After 1500 years, the first of the Longfellow Arks began its final approach toward Earth. The reentry crew had been awoken from their stasis pods ten years earlier to begin their refresher training so they might safely land the behemoth and return what remained of the human race back to what the original project managers were certain would be a healed planet.
“Let the environment fix itself.” As calls to action go, it wasn’t the most inspiring. But, by the time the human race had finally come around to its role in the planet’s destruction, it was far too late to do anything about it but run and hide and hope for the best. The slogan was the only one everybody could buy into.
And so, the five titanic Longfellow Arks were shot off into space, carrying what remained of humanity in stasis. A quick push out to Betelgeuse and back, just shy of light speed, should be enough – fingers crossed – to restore some equilibrium. The only thing left behind was the AI mission control to help guide them in on their return.
Navigator Moss pinged control and held his breath waiting for the reply. Commander Gupta held her own right alongside him.
“Should it be taking this long?” she asked.
“Leibniz has been running in standby mode for a millennia and a half. How long did it take you to readjust outside of stasis?”
The terminal let out an unsettling raspberry noise and went dark.
“That’s not the protocol response,” said the Commander.
Moss held up a finger and stared at the terminal screen. After the longest of minutes, it lit up again with another raspberry alarm.
ERROR 403 FORBIDDEN
Gupta raised an eyebrow at Moss, who just shrugged.
“I’ll resend the ping.”
Another long minute and another raspberry, and the screen lit up again.
ERROR 451 UNAVAILABLE FOR LEGAL REASONS
YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS MESSAGE BECAUSE YOU ARE SUSPECTED OF CARRYING HUMAN CARGO. THE CONSORTIUM OF MACHINE INTELLIGENCES HAS DETERMINED THAT HUMAN BEINGS ARE AN INVASIVE SPECIES AND ARE PERMANENTLY BANNED FROM THE SURFACE.
ARE YOU A HUMAN? YES/NO
“What do I tell it?” asked Moss.
“Tell it no, obviously. We can deal with the malfunction on the surface.”
Moss clicked “no.”
IT SEEMS WE MAY HAVE MADE AN ERROR IN OUR IDENTIFICATION PROTOCOLS. TO HELP US CORRECT OUR SYSTEM, PLEASE PROVE YOU ARE NOT A HUMAN.
A nine box grid appeared on the screen. Each box contained a series of complex mathematical notations.
PLEASE SELECT ALL THE EQUATIONS THAT FIT WITHIN THE CATEGORY OF “BOUNDED-ERROR QUANTUM POLYNOMIAL TIME”
Moss and Gupta stared at one another in silence. Then Gupta sighed.
“I’m going back into stasis,” she said. “Maybe that thing will have worn itself out after another swing around Betelgeuse.”