One man on a ship to a new home must decide if he can spend thousands of lives to save all
|A lone ship floats through the black, leaving behind a trail of radiation, a massive cube, made of smaller interconnected cubes that move and shift about like an intricate 3-D puzzle. Near the base of the larger cube, a donut spins where the few conscious occupants live their lives with their frivolous concerns that seem so important. Mammoth boosters at one end emit a steady stream of nuclear emissions, and though the forces expelled could boil away lakes on Earth, they provide negligible thrust as the massive hulk crawls at a dawdling pace. Thousands of soles onboard are leaving behind the only life and the only world they have ever known as they boldly reach for the stars and a promise of a new world and a new life. Two-thirds of its population frozen in a state of dreamless slumber, brought to the brink of death and held there in stasis
Deep in the dark bowels of the vessel a lone figure slinks through the intricate machinery that keeps the hulk of a vessel plodding forward. His brow furrows in trepidation as he moves towards his target, his resolution waning as he approaches the point of no return.
"C.A.L." he calls out to the darkness.
An otherworldly voice seems to come from the ether in response, "Yes, Daniel."
"I know we've been over this thousands of times, but are we absolutely certain this is the only way?"
"We have had this conversation only 123 times, Daniel. You have seen the data that I have. The very nature of what we propose to do can never be certain, but this course of action has approximately 78% chance of success, which is more than 85% more likely than any other course of action we have considered."
"But so many lives. I'm a scientist. My life is numbers and equations. I live in the theoretical. I'm not cut out for this. Who am I to decide who lives and who dies?"
"This is not the first time you have made such a decision, Daniel"
Daniel stops moving at that. He still has the nightmares. Landon's piercing, wild eyes, accusing him. Driven mad by the sudden loss of Courtney. Only a month before she had found him in another woman's bed, but now that she's gone, he went to such extremes to bring her back, consequence be damned. Daniel couldn't let him do it, too much was at stake. And as they fought, Daniel found himself squeezing the life out of his oldest and dearest friend and in the end, he still lost everything.
He sighs, "I know you're right C.A.L. We've been over it and over it."
He continues down another corridor of massive machinery until he arrives. He stands in front of a pressure release valve. He runs a quick diagnostic and pressure check, and everything checks out - green across the board. But C.A.L. has "Looked" and he knows. The superconductors required to make a jump to another system must be kept below 90K or the whole system fails. Daniel is standing in front of a pressure release valve for the liquid nitrogen cooling system that maintains the critical temperatures necessary for superconductivity. Right now, the systems lie dormant. It will be another week before the Rama is far enough away from Sol's gravity well before it is safe to jump. Twelve hours before the jump, the cooling systems kick in and super conductivity is established. This allows for the strange quantum effects that the jump drive depends on.
If Daniel does nothing, the pressure release valve in front of him will fail at a critical moment right before the ship "jumps". The result will be an explosion unlike any mankind has ever witnessed. The Rama and all aboard will be reduced to their constituent atoms. He looks in the tool bag he's carrying with him. A new release valve sits on top, glaring at him, accusing him. He has the part. He has the tools. It's a ten-minute fix and everyone aboard lives. But damnit, he told C.A.L. to "Look" and C.A.L. saw the End. He stares at the new valve for ten minutes, unable to move, unable to decide.
"Daniel, you will soon be missed. You are due on the bridge in thirty minutes. You have already lingered too long and must hurry to make your shift. I know how you hate lying to the captain and if you are late, he will ask you why."
C.A.L.'s disembodied voice snaps Daniel out of his stupor and he reaches into his tool bag, past the valve and grabs a torx screwdriver. A quarter turn to the right and he's done.
"Will that do it?"
"Yes, Daniel, it is done."
"Are you certain? Can you 'Look' again?"
"I have 'Looked', Daniel. The timelines are aligning as we have predicted. I estimated nearly 50% of the occupants of Rama will survive."
Daniel turns and jogs back to the lifts.
A week later, Captain Mason addresses the occupants currently awake throughout Rama. "Friends, we have spent the first year of our trek through the vastness of space in cramped quarters, and that phase of our journey has not yet ended. We have only reached the halfway point, chronologically. Yet considering the tremendous distance we still must travel in order to reach Wolf 1061b, we have only stepped out our front door. Tolkien once said, 'It's a dangerous business...going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.' And though we've barely stepped out our door, this next step will sweep us off to the doorstep of our new home. Our new home, and what shall we call it? You've all had a chance to weigh in. Your fellow pilgrims also weighed in during their rotations out of the cryo-chambers. And though there was some backing for Planet McPlanetFace, I am happy to say that a quorum has been reached and something more 'appropriate' has been chosen. C.A.L. are we ready?"
"All systems are a go, Captain Mason."
"Helm, prepare to jump to Nova Spero."
Cheers erupt throughout the vessel as the hum of the jump drive can be felt through the bulkheads. And then the Rama leaves the Sol system, expecting to arrive in the Wolf 1061 system, destined for Nova Spero (A New Hope). A Planck time AFTER the jump removes the Rama from space, somewhere past the Barrier, a valve fails.