It takes a little over thirty seconds for the result of the scans to come back. They give a clear and definitive answer; there are no signs of life on the planet below.
“The scans show no life signs. That alone prove this cannot be Sunfire Three. It’s a heavily populated and industrialised colony world. Check for yourself.” Carmen declares.
“I have reviewed the scans. However, the stellar coordinates in my navigation bank are an exact match for those of Sunfire Three.” NIGEL relays with the kind of surety that only a computer system or AI would be able to possess.
If NIGEL were organic then his surety would be considered arrogance, but he isn’t. He’s a combination of zeroes and ones, a highly sophisticated combination but a combination nonetheless. And that is why Carmen just doesn’t understand. She has no reason to doubt NIGEL, yet her eyes and the scan results do not deceive her. The planet below them has no sprawling cities or heavy industry and that is how Sunfire Three has been throughout her lifetime. She has never seen or known it to be a verdant green world in any way. Plus, there are no orbital platforms. That alone should serve as enough proof that they are not where they are supposed to be. It means that NIGEL has to be on the fritz. Maybe corruption occurred in his code occurred as a result of the anomaly during FTL. It could also be a result of the console failure, the one that doesn’t even look like it happened in the first place. There is even the chance that the sudden drop out of FTL could be the cause. Carmen cannot say which is the most likely, but they are the only explanations she can give for what is happening.
However, bickering isn’t going to get them anywhere and right now she is convinced that is all this will devolve into. It’s why she quickly orders, “Plot a jump for Cloister Bay.”
“Impossible.” NIGEL replies without giving any explanation or pause for consideration.
Suddenly it dawns on Carmen. The FTL drives are off-line. She feels the urge to curse but resists it in the short seconds before NIGEL adds, “We have not yet offloaded at Sunfire Three. And as per my programming commands, as dictated by Intrepid Corp, I am unable to plot and initiate a jump without delivery of intended cargo.”
“Crap.” Carmen blurts without thinking. Though, she quickly feels the need to ask, “Are FTL drives working then?”
“As stated previously, all systems are operational.” Is the succinct reply from the nav system.
Carmen sighs. She wants to argue against the statement made by NIGEL, as she knows different. But cannot bring herself too because quite simply she doesn’t feel she has the time. And all she wants to do is get back to familiar space. Though, NIGEL might not believe it, they are definitely not in familiar space. She doesn’t know where they are and nor does the nav system either really. It just thinks it knows where it is and it’s wrong.
However, NIGEL’s inbuilt permission do prevent him from plotting and initiating jumps unless cargo is offloaded as per the agreed upon charter.
That leaves her only one option and why she quickly goes to work, her hands gliding over the console suite.
It takes seconds to arm one of the beacon shafts that are attached to every load of cargo in her hold and then cycle the hold doors open so they are exposed to the vacuum of space. The cargo will suffer no damage however as the crates are sealed and regulated by internal power systems.
The process takes about forty seconds, but with the cargo doors open, Carmen fires the beacon shaft and then watches as the cylinder of gold metal with a blinking blue light on top is fired, like a bullet, out into the void of space.
The beacon shaft lances about a hundred metres from the hold of the freighter before the cable attached becomes taut and then hauls, slowly, the assortment of goods out of the starships interior and into the vacuum of space.
NIGEL, having born witness to the events, exclaims in alarm, “What are you doing?”
It’s the closest Carmen has ever heard the nav system to sounding like a real person. The synthetic tone of his voice for a moment lost to astonishment.
“Making the delivery as the charter demands.” Carmen answers with a wry smile on her thin pink lips.
“This is a subversion of the terms of your agreed upon contract and will not result in any cooperation from or by me.” NIGEL exclaims sounding almost angry at what it seems to be viewing as a betrayal.
It’s the most irrational Carmen has ever heard the computer system and why she decides now is the best time to use perfect logic against it.
“But the cargo has been delivered to its destination.” The redheaded woman points out calmly.
“While this is indeed the destination according to coordinates, the delivery has not been completed and handed over as decreed by the relevant procedures.” NIGEL returns.
“How can I do that when the very station we’re supposed to dock with is not present?” Carmen asks sweetly and with a flutter of her eyelids. For what reason she bats her eyelids she cannot say as she is arguing with a computer and not a person who is able to be coaxed or impressed by her appearance or charm.
However, NIGEL doesn’t give an immediate reply. Instead it stays quiet for a while, thinking. Or at least Carmen believes that is what it is doing. She has no way of knowing. Though, if it is then this will be the first time she has ever witnessed a system dwell on a question without the need or ability to gather further data for study before giving its response.
Near twenty six seconds pass before NIGEL admits, “Upon review I confirm that contract terms have not been breached. Cargo has been delivered to its respective destination without proper handover because of an absence of the target facility. As such I can continue to follow any and all issued orders given by Carmen Hollingrey, Captain of this vessel.”
Carmen has been victorious, so she smiles. After all, she found a loophole in the contract and its terms. A contract drafted up by lawyers, which would have then in turn been viewed and reviewed by countless more. Yet, she feels no pride in her actions and at any other point in time would never have used such a thing, if she had indeed discovered it. Chances are that she wouldn’t have if not for these exact circumstances.
“NIGEL, plot a jump for Cloister Bay please.” The smile is gone from her face now. It was short lived, reflexive but fleeting.
NIGEL confirms, “Ready for initiation.”
His tone is synthetic again. No more incredulity or outrage in evident. It’s like he’s forgotten what happened. Carmen knows that he hasn’t, but AI’s and systems have an inbuilt ability to move past confrontations and differences that human’s do not.
Out of habit Carmen goes to initiate the FTL drives. Just before hitting the button she catches herself. Her hand hovers over the controls that will activate the spooling of the twin FTL drives that in turn will activate the jump. She hesitates for a moment, as if debating whatever idea she has is a good one or not. Then she asks, “Send me the jump data.”
“Why?” NIGEL asks without delay. The synthetic tone is confused, maybe even hurt. Carmen can’t blame it as this will be the first time she has ever asked to review the data. It might even be the first time anyone has asked such a question of this entire navigational line of systems, she realises.
“I don’t want a repeat of the anomaly we experienced last time.” Carmen replies half lying.
“Anomaly?” NIGEL queries as if he’s forgotten, which for a nav system is impossible without a memory wipe. Carmen’s eyes go wide and she subconsciously pulls back away from the console as if ready to run. If she did she’d have nowhere to run too as this is a freighter in the middle of deep space. It’s not like being on a planet with places to run to and hide.
Then suddenly NIGEL adds, as if remembering, “Odds of such a prospect are six hundred and eighty three trillion to one.”
“Nevertheless I order you to comply and issue me with the data I’ve requested.” Carmen demands in a manner that is utterly uncharacteristic for her, but apparently necessary right now.
“Affirmative. Data will be relayed to you for review immediately.” NIGEL says sounding as though he is reading the confirmation now and not speaking naturally. Or at least as naturally as an inorganic program can.
The reason for the abnormally artificial tone is because the redhead has triggered his automated response subroutines with her utterance of the words: order and comply.
But it has the desired effect as a few moments later Carmen is pouring over the jump coordinates and trajectories. Plus, the associated data related to them. To no one’s surprise the redheaded pilot with the ponytail finds no errors or flaws in what she has been provided for review. So, without further delay she activates the FTL engines. They swiftly spool into life and then fire the starship up to FTL speeds.
The view through the canopy, for the third time, is a blur of white lights that are the stars as they rush past at unfathomable velocities. Though, the stars themselves are of course not moving. It is simply the freighter moving with such pace that it causes the stars to appear as though they are racing past her and not the other way around. Eyes, can be such easily tricked organs, which for their complexity is surprising.