Author: David Barber
Two hundred and eighty-five years earlier, the generation ship Pilgrim had set out for the worlds of Centauri, before such missions were abandoned by the nascent Steady-State. A century into the voyage, faint messages spoke of breakdowns and conflict. After that, only silence.
While the Consensus then had decided extra-solar colonies were precious resources wasted, the mission was not forgotten. Technical progress in the meantime made a second expedition more feasible.
So it was that the c-ship Unity arrived in Centauri space and began thawing the first of its sleepers.
The tank birthed him in a gush of fluid, slopping him naked and slippery onto the steel deck, while a recording repeated he was Jan Pavel, they had arrived safely and he had a duty to the Steady-State.
Eventually he rolled onto his knees and retched emptily. Later, he managed to stand.
As he sipped nutrient, the voice of Unity explained he must be ready to deal with emergencies.
To avoid overwhelming the Unity’s limited life support, only Pavel was thawed initially, and his solitary footsteps echoed in Unity’s cold metal spaces. He preferred being alone. It was the reason someone so tainted with individuality had been included in the mission.
His first glimpse of the beautiful green and blue planet made him impatient to take down a lander, but Unity refused. Landers came later in the decision tree formulated by the Steady-State, after remote sensing and mapping from orbit.
“I have decided otherwise,” declared Pavel, only to find Unity stubbornly clung to the judgement of the Consensus.
“Would half the sleepers form a Consensus?” Pavel argued.
Unity agreed, but reluctantly, as if it saw where this logic was heading.
“I am the only one awake, therefore I represent the Consensus.”
The vessel fell back on what it knew. “Jan Pavel will never be part of the Consensus.”
He stared at the display.
“There are instructions to that effect. According to the First Man Hypothesis, you assume command only in unforeseen circumstances,” Unity clarified. “This is your function on arrival.”
“Search for First Man Hypothesis.”
It was the Steady-State’s acknowledgement that its citizens fared badly when isolated. Pavel was the backup in case of events not anticipated by the Consensus.
He learned that while his faults made him uniquely suited to be woken first, he would be grit in the colony’s smooth working afterwards. If the Steady-State had not predicted his concerns, it was because it was losing its grip on what it was to be an individual.
A purely hypothetical question, inquired Pavel. Could the sleepers remain safely frozen for, say, another fifty years?
Unity confirmed it was so. Had this world proved uninhabitable, they would have voyaged onwards.
When Pavel finally took a lander down to the planet – a final test of its habitability before crew and colonists were woken to followed him – he radioed back a warning.
“There is an unforeseen threat,” he told Unity.
“No threat is detected.”
But Pavel had studied the First Man files. “Define an unforeseen threat.”
“It is one the Consensus has not planned for.”
“Exactly like a threat undetectable by your instruments.”
Unity was silent.
“Do not wake sleepers until it is safe.”
Jan Pavel made no speeches when he stepped from the lander. The colonists were welcome to this world one day and it would be theirs to name.
It was not grass beneath his feet, but it was wispy and green and the wind’s hand stroked it. The land rolled away to horizons that were distant and wonderfully empty
Excellent tale, liked it very much.
Excellent. Well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
A brilliant tale exquisitely told. Loved it. 🙂
I think this is my favourite story since starting to follow this blog.