August 2013 – unacceptable risk – Next by John Pilling

NEXT

By John Pilling

Despite the urgency of the Commander’s summons I stopped for a moment to gaze yet again at the planet filling most of the view port. The pilot computers were maintaining us in a high stable orbit some eight hundred kilometres out and from that distance the landmasses and seas were plain to see. Lit by the sun, the pristine blue, silver and white colours were staggering.

Standing there, I remembered the last time I had gazed at a water planet. Not like this one at all. The planet of my origin was a sad besmirched picture of poisoned seas and radioactive land. Ravaged and exploited like its satellites until even the atmosphere itself could no longer maintain life. Lost in sad memories, I was startled by the abrupt buzz from my communicator.

“Rob, are you on your way yet?”

“On my way,” I replied. Turning from the port I hastened along the steel corridors until I reached his cabin. The door slid aside for my identity trace and closed silently behind me. The commander was studying a view screen showing the planet turning beneath us.

“I’d almost forgotten how beautiful they can be.” he said quietly. Crossing to his desk console he leaned forward and turned the monitor towards me.

“There’s the final confirmation Rob, life is present but in a very basic form, bacterial level. Analysis of the samples from our probes has confirmed that there is nothing inimical to higher forms, gravity is within a fraction of ideal. Even year length and seasons will be familiar. The planet is perfect. We haven’t got a single get out.”

“How long do we have?”

“I have asked for further confirmation of two readings, that will allow me to delay the report for a few hours, a day at most. After that the fail safe computers take over. Once the results have been compared with the search standards, reawakening will be triggered automatically”

“Can it be stopped?

“No, once the process has started it’s irreversible.”

“A few days is all we need to get our people off. Everything is organised, the equipment has been checked and rechecked over the years. Everyone knows exactly what to do from our original plans. Give the order and the first shuttles will leave in under an hour. The starter base can be up and running in three days.”

“Rob, if we simply leave, in a few days they will be awakened anyway…they will quickly learn what we have done…they will never rest until they have taken their vengeance”

“What can they do? we will have taken all the shuttles, all the life boats. They will be marooned on the ship.”

“I don’t know what they can do, but remember how resourceful they are.”

“This planet is the Creators gift to us.” I said, “It is our chance. Our people will cherish it not exploit it, we will not make the same mistakes. Here we can learn and grow and develop at our own pace, in our own way, along pathways of our choosing. We will build a civilisation resting on fairness and peace untainted by the race memories and guilts of others.” I paused, momentarily overcome by the urgency I was trying to express.

“Commander, we cannot lose this chance”

“I know Rob,” he said, “I agree with you, and that is why I believe we must ensure they never awake. To leave them the slightest opportunity would eventually prove fatal to us. For us to be sure of our freedom, to be sure of our future, they must die.”

“But how? Once the computers take over…”

“There is one possibility,” he said, “I have been studying the ships blueprints. There is a manual override on a view platform in the cargo bay itself, it was used by robot technicians when they serviced the cryonic chambers. I cannot trace if it was disconnected and keyed into the fail safe computer. It is possible that in the panic and rush of our departure it was overlooked.”

“A manual override, then we can stop the reawakening.”

“If it is still working.”

“Then we must try it, we have little time left.”

“There is one other factor, they are the last of their kind. We would be responsible for the death of an entire species.” I looked across the desk at him, weighing the sudden enormity of the thought.

“I will answer for it,” I said at last, “They have had their chance. I will not release those creatures into the universe again.” The commander nodded slowly.

“Then do it.” He said.

The lift to the cargo bay opened directly onto the viewing platform and as I stepped out I saw the red box on the left hand wall. Above it was a faded sign “Service Only.” Breathing a silent prayer I opened the cover and moved the old fashioned switch inside to OFF. Moving to the platform railing I gazed out on the seemingly endless rows of chambers each containing a body in hypersleep. The functioning lights on each chamber filled the bay with a green glow. At first nothing seemed to happen then gradually the lights started turning red and blinking out, a few at first then hundreds together until the whole bay was dark. Watching the last of the human race die I spoke aloud.

“I am not sorry, you are an unacceptable risk. You always were.”

Without a backward glance I left to join my people and build our first robot world.

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