Chapter 32: Horizon Mission

Captain?” We’d both squeaked the word, almost together. The Ship replied as imperturbably as if it was reporting on the relative humidity.

“In critical situations, the normal procedures for selection of Crew positions may be bypassed and crew members directly appointed following a suitability analysis conducted by the Ship AI. Prior analysis identified Crew Candidate Lindsi Davison and activated Crew Emergency Protocols. Crewman Davison’s subsequent observations confirmed the need for the post of Captain to be filled. Although this ship is largely autonomous, mission parameters may not be altered nor mission-critical decisions made by this AI. This is a safety feature designed to ensure human control over this human mission, and cannot be altered without the complete erasure of Ship AI.”

Lindsi and I were both still frozen in disbelief, trying to assimilate what we’d just heard. The Ship went on, its deep, cool voice filling the Bridge.

“The primary duties of the Captain are to ensure the survival and wellbeing of the crew and colonist complement, and to make all decisions concerning the accomplishment or in extremity the alteration of mission objectives.”

What… what are the mission objectives? I heard myself ask slowly. The Ship had been in space almost longer than recorded history. Even I had never really asked why it was out here, travelling on through space. It’d be like questioning why the Habitat Domes were filled with air.

“This ship departed from Earth, Sol System approximately eight hundred and twenty years ago. Horizon Mission parameters are as follows: to sustain onboard life and society while en route to the Earth twin planet colloquially known as Adion. Upon arrival: to establish a self-sufficient colony upon Adion. Contingency plans are available in the event that the planet Adion proves impossible to colonise with available resources, for example in the case of a large planetary impactor rendering biomodification procedures irrelevant.”

We both stared.

“Can- can you show me?” Lindsi asked.

“Please specify.”

“Show me this… this planet, Adion.”

“Available data from the wide telescope formation permits construction of a high-fidelity composite image of the Vereda system.” As the Ship spoke, the console in front of Lindsi changed to display a bright star, then zoomed in on it, closer and closer still. Instead of the star, it seemed to be focused on what began as a tiny speck and then grew to a small but definite bluish sphere, with a smaller whitish one off to one side and another, even smaller one further out.

“Analysis of the planetary signatures over recent decades of observing time permits further extrapolation. However, all further images will require extrapolation and will be inaccurate.”

Lindsi nodded. “Keep going.”

The sphere got bigger, becoming marbled in blue and white and just a little green-brown. We stared at it, and its smaller pale companions. I’d seen a few pictures of Earth, but it was just a myth, really. This planet looked sort of like that, and sort of different. It was strange to look at, and think that people were supposed to live on it somehow. Pictures of the Ship seemed a lot more natural and right. More like home.

Lindsi and I stared at it for a little while before she pulled back slightly in her chair, shaking her head a little. “Okay… Ship. We need — we need answers.”

The image disappeared.

“Awaiting query.”

We looked at one another, and the only reason to hesitate was to decide what to ask first.

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