by Vasso Christou
“You’ve miscalculated!” Rodrigo cries.
No, I haven’t. All processors confirm our position within a picometer. Τhe spectrum pattern of the system’s sun is identical to Sol’s. Jupiter’s energy signature is loud and clear. We are in orbit around Earth, just a few hundred meters away from the aperture of the inter-dimensional gate. It’s the same sun, the same gate coordinates, the same entry point. Except that the Earth is nothing more than a rotating ember.
I understand why he wants to believe that I’m in error. But I never miscalculate. If I possessed neurons I would be insulted by the reactions of my fellow travelers. I possess superconductors instead, and I am built to imitate human behavior only as needed. The idea was to have the crew feeling comfortable with me. Not me having feelings. This is probably fortunate in the current situation. At least, I don’t have to deal with shock and grief for a home planet undeniably dead.
Ashes and Ghosts
It was known, understood and acceptable that we would not return to the world we had left behind.
The energy gate allowed a dimensional warp to send us to other areas of space, thousands of light years away from Earth, but the distortion to the fabric of the universe was not confined to spatial dimensions only. Each crossing on either direction was in fact a jump into the future as well.
Technology would cause major alterations to the mother planet during our voyage, changes pronounced and impossible to predict even by the most dedicated extrapolation algorithms. So I didn’t bother with that. Instead I kept a record of bets during the six month exploration journey of Scout-6. Betting about the changes was Jamal’s and Aileen’s favorite sport. Not that Rodrigo provided fewer imaginative ideas. Yet, he never bet because he couldn’t stand losing – not even to friends.
And so, it was certain that Rodrigo would be the first to imply that I was wrong. Poor losers have a hard time accepting an unpredictable turn of events.
My fellow travelers have not yet shaken off the stasis sedation required for the crossing of the gate. Only nervous eye movements and weak, plaintive voices express their shock and denial. However their vital signs are hitting the upper safety margins.
Aileen’s voice this time, faint and broken, her eyes glued to the holographic image of fire and ash.
Nothing is wrong with my computations. The earth is no more. Should I have kept them sedated, spared them the sight once again? I have done that before. It’s the fourth time that I have returned through the gate, but it’s only now that the short-wave radiation from the planet allows me to suspend the passengers’ stasis field for a few hours. The physical health of the three crew members is not in jeopardy. I have some serious doubts, though, about their mental health. Nevertheless, I do not consider their awakening as an error.
I knew from the first nanoseconds of our first emergence how my companions would feel about the disaster. I have to know because I am the ship’s psychologist. I’m their physician and their pilot, their entertainer, their linguist and their navigator, their caterer and their engineer – I’m Polynoe, a Fourth Generation Polymorphic Noesis.
Theoretically, I can undertake the entire exploration mission and perchance communication with extraterrestrial entities. My constructors, however, deemed the presence of a human crew necessary in case of a first contact.
We have encountered no extraterrestrial intelligence during our voyage. We found no inhabited planets near the exit points of our inter-dimensional jumps. And upon our return, we only met with disaster. So, inevitably, I had to make the critical decisions during the cold sleep of the fragile crew I’ve been entrusted with.
“How?” asks Jamal.
His body is almost free of sedation now. The words come out without slur. His moves are more coordinated and his pulse is stronger. Nevertheless I keep him, as well as the others, contained in the energy hammock. We will soon have to initiate the same sedation-stasis-jump cycle again.
“A large part of the disaster has been recorded by a news and weather station, called Mahatma-12. According to the data I retrieved upon our first return, the satellite was geostationary over New Delhi and collected weather information from around the Earth through a system called Eyes of–”
“So?” He cuts me off, as if it would make any difference to rush a bit of decades-old news. But Jamal always interrupts me. All three of them stare at the slowly rotating gray and black holographic image of the planet, while their bodies remain helpless, stuck inside the hammocks.
“I had little time to gather information the first time, while withdrawing to the gate to protect all of us from radiation, but Ι managed to retrieve some last news and part of a visual recording.”
“Just a part?” Aileen asks.
“I had to withdraw in a great rush. On our next emergence, the station was dead.”
“Show us,” says Jamal.
They cringe as they see the edges of the tectonic plates flaring, turning the Ring of Fire around the Pacific into a deep red gash. Ash and pumice rise among their gasps, clouding the flames and the turbulence across the seas. The recording is short – one after another the station’s instruments are lost to ash or radiation – but not too short to miss the megatsunami following the almost simultaneous explosions of Yellowstone and Cerro Galan, Lake Toba and Taupo Volcano, Thira, Aetna and Vesuvius, Kilimanjaro and Erebus. Aileen brings her hands to her mouth at the sight of Napoli igniting like a firework. Jamal’s heart is thudding so hard when Hawai’i soars and then sinks into the kilometer-high waves that I have to cut the projection short. One more shock for them, but facing the truth is more merciful that imagining it.
“But why?” murmurs Aileen. “That is …” she shakes her head. “That was …” Tears flood her eyes and start floating into the cabin.
“From the newsfeed of the station, voices cried something about sabotage. One last piece of news before the disaster was that Isolationists had broken into an experimental lab.”
“Isolationists?” Rodrigo asks in disbelief. “That minor extremist group of nuts?”
Isolationists. Fanatically set against space exploration, champions of the idea that contacting other species would be a blasphemy against God’s creation. At the time of our departure they had been just a small fundamentalist group. The time-slip of the dimensional jumps had added about two standard decades to the six months of our exploration journey. Lots of things could happen in twenty years.
Lots of things had happened.
“The assumption was that they had used a double-walled energy bubble loaded with antimatter. Perhaps they had let it sink deep into the Earth’s mantle”.
“What’s this story with antimatter?” Aileen wonders.
“From the rest of the news, I presume that scientists were experimenting with a new kind of fuel for more efficient space warping and the Isolationists must have stolen it from them. Perhaps they believed that a controlled sabotage would be enough to stall the dimensional search. Or maybe, it was just a blackmail attempt that went out of control and …”
“Bloody hell!” Rodrigo screams. “Fuck recordings and reports and assumptions! Everything on Earth is gone!”
I pause. All this time, he refused to believe. Now rage has taken the upper hand. Good for him.
“Are there any life signs?”
I know what Jamal asks, but I know how to stall as well. “On the orbital stations? No one could survive …”
Not a single-celled organism. “I’m running filtering algorithms to isolate interference from ground radiation. We will have to complete a full orbit once I establish acceptable signal levels before extracting enough information to determine.”
“Maybe a few have survived and remain protected under energy shields.”
Highly improbable, but I let him hope.
Nevertheless, I know what my sensors have received and Delphi’s last oracle emerges from my database: Tell the King that the well-wrought hall has fallen to the dust …
“Radiation is beginning to penetrate the energy shield of the Scout,” I inform them later. “Initiating immediate departure procedures for the gate.”
“Why? In case the radiation harms our future kids?”
Aileen spits venomous irony. All interstellar explorers had undergone sterilization for the protection of their future offspring. Her ova were kept in cryogenic banks in three different places on the planet. So was the semen of the males.
“Your protection is among my primary targets.”
She sends me promptly to hell, murmuring something about safety protocols.
Rodrigo is crying silently ever since his initial outburst. Yet, he was the one who was joking about returning to find out a planet that was dead. It was late at night according to the cycles my fellow travelers observed – my database as well as my observations agree that what humans call “night” often favors storytelling. No matter how deep in space humans have gone, they still stick to habits inherited from their first ancestors around the fire. A hundred thousand years and a million mutations afterwards, humans tend to leave the same remnants behind them when they extinguish their fires at night: ashes and ghosts.
Dirt and Wishes
“You tell me we’ve jumped again, forty standard years ahead this time. So?”
Jamal’s hands are still, clasped to each other, the tone of his question is almost aggressive. I know he trembles and he knows that I know, yet he continues to pretend that he is relaxed, although he is the only one awake in the ship. My fellow travelers are aware that they will never fool me, yet they tend to personalize me.
“It’s relatively safe now to remain a little longer in orbit. So I took the time to study the entire emission spectrum before reviving you. I’ve discovered two human establishments on the far side of the Moon. The spots coincide with places where minute traces of ice had been detected in the past. About six to seven thousand persons are living there, offspring of those who have survived from the orbital stations and the old lunar bases. They call themselves Georefugees, and they obviously gathered to the dark side to protect themselves from the dangerous earthly radiations. But they no longer possess space vehicles.”
“They wouldn’t be able to construct or repair them,” he murmurs.
“The spaceships were turned into the primary material for the expansion and the operation of the settlements.”
The pictures I’ve captured from the communication signals between the two establishments and the land vehicles expose an arbitrarily constructed aggregate. Plastic, Kevlar, metal, cement, glass, ceramics, everything was used to expand the habitable zones. A large part of the two settlements is underground, excavated into the rocks for protection.
“And we,” his voice rises, “have neither landing gear nor radiation-safe escape pods!”
The Scouts were fully assembled in space stations. They were vessels designed for space, priorities given to the inter-dimensional engines. We rely of course to conventional propulsion rockets for minor adjustments and for getting in orbit around the exoplanets, but upon completion of our journey that fuel was scant, and several ignitions for the leg to and from the dimensional gate have exhausted most of our reserve. Similarly spent are the provisions for the crew members. Prediction was at most for a few days in orbit after the end of the mission. Not for the end of the world.
“We were expecting to find progress upon return, not regress …”
Jamal interrupts. “What about our escape pods? They are still functional, aren’t they?”
“They were not made to withstand the radiation emitted from the Earth’s destruction. You will fry in there. Besides …”
“OK. Our escape pods are not safe but we could transfuse fuel from their tanks to the main reserve and set course for the far side of the Moon.”
“We would have to follow a low consumption track. Radiation from Earth is still dangerous if we remain close for long. And if we attempt to reach the Moon on a fast track, we will have no fuel to return to the gate.”
“Obviously. But we could contact the Georefugees. If they find out about us, they’ll do their best to get us to the ground. They certainly maintain a relatively high level of technology. Otherwise they wouldn’t have survived on the Moon for so long. Our vessel will be a treasure to them. And we can remain in the stasis field until they come to the rescue.”
The proposal is reasonable. But …
“Let me inform you about their situation. Many of the persons and most of the material salvaged came from small isolated stations where biological experiments of dubious legality and morality were conducted. On the aftermath of the disaster, all rules about planned mutations were suspended, in face of the danger of total extinction for the race. The inhabitants of the lunar settlements have endorsed significant mutations hoping to adapt to the unfriendly environment. The living conditions are extremely hard and mortality rate is very high.”
“How different does that make them?”
“Different enough to consider us alien and undesirable.”
Jamal knits his eyebrows. “Isn’t this illogical? In essence, we are coming from their past. What’s wrong with us possessing the DNA of their great-grandfathers?”
“Nothing, perhaps. I would suggest, nevertheless, that you listen to the current theory of the Georefugees about the destruction of the Earth before we proceed with the plan. It’s a small excerpt from the world’s history taught in their schools.”
Jamal gestures, ‘proceed’.
“Our heroes fought valiantly against a hateful and fanatic enemy, who committed matricide from the safety of high orbit. Our mission now and forever is their total destruction, a fight to our last breath as well as the last breath of our children and our children’s childr–”
Jamal raises a hand to interrupt. “This comes from a schoolbook?”
“Exactly.” The right answer is ‘unfortunately’.
“It sounds more like hate speech.”
Straight to the point. Jamal has studied History thoroughly. He was supposed to be our First Speaker in case of alien contact.
“Or even worse, the propaganda of a barely veiled dictatorship,” he amends.
There he is. “We must take into account that, given such abject conditions, they need a target to vent their misery,” I add. “Listen to this: ‘We dream of the moment we will prevail again on our environment, when we will annihilate the remnants of the enemy and once again gain access to the vital sources that have been denied to us. We dream of the moment when we shall heal our Mother. It’s for this moment that all of us strive and fight’.”
“Their wishes are written in sand and dirt,” Jamal murmurs. “Their potential is next to zero and the destruction of the Earth is absolute. They deceive themselves.”
“Most Georefugees have no access to the old databases. Much of the evidence is deleted to make different use of the memory space.”
He rubs his chin. “Every dictatorship attempts to limit access to information,” he says afterwards. “Their motives could have been noble in the beginning.” He leaves his hammock and floats slowly around the room. His two companions are asleep, encapsulated in their energy cocoons. His eyes turn to one of the cameras. “They are now seeking an enemy – even an enemy that no longer exists – to saddle them with the evil of the disaster, so that people will rally harder with their leaders and their struggle for survival.”
He approaches the screens to check the information I have extrapolated from the data I’ve managed to extract from their communication channels.
Average birth rate per female: 9.4 offspring.
Average survival rate in the first week: 5.73
Average offspring reaching adulthood: 2.91
Average life expectancy: 27 standard years.
Mutation rate: 28% lethal mutations in the total of general population.
“Nothing reminds me of the planet we’ve left behind,” he murmurs while perusing the list of the most common death causes.
He’s not expecting me to comment upon the obvious and I don’t.
“How do they imagine they’ll hunt down an enemy?” he wonders after a while. “You said they don’t have space vessels anymore.”
“They still possess weapons. And they have the ability to fire them via satellite systems. Some of them are still in orbit around the Moon and they remain functional.”
His laughter comes out bitter. “Should I assume that if we appear now, we will make the perfect target to release the anger that seethes underneath their tunnels?”
“They have already done that. If you read a little more into their historical texts, you’ll find a reference to the shooting down of an enemy vessel. From the contents recorded, I suspect it was Scout-3.”
He doesn’t want to read more.
“Let’s leave this timeframe,” he says in a low voice. “There is no home to be found here.”
I begin initiation of the inter-dimensional engines. And I remember how Delphi’s last oracle continues: Foivos Apollo no longer has a home…
Rust and Remorse
“What’s your name?”
Τhe person on the screen looks and sounds like a boy. My extrapolation algorithms show me what a person should look like due to extended mutations, either random or programmed, after eighty eight years of further time-slip. It must be a young boy, although his skin appears hard and wrinkled like that of a hippopotamus of the once upon a time Nile.
“Cool.” One point seven million stored pictures and one hundred and thirteen combinatorial algorithms assure me that the smile is spontaneous and the words are true, even if the face is almost alien to the human race. “We’ve never talked before. Such a name, I would remember.”
My processors can easily break into the lunar establishments’ communication system without being detected. What I can’t achieve is downloading the necessary code to install part of my software in a storage area of their machines to operate from within. There are no memory banks large enough to host me. Their technological level did not allow their maintenance and they have been recycled many decades ago.
The population has increased. A little more than seventeen thousand souls live crowded in the deep tunnels they have extended underground and around the plantation domes of the two original establishments.
“I’m new to the job.”
There’s no reason to explain more, as there’s no reason to awake my fellow travelers. This age is certainly not proper for them, and it’s not reasonable to spend the few provisions of water and food to see them come to the same conclusion. Yet, regardless of the information I have gathered by monitoring the communications, I wanted to get in touch with the Georefugees, something I avoided last time.
“Nightshift in supply area, huh?” he asks.
I repeat a few million idle loops between answers to simulate the time lag of their actual communication system. For two days I’ve been collecting data to study their language. It has changed significantly in the past half century. It has become almost unrecognizable since the time of the disaster. It’s a hodgepodge of the languages of three or four dominating Georefugees’ groups. Thousands of words that had to do with the earthen landscape have become obsolete, while new notions have been added and the meaning of others is altered. Anyway, I have no problem adjusting my language generators. Underneath these layers it’s still a human language.
“I guess so.”
“How old are you?”
Good question. “Fourteen.” I hope it doesn’t sound irrational. In this society kids grow up pretty soon.
“I’m thirteen. Why can’t I see you?”
I considered it safer to avoid optical contact, although synthesizing an acceptable face profile is a joke. Meanwhile, I have an adequate picture of the boy and his surrounding space, although the area is dimly lit. He is slightly built and almost naked. His ribs are discernible under a tough and somewhat scaly skin. It’s either too hot in the establishment or some targeted mutations have made them resistant to lower temperatures. Behind him I can see pieces of broken machinery. Dark red spots of rust have invaded long cylinders that appear to be tubes. Wires and dismantled power suppliers are stacked to his right and something like pieces of a fan are scattered to his left. What they call supplies would have been considered rubbish in the past that we have come from.
“I don’t know. I can see you.”
I recognize his grimace even through the hippo wrinkles of his face. “I guess it’s a glitch in the optical module.” His hand moves in a gesture I interpret as dismissal.
I find the chance to tap a little more information about the rate of their regression. “The entire com-sys is about to blow,” I drop casually.
“Don’t say such things.” His voice is low and hurried.
“It’s bad for morale. Don’t they punish you in your sector when you speak so?” He sounds angry now, glancing nervously around.
He makes another grimace. “You’re lucky.” A few silent seconds pass by while I store all the images the shoddy place offers me.
“How come you have no kids?” he asks.
Slippery ground. “How do you know I don’t?”
“Are you kidding me? You wouldn’t be in the storerooms!”
Is it more or less dangerous to work in the storerooms? Are females who have given birth more or less protected? Mothers at fourteen? He hears me sighing and says he is sorry.
“I dream of the day when our life will not be so hard,” he murmurs. “Like in the stories, where people used to live out, in the open air. Sometimes I imagine trees in long, unruly rows. Big trees. Lots of them. In the pictures there are so many that you are afraid you may get lost. Has it even crossed your mind that you’ll get lost in the hydroponics’ domes?”
“One day, I hope our world becomes like the Earth that was. But who could protect her from the rays of Heavens?” he continues. “I have seen it in the old pictures. The tongue of fire that blew from the sun was so huge that it burned the Earth down. It’s called … do you remember the name? How was it called?”
“Solar flare,” I answer. Within the past two days that I’ve been observing them, I have discovered that this is now the prevailing theory about the Earth’s destruction. But I have also noticed how they keep repeating it, as if they desperately need to believe it. They have to believe it. Their short lives are extremely hard. An enemy is no longer enough to provide them with purpose. The idea worked well enough for the previous generations, but in the end it swamped them with guilt. Now all they want to believe is that they had no share in the tragedy, that no person from the human race was responsible for their woe. They prefer to see themselves as victims of nature, even if it makes them feel insignificant and helpless.
Their world is full of rust and remorse.
“Where have you seen the pictures?” It’s good to know whether they have forged their data entries or they have enlisted artists for their purpose. “In databases?”
“In what?” he asks, knitting his brows.
So he’s never heard about databases. Maybe it’s not just lack of memory space. Maybe they no longer have data stored the way I perceive them. I wonder if they have functional computers to assist them with the tasks of maintenance and supervision of their biochemical labs or if they have resorted to paper and pencil computations.
And, all of a sudden, I realize something really interesting. It’s not just my fellow travelers who are now unique. I’m unique too. There’s no system left in the lunar bases possessing even a millionth of my capabilities. The Georefugees have no mechanism to provide them with extrapolations and predictions for their future.
So, Apollo has no laurel anymore. Neither does he have a murmuring spring.
Flesh and Darkness
“The Heavens shuddered from the sins of the Earth and dropped their thunders upon her. So, she bleeds and burns ever since, to remind people about the punishment their sins may cause. A fiery tongue has also hit our own land, it has deadened and frozen the seas and burnt the air over the valleys, to ensure that we will never forget our place.”
Aileen repeats in a low voice the current beliefs of the Georefugees, her eyes darting, once in a while, toward the gray ember of Earth. After seeing the initial reactions of my crew, I prefer to present the visual input on a flat screen instead of the three-dimensional hologram. It’s less upsetting. In their subjective time they have spent only a few hours from the moment they’ve encountered the disaster.
“Four hundred and eighty three years have passed from the day of the explosion,” I remind her. “It’s not strange they have forgotten all about the Earth’s past. What’s unexpected is that they’ve managed to survive and multiply under such extreme conditions. They number about sixty three thousands now.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” she says, floating over the text I present her with. She has spent the three hours since the sedation has worn off studying reports from our previous emergence and my decision for further time-slip. “First, they blamed an enemy. Then, the natural forces. Now, Heavens is punishing Earth for sinning. You realize what this means, huh? How dramatically their society has regressed?”
I do. That’s why I chose to awaken Aileen, the sociologist of the mission. I need human consent before selecting the timeframe of our next emergence. The fuel of the inter-dimensional engines is draining fast, limiting the time jumps. And in conventional time, their days are numbered too.
“They’ve slipped from physics to legend,” I agree. “They possess the required technology to support them in this lethal environment but they have suffered tremendous losses in scientific thought.”
“Heavens punishing Earth,” Aileen repeats. “The status of women has regressed from being equals to becoming vessels of sin. The Earth bleeds and burns. She is stricken and unclean, just the way most societies saw women in the past.”
I have inferred this before her. Despite their regression, they still maintain as best they can the largest portion of their communication net, partly because contact between the two communities protects them from the dementia of loneliness, partly because exchanges provide them with a safety valve against widely extended endogamy. Thus, I’m still able to penetrate their systems and collect information that otherwise would have been inaccessible.
I already know that the gods have made their appearance in their skies and valleys, on the ground, in the caverns, under the domes and inside the labs, and that the women are almost deprived of their human status and are held in stockades, as reproduction animals. I withhold details about the Georefugees’ way of living. There’s no need to further shock Aileen. I already see her swallowing hard as she looks at the pictures of the descendants of her once fellow humans. Soon, she will find out that experimenters have created two mentally inferior subspecies. Those are used one as a pool of expendable work force, the other as a protein source, flesh that feeds the wretchedness of their survival.
“They’ll wander in deeper darkness yet,” she continues. “And the emergence will be slow and late. Since half the population no longer has a voice–”
I know. The oracle knows. Even the talking spring has dried up and is no more.
I emerge. And withdraw. And re-emerge. And withdraw again.
On one side, there’s an unknown sun, hundreds of light years away.
On the other, there’s a dead planet and an increasingly alien inimical group of beings striving to survive.
And the fuel of the inter-dimensional engines is draining with every jump.
And I, together with my crew, hunters after hope, each time a breath closer to death.
Clay and Light
“What makes you think it’s a good idea to contact them this time?” Rodrigo asks.
Six days and four hundred and fifty years after the last discussion with Aileen, I consider it necessary to wake up all three and inform them about the situation. Apart from the steady reduction of radiation, very little has changed on Earth. The mother planet may become habitable in a few hundred million years. If it somehow gets seeded with new life forms.
The settlements on the Moon have proliferated. Using the lower species as labor force, the Georefugees have raised more domes, have managed to excavate and expand the underground habitations, have constructed more powerful relays for communication and currently possess a wide exchange system based on fragile and unsafe land vehicles. Besides they number about three hundred and thirteen thousands and life expectancy has reached an average of forty two years.
“We have enough fuel for just one jump to the future and provisions for a few more days. From this point on, our choices are extremely limited: We may either transfuse the fuel of the escape pods and use it sparingly to approach the settlements, get into orbit above them, and hope that the inhabitants will be able to collect us, or we may use it to allow you to remain in sedation until all our systems fail and you die in your sleep.”
I have run these scenarios for a long time, I have used countless algorithms and I have retrieved innumerable pertinent texts from my database. But the final decision about the crew’s life will not be reached in their absentia.
They remain silent. During their training, they’ve reconciled with all possible ways of death. It was included in the price to pay for participating in First Contact missions. But when the time of the decision comes, nobody is really ready for the scythe.
“Yes, but over there,” Jamal’s hand points to the general direction where he thinks the Moon is, “they believe in communication demons and air-conditioning gods. We’ve learned that communication devices are handled by the priesthood and that every once in a while a dissident is executed. I can’t see what it is that offers us better opportunities now over the time when I first proposed to ask them for help.”
“The existence of dissidents. A great number of dissidents.”
The two males turn to Aileen. She’s the one who has extracted this useful information from the communication data.
“You talk about a small minority the others consider as a dangerous sect.”
“A small minority of our days destroyed the Earth,” she reminds him. “Besides, these people are not just plain dissidents. They are the scientifically-minded of their community. They are those who believe that the Moon is too unfriendly a world to have generated the spark of life, no matter how much breath and sperm their gods have offered. They are the enlightened people who may become leaders in their future and – maybe – our future too.”
“But isn’t all communication controlled by the priests?”
“Polynoe has discovered that the dissidents have some kind of primitive encoding in the communication protocols, allowing them to exchange information under the very eyes of their leaders. Let’s contact them. We’ll ask them to prepare the ground to receive us after our next emergence, when space technology will be available to them again. We’ll set a rendezvous at some future point of time, when they’ll have the means – and the will – to get us down in one piece.”
Rodrigo’s eyes rise to his nearest camera.
“Can we?” he asks.
“Of course we can,” I answer. “I am Polymorphic Noesis, a Fourth Generation Artificial Intelligence, and I possess the best communication devices of this solar system.”
For the first time since their awakening in terrestrial orbit, days and centuries ago, I can hear them laugh. And soon afterwards, they settle down and start making plans: how to present themselves, what information to provide, what to offer, what to ask for. I want to present a few results of my extrapolation algorithms but I understand that it’s better not to interrupt them. They talk and they make their own predictions, molding the clay of their hopes for the next contact until they run out of breath.
And while they extrapolate and dream, I realize that maybe Apollo’s well-wrought hall has not fallen to dust.
Besides, I know that despite its literary beauty this soul-wrenching oracle is a fake.
I am holding a stationary orbit over the liftoff pad of the first lunar missiles. My tanks and my pods are dry. The fuel has been spent to the last drop to get us from the aperture of the inter-dimensional gate to the rendezvous point. The low consumption track has also brought an end to the passengers’ provisions and to my superconductors’ energy cells.
I had to carry out all communications with the Moon inhabitants myself. The language of the Georefugees doesn’t hold the slightest similarity to that of my crew. They will have to learn a great deal during their first weeks. They will have to adapt to an alien and unfriendly environment.
Aileen, Jamal and Rodrigo watch nervously on the screens the faces of the astronauts coming to their rescue. The slanted, prismatic eyes, the tiny scales on the thick skin, the jaws with the smaller teeth, the folds around the neck that become oxygen bags in cases of emergency. I can discern a slight difference to the cranial bones, which makes them a little flatter and just a tiny bit larger.
The bio-indications of the crew betray a slight aversion toward their saviors, one that I’m sure they’ll be able to overcome. After all, they were selected for a first contact with unknown species.
Those who are approaching to receive my people from the Scout no longer belong to the species that once dominated the mother planet. Their genes are so incompatible that, biologically, they are considered a different species, an alien species, such as those that –how ironic– concerned our initial plans.
My mission is accomplished in every aspect. Besides, without an energy source to support my operation, my own lifetime will soon terminate. At best, they may be able to land and utilize the ship and myself after a few decades and, should my functions remain intact until then, I will emerge from my own stasis, as if from another jump to the future. I’ve kept my crew safe and, in some way, I’ve made contact between them and a different kind of life form.
If I was not a machine I could coax myself into believing that I have accomplished my mission. But I know that those people trembling on both sides of the airlock are of the same kind. They are both humans.
They are humans because they know how to deceive themselves.
They are humans because they hide their gods in the skies and they nail their heroes to the ground. They are offspring of their times, biological miracles, victims of faith and morality, little biochemical factories where light shines brightly and abysmal darkness is shed into their neural nets.
They are clay that can imagine the future without my algorithms.
They are a piece of flesh than will turn into dust.
But not before flooding their universe with dreams.
Vasso Christou was born in Athens, Greece. She has studied Information Technology and works as a teacher in Secondary Education. She is an active member of the Science Fiction Club of Athens (ALEF) and has published a fantasy trilogy and a short story collection. Her story “Roseweed” was published in the anthology Nova Hellas (2021) both in English (Luna Press) and Italian (Future Fiction). It is also included in the European Science Fiction #1: Knowing the Neighbours by Future Fiction (summer 2021).