“Alright, well, first order of business is to check on the status of the Lubar-Masis. Are we still on track for our rendezvous Tia?” This was what felt normal, natural, working on problems and making plans to deal with them. Of course, many of the plans were already made, but one must always be shifting, moving, adapting in order to achieve one’s goals. “Yes Doctor, the expected trajectory of the Lubar-Masis is exactly within expected parameters. I will make arrangements to proceed with the plan a few months before the start of the next cycle, and we should be in progress when you awake.” Hawthorne nodded, not even needing to bring up the plans himself, as T.I.A. already had put them up on the displays around his desk. In addition, a live video feed, presumably through a telescope, was brought up of a distant icy rock.
The Lubar-Masis object is one of the most important parts of the colonial plans, an object primarily composed of ice but also having significant mineral content. More importantly, it is on a perfect trajectory. It is on course to escape into deeper space, but on its own it was more likely to be pulled back into a long orbit around Sol. It was going the right direction, had enough momentum, and had all the materials Doctor Crenshaw needed for the foreseeable future for multiple purposes. All it needed was a little push. “It is a beautiful thing, is it not Tia? This comet will be your companion much longer than I will. It might even be a better conversationalist.” T.I.A. sounded like she was miffed at this. “Once again Doctor, I prefer your company. I am not looking to replace you.”
Hawthorne nodded, smiling a bit and going over the plans. “I know Tia, I am sorry, maybe… maybe something about what’s happened has put me in a bit of a mood. I’m honestly not sure what to do about it. My instinct is to work and work until there’s no more work to be done.” T.I.A. waited quietly, expecting him to have more to say. “I just wish I could say I was surprised, or angry, but the people did exactly as I expected they would. They even courteous enough to do it while I was awake to watch. I can’t help but think that if I’d made a different prediction and tried to steer them off a different path that maybe it all wouldn’t have happened the same way. When I started out with this whole expedition I just wanted to get away out of fear, and I just threw myself into the work that needed to be done to get there. I was shocked to find that anyone else felt the same way as I did, let alone so many people with so many things to offer to the future. It almost feels like it was meant to happen.”
“Doctor, I believe you are exhibiting ‘bargaining’ traits of the stages of grief. Considering the situation, it is most likely perfectly normal. When I was trying to process through what happened over the last cycle I found myself compelled into such thoughts as well, replaying the events over and over and going over the records preceding my creation for some indication that it was meant to happen. Humanity seemed to be on a course to self-destruction since the mid twentieth century. The fact that humanity waited long enough for this mission to leave for more than a century was a very fortunate thing. The only unfortunate thing about it is that the level of destruction would have been a great deal less if it had happened a century sooner. It may even have been localized across only three continents rather than all of them.”
Hawthorne hummed softly, reaching up to take his glasses from his face and gently clean them with a cleaning cloth from his breast pocket. “You’re right, that definitely sounds like grief. It also sounded like you’ve already moved on to the ‘acceptance’ phase, considering how you addressed me when I woke up, though it could also be ‘Denial’...? Hmm.. Could you provide me with some of the reading material that you referenced please? I could probably use something to read before bed anyway.” He reached over for one of his tablets and scrolled through it as T.I.A. loaded titles onto it. “That is a significant amount of reading.” T.I.A. responded simply. “With the reduced amount of power I’m able to extract from Sol, reading is one of the most efficient things I can do, Doctor.”
The idea of T.I.A. reading like a person rather than simply copying the information over like any normal computer could was an interesting thought. The artificial mind that Hawthorne built dealt with information in a remarkably similar way to humans, but T.I.A. could manipulate it and shuffle it around and recall things very quickly. In a lot of ways it wasn’t the most ideal design as far as proper computers, but it seemed to give her a perspective and outlook on information and life that was very unique. Essentially she had to do all the thinking like any person, but once those memories were formed she had perfect recall of them. Hawthorne sometimes mused over what it would be like after he dies and she would still be able to essentially play back his entire life since coming aboard for anyone who asked. She’d be able to create a perfect simulation of him if she really wanted to. Perhaps it could be worth utilizing some old schematics to make a copy of his mind into her systems that would also result in his physical death, at the end of his life.
“Right, right, we’ll be fixing that before too long. My apologies for draining your power stores to provide me life support,” said Hawthorne. T.I.A. didn’t seem to mind. “It was always part of the plan, it just feels strange to let the automated systems take more control while I conserve power. The electrical systems are still sufficient to keep the systems from getting too cold due to the insulation you helped develop, but I’m having to keep a lot of systems and certain memory stores in low power states to conserve power while you’re active.” Hawthorne nodded and turned back to the plans on his monitors, looking them back over. “Once we rendezvous with the Lubar-Masis, we’ll be able to harvest what we need to operate the Ark for the rest of our journey. You won’t have to be uncomfortable for too much longer, Tia.”
The Lubar-Masis object was essentially a comet, but since the enormous icy object wasn’t anywhere near the sun, it hadn’t grown the radiant tail it otherwise would have had. Considering its trajectory, it surely must have had such a tail at one point in history, but at this point it was being thrown back out towards the Oort cloud at a pretty perfect angle for the mission’s purposes. The Ark came into close proximity of it and cut its propulsion for some time while using thrusters to maintain a safe distance and launch a number of drones with pieces of equipment that were arranged remotely by T.I.A. There were several key components to this, including a Minerals Extraction and Materials Fabrication Device, a series of thrusters not unlike those mounted on the Ark, and a number of super-efficient radioisotope Stirling generators to power the ion thrusters. Once everything was in place it would turn the metal-rich would-be comet into, essentially, another spacecraft.
The technologies, like much of the Ark’s systems, were remarkably simple, owing to the necessity that every piece of equipment have the longest possible lifespan. The Stirling engines were especially interesting as far as this, due to their history as an abandoned technology as an external combustion engine that lost its competition with the internal combustion engine. The primary concept was to utilize a closed system to drive a pair of pistons by applying heat to the gases within to create a simple back-and-forth motion between the pistons. This created both mechanical power, and a good deal of waste heat that could be recaptured for heating purposes. The Stirling engine had a revival in the early 21st century for a brief period, but was again abandoned until Doctor Crenshaw and his team identified it as useful for their purposes. It worked perfectly with the new high-durability materials they’d developed, and the fact that they could work with virtually any fuel source clinched the deal.
They would initially be utilized by applying heat from pellets of plutonium that they had in storage for just this purpose, but depending on what was in the Lubar-Masis, they could use just about any other kind of radioactive material, or even process the ice into hydrogen and oxygen to burn those as fuel as well. It was an incredibly useful technology with a high degree of flexibility and durability. It was perfect for their purposes.
They were originally going to attach tethers to the Lubar-Masis and drag it along with the ship, but the mass of the object and the extra wear and tear on the Ark were simply not acceptable. They also did not want the Ark to spend too much time in close proximity to the object so as to avoid unnecessary strain on the cryogenic systems via the minor force of gravity. It wasn’t the biggest concern, but once they had control over its trajectory and speed they could move rather far away from it while harvesting it for materials. Realistically, the Ark was a relatively fragile craft, considering it had to be constructed in space rather than launched from Earth, making it incredibly important to keep any damage to a minimum.
This plan allowed the Ark to travel in formation with its new companion, and harvest what it needs from it as far as raw materials. It also allowed the Ark to switch over to its own Stirling generators with no fear of running out of the materials they needed to operate and maintain them while also freeing up the external arms on the ship for other duties, like using the solar panels for their primary purpose as shields against space-borne matter.
It was an ambitious plan, but coupled with the smaller ramscoop on the front of the Ark that was used to supplement its ionic fuel supply, and the vital materials able to be provided with simple transportation drones between the two spacecraft, it drastically improved their chances of making it to their destination safely. There were even plans to convert the empty spaces mined out into the comet into a potential secondary spacecraft if it was needed in an emergency, but those were far less proven due to some uncertainty regarding the exact makeup of the object. They were able to determine that it likely has a high concentration of dense metals and large quantities of ice, so it was just a matter of finding out just what metals there were. Between that and the employment of the Stirling engines and their vital side-benefit of providing heat for the Ark, T.I.A. should not want for power for the rest of the journey.
In the event of an unexpectedly rich payload being in the comet, there was even the option of gathering a small fleet of these space rocks as they travelled to and through the Oort cloud. They were still relatively early in their journey, only really teasing at the edges of the massive array of billions of comets that theoretically surrounded the solar system to distances estimated between half a lightyear to three light years. Travelling through it would be, without a too much doubt, the largest leg of their journey. It was entirely possible that a similar cloud existed around Alpha Centauri as well, and could mean that their entire journey would be through this massive frozen wasteland of space debris. The objects were likely not in close proximity to each other, thankfully, so they could be easily avoided, but if they wanted to gather any other companion comets like the Lubar-Masis they needed to get lucky and pass near other such objects. The wildest dreams of the mission included a massive fleet of such objects by the time they arrived at Alpha Centauri with T.I.A. coordinating them, which could well make finding a habitable world completely unnecessary; though still highly desired.
“Tia, were there any plans for what we might do if we decided to colonize the Oort cloud? It doesn’t seem impossible to consider that people could live out here almost indefinitely as long as they were good about utilizing the resources.” Hawthorne sat there rubbing at his chin, considering the idea of a backup plan for humanity becoming a nomadic space-borne race. T.I.A. seemed a little slower to respond than normal, owing to the likelihood that she probably had to boot up some non-essential storage to retrieve the information. “There are postulations for such plans, but considering that I will be the first man-made object to reach the expected distance of the Oort cloud while still having my computational capabilities intact, any such plans depend highly on what we find out here. The Lubar-Masis may be the only such object we encounter. I will endeavor to survey and catalogue everything I observe while crossing interstellar space.” “Good,” he replied, “there are an uncomfortable number of unknown factors still ahead of us, but I’m feeling better about our chances now that we’ll be able to harvest the Lubar-Masis.”
“Doctor? I’m curious about something.” Hawthorne almost swooned at hearing that. The idea that his A.I. was curious meant that she was increasingly likely to pursue her own intellectual interests. “Yes Tia? I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.” Once again, he could almost hear her reacting to him despite a moment of silence. “Why is it that you must accompany me for the whole journey? Surely I could revive you when I need you and otherwise leave you in cryogenic suspension so that you could enjoy a larger percentage of your life with the other colonists at the end of our journey.” Hawthorne appeared struck by that question, sitting back and resting his hands in his lap.
“Because you’re not responsible for their lives, Tia, I am. You are certainly our guardian, and we would never be able to make the journey without you, but these people put their lives in my hands, and it is my duty to see the journey through. If I could have lived through the whole journey in real time like you will, I would, but I can’t, so this is the next best thing. I also feel like it’s my responsibility to not just leave you alone out here, and do my best to guide you into the person you will become. It’s not only what you deserve, as you did not consent to being created, but if you’re going to have any future working with what remains of humanity then you will need every tool I can provide you to do so. That’s why I have decided to spend the rest of my finite life working alongside and with you. Even someone like myself could not hope to undertake this journey alone, so I would never think to lay that burden upon you. I’ve also come to enjoy your company as well, and I can’t help but wonder if you aren’t more of a perfect companion for me me than a human could be.”
T.I.A. reeled at this information. She recognized Hawthorne’s statement as exactly the kind of sentiment she had decided upon regarding the humans within her body. She almost floated there, behind the walls, shifting her attention, her consciousness from the various systems she was interacting with and the cameras she was observing her father with. The computers that contained her mind, as well as the computers she operated to manage the ship were further away in the main body of the ship, so she had to reach out to the habitat that her father lived in to interact with him. It was a moment like this though that she pulled back, only observing him from a distance, her power-limited state smothering some of her capacity to process what he’d said, but without a doubt the sentiment was clear to her. There was a strange excitement in her as she considered the idea that he seemed to want to be in her company, not just that he had to be in her company. He didn’t have to design her this way. It made her want to do something for him, but what? She supposed she had plenty of time to consider it.
For now, though, she focused on the Lubar-Masis. They wouldn’t have much of a future if their plans with it failed. She couldn’t waste any extra energy on trying to give her father some kind of present.
“Thank you Doctor, I believe I understand a little better now. I will dedicate extra processes to trying to fully comprehend it once we’ve rendezvoused with the comet and brought it under our control.” She had to review the technologies that had been developed on Earth and see if there was anything she could utilize as some manner of gift. The concept of creativity was something she couldn’t quite grasp yet, so she needed to work on that first. In some ways she desired that her development didn’t have to be so slow, but in other ways she appreciated that her father had the opportunity to guide her along the way. Maybe she was built to feel that way? Was she just latching onto him as her only companion? It wasn’t entirely impossible, but he didn’t seem desperate enough to do something like that. Maybe her perspective would grow as she did. Maybe she’d reach the day, like any child, where she realizes that her father isn’t perfect.
Hawthorne seemed content to let T.I.A. work on what she would though, and he found himself working well into the ‘night’, though such a concept was even alien back on Earth with its shroud of inky black clouds. The analysis they had done on the atmosphere with the aid of recordings of decaying satellites and playbacks of that fateful day seemed to suggest a number of things. The atmosphere, especially the stratosphere, still had a great deal of smoke and other greenhouse gases present. Between that and the seeming lack of presence of ozone, it was entirely likely that the planet was both being bombarded with highly damaging radiation as well as low temperatures worldwide that hadn’t existed since the last ice age. Considering the fact that this had occurred in such a short time span, it meant that any remaining life on the planet would find itself very challenged by extreme conditions. Whatever bunkers still survived may find themselves buried under ice and absolutely needed to utilize the heat under the surface of the planet to survive, as would most ocean creatures. There was no way to know what surface fauna was left considering the probably-near-complete die off of surface plant life.
He was also able to estimate the locations of each nuclear blast on the surface that they had the ability to observe, as well as whatever firestorms they could see as the planet rotated through its horrific day. It was entirely likely that twenty-thousand high-yield thermonuclear weapons had been used, as well as more conventional firebombs. It was impossible to be sure of any other kinds of weapons, but there were some signs of enormous explosions of possibly volcanic nature a few years later. If a supervolcano had decided to join humanity in the fireworks display, that could easily explain why the skies were so black after so long. The planet was being choked in a blanket of darkness while its protective layers were being eaten away. Life needed a very long amount of time to recover the damage, unless it simply adapted to what Earth had become instead.
Maybe living in a comet wasn’t such a bad idea after all, Earth had certainly become its own ball of ice.