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Rated: E · Short Story · Sci-fi · #2021194
A Navigator wakes up on board his ship with memory impairment.
         “Hello, Navigator. I am NavCom, your command interface and navigation system. You are being awakened from suspended animation. Your memory may be foggy as the effects wear off. If you do not remember, our mission is to map this sector. You were awakened because of a conflict of protocol. Your authorization is required in order to continue the mission.”
         The Navigator’s eyes open rusty like ancient portholes.
          “NavCom, sitrep.”
          “Sensors indicate our destination is located inside of a supermassive black hole. Because of this, completion of this sub-mission would render the craft useless for the completion of our primary initiative,” the voice explains, resonating from every direction in the room, “However, my primary directive prohibits me from altering the course without your authorization.”
         The Navigator shakes off sleep and looks around. He is standing in a cylindrical chamber, staring out into a bridge dotted with control panels. At the center of the room is an enormous black panel. It all looks oddly familiar, and he can’t shake the feeling that NavCom has woken him for the same purpose many, many times before.
          “The year?” he asks.
          “Insufficient authorization. Timekeeping is manually disabled.”
          “How long ago did I turn it off?”
          “Insufficient authorization. Timekeeping is manually disabled.”
         Somehow, the Navigator is completely unsurprised. If there is a black hole at his destination, once a star, that star must have collapsed while he was in suspended animation.
          “NavCom, apply counter-thrusters, 1 G. Give me an infrared scan of the sector.
         The craft halts mightily and a coordinate plane appears on the black panel. On the plane are a red dot and a blue arrow. The Navigator knows the blue arrow represents the craft, but the readout is clearly faulty, perhaps radio interference is clouding the view. This sector is supposed to be full of undocumented stars and the scan looks clear and crisp, yet there is only one blip on the entire map.
          “NavCom, interpret.”
          “Insufficient authorization. NavCom cannot violate its primary directive.”
         The Navigator frowns.
          “NavCom, clarify error message. What aspect of your directive is preventing this?”
         The Navigator purses his lips and looks hard at a component. Walking over to it, he repeats himself. NavCom doesn’t respond. As if by some ancient instinct, the Navigator presses a button.
          “NavCom, clarify your last two error messages.”
         The machine beeps and whirs.
          “Error. Security system activated. Lockdown initiated.”
         NavCom’s lights dim and some shut off. The Navigator hits a few more buttons, seemingly clueless to the motions his hands make. NavCom whirs to life.
          “Security override accepted. Lockdown terminated.”
         NavCom crawls back to life. The Navigator slumps into a large seat facing the craft’s main display. It’s comfortable and feels natural. He realizes that if he continues to press NavCom about its errors, it will shut down again. Continuing with a malfunctioning NavCom would amount to suicide, but its sector scan readout was anomalous at best.
          “NavCom, send a distress signal to any friendly craft in neighboring sectors.”
          “All known craft have ceased to send verification messages.”
          “Scan communication bands again, blue-shift any extreme values,” the Navigator says quickly.
          “All known craft have ceased to send verification messages.”
         This wasn’t right. There were hundreds of navigators within the range of the communications system.
          “Broadcast toward the last known position of all friendly craft, request verification of the onboard star map. Set course for...” the Navigator finds the red dot on the display and reads off the coordinates.
          “Course altered. Primary directive remains active,” NavCom chirps.
         The Navigator steps back into his chamber.
          “Reactivate suspended animation, NavCom. Wake me when we approach the destination. Run a scan of the craft’s vicinity at every subsector and adjust the course to avoid any significant reading. Shut off the main thrusters and wake me in the case of a Hawking radiation reading within a 75% confidence interval. Your scanning array may be malfunctioning and it could potentially let a black hole slip through unnoticed, so perform hourly maintenance on your systems and keep broadcasting for verification of your software and directives.” He wracks his brain, quietly says, “Nothing else to be done,” and shakes his head.
          “Suspended animation initiated. Scan schedule set. Confidence interval set. Maintenance schedule set. Broadcasts queued. Sleep well, Navigator.”
         The Navigator’s ears pop and his vision fades.

          “Hello, Navigator. I am NavCom, your command interface and navigation system. You are being awakened from suspended animation. Your memory may be foggy as the effects wear off. If you do not remember, our mission is to map this sector. You were awakened because of a conflict of protocol. Your authorization is required in order to continue the mission.”
         The Navigators eyes shoot open.
          “My memory is better than last time, I remember you. NavCom, sitrep,” he says, considering asking how long he was in suspended animation. From the degree of memory loss, he can tell it hasn’t been long, but he knows NavCom has no access to its timekeeping capability.
          “Our destination does not represent the location of a star. This violates our primary directive.”
          “Repeat your scans of the sector,” the Navigator says. A grid appears on the black display again, and on it, a blue arrow and nothing more.
          “Goddamn it, NavCom, did you update the on-board map?”
          “No updates were available. No NavCom-directed craft were located.”
          “Give me the visible light view from the outside of the craft, 1:1.”
         The grid on the display turns black again.
          “NavCom, diagnose.”
          “Visible light camera is operational.”
          “Disable the interpretation software and show me the raw feed.”
         Nothing changes.
          “Turn camera 360 degrees over thirty seconds.”
         From the left side of the screen, the hull of the ship slowly swings into the picture. And around it, total blackness.
          “NavCom, run all scans, search for visible stars in the raw feed.”
         The screen flashes several colors and the image warps to show the switching of the scan but no stars appear in any of them. The Navigator somehow knows that there is no way the raw feed could be malfunctioning like this. There isn’t a star in the entire sector. His voice mounting with fear, the Navigator quietly asks NavCom, “Is your conglomerate map updated?”
          “Bring it up on the display.”
         A star map appears on the screen. The Navigator walks over and clicks on the first star, the one that collapsed. An error message appears: ENTRY DELETED
          “NavCom, display the deletion log for this star.”
         Another message appears: POST-COLLAPSE. The Navigator stares at the phrase on the screen and he steps back. He’s seen this message billions of times before through the ages. The Navigator’s directive led him on a journey of eons to document the stars. When he had found every star in the sector, he spent still more time deleting star entries, travelling from star to star documenting them, to find that they all were dying. His fellow Navigators have exhausted their missions long ago; he is the only one still active. He remembers setting NavCom toward the first star and he remembers the star map: one Navigator and two stars, the only two stars remaining in the known universe. No malfunction, no erroneous star map. He was the last of his kind, the last Navigator.
          “NavCom, point all sensors at the destination and give me the clearest view you can.”
         Blackness appears on the screen again. The Navigator shakes his head and brings the star map onto the screen.
          “NavCom, how many stars are there left within your range?”
          “Only the star that marks our destination.”
          “You said it was gone,” the Navigator says.
          “My star log indicates that it remains. Sensors fail to verify this.”
         The Navigator speaks slowly and quietly.
          “Delete remaining star entries.”
          “One star entry deleted,” NavCom reports.
         The Navigator stares out into the blackness of the universe. He stares out toward the extinguished star, his ultimate destination. NavCom suddenly speaks up.
          “Primary directive completed. NavCom shutting down.”
         The NavCom unit goes dark and the Navigator sits utterly alone in his craft amid the darkness of dwarf stars and black holes. With a deep breath, he stands and walks to the manual control panel. To himself, he reads the coordinates off the star map and punches them in. A green light turns on and the whole ship jerks and begins moving. There is probably a black hole at the end of the journey for the last Navigator, and he walks to the suspended animation chamber, stepping in and closing the door. As he actives the manual release on the chamber, he feels peace. His star map sits complete on the ship’s drive somewhere, completely empty, a map of an entire universe completely devoid of its stars: its most joyous decorations. His primary directive is complete and his metal coffin floats lazily into the vacuum. The Navigator was driven out into the universe by his people in their haste to horde knowledge and consume the cosmos. His craft contains the last intelligence and the last intelligent information in the entire universe and it drifts on through dust and darkness toward its resting place, where it will be crushed into formless chaos. Mournful, the dying universe stands ready to take back its greatest gift.
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