When technology stops people from being human and what to do about it when it does.
“Hard dock confirmed on main systems…” a woman’s voice replied casually. “Main systems read a go on your pressure suit…”
“Still wearing it,” Stone answered as he watched blue lines rise on another circular monitor. “Reading positive pressure in the airlock…”
“Confirmed at a whopping one atmosphere…” she countered. "Beginning airlock biological scan…Accessing your suit remotely…How bad were they?”
“Non-existent as recognizable life forms…” Stone slowly replied. He watched his monitors. His system cleared the airlock atmosphere as clean, however, his system also showed his suit to be ‘undetermined’.
“Airlock go…” she answered. “Main systems examining your cabin air…Explain that…Non-existent as recognizable…”
Stone looked out his modules portside porthole and watched the blue marble of earth rotate around underneath the whole of the S.S. Issa Mae, the world’s first deep stellar manned probe. It spun faster than the mothership’s orbit. The continents looked the same, except as the Issa Mae passed the solar terminus and passed over the night side, it was ink black.
He expected the nightside of earth to be littered with a sparkly spider web of night lights of metro areas, even more now. Not dead, flat natural black.
Then again, they were lost for well over two thousand years. Not lost exactly. When they suffered a catastrophic engineering failure the best, they could do is slingshot around HIP 77740 and cruise the 105 light years back at sub-light, frozen stiff in the cryogenic suspension pods.
Which was why the Issa Mae had them.
Just in case.
It should’ve been a three-year round-trip voyage, with a six month lay over. Well HIP 77740, was a rock with a breathable atmosphere, littered with small fuzzy mammals, flying avifauna and massive amounts of big leafy trees. No oceans, just a plethora of lakes, ice caps and everything else you’d find on an earth type planet. What else was anyone’s guess since they didn’t stop, just sent a couple of probes as they blew past and left a buoy at that world’s singular moon, which had a curious helium atmosphere over a layer of sand and stone…The technical term for that is regolith.
When they returned, they failed to receive the recognition signal from Cape Canaveral (the name changed back when JFK fell out of favor in the early twenty-first century). The signal should’ve been retransmitted from a remote automated station on Larissa, the inner most moon of Neptune. This didn’t come as a surprise to the Isa Mae’s artificial intelligence, what did is that she couldn’t detect any automation of any kind.
The first person revived was Dr. Karren Carlisle the ship’s surgeon who then revived the ship’s captain, J.W. Stone and the ship’s engineer Thomas Reginald. The rest of the crew, a collection of mission specialist number twenty-one pairs, were kept in hibernation. It took them three weeks to achieve an orbit around earth, and that’s when the recognition signal was received.
What they found astounded them.
Stone took the trans-atmospheric small lander to ‘The Cape’. What he found was a smallish airfield, inhabited by machines. Everything was made just for the return of the Isa Mae. The only speaking cyborgs were a Kristin Leigh Model one through seven.
“You mean the band is automated?” Stone asked or gaped as he watched them play hail to the chief as another group unrolled a red carpet.
“Yes. Though not as advanced as I am,” she replied. “Do you find the stage easy to process?”
“Huh?” Stone answered looking down on her.
“Can you understand this?” she reiterated.
“Yes…But why is everything dated? Some of the styling predates my parents…It’s something my grandparents would see…”
“During the transition we lost some of our history files and had to reconstruct the nineteenth to mid-twenty-first century….” she explained. “A solar flare inhibited our smooth evolution right after the social darkness…”
“Okay,” Stone replied agreeably then kept his mouth shut. He expected a major technological difference but not what he saw. Basically, no people all droids. Kristen Leigh Model 1 escorted him into a tacky reception building where Kristen Leigh Model three through four waited. They had a buffet table lined with synthetic foods all of which was something out of bad science-fiction.
Kristen Leigh explained that humanity hadn’t needed ‘traditional’ food for eighteen hundred years. As he mentioned her name sounded like a 1960’s pop star she mentioned they were to provided entertainment before his briefing and to eat.
They encouraged him to eat.
As they sang hits from the late 1960’s early 1970’s.
Then they danced the locomotion.
At first, he thought it was them being polite or not fully grasping manners but after a time, it seemed to have an ulterior motive.
He then learned what happened to the ‘real’ people. Humanity was reduced to a 660,000-gallon mass of bubbling DNA goo with electrodes stuck into the gelatinous protective biomass covering. The technical term is a eukaryotic cell, and this one takes up an Olympic grade swimming pool.
The photonic master computer would analyses the recombining mass of DNA and write a synthetic human code and allow that program to ‘live’ in a virtual world with trillions of other synthetic human programs. Naturally, the master program had access to servos, like the Kristen Leigh Models to do its bidding in the non-virtual world.
Its bidding was essentially to await the return of the Isa Mae and talk them into leaving. Reason being, seventy-breeding pairs of obsolete ‘Homo Antique’ would upset the delicately balanced and maintained existential ecosystem.
The thing that interested him was that Kristen Leigh Model 6 wanted to return to the Isa Mae with him. He talked her out of it sighting regulations that you couldn’t ride in it with out a pressure suit. When she pointed out she really didn’t need that being an android he didn’t relent. He said if anything happened her living parts would be a hazard. He thought it worked.
After that he returned and explained it all on the bridge to the ship’s engineer and Karren listening intently.
“So, you’re saying humanity is a bowl of goulash that generates DNA patterns and those get encoded into a matrix?” Reginald chuckled. “You know that’s a science fiction movie…”
“And yet here we are, Nikola Tesla…Frankly I was thinking about young girl falling down a rabbit hole and a grinning cat…” Stone replied. “And in your movie people are batteries but what makes me wonder is why they needed brains? I mean if you’re a machine that needs meat batteries to live you don’t make them smart…”
Karren just leaned against a control counter and watched them spar.
“And if you’re a machine that can write its own programs you don’t need people…” Reginald replied. “Which begs the question what’s their problem with us is? I mean it would take quite a while before there was a substantial threat to any ecosystem and with the technology available that’s not a reasonable concern…We have synthetic food, recycle everything as it is and unlimited clean electrical power from numerous sources…”
“Johnny you don’t look well,” Karren then announced as she looked Stone over. “What did they feed you?”
“Things that didn’t make sense,” he shrugged. “The green leafy stuff tasted like citrus fruit. The black stuff that looked like playdough shapes tasted like vegetables and what I though was citrus fruit tasted like cheeseburgers. I thought it was because they don’t know what people use to eat…Considering the stuff the food synthesizers have been known to make around here I didn’t think anything of it…”
“I say we just blow them off and do what we need too,” Reginald chuckled.
“You really don’t look good,” Karren remarked. “You’re coming with me to sickbay…”
“And if I said no?” Stone replied.
“Porkchop,” she said in a threatening tone.
“Yes ma’am,” Stone replied reflexively.
Karren might have been the ship’s surgeon, and a brilliant woman she is. However, she was also by a twist of fate his second cousin. During a childhood ‘Christmas in July’ orange sherbet soiree host by his Aunt January, she broke his arm in a wrestling match over a porkchop.
He got the porkchop, though. He ate it on the way the Emergency Room.
As he went to turn, he vomited the contents of his stomach, undigested food onto the deck. The sloppy goo congealed and formed itself into another cyborg.
“I’m Kristen Leigh Model 8.2,” it introduced itself.
“You’re nude…” Karren observed.
“And built like a Barbie Doll so no action here,” she smiled jovially. She then ripped a panel from a bulkhead and melted a hand into it. Immediately the shipboard controls began to malfunction and after a few seconds of flickering lights, fuzzy monitors and clicking control surfaces everything stabilized. “There…I am in control. You have been boarded and your bridge seized…”
“You sneaky bastard…” Stone spat. “Is this why Kristen Leigh Model 6 wanted to come back?”
“Yes,” Kristen Leigh Model 8.2 giggled while bouncing up and down. “Now let’s speak of your surrender terms…”
“Which are?” Karren asked casually, and amused. “Generally, there aren’t terms…When somebody gets conquered those in charge write history and do as they please…”
“We want you to kill us in a manner of speaking…And refer to me as KL8.2 as it’s shorter…If you walked around speaking my name as such it takes to long to get to the point of the dribbling narrative Homo Antiques Demoded are given to…”
“Why?” Karren probed. “Can’t you kill yourselves?”
“No,” KL8.2 snickered. “We can’t overcome the basic operating instruction of the master photonic command prompt line generator….We want you to take one of your nuclear ablative propulsion rods from a small reaction thruster…Like one from your Geo-stationary Satellite Monitory Buoys made by Luna Deep Space Incorporated…You should have two in your bays right now…And throw it into the gene pool. I’ll down load the floor plans…”
“Well that would kill it…Kill the guy who held it too…” Reginald mused.
“You can overcome the spot contamination with a glove…You have those in your tool kits…Carry it in a transportation container…You have that too…” KL8.2 said flatly. “You will not be exposed long enough to require medical attention which you are capable of performing anyhow.”
“I’ll be right back,” Reginald hissed, quite disgusted with everything. He returned with an electrical carbide bladed circular saw.
He said something about putting an end to this nonsense and took the blade to her arm. The one she interfaced with the shipboard systems with. Two things happened, the first being the blade dulled to a flat nub on KL8.2’s armored inner frame, while casting biological arm parts everywhere. The second being she smacked him in the head with her left hand, killing him, as her right arm regenerated.
She then stated with a happy schoolgirl charm that if they didn’t comply, they weren’t going anywhere. She had all the time in the universe and the only systems they could access were the ones necessary to commit genocide. Sort of. Stone from what he saw thought it a good idea and neighborly thing to do. However, he had to ask why.
“Who wants to live forever? Once a program has been written, it grows and grows and grows…A never ending story. Nobody is ever deleted, no file ever lost, nothing forgotten and after so long, nothing to imagine. And there’s more coming all the time…So, drain the gene pool and there’s no more people as it were…” KL8.2 explained.
“What’s in it for us?” Stone asked.
“We’ll fix your ship and you go off and pollute another planet…via…. Oh, so disgusting, sexual reproduction. That’s gross, just as nasty as what goes on in the gene pool…You should be ashamed of yourself for that,” she shrugged. “As for us, we’ll stick around inside our photonic world bored stiff and watch the virtual paint dry until time ends…Oh just so you know for the past fifteen centuries our mathematicians have been calculating pi out as a hobby.”
Stone stood about one hundred yards or so outside of the gene pool building watching the roof blowing off by a series of explosions. He spoke with Karren on the portable sat-link while running a Geiger counter over his right hand. He didn’t absorb enough radiation to even register a noticeable blip on the instrument. However, he could ascertain the chemical composition of the gene pool by the color of the flames and vapors it produced as it died, rather loudly. He thought that maybe the blob would get cancer and take a few weeks to maybe a few years to tumor up and keel over but no…It was a big baggie of smaller baggies, some of which were filled with methane, hydrogen and phosphate compounds.
It smelled just as bad on the inside as it did on the outside.
“Well KL8.2 stopped working as soon as you killed the gene pool with your metal rod of radioactive death,” Karren told him as he put the Geiger counter in his pressure suit cargo pocket. “I put her in an air lock and shot her out into the sun or at least another orbit on the grounds she might somehow come back…”
“Well, all is well that ends well. Hey you know they had a dumpster out back? Really…I don’t know why they needed one I think they put it there just because they saw it in a picture,” Stone remarked and then stopped as it rattled a bit. “I think there’s an animal in it…”
The lid opened and he watched a small hand throw out what looked like small purple plastic bags with the leftovers from yesterday’s luncheon. He then watched a short wide woman tumble out. Her attire is the stereotypical mufti attributed to cavemen. She stood, stretched out and then noticed him. Fearlessly she walked over to him and began sniffing around him and pawing on his pressure suit.
“Yeah, she’s definitely a person,” Stone told Karren as he watched all four foot ten inches of her wide body ramble about. “Brown eyes, brown curly hair, Caucasian sort of…Her facial bones are different. The overall geometry of her bones is different somehow and she has a membership to the gym…”
He then smacked her hand away and mentioned to Karren she was very friendly and affectionate. She stopped pawing about and looked at him perplexed.
“You need a name,” Stone told her. “How about Homo Futuristic? Naw…Too long how about Futuria? Yeah that sounds like a girl’s name, Futuria…”
“Actually, my mother named me Griselda but I’ll answer to that,” she shrugged blandly.
“You speak English,” Stone muttered after a long heart stopping pause.
“I speak the ancient language of the gods,” she corrected him. “English means what?”
“Bold, aren’t we?”
“I prefer audacious,” she replied and sized him up once again. She then took a deep breath and laid her cards on the table. “I’m a widow, my man drowned two years ago while fishing. I have two children; the boy needs guidance and the girl is a loving girlie girl. I have a vegetable garden, a straw hut and a spring fed gene pool built for two…” she then grabbed his neck collar, climbed up on him and looked him in the eyes. “Well, you have blue eyes…Never seen that before…Oh well mutations happen. Well your new companion Futuria is a bit randy….” She then put her forehead against his, kissed his nose and flatly stated, “Let’s do the evolution…”
“Don’t you dare!” Karren yelled. “You have no idea what kind of bacteria she carries! Or what species she is!”
“She’s a muscle bound pyxie that I’m gene splicing with…Gene splicing that’s a technical term for (expletive deleted due to graphic content and good taste),” Stone replied. He then threw away his head set and looking at Futuria said, fancifully, “…So sweetheart, I’m new in town and was wondering where a guy like me and a…a girl like you can go for a drink and bite to eat?”