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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Proxima Doma: Split Level (Part VI)

The first spacecraft that humans came up with were unmanned. They were sent up to study the sky, and gather data. The first manned craft had a capacity of one individual, while other early designs allowed for only a few people. These are all incredibly dangerous, and resulted in a number of deaths. Safety was always priority but humanity did not always know what that took, so they added two more pillars of spaceflight; compartmentalization and redundancy. If one system failed, another needed to be able to take over, and possibly another, if the second were to fail as well. Sections of vessels needed to be capable of being completely cut off from the rest, either to insulate it from them, or insulate them from it. If a fire, for instance, could not be put out, the crew needed to at least isolate it as much as possible. But these three pillars could not do the work on their own. Even later in history, scientists determined they needed a fourth pillar. Modularization. It wasn’t good enough just to be able to quarantine sections. These sections needed to be able to operate independently as well, and the vessel as a whole needed to be able to adapt to virtually any new dynamic, save for its total annihilation.
Colony ships were no exception to the SCR&M rules, which was pronounced like scram. Each ship had a maximum capacity of 168 people, though it was only designed to carry 147 at a time, seven of which were crew members. Each section, which was shaped in a hexagonal prism held seven—eight in an emergency—passengers, and could conceivably travel to the nearest star, going ten percent the speed of light. Based on stellar distribution in the Milky Way Galaxy, one such of these trips should take a maximum of twenty-five years. This wasn’t an ideal situation, but preferable to death. Four sides were lined with sleeping capsules. According to necessary conditions, a passenger could sleep in one of these capsules like normal, or they could activate stasis mode for longer journeys, or they could access virtual reality constructs. Each capsule also acted as an escape pod, and could traverse the breadth of a solar system. It could theoretically orbit a star indefinitely, maintaining perpetual stasis for the passenger, until help could arrive.
Proxima Centauri was a red dwarf, which was, by the far, the most common class of star in the galaxy. But it was also a flare star, which meant it frequently experienced magnetic fluctuations, resulting in bursts of volatile energy. Through the magic of science, these flares can usually be predicted, so as to effectively schedule space travel. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t perfect, and there were still a few surprises. No matter how well someone followed the four pillars of spaceflight, life in the vacuum would always be dangerous. And they did not work when they were not followed. When the first of the Oblivio-primitivist Pioneers arrived in the Proxima Centauri system, Proxima underwent one such of these unpredicted solar storms. A normal colony ship would be able to handle it and survive, but the Oblivios requested special modifications, so as to better align with their ideals. They were already sacrificing much about their principles just by being in outer space at all, so the engineers and regulators felt they owed them something.
Colony ships Doma 01 and Doma 02 were already within range of the star when the storm erupted. Doma 01 was able to effect repairs on the fly, and enter a safe orbit around the planet, but 02 was not so lucky. It was forced to separate into its constituent parts, and scatter in different directions. Normally, an independent artificial intelligence could pilot each section towards safety, but the Oblivios insisted the crew consist of purely biological humans. Not every member of the crew was qualified to pilot a section; not that it mattered, since most sections at the time of module separation weren’t occupied by a crew member anyway. This left dozens of Oblivios stranded in interplanetary space, totally powerless to navigate their way to safety. At least one section was destroyed immediately, and evidence suggested another lost life support within the first ten minutes. Vitalie and Étude were equipped to solve just about any emergency on the ground, but did not have the resources, nor the time powers, to help Doma 02. And then it happened. Sensors witnessed two terrible tragedies occur almost simultaneously.
Two sections were decoupled from the main vessel, which was what they were meant to do. They started drifting away from each other, but a man in one section apparently started feeling his convictions a little less deeply, and attempted to pilot to safety. Of course, with no training, he was unable to do this successfully, and ended up crashing into one of the other sections. That wasn’t terrible, because Vitalie could go back in time, and the two of them could easily steal an interplanetary cargo ship. Sadly, though, at almost the exact same time, an unaccounted for escape pod from Doma 01 burned up in the atmosphere of Proxima Doma, killing two children who were too afraid to sleep apart. Of course, Vitalie and Étude did not know any of these specifics at the time. All they knew was that fifteen people died, and they were the only ones who could stop it. But how? Étude could teleport anywhere on the planet, or within a very low orbit, but these two incidents happened much farther apart than that. She could not be in two places at once; not even when Vitalie was there as well. They were presently discussing options.
“We have to travel back in time,” Vitalie realized.
“Right, but that doesn’t solve our problem.”
“No, I don’t mean my consciousness. You have to take us back in time physically.”
“No, I’m not doing that,” Étude argued.
“It’s the only way. We need a teleporter to save the people in the rogue section, and we need a teleporter to save the person in the pod. Since we only have one teleporter, we need to double you.”
“I’m not going to allow two different Études to run around the same timeline.”
“So, you’re fine just letting these people die?”
“We can establish contact with that rogue section, and talk the wannabe Oblivio pilot down. We can convince him to not commandeer the controls, and then I can send you to rescue the pod person.”
“You can’t be sure that’ll work. We don’t know anything about this guy. He might not listen to reason. Maybe if we had time to study his profile, or even just get his last name, someone could talk to him, but not you. You’re not a trained hostage negotiator. We can’t risk that. We have to go back.”
“Why would we have to go back? It would just be me. You said we needed two teleporters, but you can remain safe in your singular identity.”
“I want to help,” Vitalie said.
“And you will. One of you will; because there will only be one of you.”
Vitalie was getting sick of how negative Étude always was about this. She took her by the shoulders, and shook ever so slightly to emphasize her words. “You talked me into this. You made me The Caretaker, when you were fully capable of doing it on your own. I’m tired of all these cryptic little hints about how I’m meant to take over for you. I’m done talking about this.”
“We just started talking.”
“I’m already done with it. You’re going to take us both in time, and once we get there, we’re going to explain the situation to our younger selves. And then the four of us are going to hash out a real plan. No one dies today. You want me to take over? Fine, but I call the shots now.”
“What happens after the mission? What do we do about our doubles?”
“I don’t know; I don’t have all the answers, but maybe all four of us can figure it out. Maybe one pair just heads off to Bungula. Maybe that’s what we end up doing; just constantly replicating ourselves until every inhabited planet has a Caretaker team. I’m only focused on the mission right now. Those people need us, so let’s stop talking, and end this before it starts.”
          Étude pulled her arms out of Vitalie’s grasp, and took her by the shoulders instead. “Fine. I hope you know what you’re doing.” And with that, she sent them both back in time one day.
Their younger selves were sitting at the breakfast table. They weren’t shocked or confused. They just patiently waited for a report.
“Eat up,” Future!Vitalie instructed. “We’re gonna need to be at maximum strength. This is the worst one yet.”

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