Simple Mathematics

Generation Flagship Ouroboros Lambda-Orionis Molecular Cloud, Orion Arm, Milky Way Galaxy 1474 ly from Earth Admiral-Ascendant Onanda di Sarallos woke to the smell of lavender. The manufactured stimulus was meant to ease her out of the depths of hypersleep, and she welcomed the distraction: coming back from the dead was, generally speaking, an altogether unpleasant experience. As consciousness returned in jarring, jagged fragments, Sarallos leaned on her training to ride the wave until, finally, she surfaced to full awareness. Opening her eyes, Sarallos saw two young officers waiting patiently beside her suspension pod. She didn’t recognize them, but that was not unexpected. The Ouroboros, like the other fourteen vessels under her command, was a generation ship. The singularity-reactors at its core provided only enough power to suspend senior command staff; the rest of her people lived out their lives on board, raising children to follow after they were gone, thus perpetuating the cycle of life down through the eons of their journey. Though Sarallos remembered the men who put her to sleep as if she had seen them yesterday, she knew that they were long dead. “How… how long?” asked Sarallos, her voice a wet and ragged rasp. She coughed up a lungful of hemogel with as much dignity as she could manage while waiting for a response. “Three thousand, seven hundred and fourteen years, Earth-standard, Admiral-Ascendant,” the officer on the right said with stiff formality. It was longer than she’d anticipated, but within mission parameters. Even so, the changes wrought by such a vastness of time were apparent: linguistic drift had rendered the man’s accent strange and unfamiliar. Sarallos idly wondered what other surprises awaited her in this time so far from her own.(edited)Her idle thoughts were cut short when she caught the two men exchanging pensive looks. There was more to tell. “Spit it out,” Sarallos said through another cough, the pun unintended. “We haven’t found it,” the man on the right continued. There was no confusion as to what he meant. ‘It’ was the sole reason this convoy of fifteen behemoths was carrying a hundred thousand souls on a millennia-long journey through the interstellar abyss; ‘it’ was their promised destination—a new Eden, a new home. But Admiral-Ascendant Sarallos was not to be awakened until the convoy arrived. And yet, here she was… which meant there was a problem. Sarallos said nothing, and instead took a moment to observe her surroundings. The suspension bay was darker than it should have been, and colder, too. She felt lighter than she remembered: gravity was low. Power, then: the Algorithm had rationed it down to a trickle. “The reactors?” The officer on the left nodded, taking over. “Four singularities radiated out unexpectedly. The Algorithm recalibrated for higher evaporation risk, and merged the other eight in pairs to compensate. Larger singularities means—” “—less power,” Sarallos finished. It was the classic balancing act of black hole engineering: the smaller the singularity, the closer you could get to its energetic core, but the faster it radiated its mass away. The convoy had begun its journey with twelve. Four were gone, and mergers had diminished the other eight… The shiver Sarallos suppressed wasn’t related to the cold. “How many?” Again, there was no confusion over what she meant. The man on the left replied by handing Sarallos a lightpage, from which an exerpt of the Algorithm’s logs glowed softly. She read in somber silence.(edited)

[CONDITION] HANZ-WAVER SINGULARITY-DRIVE OUTPUT: 68% NOMINAL. [CONDITION] POWER CONSUMPTION: UNSUSTAINABLE *** RECALIBRATING *** [RESPONSE] TERMINATE NON-ESSENTIAL SYSTEMS [RESPONSE] REDUCE GRAVITY INDUCTION OUTPUT: -48.9% [RESPONSE] REDUCE CLIMATE MEDIATION OUTPUT: -71.2% [RESPONSE] REDUCE BIOSPHERE SUPPORT OUTPUT: -18.5% [RESPONSE] REDUCE POPULATION: -15 214

It was simple mathematics, Sarallos told herself. They didn’t have enough power, so the Algorithm did exactly what it should have done: it ‘recalibrated’. With the perfect, dispassionate logic of its design, it shut off some lights, reduced gravity, cut the temperature, and ejected over fifteen thousand men, women and children into the hard vacuum of space. Despair clawed its way up the back of her throat, but Admiral-Ascendant Sarallos couldn’t let her officers see that. “Very well,” she said simply, dismissing the deaths of thousands with the confident authority they all so desperately needed. “Let our focus turn to the eighty-five thousand who live.” She looked up, holding the eyes of her men. “And let’s find our Eden.”

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