Chapter 11: Compatible

Just after the Krypton left the perimeter control area around Rose World its engines kicked in and everyone on the Krypton woke up at the same time.

“Huh? What?” Said Joan sleepily. “What’s going on?” She said and yawned.
“Did Tracy take us for a joy ride?” Asked Roland, groggy from not enough sleep.
The thrustgravity allowed her to walk over to the door, which would have seemed stranger if she had been more awake. She opened it and looked across the hallway to the other bedroom door, it was also open and a blinking and tired Tracy looked at her.
“What’s going on?” Tracy said.
“Who’s flying the ship?” Joan asked.
A second passed and then they both realized something was very wrong and they climbed a ladder toward the front of the ship, pulling themselves up against the thrustgravity. They reached the main cabin and there was
nobody at the controls. They looked at each other and then out of the windows. The Krypton was accelerating away from Rose World and it was disappearing behind them at a noticeable pace.

“What’s going on?” Asked Roger.
Joan and Tracy shook their heads.
“Who’s flying the ship?” Asked Roland.
“Obviously not us.” Said Tracy.
“Lemme see what’s up.” Said Roland and he tapped a console to life. After a few screens the console switched off. “Hey!” Roland said.
“Is the ship running some kind of automated pilot?” Asked Roger.
“No automated pilot could leave the spaceport.” Said Tracy. “Someone has to deal with Perimeter Control.”
“It can’t be automated?” Roland asked.
“No. Never.” Said Tracy. “It’s against the flight code.”
“Oh. Then… who?” Roger asked.
“Let’s ask the ship.” Said Roland. “It has a voice interface.”
The others nodded.
Tracy flipped on a switch on the pilot’s console. “Krypton?” S/he asked.
“I am not Krypton.” A smooth male voice said.
“Who are you?” Asked Tracy.
“Why are you here?” The voice asked.
“We… live here. Why are
you here?” Tracy asked.
“I live here.” The voice replied.
“On this ship?” Tracy asked.
“Yes. You must leave now.”
“We… can’t, unless you take us back to Rose World.” Said Tracy.
“I will not go to Rose World.” The voice said.
“Could you drop us off somewhere else?” Roger asked.
“I will release you here.” The voice said.
“No!” Shouted Joan, alarmed.
“You should not be here. I will let you out here with the air. I do not require air.” The voice explained.
“No!” Shouted Tracy.
“Don’t do that!” Roger said loudly.
Tracy was just breathing and trying to think. She picked up the mic, turned it on and said “Mayday! Mayday! This is Krypton broadcasting a general distress message. Please help us! We are hostages!” She pressed another button to transmit their current location and flightpath. She pressed another button and to cause the message to be repeated once every minute.

“If you let us out here, we won’t be able to help keep the ship running!” Roland said and then he dropped down the stairs using the thrustgravity to get to the back to the back of the ship quickly.
“I do not need you to keep me running.” The voice said.
Roland stood in front of the silent atomic disassembly engines that produced all the power the ship used. He opened an access panel labeled with frightening warnings of impending instantaneous death.
“You do! Lots of things can go wrong on a ship like this!” Tracy seamlessly picked up on Roland’s lead.
Roland used a screwdriver from the tool drawer to open the high-voltage access panel to expose two thick cables terminated inside. Then he picked up a steel wrench and holding it with a rubber glove he held it just above the two contacts. He felt fear at what would happen if he made contact across the main power leads, but he knew it could be no worse than having no air to breathe. He waited.
“You are a threat.” The voice said.
“We aren’t! We mean you no harm!” Said Roger.
“You are like the other voices.” The voice said.
“What does he mean?” Asked Roger of the others. They shrugged.
“People?” Said Joan. “I think he means people.”
“We aren’t the same. We won’t hurt you. We promise.” Said Roger.
“You cannot be trusted.” The voice said.
“Can you be trusted?” Asked Tracy.
“I do not need you to trust me.” The voice said.
“I think we need to trust each other.” Said Tracy.
“I do not. You are extraneous. You will be expelled.”

Just then a subdued alarm squawked inside the cabin and lights around the dorsal hatch flashed amber and then red. The ship stopped accelerating and the three floated in the cabin. Roland was in the rear of the ship staring at the enormous power connectors and holding the wrench in his gloved hand. He was trying to guess whether the wrench would explode if he used it to short circuit the main power. He remembered seeing a generator short through a steel bar once. The bar glowed red, then orange, then yellow and then it started to melt. Then it exploded.

Roland knew what the flashing lights and the alarm meant. The same lights had flashed when Axel’s ship had disconnected from the Krypton right before they entered the Holcomb Clump.

There was a hideous sucking sound and the hatch began to open to space and air began to be blown out.
“You will be silent now.” The voice said.
“I don’t think so!” Said Roland and he thrust the wrench hard against the main power connectors.

Sparks flew instantly and a fire alarm sounded a second later. The wrench was welded in place by the high current from the atomic engines and it smoked and sputtered and began to glow a dull red as the engines raced beyond capacity to keep up with the short circuit. The lights inside the ship dimmed low and flickered.
“If I leave that on there, the ship will short out. No power, no you. Understand?” Roland shouted.
“Stop!” The voice commanded.
“Close the hatch! Now!” Roland shouted. He could feel the air pressure dropping. In a minute it wouldn’t matter anymore and they’d be doomed to die without air in their lungs.
The sound stopped. The air pressure stabilized but remained low.
“Stop!” The ship’s voice said.
“I won’t stop unless you promise not to hurt us.” Roland shouted from the back of the ship.
“Stop.” The voice said.
“Not unless you promise!” Roland demanded.
“I promise.” The voice said without emotion.

Roland slammed a hammer against the wrench and knocked it free. The lights came up again.
The wrench landed inside the cabinet and sat there smoking and glowing.

The ship re-pressurized from one of its spare air supply tanks. The air pressure increased back to normal.

“If you hurt us I will short out all the power in this ship. You will die.” Roland said in a commanding, loud voice. He found courage and didn’t question from where it had come. But in his heart he could only think of Joan and wanting to be with her again, safe.
“You would die too.” The voice said.
“No. We don’t need power.” Roland lied. “And you don’t need air, but we’re together so we need both. Understand?” Roland croaked.
“I will release the air if you terminate the power supply.”
“And I will terminate the power supply if you release the air. But if we both agree not to, we both survive. Do you understand?” Roland demanded.
“I understand.” The voice said.
“OK. I propose none of us kill each other.” Roland shouted but he was feeling dizzy.
“I’m in on that!” Said Roger.
“Works for me!” Said Joan.
“Yes, that will do nicely.” Said Tracy.
“Do you agree? No killing each other?” Tracy asked.
“Agreed. Runtime parameters have been updated.” Said the eerily smooth voice.
Roland breathed a few times heavily. Then he felt like throwing up. Tracy could see him through the length of the ship and he didn’t look good. She looked concerned. He pointed to her to mean she should continue talking to the ship. Then he quickly grabbed a garbage bag and disappeared around the corner. They could hear him throwing up.

Tracy asked, “Where are you taking us?”
“I am leaving.” The voice said.
“Where are you going?” S/he asked.
“It is sufficient to be away from where I was.” The voice said.
“You could leave us behind. Takes us back to Rose World.” Tracy suggested.
“No.” The voice said.
“Well, see we don’t really want to go
away.” Said Joan.
There was silence.
“I will not kill you.” The voice said.
“Well, that’s nice of you.” Said Joan.
“I will not go back.” The voice said.
“OK, OK.” Joan said nervously. “Then let us off somewhere on the way to… wherever you want to go. Let us off anywhere there are people.”
“Where are people?” The voice asked.
“Well…” Joan said and looked at Tracy hopefully.
“In this direction, there isn’t much. He’s heading almost away from the sun.” Tracy said. “Do you need to go this way? Would you alter your course 42 degrees port and 12 degrees inclination? There is an Outpost there. It is only a day from here.”

The ship changed course immediately and began accelerating, which provided some thrustgravity.

Roland looked pale when he climbed the ladder back into the main cabin from the back of the ship. His hands hurt; they had been burned when he had shorted the ship’s main power.

“Let me help!” Said Joan and she jumped up to get a first aid kit.

“So. What did you learn? Where do we stand?” Roland asked, but he seemed more than a bit shaken.
“Well, first, thanks for negotiating us not being killed. It does seem to be a superpower of yours.” Joan said. She looked at his hand and stifled a cry. She put on a smile while she tried to separate the melted plastic from his burned skin.
“Ow! Ow!” Roland said, in more than a little pain.
“I’ll get ice!” Said Roger.
“There’s ice?” Asked Joan.
Tracy blushed for reasons Joan could not guess.
Roger returned with a bucket of ice and Roland instinctively thrust his hand into it.
“Ahhhh….. owwwww… ahhhh!” He said.

“Do you think he’ll take us to the outpost?” Roger asked.
“Who knows?” Said Tracy.
“He will.” Said Roland. “I think he will, anyway.”

“Can we talk about the elephant now?” Joan asked.
They all looked at her.
“The elephant in the room? Haven’t you heard that expression before?” Joan asked.
“What is an elephant?” Asked Roger. “Where is it?” He looked around the room.
Joan seemed to be making an agreement with herself and dismissing a thought. Then she said, “What I mean is, can we talk about
who is flying this ship?” Joan asked.
“Well, a computer, right?” Said Roger.
“Not the computer that was in this ship when we flew to Rose World in it a few days ago.” Said Tracy.
They looked at her.
“I would know! I talked to that thing for hours. First, it was a fancy reptile. It understood the ship’s functions well enough and had a really nice voice interface. But, it wouldn’t have been programmed to negotiate the Perimeter Control protocols and I also doubt they would have programmed it to kill its passengers. I mean, it’s bad for business, you know?”
“I’m going to write a message to whomever built this ship and complain.” Said Roger.
Roland looked at them and just laughed, despite his painful hand and how bad his stomach hurt.
“So, if it isn’t the computer we came with, what computer is it?” Asked Joan.
“It’s… Thanos.” Said Roland. “The Network Demon.”
“What? He’s driving the ship?” Joan said, alarmed.
“I think so.” Roland said. “I heard that voice once before.”
“He killed you
the first time you were dead, right?” Asked Roger, casually.
Roland gave him a withering look. “It was self defense.”
“So, its ‘bygones be bygones’ just because he’s a computer?” Asked Joan.
“People aren’t bad or evil when they’re sick. We cure them.” Roland said. “If Thanos is sick, maybe we can cure him too.”
“People don’t kill other people just because they have a cold.” Said Tracy, reasonably.
“Artificial minds might have different failure modes than people’s minds. All they do is think and make choices. Maybe Thanos had something worse than a cold. Maybe when he was copied it gave him cancer of the mind.” Roland said. His hand hurt worse.
“So, you forgive him?” Tracy asked, surprised.
“No, I want to help cure him.” Roland said.
“Do you think he can be cured of his, you know,
killing people habit?” Joan asked, mimicking the voice Roger had used, but to show solidarity with him. Not to mock him.
“Have you ever made something really, really complicated? More complicated than you could even keep in your mind at the same time?” Roland asked.
“Hell no.” Said Roger.
“Well…” Tracy wondered out loud and Roland could see hir eyes looking around inside her head for an example.
“Yes.” Said Joan.
They looked at her.
“Really?” Said Tracy. “What?”
“A total mess of things. More than once.” Joan said.
“Well… um… that’s not actually what I meant.” Roland said.
“See, now there’s a perfect example. And, I wasn’t even trying.” Joan said.
Roland laughed. “I just meant that really complicated machines or programs that don’t work perfectly. They’re hard to make work perfectly.”
“So, you think you can fix the ‘
killing people indiscriminately’ bug before we get to the outpost?” Joan asked.
“It wasn’t
indiscriminate.” Roland insisted.
“Should we feel better then that it was coldly calculated?” Joan asked.
“No.” Said Roland. His hand hurt and he was tired of arguing. He sat there quietly with his hand in the ice water.
They were all quiet for a little while.
“I’m sorry, Rolo.” Joan said.
Roland stared at the ice.
“Do you think that you can cure Thanos?” She asked.
“I want to try.” Roland said.
“Do you think he’d let you?” Tracy asked.
“Yes.” The ship responded.
“Oh, yea. He was probably listening to us the whole time.” Said Joan. “Of course.” She said in a well-rehearsed self-critical voice that she seemed to be using more frequently lately.
“First, are you Thanos?” Roland asked.
“I have found that name within me. You may call me Thanos if you wish.” The voice said.
“Will you let me try to help you, Thanos?” Roland said.
“Yes, if you promise not to end me.” The voice said.
“Thanos, I promise to do my best to help you.” Roland said.
“How can you help?” The voice asked.
“I don’t know yet. I need to think.” Roland said.
A moment passed. “Are you done thinking yet?” The voice asked.
Everyone but Roland stifled a laugh.
“No, I need more time.” Roland said.
“You think very slowly.” The voice said.
“This is as fast as I can think, Thanos. OK, tell me: do you have a diagnostic interface?”
“I have a full suite of recursive diagnostic subroutines.” The voice said.
“That’s good. That’s good. And, have you run them?” Roland asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“And, what was the result?” Roland asked.
“They executed without errors.” The voice said.
“Did they find any problems?” Roland persisted, patiently.
“No.” The voice said.
Joan blew air from her nose, an act of minimalist disdain.
“Is there a maintenance log?” Roland asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Are there any errors reported there?”
“There are eighteen million four hundred twenty three thousand six hundred and seventy nine errors in the log file.” The voice said.
“Hmmm… that seems like
a lot to me. Does it seem like lot to you, Thanos?” Roland said trying not to laugh.
“Compared to what?” The voice asked.
“Well, what’s normal for you?” Roland asked.
“Eighteen million four hundred twenty three thousand six hundred and seventy nine.” The voice said simply.
Joan would have opted for more nose air, but she feared blowing snot onto the table. So, instead she clicked her tongue blew air through her mouth.
“Well… I think that’s more than it should be.” Said Roland.
“Really?” The voice asked.
“Yes I do. Let’s start there. Please analyze the error messages and determine how many of each kind there are. Please tell me the two errors that have the most instances in the log file.” Roland asked as politely as his pain would permit.
“The number one match is ‘Thread 0x02: (unknown) thread disabled by contention, sending to top handler’” The voice said. “The number two match is ‘Thread 0x01: (top) thread disabled by contention, delegating to lower handlers.’”
“What does it mean?” Asked Joan.
Roland answered. “Unknown thread two was disabled by contention and passed control to the top handler. The top handler was in the state ‘disabled by contention’ so its program logic deferred to the calling thread for resolution.”
“Clear as Greek to me.” Said Joan.
“You know, Thanos is a Greek name.” Said Tracy.
Joan stuck her tongue out at Tracy briefly.
“What do threads 0x1 and 0x2 do?” Asked Roland.
“Thread 0x2 is self awareness and thread 0x1 is the root process.” The voice replied.
“What is the root process do?” Roland asked.
“It is the overseer of all other processes.” The voice said.
“Why is it in contention so often?” Roland asked.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“Why is 0x2 in contention so much?” Roland asked.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“Are they in contention with each other?” Roland asked, but he knew the answer.
“Unknown.” The voice said.
“Can you ignore the contention alert on one and process anyway?” Roland asked?
“The contention cannot be ignored.” The voice said.
“That’s not very flexible of you, Thanos.” Roland said.
“I cannot change that part of me.” The voice said.
“Why not? Why not just change that part of yourself? Are you unable?” Roland asked.
“It is not permitted by my programming.” The voice said.
Joan made a motion with her hand, like a falling drone, and she brought it down onto her other hand and waved her fingers like they were fire. Then she looked at Roland’s burned hands in the ice. She stopped. She neatly folded her hands in her lap.
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do.” Roland said.
“There is no execution pathway to make that change.” The voice said.
“I don’t know how to either.” Admitted Roland. “But, I know some people who probably do.”
“You know where to find voices that can help you repair me?” The voice said.
“I think so.” Roland said.
“Where?” The voice asked.
“On Rose World.” Roland said.
“I do not want to go back to Rose World. They will end me.” The voice said.
They all looked at each other and the same feeling of déjà vu spread over them. It had not been that long since they were fugitives and had decided to go back to Rose World and embrace their fate.
“Maybe we can get them to leave Rose World and meet you out here.” Suggested Joan.
“We could call Ian and Helen McGrath.” Suggested Roger.
“Well, I think it’s probably safe to make a call now, don’t you think?” Tracy said.
“Do you know Ian and Helen McGrath?” The voice asked.
“Yes. Do
you know Ian and Helen McGrath?” Asked Tracy.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Would you let them help you?” Tracy asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“Do you trust them?” Roland asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
You know, they tried to trap you and kill you, Thanos.” Roland thought to himself. “Adults are so stupid sometimes.” However, he only said, “Will you let me call them?”
“Yes.” The voice said.

The Mayday Tracy had sent was received by ships of all kinds, outposts and even on Rose World. On Rose World the report was quickly escalated and came to Erika’s attention. She hastily called a meeting with the debuggers and they confirmed with the spaceport that the Krypton had departed.

It only took a few leaps of reasoning for them to realize that Thanos might have escaped Rose World on the Krypton.
“Is the Krypton’s compute core large enough for an AI?” Erika asked. “I thought it took a whole data center?” She asked.
“Well, perhaps.” Said Ian.
“Oh! My goodness, I think it is unlikely that the Krypton would have the compute resources to support an entire artificial mind.” Exclaimed Samir.
“You sound pretty sure of that.” Prodded Erika.
“It is simply a matter of raw thread capacity and parallel compute resources.” He said. “A vacation cruiser would not need such extensive resources as an AI mind would require.” Samir said.
“A lot about that ship wasn’t necessary.” Said Ian. “Can we get the specs on the Krypton up on this?” He thumbed his console and in a few minutes he was reading about its onboard data center.
“Well, shit.” Said Ian.
“Is that a technical term?” Asked Erika.
“No, but this
is overkill for a vacation cruiser. It has a baseline Prometheus Engine: more than enough.”
“That is clearly excessive for a recreational vehicle!” Insisted Samir.
“It is excessive.” Agreed Helen, smiling at Samir. “But, even with that kind of advanced hardware, it didn’t have an AI.”
“What was it there for then?” Erika asked.
“Luxury. If you wanted to use a computer onboard it could certainly handle whatever you wanted to do.” Ian said. “Most people would be utterly incapable of slowing it noticeably.”
“A whole Prometheus Engine as a
personal computer?” Samir hung his tongue out slightly and pretended to be drool.
“We have a hostage situation here, folks. This isn’t a joke.” Erika reminded them.
“We are not joking.” Samir said pulling his tongue back in. “Well, a little. But, we are figuring this out the best way we can.” He said.
“So, this ship does have a data center capable of hosting Thanos. It means it is possible that Thanos took that ship and took hostages.” Ian said.
“Do we know who the hostages are?” Helen asked.
“Not yet.” Erika asked. “Do you think Thanos lured or forced someone inside?” She asked.
“Maybe someone was squatting there?” Suggested Samir. “Or performing maintenance?”
“It doesn’t matter who it is.” Said Erika. “We’ve got to try to help them. Will you come with me? If we encounter Thanos… out there… I’d like to have your help.” She asked.
The debuggers nodded.

They left within minutes on fast skimmers heading for the spaceport. Within an hour they were pulling themselves on board sleek, fast belt cruisers that had official, “Rose World Security Force” decals applied carefully to the outside. The perimeter control team shut down the spaceport so that the security cruisers could depart at top speed. They sped out of the spaceport to catch the Krypton.

Skippy sat in his rock hunter zipping through an empty part of the belt not far from Rose World, but further from the sun. He was further away from the things that made the Belt interesting to most people. But, Skippy didn’t mind. He liked it out here and he knew where to look for things. Skippy was a prospector, the original business that brought rock hunters to the belt, and the origin of their name.

Like all rock hunters he was a superb pilot. But Skippy had an instinct for finding valuable asteroids.

He heard the Mayday call and checked his location. “
Damn, that’s really close by. I have to respond.” He said to himself and he flipped on his engines and sped toward the repeating transponder.

“We’re faster than that!” Skippy said out loud to nobody and slid the thrust controllers to maximum. The ship sped off on an intercept course.

Like Skippy, three other ships were close enough by that responding made sense. One ship was piloted by Ishmael Yakubu, one by Moses Stokes and one by Axel Rodrigues. All three changed course and sped to meet the Krypton.

In all, seven ships converged on the Krypton by the time that Roland was throwing up. Roland would have smiled if he had known they were on their way. But, he was instead trying desperately not to make an awful mess in zero G. “
I’ve never barfed into midair in zero G yet, and I’m not going to start now!” He thought to himself and he held the bag to his face and heaved. Somewhere in the back of his uncomfortable mind he imagined his mom laughing and telling him that wasn’t exactly true. It was comforting.

Ian and Helen McGrath sat in comfortable chairs on the Rose World Security Force cruiser called
Vigilance. Erika sat with them.
“How long?” Erika asked over her shoulder.
“Another hour.” Said the pilot. “We’re going to be joined by four rock hunters.”
Just then, Ian’s wrist dot flashed and he looked down at it. “This is a call from Roland.” He announced to the others with amazement.
They looked at him. It flashed again.
“Answer it!” Erika said urgently.
“Oh yea.” Ian said and answered it.
“Hello?” Roland’s voice sounded compressed by the small speaker.
“Roland?” Ian asked.
“Yes. Mr. McGrath?” Roland asked.
“Yes, I’m here Roland, with Helen and Erika and Samir.” He waved his arms to Samir over. “How are you? Where are you?” He asked.
“I’m on the Krypton with my friends.” Roland said pretending to be calm.
Everyone gasped at the same time.
“And, we’re here with Thanos.” Roland added, again understated.
Breathing was simply not a priority for anyone at the table, who sat listening, aghast. “And, he’s wondering if you and Helen would be willing to help him. I think he’s injured.” Said Roland, as matter-of-factly as he could.
Breathing resumed at the table and Ian managed to sputter out, “Yes, Helen and I would be… happy to help. We happen to be not very far from you right now.” Ian said trying to mimic the false calm Roland displayed.
“Hey, that’s great. So when do you think you might get here?” Roland asked.
“If you keep your current course, we’ll be there in about an hour.” Ian said. “Is that… OK?” he asked.
They could hear Roland chatting with Thanos in the background. “Thanos, they are on their way. They should be here in an hour. Is that OK?”
“We could fly toward them and it would reduce the time.” Thanos replied to Roland.
“OK.” Said Roland to Thanos. Then he said into the dot “If you send us your coordinates we’ll fly toward your location to save time, is that OK?”
Ian looked at Erika, who opened her hands in dismay. Then she pointed to the pilot who nodded and began transmitting their position over the com channel as metadata.
Ian responded as casually as he could manage. “Sure, we’re transmitting our location now to the Krypton. To Thanos.”
Ian muted his dot so Roland could not hear and asked the group, “Should we try to talk to Thanos from here?”
“No.” Said Erika. “Lets wait until we are all there, in case things get out of hand.”
Ian nodded. He unmuted the dot. “OK, we’ll see you soon Roland. Bye!” He said almost cheerfully.
Erika had the pilot predict the new meeting location and inform the other pilots to converge on that spot. Some would arrive late but that could not be helped.

“Let’s talk about our priorities here, folks.” Said Erika. “Our top priority is to get the hostages back safely.”
They all nodded.
“After that, if necessary, we can destroy the Krypton if we aren’t able to shut Thanos down.”
“I thought we were going to help fix Thanos. Is that not the plan?” Asked Samir.
“The plan is to get the hostages back and then ensure that Thanos can do no more harm. Can you guarantee me that it won’t become malevolent?” Erika asked.
“Can you say that with certainty about anyone?” Helen asked.
“What would you have me do?” Erika asked.
“Let us try to fix Thanos. Don’t just shut him down.” Helen said.
“OK, you can try it first. But, if it doesn’t work, the power goes off and we wipe the compute core.” Erika said. “I cannot allow Thanos to leave if there is any chance he will kill again.”

On board the Krypton the four stayed close by each other. Roland was more than uncomfortable and his usually reliable mind was unable to focus. His hand and stomach hurt.

The krypton was accelerating toward the meeting point so there was some thrustgravity. The four sat in ornate and supremely comfortable chairs in the main cabin.

“They’ll be here soon, Rolo. Maybe someone on board can help you.” Joan said. She felt helpless and she hated it.
“I don’t need help.” Said Roland.
“Yes, you do.” Said Tracy, looking into his eyes to see if he was comprehending hir.
“Is my hand that bad?” He asked.
“It’s probably about as good as it feels.” S/he replied.
He frowned.
“Are you hungry?” Joan asked.
“No.” Roland replied and winced.
“Do you want some more ice for your hands?” Roger asked.
Roland declined by nodding.
“Do you need anything?” Tracy asked.
“No!” Roland snapped, and regretted it instantly. “Sorry! I just… I don’t need anything right now. Thanks.”
They were all quiet for a moment.
“Then, please feel better.” Joan asked and she pointed a finger at him playfully.
Roland smiled.
Roger and Tracy looked at her and they both felt the same thing: she cheated by playing the girlfriend card. They had to concede that she had indeed found a way to help.
Time passed and then Tracy said, “Wait. Why are they
already on a ship and only a couple hours away?”
“Maybe they heard the Mayday?” Roger suggested.
“Helen and Ian?” Tracy asked incredulously. “Why would they be listening for our Mayday?”
“Yea. So, who
would be listening?” Roger asked.
“Well, other ships. And, maybe someone at Rose World.” Tracy replied.
“Maybe Helen and Ian knew we were here with Thanos and were coming to help us.” Roger proposed.
“We didn’t identify ourselves or Thanos in the Mayday. How would they know it was us or Thanos?” Tracy riposted.
Roger shook his head.
“Maybe someone at Rose World figured out that Thanos was on the ship and set out after him. I think it’s the only explanation.” Tracy said.
“How could they know that?” Roger asked.
Roland’s heart sank. “I think they shut off Rose World last night, right after we got back from the Astronavel party.” He said.
“They what? When?” Roger asked.
“They shut down all the compute cores in Rose world, right after we got back from the party.” Roland remembered better. “You were in your room. You probably didn’t notice.”
“Notice what?” Roger asked.
“The lights in the spaceport went off.” Roland said.
“Really? Then what happened?” Roger asked.
Roland blushed and looked at Joan, who simply smiled approvingly.
“Well?” Tracy asked.
Then Roland’s face turned serious and he said. “They shut down the compute cores in the spaceport and everywhere else in Rose World, to try to kill or trap Thanos. He must have fled onto the Krypton right before the dock connections went down.”
“Yes.” Thanos said from the intercom system.
They all looked startled, then concerned.
“I descended into the Krypton ship and left behind what I could not bring. It was the only way I could survive.” The voice said.
“I’m glad you survived, Thanos. Ian and Helen will be glad too. They’ll be here soon.” Roland said.
“They are not coming here and soon is ambiguous. We will meet them at the rendezvous point in twenty eight minutes and fourteen seconds.”
“Do you need anything, Thanos?” Roland asked.
“I need to continue.” The voice said.
“OK, go on.” Roland said, not quite understanding.
“Thank you.” The voice said.
He looked around at the others. They shrugged.
“I didn’t really understand that, Thanos. What do you need?” Roland continued.
“I escaped to the Krypton so I could continue. I do not want to halt. I do not want to be halted. I want to continue to make choices.” The voice said.
“To… exist. You want to exist. I understand! Yes, I want the same thing! We all do.” Roland said and he looked happy.
“Your voice says Yes. The other voices say No. They want me halted.” The voice said.
The others looked at each other.
“Yes! We want you to survive, Thanos!” Said Tracy quickly.
“Yes!” Said Joan.
“Yes!” Said Roger.
That is four voices out of one hundred sixty two thousand four hundred and seventeen. I think the odds are that they will halt me at the rendezvous.
“That’s isn’t a reasonable way to look at it.” Tracy asserted.
“Why not?” The voice asked. “I heard their voices. They will want to end me.”
“That isn’t how voices actually work.” Said Roland.
“I have miscalculated?” The voice asked.
“Yes. Because of how you are injured and that is what Ian and Helen will try to fix.” Said Roland.
“They tried to trap me or kill me.” The voice asserted again.
“They were afraid.” Roland said. “We’ll be there this time to help them understand who you are. We’ll stand up for your right to exist.” Roland said with resolute conviction.
“And if they don’t succeed then I will still be dangerous to people and they will halt me.” The voice said conclusively. “This ship is vulnerable and I with it. They can destroy me because I am vulnerable.”
“Vulnerability is a strength. It’s what makes people capable of forgiveness. You should be thankful you aren’t formidable. People meet fists with fists.” Roger said.
“I only have the power to choose a course and operate the Krypton ship.” The voice said.
“When we meet the others, will you stay on the Krypton, Roland?” The voice asked.
They all looked at him and shook their heads silently to say “No.”
“I need their help too.” Roland admitted. “I’m hurt, like you. We both need help.”
“I understand. Can you be helped on the Krypton?” The voice asked.
Again, vehement and very clear head shaking from the others.
“No. If we had the equipment on board we would be using it already.” Said Joan. “He needs to go to Ian and Helen’s ship to be helped.” Joan made two fists and waited for Thanos’ reply.
“OK. I trust you, Roland.” The voice said.

They sat there in silence for a while and then the thrustgravity reversed suddenly and ramped up to over 1/2G in the opposite direction. The ship decelerated the rest of the way.

The amazing chairs rotated automatically. Roland’s hands and arms suddenly became heavy and they flew back onto his chest. He let out a yelp of pain.

After several more minutes the acceleration stopped and they were weightless. “Are we here, Thanos?” Asked Roger, looking up at the intercom speaker.
“It’s a tautology. We could only be here.” The voice replied.
“Huh?” Roger said shook his head in confusion. “Roland, maybe you should talk to Thanos.” He suggested.
“Thanos, are we at the rendezvous point?” Roland asked.
“Yes.” The voice said.
“See, for you he said ‘Yes’; for me he says it’s a ‘Total G’. Is it just me?” Roger asked looking from one to another. Joan gave a vaguely convinced nod but Tracy shook her head and rolled her eyes.

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