A silence settled over crewmembers. Inexplicably, instead of sitting at the conference table, most of them sat down in their designated flights seats on each side of the aisle in back of the bridge. With the backdrop of Ingrid’s prayer ceasing, the sudden quiet seemed more terrible than the noise. Unlike takeoff and their trip to the space station, there were no smiles and looks of expectation in the group, only dull defeatist looks, as their last shreds of sanity seemed to slip away. No one was immune to panic. Gandy, Mbuto, and Max, who had grimly accepted providence, were also plunged into despair, and even Captain Drexel felt the tendrils of fear. In the beginning, when they embarked upon their voyage to Triton, they were certain where they were going. A great adventure lie before them and they were confident that one day they would return home…. Now, without a home planet, they were at a point of no return, on course for the unknown.
Still anchored at the four corners of the table, the androids waited patiently for their moment, their composure contrasting the behavior of the humans in the room. As Max attempted unsuccessfully to comfort Nicole, Gandy and Mbuto shuffled up the aisle, taking seats on the bridge, as if waiting for their captain to prove his mettle and take command. Because of the androids’ manners, Said, whose hysteria was tempered by distrust, appeared ready to make his move. For Abe, who had been watching the little Arab, this was unacceptable. Without a verbal command this time, he jerked his thumb, as if to say, “Don’t even think about it!” Said just stood there near the table, though, his arms folded, tapping his foot, as if biding his time.
Walking up between the passenger compartment, Abe glanced with mounting alarm at crewmembers on each side of the aisle.
“People,” He misspoke, “this isn’t the end of the world!” “What I meant,” he corrected himself, “is we’re not going to give up. We have a trained crew and four Generation Eight androids. Surely, if we put our heads together, we can think of something.”
“Lies!” someone rasped.
“Who said that?” He looked down into the compartment. “Was that you Elroy? It’s not lies… It’s hope. We have to be positive! We have to be strong!”
“It’s lies, I tell you!” insisted the Englishmen. “We can never go home!”
“Perhaps,” Abe thought quickly, “some day when matters die down we can. What we have to concentrate on is what we’ll do now. We’ll troubleshoot the ship. While we’re sorting this out, we might back-track to the Mars colony and temporarily make it our home.”
It was an absurd of him to float such a notion. At least they were talking again, which implied they all still had their wits. Skip, however, took issue almost immediately at his ill-conceived words.
“No,” Abe heard him disagree politely, “Mars is played out by now. Europa was always a dead end. Regardless of what happened on Earth, those colonists were ready to come home. You have everything you need on this ship!”
“What the hell does he know?” Said snarled. “If the colony’s played out and Europa’s a dead end, we’re gonna die out here—period, exclamation point, finis!”
“Yes” Nicole said, staring into space. “We’ll probably starve on this ship!”
“The colonists, space station folks, and peoples of Earth are all dead!” Sheila summarized dully. “We’re all by ourselves out here. This was a one-way trip!”
“Das ist das ende!” Hans lamented. “We are kaput!”
“Captain Drexel,” Skip called out again from the conference table. “Take control of our ship!”
“I beg your pardon,” Abe replied irritably. “I am captain of the Phoenix!”
“Then take charge of it,” snapped Skip. “Matters are slipping away!”
“I’ve taken charge.” Abe grew angry. “I’m going to look for answers. What more do you expect?”
“There are no answers in the ship’s computer.” Skip said sternly. “These people are behaving like children. The captain of a starship is a father figure; they need a commanding presence. Take control.”
“Come on captain,” shouted Said. “He’s a glorified robot. I should know. I helped design androids back on earth. Don’t let him order you around! He’s not in charge! You are!”
Murmurs of agreement rang from the passenger compartment. The other crewmembers needed a scapegoat to focus their frustrations on. What better one than their android captain, whom many of them irrationally blamed for their dilemma. There was grumbling and cursing in the compartment, which were healthy signs for sane minds, but also indicators of rebellion from the crew. Mutiny now seemed to be in the air.
As Abe sat down shakily with Gandy and Mbuto on the bridge, both men offered to help with the research.
“Let’s go over the blue prints, schematics, and data,” suggested Mbuto. “It might be a problem of computer and engine links or a simple problem in hardware circuitry.”
“Yes, captain,” Gandy said, rubbing his hands and glancing nervously in the direction of the androids, “Said is right: you must take control. We’ll pull up the data, sort this out, and go over everything with a fine tooth comb!”
“All right,” Abe nodded light-headedly. “Skip and I found nothing wrong with the Phoenix, but it won’t hurt to try.” In a louder voice, aimed at the crewmembers in the compartment, he pressed the point: “Please—all of you, get a hold of yourselves. Stop blaming our caretakers. We must pull together. I never said this problem is permanent. There has to be a reason for what happened. We’ll work as a team and solve this mystery together.”
“This a waste of time,” Skip exclaimed, stepping onto the bridge. “You’re giving them false hope!”
“How dare you speak to him that way!” Said shrilled, running up the passenger aisle.
Quickly to void a situation, Abe jumped up to confront him. “Said!” He held up his hand. “Shut-the-hell-up!”
“Don’t you see what’s happening here?” cried the robotologist. “You’ve lost control!”
“Sit down, Said!” Abe pointed to the front row seats. “I want no more outbursts!”
There were boos fired off from the audience now. While Said continued egging Abe on to put the android in his place, Elroy and Hans were openly cursing him for not confronting Skip, Ling had lapsed into Chinese, with something sounding like a curse, and Ingrid began reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
“… I knew we’d get clobbered,” muttered Carla. “We got soft, just like Europe, and bam—they let us have it!”
“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come and thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven…”
Abe lurched forward, as Ingrid prayed, to muffle Said’s mouth. “S”hut up, you fool!” he whispered into this ear.
“Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. But lead us not into temptation…
“Excuse me!” an unexpected voice came from the non-humans. “Doctor Westfall, please be quiet!” she commanded softly “May I have your attention.” She held up her hands.
Sandra, a medical android, stepped onto the bridge now. Her classic twentieth century Barbie doll features—golden hair surrounding a pretty face and a perfect hour-glass figure—now belied her steely expression and the forcefulness of her words. What she said to the entire crew was essentially what Skip said to Abe in private.
“There is a reason for this problem.” She looked calmly around the bridge and passenger compartment. “As some of you suspect, it has nothing to do with the ship. It happened on Earth. Before you were all placed in your cryogenic chambers, even before you were trained for your tasks, we, among the best of the Generation Eight Androids, were given the task of assisting and protecting the crew and scientists of the earth’s last mission. Unfortunately, something dreadful happened three years after we left our planet. Before takeoff, we were instructed by Thomas Wayland, the mission director, not to awaken the sleepers. What good what it do? Apparently, when disaster was overtaking the earth, Mission Control made a fateful decision. Because of what was happening there, the colonists on Mars and scientists and operational crew on the Europa Space Station were called home. This was obviously an unfortunate decision to make, because now we’re alone. But we were not told what had happened. The link to Earth was simply broken. Skip tried everything to make contact after the break in communications and nothing came of it. This isn’t anyone’s fault on the Phoenix. Getting upset and angry just won’t help!
“You didn’t think to ask any more questions?” Gandy asked in disbelief.
Gandy’s question, though it ignored what had already been explained, brought forth more protest.
“Why didn’t you wake us?” Nicole cried belatedly from her seat. “We could’ve returned to Earth too!”
“Yes, yes!” Sheila wrung her hands. “Now we’re marooned in space!”
“We’re doomed! Kaput!” came Hans’ refrain.
“Were you people listening?” Skip appeared to frown. “We had already traveled three years into space. Whatever happened was over. It would have been pointless, futile, and fatal to return!”
“The fact is,” Sandra replied coolly, “we couldn’t return! We were ordered to proceed at all costs and let you sleep. Please understand this, folks. Much has happened on Earth in the past seventeen years. To return might mean certain death.”
“Certain death?” Elroy jumped up from his seat like a jack-o-lantern. “What’s the story, Sandra? You’re holding something back.” “Tell us the truth!” He looked over at Captain Drexel. “What happened back home?”
“Yes captain.” Said pointed at Sandra. “I don’t want to hear it from her either. I want to hear it from you. What happened on Earth?”
“We don’t know for certain.” Abe shrugged.
“We don’t know at all!” Skip corrected.
Studying the android’s enigmatic expression, Abe continued hesitantly, “All I know is that the communication has ceased. There are no more messages from Earth…. There has to be more than this…” “What else is there for us to know” he now challenged Skip. “There’s something more isn’t there?”
Skip was silent a brief moment. “We all know what happened on Earth:” he said softly. “It’s basic logic. We just don’t know the details…. It was the final war. What you haven’t been told is a secret mission for our ship. We, your caretakers were sworn to uphold that secret. The ship’s very name should have given you a hint: the Phoenix. In the event things went wrong at home, you would carry humanity to a safe harbor.”
“You mean this is an ark, like in the Bible,” Captain said intuitively.
“Yes, that’s accurate enough,” replied Skip. “I have information on that.” He blinked his eyes. “Noah’s ark. There were only a handful then too.”
“Impossible!” Hans made a face. “Dat is inbreeding.”
“Yes, Skip,” Gandy agreed. “I have read your people’s Bible. Did not the flood destroy mankind? The sons of Noah and their wives did in fact inbreed, but out here in space we’re no children of God. Half of us are atheists or agnostics. We have no resource of humanity to breed in—only black space.”
“What does it matter?” Mbuto frowned. “There are no Earth-like planets in our solar system to settle on. Such planets are rare and faraway in the universe, filled with alien, not human life.”
“The point is,” Elroy piped, “even if we had hundreds of other humans on our ship, there’s the matter of compatibility. You can’t force civilized humans into forced breeding. Some of stellarnauts might be gay. Because of an accident in youth, I’m sterile.”
Carla, an avowed lesbian, made a face. “Yuck! Men are pigs!”
“Not to worry,” chimed Woody, his unblinking eyes flashing. “We’ve taken care of this for you.”
“What does that mean?” Ling Soon challenged him.
“Yes, Woody, what does that mean?” Ingrid Westfall seconded. “I’m a Christian woman. I’ll not have promiscuous sex!”
“What Woody means.” Sandra stepped forward again. “Noah didn’t have a clone bank as we do on the Phoenix. Your whole crew could be sterile or gay and it wouldn’t matter.”
“Are you listening to this?” Sheila turned in shock to face the captain.
Blinking several times as if he had been asleep, Abe looked at their caretakers with renewed suspicion, this time with a touch of horror, yet held his tongue. He knew very well the potential of the androids. Though he found the notion of cloning to be distasteful and an unacceptable action ordered by the scientists at Mission Control, it wasn’t nearly as chilling as what he sensed now. It seemed clear to him that there was much more to the mystery unveiling. What else were the androids holding back?
“All right Skip,” he addressed the android captain, “you’re in charge of this foursome. Tell me the truth. First, explain to me where this cloned material came from.”
“It came from you!” He motioned widely to the group. “While you slept,
Sandra and Woody took cells from your bodies and placed them in hibernation
Nicole Bennett slapped her forehead and exclaimed, “Without our permission. That’s dreadful!”
“Shut up!” Max whispered harshly. “Once and for all, get a grip on yourself!”
“That goes for you too.” Abe glared at Sheila.
“Who cares what they took,” Elroy muttered glumly. “The nearest Earth-like planet is light years away. We’re doomed!”
“No we’re not!” Skip shook his head. “…. There’s more.”
“Ah hah!” Abe uttered a bitter laugh. “Now comes the second part of the secret.” “Tell us, Skip, just exactly what kind of ship is this? What else did the good scientists at Mission Control keep from the crew?”
“All right.” Skip straightened his shoulders and looked around the room. “We—my associates Rusty, Sandra, and Woody—have followed orders and, as Doctor Said Rammal suspects, are far more advanced than what you humans imagined. Though we have initial programming, which is much like the primal makeup of your human brains, we have been forced to make decisions on our own. We decided, though the transmission was cutoff completely, to assume the worst on Earth and follow the alternate plan given to us for such a contingency. Part of that plan was to extract cloning material and place it in cryogenic hibernation. Part of it was to utilize the potential of the Phoenix in order to find a new home.”
“How is that possible?” The captain looked at him in astonishment. “This ship can travel only so fast. Even if we lived to be a thousand as we suffered cryogenic sleep, we’d run out of fuel.”
“This is no ordinary vessel.” Skip turned to face the window. “Unknown to our enemies on Earth, our friendly governments discovered an old scientific dream: hyper-drive.”
“That’s science fiction!” Mbuto’s eyes widened in disbelief. “It’s impossible.”
“No, it’s not,” Rusty seemed to snicker. “You’ve heard of wormholes—another fantastic notion. Yet there are billions of them waiting for hyper-drive systems. Each one shortens distances by light-years. All they require is the right fuel.”
“How does it work?” Max gave him an incredulous look.
Skip replied quickly, “The ship moves through space as it does in old propulsion systems but has been modified so that a massive fuel intake makes it go infinitely faster: faster than the speed of light. At such an acceleration, a window is opened in space, which are called wormholes or star-gates—”
“All right,” Abe cut in impatiently, “I remember reading about this possibility. I’ll have to accept what you say, but where does all the fuel come from? From what I understand there’s mostly empty space out there.”
“Not so.” Rusty held up a hand. “…Dark matter. Thanks to the fuel extractor on our ship, we use it for propulsion. As you might also have read, dark matter is everywhere in the cosmos, making up ninety percent of the universe.”
“I’m still not clear,” Max shook his head. “Are you saying we have limitless fuel?”
“Yes, exactly,” Rusty’s Howdy-Doody face beamed vacantly. “Our propulsion systems scoop up dark matter and also interstellar gas continually, so that theoretically the Phoenix could travel forever.”
Again popping up from his chair, Elroy wrung his hands. “You tricked us. All we have is Gandy, an engineer to do repairs on our ship. I wondered why there were no real specialists on the Phoenix—men who might understood such a modification. I’m a habitat architect. Even I’m baffled by this. I thought this was a scientific mission to explore Triton’s mineral resources. Why would they need zoologists like Hans or botanists like Ling on a dead moon such as Triton. It all fits! This has all been a subterfuge, an experiment by desperate men. We’re alone now—that’s the truth of it. We’ll be forced to live in hibernation until you find an Earth-like world, something that might never happen at all.”
“Sit down Elroy,” Abe interrupted finally. “We know that. You don’t have to remind us. We can’t survive without hibernation. Our bodies can’t last long in space. We have no choice now; we have to trust Skip and Rusty. They must find us a new world!”
“We have created Frankenstein’s monsters!” Said glared at the androids.
“Das ist das ende!” groaned Hans.
The other androids shared a telling glance, nodding in agreement. The compartment was plunged into despair after these words. Everyone understood what all this meant. The androids, who had been in charge from the very beginning of their mission, would remain so indefinitely it seemed. The thought of extended hibernation over the eons was greeted with horror. This was, of course, they also understood, better than death. While they slept the dark sleep, the androids, who needed no sleep or sustenance, would remain awake as their caretakers. Most of the crewmembers, filled with great dread, accepted this as a fait accompli, and yet, for some of them, the androids were somehow suspect in this crisis.
“How do we know this is what happened?” Elroy asked the group. “Why have they been so secretive. Perhaps they’ve tinkered with the ship’s database and log, and this their way of taking control. I don’t trust them!”
“I don’t either!” Hans said with a shudder. “Ache! Dat last time in chambers is enough for me. Now we go back, maybe for all time!”
“Shut up—both you two!” Abe scolded. “You’re just making it worse!”
“It’s true.” Said bobbed his head. “It’s my job to oversee the androids. My title is robotics engineer, but I didn’t create these fellows. My work was done on Generation Six and Sevens, not these Frankenstein’s monsters. We must take back the ship!”
Determined to make a stand at this point, Said did something very foolish now. From their training before takeoff, the humans had learned little about their caretakers, but Said knew just enough to act stupidly. There was a hidden control panel on the back of the Generation Six and Seven androids that was intended for override if, for some inexplicable reason, one of them ran amuck. When he made a move on Skip, who was the accepted leader of the androids, however, Skip whirled around and stared coldly at the scientist.
“Oh, we can’t turn you off, huh?” Said defensibly.
“No, Doctor Rammal,” replied Skip calmly. “You, of all people, should know that!”
“As a matter of fact,” Said withdrew to a safe distance. “I didn’t. There’s a lot of stuff about you Generation Eights I didn’t know about. From the very first, I didn’t agree with unlimited artificial intelligence. As a robotics engineer, I believe you fellows should be our servants and not be given so much control. I wanted robotic assistants, programmed, not with attitudes set loose by their creators to run amuck!”
“Our mission doesn’t require your service,” Skip replied coldly. “You’re function is better served to maintain and repair the computers on the ship. I can’t explain how Mission Control thought, but you can’t destroy us Doctor Rammal. As you can see, we don’t need an overseer. The creators knew this. You need us more than we need you!”
That was the final straw for Said. Promising he would find away of de-activating the androids no matter what it took, he had to be muffled and physically restrained as he was hustled off the bridge.
“Stop it, you damn fool!” Mbuto growled in his ear. “Skip won’t tolerate you doing such a thing!”
“Indeed, you silly man,” chided Gandy. “Go back to your compartment. Compose yourself. Things are bad enough, without you making idle threats!”
“They’re not idle,” Said replied discreetly, glancing back at the bridge. “I might be able to disable those bastards. There’s a compartment in back of each of them. On the Gen Sixes and Eights there was an on/off switch!”
“Are you serious?” Mbuto looked at him amazement, as they ushered him toward the station. “Why in heaven’s name would you do that? Like it or not, we goners without them. Don’t bring that up again!”
“It must be space psychosis,” Gandy decided, as they led him over the threshold of the slowly turning wheel and into the corridor. “I heard those androids are very strong. Skip would crush him like a bug!”
Despite the gesture made, neither Mbuto or Gandy could keep Said away. As soon as they returned to the ship’s compartment and bridge, the little Arab was slinking back to the ship, determination on his face. As the African and Indian joined Abe and Max on the bridge, the androids had retired to the conference table, where half of the crewmembers had returned. With Skip at the head of the table, a place were a human captain would normally be, Rusty at the other end, and Sandra and Woody centrally located on each side, the symbolism seemed complete.
Joining the four members of the operational crew now, were Carla and Ingrid, the least emotionally effected of the scientists on the ship. Avoiding the seemingly hopeless issue of the lost communication with Earth, the humans sat for awhile, discussing whether or not the androids really had an agenda. According to Gandy, there was no possible reason why they would want to sabotage the communication link, which would maroon them in space, too. More likely, replied Mbuto, they were, in fact, following orders and were looking out for both theirs and the crews’ best interest. On these points they were all in agreement, and yet there was still a smoldering resentment for the secrecy of the mission. Even if the androids didn’t have selfish motives for taking over the Phoenix, they agreed that it was deceitful for the mission control director and his team to have a hidden plan. That the androids were complicit in this deceit still made them suspect, regardless of their good intentions. What reinforced this feeling for them was the cold, methodical, and insensitive manner in which their keepers exercised their control.
One thing was for certain, upon which they all agreed: the Phoenix and its crew were on their own now. Both Gandy and Mbuto scanned the database and log for their own peace of mind, but there was no sabotage or unexplained system error shown. There was nothing wrong with the Phoenix. What had struck them as another great subterfuge by mission control was the advanced controls and propulsion of the ship which hadn’t been covered during their training. Because the ship, the portion of the system they were familiar with, was operated under normal propulsion and they were soon placed into their chambers, they were unfamiliar with the thruster units located on the docking area of the space station. Those modifications explained quickly to them by Skip, which struck the ship’s engineer as the greatest understatement, were not evident in the ship’s database and its controls. Why this, too, was kept from them, would remain a mystery throughout the Phoenix’s epoch journey. With only a dim picture of what lie ahead, the crew were at their caretakers’ mercy. Without the androids, they would go insane and die of old age before the Phoenix found the right planet.
“It’s not what they’re hiding that bothers me,” the captain concluded, looking down at Triton. “It’s what they don’t know. The cataclysmic events on Earth aren’t their faults. Now, using the star map, and the technology of this ship, they must navigate the Phoenix—to where, is anyone’s guess. In spite of their vast knowledge, they don’t have a clue.”
Mbuto looked back down at the screen. “Dear God!…. Are you sure?”
Abe shrugged his shoulders. “Yes, it seems obvious. If they knew what lie ahead, they’d want to reassure us with some concrete facts. Though ordered to hold back information from us by the mission control director, they wouldn’t lie about this. They simply don’t know. I’m afraid it’s going to be a waiting game—who knows for how long?”
“This is dreadful.” Max lost his composure and grew pale.
“It’s a nightmare in which we might not awaken.” Gandy swallowed and gripped his brow.
Gandy was referring to the dark sleep. Carla and Ingrid, who had been silent, gasped. Carla whispered, “Son of a bitch!” (he favorite swear words) and Ingrid once again prayed.
“People, I need your strength.” Abe gripped the women’s wrists. “Especially you Doc, since you’re a shrink too. I don’t know anything for certain. Those andies are more human than we might like. I just feel it when I look into their faces. They’re not suppose to show emotion, but I swear I saw fear, especially in Skip’s face. While Sandra and Woody keep us alive, he must captain the ship, and Rusty steer us to another world. They have a god-like control and responsibility. I don’t envy them.”
After a disappointing performance, Sheila, Abe’s second-in-command, shuffled onto the bridge, apologizing for her behavior.
“I’m sorry captain,” she exhaled, her eyes fluttering as if she was trying to clear her head. “I heard what you just said. You’re right. Sandra and Woody were very gentle to me when I suffered cognition. I just don’t relish going through it for the next ten thousand years.”
“Enough!” The captain placed a finger on her lip. “You’re eyes belie your words. I know you’re afraid, Sheila, and I don’t blame you, but remember your training. You must, from this point on, be strong. Those people are terrified. We’re all afraid, but we can’t do this by ourselves. Get a grip on yourself. Wipe that deer-in-the-headlights look off your face!”
“Yes, of course.” She nodded jerkily. “Yes-yes. I have to set an example.”
It now appeared to Abe that at least six of his people were trying to hold it together. This was half of his crew. Despite her effort at being contrite, he wasn’t sure about Sheila, and Nicole Max’s assistant was a mental wreck. The remaining crewmembers seemed to be in various stages of hysteria. Everyone dreaded prolonged hibernation, an unnatural condition that, to some, felt like a form of death. At this point, now that it was certain that they must return to this state, space psychosis was a definite threat. Gandy, Mbuto, Carla, and Ingrid were not immune. Only the strongest could put up a front, steeling their nerves for the experience. It seemed to Abe that only Max Rodgers, the ship’s medic and psychiatrist, was least likely to go mad, and even he was showing the signs.
A phenomena that had deepened Said Rammal’s suspicions of the androids was when the four androids separated themselves from the humans, standing in conference with each other awhile before positioning themselves at the four corners of the table, as if plotting what to do. When Abe, Sheila, Max, Gandy, Mbuto, Carla, and Ingrid returned to the table, the androids pulled their chairs back politely so they could be seated. It was a gesture by the androids meant to convey cordiality and team spirit, but Said wasn’t fooled. Skip standing behind Abe after he took his seat at the head of the table, Rusty standing the other end behind Sheila, and the remaining two androids stationed behind crewmembers on each side of the table, intimidated everyone, especially Said.
“You humans have lost your grip on reality,” Skip declared in a pontifical voice. “Disaster stares you in the face and many of you cower at the thought of what you must do. There is no return trip to Earth. There is no more Earth. I’m sorry but the emotional link you have with your kind is broken. It’s not your fault, and it’s not ours. This isn’t a conspiracy, as some of you believe. We didn’t plan this. That would mean our own destruction, too. We will continue to watch over you and protect you from your foolishness, because you are the last hope of mankind. Thanks to the good doctors’ instructions to us and Sandra and Woody’s clone specimens, future generations will be spawned. We are your caretakers. Because of this crisis, we must take over. Our duties have been programmed into our brains, but we must, using our own intelligence, care for you and find you a new home. You can’t blame us for that.” “But mark my word.” He raised a finger. “We’ll find you a new Earth. Time is irrelevant to us. Without external attack or self-destruction, and in normal circumstances, we are immortal…You are too, if you experience hibernation. There’s something you must understand about this ship: it is immortal too. It is built to be self-sustaining. With the recycled food, water, air, and infinite energy, we could travel for eternity if needed. All you need to do for now, however, is keep your wits. The old mission to Triton to find mineral resources and new sources of energy is dead…. The mission now is for you to survive!”
“Ach, den it’s true!” Hans blurted stubbornly, a snarl playing on his face. “Doctor Rammal is right. Robots now take control!”
“You’re wrong, Doctor Rucker.” Skip’s eyes flashed. “Said, a robotologist, more than any of you, should know better. Our only purpose is to serve mankind. You are mankind now. The earth that you once knew doesn’t exit anymore and you humans won’t survive outside of your chambers until we find you a new home. We are built for this emergency. We don’t need sleep. We don’t need food. Unlike humans, we won’t lose our tempers and we won’t go insane.
You are susceptible to physical ailments and the rigors of endless travels and require cryogenic sleep to survive. Your fragile minds need hibernation, too. While you’re safely in your chambers, we’ll continue to man the ship, watch over and protect you, and search for an Earth-like world. All you have to do is to sleep, until you’re awakened. Your destiny is our destiny. Your end would be our end. We have no other purpose than the mission. Now that the mission has changed to survival, we must be explorers. Our very solar system, including our planet and its interstellar bases, are irrelevant now. Rusty and I will chart our course. With hyper-drive, the entire Milky Way is our source. There are countless distant planets in our galaxy that might support life.
“My database was filled with earth’s long history. Recall the story about your god and a man named Noah. Because God was going to destroy the world, he allowed Noah to gather animals to replenish the earth. With his small family, he supposedly replenished the people on that world. With such a tiny number of humans it would take God to perform such a feat. Your ship lacks earth’s animals, and yet you have a resource of clones—future humans, men and women like yourselves. On a distant world you’ll replenish your species and find new species of animals and plants to rule over. The thought is intriguing, perhaps slightly mad…. But what other choice do you have? You face extinction. Humans can’t survive what we have in mind. You either climb into your chambers or go insane and die!”
“So.” Abe smiled grimly. “This was the alternate plan all along. You knew about this on the day we launched.”
“That’s correct, captain.” Skip gave a nod. “While you slept, specimens were taken from you and your crew. When we lost contact with the world, considering the war-like footing of governments and nations, the old mission was discarded and the new mission began. That cataclysmic event decided everything. Planning ahead for just such a catastrophe, the builders of the Phoenix gave this ship unlimited potential, with the surety that your species would not become extinct. In a very real sense, because of specimens taken by Sandra and Woody, the Phoenix, a super spaceship, is also an ark, carrying the remnant of mankind. Had we turned back or not left at all, you would suffer the same fate as all earthlings. As it is, we have done our duty. We have protected you, ran the ship, and we are now returning to our duties as caretakers of the ship.” “You must—all of you—return to hibernation. If you can’t do this or won’t do this on your own, we will force you into your chambers for your own good… How it happens is up to you!”