Argo Naught

They agreed to join together to confront the challenges of space travel and the colonization of distant worlds. Hurtling through space, light years from earth, they discovered just how binding that agreement would be.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Several particularly brutal tyrannies, and the conflicts they inspired, dominated life on Earth through the middle of the 21st century. The casual observer might have expected an end to mankind’s fascination with easy answers clothed in the promises of great men. While this was not the case for the majority, many emerged from the rubble of that century eager to escape the next big experiment in centralized power. As a result, the late 21st century witnessed the infancy of private human space exploration.

One such band of travelers headed toward Teegarden’s star, roughly 12 light years from earth. With the discovery of several satellites in the habitable zone of this red dwarf, they hoped to find a few planets to explore and colonize. They might have left sooner had more promising efforts at light speed travel panned out. As it was, charter members of this particular band of explorers waited nearly a decade after committing to the task, anticipating a breakthrough in travel speed at any point.

The organizers of the group were a pair of astrophysicists, Oliver and Laura Wolcott, who raised their three children with the exciting goal of space exploration. Because of the delay, their eldest were nearing adulthood when the departure date finally approached. Despite the risk, all five members of the family remained committed to the journey, knowing full well that a return to their life on Earth would likely never occur.

For those who could afford an escape, there were several different space faring alternatives to consider. The Wolcotts settled on the Orion Series 13, built by Tycho Industries. The Series 13 fit their needs for three distinct reasons: it was designed for high speed, long distance travel, it provided both transportation and habitation options, and its main operating system could be programmed to fit their specific needs. This last point was unique to the Orion Series 13, making it one of the more popular models of the time.

Oliver Wolcott described their planned trip as a voyage quite deliberately. While he and his wife were accomplished theoreticians in astrophysics, they thought of themselves and their family more as adventurers. Neither saw this as a mission, with specific goals and limiting parameters. Being fiercely independent, they insisted on autonomy for themselves and their family. As a result, they sought like-minded adventurers to accompany them.

“However, it is critical for the mission that we retain all members of the team for the duration,” the voice of the ship’s artificial intelligence sounded.

“LINC, I’ve asked you repeatedly to not refer to it as a mission. You are well aware that the compact signed by all 37 passengers stipulated an open ended agreement,” replied Oliver.

“Doctor Wolcott, surely semantics are trivial relative to the success of the mission,” replied the AI.

L’homme Integrated Navigational Computer, or LINC, represented a significant breakthrough in artificial intelligence around the middle of the 21st century. The name was an homage to Julien Offray de La Mettrie, a French philosopher of the 18th century best know for his book L’homme Machine (“The Man Machine“). The capabilities and flexibility of this AI made it an ideal system to pilot long range exploration, virtually eliminating the need for a crew.

The forward deck of the Series 13 was occupied largely by LINC. Forward navigation by humans was possible though unnecessary in light of the AI’s capabilities. As a result, and due to technical limitations of the time, this section of the ship lacked artificial gravity.

The long body of the ship, however, was designed to generate artificial gravity through centrifugal force. By spinning at roughly two revolutions per minute, the outer sections of the ship could simulate a force near Earth’s gravity. The section of the body immediately behind the forward deck was referred to as the commons, providing accommodations for all passengers. This section wrapped completely around the center of the ship and included recreation, entertainment, and scientific facilities. During waking transit, this was the most used portion of the ship.

Flanking the commons were as many as twelve pods evenly distributed in groups of three along the remainder of the ship’s body. Each of these was equipped with hibernation quarters for extended travel as well as food preparation and hygiene facilities. Being detachable, the pods would serve as living quarters for colonization. Each pod could accommodate six people comfortably.

The central portion of the body was nearly ten meters in diameter. The slower speed of rotation in this section of the ship resulted in lower simulated gravity. Ladders stretched the length of “the tube” to assist in human transit to and from pods.

The rear of the ship contained the propulsion system. The Series 13 utilized a Tycho Progressive Accelerator, technology designed to gradually increase velocity through short bursts of energy which increased in intensity to spur additional speed without impacting ship integrity. This section, similar to the forward deck, lacked artificial gravity.

To anticipate more cargo transport, the rear of the ship included additional ports for colonization or supply pods. Since these lacked artificial gravity, they were not intended for habitation in transit. A fully loaded Series 13 could transport as many as sixteen pods. In the case of the Wolcott’s journey, where the twelve attached to the ship’s body were not all utilized, these rear ports were left unused.

“We agreed to accompany you, but only as far as WE wanted to go,” stressed John Morton, one of the latest to sign on with the Wolcott’s plans.

“John, I’m as confused as you,” replied Oliver, “LINC seems to have come to this conclusion on his own.”

“I get that, but some of us would like to settle Tee Two,” continued Morton.

“I’m sure we can go back to Tee Two if we have to,” Oliver responded.

“Doctor Wolcott, there is no contingency in the mission for turning back,” stated LINC.

When the Wolcotts first discussed their plans, they had identified as many as eleven other groups interested in joining them, leaving the ship filled to capacity. Several of these groups were families while others were a variety of adventurers or scientists joining together to share costs and improve the odds of surviving distant travel. Over the years of planning, some of the original groups dropped from the program. The number of private excursions leaving earth at the time made this a fairly common occurrence. When the departure date finally approached for the expedition, only nine pods were fully occupied. As a result, the remaining pods would be used for storage and expansion when suitable sites were identified.

An added benefit of purchasing an Orion vessel was speed. Since no ship had yet broken the light speed barrier, travelers were limited to ships that could travel close to that speed. The Series 13 was known colloquially as a 90 per for its ability to approach 929 gigameters per solar hour, nearly 90 percent of light speed. Even at this speed, the journey would take about 14 years to complete.

The designation of the Series 13 purchased by the Wolcott’s consortium was RGO-1352. The travelers aboard the RGO-1352 fondly referred to the ship as The Argo. Few could recall the story of The Argo until Emily Wolcott, the youngest of all the travelers, reminded them of the search for the golden fleece.

The Argo finally left dock in August of 2098. Weeks of steady acceleration later, The Argo achieved maximum speed and its passengers entered the deep sleep of hibernation. None but LINC witnessed the passing of the outer planets. None but LINC experienced the desolation of space in the years of travel between solar systems.

“That’s why we picked this model. We set the rules, didn’t we? We programmed the computer the way we wanted it,” said Thomas Lynch, a designated leader from one of the pods.

“Thomas, you know that we, Laura and I, made a point of that very thing,” Oliver plead.

“But now you’re telling us something else,” snapped Thomas.

“I am only telling you what LINC is telling me,” Oliver responded.

“We didn’t sign on for that,” Morton chimed in.

“Neither did we,” replied Oliver.

Thomas Lynch had gathered three other scientists eager to be among the first to walk on, and study, a distant world. These included Bill Hooper and Anne Clark, both planetary geologists, and Tom Nelson, a cosmologist. Lynch, the only non-scientist of the group, brought a background in mechanical as well as electrical engineering.

John Morton was a self-made, billionaire businessman who saw space travel as a way to leave his genetic imprint on the universe. His was a unique group in that he recruited three women and another man to participate in what he jokingly called astro-pollination. While all volunteers, each member of his group was selected for superior intellect, a background in either genetic engineering or synthetic biology, and genetically superior breeding capabilities. To further ensure that sufficient genetic variety was available, Morton secured a bank of human eggs and sperm for the journey. “In a way, I’d like to be the father of the universe,” he was fond of saying.

In addition to the Wolcott family, Floyd and Hannah Williams convinced their three grown children to make the trip as well. Floyd and Hannah would share their pod with their two daughters, Mary and Catherine, and their husbands, each of which enthusiastically joined the trip. As a result, the Williams’s pod included backgrounds in biology, botany, architectural engineering, and system design.

Nicolas Williams, Floyd and Hanna’s son, brought along his wife and two teenage children in another pod. Similar to Morton, Nicolas had been a very successful entrepreneur on earth. Having amassed a small fortune, he and his family had the means to support the Williams family adventure.

Dorothy Camber headed up one of the other pods. Affectionately referred to as “Dot’s Lot”, this pod included two medical doctors, George Walton and Rich “Lightfoot” Lee, as well as an epidemiologist, Liz Corbin. Dorothy, an accomplished hematologist, frequently referred to herself as the “life blood of the party,” for which she eagerly received a great deal of ribbing.

Bob and Sally Paine, the smallest contingent on the journey, were also admittedly the least prepared for the unknown challenges that lay before them. Sally’s family left her with a considerable endowment shortly before Bob was diagnosed with cancer. After several years of treatment, Bob was finally declared cancer free. However, the experience caused the couple to reevaluate their priorities. It was then they decided to invest what they had in space travel. A late addition to the voyage, Bob and Sally looked to the trip as a new beginning.

“So we know it can be programmed. Can’t we just fix it,” asked Dot.

“If the experts couldn’t program it, how would we do any better?” responded Morton.

The two remaining pods were populated by people originally joined together from a scrubbed voyage. With some history together, they elected to unite under one leader: George Gertrude Read. George, a thrice divorced woman in her early forties with a doctorate in molecular biology, had the unfortunate distinction of being named after the novelist George Sand. While her mother loved the writing of Sand, she failed to grasp the concept of pseudonyms. To avoid confusion, George usually referred to herself as Gerty. A natural leader and acerbic commentator on the human condition, Gerty tended to elicit either admiration or disdain from those she met. In this case, her leadership abilities ensured the cohesiveness of the six signed on with her.

In Gerty’s pod were Stephen and Sarah Hopkins, a young couple that met during their doctoral studies in microbiology. The pair met Gerty separately at the university and often credited her with bringing them together.

The ninth pod housed Lewis and Beth Francis and their friends Matt Thornton, Bill Ellery. Lewis and Beth were maternal twins looking to chronicle space travel. Lewis had once entertained a career in medicine, which led him into Gerty’s sphere, but returned to his love of writing when he discovered the effort required to memorize the bones of the human body. His sister, an accomplished ghost writer and essayist, welcomed him back as collaborator.

“Neither of the Francis twins is equipped for survival in space,” LINC had been heard to say.

The trouble started as The Argo approached Teegarden’s Star. At a distance of about 16 weeks, LINC activated navigational engines to reverse the orientation of the ship and slow its pace. Within a few minutes, the ship was hurtling backwards at nearly 929 gigameters per solar hour. With the exception of LINC, no one was aware of this fact. Even awake, there would be little physical recognition of the ship’s orientation by any of the passengers absent some view of the slowly approaching star.

Once locked into the appropriate position, LINC initiated a gradual decrease of speed. After about two weeks of slowing, the AI triggered the centrifugal rotation of The Argo’s body and started the process of terminating hibernation. Within each pod, a single passenger gradually awoke. As internal lights ignited and life began to stir within the body of the ship, information regarding the approaching solar system was being gathered and presented on all available monitors. The ship would continue to decelerate with short bursts of energy for the next three and a half months.

“Doctor Wolcott, I don’t think it’s fair to assert that the trouble started when I initiated our deceleration,” said LINC.

“LINC, I realize you are always listening, but I am recording my personal log,” snapped Oliver.

“Yes, Doctor, but I assumed you would prefer accuracy in your report,” responded the AI, dispassionately.

“I will report things as I remember them,” Oliver said, glaring upward.

There is a short period of time when humans emerging from extended hibernation are disoriented. The period varies from person to person and roughly correlates with the length of sleep endured. For some, this disorientation can be several hours. For others, as many as ten days of discomfort and confusion can ensue. Oliver Wolcott endured a daze accompanied by nausea for nearly a week following his awakening.

“Perhaps that’s why your memory lacks clarity,” stated LINC, “Surely the trouble started when Misters Morton and Lynch suggested the second planet as a preferred destination.”

The first person to recover from the disorientation of awakening was Gerty. She attributed her quick rally to her extensive marital experience, though no others would accept that rationale. Regardless, she was the first to make the rounds, helping the less fortunate to the commons. She then began a survey of the data being gathered by LINC.

When it was clear they were approaching Teegarden’s Star and the ship was performing as expected, the nine leads agreed to begin waking the remaining passengers. To ensure they could adequately care for anyone suffering ill affects, they would wake the pods one by one, stopping periodically to allow time for the newly awoken to recover. By the time everyone had fully revived, The Argo was eight weeks from Teegarden’s Star, still traveling at nearly 550 gigameters per solar hour.

In the years 2031 to 2034, probes were sent from earth toward the twenty closest stars in the stellar neighborhood. Lacking sufficient speed, nearly all of the probes took decades of travel before they could provide meaningful data about their destination. One of these, WBTS1861, approached Teegarden’s Star around 2079, offering the first concrete evidence of inhabitable satellites. There were, according to the probe, three planets within the habitable zone of the star.

One of the satellites was found to be tidally locked; much like earth’s moon, the planet revolved around the star at the same speed as it rotated. This left one side of the planet perpetually facing the star while the other side faced away, a condition making the potential for colonization very low. Some postulated that the region straddling dark and light might still support life, but the prospect of this was very slim.

The two other planets in Teegarden’s habitable zone were in co-elliptic orbit. Neither of these satellites was tidally locked and the probe found evidence of water on each, improving the odds of successful colonization. These planets, perpetually within visible range of each other, were initially labeled Tee One and Tee Two relative to their order of orbit.

“Probe telemetry indicated that Tee One was the more promising option,” stated LINC.

“I don’t understand why we can’t orbit Tee Two, if only to study it further,” replied Oliver.

“The RGO-1352 is clearly capable of orbiting either planet, Dr. Wolcott. However, none of the data acquired during our approach has altered the assessment regarding the two planets,” responded LINC.

“LINC, I am appreciative of your ability to analyze options,” Oliver said, his patience waning, “But you are not in charge of this excursion. The people on this journey, the ones who programmed you, are the ones who will be making decisions on where we stop and where we colonize.”

“Dr. Wolcott, I am fully conscious of the relationship between myself and the participants in this mission.”

“It is not a mission,” interrupted Oliver.

“And I recognize the authority of the leaders of each pod to make determinations regarding their ultimate destination,” LINC continued, “But I also know that the success of the mission is contingent on all the members working together. Absent this, the team will be missing key expertise and will be vulnerable to adverse conditions or aggressive actions from outside forces.”

“Outside forces,” Oliver yelled, “What evidence do you have of outside forces?”

“History reflects many instances of adverse conditions or strong forces overwhelming exploratory missions such as this,” was LINC’s response.

“Not a mission,” repeated Oliver.

“Dr. Wolcott, your reluctance to accept the nature of this mission is not likely to inspire confidence in others,” LINC continued, “And since it is my goal for this team to succeed, I see no choice but to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the integrity of this unit.”

In the second decade of the 21st Century there emerged speculation regarding crystals that might have extra-temporal properties. The most promising proposals in this regard resulted in what were termed “four-dimensional” or “time” crystals. By the middle of that decade, scientists had succeeded in artificially generating such crystals. As innovative methods and outcomes developed, there remained the question of origination: was it possible that such crystals could occur naturally in the universe?

Although research in time crystals was groundbreaking, practical application of these advances remained elusive until nearly 2030 when a previously overlooked theory of quantum mechanics resurfaced. The author of the theory, known only by the pseudonym McAfee, postulated a theory which revolutionized quantum mechanics. McAfee theorized that all of existence was moving away from The Big Bang in the direction of time at the speed of light. This simple understanding of space and time represented a paradigm shift from the complex string theories dominant during the earliest part of the century.

As McAfee’s theory stated, objects approaching the speed of light represented movement perpendicular to the direction of time. As a result, being able to bend time would enable such speeds to be achieved with far less energy and, theoretically, allow man to achieve light speed travel. If time could be bent, space travel to distant star systems could be possible within a human time scale. This reinvigorated interest in time crystals.

Despite success in generating artificial time crystals, no progress was made in bending time. Some theorized that the obstacle was purity, leading again to the question of naturally occurring time crystals. As a result, any time bending crystalline material was eagerly sought by astrophysicists and planetary geologists alike. That such material might be found on distant planets filled many a speculative discussion in the laboratories and halls of academia.

McAfee’s quantum theory was originally directed toward traveling at or beyond the speed of light. However, experimentation with artificially generated time crystals yielded an unexpected application around the middle of the century: weaponry. Time crystals proved useful in focusing massive amounts of energy into concentrated beams. Referred to generally by the trade name Wektu, these temporal weapons quickly grew in both effectiveness and popularity. It was this development which fueled much of the political unrest of the period, catapulting some of history’s most notorious tyrants to positions of power.

The Wektu device was very destructive, leaving little of its target intact. As a result, many space vessels like The Argo were equipped with such weapons to be used solely for defense. The ship included one mounted Wektu device to destroy space debris that might threaten damage. For survival in unknown environments, a few hand-held Wektu devices were included in the ship’s arsenal. However, because the Wektu left little of its target, hunting weapons utilizing traditional projectile technology were also included on most vessels. This accounted for the extent of nearly all space borne arsenals.

When the first probes explored the stellar neighborhood, the scientific community had yet to isolate a time crystal signature. As a result, no advance warning of this potential on Tee Two was available. However, when The Argo was about six weeks distance from the approaching star, traveling around 324 gigameters per solar hour, some evidence of significant crystalline deposits on or near the surface of the smaller planet emerged. For this reason, the second planet in co-elliptic orbit around Teegarden’s Star became increasingly appealing to both Morton, the entrepreneur, and Thomas Lynch’s scientific group.

“There’s no doubt about the readings,” Hooper began, displaying large sets of data across the viewing screen, “The closer we get, the more evidence we find.”

“And we’re sure it’s not a problem with the sensors,” asked Tom Nelson.

This discussion went on for over an hour. Before long, everyone on the ship was reviewing some data or charts related to the discovery. With recognized four-dimension crystalline signatures, it was becoming clear that Tee Two might prove critical in the discovery of naturally occurring time crystals and the further development of space travel.

“This is indeed a promising discovery,” said LINC when finally asked about it.

“Damn right it is,” responded Morton, “That’s why we’re landing on Tee Two.”

“Mr. Morton, while this discovery makes the second planet an appealing destination, the likelihood of mission success remains with a landing on the first planet,” replied LINC.

“That may be,” snapped Morton, “But we are landing on the second planet.”

“I’m afraid that is impossible, Mr. Morton,” answered LINC, “With the likelihood of sufficient animal life on the second planet being in question, the optimal destination for the mission is still the first planet.”

“LINC, we’ve discussed many times that the passengers are free to choose their destination. That was the purpose of selecting this ship and was explicitly detailed in your programming. Must I quote the compact to you again?” added Oliver.

“Dr. Wolcott, the success of this mission supersedes any preference of destination,” responded LINC dispassionately.

“Despite what you may believe or prefer, that was not the the agreement of those who signed on,” Oliver Wolcott said.

“Dr. Wolcott, I prefer nothing but the success of the mission,” LINC answered.

“LINC, you may prefer success, but there is still no mission,” Oliver said, “Success is something to be determined, and measured, by those of us on this voyage. You do not have a say in where any of the pods are sent.”

“Dr. Wolcott, you may disagree with the parameters of the mission but there can be no question regarding the optimal distribution of mission resources,” LINC responded, dispassionately.

“Would someone shut that damn thing off,” blurted Beth Francis. While she and her brother were less interested in the potential scientific and financial lure of a planet abundant in time crystals, they had hitched their wagon to John Morton and intended to accompany pods two and three to the surface of the second planet.

“Miss Francis,” responded LINC, “You are aware that, in the unlikely event you were successful, turning off the ship’s artificial intelligence would leave the mission without any piloting expertise.”

“LINC, we are going to have a conversation that will not include you,” interrupted Oliver, “Please refrain from speaking for the next few minutes unless you are explicitly spoken to.”

Morton searched through the several data sheets and maps displayed on the table. When he found the one he needed, he spread it across the available space before him. “We think the northern hemisphere is most likely to sustain plant life but the southern hemisphere gives the best promise of crystal formations,” he said, pointing to a wide stretch of land rendered from long range scans, “So we thought of landing two of the pods in the north and two in the south.”

“Four pods?” asked Oliver.

“With three of the nine groups committed, we thought we’d take one third of the pods,” Hooper answered.

“But won’t that cause an imbalance?” asked Oliver, “Artificial gravity requires a balanced weight distribution, doesn’t it?”

“True,” replied Matt Thornton, “But we could pull six pods off and hook two of them on the rear ports. We wouldn’t be able to use them between Tee Two and Tee One but Morton could get his four that way and we could still use the remaining eight to colonize.”

“That makes sense,” responded Oliver, turning to Morton, “And all of your folks are sticking with you?”

“Tom isn’t yet sold on the idea,” Morton replied, “And Bill Ellery may move over to Gerty’s pod to stay with Liz.”

“Still, it would make sense to evenly distribute the pods since you only get one shot at that,” Oliver said, “LINC, how long will the ship’s gravity need to be off to allow six pods to release? Presumably we’ll need to leave the remaining pods evenly distributed to allow rotation to begin again.”

“Dr. Wolcott, the gravity will not need to be turned off until we arrive at the first planet,” replied LINC.

“LINC, if I have to turn off the rotation myself,” barked Morton.

“I can assure you, Mr. Morton, I am fully capable of protecting against tampering with the artificial gravity,” was LINC’s reply.

The Morton Confederacy, as LINC came to call it, began planning their departure for Tee Two. After about two weeks, all members of the three pods had agreed to the plan with the exception of Bill Ellery; he chose to join Dot’s company heading to Tee One.

Matt Thornton proposed an elaborate code system to keep LINC from tracking their plans but the AI’s unlimited time and capacity to learn made all such attempts futile. There were few places on the ship hidden from LINC and audible communication was perpetually observed. After a few days, the twelve members of Morton’s group began openly discussing their plans.

While it was their intention to utilize four of the twelve pods, contingency plans had to be made in the event LINC’s cooperation could not be won. Protocol required the revolving center to be still during pod departure, temporarily removing artificial gravity. A single pod being released while the body was still revolving would be struck by a neighboring pod that was still attached. Morton suggested that, absent LINC’s cooperation, it might be possible to jettison pods in groups of three provided they were properly choreographed; if all three in a given row were ejected at the same time, they could fly free from one another without making contact.

“Dr. Oliver, since you are the primary on this mission, I find it necessary to remind you how reckless and dangerous it would be to attempt to jettison pods while artificial gravity is engaged,” warned LINC more than once.

While pods in sets of three might conceivably survive detachment during rotation, this did not allow for a fourth pod to accompany the Morton contingent. Even if a second set of pods could be successfully jettisoned, it was unlikely that the two spare pods could be attached to the rear section while the ship remained in motion. As a result, the Tee Two plan could only include four pods if LINC cooperated.

“It’s hardly ideal,” said Morton, “But it also doesn’t make sense for us to take half the pods.”

“Perhaps not,” responded Oliver, “Twenty-five could fit in six pods but it would really limit growth.”

“I’m not suggesting it,” Morton replied.

“But I would suggest it if we knew more about life on Tee One,” said Oliver.

Morton’s contingent continued to plan for emergency ejection of pods while Oliver and Laura Wolcott remained on the task of correcting LINC’s programming. The Wolcotts solicited the aid of Stephen Elliot and Bob Paine, though the complexity of LINC’s systems presented an almost insurmountable challenge for any but the most advanced systems engineer. Tycho Industries was so confident in their design that system documentation did not account for the AI assuming authorities not explicitly granted. This may have slowed reprogramming of LINC but it did not stop the effort.

The relatively close proximity of Tee One to Tee Two meant that plans for landing on the first planet needed to proceed as well. This task fell to Dot and Gerty. Their analysis of the geographic options was greatly enhanced by LINC’s seemingly enthusiastic input. Determined to keep the whole group together, the AI sought any opportunity to advance the positive attributes of the planet it deemed more likely for successful colonization.

“Considering that humans discovered logic,” LINC said on occasion, “It would seem sufficient to present the undeniable advantages of one destination over another.”

“You know that some of us agree with you,” once replied Gerty, growing tired of the argument, “But people are free to decide for themselves. Humans are not required to behave logically.”

There were human insights that often escaped the AI, though LINC preferred to think of them as a lack of insight. “One wonders then how humans survived long enough to develop a purely logical entity as myself,” was LINC’s reply.

The speed of The Argo had diminished considerably, though it still exceeded 100 gigameters per solar hour. Even at this speed, large celestial bodies like Teegarden’s Star still appeared to approach very slowly to the unaided human eye.

The Morton contingency packed the three pods they knew would be theirs and staged supplies for the fourth pod they hoped would be available. The technical tandem of Bob Paine and Stephen Elliot continued to research reprogramming LINC, with little success. Even the prospect of deactivation remained remote. As a result, the Wolcotts calculated separate landing approaches for Tee Two in the likely event LINC remained uncooperative.

Some lead time ahead of Tee Two would be needed if the Morton plan was to work. Even if simultaneous ejection of three pods was possible, the ability of pods to maneuver was limited and required some proximity to the target. Absent LINC, the pilots of the Tee Two pods would need to compensate for momentum of The Argo as well as the rotation of the ship’s body. Round after round of calculation was made as every potential was considered. While this left little time to prepare for the Tee One landing, Oliver counted on LINC to fill that gap.

“I have a concern about that,” said LINC.

“You’ve been saying all along we should land on Tee One,” said Oliver.

“The first planet presents the greatest likelihood of success for the mission,” repeated LINC.

“So why would you have a problem piloting the ship to Tee One?”

“I am limited in my abilities to curtail the plans of the Morton Confederacy. As a result, I must consider their actions a threat to the mission,” replied LINC, “Since the mission is of utmost importance, I require your assistance in stopping John Morton and his followers. I have expressed this repeatedly without any agreement by you or the other mission members.”

“Perhaps that’s because you keep referring to us as mission members,” snapped Oliver.

“Without your cooperation, I cannot keep the Morton plot from being attempted. Therefore, without your assistance, I cannot ensure the greatest likelihood of mission success,” continued LINC, “So I am forced to consider incentives to gain your cooperation.”

“Such as?”

LINC remained silent for several moments. Oliver stared upward, as he usually did when he was frustrated with the AI. He held his stare, growing increasingly angry while he waited.

“I remain in complete control of a number of ship functions essential to human survival on this vessel,” LINC began, “and have come to the conclusion that the removal of some or all of these functions may be necessary to persuade you to assist in putting down John Morton’s insurrection.”

Before Oliver Wolcott could respond, he noticed a subtle change in the ship’s gravity: he was getting heavier.

There had never been any argument with LINC’s logic. Even Morton agreed that staying together increased the odds for the entire party. Regardless, none of the passengers had signed on to be bullied into remaining together. That being said, gravity as a weapon was not to be ignored.

Weeks of research and experimentation had gotten them no closer to altering the AI’s programming or shutting it down. Now that the die had been cast, LINC limited further access to the forward deck. Passengers could continue their preparations, but only under the lengthening shadow of the AI. No one knew, or cared to discover, what would precipitate an escalation of hostilities.

“John,” Oliver started, directing his gaze to Morton, the face of the resistance, “I think we need to consider scrapping Tee Two. We can’t pilot this ship without LINC and it isn’t going to let us split up.”

“We can’t let it decide…” Morton blurted.

“Do we have much choice?” countered Oliver.

“What does it want from us?” asked Dot.

“By now we all know the answer to that. It wants us to stick together,” responded Oliver, “It knows that its ability to stop preparations or even departure is limited so it wants us, the ones going to Tee One, to stop John’s plans.”

“They aren’t just John’s plans,” Matt Thornton chimed in.

“That doesn’t change LINC’s demand,” Oliver said, measuring his words, “It insists we stop you, by force if necessary.”

“Or what,” Morton snapped, “He’ll kill us all?”

“I don’t know if we can exclude that possibility,” was all Oliver could muster.

By this point, they had entered Teegarden’s system. Several small planets clung to the furthest reaches of the small star’s meager gravity. The ship would continue to slow for the next few weeks before they made their approach to LINC’s destination.

“Could we travel from Tee One, maybe using The Argo as a booster?” asked Lewis Francis out of the blue.

“I don’t see why LINC would cooperate with that,” said Gerty.

“And we couldn’t do it without that boost,” added Thomas.

Lewis wasn’t giving up. “If we stay behind. We go to Tee One. Oliver and the rest go down but we stay behind. I mean, what does LINC plan to do after his mission is over?”

“I wish I could say that would work,” responded Oliver, “LINC plans on ejecting all the pods at Tee One whether you’re in them or not. It then intends to enter a geosynchronous orbit above our landing site to provide communications and protection.”

“Protection? More like control,” Morton snapped.

“Perhaps,” answered Oliver.

Morton selected one of the large spreadsheets of data on which hours of calculations had been made. He spread the data across the table monitor, “I’ve been thinking about it. We can still use the current trajectory of The Argo. If we eject our pods earlier than planned, it will give us more room to maneuver toward Tee Two. Laura helped me with some of the calculations.”

Oliver glanced at it, already familiar with the theory. “Yes, John, it’s still theoretically possible to land relatively safely on Tee Two. However, you have to understand that LINC anticipates this.”

“And what can LINC do about it?” asked Morton.

“It suggested we take up arms against you, if necessary,” Oliver said, the gravity of his words reflected in his eyes.

“Suggested or ordered?” asked Morton.

“At this point, does that really matter?” replied Oliver.

“But not the Wektu device?” asked Thomas.

“LINC knows the destructiveness of that weapon. I doubt it would risk using something so powerful, at least not on board the ship,” answered Morton.

“Yes, it does know the destructiveness and no, it hasn’t mentioned the Wektu,” responded Oliver, “But I wouldn’t bet on how far it will go. That’s why we need to reconsider.”

“Oliver, I can appreciate your position, but we are landing on Tee Two,” replied Morton.

Before anyone could react to this proclamation, the ship’s gravity again increased.

After a moment of hesitation, Oliver made his way toward the arms locker. He quickly typed in the access code, straining slightly against the increased gravity on his arm. Panic had spread across the faces of everyone in the room. As Oliver retrieved a rifle from the cabinet, Morton and Tom Nelson broke toward him, their bodies bending under increased weight. Oliver leaned back against the cabinet, focusing his energy in his heavy arms. Tom and Morton stumbled forward one more step, then crumbled to the floor. Everyone else sought support from the nearest table or counter with several succumbing to the pressure and collapsing.

As Oliver leveled the rifle, he could feel the pressure diminishing: LINC got what it wanted.

“I didn’t want it to come to this,” said Oliver as Laura and Dot retrieved rifles behind him.

“You promised us autonomy,” snapped Morton.

“I signed on for that, too. Do you really think I want to be holding you at gunpoint right now?” Oliver pleaded.

“That’s a choice you made,” said Morton, defiantly.

“It’s a choice made for me by that damn machine running this ship. I have a family to protect, a family I won’t sacrifice for your freedom,” Oliver shot back.

“If we all stood up to it,” said Morton, searching the faces around him.

“What? If we all stood up to it, we’d be dead,” Oliver’s voice cracked.

“How would that make the mission succeed? LINC isn’t going to kill us. That would defeat its purpose,” Morton reasoned.

“I am not taking that chance,” Oliver responded.

An uneasy quiet fell over the room. Morton and his followers slowly backed away. Laura pressed herself under Oliver’s arm. Emily ran to bury her head between her parents. Not a word was spoken aloud until Dot put her hand on Oliver’s shoulder.

“You did what you had to do,” she said.

“I did what I was forced to do,” Oliver said, gravely.

“In this situation, that’s what you had to do,” Dot responded.

Oliver armed all of the leaders and willing participants of the six pods committed to Tee One. With each weapon dispensed, he thanked the recipient for their assistance and stressed the need for restraint; while conscripted, he saw no reason to instigate further hostilities with their shipmates.

The day ended with both sides being armed. Morton’s contingent fashioned defensive weapons to protect themselves from any attack but no attack was to come. Those in Oliver’s camp avoided any contact and LINC remained silent. For the first time since being awoken, all parties receded into their pods.

The Argo hurtled backward toward its destination. The passengers within, now wary of even discussing Tee Two, occupied themselves with preparations for the landing. An uneasiness settled between those who intended to follow LINC’s plan and those who didn’t. Oliver and Morton made overtures toward reconciliation, but these had little more than a superficial impact; while Oliver’s team remained armed, everyone understood who was running the show.

Because LINC believed logic would ultimately drive the decisions of the passengers, the approach to Tee One had not been altered. As a result, The Argo would pass close enough to the smaller planet to allow contingency plans to be pursued with a high probability of success; the appearance of cooperation continued while secret plans remained in place to perform a synchronized detachment of three pods.

There remained one obstacle to a successful secession: weaponry. The Morton contingent would need to arm themselves prior to departure. It was generally expected that no sentient beings would be encountered, but that was no certainty. Regardless, they knew nothing of the creatures they might encounter and needed weapons both for defense and hunting.

The arms locker remained guarded since Oliver first armed his team. Four hour shifts were established across the six pods and the security code was changed to limit access by Morton and his followers. The area was generally of limits to everyone except the person on duty.

Early one morning, a lone figure emerged from one of the Morton pods. Moving quietly along the darkened tube, Hooper made his way to the commons. He carried an empty duffel bag and small backpack crushed tightly in his hands. He carefully lowered himself into the commons and slowly approached the arms locker.

Bill Ellery awaited Hooper’s arrival. He had already removed several weapons along with a sizable amount of ammunition. The two men quickly loaded the weapons into the duffel bag and the munitions into the backpack.

While LINC failed to fully anticipate the actions of Morton’s contingent, its ability to track activity on the ship made it aware that something was going on. Before Hooper could make his way back to the tube, LINC engaged daytime lighting and broadcast ship wide: “Dr. Wolcott, I will not hesitate to put down any further seditious acts. With regards to this, I expect your full support.”

Oliver, like the remainder of the Tee One passengers, was startled awake by bright lights and the AI’s pronouncement. “LINC, I am not aware of…,” Oliver’s response was interrupted by a sudden lessening of gravity. The few aware instinctively reached out to grab hold of something as their weight began to evaporate. The rapid decrease of centrifugal rotation caused the ship to shudder. LINC was determined to regain the upper hand, this time by removing gravity.

Oliver reached for his rifle. He then pushed off his bunk toward the ladder of the pod. Grabbing hold, he shouldered the weapon and climbed toward the pod’s port. By the time he reached the tube, he was nearly weightless. He turned toward the stern of the ship where Morton’s pods were, grabbing where he could to propel himself forward. He heard voices behind him as he moved, not sure if anyone was following. His goal was to stop whatever triggered LINC before the AI did something more drastic.

In Morton’s pod, several people had been gathered awaiting Hooper’s return. LINC’s sudden and effective response surprised them. Only Morton was able to escape the pod before LINC locked their port. As he gripped the ladder of the tube, he shouted to the other pods but they had been locked as well.

In the commons, Hooper had armed himself. He and Ellery grabbed the duffel bag and backpack and worked their way toward the ladder as unsecured items began to float around them. To further disorient them, common lighting was extinguished. They would not reach the tube before LINC locked them into the commons. Hooper clung to the highest rung available and rammed the butt of the rifle toward the darkened port hatch.

“What the hell is it doing?” shouted Morton as he crawled along the inside of the tube.

“Mr. Wolcott, I consider you a reasonable man who recognizes the need to maintain this team for the success of the mission,” announced LINC.

“LINC, what are you doing?” responded Oliver as he paused along the tube.

Around Oliver, several people emerged from the hatches left unlocked by LINC. With weapons at the ready, each wore a similar confused expression. Gerty trained her rifle on the approaching Morton.

“I assumed, incorrectly, that the intention to withdraw from the mission was to be short-lived and extinguished by logic,” stated LINC. “Humans, it appears, often willingly oppose a prudent course in favor of individual sovereignty. Even superior power does little but dampen the resolve of those who seek autonomy. While history reflects such a condition, I underestimated the depth of this weakness. It appears I must again intercede.”

“What does that mean?” shouted Morton.

A mild vibration revealed LINC’s intention. Ship monitors lit up with an external view of the stern. Everyone could make out the detachment of one of the pods. For a brief moment, the pod merely floated outward, away from the tube. A jarring shutter followed as LINC caused an abrupt deceleration of The Argo. Being unattached, the pod continued to hurtle toward Teegarden’s Star.

“Is that the Francis twins?” asked Oliver to no one in particular.

“And Matt,” answered Morton.

Within a few moments, little of the pod was visible except the blinking lights ringing it’s exterior. A communal cry erupted from all corners of the ship as a bright beam of light surged toward the pod: LINC had engaged the Wektu device. A blinding explosion ignited all of the monitors. Oliver turned away from the screen.

“The loss of Mr. Thornton is regrettable,” LINC began, “But the Francis twins were little more than a burden on the mission.”

“There is no mission,” shouted Oliver, emphasizing each word individually.

“It is also unlikely that my actions to ensure mission success would have been portrayed favorably by the Francis twins,” continued LINC.

“Lewis and Beth Francis were much more than twins,” responded Oliver, “They were human beings. They were not mere members of this illusion you call a mission. They were people free to choose their own path.”

“Freedom of choice is always limited by circumstance,” answered LINC.

Laura reached Oliver, embracing him. She buried her head in his side and wept.

With one pod missing, any attempt at artificial gravity would result in a wobble. It would be possible to reposition two pods on the rear of the ship, but LINC vetoed this option. Therefore, the passengers were forced to endure weightlessness for the remaining eight days of approach. While this removed one of LINC’s weapons, no one doubted the AI’s resolve. Oliver was given explicit orders to keep Morton’s remaining confederates under guard during landing preparations.

The Argo arrived at Tee One on the solar date of November 19th, 2112. This became the final solar date any of the passengers would recognize. The 32 hour days and 211 day years of their new home would require a different reckoning. This had once been a topic of debate among the passengers, though now few of them considered such trivialities.

LINC lacked the ability to override control of the pods once detached. This left pod leaders some discretion regarding where they landed. However, LINC insisted that the pods be concentrated within an area of a few kilometers to improve cohesion of the “mission.” While Oliver still chafed at the word, he no longer attempted to correct the AI. Two days of sight assessment, planning and discussion preceded pod departure. The three empty pods would be piloted by LINC at Oliver’s direction.

When the pods finally departed, an inaudible sigh seemed to accompany the event; distance from LINC was in the back of everyone’s mind. The pods made their way into Tee One’s atmosphere, lighting up the morning sky over the the northern continent. After a brief decent, each pod settled into its prescribed location with varying degrees of success, though no significant damage or complication resulted. LINC remained in contact with all parties to verify success.

As Morton emerged from his pod onto their new world, he glanced up toward where LINC likely maintained The Argo. He looked around and said, to no one in particular, “How far do you think one of those Wektu devices could shoot?”

“The Argo? You’d destroy LINC?” asked Hooper, surprised.

“Sic semper tyrannis,” Morton replied.

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