The Cold Equations

by Tom Godwin

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In "The Cold Equations," what details reveal the harshness of life on the space frontier to Marilyn?

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As she converses with the EDS pilot, Marilyn learns that there are few colonies and exploration parties on the space frontier. Additionally, these are scattered in remote locations across the wide expanse. In Woden itself, there are only sixteen men living there. Everyone living on colonies has to acclimate to strange environments and to work against all odds to prepare the way for newcomers.The unpredictable weather also makes life harsh on the space frontier.

For example, a tornado materialized seemingly overnight out of the Western Sea; it wrecked extensive damage at Camp One on Woden. Half of the prefabricated buildings were destroyed, including the one that housed all the medical supplies, and six men were killed. The inhabitants of Camp One found themselves powerless against the "blind and mindless force" of nature.

Since most of the space frontier represents uncharted territory, there is very little margin for error. Because the medical supplies were destroyed, the remaining survivors need a fresh delivery of kala serum. Six men on Woden have already been stricken with the kala fever, and their lives depend upon a prompt delivery by the EDS. Since EDSs (or Emergency Dispatch Ships) can only carry a limited amount of fuel, the fuel is always rationed with care. The computers must consider "the course coordinates, the mass of the EDS, and the mass of pilot and cargo." No extra weight can be admitted onto the ship once these calculations have been made.

Any extra weight (such as an extra person like Marilyn) will doom the lives of all those on board. Additionally, the lives of the six men on Woden who have been stricken with the kala fever will be forfeit. These details open Marilyn's eyes to the harshness of life on the space frontier.

Additional fuel would be used during the hours of deceleration to compensate for the added mass of the stowaway, infinitesimal increments of fuel that would not be missed until the ship had almost reached its destination. Then, at some distance above the ground that might be as near as a thousand feet or as far as tens of thousands of feet, depending upon the mass of ship and cargo and the preceding period of deceleration, the unmissed increments of fuel would make their absence known; the EDS would expend its last drops of fuel with a sputter and go into whistling free fall. Ship and pilot and stowaway would merge together upon impact as a wreckage of metal and plastic, flesh and blood, driven deep into the soil.



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