Ezekiel tapped yet another box on his tablet as he passed from Section 104-86 to Section 104-87. Another section inspected. Another section without breach or defect. You would think the sameness would break a man, but not Ezekiel. He was thankful for it, and frankly didn’t like thinking about what it would mean if there was a deviation from everything being “okay.”
Ezekiel had always liked solitude but never had the opportunity to experience much of it before this job. There certainly was plenty of solitude these days, even when he was with company. There were five of them that walked the inspection route for nine hours a day – excluding a thirty minute lunch – every day of every week. Five people. Five being the optimum number determined by psychologists. Too many to foster a sense of true isolation, and too few to form subgroups that could turn on one another. The perfect size for a human workforce.
Five people, standing watch over one hundred million sleeping souls.
It had been ten years since the pulsar entered the solar system. It would be another fifteen before it exited. Ezekiel looked up at the ceiling some hundred meters above him and tried to stare past the countless rows of fluorescent lights that never turned off. Five miles above that ceiling of solid rock was the surface of the Earth, irradiated for ten years by the spinning lighthouse of death that was making its trek through their solar system. Every 34.2 seconds its beam of x-rays hit the Earth. Every 34.2 seconds the Earth caught fire.
There were two things that kept Ezekiel going. The first was the knowledge that when faced with The End that humanity rose up and banded together. Observations of the pulsar showed that five miles of rock would block enough radiation to make its passage survivable. The problem was when you took into account the amount of space needed for plants to grow oxygen and provide food then you simply couldn’t support a viable population in any one place. The human race would be reduced to maybe two thousand souls; far too small a number should anything happen to them.
The European Space Agency provided the answer. They had been working on hypersleep technology for long duration spaceflight for some time and were confident they could mass produce enough sleep pods to save the human race. The sleep pods had an 86% success rate; far too low for spaceflight, but when you’re talking about saving the population of the Earth… well, 86% is a lot better than 0.00002%.
They would need stewards, of course. People to watch over the sleeping human race for the two and a half decades they would be resting, barely aging. It would be lonely, solitary work, but it would be rewarding. That was the second thing that kept Ezekiel going. The sense that for the first time in his life he was important. It mattered if he got up and did his job. It mattered if he failed.
Ezekiel walked over to the plastic sheeting that kept dust and moisture from accumulating on the sleeping pods. He pressed his flattened hand across the sheeting until it was stretched smooth against one of the pods. The blinking blue light indicated that bio-data was being streamed from this pod to his tablet, same as the other thousand or so pods in this section. He could just make out the name and identification number carved into the pod just below the light. The name read “Talia Karchem”. He wondered who she was, and what she did before she went to sleep. Was she alone or did she have family? Where was she from? What were her hopes and dreams? Whatever they were, it was Ezekiel’s job to make sure she woke up one day to realize them.
He turned back to his tablet and noted the status. One thousand thirty-seven pods in Section 104-87 all reading “Status Okay”. Tapping a box on his tablet, Ezekiel walked to Section 104-88.