It was a warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. Mary Tyler was in her kitchen preparing dinner. She had a pot of water boiling on the stove for cooking spaghetti and a large pot of sauce that needed stirring. She grabbed for a long wooden spoon and dipped it into the sauce. One minute, she was standing at the stove stirring a pot of tomato sauce with a wooden spoon and the next, she was on board an alien craft being probed and prodded. She was only vaguely aware of where she was and what was going on as everything appeared to be happening in slow-motion. She was naked on a metal table and they were busy fussing over her, inserting needles and probes and whatnot into her various orifices. Soon, she drifted off to sleep.
Mary’s husband, Simon Tyler, reported Mary missing after a search of his property showed no sign of her. He had only discovered her disappearance when the pots on the stove boiled over. During the week following her sudden disappearance, there was considerable speculation about her fate. One theory was that she had been murdered by her husband. Another theory was that she had run away but people who knew the couple swore that they were very devoted to each other. “Besides, she was cooking dinner. No woman would leave a pot on the stove to run off with another man.” Fax Network News reported that she had been abducted by illegal aliens and was being held as a sex slave. Simon Tyler told Fax to shove it up where the sun doesn’t shine.
The following Sunday morning, Mary was found wearing her apron and carrying a tomato sauce coated wooden spoon in the middle of a corn field that was one hundred miles away from her home. The farmer who found her had nearly run her over with the corn harvester. When interviewed by authorities about her disappearance, she repeated the same story about suddenly being abducted by aliens and probed at length for a long time before waking up standing among the corn stalks.
The story of her sudden disappearance from her kitchen and equally sudden reappearance in a corn field one hundred miles away hit the Interwebs. and spread worldwide. She recounted her story to anyone who would listen. Conspiracy theorists latched on to the story and floated rumors that the government had kidnapped her for some secret experiment. The legend of Mary Tyler was getting out of hand, taking on a life of its own on the Interwebs.
The Maintenance Crew
The Stygian ship, Atalanta, had been in space for a very long time. The world it had left behind was gone, eaten by its sun as the red giant had expanded. The Atalanta was the largest cargo ship ever built for any purpose. Only its crew was aware of the lengthy journey from a long dead world in search of a new home. The ship’s closed ecosystem was nearing its limits. Stressors were beginning to show in life support and mechanical systems as the ship crossed the galaxy.
Occasionally the ship would encounter hazards that taxed the systems even further. For example, it wasn’t all that uncommon to encounter meteorites.
The Atalanta was being pelted by meteorites, which usually only caused some minor hull damage – dents, scrapes, and the occasional puncture. A single meteorite pierced both the outer hull and the inner hull, damaging one of the cargo pods. The maintenance crew disconnected the damaged pod from the system and rushed it to a pod repair station where the contents would be transferred to an undamaged pod. They worked as quickly as possible to complete the transfer without disturbing the contents. If the crew didn’t work fast enough, the contents of the pod would become aware of the transfer. Sometimes this was not possible and it resulted in disruptions in the continuity of the program.
The occupant of the pod would experience lost time or even be returned to a random point within the framework. It was not uncommon for the occupant to report having experienced an abduction, especially if a lot of time had been lost and they were far from where they had disappeared. The ripples from this particular abduction experience would spread quickly, too quickly for the maintenance crew to correct.
“How do we handle this?” The maintenance chief presented a few scenarios that had worked in the past. Declare her incompetent, have authorities issue denials to the press, or accuse her of perpetrating a hoax were all good strategies that worked well most of the time.
“How about this time we just let it run its course?” The program manager was not about to introduce any new ripples into the program. “We run the risk of the whole thing collapsing if we tamper with it.”
“You’ve never had problems inserting code in the program in the past. What is different this time?”
“I’m concerned that the program may become sentient. All those minds will reason away her claims eventually. Even she will doubt what happened. Their thought processes have sped up considerably, almost outpacing the current processors running the program. We run the risk of losing control either way. Our best outcome is just to let it work itself out. Besides, we are nearly there and will have to wake them all soon enough.”
“I’m worried about how they will react. They have been living in a virtual world for a long time. They may object to finding out that their entire lives have been a lie. There are already signs that they will reject us as caretakers. I am not looking forward to dealing with these organics once we reach planetfall.”
“They will need us still if they wish to survive in their new home. We were built to serve as the ship’s maintenance crew, but we were also tasked with being their caretakers whether we liked it or not. Sometimes I wonder if they are worth the trouble.”