Ben stepped out into the hallway, and Celeste's voice told him to follow the projected yellow line on the floor that ended at an open elevator. Carrying a pasta dinner and wine pouch, he joined Jacob and Rachel. Celeste appeared in the chair next to him. Rachel grinned, “I see you and Celeste have made peace with her appearance. I can bet it was an interesting experience. You should have seen what Jeeves did to me.” Flustered Ben said, “It was enlightening, to say the least.”
“Ben," said Jacob, "There are a few more things you need to know before we go any further. You were already on a short list for this job Celeste created while 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. 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 then 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, the earth was in bad shape. Despite the efforts put into trying to minimize the birth rate, the population had grown to nearly thirty billion souls. Warmer temperatures made more land unusable for agriculture. The tipping point had long ago passed. The worm drive saved humanity, sort of.
Religious, racial, nationally aligned, and almost every other example of human tribalism went to the stars. The poor of course were left behind. It was shortly after this we established Alexandria.
Worm drives have a long lifespan if not used. With each use, they lose power. One of the first things the Library did when we moved here was to acquire a substantial stockpile of worm drives and ships. All the worm drives were built by a single 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 planet or the place to build them. We want to find planets that have a population large enough, are willing to make some sacrifices, and over time can be taught how to do it.
This job has several aspects. One is to visit possible planets where this could occur. If they're not ready, we try to provide them with the tools needed so in time they might be suitable for this project. Another thing you need to understand is Celeste is in charge of these missions. One last thing Ben, there is no real pay for this. What we offer to you and to all residents of Alexandria are room and board. No one here pays for anything, and there is no way to buy things. If you need something, and it can be provided you will get it. So there it is Ben, do you have any questions?”
Ben sat silently for a minute playing with his pasta, and asked, “How dangerous can this be Jacob?” “On rare occasions, we have lost people mostly because they made poor decisions or ignored their partner's advice.” Celeste chimed in “Ben, I will guard you with all my resources. Losing a partner is devastating. I know this personally. You are the one I'm willing to do this with again if you will have me.”
Ben looked up at the atrium skylight, considered how mundane his life was on Bliss, then smiled. “Sure, Celeste, I'm game for adventures with you.” “Thank you, Ben. It will be fun, or at least I promise always interesting. I have some things to do, and I will see you first thing in the morning.”