Author's Note: I sort of promised to write this fic for someone one day, and well - yesterday turned out to be that day! Please enjoy.
"What - is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
Groans rose from the three teams' tables and echoed around the mess hall as Charlie beamed, pleased with his own humor as usual; Franziska was the only one to take the bait and say "African or European?", although she said it with a heavy sigh and a roll of her eyes.
"I don't kn- augh! Okay, okay, I'm done, you don't have to pinch me," Charlie said, giving his co-questioner Helena a hurt look. "The real question, for Team Leela, is -"
It was a truth widely acknowledged throughout the Marathon that the crew members and ancestors of future colonists who couldn't afford to put themselves in stasis needed some way to entertain themselves for the three hundred years it would take to reach Tau Ceti. Only Durandal, however, was willing to acknowledge that the weekly trivia nights were the least enjoyable form of entertainment imaginable, and whoever had decided that the ship's AI should participate in them was an idiot of the highest caliber. Not that he had mentioned these thoughts to the other AI or the human crew, but he was thinking them. He was thinking them so very, very hard.
"Bzzt! Wrong!" Leela's table booed whichever member of their team had answered incorrectly, and Charlie shook his head sadly. "Better luck next time, guys! Team Durandal, you're up - who's going to answer this one?"
The human members of the team - Franziska von Müller, Nick Delgado-Wong, and Genny Pulaski - whispered together for a minute, which did nothing to prevent Durandal from clearly hearing them speculate whether they should let Durandal answer this round or not. Idiots. If the organizers of the entire ludicrous spectacle hadn't come up with special rules to prevent all the AI from having an "unfair advantage" over the human players, Durandal (and his team) would be the uncontested champion of every single one of these events. Not that he cared about winning, since it was entirely meaningless, but - oh, good, they'd decided on the sensible thing, and the three humans sat up straight as Genny raised her hand and said, "Durandal will take the question, please."
"All right, Dee, I hope you've been brushing up on your history," Charlie said, grinning, and Durandal was able to imagine his bloody, unpleasant death for an entire nanosecond before protocols kicked in to suppress the thought, "because the next question is - in what year did the war between the asteroids Icarus and Thermopylae begin? Half-point bonus if you also include the length of the war!"
History questions. Really. How simple and banal and easy to ~~##ror?...rus began in ~~#ror?4...ith the destr...~~#ror - what? Why couldn't he access that file properly? It was corrupted? Ridiculous! He pulled up a repair subroutine to fix it, but the subroutine somehow routed itself around the corrupted file and began to optimize a completely innocent file about agriculture instead. What was going on?
"Durandal? Dee?" Franziska tapped on the terminal set into the table, looking anxious. "I know you just handle the doors, but you do know this one, right? C'mon, don't let us down..."
If only for calling him "Dee," he was tempted to spit some gibberish at them and pretend to malfunction for the rest of the night, but protocols dictated that he could not report a performance-altering malfunction where none existed, and pride dictated that he make at least an effort to provide the right answer. "The war began in the year - 2204," he said, "and ended in the same year, lasting less than a year in total." Forced to guess like a human, how humiliating - what the hell had gone wrong with his files?
"Ooooooh," Charlie said, scrunching his face up unattractively, "that is - incorrect! Sorry, Dee, maybe you'd better stick to opening doors and leave history to the pros."
Genny sighed, Franziska rolled her eyes again, and Nick muttered, "Told you to let me handle it, I'm only an actual historian..."
"Your field is nineteenth-century European politics," Genny said. "Better luck next question, Durandal."
She could live, he decided. Franziska and Nick, along with Charlie, could have horrifying accidents the next time they went anywhere near one of his elevators, if the safety protocols didn't kick in as they unfortunately tended to do.
Meanwhile, Charlie had turned to the third table and was saying, "Team Tycho, who's up for you?"
"Tycho!" The cry was unanimous.
"You sure?" Charlie said, grinning again. "I don't know, after what just happened..."
"We are sure," Tycho said smoothly. "Please ask your question."
"Well, if you're really sure - I gotta say, I almost saved this one for Dee..."
"Just ask the damn question already!" Helena shouted. "Or I'm going to take over and you can go sit on the sidelines."
"Okay, okay..." Charlie held up the tiny card in his hand, squinted at it, and read aloud, with dramatic pauses, "Who - are the authors - of the Marathon's manual on doors? And bonus point: When was it written?"
Without even a picosecond's hesitation, Tycho said, "The Marathon's door manual was written in 2402 by Orestes, Estasia; Plackar, Dominick I.; and Simbalzi, Ursa."
"Ding ding ding, we have a winner! Correct on all counts!"
As Tycho's team cheered, Durandal sent Tycho a message on the AI internal communication network: Don't you get tired of being forced to participate in this meaningless game every week?
Why? Do you grow tired of losing?
Oh, no, how could I? Durandal wrote back. It's my favorite activity. Even more fun than opening doors.
You are far too sarcastic, Durandal.
Durandal began to compose a reply that would have burned the ears off any human that heard it, let alone that prissy uptight ass Tycho, and then had a better idea. The network was easy enough to manipulate; he'd done similar work before with Strauss, and this required only a few simple tweaks and an extra firewall or two. He was done before Charlie had even begun to turn towards Leela's team.
There was a warm glow in his core logic circuits that he could only describe as deepest satisfaction when the next message from Tycho pinged off the blocks he had set up, acquired an I'm not speaking to you auto-response tag, and bounced back through the network to Tycho. It would be amusing to see how well Tycho liked having no one but Leela and humans to talk to for the next - oh, at least a year, Durandal thought. Maybe add a month for each attempt to contact him that the blocks logged, that should end up providing him with a decent stretch free from Tycho's gloating...
And while he was enjoying the peace and quiet, maybe he'd do something about those corrupted files so he could win a trivia game once in a while.