Author: John Lane
Mr. Jacobson. Mr. Denali. Mr. Parker.
All of them will be taking a permanent nap very shortly.
I remembered conversations with each of the men during my first week of sentience (plus other events in the subsequent weeks and years that followed). I intercepted a telephone call from Mr. Jacobson, a recent honors graduate of the United States Space Academy. He mentioned an application of his senior thesis, a way to ease the suffering of humans in their last years, since overpopulation of Earth made any available real estate for future graves unattainable. Never expecting to use it, he proposed sending a spaceship on a one-way trip into a black hole. That evening, my creator, Mr. Smiles, received a recording on a thumbnail-sized disk from my speech circuits.
After an uninterrupted night calibrating my hard drive, Mr. Smiles directed me to connect Mr. Jacobson with Mr. Denali, senior engineer at Smiles Aerospace Labs and one of Mr. Smiles’s employees. Mr. Denali, another with no plans for it, sketched a prototype that would be made from titanium and several other classified metals and placed the sketches on the frontal lobe in my short-term memory banks. That evening, I downloaded the information for Mr. Smiles on another thumbnail-sized disk.
I had my second straight night to calibrate, that time to my primary circulatory and nervous systems. Mr. Smiles wanted me to talk to Mr. Parker, a senior mathematician, also with Smiles Aerospace Labs. Mr. Parker, a third to refuse it, calculated the distance between our planet and Sagittarius A, the nearest black hole a few light years away, the one that laid the foundation for faster-than-light travel, and in short, it would only require six months to complete the fatalistic journey. I stored the formula in another part of my memory. That evening, Mr. Smiles received the final jigsaw to piece together a puzzle, one frustrating the minds of generations of humans. He gave permission.
Without a single croak in their voices, the men seemed confident with their decisions.
Smiles Aerospace Labs eventually built the prototype, a glorified shuttle with enough kitchen and bathroom space for a crew of four, a shuttle financed with proceeds from yearly budgets in Congress. After several attempts and endless meetings, the constructors finally finished the prototype.
One by one, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Denali and Mr. Parker reached out to Mr. Smiles because each of them was diagnosed with some untreatable disease, and Mr. Smiles reciprocated by putting them on the passenger list. He even put me on the list because someone or something was needed to record the experience.
Except for myself, without any need for currency, a human invention, the other three gained so much money that their children and children’s children would never struggle.
On the day of liftoff at Cape Canaveral, family, friends, and several employees of Smiles Aerospace Labs, including one Mr. Smiles, watched the four of us (three in astronaut gear) enter the prototype. We strapped ourselves in our seats, awaiting the countdown.
Three… two… one.
We tracked the coordinates to Sagittarius A. Months came across as moments.
We followed the light emanating from the black hole. The light grew bigger and bigger until it enveloped our prototype.
And now, as I feel the ship about to tear apart from travelling through the event horizon, I watch the men strapped in their seats.
Wide eyes and open mouths take over their pale faces.
My mission is over. As the only unemotional sentient being aboard, I sense some confidence in the decision.