“Move to the ring! Now!” I said.
I jumped from the pilot pod and down to the ship’s round interior. I unbuckled Amy and Emma, the twins, from their seats and pushed them into the center of the fuselage of our ship, the Möbius 13.
“What’s going on?!” Allison said. “Amy, Emma, get back in your seats!” Allison, Amy and Emma's mother, was groggy despite the blare of the siren and flash of the emergency lights.
“Ms. Davis, there’s no time to explain,” I said.
“C’mon, Roger,” Allison Davis said as she yanked her husband from his seat, corralled her family into the center of the round fuselage, and snorted.
“Are we there yet? Is this Pluto?” Roger said, a bit woozy from the space travel.
“No, something’s wrong,” Cassidy said. She pulled a notebook from her university book bag and ran her finger down a page of numbers.
“Micro asteroids,” Dennis said, shaking his head back and forth and walking to the center of the ring. He tapped Cassidy on the shoulder and motioned for her to join the group in the center of the ring.
“Brace yourself!” I said, jumping from the outer rim of of the fuselage to the center of the ring.
The Möbius 13 shuddered and shook. Then, a snap-hiss, like a light saber ignition from an old space opera movie, washed over us. A glowing shield of energy rose up 8 feet and formed a cylinder with the 30 foot diameter ring of the fuselage floor for its base.
Amy and Emma pierced the air with a simultaneous scream. Roger screeched, too. The Möbius platform and the energy shield were all that remained of the Möbius 13. The six passengers and I were floating in space, protected by the Möbius safety system.
By the bright white light of the force field, Cassidy read aloud from her notebook, “Safety protocol #94 states that in the event of a micro asteroid storm, the Möbius 13 shall stall and protect its passengers with a fusion shield that shall arc from the safety ring in the center of the fuselage. If the ship is undamaged and operational, the shield shall retract after five minutes. If the ship is damaged beyond repair or destroyed, the passengers shall transport, by string, to the nearest star port after the five minute period.”
“Well, so much for our vacation!” Allison said, staring daggers at me.
“Looks like we’re heading back to Lunar II,” Dennis said, rubbing a hand over his three day stubble.
“Please, we don’t have much time,” I said. All six passengers rushed to the center of the ring.
“Mama, what’s gonna happen?” Amy said in tears. “Mama, what’s gonna happen,“ Emma followed. Allison knelt and hugged her daughters.
“As you know, and as Cassidy read, the emergency procedure requires you to travel by string back to Lunar II,” I said. “I’m running the string protocols now and I’ll be ready to comply within thirty seconds.”
For us sentient AI, time goes by so much slower than for humans. I am Möbius Pilot 13, MP-13 for short. I am a cyborg—I have an artificial brain but a real body. My genetic marker rests back at the Lunar II.
I ran the numbers for string ejection and, not 0.05 seconds into the inquiry, I discovered a problem. The string system was reading five passengers, not six. 0.15 seconds later, I had digested 5 petabytes of text regarding known issues with string ejection.
One second after communicating the compliance directive, I asked Allison, “Ms. Davis, how identical are Amy and Emma?”
“What? I don’t know. They’re identical twins for Bieber’s sake!”
“Ms. Davis, is one of your daughters an in utero clone of the other?”
“No! I would never have done that. That’s illegal!”
“Yes, Amy is Emma’s in utero clone,” Roger said.
“Goddammit, Roger! You promised you wouldn’t tell!”
“Oh, boy,” Dennis said.
“Ms. Davis, the string ejection protocol assigns the number of return routes based on the number of unique DNA sequences,” I said.
“Yeah. So what,” Allison said.
“Well, Ms. Davis, we have one string for each unique DNA strand. This means we only have five spaces for six people,” I said.
“Oh my god,” Cassidy said, pushing her glasses up from the tip of her nose with her index finger. “And string ejection is an all or none proposition—it’s five of us or none of us.”
“Well, in that case, Roger will have to stay,” Allison said.
“No, not Daddy!” Emma and Amy said in unison.
“Screw you, Ally!” Roger said.
“Well, I ain’t stayin’,” Dennis said. “I got kids back home.” I knew Dennis was lying but my programming forbade me from exposing the shortcomings of my passengers.
“I should stay,” Cassidy said, tearing up, shaking, and clutching her book bag.
“Why do you think you should stay, Cassidy?” I asked.
“I’m a student. I have no one depending on me.”
“Cassidy Kathryn Jenkins, what would your mother say?!” Allison said.
Cassidy began to cry.
“Someone has to stay,” Roger said.
I blinked through a gigabyte of Earth philosophy. According to Jeremy Bentham, the right action was the one that provided the greatest good for the greatest number. Leaving one person behind would allow the other five to survive. Under Bentham’s utilitarian theory, one person had to stay behind. But Immanuel Kant said that we should act on a maxim only whereby we can will that it, at the same time, become a universal law. No person could be left behind because that would have been murder and murder cannot be a universal prescription.
“What happens to the person who stays?” Allison said.
“The string protocol will cause the matter nearby to fold upon itself. Any one left when the remnants of the Möbius 13 collapse will de-atomize,” I said.
“What happens to you?” Allison said.
“I don’t count. I’m backed up to the central solar system server. I’ll be restored to my genetic marker back at Lunar II,” I said.
“I thought you were a robot?” Roger said.
“I’m a cybernetic clone,” I said.
“So, you’re a robot,” Roger said.
“No, I bleed, I feel, and I cry just like you. My brain is artificial, though.”
Emma and Amy tugged on my shirt. “Do we have to stay?” they asked.
“No, that would be silly,” I said. “Give me a sec,” I said.
I scrolled through every relevant book, article, data cache, and diagram I could find. A second later, after what would have seemed like several lifetimes for a human, I knew what I had to do.
“OK, everybody chill. You’re all going home. Just get to the center as tight as you can,” I said.
“5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1” shimmered through the force field. And then, everything collapsed.
48 hours later, the six passengers of the Möbius 13 awoke from string extraction processing. To get back to the Lunar II, they passed through the Sixth Dimension. It took a day or two to recalibrate them so they didn't think they were losing their minds after seeing everything that could possibly happen all at once. Basically, these travelers, like the many who preceded them, felt like they had a long dream. But really, their brains were adjusting to being stretched way beyond a familiar dimension.
“Dennis!” Cassidy said from the white welcome room. She waved at him and he walked over to her.
“How did he do it?” Dennis asked.
“It’s beautiful, really,” Cassidy said.
“Where’s MP-13?” Amy and Emma said in unison.
“He erased himself,” Cassidy said. “He sacrificed himself for us.”
“How? He’s an android,” Roger said.
“Cyborg,” Allison said.
“Whatever,” Roger said.
“How could he have erased himself?” Dennis said.
“Look here,” Cassidy said. She pulled up a page in her welcome tablet and showed the others.
Welcome back to the Lunar II. If you have traveled by string, you may notice some inconsistencies with the reality you knew before returning by string. In the unlikely event that you had fewer extraction “seats” than people in your crew, your pilot may have donated his DNA code to generate an emergency seat so that all passengers could arrive safely. Unfortunately, generating a DNA code from the opposite side of the string deletes that code from existence in all possible timelines but one. In the highly unlikely event that you have ended up in a temporal remainder, you may experience confusion as the strings adjust to your reality and your reality adjusts to the strings.
“Wow,” Dennis said.
“Are we ready to go on our trip? We’ve been waiting here forever!” Amy and Emma said to Allison.
“Yes, we . . . “
“Where are we?” Roger said.
“Hi, my name’s Cassidy,” Cassidy said.
“We’re the Davis family,” Allison said.
“And I’m MP-14, your pilot,” Möbius Pilot 14 said. “Welcome aboard the Möbius 14! Who’s ready to see Pluto?”