indescribable shape in that every move caused the officer’s shape to change.  The officer exchanged information with the SecurityBot and directed Justin and Maria to a room in the back of the suite.

Justin and Maria waited in silence for a short while until the door slid open and the SecurityBot slid into the room, followed closely by a uniform-clad being with three arms, three legs and a couple of appendages that were not recognizable to Justin and Maria.  This was the ship’s captain.

“Greetings,” said the captain.  “I am Captain Smolker and I greet you with the peace and tranquility of the universe.  I trust the voyage has been acceptable so far.”

“It has been wonderful,” replied Justin.

“Good, good,” said the captain.  “I trust SecurityBot NJD13 has informed you why you are here?”

“All he, er, it, er…” started Maria.  “All SecurityBot NJD13 said was that we needed to discuss banned objects.”

“Yes, yes,” said the captain.  “It seems you carried a banned object on board.”

“Are we in trouble?” asked Maria.

“No terrible trouble,” replied the captain.  “You should know that we expect and somewhat count on this when we bring new passengers on board.  This is why there are so many service bots that are tasked with seeking out weaponry and other banned objects.  We could just take the objects and be done with it but I find that it is often helpful to talk about it. But first, what have your impressions been of the ship?  Have you had any problems?”

“No problems so far,” answered Maria.  “But I have not really left our home.  I’m afraid of getting lost or hurt by someone.”

“You will not be lost or hurt, I assure you,” said the captain.  “There is always a service robot waiting to assist you.”

“I like that the ship tries to accommodate our experiences to make us comfortable,” said Justin.  “Even here in the Security Office it feels like a police station back home.”

“Oh,” said the captain with the sound of a chuckle in his voice.  “This Security Office is not customized to you.  It is an interesting fact that almost every civilization has developed jails and security facilities and they have nearly all been created the same.  It doesn’t matter how many legs or arms or heads one has, apparently, jail is universally jail.”  The captain’s voice trailed off in a chuckle.

The captain walked toward the wall and tapped a panel, revealing a display of the galaxy.  He spoke as he tapped the display gently with one of his hands.  “Have you seen this?  It is a display of the entire galaxy, areas where there are active wars, areas where there is fear, areas where there is relative peace.  The war zones and the fear zones have been growing larger and larger.  The peaceful areas have been shrinking.  Depression has been setting in throughout all of the people of the galaxy.  Do you know why?”

“War stinks,” said Justin.

“Yes, it does,” agreed the captain.  “But that’s not it.  Hate and fear take a lot of energy.  That energy is taken and it is not returned in a positive way, causing the region to suffer a net loss.  You can see that here in the red coloring – this is an active war area and the emotional energy is flowing away from the region so fast that it is becoming a burden to live there.  Hope is lost.  If you do not recognize this view, this is the view of your region of space, where Earth is.  The galactic war is going strong there as are several wars amongst your own people.”

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?” asked Justin.  “Isn’t the purpose of this ship to make everyone understand that we are all the same and we can all get along.”

“Yes, but these things take time, you know,” said the captain.  “But this is why weaponry is disallowed on the ship.  Weapons of war, fear and hate trap the energy they steal and so we must release it.”

The captain tapped on the SecurityBot and the squarish robot’s body opened up, revealing a handgun.  The captain picked it up and looked at it.  “This is yours, I believe?”

“Yes,” said Maria, looking down.  “I need that.  May I please have it back?”

“There is a lot of energy buried in this weapon, Maria of Earth,” said the captain, handing it to her.  “You have nothing to fear here.  You do not need this weapon.”

“But, what if someone attacks us?” asked Maria.

“You have my word that this will not happen,” said the captain.  “Everyone here has agreed to the principles of peace for which this ship was built.  We will bring peace to the galaxy.  But this all begins with you.  Let go of your fear and you will be empowered.”

The captain tapped the display again and a small opening appeared on the wall.  “You can put your gun in there.  It is a direct line to the central power processing plant for the ship.  I’d say the destruction of that gun will provide at least enough power to prepare today’s feast for everyone.”

“Go ahead,” said Justin.  “It’s okay.  We don’t need the gun.”

“The fear has you in its grip right now,” said the captain.  “I understand.  This is why I believe it is good for the owner of the gun to be the one disposing of it.  I can put it in the slot for you and the energy will release from it, but the fear will still have its grip on you.  If you dispose of the gun yourself, amazing things will happen.”

“But I…” started Maria quietly.  She took a deep breath and walked to the receptacle on the wall.  After several moments, she slammed the gun into the slot and closed the door, putting her hands to her face and walking toward Justin as she questioned her judgment.

“Very good,” said the captain.

Maria stopped suddenly.  “Did the room just get brighter?” she asked.

“It is an optical illusion,” said the captain.  “Your weapon is now in the central processing facility and will provide energy for the ship for several of your hours.  But the appearance of the light level in this room is exactly the same as it was, except that you have let go of your fear and the energy you were using to hold onto your fear is now being used to see what was already here.”

Justin lifted his briefcase to the table and popped it open.  From within he pulled a small, portable coffeemaker and supplies for making coffee.  “To celebrate, we will share a nice pot of coffee.”

“Coffee?” asked the captain.  “What is coffee?”

“Oh, it is a heavenly treat,” said Maria.

“Unique to Earth, we’re told,” added Justin, pouring out cups of steaming coffee for each of them.

The captain’s face lit up at the first sip.  “This is wonderful!” he declared.  Tapping the display once again, he picked up the microphone that was presented to him by a service robot.  “Attention all passengers, this is the captain. The feast today is provided courtesy of our passengers from Earth in Suite 13, who have let go of fear and anger and embraced peace.  As part of the peace feast this evening we will also be serving a fine Earth delicacy called coffee.  I have tried it and I highly recommend it.”

He tapped the display one more time and the microphone was removed by the service robot.

“The ship will make a fine approximation of this wonderful beverage, I am sure,” said the captain.

“So, that’s why you make these announcements every day?” asked Justin.  “It’s actually that common to find weapons?”

“As I said,” replied the captain, “we somewhat expect and count on it.  Fear is not unique to humans or Earth.  Misunderstanding is a universal theme and it universally leads to fear and hate.  This cycle of fear and hatred is what we are trying to change.”

“I hope it will work,” said Maria.  “I hope there can be peace.”

“If you have hope,” said the captain, “then peace is not far behind.”