Watson and the Comet

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Starship Iris passes the interplanetary horizon, drifting towards the first deep space waystation—at least, the first within predictable gravitational orbit—a self-replicating bot factory on the moon of a rogue planet that, every twenty years, passes near Pluto.

"Connect to Torres," Johannah prompts, gliding half-gloved fingers across the graphinite sub-board.

Torres' hairy and laughing face lights up the projected screen. "Jo, hello."

"Sir, we'll Titanic this ship into a high-speed comet if you don't change trajectory."

"Watson is on it," he replies. "Elementary stuff for him."

"Sir," she says, "I don't want our artificial system getting a good laugh out of close-calling us again. Don't rely on him. Change the trajectory manually."

He mutters, "You're no fun," his mouth twisted between grin and frown, before the projection fades into thin lines, then a point of light.

Then nothing.

Johannah sighs as she leans in her leather chair. She loves the cowhide smell, the wafting scent of biolife.

Maybe she should've stayed on Earth, instead of succumbing to this sub-navigator job. Who wants to argue with an admiral who thinks the AI's got it covered?—a human leader arguing, human leadership isn't needed?

The bots should have drilled the moon of for oil reserves; or if they couldn't find any, proceeded to the rogue planet for backup resources.

Probes already verified the migratory ancients of Proxima Centauri B perished, in part, on this rogue planet, so their bodies are available for fuel, same as oil from the death of the dinosaurs.

Johannah checks the star map once more. Once she makes sure Torres manually changes their path, she heads for the food generator to break her fast.

♦️

Whenever Johannah visits the generator, she pauses by the cryochamber, peering through the blue-glass window.

Tiny pink lights flicker from each pod.

Most of the passengers opted to sleep until they reached their final destination—a new water-world in the Goldilocks zone of a star system a mere ten lightyears away—or at least, it'll be a light-decade away, if the black hole remains stable; but since black holes move, and white holes close, it can be a headache.

Besides Johannah and Torres, the only person who opted to stay awake—through the stretching hours of existential crises, loneliness, terror—was Andrew the science fiction novelist.

Andrew smokes, reads encyclopedias, and wears plaid. He's a beer-gutted fellow who likes to clack away on a virtual keyboard he projects onto the linoleum countertops of the generator's dining area.

"Hey Andrew," Johannah says, walking up to the metallic and cylindrical machine that creates their food.

"Jo," he says flatly from behind the octahedron chamber of lights surrounding him.

Tiny, 8-point font flickers haphazardly from the majority of the projected screens he's called up, although Monty Python and the Holy Grail is playing on one of the facets of his gemstone-like setup.

He doesn't stop flicking his fingers on his virtual keyboard, even as Johannah saddles onto the high-top stool next to him. But he does take the moment to ask, "What'd you order?"

"Sausage biscuit, hash brown, and beer."

"The stout?"

"Lager."

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