ARK Launch Site 500 Kilometres from Alice Springs, Australia
19th February 2135
Anderson Bell ran his hand through his hair nervously as he strode the corridors. Up ahead he spotted the man he was looking for.
His second-in-command turned around with a look of irritation that vanished the instant he realised that he was being addressed by his superior.
“We need to talk. I saw your interview this morning and it has me very concerned.”
“I was just voicing my opinions Captain.”
“You threatened to resign your post as XO of the Endeavour.”
“Yes I did, and I was serious about it Sir.”
“I’m asking you not to do this.”
“You’re asking me to leave my family behind. It isn’t fair Captain. Families of crew members should be given automatic passage.”
“This has been a very hot issue Allan,” Bell said, switching to a rarely used familiarity. “It was decided that all colonists would be chosen randomly through lottery. Nobody was given special consideration. Not the President, not the Prime Minister of Australia. Even you and I have been chosen by lottery from a group of qualified officers.”
“I know all of this Sir, that doesn’t mean its right.”
“It was a very hard decision which took a long time to come to. The best political minds in the world have been arguing this out for more than a year.” Bell wasn’t exaggerating. The issue has completely redefined the political landscape. “Besides, where do you draw the line? Wife? Children? Parents? Brothers? Grandparents? Uncles?” I don’t want you to throw everything away over this.”
“You’d feel differently if you had a family Captain. I would rather die here on Earth than leave them behind to their fate while I go to colonise a new world.”
“But there are other options Commander. A second Ark is already under construction, and there is a lot of talk of private ships heading out. Your family could get passage on one of those and follow behind us. They could join you in a matter of years.”
“You can’t guarantee that.”
“Nothing in life is guaranteed Commander. You are I could be hit by a transport tomorrow.”
They had reached the door to the mess hall. They paused their conversation for a second as they walked through. There was only one other person in the mess hall, Lieutenant Commander Guang Lin.”
“No matter what you say Captain, I will fight this lottery with my dying breath.”
Commander Murphy began pouring himself a coffee. Guang Lin, who was making herself a cup of green tea, spoke up.
“Allan, don’t you believe that all people are precious; that all deserve at least a chance to be saved?” Lin was a pro-lottery as Murphy was Anti.
“No Commander I don’t believe that. You say that the serial killer on death row is precious? You say he has a much right to be saved as my family? I say he has given up his chance to survive.”
“And if you were that killer, being told that you didn’t deserve to live? Allan, does that make you any different from him?”
“Now look,” Bell interrupted. “We’re not going to resolve this issue today, besides which the whole thing is moot. The vote has been cast and the decision has been made. We can’t do anything to change it now.”
Allan Murphy looked Bell deep into the eye for several seconds. “We’ll see about that Sir.”
Captain Bell’s mind wandered back to that heated conversation with his XO as he followed L7 to the sleep chamber where Murphy’s body was waiting. It was very strange to think that five hundred years had passed since that day. A lot had happened in the interim. Life was truly not fair – perhaps Allan would have been better staying behind with his family after all.
“If you would like to enter Sir,” L7 said.
“Yes, of course.”
Bell entered the sleep chamber. There were six pods. Three of them were occupied by crewmembers still in cryonic suspension. Two were empty, and one contained Murphy’s remains. Bell approached slowly and peered into the pod with heaviness in his soul. There was little but bones remaining.
“How did this happen?”
“The pod malfunctioned and was unable to maintain Commander Murphy’s life support.”
“Did he suffer?”
“No. He never regained consciousness. He was still in deep sleep, but his body slowly deteriorated and died.”
Bell spun around and faced the android. “Why didn’t you do something? You could have tried to repair his pod.”
“I made every attempt to do so Captain. After trying to affect the repair myself I concluded that it was beyond my abilities. I placed a request for an engineering unit to come and complete the work. They never arrived.”
“How many times did you make the request?”
“I lodged a request three times per day until he died.”
“And you were ignored.”
“I was informed that remote diagnostics indicated the pod was in working order. I apologise Captain. I did everything I could.”
“This isn’t good enough. Why did we even bother to create artificial intelligences and place them in control of the ship? If we wanted mindless robots we could have just let the onboard software run everything. You androids were supposed to be able to act independently and think for yourselves. We’re seeing layers of malfunction upon malfunction. First we arrive hundreds of years late and now a man is dead.”
“I understand your frustrations Sir. I humbly apologise again.”
Bell let out a long deep breath.
“Have Commander Murphy’s remains prepared for burial. We will lay him to rest on the planet below.”
“You know in some ways this may be a mercy. He would have been heart-broken to wake up and learn that his family had been dead for centuries.”
The door opened and L5 entered. “Captain, your senior staff are awake and waiting for you in the briefing lounge.”
“I’d better join them. We have a lot to talk about, and a lot to do. Is security chief Tareen there?”
“He is Captain.”
“Good, because I’m starting to think that these malfunctions are all connected. If that’s true, and there was reason behind it, then it’s possible that Commander Murphy was murdered.”