Ben stepped out into the hallway, and Celeste's voice quietly told him to follow the projected yellow line on the floor that ended at an open elevator. Ben stepped in and descended to the atrium. A hungry Ben recognized where the cafeteria was and headed over to it. Selecting a pasta dinner and wine pouch Ben walks into the glass-enclosed private dining room, takes a seat across from Jacob and Rachel, and Celeste appeared in the chair next to him. Rachel grinned and said, “I see you and Celeste have made peace with her appearance. I bet it was an interesting experience. You should have seen what Jeeves did to me” she laughed. A flustered Ben just said, “It was enlightening to say the least.”
Jacob looked up at Ben and seriously said, “Ben, There are a few more things you need to know before we go any further. You were already on a very short list for this job that Celeste created while gathering data when we were in orbit. This is a difficult position to fill, and I wasn't completely honest with you about what the job really entails. So first when we're through discussing this I will give you the option of returning to Bliss, with the credits Celeste put into your account, or continuing.” Ben peered at Jacob then Rachel, and turned to look at Celeste. All three had somber looks on their faces. Ben cleared his throat, and said, “Go ahead Jacob, I'm listening.”
“Before the invention of the worm drive, mother earth was in bad shape. Despite huge efforts put into trying to minimize the birth rate, the population had grown to nearly thirty billion souls. This in turn was using up resources at a horrific rate. The climate temperatures were rapidly climbing rendering more and more land unusable for agriculture. The tipping point had been passed long ago and everything was breaking down at an exponential rate. Inventing the worm drive saved humanity, sort of. After the worm drive technology stabilized and planets were identified that could support life the barges were built. These could hold about 50,000 people or carry a lot of cargo. A worm drive ship could wrap its field around them and haul them to a new planet.
The barges weren't a comfortable way to travel, but the passengers typically didn't have to be on them for more than a few days. It worked well but only for those that were wealthy enough to afford the trip. Those that went on the barges were in like-minded groups. Religious, racial, nationally aligned, political and almost every other example of human tribalism. The poor of course were left behind. It was shortly after this we established Alexandria.
Part two of the story is the worm drives have a very long life span, if they aren't being used. But with every trip they lose some fractional amount of power. One of the first things the library did when we moved here was to acquire a large stock pile of worm drives and ships. As I mentioned we have enough to last about another 50 years or so if we're careful. All the worm drives were built by one company that carefully guarded its secrets. When it blew, all the tech went with it at the same time. We understand how to make them, but we don't have the resources on our mountainous planet, or the place to build them. To this end we have two goals. The first is to locate a planet that has a population large enough, willing to make some sacrifices to do this, and over time can be taught how to do it.
So the job has two aspects. One is to visit possible planets where this could occur, and if it's not ready at that time try to provide them with the tools needed so in time they might be suitable for this project. The job has some real tangible risks. Celeste although brilliant has limitations in other ways. She can deploy bots, appear as a holo near the ship and the ship is virtually indestructible and heavily armed. The one thing she can't do is easily and directly interact with the inhabitants, especially in lower technology locations and away from the ship. You are Celeste's human interface to the people on these worlds. Another thing you need to consider is that Celeste is in charge of these missions, and she chose you. Believe me, she is picky. One last thing Ben, there is no real pay for this. What we offer to you and all residents of Alexandria is room and board. No one here pays for anything, and there is no way to buy things here. You need something, and if can be provided you will get it. So there it is Ben, do you have some questions?”
Ben sat silent for a few minutes playing with his pasta, and asked, “How dangerous can this be?” Jacob quietly stated, “On rare occasion, we have lost people. This was mostly due to their making poor decisions and ignoring their partners advice or instructions.” Celeste chimed in “Ben, I will guard you with all of my resources. Losing a partner is devastating. I know this personally and it took me a long time before I could do this again. You are the one I'm willing to do this again with if you will have me.”
Ben stirred his pasta around for a moment thinking about Bliss, then looked up and smiled at Celeste and said, “Sure, Celeste, I'm game for some adventures.” A soft voice whispered in his ear, “Thank you, Ben, it will be fun. I have some things to do and I will see you in the morning.”