Approaching the Lowell, Off Earth Manufacturing’s base of operations, was like flying into a puzzle. At the early stages of construction, trying to figure out where the station ended and the ship it was building began required careful inspection.
Maddison Holtz was still fascinated by how such a small thing could build the massive freighters and cruisers they had become known for. She knew that in a few months the ship they were building would dwarf the Lowell Station. Then the trick would be finding the station against the backdrop of a massive space fairing vessel.
Could this become her life? Off Earth Manufacturing was far more profitable than the Salvage operation she worked with now. Everything about the Lowell was nicer than living on the rock stationed at Lagrange-4. But there was something cold about the people and the environment.
Off Earth Salvage and the carved out asteroid they lived and worked in felt like home.
So why was she coming over here to interview for a job?
“Passengers are required to sit. Safety pods will be activated in fifteen seconds.” The artificial intelligence pilot announced over the speakers.
“Why are we activating safety pods?” Maddison asked while she sat.
The training was clear, if there is a need to activate safety pods, sit first and ask questions later. Safety pods were protected structures that sprouted out from the seats in the shuttle. Every ship had a different version but they all worked the same.
If there was a hull breach or any other environmental malfunction the safety pods would protect living cargo for anywhere from a few hours to three months. Technology would allow for humans to physically survive for longer than three months in a safety pod, but the mental effects were not desirable. It didn’t require reading more than one or two accounts of early safety pod survivors to understand the mental toll of being alone, drifting in the void of space.
“We detected an electro-magnetic pulse and models show that navigation will be impacted.” The A.I replied calmly.
“Why don’t you reverse course and avoid the EMP?” Maddison challenged.
She had no idea how old this pilot was or if it had encountered anything like this before. Having a data set of potential failures and evasive actions was great, but even computers needed experience to learn certain nuances.
Working with A.I. Instances every day, Maddison knew that some learned and reacted better than others. Some humans trusted the machines to be flawless, others understood that questioning any type of intelligence actually made it stronger. She had no problem questioning this instance.
“Evasive maneuvering offers less than a ten percent chance of efficacy.” The voice replied.
“What is the projected result of not taking evasive maneuvers?” She was getting a little upset with this one.
“Impact, in three minutes eight seconds.” It answered.
“And the projected result of impact?” Maddison cinched the belt on her seat tighter.
“Hull breach,” the worst case scenario was reported with no emotion.
This was not good. Hull breach was the A.I. equivalent of oh shit.
Working in salvage gave Maddison and all the other people stationed at Lagrange-4 an understanding of the reality of systems. They recovered enough transport ships and leisure cruisers with bodies tightly strapped into seats with safety pods activated.
For years the salvage bots reported bodies found back to the central systems. The central system did not maintain a field for the state of the body – living or dead. Safety pods were considered successful if they were located with a body inside.
A ripple effect from the data meant that testing parameters were skewed. New safety pods were constructed with the goal of keeping a body intact, not alive. Thousands were produced and placed into service.
It took a long time to teach the nuance between finding a body, living and finding a body, dead. Even longer was required to revamp the systems so that deployed safety pods were functioning to preserve life.
Most of that was before her time. But the impact of old ships not updated or updated with a new defect was seen all the time.
The shuttles were some of the oldest ships still operating.
“Hull breach is unacceptable. Take evasive action.” She commanded the machine.
Doing the math should have been easy. Why would the pilot instance not attempt a low likelihood evasive maneuver in favor of a high likelihood hull breach?
Because it wasn’t updated to preserve life.
Maddison had her own oh shit moment.
The safety pod built around her in a blur. A few inches in front of her face a monitor flickered and glowed. It was supposed to come on instantly with pressurization status and an exterior display.
“Computer, it is imperative that you preserve life. Protecting the body is insufficient!” Maddison screamed.
There was no response.
Could the ship even hear her through the protective cocoon?
The belts auto tightened and pulled her back into the seat. Her shoulder was slightly out of position and the alloy strap cut into her painfully. Drawing in a sharp breath to stifle a scream only served to increase her fear. It felt like there was not enough oxygen in the tiny chamber.
Releasing the fist that clenched in response to the pain, Maddison closed her eyes and slowly let the breath out through her nose. Her heart rate slowed and her nerves calmed.
Panic was her bitch and there was no way it would win now.
Nearly everything was out of her control, with the exception of how she responded. Screaming, crying, and flailing all felt like reasonable responses, though unproductive. She had to think of something positive.
“Computer, emergency restart, this safety pod only.” She spoke calmly and clearly.
Restarting the whole ship would cause the pilot to be offline for several minutes. If they were on a path to collide with the Lowell already, removing the pilot would not change that.
Several seconds passed by. Maddison focused on her breathing.
Next time a budget question comes up around safety pods it would not only get approved, but she would lobby to double it.
This was a rational thought but not productive right now. She acknowledged it and returned to focusing on her breath.
The screen lit up brightly and the glow shone through her closed eyes. Her safety pod was back on line. Things were looking up.
“What’s our impact status?” She commanded confidently.
“Impact likelihood greater than ninety percent.” The pilot responded.
“Take evasive maneuvers.” Maddison ordered.
“Evasive maneuvers would generate risk to occupants and have low probability of success.” The computer replied.
The pilot didn’t want her to pass out during a high G-force maneuver. Preferring death to discomfort was a logic flaw of epic proportions.
“Override comfort parameters and take evasive maneuvers.” She kept her voice steady.
Maybe the fact that her pod was back on line was a good sign. If this was her time to have a safety pod experience it was better to be near a major station than out in the debris field or off near an isolated asteroid.
What else could she do?
Collisions happened all the time in orbit. If they didn’t, the salvage company probably wouldn’t be profitable. Still, going from one site to another within the Off Earth Industries family of companies should be safe.
“Computer change destination to the moon.” She rushed her order.
If she could get the ship to try and take her someplace else maybe it would force an evasive maneuver.
“Navigation systems are not responding. Impact with the Lowell is imminent.” The voice replied no differently than it had when announcing take off and recommending that she sit back and enjoy the ride.
Her stomach rose quickly into her throat and the straps of her seat pressed against the top of her shoulders. Maddison braced for a forward push that as bound to accompany impact.
The ship continued to drop. Blood moved into her brain and her toes became cold. Her eyelids were heavy and even though the screen in front of her was glowing grey, darkness filled her vision.
Maddison woke to a wretched smell and a feeling of water in her lap. Blinking her eyes open she could see bits of her breakfast floating in the air. Her suit was stained and damp but her body was in one piece.
“Where are we?” She asked the computer.
“On a trajectory for Lagrange-4 approximately two thousand kilometers out.” The computer did not try and make up for it’s obstinance.
“Why are you going to Lagrange-4 I was trying to get to The Lowell.” She challenged the stupid machine.
“Hey Maddison, how are you feeling in there?” Tanner Nazca’s voice came over the speakers.
“Looks like I lost my breakfast, soiled myself and then rolled in mud. Oh and I have an incredible headache.” She answered bluntly.
“Yeah, sorry about that. The control room showed that you had a malfunction and were going to collide with the Lowell. I had to override control and force evasive maneuvers. You know how stubborn some pilots can be when it comes to passenger comfort.” He answered.
“Thanks for not making me roll the dice on this safety pod. Nothing appears to be working so I was not optimistic.” Maddison wondered how her boss, the CEO of Off Earth Salvage got involved in a routine shuttle transfer.
“Well I really didn’t want to have repairs to the Lowell put on my tab. You know my cousin, even if they caused the failure he’d try and take me to tribunal over who has to pay.” Tanner answered.
Of course it was about the money, not her. Maddison flushed at what she had been thinking.
“Plus, I can’t have my Operations Director interviewing for jobs without even getting a chance to keep her.” He added.
How did he know she was going there for an interview? How could she tell him why she wanted to leave, or why she wanted to stay?
“I guess I owe you at least a conversation.” She conceded.
“How about after getting back, you clean up and come to my quarters. We can talk over dinner. Looking at these vital signs I’m guessing you’re going to be hungry.” Tanner suggested.
If he was watching the vital signs she would need to keep things under control and not let her heart rate or body temperature increase. Think business.
“Very well. I’ll have the shuttle alert you when I land.” She needed to keep it simple.
“See you later,” Tanner was ready to sign off. “Oh and Maddison, I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Thank you.” She answered sincerely.
It was hard to think that she ever considered leaving Lagrange-4. The cold hard rock suspended in space was her home. Starting with their boss and leader the people made it warmer than even the sun cruisers.