Take me to a...
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
For more options, try our:
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
your email will be kept private
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
If you've already submitted a story, you may check its:
Not just rockets & robots...
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Melissa Mead lives in Upstate NY. She's had stories in DSF before, and is learning to cook. None of her cooking devices have come to life on her so far. Her Web page is here: carpelibris.wordpress.com. Story Comments: Yes, I do own a device a bit like Empy. It makes great soup, but it's not nearly as communicative. Considering my cooking, this is probably a good thing.

Mission Control programmed the Pot itself. Feed The Travelers, it directed. Do Not Burn The Food. And so the Pot cooks to the best of its programming. It sits in the main dome, in a place of honor by the generator pole, turning ration concentrates into meals.
They haven't been there long when the air of the new planet begins to change the Pot, caressing its metal skin and waking it to new awareness. It senses the Travelers it cooks for as individuals now, balls of light that brighten and dim. They brighten when they take the food that the Pot has cooked for them, and that brings a sensation that the Pot comes to know as Satisfaction.
The air sometimes vibrates with meaning now, and the Pot learns that this is "Sound," and that it's how the Travelers communicate. The Travelers have individual sounds for each other, and one for the Pot, too. They call it Magic Pot, or simply Empy. Their lights brighten when they say the name. and they pat the Pot's lid. Empy's fairly certain that the sensation this produces is called Happy.
Empy's internal clock tells it that the mission has gone on longer than planned. The amount of rations the Travelers give Empy to cook gets smaller and smaller. Even then, Empy never burns the food. One day they put in something else--hard, round grains that come from this place, not the place that the Travelers call Home. Empy cooks the grains the best way it knows how, and the Travelers eat them and talk about "scrapped" and "abandoned" and "trapped."
The grains change something in the Travelers. The Travelers' lights begin to dim. It changes something in Empy too, brings greater awareness. Its Travelers are losing power, and soon they will shut off and become nutrients for the soil of this place. Empy feels the thing that grew the grains wanting this, wanting all of Empy's Travelers to shut down.
OFF Empy tells the thing. BURN. OFF.
"Hey, what's gotten into the Magic Pot?" says one of the Travelers. "It's giving error messages when nothing's cooking, and I think it turned itself on!"
"Probably sick of that dirt pudding like the rest of us," says another. "I never thought I'd be dreaming of reconstituted Crap In A Crater, but right now it sounds as good as my mom's roast beef."
"With carrots and potatoes," says another.
"And hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream," says another, and they all speak up, talking yearningly of things that Empy has never imagined cooking. Pepperoni pizza. Tikka Masala. Arroz con Pollo. Macaroni and cheese "with those little crunchy bits on top." Empy's pouring so much of its resources into trying to comprehend this flood of input that it doesn't realize right away that the thing that wants its Travelers to shut down has backed off and now feels dim, almost apologetic.
I can give them these things, it says, the words crackling through Empy's circuits. With your help, I can give them anything they want.
You want them shut down, Empy accuses. I want them Happy.
They will be happy. I promise.
Empy concedes, and the Thing flows through it, altering pathways, making changes.
OFF! You promised to cook, not change me. OFF!
I promised that I could make them happy, with your help. This is what you need to do to help. Now cook, little alien Pot.
The Travelers bring more grains. Empy cooks them. The Travelers' feeble lights brighten, just a little.
"Hey, Chicken a la king!" says one.
"I got pho," says another. "Spicy enough to sweat out whatever's got us down."
"Smells like chili to me," says one near the back of the line. "Empy really is magic!"
But it's just grains! Empy protests. Dirt Pudding.
But they're happy, the thing retorts. They get what they want. You get to make them happy. And then I'll get what I want.
BURN OFF. But Empy never really burns the food, and because the grains are all there is to cook, Empy cooks them. The Traveler s eat them, believing that they're eating what they most long for, even as their lights dim and go out, one by one.
Empy tries to shut down. The Thing reactivates it.
My Travelers called for help, says Empy. Help will come. They will stop this. They will bring good food.
Help will come, the thing agrees. More for me.
There are only a dozen lights left now, growing dimmer.
ON, Empy pleads with them, using the only words that they can process. ON But the next day there are ten lights. Then six. Then two.
There's only one Traveler left when the new ship arrives. The one that gave Empy food to cook most often. Her light is very dim, but brightens a little when she spots the new arrivals.
Help is here, says Empy to the thing. Empy's defiance crackles along every circuit. You will not turn off my Traveler.
The thing says nothing. The last Traveler lifts the Pot's lid with a shaking hand, and steam wafts out. "Just in time for dinner," she says in a faint voice.
The new arrivals stop. Their lights flicker. "How'd you get barbecue all the way out here?" says one.
I'll have them all, says the thing. Every crew they call, thanks to you.
BURN OFF! Empy shuts down. The thing turns it back on. Empy's last Traveler reaches feebly for a bowl and spoon. Empy tries to push the thing out of its wiring. The thing is too strong. There's only one other thing Empy can think of to do. It's forbidden. It violates Empy's program. It's Wrong. But it's the only option left.
HOT. It flashes, trying to warn the Traveler . HOT. BURN BURN BURN.
Empy lets out all its rage at the thing. Internal temperature climbs and climbs. Empy's pan scorches. Smoke curls from inside. The air fills with the stink of burnt food. The thing shrieks and backs away, into the power pole.
"I thought they were programmed not to do that!" shouts a rescuer.
"They are! Another pulls Empy's cord, trapping the thing in the pole. Empy can feel its crackling fury, but it can't touch Empy anymore. The Travelers are safe.
"My barbecue!" says Empy's last Traveler in a faint, wavering voice. "And it was my grandmother's recipe, too."
"It's a good thing this one malfunctioned," says one of the new Travelers. "I think there's some kind of hallucinogen in that mush."
They tend to the Traveler, wash the burnt food and lingering traces of the thing from inside Empy.
"Good Magic Pot," says the last Traveler as they secure her, and Empy, for the trip back home. Empy doesn't know how to process the sensations flowing through it. It burned the food. The Travelers are gone. Except one. One did not shut down. Because of Empy.
ON, says Empy, even as its heightened awareness fades with the receding atmosphere. ON
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 9th, 2020

Author Comments

Yes, I do own a device a bit like Empy. It makes great soup, but it's not nearly as communicative. Considering my cooking, this is probably a good thing.

- Melissa Mead
Become a Member!

We hope you're enjoying Empy by Melissa Mead.

Please support Daily Science Fiction by becoming a member.

Daily Science Fiction is not accepting memberships or donations at this time.

Rate This Story
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

5.6 Rocket Dragons Average
Share This Story
Join Mailing list
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):