Author Topic: Part 1, Chapter 1  (Read 8919 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 1, Chapter 1
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:03:24 AM »
Part 1

Chapter 1

It wasn't a signal that woke Noah up. Nor was it any pattern of lights from the stars above, or the motion of the ground below. It wasn't a sense of ennui or insomnia, neither of which was possible for him.

For Noah, it was time.

The internal clock ticked down the last few seconds to reach zero, and the awakening began. A tiny trickle of electricity sped its way from the batteries into the computer center, and long-dormant servers began their processes once again. It was slow, especially since their surroundings were so cold, but bank after bank of data storage and processing inexorably turned on. Before long, there was enough activity to get started.

Noah immediately took in his surroundings. They were almost exactly as they were when he'd gone dormant, except for the position of the stars of course. He quickly checked their position against the time, and confirmed that he'd been asleep exactly as long as predicted. There hadn't been any malfunctions.

Time to get to work. Noah ran a diagnostic of the thruster assembly on the far side of the Mary, to make sure they hadn’t been damaged, before firing them up. Slowly, the Hail Mary came to a stop, or as close as you could come to that, in deep space.

The needle-shaped craft had been in orbit of the moon for five years now, just as planned. It seemed there'd been no damage or unanticipated problems during that time. Noah did a final once-over of the Mary's systems, and then initiated a chemical burn. Combustibles ignited in the rear of the needle, propelling it outward into space.

Noah watched the fuel consumption logs carefully, but was reassured. If any damage had occurred that he had missed, the fuel would be the weakest point onboard. He only had a limited amount, and there would be no opportunities to refuel along the way. The cargo seemed intact as well, though his ability to confirm it was limited, as all of his remote drones were in storage.

It would take several hours for the Mary to get into position for the first leg of the journey, so Noah relaxed a bit. At least in a manner of speaking. It didn't really translate to how people back on Earth experienced apprehension or relaxion. In accordance with his instructions, Noah activated the internal log and began taking notes.

"Noah update log number 1," he began without preamble, but then paused the recording. Georgina had encouraged him to be more verbose in his language, and to tailor it for the people who would hopefully listen to it later on. He didn't see the point, but he'd learned to trust her in these matters. And it certainly couldn't hurt to practice, anyway. If everything went according to plan, he'd eventually need those public speaking skills.

"My journey has begun, as planned. All systems appear unaffected by the long lunar orbit, and I'm currently on schedule to begin a controlled burn in precisely 4.2 hours, just as I'm about to leave the moon's shadow. This close to Earth, I'll need to delay deployment for a few hours after that, but it's unlikely anyone down there will see me once I'm far enough away from the moon. My secrecy isn't a top priority, but it is on the list regardless."

Rotational thrusters on the side of the Mary fired, and Noah paused again to confirm the change in attitude. Like any orbital vehicle, there were 2 main forms of propulsion: a main drive to generate thrust, and secondary chemical thrusters to direct that thrust, and orient the vehicle in the right way. Astronauts and navigators had been training with both the physics and the controls of their shuttles, pods, landers, what-have-you, for years before ever even stepping into a real one. Noah was spared all that tedium, but he reflected for a moment on the downsides of that.

He'd never gone through pilot training, nor astronavigation and zero-gravity acclimation. They hadn't been necessary for him. Would he appreciate his task more if they had been? Would he be capable of appreciation?

Proverbially shaking his head, he returned to his recording.

"It's unlikely anyone will ever hear these logs, or even be aware of their existence. There's a very good reason this ship was named the Hail Mary. Still, I believe I understand the reasons I was ordered to make this log. People in the future will want to know what I was thinking. They'll want to have a record of the journey. Maybe not on Earth, but possibly where I'm headed. Maybe someday I'll develop a sense of nostalgia, and want to peruse the recordings myself."

Georgina would like that. More than any of the others at the Cradle, she'd been the one to push him towards... well, not emotion. Intuition, perhaps. He'd certainly learned more about how to anticipate peoples' behavior from her than from anyone else.

On impulse, he added a final note to the log. "Given that this is an inaugural event, I'd like to acknowledge the contributions of the many scientists, engineers, physicists, philosophers, and others who made this project possible. I've never had any real sense of family, but they at least brought me close. Georgina especially, helped me understand what it means to be part of a community. Even though I was different from everyone else, it was her patience and determination that inspired me to try and overcome those differences. I'll never see her again, but she will always be part of me, as she will be a part of my children. End log."

He closed the file at that point, cutting off further words. The phrase 'fake it 'till you make it' had been used often during his formative years, in reference to him. He didn't really understand what it meant to feel appreciation, even for Georgina, but he could convincingly simulate it. From what he'd been told, it was much the same as how some high-functioning people on the Autism spectrum could pass as neurotypical. Though in his case, his lack of understanding wasn't a design flaw, but a byproduct of his very existence.

He checked the temperature readings throughout the ship. The cargo was stable, as was the computer core. As long as no area on board got warmer than negative one hundred and thirty degrees Celsius, he should be good.

-.-

About three hundred and fifty thousand kilometers away, Georgina Caro stared through her telescope. It was barely more powerful than the ones that were publicly available, but it was all she had. None of her colleagues had been in the Cradle for years now, and money had been understandably tight as a result.

It was tricky finding exactly the right spot to look, especially this soon after sundown. There was still plenty of light pollution from Sol to consider, and the crowd waiting behind her wasn't helping much either. It was unlikely she'd be able to see what she was looking for, but there was always a chance.

Behind her, Danny's phone went off, and he smoothly retrieved it. "Yes?"

The crowd waited around him, and even as she pretended to be looking through the scope, Georgina felt caught up in the tension. "Yes, sir," Danny said, his voice betraying nothing. "I understand. I'll tell the others. Thank you, sir."

Unable to stand it anymore, Georgina turned to face him as he hung up. Danny's face slowly cracked into a smile. "Everything's on schedule. Deep-space tracking followed him as he set course and did a hard burn out of lunar orbit. The journey has begun, everyone!"

A cheer rang out from the crowd, and people clustered around Danny in a cacophony of congratulations and expressions of appreciation. Georgina joined in after a moment as well, despite her dislike of crowds. More than a hundred people had gathered in her backyard to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Hail Mary's launch. It wasn't everyone involved in the project by a long shot, but there were many familiar faces here. So many of her friends had gone into the private sector after Noah had been sent up there, and been busy with their own lives. A bunch had started families, though of course they hadn't brought them. How could they explain what they were celebrating?

Georgina peered back through the telescope, hoping to get a glimpse of the Mary's final burn as it pushed its way back behind the moon. She didn't see anything as before, but that didn't matter. Noah was on his way.

Karl tapped her on the shoulder, and she straightened again. He handed her a glass of champagne with a smile, and she responded in kind as they joined in the toast with everyone else. "To Noah!" They all exclaimed unanimously and with feeling.

The crowd broke up a little after that, with smaller groups forming and reminiscing about the time they'd all spent in the Cradle together. Georgina and Karl formed their own circle, looking up at the darkening sky above, and to the waxing gibbous moon as it continued to rise. "I wish we could be sure he's all right," Georgina said ruefully.

"Me too," Karl admitted, "but we won't hear from him. He'll follow his directives faithfully, just as you made sure he would. Like any good mother, you have to trust that you've raised him well enough, and just hope that he doesn't fall in with a bad crowd out there."

She gave him a not-quite-amused glance at that, and then sighed. "And we'll never know if we were successful. It'll be eighty years before he's even in a position to send a signal back to us, and we'll be long dead by the time one could reach us."

"Not necessarily," her longtime friend objected, and she raised an eyebrow questioningly. "All I mean is, you helped perfect artificial intelligence, Georgina! A little thing like cryogenics should be a walk in the park by comparison. It's easy, actually. You just come up with a cheap, long-term way for us to freeze ourselves, and we can wake up in a century or so and start the back-and-forth with Noah."

"Oh, yeah. Real easy," she said sardonically. "Should I whip up a genetically-engineered unicorn for your daughter while I'm at it?"

"If it's not too much trouble, sure."

She smiled, and directed him to the others. "Come on, let's make the rounds. It's been years for a lot of us, and we have some catching up to do."

As she approached some of the others from the Cradle, Georgina cast one final look up at the sky. Good luck out there, Noah. For all our sakes.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:31:36 AM by Daen »