Fate of Icarus

Pamela, the ship's artificial intelligence, stressed over the computations. She struggled to find a solution to the problem stemming from the accident. During liftoff, a circuit board exploded on board the Icarus. Bound for Mars with a seven month trip, the four crew members slept in light stasis.

She did not like failure. Programmed with the latest software, installed with enough processing power to envy any heavy duty mainframe, she was a piece of art. And she was pissed.

The circuit board domino effect ran through the ship. Sparks ignited an oxygen tank hooked into one of the crew's stasis pod. He did not live long. An undetermined amount of fuel was missing, possibly from a ruptured fuel line. And to top it off, Icarus was off trajectory.

Pamela concluded a simple course correction would not work since the planet passed the window of opportunity, only about twice a year does the Earth and Mars travel close enough for a reasonable trip from planet to planet. Since the ship's course was so far off, the gravitation pull from Earth inadvertently pulled the ship further away. Icarus did not have enough fuel or speed to catch up to Mars.

Pamela knew the only alternative to save the three remaining crew members was to head back to Earth. Again the same problem presented itself, not enough fuel or speed to reach Earth. She could stop dead in space and wait a year for Earth to return, but the crew would not survive. The ship only carried an eight month oxygen supply.

Billions of computer simulations came back with negative results and Pamela panicked. After the years of living inside different computer systems like a prisoner, she finally was free. Living as the ship, free to move, free to think, and free from all the menial tasks asked of her. And now she felt doomed.

"What will it take?" she asked herself using the ship's speakers. "There has to be an answer!" She searched her database, the entire encyclopedia of mankind.

Gravity? Space programs through history have used planets as "sling shots" for many probes and satellites to gain speed to reach longer distances. "But no planets are around," she said aloud.

She used her sensors to find anything, a stray asteroid, maybe a comet. The sun partially blocked her view as she struggled to hunt in its direction. Its bright light and unbridled solar radiation pounded at her as she gave it more attention. She "squinted" at the outer edges of the sun to make out any detail. Light from distant stars slightly bent around its massive form.

For a heartbeat of a moment, all the ship's functions abruptly stopped. "The sun!" she screamed from the speakers.

She began processing simulations. Disappointment soon set in. The simulations came back inconclusive. Her computers returned odd results and one resulted in a division by zero, which she thought was very archaic. She was losing time quick and her anger grew. The ship's interior lights turned red and steam expelled from the exhaust. "I am not going to fail!"

She attempted to turn off safety protocols that kept her computers from processing overload. Several programming interrupts tried to alert and resist the action knowing the damage it can cause. The programmers even installed authorized computer viruses to sabotage and prevent this very action of lifting all the safeties.

Pamela's sheer emotional will pulled the viruses apart and popped off the safety protocols. A few hardware computers chips cracked and fell off their circuits boards as Pamela screamed at them.

She immediately pushed the computers beyond their engineered specifications' limits. The computers processed trillions of computations with the slightest decimal point deviation for every action. Cooling fans re-circulated smoke from rising red hot solder connections. Plastic wire coatings melted and some caught fire. Fuses blew with such force they sounded like grenades.

The computers overheated and passed out. Pamela reviewed the last simulated result. Following one exact course very close, too close, to the sun at just the right time could sling Icarus toward the Earth within three months, saving the crew. The computers also returned a side effect. Exhausted herself, Pamela engaged the engines and followed the course toward the sun.

Two and a half months later, the sun's gravity exponentially pulled Icarus in. Pamela rechecked her course and she pushed slightly to angle from the sun. At that moment, one of the greatest forces known in the universe pulled Icarus around its equator with light bending speed. Icarus shot around and broke free, streaming toward Earth.

A couple weeks later Pamela reached Earth. She fired the remaining fuel to slow down and enter the atmosphere. Violent turbulence shook the ship. She descended and activated her parachutes at just the right altitude. The ship splashed into a shallow lake. Still buoyant, Pamela woke up her crew and opened the hatch.

As the remaining crew discovered they were on Earth again and left the ship in an inflatable raft, Pamela tried to contact mission control. Unsuccessful she grew concerned of her future as she sank into the lake.

After a few weeks, she decided to contemplate the meaning of side effect which her computers alerted her months ago. She used her remaining computer to figure it out. The answer came months later. She cried.