Charles walked in with a cup of coffee and a sigh of exhaustion.
“What’s it look like today?” he asked. “Things hadn’t been progressing well the last few decades.”
“Well, they keep killing each other,” Viktor said matter-of-factly.
“I meant, has anything new happened?”
Charles sat down at the console next to Viktor. His shift was just starting but he already wanted a cigarette. He purposely didn’t bring any to prevent the slippery slope of indulgence. It had been two days since he decided to quit and he meant to follow through. He sipped his coffee and settled in for the sixteen-hour shift. The first half with Viktor, the second with Genly. Then eight hours off for sleep and relaxation. He hated sticking to a twenty-four-hour cycle, but his assignment included adjusting to a daily schedule similar to that of the planetary cycle he was observing.
Another long day of keeping watch and he doubted anything interesting would happen.
“How long ago did they develop close-range space travel?”
“Only a few generations.”
Charles sighed, “And they’ve already given up it seems. I wish they’d do something productive or it’s just going to be a wash here too.” He leaned back and put his feet up.
“You never know. They haven’t passed the critical mark yet. They could become a valuable addition.”
“Ha, and you, me, and Genly will all be able to go home before we hit two hundred runs, right?”
Viktor waved the comment away. They passed the time in silence. Charles grabbed another cup of coffee to combat the lack of sleep. Viktor had almost dozed off when Genly came in to relieve him. Genly looked like he had just woken up himself.
“This lack of sleep will be the end of me,” Genly said, “How much longer do you think it’ll be before they blow themselves up?”
Charles smiled. “I said the same thing. Viktor seems to think they can make it.”
“Viktor’s only been around for a few jobs. He still has hope. He told me they still tell everyone that the success rate is thirty percent. This is, what, his third run? By the numbers he was given, I’d be bit hopeful too. But we know better. I was a little hopeful when I first started. You remember, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. It’ll only be a matter of time before he realizes these things don’t always work out.” Charles remembered his first assignment. It was a planet near the outer rim. It was nearly the perfect distance from a young star. Everything seemed right, but the simulation showed what almost every simulation afterwards showed. That intelligent life had a tendency to destroy itself.
The door opened and Jensen walked in.
“We’re still a long way from making a decision just yet,” Charles said.
“Doesn’t matter. Give me an update.”
Charles sat up and looked over his console. “Roughly nine billion people. Still separated into small groups. Still killing each other.” He looked over at Genly while saying it. Charles kicked back again and popped a piece of candy in his mouth before continuing, “About ten percent actually have a workable system to keep each other alive while another sixty percent claim they do. The remaining thirty percent are indifferent. Starvation is still ongoing. Distribution of supplies is still unacceptable. Pollution has slowed but is still rising at an unsuitable rate. It’s too early to tell, but they may have given up on exploration after a meager attempt. Religion is still a subject of contention and so on.”
“But it hasn’t failed yet?” Jensen asked.
“Well, no,” Charles admitted, “but at its current course it most likely will.”
“Doesn’t matter. They want to proceed with this installment. Keep it running for another few centuries and notify me if anything drastic changes. In the meantime, prepare for a new run. File F117_2. I’ll send it over shortly. It’s a small planet near the core that could be populated sooner than later. Run it and give me updates every eight hours.”
Jensen headed for the door but stopped when Genly asked, “Another 24-hour cycle sir?”
“At least we have that going for us,” Genly said, mostly to himself before cycling through his console.
Jensen was halfway out the door when Charles yelled, “Hey! Why the fuck do we run these if no one bothers to look at the data?”
“Because there are more factors than just data gathering,” Jensen said before the door closed.
“More factors my ass,” Charles muttered to himself, “The whole point of this is to reduce unnecessary installments, but they don’t care since they’re tired of waiting.”
“Who knows, maybe this simulation will pull it off. You said yourself it was too early to tell,” Genly said.
“Yeah, maybe.” His craving for a cigarette increased tenfold. The only reason he didn’t have one going already was because he didn’t have one. “Genly?”
“You got a smoke?”
“No, it’s alright. I don’t need it anyway.” Charles began making preparations for the next run. He was almost done when file F117_2 popped into the system from Jensen. He sighed, opened it, and reviewed the material. Everything seemed good. Perhaps this one would prove successful. “Maybe,” he said under his breath.
“What?” Genly asked.
“Nothing. Just looking at the new run.”
“It has potential. Like all the others. Let’s see what happens.” He initialized the sequence and pressed the start button.