Some time ago, astronomers discovered an asteroid that had previously gone uncharted because of its extremely low albedo. The asteroid is on collison course with Earth; the impact will be an extinction-level event. No conventional technology has a prayer of stopping it.
But all is not lost. You see, fifteen years ago, your friend Cree–a genius polymath, humanity’s greatest expert in field theory and several fields of engineering–had a breakthrough that let her invent artificial gravity, inertial dampeners, force shields, and finally faster-than-light travel and communications: in short, everything you need for a starship. She’s built two multi-purpose ships, the Roonwit and the Glenstorm, and a much slower transport ship, the *Gadget[/] no other such vessels exist. The two ships are exploring the stars together. You’re the shipmaster of Roonwit; your friend Jamie is the skipper Glenstorm; Cree commands the fleet. Five years ago, y’all discovered an Earthlike planet a hundred parsecs from Sol and suitable for colonization. When news came of Earth’s peril, the little fleet had just deposited the latest load of settlers on Tellus Secundus, bringing its population to about 10,000. Cree naturally dropped everything. Glenstorm and Roonwit set sail for home. She and the crews’ biggest brains set about devising a plan to save Earth.
Three months later, when Glenstorm and Roonwit reach the orbit of Mars, doomsday is 48 hours away. At 1900, a visibly exhausted Cree addresses the bridge crews of both ships for an announcment whose details you already know. They’ve completed work on a super-repulsor she believes can save the day; it’s installed on Glenstorm. In firing, the ship will have to position herself directly in the asteroid’s path , and the repulsor will burn out all the ship’s systems; she doesn’t expect anyone on board to survive. Thus, at 0600 tomorrow, everyone but a skeleton crew will board Roonwit. The skeleton crew–Cree, seven engineers, and six bridge crew–will then complete the mission. If they succeed, Roonwit can proceed as its skipper deems best; if they fail, it is to go back to Tellus Secundus to join the colony there. With that, she tells Jamie to ask for volunteers, then goes to her quarters to get her last night’s sleep.
Once Cree is out of earshot, Glenstorm’s chief engineer, Toby, takes the floor. The first thing he says is that he’s volunteering for the skeleton crew; the second is that Cree left out a pertinent detail. While at least fourteen people must be on board Glenstorm to make the plan work, Cree doesn’t have to be one of them–and je doesn’t think she should be.
“Let’s have no false modesty,” Toby says. “Every member of these crews is extremely bright, and several of us are geniuses. Hell, I’m one of three Nobel laureates in the group. But next to the commodore, we’re all Neanderthals. The repulsor cannon and all our primary systems are the fruit of her brow. Not just the theory: the actual engineering. She’s already begun taking humanity to the stars. If Earth survives this, she may do something even more miraculous; if it doesn’t, she’d be a tremendous asset to Secundus. But only if she’s alive–and she’ll never agree to let one of us die in her place. Now in a moment, Doc Billingsley will give her a sedative that’ll let her sleep for about six hours–unless I beep him. If I beep him, the doc will up the dose so she’ll be out longer–long enough to get her onto Roonwit and that ship to pull back, leaving Jamie to command Glenstorm on this last mission.”
“Which I am willing to do,” Jamie puts in. “But that means we’ll need at least one more bridge volunteer for the skeleton crew–and frankly, without Cree’s great big brain available, we’re better off with three more, for a total of nine bridge crew. But I can’t order that. I can say that I need to know who’s willing right now. If I get at least seven bridge volunteers, we go with Toby’s plan. Otherwise we proceed as the skipper described. Hands, please.”
Do you think Toby’s plan is best? Does Cree’s genius truly make her life more valuable than others? Regardless of that, are you willing to give your life for hers? For the world? Why or why not?
Wait for the poll, or not. I ain’t your dady.