Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Story Time 2

Found this in the files. Unfinished. I mean it's finished as in it made it all the way to the end but still needs some work but you may regard it as complete.

Blue Moon

I hope somebody’s getting this. 
They’re all dead. I am the last survivor of the Popotchik. Fourteen thousand years after it left the Earth, everyone is dead and soon I will be, too. I don’t like to think the human race ends here. The other ships might have survived. Before he died Vostock said they received a signal from what they think was the Einstein-Hawking. That could mean they’re still alive, or that its computer is and they’re all dead, but I don’t want to think about that. I hope they’ve been getting our signals and are on their way here, but I don’t think I’d still be alive when they get here. Our DNA banks are still intact as far as I can tell; no visible damage to the storage facilities. Crew of the Einstein-Hawking, if you’re getting this, everything we know about the planet is in the file called Earth2.dxb in data stream D-0957-7. Only humans are affected but I don’t think the human DNA in storage have been contaminated. None of the plants and animals we brought show any adverse effects. The livestock are doing well and are thriving. Take care of them for me.

"Scouts found something, Commander. Primates, they look like. They're saying they could be human." The call was from the advanced party already on the planet.

"Copy, Silius. Tell them to stay put and just observe. We'll be there presently." Commander Natharm Wedlen of the space ship Popotchik hid his excitement well. Since they got here three years ago, the scouts haven't reported any large mammalian life forms living on this planet. This planet, the planet where his ancestors came from, the source of their civilization, the planet Earth. Who would've thought they'll be back here again? It is populated by arthropods now mostly. Some marine vertebrates were worthy of note, but no large mammalian species of any kind. And now this. To find humans, over one million years after they left Earth and found their new home in Earth2... They weren't really expecting a remnant to survive, not after what happened. "Portsmont," Wedlen said to his chief science officer, "get a team together and notify me as soon as you’re ready. I'll be coming with you. Unson," to the First Officer, "you're in charge here while I'm gone. I'll be in my chambers til then."

"Yes, Commander." Portsmont and Unson.

Back in his chambers, Wedlen takes out his copy of Fellow Traveller his father gave when he was twelve. Fellow Traveller is the journal of one of the first humans to arrive on Earth2. It is a compilation of written entries and transcripts of video documents of one Pretera Massumahond, who was a farmer in the space ship named Popotchik for which his ship is named, the deep space vessel their ancestors came in on. The book has a cover of the finest hide tree leather and printed on papyrus. He prefers to read the over-one-million-year-old text on paper instead of from a tablet. He has probably read it fifty times since his father gave him his old copy, and worn out the cover. He had the cover restored by the artisans on Greidi. The book made him want to join the Space Marines. He read it cover to cover five times on this ten year trip, and re-reads favorite parts of it from time to time. It amazes him that the trip that took his ancestors over ten millennia would take them ten years. It was only a stroke of luck that they got to Earth2 in the first place. If they hadn't stumbled on the wave caused by the collision of two massive black holes, the trip to Earth2 would have taken them millions of years at the rate they were going. Working from the records left behind by the first Popotchik, scientists were able to piece together where the short cut was and they trained their instruments on the general location, looking for sections of space that weren't expanding as fast as they should be away from Strelle, the star Earth2 was revolving around. By some stroke of luck, the wave caused by the collision of the black holes was heading towards them at the exact same rate space was expanding away from Strelle had the collision not taken place. The wave therefore had the appearance of making stars in that area of space seems stationary relative to Strelle. Those stars are several million light years away, even though it takes their light 3 to 4 light years to reach the instruments in Earth2 that detected them.

Luck?, Wedlen asked himself. Or is it possible that all this was meant to happen? Out of the vastness of space, this lone ship from Earth just happened to find that hole that would take their ancestors to their new home where they thrived, seeding it as it were. The odds against that happening are tremendous. But then again, odds are just numbers we give meaning to when no meaning exists.

He had some time in his hands. He opened his book and read.

They taught us in school that the wanderer struck Earth fourteen thousand years ago. The wanderer was called M2237-62A, but the press started calling it DeathMetal because it was mostly iron. It wasn’t alone either. In its wake were thousands of smaller wanderers aimed at the Earth, the moon, and Venus. My teachers said they never found out what happened to Earth after that, whether anybody survived; whether anything survived.
The Popotchik is just one of twenty three ships that were capable of escaping this catastrophe. Earth’s scientists knew DeathMetal was going to hit even when it was way beyond the orbit of Pluto and so the governments at the time built these huge space ships that could carry up to a few thousand people plus cargo. The Popotchik was built for another purpose and was already in Earth orbit but its builders had the foresight to equip it with the means to get out. It had eight hundred people at first, with room for around two thousand as they anticipated the population would grow en route to wherever. Most of the other ships went for Mars, with a few going to Jupiter and Saturn, planets in Earth’s solar system.
None of the other ships who went beyond the solar system knew for sure that the star system they were aiming for had planets that could support them – it was just a possibility. They just pointed the ships in the general direction of their targets and launched leaving things to luck. Or to some divine providence for those of them that believed in that. I didn’t at first, mainly because my parents didn’t. My father was a biologist and my mother an officer in the army. I raise farm animals, by the way. Our target was the star system in 801 Procephes, six light years away which might have an earth-like planet. But we never made it there, obviously. 
I saw video documentaries of the launch in Ancient History class. Popotchik was built in Earth orbit and was supplied from Earth by shuttles. Aside from its cargo — machines, livestock, plants — she also carried DNA of several species of plants and animals, as well as DNA from people. The idea was to reproduce these species whenever we found a planet that was suitable. The shuttles also made several trips to carry fuel for our propulsion system: several thousand tons of hydrogen bombs, several thousand tons of ordinary uranium fusion bombs, and enough Uranium-235 to build several thousand more if needed. If she needed more, the crew mined raw materials from wanderers and other celestial bodies they encountered along the way.
The Popotchik was an Orion type space ship and she ran by dropping modified nuclear bombs out of the rear of the craft and detonating them. The propellant around the bomb would hit a shock absorbing plate on the ship to propel it forward. The detonations were timed by computer. We don’t do that anymore. We’re running on an ion engine.
The Popotchik was one of three ships that launched from space so there wasn’t much of a light show when the bombs were detonated, although it did make Earth’s atmosphere glow a little when the blast hit it. But for those other Orion ships that were launched from Earth, it was quite spectacular as bombs were detonated every three seconds till it escaped the atmosphere. It must have been hell for those left behind though. Those blasts produced shock waves and radioactive fallout for them, but I suppose they didn’t have time to worry about them because by the time of the launch, Earth had a month, maybe less, before the wanderer hit. It was very little consolation for those left behind that the ships carried samples of their DNA on board. If they didn’t have a chance, at least their genes would, and maybe if we perfect cloning, we could bring back people with the exact same genes, not that that would make a difference to them who were about to die. Hundreds of thousands have already died in the riots when news leaked about what was about to happen and that not everybody could be evacuated. My teacher said a lot of people considered the evacuations a suicide mission, with people in it doomed to a slow death but it really came down to a choice between doing something and just sitting around waiting for the inevitable, and here we are, fourteen thousand years later. 
From what they were able to find out during those first days, six of the ships didn’t make it with three failing to launch when their bombs failed to detonate properly. These three fell back to Earth. The other three had the same problem after they cleared Earth orbit. A single malfunctioning bomb would throw off the orientation of the ship’s plate relative to the next detonation, with the blast hitting the ship directly. Our ship was in touch with the others at first, then as they drifted farther and farther apart, communication was such that it would take several minutes for a message from another craft to reach us, then hours, then days, then weeks, then months, and by this time, we were only in touch with the Einstein-Hawking, and even communication with the Einstein-Hawking was lost eventually. This was just before the warp.
I liked working in the farm. It gave me a lot of free time to paint and be alone. Most other people bore me. And I liked the gravity in the farm: one gee. It’s the same as the gravity back on Earth. The animals and plants need it to grow properly. On Earth, farms were vast open areas. We have videos of them and they were beautiful; fields of green that go on forever, animals grazing on the fields, clouds against that beautiful blue sky. On the ship, the animals were kept in pens. They didn’t even have room to move, poor creatures. To think that they would be killed soon, it seems unfair that they should spend their lives in such a miserable state. I talked to them whenever I can, tell them stories, and sometimes I think they appreciated it. Northus thought they’re just dumb creatures though, and said I was nuts for talking to them. Well, fuck him. (I did, once. I was glad when he got transferred to engineering. But every time I remember...ugh! I could be so stupid sometimes. At least my animals don’t lie to me. Anyway, he’s dead now, and I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, even though he was really an asshole.)
The hospital was also in the one-gee zone. As well as the nursery. And the DNA bank. Pregnant women needed the one gee for their babies to develop properly in their wombs. So most of the people I saw there, aside from those assigned to the farm, are sick people and pregnant women. That’s how I met Brelin. 
Brelin was about five years younger than I was — she was nineteen — and three months pregnant at the time and was bored out of her gourd in the hospital so she got out and visited the livestock area where I was whenever she can. This was about a month before we came to Earth2. She would come with me as I made my rounds and soon she was reading stories to the animals as well. She especially liked the hogs. I wasn’t a vegetarian like those church people, though. I was well aware that the animals I take care of are food. That was their purpose. If you want to eat, you have to kill something, whether it was a plant or an animal. That’s just the way it is. On Earth, primitive tribes used to pray to spirits before they hunt, and give thanks to the animals who give up their lives so they could live. I don’t quite believe in that, but I do appreciate these animals and give them respect, and I see to it that I treat them well. I couldn’t do anything about their cramped pens though. When we got settled in Earth2, I talked Jonshack into letting the animals roam free-range. We had lots of space, so he agreed without any arguments.

“We’re ready to go, Commander,” Portsmont said over the comm. “Bellsemer, Rudrink, and Shula will man the lab. We also have a squad of Rangers to escort us. Sergeant Polid’s.”

“Ok. I’ll be right down,” Wedlen said. Portsmont was sixteen years old, one of those young officers fresh out of the Marine Academy - most of the crew were - and has a doctorate in Biology. He volunteered for this mission when he first heard about it. He sent Wedlen his credentials and the day after waited outside his office even before Wedlen replied to grant him an interview.

“What makes you think you’re right for this? I have science officers with more experience than you,” Wedlen told him.

Without saying anything, Portsmont took out a worn papyrus copy of Fellow Traveller and stood back at attention. “My grandfather gave me that book when I was six, sir. It made me want to be a Space Marine. I’ve been dreaming about this all my life.”

Wedlen looked at him and Portsmont met his eyes. Wedlen hired him and hasn’t regretted it since. He could delegate responsibilities to him and he would always come through. This mission was as important to Portsmont personally as it was to him: a fulfillment of a childhood dream. How many opportunities for that come in one’s lifetime?

They have visited planets in the solar system where ships were stationed in orbit after DeathMetal. They were hoping some had survived, or at least left something behind to indicate what happened to them, but they found nothing. They spent a lot of time around Saturn and its moons where most of the ships went since Saturn’s moons could have provided them with raw materials, but no such luck. It had been over a million years of course. Maybe they moved on. Or, most probably, they all died. Wedlen didn’t feel anything for them at the thought of that. Everybody dies.

There were no signs around Jupiter or its moons either. On Mars, they left a team to investigate after it was reported to him that they might have found some artifacts. The remains of a structure of some kind. No signs of life.

When they got to Earth, they found it teeming with life. Life was everywhere. The planet was literally covered with them. After a ten-year journey seeing nothing, life on Earth left him with a sense of awe at how tough it is. Earth scientists expected DeathMetal to wipe everything out, with nothing but the hardiest bacteria surviving, but here it was. The scouting party said it had plants, what looked like mollusks and crustaceans, marine vertebrates, and insects, some as large as a metrobus. They reported small mammals that were probably descended from rodents.

And in a craggy outcrop in one of the islands in an archipelago southeast of the landmass that the chronicles called Eurasia, close to shore, the scouts reported what looked like primates: forward looking eyes, opposable thumbs. They walked upright, moved in groups, and seemed like they were communicating with each other. What are the odds that those are humans?, he thought.

“Everything all set?,” Wedlen asked as he reached the shuttle that would take them to Earth.

“Yes sir,” Portsmont said. “We’re just waiting for your go- ahead.”

“Well, then let’s go ahead.”

The warp made the ship’s main computer go bonkers. We were headed for 801 Procephes one moment, then the next it just disappeared, although I didn’t know it at the time. It tried to get our bearings back, but when it failed, it just shut itself down. The power went out through the entire ship as the computer shut everything down. Everything just went dark and quiet as the generators stopped humming. Even the animals were quiet.
Brelin was a few feet away from me on the bridge over the fishpond and called out to me scared. I assured her that I was still there. I was scared of course. You get used to the hum of the generators that you don’t really notice them anymore so when they shut down, as the cliché goes, the silence is deafening. And those generators were responsible for keeping us alive. You don’t want them to stop humming, trust me.
Several people with torches came and were calling out to anyone. I called out to them and asked them what was going on. A man said — I didn’t see his face as he was pointing his torch right at me — he said there’s nothing to worry about. Just a computer glitch. Everything will be back to normal soon. The engineers are working on it. I don’t know much about the computer but I know it doesn’t glitch, hasn’t glitched for thousands of years. Maybe those geniuses at engineering wrote a new routine for it and ran it without the proper tests. But soon the generators were humming again and the lights went back on and air started flowing. I told Brelin to stay put while I try to find out what’s going on.
I found my mother talking to the Captain and waited impatiently as they finished their conversation, standing a respectful distance away. I suppose I was fidgeting because my mother gave me an annoyed look. I went up to her as the Captain disappeared through the door to the conference room.
“Short answer? We’re lost,” she said. “The computer has no idea where we are.” I gasped, but my mother continued, “And there’s nothing to worry about. We’re just drifting through a different part of space, that’s all. It’s not as if we’re not used to drifting by now. The computer kept trying to shut itself down when it couldn’t get a fix on our location, so the engineers deleted its star map files and rebooted. That seemed to work. Go back to your station. Everything’s fine. Wait for the Captain’s announcement. I’ll see you later.” She kissed me on the cheek and went into the conference room.
The announcement came an hour later. The Captain said pretty much the same thing my mother did with more details the navigation people supplied him with. “As far as we can tell, we were caught in some kind of wave of warped space,” he said over the comm. “As such we have no idea where exactly we are in relation to where we used to be. One thing is sure, we are not heading for 801 Procephes anymore.” I heard a lot of groans, then the Captain continued, “Our navigators have picked up another star system that could have planets similar to the ones in 801 Procephes, and we are heading for that instead. We are lucky to end up where we are since we will be in this star system in 400 days if we initiate a two-gee burn. The burn will start at 0900 ship standard time and will last for 10 minutes. Take all necessary precautions. That is all.” 
A burn. That means dropping bombs out the back. Brelin held my hand.

It stood on a mound. It couldn’t have been more than a meter tall and was carrying a staff with ribbons of what looked like strips of hide tied to it. The ribbons were flapping in the wind like a banner. It was scanning its surroundings using its free hand to shield its eyes from the sun. It then raised its staff a few times then continued scanning the horizon. Soon others joined it on the mound.

“We estimate at least 300 individuals in this community,” Silius said. “Maybe more.”
“It’s a foraging party,” Portsmont said still looking through his binoculars as the group on the mound separated. Then to Silius, “Let’s go catch one.”

Back at camp, Wedlen was continually updated by Portsmont’s team. He still can’t believe it. To be here, now, a million years since their ancestors left. Humans! Of course they still had to verify that but in his gut he knew, and he can’t get his mind around it. Once they dominated this planet, and now here they are, living underground, hiding from predators, insignificant it seems... but surviving. Against tremendous odds, they survived.

The last human in the universe. That couldn’t be me. I refuse to believe it. Not after what we’ve been through. To drift in space for fourteen millennia, to find this planet against all odds, I was beginning to believe Brelin; there is some master plan somewhere and we’re part of it. Humans are destined to spread throughout the universe, planting seeds of humanity all over. We’re the seeds, she said. We’re supposed to give the human race a new start here.
Earth was a mess even before the wanderer hit. Generations of mismanagement and greed made her unlivable. The people then were divided into what they called the Rich and the Poor. It seems strange to us now but back then most of the Earth’s resources were in the hands of very few people, the rich. More and more people were living in civilization’s refuse breathing foul air and drinking foul water and those with the means – the rich, the haves, the beautiful ones - isolated themselves in their cosmopolitan cities and pretended that billions of people outside of them didn’t exist in the conditions they existed in. I remember my teacher saying that Earth scientists once warned that human activities were causing the climate to change with disastrous consequences. The rich, the haves, the beautiful ones, with hearts ostensibly bleeding for the Earth’s poor, drafted a program to prevent the disaster and it was this: You poor folk, you downtrodden masses, reduce your consumption of the Earth’s resources so that we the rich, we haves, we beautiful ones, could continue living as we have been.
The pressure mounted such that the rich folk knew sooner or later, as millions of people moved in looking for work, looking for food, looking for a chance to live like humans, that these people can’t be ignored anymore. They gave them work in factories outside the cities and in services in the cities, housed them in camps where they were taken care of as long as they kept providing the cities with what they needed. The countryside was spent, its resources dwindling. Farms were dying and the only way to grow food was through industrial factories with huge climate-controlled greenhouses run by computers. Farmers and ranchers who used to own their own farms went to work for these factories for survival wages. That was the way of the world then before the wanderer. The Popotchik was built to escape from the inevitable, a haven for rich people: Live in Earth orbit. Spectacular views of the planet from your luxurious apartment. Golf, spas, and the hottest hotspots in the universe all waiting for you. It was called Celestia then, not Popotchik. They had no idea she would turn into a lifeboat. The owner, some faceless corporation, didn’t count on her making the journey she eventually made so soon.
There was chaos in the cities when news of the wanderer broke. The workers from the camps rioted and took over the factories and went into the cities and looted everything they could get their hands on. First police, then soldiers were called in to stop the mob. But as the streets of the city became awash with blood, even the soldiers refused their orders, abandoned their posts, and joined the rioters.
The crew took over the Celestia in the chaos and there was nothing the board of directors on Earth could do about it. What could they do? Take them to court? The crew – scientists and engineers with ties to leading universities on Earth - knew however that they couldn’t stay in the solar system where other humans would be scattered about in orbiting settlements. They were outlaws after all. If enough people survived, the authorities, whatever of them that were left, would go after them. With the help of the universities, they transported entire laboratories and libraries on board the Celestia: digitized books and documents, equipment, DNA samples of numerous species from pachyderms to protozoa, bacteria to baleen whales, and people of all races. They sent the former occupants home to the mercy of the mobs and replaced them with the universities’ faculty, some students, soldiers who joined the revolt, and their families, a little over 800 people. They renamed the ship Popotchik, and aimed for 801 Procephes. They’d like to think that it was as simple as a wing, a prayer, and they were off in glowing clouds of radioactive propellant, but the soldiers had to put down a horde of rioters to be able to load and board the ship. Life, what else is new? To live, something else has to die. The killings were justified, they thought, as they were mankind’s last hope. 
Not really. There were other ships. Einstein-Hawking said they will head for 801 Procephes, too, if their original target in Tau Grius didn’t pan out. See you in a couple million years, Einstein-Hawking. These were extremely long trips and those on board knew and accepted that they, their children thousands of generations hence, would die in space long before they reach their destinations. The pirates of Popothcik, the outlaw ship, was a seedpod drifting in the interstellar winds, hoping for fertile soil in which to grow.

“They’re human. DNA confirms it. We have a 99.54% match to the genome template we have.”
Wedlen leaned back in his chair and said nothing for several seconds, just looking at Portsmont. Inside, his mind was reeling and his heart was racing. These he placed under control by taking a couple of deep breaths without, he hoped, Portsmont noticing. Portsmont himself was a picture of calm and he could do no less than try to match it. Finally he said, “Write a message to Center. Give them a full report. I’ll add my recommendations later before we send it.”

Brelin and I used to hang out with the animals before she died. Her baby died not long after we landed and she was understandably depressed. Taking care of the animals got her mind off her loss I suppose and it visibly cheered her up. She even took a piglet for a pet, a weak runt, and named her Vorla. On the ship, we usually destroyed sick or underweight animals so they don’t have to use up resources that would otherwise go to the healthier animals, and I was about to do that to Vorla. I had the syringe in hand to euthanize the poor thing when Brelin saw me and asked me where I was going. I told her and she grew quite upset, but she went with me anyway. When she saw the little pink piglet, she begged me not to put her down and said she’ll take care of it herself and we don’t have to worry about anything. I thought about it and finally said yes. We had a planet full of resources and the rules on board a cramped ship didn’t have to apply here. Besides, we fed the animals with the ‘vegetables’ that grew on the planet and they seemed to be doing fine. We didn’t have to feed them with the feedstuff we used to have on board so we weren’t about to run out of feed.
On nights when the moon was full, Brelin and I would stay up all night on the roof and talk and watch the animals frolic under the beautiful blue moon. The open space really did them good and they ran around and played. I don’t know if that was normal behavior back on old Earth, but they seemed right at home here. They were happy, I daresay. Damn if the pigs weren’t singing to the full moon, with Vorla joining in from her bed on the roof beside us as if squeaking the chorus. They never did that on the ship, but then again they never saw anything beyond the ship’s walls before.
Brelin was a member of the Church, one of those who believed that the Universe is alive. Not alive in the sense we are, but conscious and could listen to us, and that the planets are also conscious and are the ones who directly create life. The Earth created us, she said. She calls us children of the Earth, and that one day we’ll join the Universal Consciousness - yes, capitalized. Church members are dualists. They believe life is chemistry and information. When we die, only our bodies die, but the information that made us, plus the data we gathered, doesn’t die. It lives on in the Universal Consciousness, not conscious of itself as a separate entity, but as part of the Universal Self. As an analogy, she compared us to a book. She said, “You threw your copy of The Complete Works of Nubelig in the fire, did you in fact destroy it?” I said yes. “No you didn’t. All you destroyed is the medium it’s written on. The Complete Works continue to exist. As long as it’s in someone’s mind it exists. And as long as there’s a Universe, there is a mind that it exists in.” O-o-oookay, I said, so we were written. By the Universe. “Yes,” she said. She said our DNA is a book of instructions written in the language of the Universe. It’s no surprise that a lot of the Church members are molecular biologists. The language in DNA is a sacred thing to them. Life on Earth, and elsewhere, all exists in the mind of the Universe, and are written in and transmitted across the galaxies. “How do you think life began on Earth,” she asked, “if nobody wrote the instructions on how to do it?” She said new information, much like computer code, from the vastness of space, were sent to Earth with instructions on how to create consciousness that could communicate with the Universal Mind. That’s us. Humans. Why us?, I asked. She said she doesn’t know. It could’ve chosen other species, but it chose to gift humans with the means to understand it, one step closer in our evolution towards being Universes ourselves. (For a complete study on the beliefs of the Church, I refer you to Mulwadi’s Catechism. It’s in the library.)
People started dying a few months after we landed. We didn’t know exactly what was causing it at first. Later it turned out that the native food we were eating was somehow ‘incompatible’ with us at the genetic level. It was altering our genes in such a way that some instructions aren’t running such as those for protein synthesis. We tested the food with the animals and they were doing fine so we thought the food was safe. We never thought it would disrupt our DNA. Those who had a larger proportion of the native foodstuff in their diet were the first to fall, and they fell by the score, then by the hundreds. Until the lab found a cure, we ate exclusively terran food. The Captain ordered the livestock back in the pens and fed exclusively on terran feed, Vorla included. Eating exclusively terran slowed the death rate down, but it didn’t stop it. Somebody would succumb to a failure of the body to produce insulin or antibodies or hemoglobin. And we checked; none of us would be able to reproduce. We knew it was only a matter of time before we, too, fell, and we were just waiting for our time to die.
We were on the roof, and the full blue moon was just a meaningless orb, and I couldn’t help thinking about the end.
“This isn’t the end,” Brelin said. Count on the Church people to remain optimistic even as everything falls apart around them. They were the ones on burial duty. They volunteered. Most of us were either on the edge of a nervous breakdown or catatonic with depression.
We were sent here for a purpose, she said. The Earth knew what was going to happen, probably even before our species showed up. She knew the wanderer was coming, was talking to it, knew when it would hit. The Earth made us so she could seed some other world. Some seed we turned out to be, I said. We lived, we learned, we’re probably smarter as a species now than when we left. We certainly could avoid the pitfalls of the old human civilization, their wars, their greed, and for what? So we could die here?
I was hoping she would be the one to bury me, but that was not to be. It turned out I outlived them all, and I still had the crops, and the livestock. The computer takes care of them with very little help from me. I had enough food to last me the rest of my brief life.
I took Vorla with me when I buried Brelin - the blue moon was full when she died - and it was as if Vorla knew what was going on. She sniffed and snuggled her until the time came to put her underground. I said a little prayer to the Universe, asking it to take care of my friend, and I didn’t feel silly doing that at all. It was apt. Then I sang, or rather I tried to sing that song Brelin said her mother taught her. It was an old, old song from Earth she said. She sang it when we were on the roof on nights when the moon was full, but I forgot the lyrics. It’s called Blue Moon, she said, and it was about having someone thanking the moon for giving her someone to love and how great it was. I hummed it as best I can, and Vorla sang with me, trying to squeak the chorus. Then it was time to go and Vorla wouldn’t leave Brelin’s grave. I left her there and went back to the camp, and opened the pens, and let all the animals out. This was their home now. Earth2 has welcomed them as her own. I said a little prayer to the new planet. Take care of them for me, I said. It was apt.

“We’re going to teach them?” Portsmont asked as he read the message they were going to send Center with Wedlen’s recommendations. “Sir, our mission was just to reconnoiter and report on the status of Earth.”
“And we did that,” Wedlen said. “Im recommending that we take some of them with us, teach them what we know, and send them back here so they can teach the rest. I feel we owe it to them. Send the message, Portsmont. We won’t wait for a reply. Round up some subjects to take with us and enough supplies for them.”

“They might not survive,” Portsmont said as he sent the message. Millions of light years away, Center’s paired particle EPR comm link with the ship was receiving the message instantaneously.
“I think our genetic engineers can do something so they can assimilate our food with no adverse effects. They have their genome templates. It should be easy.” Wedlen leaned back in his chair. “Who would’ve thought? Humans!”

“May I ask why we’re doing this?”

“We owe them everything, Portsmont: our culture, our technology, our very existence. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here. You’ve seen the reports of the recon teams. None of our ancestors here survived the wanderer. And from what we’ve seen, these humans wouldn’t last long in this hostile environment. Not without our help. They took us to Earth2. That’s why we’re here.”

“Sir, they took us with them for food. They ate our ancestors.”

“That hardly matters now, does it? How could they have known that the Porcine race would thrive, that Earth2 would change us the way it did?” Wedlen sighed. “Earth2 might have sent us here to give them another chance. Take Silius’s team and round up some hardy specimens. We leave tomorrow.”
They rounded up ten humans; five male and five female. “The bastards,” Silius said. “I hope they make it. Look at them. They’re scared shitless.”

“I didn’t figure the Commander for the sentimental type,” Portsmont said. “But this could be an interesting project.”

“Stupid monkey bastards. They brought us with them so they could snack on us.” Silius chuckled. “What do you suppose they taste like?”

He grinned back at Silius. “Probably like chicken.”

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Story time

A work in progress (lying dormant for years, hasnt progressed beyond preliminary drafts phase) but might as well leave this here. My take on the whole 'Rapture of the Nerds" thing: Transhumanism, Singularity, etc. With this, I welcome myself back to my blog. This is cheating of course since this isnt a new piece, but whatre you gonna do?

Graven Images

His mother called it The Eye, and Guzman remembers being scared of it when he was a child. It was portrait of a pale, un-Semitic-looking Jesus, smooth-faced, narrow-nosed, with a wispy beard, long shoulder-length hair parted in middle. Jesus had a sorrowful stare that followed him wherever he went. The painting always seemed to be looking disapprovingly at him and he didn't like to look at it if he can help it but he’d steal glances at it from time to time and sure enough, Jesus would be looking at him, sadness in his baleful stare, disappointed at him for some reason, and there was always a reason – he was a naughty boy whose curiosity always got the better of him. He remembered The Eye was the first thing anyone saw when they walked into that room, the room where all the antique religious figures and paintings were in their old house in the country, the house where they lived until he was seven when they moved to the city. The Eye was right on top of a wooden altar where candles in red glass were always lit. On the altar were a small free-standing crucifix and a small Virgin Mary figurine about sixteen inches tall that his mother called Lourdes, the mantle on the altar made from crocheted cotton yarn with little red doilies woven into it. Also in that room were antique religious figures in wood, stone, and plaster of Paris, family heirlooms over a hundred years old, some of them life-sized. There was the angel Gabriel, a Blessed Virgin Mary, and a dead Jesus beneath a purple blanket with gold thread edging lying in state in a glass coffin that they lent to the Church for Lenten processions. There was a Santo Niño, the baby Jesus, holding a scepter in one hand and a globe in the other, clothed in a tunic adorned with gold thread. Old ladies would come to the house and pray before those figures, his grandmother and mother serving them refreshments of coffee and small biscuits that came out of a bucket-sized can.

All these religious figures were in a room in his penthouse now, in what he calls the antique room, each in its own glass case and lighted from above with little halogen bulbs that gave them their own haloes. He didn't pay them much attention before – he has severed his ties with the Roman Church – but now, after the aneurysm that left him in a coma for several days, he looks at them and it triggers memories of his childhood. And not only does he remember them, he remembers them as if the memories are still fresh in his mind. He remembers everything: what the old room smelled like and what old ladies who prayed there everyday looked like. He even remembers their perfume that smelled of roses and how it made his head hurt. The aneurysm probably unlocked those memories, and several others but for some reason, he couldn't remember the aneurysm itself or what happened in the days just prior to that. He came out of the coma in his home where he had a specially-built room with hospital equipment. The room was for his mother who in her later years suffered from various ailments that old people were often afflicted with. No sense sending her to the hospital when he could well afford to have her at home where he could be with her so he hired a nurse to take care of her and her doctor visited her everyday. He never thought he’d get to use that room himself.
Also in the antique room was an old dresser with a mirror framed in dark hardwood carved with flowers and fruit. The mirror had four cracks in it that ran right through the middle and met at a point at the bottom of the mirror. He looked at his reflection through the cracks and he thought it made him look like a cubist painting. He remembered how the mirror got those cracks and how his mother punished him by hitting him repeatedly with a wooden hanger. She hit him so hard that the hanger broke, and he laughed despite his tears when that happened – he thought it was funny – which infuriated his mother even more, and she had him kneel for two hours in front of The Eye with his arms outstretched to his sides like Jesus on the cross, and Jesus looked at him disapprovingly from the framed portrait. But more than that punishment, he was scared about the seven years of bad luck he was cursed with for having broken the mirror. He knew that was the fate of someone who had broken a mirror because he saw it in a cartoon on TV. He would be cursed with bad luck, he knew, till he was fourteen, and so he spent the next seven years mostly alone with books his father bought for him – a 24 volume Collier’s Encyclopedia and the 12 volume Collier’s Classics – and his watercolors and crayons. All these vivid memories came flooding out of the folds and creases of his brain where they remained stuck for years until the popped vein in his head brought them up to his consciousness again.

“Sir, Mr. Takada is here to see you. I asked him to wait for you in the study,” his personal assistant said on the intercom.

“I’ll be down in 20 minutes. Make him comfortable. Thanks, Susan.” Guzman showered and dressed and went down. Ben Takada was having coffee and reading a magazine when he walked into the study. “Hello, Ben,” Guzman said.

“Gus, how are you? Ready to go back to work?” Ben said and he shook Guzman’s hand heartily. Ben is Guzman’s right-hand man at Biocore. They built the company together, mostly through Ben’s genius, but he liked to think he helped. Ben is a highly respected medical doctor and neuroscientist who has done pioneering research on the brain’s inner workings. But even though they started Biocore together, their relationship is purely professional. He’s just not the kind of person Guzman could get close to. In fact, Guzman is close to very few people.

“I’m feeling all right,” Guzman said. “Except that for some reason, I don't seem to remember much about what’s been going on back at Biocore. You have to bring me up to speed.”
“All right, where do I start?,” Ben said as they sat down. “Do you remember anything about the joint venture with Lambda Technologies?”

“Barely,” Guzman said. “I remember we were talking to them about developing supercomputers.”

“Modeled on the human brain, yes,” Ben said. “They’re interested in our research on our memory storage systems and our nanotechnology, and we were in talks with them about starting a new company to develop computers that can process information much like the human mind can. It's pretty much a done deal. You were in all the meetings with them before your ... I’ll send you the paperwork so you can look them over. They’re willing to give us some more time given the circumstances.”

“Ok. What else are we working on?”

“Well, we might have a breakthrough with that research I was telling you about – the one about storing the brain’s memories electronically onto one of our 3-d memory storage devices?”

“I remember you saying that we’ve solved all technical obstacles to achieving that.”

“Yes we have. There’s just the ethical ones.”

They talked some more, about Biocore mostly, but also about other things as well: sports scores, gossip about other executives. Guzman remembered enjoying sports and gossip, but they didn't seem enjoyable now. He let Ben keep talking, though. He seemed to be happy to do so.

Ben stayed for dinner on Guzman’s insistence. Before he left, Ben said, “Gus, you know Biocore is everything to me. It’s my life. Unlike you, I don't have much of a life outside its offices and its labs.” Ben paused. Like Guzman, he also had trouble connecting to people; at heart they were two nerds – an appellation they carry with pride, by the way – and occasions like this, where anything close to their true feelings would be shared, are marked with almost autistic awkwardness. Finally, he put his hand on Guzman’s shoulder, “What I’m saying is, I’m glad you’re okay. I can’t run Biocore without you.”


He sits in the antique room. He has a new fascination with memory after that conversation with Ben, and looking at all the graven images in it triggers memories of a childhood he thought he had left behind. Being able to record all memories in a man’s brain by copying the entire brain molecule by molecule, atom by atom, storing the information… it’s fascinating. They use the nano machines Guzman developed to copy the brain’s circuitry and these nanobots send electronic signals that enable the entire brain to be stored as an electronic copy with all its memories stored within. It’s a perfect copy, with all the connections intact.

“But you’d have to create an entire world for the virtual person to be in. Aside from that, you’d have to store other virtual entities – other virtual people – for it to interact with. I imagine it would be mighty lonely if you didn't do that,” Guzman said.

“You don't have to. The mind could create everything itself, including other people, and it wouldn't know the difference. It will shield itself from the knowledge that the environment and all the other conscious entities in it are its creation,” Ben said in full lecture mode. Ben inadvertently lapses back to his roots in academia from time to time.

“You mean like when we dream,” Guzman said. “Everything we interact with in a dream exists only in our heads, but we won't know it until we wake up.”

“Exactly like a dream,” Ben said. “But in this case, the dream is real to the mind stored electronically. It's a dream it never wakes up from, created from what’s already in the mind. And even if it isn’t in the mind, the mind will be able to create it. If you haven't been to Zimbabwe for instance, and you go to Zimbabwe in the virtual world, your mind will create Zimbabwe.”

“And if he dies in his virtual world?,” Guzman asks.

“Then that virtual world is finished. We on the outside will be able to tell when that world has flat-lined. We’ll just run it again, and the stored memories will be able to create an entirely new virtual world, different from the previous one perhaps, but still based on what he recognizes as real. That’s what’s great about it. It’s virtual immortality, albeit a serial kind where you can lead one virtual life after another ends. And you know what is really fascinating about this? We might be able to take those recorded memories, and store them in a real human brain.”


Guzman looks at his wife Vera lying asleep beside him and it’s like looking at a stranger. He remembered seeing her at his bedside when he first came out of his coma. She was holding his hand and smiling with tears in her eyes and he remembered how he recoiled in horror. She looked exactly like Vera but it was like looking at an impostor. He asked her who she was and what she has done with his wife. The look in his eyes upset her and she turned to Ben who told her to give him more time to recover.

He looks at her now and he can’t help thinking that this isn’t his wife and he knew that to think that was crazy, but he couldn't shake the feeling that this wasn't her. But she looked like Vera, she sounded like Vera, she even smelled like Vera, and had all her quirks and mannerisms. If this were an impostor, then she was an extremely gifted one. But he remembered loving his wife and he can’t seem to feel anything for this woman lying asleep beside him. He lay beside her and smelled her hair. He remembered doing that, just lying beside her and smelling her hair, and he remembered that the scent of her hair, of her neck, made everything right in the world. Things could be falling apart outside but he could lay beside Vera and smell her hair, and everything would be fine. He tried doing that to try to trigger memories, and with those memories maybe the feelings will come back. He put his arm around her like he used to do and buried his face in her hair like he used to do, and inhaled. She smelled right, of jasmine and lavender, and her own unique scent that reminded him of a baby’s; caramel and cream and coconuts. Nothing. All it triggered were memories of what he felt then but couldn't feel now.

Vera stirred beside him and purred like a contented cat. She turned to him and smiled with her eyes still closed and stroked his arm, then his back, then his thighs and buttocks, until finally her hand came between his legs. Vera sighed and that triggered something in him, but it wasn't what he was looking for. He gave in nevertheless.

He came to work that same morning. It was raining outside and he waited for his car in the lobby. His car pulled over and the doorman walked him to the car with an umbrella. “Fine weather we’re having, eh sir?” he said. Guzman stared at him for a couple of seconds not quite knowing what to make of what the doorman said, but he smiled at him and got into the car.

The trip to the office took about 15 minutes in the traffic and he spent that time wondering about that woman who looked like his wife – who is his wife, he decided, or at least tried to convince himself. He decided to be nice to her since she was clearly upset when he treated her like a stranger. Her name is Vera and she is my wife, he thought. It’s the aneurysm; my brain hasn't fully recovered.

The office lobby had a huge streamer welcoming him back, executives lined up to meet him to shake his hand and wish him well, telling him how happy they were that he was okay. He returned their smiles and handshakes and went to his office. He asked that they take the streamer down.

On his desk was a folder with a yellow Post-It note stuck on it that said, ‘The Lambda proposal’ and it was signed ‘Ben’. When he finished reading it, he stretched out on his chair and looked around his office. It was all dark wood and it reminded him of his antique room, and on the wall to his right, above the round meeting table, was a painting he bought in Spain that was supposed to be by Juan Luna although it was unsigned. It was a painting of Jesus and his apostles Peter, James, and John, with Jesus standing before them with arms outstretched and they were seated in front of him, except that instead of human heads, they had animal heads on the human bodies. Jesus’ head was the head of a ram, and he has his heart exposed outside of his chest in the manner of the Sacred Heart paintings, although it didn't have the lance wound and the crown of thorns yet. The apostles’ heads were of a lion, an eagle, and a bull. He remembered being moved by this painting when he first saw it, and at the same time amused by the artist’s quirky treatment of his subject matter, but looking at it now, he feels nothing for it, like he feels nothing for Vera, and it upset him. He remembered walking in the great galleries of the world and it was like being in church; there was something spiritual he felt about the Da Vincis, the Botticellis, the Poussins he saw there, a sense of reverence he felt. He walks over to the bar, pours himself a cognac, and drinks. He let it warm his mouth, then his chest as he swallowed; the taste of grapes and flowers and oak lingered in his mouth as the alcohol hit him. That tastes good, he thought, and relaxed. He wasn't going to let things worry him. He’s alive when he could’ve been dead. That’s enough.


“Would you do it?” Ben asked. They were having cognac in Guzman’s office at the end of the work day like they always did. “If we could make a replica of your mind and store it, you could in theory, live forever. As long as the plug isn’t pulled of course.”

Guzman thought about it. Having been near death, he thought the answer was obvious. He almost died, and he could drop dead any moment from another vein popping in his head, and he’s convinced he’d rather be alive than dead. “Yes,” he said. “In a heartbeat. You?”

“I don't know,” Ben answered. “I’d like to think one lifetime on this earth is enough, then I’m ready to move on. I know you don't believe in the afterlife, but I do. And I’m expecting something different from life here. Living forever here, well, it's just not the kind of immortality I’m looking for.”

“Fair enough. You want to live forever with God,” Guzman said. “But let me tell you something: all those stories about near-death experiences – floating, seeing your departed loved ones, your life flashing before your eyes, and the loving presence of a being of light? I didn't experience any of those. Nothing. It’s quite possible that there really is nothing after this.”

“Even if that’s true, I’d rather be dead,” Ben said. “Life here, it sucks, man. Wars, disease, famine, Britney Spears...” Ben deadpans.

Ben’s rare attempt at humor elicited no reaction from Guzman. He said, “You mentioned being able to input those recorded memories into a real brain. How close are we to that?”

“We’re practically there. We can use the DNA code as a template. We use our nanobots to copy the brain onto an electronic medium, then we can translate the data into an actual DNA sequence. And with our advances in cloning, we can keep transferring memories onto a new body as the old one ages or wears out. We’ve solved all the technical problems. Like I said, all that’s left are the ethical ones, and they’re still arguing about those in Congress.”

When he got home that night, Vera was waiting for him. He still felt uneasy about her, feeling like he couldn't trust her, but he fought the feeling, and smiled at her. “I made adobo. I hope you’re hungry cause I made a lot,” she said laughing nervously. Maybe he seemed like a stranger to her, too.

“Yes, I’m starving,” he said. They ate and Vera did most of the talking but Guzman tried his best to seem interested and kept his end of the conversation up. If I go through the motions, he thought, maybe it’ll all come back. He couldn't help noticing the pained look in Vera’s eyes. One part of him didn't like to see Vera sad, but another part of him doesn't seem to care, and he’s afraid the part that doesn't care is winning. But he was determined to fix that. One thing unmistakable is that this woman, who looks like his wife, who is his wife, he says to himself, loves him. And he wants to love her back, because that was what he remembers doing, because that was what made his life worth living.


“So what do you say, Blessed Mary ever Virgin?,” Guzman asks the wooden figure under the glass with the peeling paint. “Should I agree to the Lambda proposal?” He doesn't find it odd that he who has disavowed all belief in the supernatural has all these religious figures in his own home. There was a time when he ascribed to these figures some kind of godly power, since that was what his mother told him. They would pray to them everyday, kneeling in front of them, and he would peer at The Eye, and it would be looking at him and he was careful to not let The Eye show that his knees were hurting lest The Eye gets mad at him. But now he knows they’re just figures of wood and stone and plaster. He keeps them here, in the antique room, encased in glass so that none could touch them, not even the little old ladies with their rosaries who wore out the Virgin Mary’s paint job could touch them. He keeps them here as his prisoners just as they have imprisoned him. Prisoners, hah! They’re inanimate objects! They neither know nor care whether they’re imprisoned or not. They hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. They’re just empty soulless lumps of inanimate matter. The Israelites had the right idea when they forbade the making of images, the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or of those things that are in the waters under the earth, lest the people bow down and worship them.

He remembers worshipping art, if one could call it worship. He was moved by works of art. But earlier this morning, he was viewing the art collection at the Biocore gallery, and he felt then as he feels now about these figures in the antique room. They’re just soulless inanimate objects, bits of paint on canvass.

And Vera? Was she a soulless inanimate object, too? He certainly didn't feel anything for her. Nothing of what he knew he used to feel for her, and it troubled him that he couldn't since he remembered the pleasure, the exhilaration he felt at the sight of her, at the sound of her voice, at her scent, the ache and longing he felt whenever he thought of her. It troubled him, but he didn't care. He can’t explain it.

He looked at The Eye and it returned his stare, with its empty stare that was really looking at nothing at all he knew, and he wondered if he has the same empty stare when he looked at Vera. He looked at the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she too was looking at him. And so was the Angel Gabriel and the Baby Jesus. The dead Jesus had his eyes open and was sitting up and looking at him, too. Then everything went white and he closed his eyes. The light of their haloes blinded him.


He opened his eyes and the white light was still there and he could see nothing else. Then there was an eclipse as a dark orb covered the light, and the dark orb moved closer. He heard the dark orb saying, “Yes, he’s waking up now.” Then the dark orb said, “Gus?” Faintly at first, then louder and clearer. “Gus?”

When his eyes had adjusted, he saw – he couldn't remember for a second – he saw... Ben. It was Ben. There were others in the room as well; doctors and nurses, he assumed, although they weren’t wearing the white coats doctors and nurses usually wore. “Where am I? What happened?,” Guzman asked.

“You’re home now. You had an aneurysm. Susan found you in the antique room. You have been in a coma for five days.”

“Another aneurysm?”

Ben looked at the doctor for a second, wondering if Guzman heard him correctly. “What do you mean ‘another one?’ You had an aneurysm. It was your first. You’ve been in a coma for...”

“I just recovered from an aneurysm, what are you...?” Confused, Guzman looks at the faces of those around him. “But I... This can’t be my first. I remember waking up and you telling me I had an aneurysm. I was in a coma and I woke up and you were there and...”

“Just take it easy,” Ben said. “Get some rest.”

Guzman put his hands over his eyes, willing himself to make sense of all this. “Where’s Vera?,” he finally said. It troubled him that she wasn't there.

“She had to go out for a bit. I called her. She’s on her way. She never left your side, Gus.”

That sounded right, he thought. That sounded like what Vera would do. She wouldn't leave his side just as he knew he wouldn't leave hers. Everything was a dream, he thought. I was in a coma and everything from the last several days was all in my head. He felt a sense of relief that what he felt, or rather didn't feel, for Vera wasn't real. He grabbed Ben’s arm hard. Ben winced. “I want to make sure you’re real, Ben. I had a weird coma.” Guzman smiled.

Ben returned his smile. “Well you’re going to be fine now. The doctors did a great job. And by the way, this is as real as it can get.”


He knew that voice. He looked in the direction of that voice and he saw her. She came to his side and held his hand and she was smiling at him with tears in her eyes, and he recoiled in horror. “Who are you? What have you done with my wife? Ben! Where’s Vera? Who is this woman?”

“Gus, it’s me.”

Guzman looked at the woman wide-eyed with fear and rage. She looked like Vera but he knew it wasn't her. “Ben, is this a trick? What have you done with my wife, Ben?”

Vera buried herself in Ben’s arms, while the doctor injected something into his I.V. drip. He grew light-headed and calm. He went to sleep.

He was in the antique room amidst those soulless prisoners in glass which has become his refuge since he recovered from his aneurysm. He looked at his reflection through the broken mirror, the one that made him look like a cubist painting. Seven years bad luck, he thought. He remembered where the superstition came from. The Romans thought that the mirror captured a part of you and the reflection was your soul. Breaking the mirror then means breaking your soul and it traps it in the mirror. And since they believed it took seven years for the soul to renew itself, to make itself whole. Silly Romans.

In the mirror, he saw The Eye’s reflection. He turned to look at it, and Jesus returned his soulless stare.
He came to work that day. The office lobby had a huge streamer welcoming him back, executives lined up to meet him to shake his hand and wish him well, telling him how happy they were that he was okay. He returned their smiles and handshakes. He asked that they take the streamer down.

He headed straight to Ben’s office. Went inside without knocking. Ben stood up to meet him. “When were you going to tell me?,” he asked Ben before he could even start with the pleasantries.

Ben searched Guzman’s eyes and they were burning through his. He sat down heavily like the weight of the world were suddenly dumped on his shoulders. “Forgive me,” he said. He couldn't look at Guzman.
Guzman turned around and left. “It was what you wanted,” he heard Ben say before he closed the door behind him.


Guzman sat in the antique room and rested the gun on his lap, feeling its dead weight there for a minute, then he lifted it, checked the safety then he let it dangle at his side, swinging it to and fro like a pendulum on a grandfather clock, ticking away the time. He looked at The Eye and saw Jesus looking at him, but he didn't see disapproval in his eyes. He was just watching him, his pale face non-judgmental. Then with both hands he pointed the gun at his forehead, his right thumb on the trigger. He was looking down the gun barrel and he could see the rifling in the barrel spiraling down into the darkness and he got ready to pull the trigger so he could spiral into the darkness himself. He thought of Vera. The Vera that was before this… Before this.

He put the gun down. He stood up and looked at The Eye and Jesus looked back at him still non-judgmental and he looked around at the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel and the Baby Jesus with the world in his hand and all the other smaller figures in glass cases with their halogen haloes and they didn't seem to judge him either, were ignoring him in fact. The dead Jesus was still quite peacefully dead. He felt a sense of belonging: I am that. He looked at his reflection in the broken mirror and the cubist painting looked back at him and it was nodding its reassurance. Seven years bad luck, he thought. Jesus rose again after three days. Just seven more years then we’ll take it from there.

He walked back to the bedroom, unloaded the gun, and put it in the safe behind the framed canvas with bits of paint on it that he knew was a Hernando Ocampo painting he was once fond of. Then he went to dinner.