For the first 6 months the vessel orbited Earth, firing its ion engines, slowly building up speed and altitude. It was so large it could be seen from the ground, like a second moon. It moved too far to be seen easily after a couple months. After 4 months it had completely surpassed the orbit of the moon and was soon free of the gravitational field of Earth.
Now in a solar orbit the ship continued to build up speed so that it moved away from the sun while orbiting around it. It passed the orbit of Mars but that world was on the far side of the sun, it did not hit any asteroids as its path moved it toward Jupiter, as planned. Jupiter was always the first target, as designed.
Jay Johnson opened his eyes and found that he was in a chamber alone and the transparent lid of the cryogenic pod was open. He was excited, had their journey ended? Had they arrived at New Eden just as it was planned?
He pushed himself out of the pod and stood. Strange, he didn't feel weak or dizzy from his eternally long slumber. It was some amazing technology that people were protected from atrophy but you would think there would be some issues that had been overlooked.
“Please state your name” disembodied voice said, Jay looked around the room.
“Let me introduce myself. I am the main computer of this vessel, the Salutem Novis” it said “Please tell me your name”
“I am Jay Johnson” he said, looking around the room again. He was alone, that was not a good sign since there were a quarter million people in the project. “What's going on?”
“Let me explain. One of the most important rules that were imparted to me by the creators of this project was that a human always be awake during the voyage” the computer said “I have decided to choose one human at random, and that was you”
“Wha..?” Jay was crestfallen. He would never see New Eden. He would spend his whole life on the ship as the human caretaker. Alone. “Can't you pick someone else instead? What if I refuse?”
The lid to the cryo unit shut and the whole thing slid into the wall and a the wall shut behind it. He could not get back in it after all. He sat on the floor, stunned at his misfortune to have been chosen for this duty.
“What year is it? How long have I been asleep?”
“It has been one year since launch” the computer told him
“Only a year?” he asked, shaking his head. “So I'm the first one?”
What are the odds of that, he wondered. Then he knew, one in about 265,000.
“Our present location is in orbit around Jupiter” the computer said “I am preparing to lower the fueling boom into the atmosphere, where we will take on a load of heavy hydrogen. We will do this until the tank is full.”
“We haven't even left the solar system yet?” Jay asked, getting upset. “This is pathetic! What am I supposed to do on the ship for a whole lifetime?”
The computer answered “There is a complete array of choices for you to keep yourself occupied, there is a full gym, a virtual reality center, a complete entertainment library of visual, audio and interactive media...”
“What about next week, then?” he asked, he tried to kick a wall but it hurt.
“There are several biological habitats containing flora and fauna in a park-like setting for your pleasure, I believe that humans find nature to be relaxing” the computer said “I mention this because your heartbeat is elevated too high”
“Yes it is, because I am upset and mad!” Jay said “and I have nobody to talk to except a computer”
“Please calm down. Luckily you are young and in good health, otherwise you would be risking a stroke or heart attack” the computer said “I could prescribe a mild sedative to help you calm down, Jay Johnson”
“I am also programmed in medical diagnostics and treatments of nearly all known medical ailments, and we have a full surgical suite aboard as well” the computer said.
“Are you bragging?”
“I am simply stating a fact. Would you like a mild sedative?” the computer asked
“How about a drink? A soda and whiskey would be good right now” Jay Johnson told the computer as he sat in a chair he found near a table next to the other side of the chamber. A few minutes later the robot connected to the ceiling entered through its own chute and set down a tray next to him with a small bottle of whiskey, a bottle of soda, bowl of ice and a glass.”
“So, you are also a bartender?” Jay asked looking at the little robot that just hung there next to the table.
“Please enjoy your beverage” the little robot said and took off.
“I see, it has its own voice and personality” Jay nodded to himself “Sort of like having 3 people here instead of just me. I get it”
After drinking a couple of the small glasses of his drink, Jay was feeling much calmer. The computer spoke again “Would you like to come to the bridge and see Jupiter?”
He followed the happy little robot with its own child-like voice as it led him to the lift which went upwards for a while and stopped. Jay knew the ship was about a mile tall, a couple miles wide and several miles long. Then he stepped out into a chamber where most of the ceiling and one wall was transparent. The massive Jovian world dominated the sight, the ship was so close that it didn't even look like a planet.
“Is it safe to be this close? Isn't there a ton of radiation?” he asked, sitting in what looked like the Captain's chair. He wondered why there were several seats at different stations and then noted that those terminals were all blank.
“We are quite close to the planet” the computer admitted “But our speed is sufficient to keep from falling into it. We are trailing a boom, a tube, which has a device at the end that is sifting the atmosphere for heavy hydrogen, this is what we are pumping back into the fuel tanks. You must remember that our tanks at launch were less than 1% full, just enough to get us to this point”
“We'll be heavier when full” Jay said, remembering “Now that we are so far from the sun we can afford to take on so much more mass”
“Affirmative” the computer said
“It is quite beautiful” Jay said, looking at the swirling bands of orange and white and other colors of the clouds. Soon enough the large red storm was barely visible on the edge of his vision. The ship was at the equator so the great red spot went below them, not underneath. “How long will we stay here?”
“It will take approximately 15.4 days to fill the tanks at the present rate”
“Then we increase altitude and speed, get away from Jupiter and move towards the edge of the solar system. How long before we leave the solar system?” Jay asked.
“That depends on what you define at the edge of the solar system” the computer said “It will probably take a few years to reach the Kuiper belt and enter the heliopause.”
Jay Johnson whistled. “This is going to take a while then. No hurries I guess. It's not like we ever figured out how to build a warp engine”
“Warp is only a theoretical possibility, but in reality any device which could do this – if such a thing could be built – would need an infinite amount of energy. To reach the other side of the galaxy, you would likely need the energy of every sun in it. Not that I have done the calculations, which would take a long while, even for me” the computer said.
“Right” Jay said remembering that the computer was massive itself. It reached every part of the ship, there were huge computer chambers everywhere. It was so extensive that some thought the computer could become sentient.
“It's not against the rules to thaw another human is it?” he asked the computer “I would like to have a companion”
The computer answered after a moment “While not specifically forbidden it is a waste of resources, which is against the rules. My main goal is to reach New Eden with the most number of human passengers in good condition as possible. This trip will take thousands of years, which means that I will already be using hundreds of humans as crew during the voyage as it is. So I would have to say that I will not bring another human out of cryogenic suspension”
Later, Jay entered one of the biological habitats. It was about 4 acres of trees, shrubbery, grass, some small critters and a few insects, strictly controlled and unable to breed. The top was completely transparent and he could see Jupiter dominating half the view. He couldn't make out any of its moons or the faint ring though.
“Years” he told himself “Years and years”
He looked back at the hatch, which was open and the little robot that hung from the ceiling was in the doorway. Jay felt like this robot was watching him.
“What is your name? Do you have one?”
“Gopher” it said “I am called Gopher. It has been 4 hours since you were taken out of suspension, are you hungry?”
As a matter of fact he was. “Yes I am. I could really go for a nice steak dinner and all the fixings and some wine”
“Is that your order? I will bring it to you”
“Here? I can eat here?” Jay asked.
“You can eat wherever you wish” the robot said and departed, Jay watched the hatch doors finally shut.
The computer spoke again “I can understand you will feel lonely, but it is important not to dwell on this and to focus on other things”
Jay really didn't want to get mad again, he didn't want to talk to the computer right then. “I will eventually go insane like this”
The computer spoke after a couple of moments “Yes” it said “That is probable”
Now Jay was confused, the computer already knew. It already had plans for that eventually, he bet.
“Look, I need companionship. I need to be with a woman. I'm not a monk” he told the computer “It is a human desire, need, imperative”
“I understand human physiology and sexuality, Jay Johnson” the computer said “The library has a full array of visual, audio and interactive sexual programming that will mostly satisfy these urges in human beings”
He put his hands over his face. “Oh give me a break”
Then he laughed “And while we are at it, can I have some real clothes? I feel like I'm wearing a woman's one-piece swimsuit or something. Except this thing is as thin as paper.”
“Of course, I can produce any type of clothing article you would like”
Jay lay down in the grass. “I wonder how long it will take me to lose my mind?”
The computer answered “I estimate 20.3 years”
Jay sat straight up “You estimate that? You know, I think you are what will drive me crazy”
“Unlikely” the computer said “The longer you are here the more I will be able to match with your personality”
Jay scratched his head and then laughed “Are you saying we're going to become friends?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes”
The hatch opened and there was Gopher, with a tray covered by a dome lid and a decanter of liquid, his meal was ready. “Compliments to the Chef” the little robot said with his high voice “There is not really a chef, though”.
Jay laughed again. “There is no way I'm going to last 20 years”
Salutem Novis decided to do another analysis, Jay Johnson might not be as stable as he first believed him to be. This would be an interesting case and the computer would learn a lot about interactive with human crew.
Continue to Lonely Space - Chapter Four
Link to Lonely Space - Chapter One
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