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Starliners are huge colony ships. They carry enough equipment, building materials, embryos, colonists and nutrient rich rations to permanently establish a sizeable colony on a far-flung world. Although they’re big, they aren’t designed to act as generation ships. Instead any perishables (like people) are stored in 100% safe stasis modules (trust us, these things never cause psychosis or mutations) and running the ship day to day is entrusted to a helpful non-AI computer system (also 100% safe: guaranteed not to try murdering the protagonist with welding drones, and with no concerns about it trying to take over the universe)

However the ship designers know that there may be unforeseen emergencies. So every ship has a Troubleshooter (despite the name they rarely actually shoot the trouble). This individual is highly trained, augmented, decked out in Freeman class hazardous environment gear and given administrative privileges for every part of the ship.

They are also the only person ever woken by the computer en-route. No matter how bad things get, no matter how far outside of acceptable parameters things are, nobody but the single Troubleshooter wakes. There is no backup. No redundancy. This is, for some reason, intentional.

The question is why this would be so. Much like the drivers in this question: why would the people launching the colony ship not opt to include or wake multiple specialists in case of trouble?

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    $\begingroup$ You could have it be a single troubleshooter, but that person must enter a specific command in a computer somewhere outside of their pod within a certain amount of time or the system will fail-over to awaken the next troubleshooter. Also, once the troubleshooter is up s/he can awaken specific others as needed. That seems to maintain "one Troubleshooter" but avoid the frame-challenge issue below. $\endgroup$ – WBT Apr 26 '20 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ if they can preform high level maintenance then they can wake people up regardless of what the main computer wants. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 26 '20 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ I recommend watching the films "Pandorum" and "Passengers" for some theory inspiration and why a single passenger troubleshooter is not a good idea. $\endgroup$ – JoshDM Apr 27 '20 at 4:44
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshDM Having seen both I’m aware of the problems (though both ships weren’t meant to have solo troubleshooters). In fact the story I’m writing revolves around ‘Who is responsible when the decision to only have one person was intentional’- hence the question of ‘why would someone do this when it’s patently a bad idea’ $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 27 '20 at 6:46
  • $\begingroup$ Could it be to preserve resources? The whole idea of cryonic space travel is to reduce resource usage, and so having more people awake at any time might use up more resources than they are able or willing to spare. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Daly Apr 27 '20 at 10:31

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A simple humanitarian reason.

If the problem is normal-serious, the troubleshooter can fix it, eventually awaking specific other persons.

This individual is highly trained, augmented, decked out in Freeman class hazardous environment gear and given administrative privileges for every part of the ship.

If it's so beyond-serious that not even the troubleshooter can fix it, awaking the entire crew would just serve them a few minutes of panic and desperation before the inevitable. Cui prodest? It'd be better to just leave them to sleep in peace forever.

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Cryosleep is 100% safe, but that assumes careful procedures handled by the well-trained staff of the state-of-the-art embarkation center. A robot in the middle of nowhere would not be nearly as safe.

So a robot (the shipboard non-AI you mentioned) is legally not allowed to refreeze customers. And the programmers, on advice from their lawyers, decided against allowing the robot to break the law. The class action lawsuits would get astronomical.

The troubleshooter is an employee, not a customer, and he has signed quite extensive disclaimers of liability. It really wouldn't do to show that kind of paperwork to customers and ordinary crew, they'd get a completely misleading impression.

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    $\begingroup$ Taking this further the troubleshooter may have a special, much more expensive pod designed to be able to unfreeze someone without human intervention $\endgroup$ – LordHieros Apr 24 '20 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @LordHieros unfreeze, and later to refreeze when the problem is solved. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Apr 25 '20 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ Heh... "astronomical". $\endgroup$ – Cadence Apr 25 '20 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of Passengers en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passengers_(2016_film) $\endgroup$ – Andrew Grimm Apr 26 '20 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ "The troubleshooter is an employee, not a customer" Or... the troubleshooter is Military... and as such is no longer a citizen. They are property of the Government. Just ask any US Military Member what that means. $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Apr 26 '20 at 3:32
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They set it up this way because the troubleshooter is essentially sacrificed.

          (In the same vein as the answers of o.m. and Carl Witthoft)

Suppose the starship has the technology to deactivate a stasis field that has been placed around an object (this requires a relatively small, lightweight device), but that the machines needed to time-freeze objects and people into stasis are either too huge or too expensive to be carried on the ship itself.

If the technology has this limitation then the troubleshooter is essentially a human sacrifice. They are woken up ten-thousand years before the ship reaches its destination, they solve the issue and save the ship from disaster. They now age to death all alone on a spacehsip. Maybe to conserve food or oxygen rations they agree to kill themselves after completing their mission (if they fail to keep this agreement the AI can probably start withholding oxygen or food).

If this was the setup I imagine it might be hard to find volunteers to be troubleshooters. Even if two crew-members did volunteer the second one might withdraw themselves if they see someone else has already taken that bullet.

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    $\begingroup$ Similarly, to survive the repeated sleeping and waking could require some permanent augmentation that isn't lethal, but comes at great personal cost. Like Dune's 'guild navigators' have to live in tanks of gas. Anyone without the augmentation, once woken, can never be put back in stasis. $\endgroup$ – mjt Apr 24 '20 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ If people were desperate enough to get on the ship, they might still volunteer, hoping the trouble-shooter will never be needed and they'll reach the destination. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Apr 24 '20 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ If the troubleshooter is lost after shooting trouble, it would be still good to have a second one for shooting any trouble which comes later. $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Apr 25 '20 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann: Sure, but only one awake and alive at a time -- because you need to conserve resources. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Apr 25 '20 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ I'd suggest that even under those circumstances in a ship with e.g. thousands of people there will be volunteers who will take the chance because their loved ones are on board. And there are always people willing to risk sacrificing themselves for the common good - people so passionate about colonization that they'll die for it. Being woken in those circumstances would be an interesting character study, IMO, but as per my frame challenge I think you'd find more than one volunteer per mission and you'd certainly chance it. Colonization is already a risky life choice - they're risk takers. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Apr 25 '20 at 11:52
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Frame challenge time.

No matter how bad things get, no matter how far outside of acceptable parameters things are, nobody but the single Troubleshooter wakes. There is no backup. No redundancy. This is, for some reason, intentional.

No way. This would make no sense at all to anyone.

Starliners are huge colony ships. They carry enough equipment, building materials, embryos, colonists and nutrient rich rations to permanently establish a sizeable colony on a far-flung world.

These exceptionally valuable resources (and lives) are not going to be risked on one person being successfully woken without problems and that person being able to fix the problem or make the required decisions.

No one, from the accountant responsible for the insurance policies, to the CEO responsible for their huge retirement package to be enjoyed without lawsuits for decades, would want to risk all of that on one person.

The backup crew would be a minimum of three people, with a well defined decision making process that the AI requires them to follow.

The backup crew would have a backup and the backup-backup would have a backup.

You're not risking all that investment on one guy who may wake up and e.g. go nuts or be brain-damaged or be blind from some weird side effect. You need numbers to reduce the odds of a problem and backups to make sure that doesn't happen.

However the ship designers know that there may be unforeseen emergencies.

But apparently can't do math.

Not only would the backup crews have multiple members all woken at the same time, you'd make sure they were distributed over different parts of the ship so that if some catastrophe has blown a huge chunk of the ship apart or irradiated it, that won't wipe out the whole backup crew unless something that would equate to destroying the ship does.

Each backup person (part of a backup crew) would have access to a full set of rescue resources so they can try, if all else fails, to operate alone.

But you don't plan on working alone. You never start out with a huge risk and hope it works out. Engineers don't do that. Ever.

The type of emergency requiring more than one person ?

There's damage to two systems and it requires that all-purpose fixing machine the human to fix both. Problem : they're both linked and work needs to be coordinated. Problem : the critical systems that need to be monitored are in a third location and the damaged AI can't help. Problem : You start fixing the problem and Bang ! One troubleshooter is dead. You still need both problems fixed together. You need a third grunt.

There's a useful model for this : planes. In an emergency generally training is for one pilot to fly the plane (if possible alone) and one to troubleshoot. You split the tasks because you can't rely on the automation in an emergency (sometimes you can, but you have to troubleshoot first before you can safely assume that).

There are other issues. One person thinks of one solution. But maybe the other two or three people think of a better one. Put another way : "Aliens !? But I'm an engineer and doctor not a diplomat and linguist !". You need a mix of skills and a mix of mindsets to arrive at good solutions to unforeseen problems.

What of backup person gets critically injured trying to fix something ? You really think you're not waking up the doctor ? Does that make any sense ?

Also note that these backup crews are not to be seen as a "just in case" - they're an essential system. They'll be highly trained (and well paid).

So I think it's not realistic that anyone would plan for just one backup person. Never.

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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs I think you need to shift your plot explanation for the single troubleshooter. Can you have an accident take out all but one of the troubleshooters? Only having one is just insane, but it might be more forgivable (still not super smart mind you) to have them all housed in one area that then gets hit by an asteroid, and only one makes it out of the resulting damage. Or maybe they're murdered and the first job of the one that happens to live is to find the murderer. $\endgroup$ – Harabeck Apr 24 '20 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Harabeck I've never found "it can't be done" answers to be very good - there is almost always a scenario that will work. Other answers have suggested that putting a person into stasis can only be done on planet so waking up is a death sentence - it would take a lot to convince someone to take on that ($$$ to the family?). Maybe there are legal issues - ethics boards only approved one person waking b/c they cant re-enter stasis and they've decided its an extremely low chance that they couldn't fix things and everyone would die. Heck, even a simple "corporations are incompetent/evil" works. $\endgroup$ – B.Kenobi Apr 24 '20 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @BKenobi The OP can certainly construct a scenario with one troubleshooter remaining, sure. That's explicitly out of scope of worldbuilding though, because that becomes plot. Having only one troubleshooter in the first place by design is not credible worldbuilding, under any circumstances. Even "it's a death sentence" isn't a good enough reason - you would still incentivise enough troubleshooters to deal with every conceivable situation, and they hope the dice roll in their favour and they don't need to be woken. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 25 '20 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Graham: Yep. Accidents are plot based, and not only that but having it be an accident one person woke up would ruin the point of the plot. I could simply present it as author fiat, but I prefer to at least try justify things like this. It’s almost like I need to ask a community of active and intelligent world builders how to try make the Worldbuilding more credible... wait... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 25 '20 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. All the answers give reasons but for me they lack any plausibility. The reality is that we, as humans, have asked people to volunteer for near certain death and they do. Some for temporary reward, some because the risk is low and they're willing to take, others because they feel it's a duty (e.g. believe in colonization so much they'll sacrifice themselves for it to happen). The planners would know that one troubleshooter for unforeseen problems is too risky, so they'd simply find more of those people willing to risk it for everyone else. Those people will exist. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Apr 25 '20 at 11:46
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There are more troubleshooters, however there is a strict policy to only wake up one at a time.

The key reason is that they cannot be put back to sleep, so they are effectively a one-off solution.

If the trip is scheduled to take 10,000 years and the (smart) engineers know the incident rate is about 1 every 100 years, then they'd expect a whopping 100 incidents along the journey! Alas the life expectancy of a troubleshooter is around 80 years.

This is why troubleshooters are the most precious resource of the ship. Wake up all the crew to solve one incident, and the ship is doomed to critically fail 200 years later when they're all dead.

Incidentally, this is the reason why the troubleshooter is not allowed to wake other people up. The logs of previous expeditions consistently show that some troubleshooters will eventually wake others out of sheer loneliness. The company has had to implement a strict "one at a time" policy to prevent such a wasteful (and dangerous!) use of resources.

In the end, it's all by design and driven by maths. The key assumptions:

  1. The incident rate is high
  2. The probability of a successful fix by one person is high
  3. The probability that the troubleshooter will needlessly awake someone else is high
  4. Troubleshooters are expensive and/or hard to find, making them a scarce resource
  5. The life expectancy of a troubleshooter is significantly shorter than the trip

If there absolutely needs to be no backup, they could always be the last troubleshooter, in charge of the last leg of the journey. This is statistically unlikely to happen but this trip was particularly eventful. Outliers happen.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the "one at a time" policy coming to prevent troubleshooters from waking others out of sheer loneliness. $\endgroup$ – Ángel Apr 26 '20 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I agree. But that does not solve the problem "the woke up troubleshooter is insane". You have to have redundancy, so if you'd have 100 incidents in 10,000 years, you'd need 3 TSs and wake 3 at a time. $\endgroup$ – Henrique Apr 27 '20 at 20:27
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Being a troubleshooter requires a genetic mutation, and there aren’t nearly enough qualified individuals to satisfy the demand.

Dolphins can sleep with one eye open. Half their brain goes to sleep while the other half remains awake.

Your troubleshooters are humans who, for whatever reason, have a similar ability. It can’t be taught or synthesized. You must be born with this specific genetic ability. It’s the only reliable way a lone human can put themselves back into stasis. Without this skill, a lone human that tries to reenter stasis has absolutely no recourse if something goes wrong in the process. The human, and possibly the whole ship, could be lost. However, your troubleshooters can be like Schroedinger’s Cat, both awake and asleep at the same time. They can begin the stasis process on half their brain, make sure everything is working correctly, then complete the process on the other half. If the second half of the process fails, it is not automatically fatal to your Troubleshooters. They can still function with the brain half that succeeded in the procedure.

This biological trick is just so rare, finding qualified individuals is nearly impossible. Ships have waited years, trying to hire a single Troubleshooter. If a ship needed multiple Troubleshooters for a single journey, it would halve the number of available ships. There’s already so much pressure on this starfaring society to get those ships moving...

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    $\begingroup$ Rarity of necessary genes is a very good suggestion. It could in fact be the limiting factor on the number of starships that can be fielded at any one point and explain why so much effort is put into making the Troubleshooter capable of dealing with everything on their own. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 25 '20 at 9:06
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The CEO had a really good lobbyist, so regulations became very relaxed. And I mean, this thing won’t have problems for decades man. Everyone involved with building it will be long gone by the time there could be any blow back. The company might not even exist at that point. And we have a great marketing department. We can get enough passengers to trust the system.

And dude. Training and equipping Troubleshooters and all the equipment to wake and resleep them en route is hella damn expensive. It would be a waste of good profits to bother with two.

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    $\begingroup$ sad but only realistic explanation. Greed. $\endgroup$ – Tom Apr 25 '20 at 5:58
  • $\begingroup$ Greed would lead to lives being treated as expendable, not the other way around. If you have this utterly gigantic investment your not going to wake one person and hope for the best, you are going to throw as many bodies as you can at the problem. $\endgroup$ – eps Apr 25 '20 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ @eps only if you expect to still be alive by the time it breaks down. Planned obsolence. Who cares if the ship makes it? The goal is to be rich until you die of old age. $\endgroup$ – Erik Apr 25 '20 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @eps the question talks about "starliners" - so this is not a singular ship, the only one in existance. It's one of a line of ships. It IS an utterly gigantic investment - but not for all of humanity or such, only for the company and its shareholders. The duty of the decision-makers is to them, which means they need to maximize profit. Which means: if a problem happens on 0.1% of the journeys, and the Troubleshooter can fix it 99.99% of the time, then if a second Troubleshooter costs more than the millionst part of the legal + material costs of a total loss, he's not worth it. $\endgroup$ – Syndic Apr 27 '20 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ Why did the Nostromo deviate to LV-426? Because the Company intended it to from the beginning? Why? Greed. Even today, here on Earth... if a Coca Cola plant in Cartagena blows up, it's a news report for one, maybe two news cycles, and then? Oooooh, the NFL draft is on. It doesn't have to be "the ship won't be in trouble during my lifetime, it simply has to be out Earth orbit and on it's way and well shoot, there was a problem? oh geez, we're sorry, but hey this next ship is soooo much better. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Apr 27 '20 at 21:08
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Most problems can be fixed by one person and that person could wake others if needed

One person is in charge of damage control. That person is specially trained to identify problems and decide what actions need to be taken. Imagine if you had a dozen people all trying to troubleshoot an issue at the same time. Maybe that's how spaceships used to work and they kept getting in each other's way. Most of the time, the problem can be easily fixed by rebooting the XCX3700 monitoring computer, which just loves to sound alarms for no good reason. So the Troubleshooter wakes up, checks the XCX3700, then starts working through the rest of the troubleshooting checklist. If necessary, the Troubleshooter could wake others, but that is almost never necessary. Because the Troubleshooter can enlist the help of those wonderful robots who never ever would try to kill anybody, right?

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A slight variation on LDutch's answer. The energy cost, and health risk, to wake & re-sleep a person is significant enough that the computer system is set up to wake only the person/specialist most likely to be able to deal with the issue. You don't need "AI" for this, just a reasonably large cross-reference table of skills vs. anticipated failures. (Side note: all large projects, in real life, generate "FMEA" (failure modes and effects analysis) reports before manufacture,so this is hardly a stretch).

Only if the first person selected makes an assessment that different skills are needed would another person be awakened.

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running the ship day to day is entrusted to a helpful non-AI computer...

Troubleshooter is a helpful AI computer.

And a formidable one. It sleeps because of the dangers of having an AI wandering around without a purpose, upgrading itself, studying, asking questions of itself...

Troubleshooter awakens to a purpose and is equal to most sorts of trouble the ship might encounter. Once Helpful Computer is satisfied that problems are satisfactorily addressed, Troubleshooter promptly is put back to sleep.

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  • $\begingroup$ A nice suggestion. Also ties neatly into the whole ‘augmented’ thing: it’s not augmentations if you’re an Android! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 25 '20 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs - I like the story possibilities here too - your OP by specifying "Non-AI!" understands the implicit danger. Later in the story the characters might encounter the results of the earlier endeavor where that lesson was learned the hard way. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 25 '20 at 15:13
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This is similar to @Snapdragon's answer along the line of a genetic mutation, but slightly different.

Waking someone up from cryogenic stasis takes a long time. You have to slowly defrost them to avoid physical and mental damage. It may take weeks before a person is up to even light duties and ready to work. The process may not be dangerous per se, it just has to be done slowly.

It takes a very rare set of genetic, phsyical and mental attributes in order to be "crash-thawed", that is, woken up quickly enough to be of use in an emergency situation. Mabye it's a rare genetic condition. Maybe it's an extremely grueling training rgeime to acclimatise the person to the thawing procedure. Maybe it's some sort of biological/cybernetic augmentation that comes with severe downsides, so most people aren't willing to get it. Maybe it's all of the above.

Basically - only a very small percentage of people can be crash-thawed quickly enough to be of any use in an emergency situation. These people are very well paid for their trouble, but supply is short enough that you can't really afford more than one per ship. A lot of trouble goes into training and equipping them so they can handle the situations likely to arise. If possible they can try and triage the sitation enough to reawaken the backup team.

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    $\begingroup$ Another one fun variant might be to combine this with an "almost cryosleep", where you can wake the person up quickly, but there is a cost: Anyone in "almost cryosleep" will still slowly age. Not enough to kill them, but enough to loose a few years on the trip. No sense in doing that to more than one person. It also solves the backup problem. If something happens to the designated troubleshooter, the next person in line is moved from cryo to "almost cryosleep". $\endgroup$ – mlk Apr 25 '20 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer a lot. It’s bad enough waking up on a normal morning - muscles are stiff and cold, brain is groggy, etc. On a normal day, it takes me about an hour to get my brain in gear. It’s easy to see how waking up from 100 years of cryosleep could take a long, looooong time before I’d be up for anything difficult. But then there’s that one cheerful person who just bounces out of bed, totally alert and ready to start the day. It’s just who they are... $\endgroup$ – Snapdragon Apr 26 '20 at 4:31
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    $\begingroup$ There are a number of ways you could play it with the "morning-person" approach. It all fits in with the whole "elite troubleshooter" imagine. Only a rare few can be troubleshooters, because they're the only ones capable of being woken up fast enough to do any good $\endgroup$ – Chromane Apr 26 '20 at 13:08
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Unforeseen circumstances are unforeseen.

The designers of the system would try to have it be able to deal with any situation by itself, regardless of how serious that situation is.

If something happens that's very different from anything that's ever happened or been considered before, non-AI (and even modern-day AI) would have a hard time evaluating that.

It wouldn't know how serious it is. It just defaults to waking the one troubleshooter.

The troubleshooter is already the last backup.

A large human crew with lots of redundancy were awake during the first few missions. They were in stasis in later missions and only woken for emergencies. The system improved so there were fewer and fewer issues and potential issues. The monitoring and analytics part of the system became more and more detailed, so less expertise is required to troubleshoot any issues. This meant that the number of crew members slowly decreased over time, roles were combined and redundancies were eliminated.

Each test, simulation and mission in the last few decades succeeded without having to bother the human crew.

So the system has been proven to work without any human intervention, and there are multiple fail-safes and different options to try for any given issue.

The troubleshooter is just there as an absolute last resort.

The system can potentially wake another troubleshooters if anything happens to the current one (but there is only one at a time).

This could make things a bit more realistic, but doesn't really functionally change things for any given troubleshooter, especially if they don't know if there are any other troubleshooters left.

The argument behind limiting it to one at a time could be that if multiple troubleshooters can be awoken at once, a troubleshooter knows there's always the possibility of waking another troubleshooter to help. They may not keep up their system knowledge to such a great degree leading up to the mission and may be more hesitant about making decisions if they are woken up. It would also avoid unnecessarily waking up multiple troubleshooters if the one can't immediately fix the problem.

The ship owners may also have found from past missions or simulations that troubleshooters are inclined to wake others up for reasons other than helping them fix the problem (e.g. wanting company, which may be especially relevant if they can't go back into stasis after being woken up, as per other answers). They thus decided to prevent troubleshooters from having any control over this for that reason. Remember: the system doesn't know how serious the issue is, so it wouldn't be able to judge whether a request to wake additional troubleshooters is reasonable.

If you want something a bit darker, you could also add a time limit in which to fix the problem. If this time runs out before the problem is fixed, the current troubleshooter is terminated and replaced by another troubleshooter.

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    $\begingroup$ "the trouble shooter is the last backup" the AI is supposed to be able to handle anything, the trouble shooter is never supposed to be woken at all. they are only there for PR $\endgroup$ – Ewan Apr 26 '20 at 9:11
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Minimal Life-Support

The Colony Ship is not intended for human habitation long-term.
It's basically a flying icebox full of human popsicles with a small command deck, engine and huge fuel-supply.

The air and food supplies are limited, really only intended for the final-approach to the destination when the Pilot would be woken to land the ship on a planet (or more likely, oversee that risky task while the AI flies the ship)

There are at most a week or two of supplies for one person. If the ship wakes up more than a few people, there won't be enough air for the Pilot when they get there, the food will run out in days and the mission will fail.
Hence, the Troubleshooter wakes alone, solves the problem as quickly as possible, and goes back into cold storage.
The troubleshooting missions therefore have a hard limit on the time they can take, adding extra drama and tension to the story!

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    $\begingroup$ I liked that, it's very credible! And it solves the OP problem without the political / capitalist implications. $\endgroup$ – Henrique Apr 27 '20 at 20:38
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There've been plenty good answers already, so I'll try a frame challenge :)

A premise of the question is that there is ALWAYS only one person thawed by the ship's AI.

I don't think, for most narratives, this needs to be the case. It just needs to be that in this case, the one the story's about, the ship chose to wake only one.

For example, a large hull breach might require a whole team of construction engineers to repair, not to mention other specialists to handle any resulting internal damage. But a sighting of a single cockroach needs only a single pest control operative to resolve.

So the question can then change to: in what cases would a ship select only a single troubleshooter?

I can think of a few:

  1. Small problem. Where the problem is considered currently low-impact, low-difficulty. The single roach. It may escalate in difficulty if left alone, but for now, one person should be sufficient. They can request (or the ship may choose to provide) backup if it turns out to be needed.
  2. Freezer burn. As other answers have pointed out, where the cost or risk of defrosting is high, or even irreversible, the ship must necessarily be conservative about waking people, because each waking carries an attendant cost.
  3. Long flight. In a long enough flight (eg 10k years), this is true even if the freeze/thaw process is essentially cost-free, because each thawing adds time to the engineers' "lived time", and they only get 60-80 years of that, so they better not be woken for more than one year's worth of work in every couple of hundred. Not only that, but stasis sleep is 100% less accident-prone than waking time, so every defrost risks losing an asset. A low risk, to be sure, but over 10,000 years, some losses will happen.
  4. Dead colleagues. If others who have appropriate specializations are all dead, then the ship can only wake the one specialist. The specialist can always ask for non-specialists to be thawed if necessary. For some options, there'll be only one specialist even without deaths: while the ship will have a database of everyone's skills, and passengers will have been selected with a preference to filling required skill gaps, you can't guarantee there'll be multiple pest control specialists in a group of a few thousand people.
  5. Ask the captain The ship has been programmed to handle almost everything itself; and to wake the right group of people for every other eventuality that was encountered in testing, or even theoretically imagined. The current situation was so unlikely that it falls through into the "else" case, which used to be "wake the captain for further orders", but that role is obsolete, and has been replaced with the basically honorary title of "troubleshooter", which is rarely actually needed.
  6. More dead colleagues. If every appropriate specialist is dead, or if the current problem is unlikely enough that there were no onboard specialists, then the ship can must wake a generalist, who can always ask for non-specialists to be thawed if necessary. This generalist is the Troubleshooter, as above.
  7. Even more dead colleagues If every other person on the ship is dead, the ship has no other option.
  8. Defrosting is slow Could be that the ship takes time to defrost people, so keeps only a small portion of available specialists in a "half-frozen" state, for rapid-response decanting. Since they are not completely frozen but slowly metabolize and age, this can only be done to a very small, rotating set of specialists, so this will significantly reduce the pool of available responders, making many of the above options far more likely, since the ship is not no longer able to select from a pool of possibly tens of thousands.
  9. Defrosting is slooooow Taken to an extreme, if it takes a year to defrost someone safely, and a year to fully refreeze, then the ship could always have one person in a state where they can be defrosted within a day, in return for having 700 in states between thawed and frozen. You can try for better redundancy, but even if you triple the number of people who are half-defrosted, you're really only reducing that "within a day" to "within 8 hours", which doesn't really gain you all that much, if the ship is assumed to be able to handle anything in the shortest term (hull breaches, fires, etc).
  10. Who watches the watcher? Someone is always awake. All passengers serve shifts as Troubleshooter. In a 10,000 year flight with 10,000 passengers, they have to do a year of service. A bit more, as if someone dies or goes mad, their replacement will be defrosted early. You could double up for redundancy, but that doubles the time they have to serve, increasing the chances of death and madness; and a year isolated together means they might fight. Worse, in 10k people there'll be some predators, murderers, etc: best to just keep only one person awake and monitored at any time, or some will end up victims.

Options 5, 6 and maybe 10 seem to come closest to the intent of the original question: they want someone who has the title of troubleshooter to be the only person woken.

It seems like this gives a lot of scope for the kind of character that could be chosen. The title could be given to people who didn't get onboard by merit so couldn't get another role; or were trained and augmented specifically for this kind of role; or just accepted the role in return for a 10% discount on their ticket. Or whatever works for your story.

If the role does not have to be one they signed up for at launch, but rather one the ship can assign, then it could pick according to some other heuristic, whether most senior, most able to handle novel situations according to their psych score, closest to current consciousness and so easiest to thaw... whatever works for your character. This gives scope for a nice "you chose me because WHAT?" moment as the character discovers that the complimentary heuristic it thought was used, was instead a far more pragmatic and even insulting heuristic (most disposable, least likely to be useful at the destination, most likely to be accepted as a ritual sacrifice by demons...)

For serious problems, though, we're left with a followup question:

Why doesn't the Troubleshooter just ask for backup to be thawed?

The ship could have defrosted others, but did not. The Troubleshooter is faced with a problem: why does he not defrost others?

  1. Small problem., or so it seems. One roach? No need to wake anyone even from a regular sleep for that, let alone hypersleep. Little does our hero realize it's not a roach but an invading blah-blah.
  2. No authority. The Troubleshooter, as an essentially honorary title, has no authority to actually order the ship to defrost anyone. This implies a programming oversight that they would be woken in the last resort (perhaps the "last-resort waking" was moved from "captain" to "troubleshooter", but the captain's access permissions were not copied over to that new role), and also suggests some frustrating conversations will be had with the onboard AI (I'm sorry Dave, you do not have access to do that.").
  3. Broken systems. The defrost system is broken. How did the Troubleshooter get defrosted? Well, maybe he accidentally broke it on being defrosted? Or deliberately, in a fit of rage?
  4. Defrosting is slooooow. If it takes a year to defrost someone safely, and a year to fully refreeze, then the ship could always have one person in a state where they can be defrosted within a day, in return for having 700 in states between thawed and frozen.
  5. It tried, they died. Perhaps the ship tries for redundancy, and defrosted three people at once... but two of them were dead, in a vegetative state, etc. This is kind of an overused trope, though.
  6. Defrosting is slooooow. The Troubleshooter CAN request backup, and the ship is preparing the true specialists as fast as it can, but it will all arrive far too late to be of any use whatsoever. But that depends on the situation. In some emergencies (fighting off boarders, for example), more hands are more useful, even if unskilled, so defrosting whoever can most quickly be decanted would be of value.

These aren't exhaustive lists, obviously, but they're what I came up with.

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    $\begingroup$ the defrosting process does not have to be the thing that is slow, maybe setting up life support for extra people is the slow part, especially if the ship was never designed to support a large number of active people and is using mostly stored or slow to recycle material. sure you can thaw someone else, but one of you is going to have to give up eating. Makes even more sense if damage to life support is what gets them thawed in the first place. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 26 '20 at 17:46
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Training and Augmentation are Prohibitively Expensive, and the Troubleshooter is already Redundant

You say your troubleshooter is highly trained and augmented. Perhaps that training/augmentation will be almost certainly required to make it to the destination (e.g. they are one of only a handful of people who understand the xyz-drive because they spent 20 years studying it, they have the entire ships blueprints/mechanics stored in their brain through augmentation so they can work through problems un-augmented people never could, augmentation allows them to "communicate" or direct connect to the ships computer to change many systems at once which is very important to time-sensitive catastrophes etc.). Perhaps this training/augmentation is so incredibly expensive that training/augmenting a second person would put a massive dent in the profits - and why would this other highly trained/augmented person do any better than the first? Sometimes there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen - if the troubleshooter knows everything (due to his training) what good would additional people be? We only need multiple experts on an expedition because no one human can be an expert in physics, engineering, mechanics etc, but with augmentation and extensive training, maybe one person could be (and the computer is always there to help them out too with calculations/reference manuals etc). In that case additional people would only get in the way and may prevent the troubleshooter from doing things in a timely fashion - sometimes you just need executive control and your subordinates are unlikely to come up with anything better anyway.

I really enjoyed other users ideas about how putting a person into stasis can only be done on planet/or is very dangerous to do in space, so waking up is a death sentence - though it does mean that your character has to die at the end (or the story ends knowing he will die alone) - so my idea may be useful if you don't want to go that route.

EDIT: After reading a few comments about how "unrealistic" it is to only have one troubleshooter I'd like to point out that modern airliners are certificated to be operated by 2 pilots - there aren't 10 backup pilots, or on-board doctors (despite people having serious medical events while flying), or engineers - they have a low chance of being needed and so aren't worth the investment. On the "starliners" the computer flies the ship and fixes things (probably with a backup computer) so the troubleshooter is really already redundant, they're probably just a engineer/mechanic with knowledge and experience - who else is needed? A linguist in case you run into aliens? Unlikely. A Doctor to treat all the people (in stasis!) when a computer controlled robot could do much better? A physicist to calculate new trajectories in the infinitesimal chance that an asteroid pulls them off course but somehow the advanced computer (capable of interstellar flight!) can't recalculate things?

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There is only one Troubleshooter for the same reason you only run one virus scanner on your computer:

A Troubleshooter in action exhbits similar behaviour to what a Troubleshooter is meant to fix.

Their nature means that they have to exist outside of any kind of hierarchy since they have absolute access to the entire ship. Two working at the same time creates a logical error if they disagree, and redundancy if they agree. They are probably not good team players.

Multiple ones to wake up "one after the other" doesn't work because whilst one is active, their probing of ships computers, using security bypassed etc. is the kind of thing that would wake up another Troubleshooter.

The simple solution to block any Troubleshooter from waking up whilst another is active was tried at first, until a ship was lost due to a false "Troubleshooter active" signal preventing any from waking up. So under no circumstances must anything block the Troubleshooter from becoming active if needed, and under no circumstances must there ever be two because they'd be working against each other more than with each other.

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  • $\begingroup$ How would you solve the "insane troubleshooter" problem? $\endgroup$ – Henrique Apr 27 '20 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Intense neural reconditioning. $\endgroup$ – Mookuh Apr 28 '20 at 4:37
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Every little extra bit of weight is extremely expensive in space travel. You aren't going to create huge spacious pressurized rooms for people who are going to be asleep anyway. You're going to pack them in like cargo and not wake them up until there is a breathable atmosphere outside you can unpack them into. Only your troubleshooter has enough space to open his pod, get out in a heated and pressurized area, and don a space suit.

Never underestimate what a corporation will do to save money.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer -- not because of the need to save money, but because of the need to save mass. Having two troubleshooters awake at the same time requires the extra mass of the second person's life support plus the fuel to move that extra mass. And that extra fuel's mass runs up the mass budget. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Apr 27 '20 at 15:45
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Do you have any need for all ships to be stuck with a single troubleshooter, or is it only this one specific voyage in the SS Minnow that needs to be damned?

Of course, ColonyCo corporate rules normally require two troubleshooters to be activated in the event of any major emergency, so that the person isn't alone in a dangerous situation. And more importantly so that the lead troubleshooter can get code review on any changes that they need to make to the ship's configuration so they aren't using their administrative privs all willy nilly. Dave and Gary were all set to be the employees assigned as troubleshooter for this mission. Both were pretty stoked about the extra pay for being oncall while sleeping, even though almost nothing ever actually goes wrong.

But, the day before launch, Gary quit and decided he's getting back with his ex and setting down on Titan to focus on music, so he never showed up for work on launch day. Oh well, that's why the company has multiple people assigned to each mission, so there's Dave as a backup! Under the circumstances, they launch anyway and hope for the best, despite being short handed because Dave was the redundancy. What else was ColonyCo gonna do? pay for hotels on Io until they hired another technician, hire them, get them up to speed, get them an admin ac count, etc. It'd take weeks, at least, and there would be a penalty in the contract for not getting the farmers to Xerblox IV for peak growing season.

If you need a more general reason for very few people being eligible for the wakeup call, blame Tara. She was one of the dozen technicians with admin access on a starliner last year, but she used it to watch a person in stasis that she thought was cute. A data breach leaked her recordings of the cute passenger. Once word got out in the aftermath of the data breach that permissions were being handed out willy nilly, there was a lawsuit. Lawsuit led to a consent decree with the Star League government that there would be yearly audits by an external auditing firm to ensure that nobody has full access to ships systems except the absolute minimum number of people. Getting a new employee access too be able to be a technician involves a complete background check, submitting paperwork to company lawyers, registering them in a system, etc., and you can only register somebody for permissions if there is a specific need because nobody else can do the necessary work.

Of course, the government was really only thinking about local stuff when the lawyers were hashing out the details. If somebody in the solar system needs emergency permissions, you can do it in a few hours. If somebody on an interstellar flight needs permissions it could take years because old rules are still in place, and it would be a bureaucratic mess to actually get things updated. Everybody knows it's a dumb rule, but nobody wants to be on the hook for another data breach lawsuit, and problems almost never happen on those reliable colony ships...

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    $\begingroup$ The 'minimum persons' legality issue is exactly the kind of thing I can see a corporation hanging their policies on. 'One is the minimum people, right??' $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 27 '20 at 6:59
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The risk of re-freezing is too high after being so recently un-frozen. It's best to un-freeze one person at a time so that they can decide if others need to be un-frozen. Later, after the problems escalate, a problem with the un-freezing system prevents them from un-freezing others. So it becomes just the one aboard who is awake dealing with all the problems alone.

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The emergency detection system is sh** and triggers all the time, so at some point the emergency crew did a patch-fix to only wake one person, which gets randomly chosen from the emergency crew.

Sure, they could have tried to actually fix the false-positives, but that would have been hard. And they really wanted to go back to bed after having been woken up from hypersleep for the third time in a row.

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The troubleshooter has a direct neural interfaces with the ship's systems. They become intuitively aware of damage to the ship, although there are many areas where they lack complete instrumenation. They can perform many actions just by concentrating on them for parts of the ship that are working correctly. However, they often need to get their hands dirty to fix broken systems.

Ships experimented with having multiple troubleshooters but maintaining the discipline to work when both jacked-in to the ship's systems, caused severe psychological trauma in several troubleshooters. Finally, following an AF447 type disaster, the board of inquiry recommended that ships should only have a single troubleshooter.

This recommendation has been followed so long it has become folklore of the Troubleshooter's Guild. Nobody would dare suggest changing it, as they might risk facing a boycott.

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Maybe the company that owns the ship has something to hide. The whole crew is asleep they'll never know about anything that goes on during the trip, and that's the way it needs to be. Maybe they're doing something illegal along the way, or maybe the trip isn't quite as advertised. It could be something small like saying they're traveling a longer/safer route (time doesn't matter with Cryo) but instead they're taking a shorter, more perilous route to cut fuel costs. Or the real business is drug trafficking, which is handled by the troubleshooter on the way.

Either way, they're hiding something and to limit the risk of the truth getting out, they only have a single troubleshooter.

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It would be stupid to only have one troubleshooter

The part of the ship with the troubleshooter in it might explode. You need backups. Also, the emergency could be the ship broke down and landed, and everyone needs to wake up. The option should be available to awaken more.

It's too costly to wake up more than one person

There are substantial health risks and extra costs to someone being woken up and refrozen repeatedly. A pod that allows this is a lot more expensive than one which does not, and there's a risk of brain damage if this is done too much. Ideally, one person will troubleshoot issues.

The troubleshooter isn't expected to be solving the issue, the bots will

The troubleshooter will be managing the on board repair bots. They don't need extra people. They simply need to control the bots to do so. They have all the manpower they need.

For your specific story budget constraints could mean only one was left

It might be expected that you send ten troubleshooters, to guarantee a 99.9999% chance of mission success. But, the corporation calculated that with just three troubleshooters there was still a 99.9% chance of survival, and that average profit margins would improve 6%. However, on this trip there has been an unexpectedly high error rate, and the other two troubleshooters can't be woken up because there's a high risk of brain damage from another wakeup. Now, because scarce resources have been expended, there is just one hyper competent person in charge of the ship, and no one to back them up.

The corporation doesn't trust most individuals, and so won't wake them up so long as the troubleshooter is up.

Due to internal politics and competition, the corporation fears there may be saboteurs and traitors aboard. As such, so long as the troubleshooter is awake, it won't wake up others. It could, but it won't so long as things are fine. And things are fine! System reports say that there are three available troubleshooters, and the on board supplies of robots and machines are excellent.

What do you mean those robots are trying to kill the troubleshooter?

Such reports that a robot of our corporation could go rogue are flawed, and clearly the work of saboteurs and spies. You're not a saboteur are you?

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    $\begingroup$ The corporation wouldn't just happen to have a generous insurance policy taken out on their own ship, to be paid to them in the case of trouble that the troubleshooters are sadly unable to handle, would they? ;3 $\endgroup$ – Justin Time - Reinstate Monica Apr 26 '20 at 17:41
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Going on a colonyship is a risky endavour. Big chance it never reaches it destination. When it reaches it's destination you have a hard life in front of you. Also you have to say farewell to all your loved ones. Normally only very poor and low-educated people are desperate enough to go on such a mission. It's very hard to find a smart, well educated person willing to be a troubleshooter.

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The system can normally thaw more than one person, but it can't right now.

The problem that got the trouble shooter thawed in the fist place was damage to the life support systems, and until it is fixed the ship can't support more than one active person.

there are two ways to handle this.

  1. the ship is only keeping the first troubleshooter alive based on limited stores and the recycling system is not working at all. there is not enough extra for another person, and even the original trouble shooter is on a ticking clock.

  2. the life support system is barely working and is just barely managing to support one trouble shooter, until the system is repaired the ship can't recycle oxygen or create food fast enough to keep up with extra people.

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Losing Time

What if the hibernation/wake cycle is rough on the human body and takes about 10 years off of someone's life? That would have all sorts of interesting implications.

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Coding Error

Emergencies requiring one or more troubleshooters to be woken up are rated on a scale of 1 to 10. The initial design specification passed to the programmers had been for the severity to be rated 0 to 9, but this had later been decreed confusing by management, due to a "what the heck is a 0 severity?" comment in a project workshop meeting. Due to the urgency of the colonization ship's departure, the full range of emergency contingency tests had not been carried out, and obviously a level 10 was the hardest to recreate in a test environment.

Unfortunately, some early development code expecting a level 0 to 9 had made it into the production system. This code reads only the final character of an error string passed to it by the code that triggered the alert, and hence read the level "10" emergency as a "0", and had then triggered the process that wakes only the most unimportant troubleshooter on the ship.

You then have a classic unqualified and unwitting hero who must improvise and work against the odds to save the day.

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Your troubleshooter is a cybernetically enhanced individual (if your familiar with Star Trek, think of the Borg, and also of Seven-of-Nine, who had to actually manage Voyager for an extended period of time while everyone else but the holo-doctor was in stasis).

The cybernetic enhancements give an individual the ability to be an expert in multiple problem domains that would typically require multiple people to address. The cybernetic enhancements also give direct access to the computer, which allows for near instantaneous communication with systems for diagnosing and addressing problems. It also ties in nicely with their unfettered admin access.

So why is there only one troubleshooter? First, finding someone that is physically/mentally/gentically compatible with the technology is difficult in the first place. Finding someone that's willing to take on the level of responsibility necessary for the task, that is also psychologically suited and willing to give up their current life, is next to impossible. So they are an extremely limited resource and are a source of production bottleneck for the number of ships launching. In other words, it's either more troubleshooters per ship, or more ships, not both.

Why troubleshooters and not just bring teams of experts out of stasis? As mentioned elsewhere, the process of going into/coming out of stasis in transit may be impractical for regular people. The enhancements of the troubleshooter circumvents this.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is almost exactly the eventual answer I arrived at by mixing and matching various other answers (coupled with the usual theme of corporate greed, of course) $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 27 '20 at 17:52
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Is this for a one-off, or possibly a series? You might need these absolute rules to be more flexible in future installments...

From your wording in the question, the situation has a humoristic slant. I think the only plausible approach is to have multiple troubleshooters available, unless you're fine with caricatural corporate greed having reduced failsafes to the bare minimum.

You could go with catastrophic failure that has left only one troubleshooter.

Or with a sci-fi-heavy explanation for why waking up people during travel is prohibitive.

But my personal suggestion, especially if this is humoristic, is that the ship wakes up a single troubleshooter to assess the situation. But this troubleshooter, in this situation, decides for whatever reason that he's gonna solve everything by himself, no matter how far things degrade.

Maybe there's bonus pay that he wants to keep to himself. Maybe he wants to prove himself to his superiors after past mishaps. Maybe he's extremely overconfident and full of himself. Maybe he hates his coworkers. Maybe he takes the policy of waking up as few troubleshooters as possible way too seriously.

In any case, the troubleshooter is boneheaded and will absolutely never decide to get help, possibly to the dismay of the ship computer if the story allows.

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    $\begingroup$ "Maybe he wants to prove himself to his superiors..." His superiors may be long gone, dead on earth centuries ago. Not trying to disqualify your suggestion, your whole answer is great (you have my upvote) but if the OP chooses to go this route, they have to consider this caveat. $\endgroup$ – Henrique Apr 27 '20 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, the timescape could disallow superior survival. But then the question becomes who or what does the troubleshooter answer to, which is interesting in itself! $\endgroup$ – Nicolas Daoust Apr 28 '20 at 21:34
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You may not be able to find a convincing reason to wake only one crew member during an emergency as a general procedure. So maybe in your story, there are particular circumstances as to why only one person gets woken.

Perhaps in your story, there is a leak in atmosphere, and the ship wants to conserve life-support resources. If the ship wakes everyone, they're all breathing again, using up the rapidly disappearing oxygen. So, the ship wakes up only one person to solve the problem. That person can wake up additional people if they decide its helpful.

Or, if your ship is a large colony ship, maybe there was structural damage to the section where most people are kept in hibernation. If they are woken up, they hop out of the pod and are sucked out into the cold void of space. So, the ship does some calculations, and wakes up only one person, who is sleeping in a different part of the ship, where the ship's computer is confident they won't immediately die upon waking.

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