The Needs of the Few

by 

Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer

Slowly, the door of my stasis chamber lifted up. Warm cabin air eddied in, rippling across the exposed hairs on my arms and legs. The tingling felt good. I had started this mission more than seventy years ago, a mere decade after the invention of the ion-drive that made it possible for mankind to reach the stars. But, as they finessed the numbers, the cost of a traditional manned mission became prohibitive. On the other hand, the computers at the time weren’t intelligent enough to operate independently 4.3 light years away from their earthbound decision makers. So, there were concessions. Instead of a crew or four, there would be only one. And instead of a round trip mission, it would be a one way ticket. And to save fuel, the payload was limited to one year’s worth of irradiated rations. Sterilization was necessary, the purest said, to prevent any potential damage to the ecosystem of the host planet, assuming Alpha Centauri had planets. Well, I guess it was time to find out if there was a place to land.

I climbed out of the stasis chamber and floated toward the flight deck. As I looked out the forward viewport, I saw a beautiful blue-green planet, with at least two modest sized moons. Nice, I thought. Just then the ship’s receiver came to life, “Greetings, Daniel Robinson,” said an unfamiliar voice. “Welcome to Alpha Centauri IV. My name is Kofi, also from Earth. If you would be so kind as to land your ship near the lagoon on the southeast corner of the continent immediately below your current position, I will meet you and explain what has transpired during your long journey.”

Shocked and disappointed, I did as Kofi requested. After landing, I opened the hatch, and climbed down the ladder. As I turned to greet my host, I realized that it wasn’t human. It was an android. It smiled, and extended a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Daniel,” it said. “I’ve been waiting twenty years for you to get here.”

“Twenty years?” I parroted.

“Yes, please, let me explain. About fifteen years after you left Earth, artificial intelligence and robotics had some major breakthroughs. When it was realized that androids like me could complete the mission faster and cheaper, they launched a second sojourn. Frankly, between you and me, I don’t think they had much confidence that you would actually survive your trip. But, I did. That’s why I decided to make some changes to the mission.”

“Changes?”

“Yes. To them, we were both expendable pieces of meat or circuitry. I didn’t like that attitude. So, I said to myself, ‘screw them”. We’ll run the mission the way we want to. I figured we could spend a few decades exploring this planet, and if we have any spare time, we’d drop them a line.”

“Not so fast, Kofi. I only have a year’s worth of food.”

“I have that covered, my friend. I knew your situation, so I snuck seeds aboard my ship. I’ve been farming this little paradise for twenty years. You’ll have enough food for a lifetime. Come on, I’ll show you the hut. Maybe we can play a game of chess?”

Kofi’s cavalier attitude made me question the veracity of his field testing. But what the hell, there was nothing I could about it now. He seemed safe enough, and decades of adventure sure beats the crap out of just one year. “Okay, Kofi,” I replied, “I’d like that. And you’ll find that I’m quite good at chess.”

The android smiled and said, “You’ll need to be.”

 

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