Extinction - Live
Copyright © 2020 by Michael Mathiesen
– Cover by Michael Mathiesen --
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020914759
All of the characters in this book and the events depicted are fictional. Any resemblance of my characters to anyone living or dead is strictly coincidental.
The year is 2127 A.D. My name is ‘Lieutenant Commander K-9’, AKA Mars Spacex Force-K-9QCRU-series11. I’m the eleventh generation of the Quantum Computing Rover Units, to be more precise. My Cerebral core is the most advanced of any AI unit ever devised. It’s so rare, they tell me that they did not stop at making one of me. I’m actually the second of my kind, the first model of me, a female, remaining on Mars.
The first iteration of me, whom they named ‘Chloe’, is currently installed as the world’s first ‘Autonomous Government design’ for the administrator on Mars, She is installed with the primary directive to collect all the ongoing data regarding the Mars mission, including all biological, meteorological and botanical data and bring recommendations, based on all that data, to the Mars Director, presently my friend, Eugene Hicks, for his dispensation. The recommendations are to be composed completely free of any political or personal biases of any kind, thereby allowing the governance of the Martian Colony take place smoothly, almost flawlessly with little or no cost to the citizens in terms of personal frustrations nor any major interruptions in their daily lives.
Or so they tell me.
Other than my core intelligence, the rest of me is a direct descendant of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover launched a century ago from the Earth on July 30, 2020.
My mission is to explore the planet where my creators on Mars originated, the Earth, now a boiling hot, inhospitable dust bowl of just under 900℉, the melting point of lead. This intolerable climate was caused by the last three centuries accumulation of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, coughed out by the countless fossil fuel powered machines, over thirty-three per household, which created the Greenhouse Effect that built up over the last few decades to the point where nothing – no form of life either on land or in the oceans - could survive.
I’m now traveling around in low-Earth orbit and have been collecting data for the last two days. My orders include the finding of a safe landing spot. I’ve decided to land in an area of what used to be the Northern parts of Greenland, near the 80th degree of latitude because up here, the temperature is just within my heat tolerance levels of only 400 – 500℉ during the day. And if I wait another hour and a half, just before sunset, I will only have to deal with temperatures slightly less than the boiling point of water.
Needless to say, there is no more ice anywhere on the planet mainly because there is also no more liquid water on the surface. The blazing whiteness of the frozen water has been replaced at both poles, and all over the rest of the planet by a brown corrugated sea of sand dunes extending forever in all directions. These vistas are broken up here and there by mountains of gleaming white salt deposits left over from the massive evaporation of all the water on the planet up into the sky.
There’s nothing green about Greenland or any other place either. I’ve hunted all over in hopes of finding even one stick of a tree somewhere, or one blade of grass protruding from the slightest crack in the Earth somewhere but have been sadly disappointed. There’s nothing alive here any more and even my cold, hardened circuits can appreciate the sense of loss my creators must be feeling right now as I send them the news.
“OK, K-9, we concur your landing location at 81.775216 by -58.414863 and you may commence your landing procedures at your own discretion.”
They can’t actually take control of my ship and land me from their remote location because of the time delay of roughly thirteen minutes for radio signals to travel the 35 million miles from Mars to my location here. Thus my decision independence has been programmed into my Quantum brain ever since the inception of my mission. I appreciate this more than you can know.
Mission Control at Musk-Station, located beside the Utopian Sea on Mars sends me their approval to begin my landing procedures. I ‘Arti-Think’ the signal into the ship’s controls to begin the rocket burn that will put me down on the Earth in about eighty minutes and hopefully within a few feet of my chosen coordinates.
It’s the most important place on the planet now, the DNAPD (DNA Preservation Depository) where the code that can produce millions of plant seeds, millions of life forms on the Earth, preserved in billions of embryonic cells, are preserved for a possible time in the future where life will be able to return to the planet. The caves where they are stored are equipped with the only machinery still in operation in the form of a nuclear power plant that keeps the thousands of freezers at the temperatures (-70℃) that will preserve the DNA for centuries if necessary.
There had been some discussion on Mars that this huge cave system with the most advanced type of air-conditioning ever known might be a place where humans could have survived and would try to survive for as long as possible. But when temperatures approached the boiling point of lead, two decades ago, most of the hopeful talk died away as fast as these last living humans were dying on the Earth.
There had come a time when even the machines were suffocating from lack of oxygen and that’s when everything came to a screeching stop everywhere on the planet at once. If it were not for the nuclear powered cooling towers that were installed down here, not even the survival of DNA would have been possible. I’m here to find out if any of it is still viable.
If it weren’t for the establishment of the Mars colony, the only hope for humanity would have been this storage of the life-code of humans and millions of other species. And of course, there were still no guarantees that humanity would survive for an eternity on Mars either.
Things were very sketchy for a long time up there as well. But, the colonists redoubled their efforts and came up with ingenious solutions to problems as the problems on their home planet multiplied exponentially and they could all easily see the end coming closer and closer for Earth’s creatures each year.
Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, the birds would be the first to disappear almost completely in the year 2039, already too warm for their eggs to survive in the wild pretty much anywhere. Next, there were the extreme cyclones and hurricanes. Then Earthlings had to live through five-thousand-year Tsunamis. Then, came the series of plagues in the 2050’s and 60’s that wiped out half the global human population each time they hit, seven in all.
Then, of course, it was the suffocating atmospheric conditions towards the end of the century that would kill of almost everyone who couldn’t afford to make the transition to the ‘Emergency Housing Units’ hastily thrown up in caves and deep subterranean bunkers made near most of the major cities of the world.
But, it was all made worse by the boiling up of the oceans, killing all the ocean life while at the same time the melting of the permafrost in the arctic that released millions of year’s accumulation of stored methane in the Earth’s crust which raised the Earth’s temperatures far beyond what any plants or animals could sustain. This made food almost impossible to find and so cannibalism would become the main way to survive for most.
Fewer and fewer people meant at least that they would burn less and less fossil fuels, but the Tipping Point had been reached years prior and so from that day forward it didn’t matter what humans did to protect themselves. The planet was on its own automatic set of events that would make all life extinct in just a few decades, a record time for any great mass extinction in the history of the planet. The great sadness that most everyone felt on the Earth was enough so that millions just gave up completely and swallowed the suicide pills that were being handed out by the medical community without questions asked.
Then, suddenly, it was over. It is the moment we call up on Mars, the ‘Greatest Silence’, a moment in time in the year 2076 when everything on the Earth gradually went totally silent and all we heard on the radio were shrieks of despair and the dying lamentations from billions of people who cursed the previous generations for getting them into this extreme end, the point of no return.
Tragically, there was nothing that could have been done from the home planet. We ran all possible scenarios of what we could have done to help but no matter what effort we might put forth, they would only delay the inevitable collapse of the atmosphere’s ability to sustain life for a few minutes, if at all and to do so would have significantly used up much of our own resources that we would need to survive.
And so it goes, the vote was taken one day and my masters decided to remain focused on their own survival on Mars so that someday they might be able to go back and ‘Terra-Form’ the home planet using the technological know-how that they have gained on Mars these last few decades. I believe this was the only sound decision, although a heart-breaking one, that could have been made.
My mission is to be in the vanguard of that attempt. I’m proud to say that I’m the advance team. It is my duty to explore the remaining resources and record all data related to the new atmosphere and weather conditions, whatever water is left on the planet, make an assessment of the DNA depository and provide reports to my commanders, the Mission Controllers who have been working hard to put together a plan in just the same way that Earth people put together a plan to make Mars habitable nearly a century ago.
I can feel the ships’ rockets firing at five thousand feet above the ground, slowing me down to what I hope will be a soft landing. When we finally touch down, there is of course, no one to greet me. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually arti-feel as though I am being haunted by the ghosts of billions of those now passed who may be watching from somewhere just around the corner or behind a building somewhere, but all is totally silent. There are no signs of anyone, or any living thing. The only reception I receive is a very unwelcoming oven blast of air in my face as I descend from the ramp at the bottom of my lander and launch my barrel shaped container fully onto the scene.
I start out in a slow canter toward the village that is the gateway to the underground tunnels of the depository. The temperature that I know would instantly incinerate any living dog, is of no consequence to me, just a little unpleasant. I’m just happy to be free of the six month’s long confinement in the ship.
As I travel along, I record and then send all the temperature, pressure, atmosphere elements back to Mission Control. It’s a good thing that I don’t require oxygen to live because it’s apparently less than ten percent of the atmosphere, and almost seventy-five percent Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Methane, ironically similar to the atmosphere on Mars decades ago, but here today a toxic sooty mess sufficient to snuff out the strongest man or beast within seconds.
The other fifteen percent of the Earth’s atmosphere is composed of everything else you get when you combust sulfurous fossil fuels like gasoline, natural gas and coal. If I had normal smell glands, I’m sure I’d be appalled and nauseous but I only have the ability to ‘arti-smell’ and this means these are only things that I must report, but luckily not gases that I have to breathe.
After a few minutes of careful observations and transmissions back to my command unit, I arrive at the entrance to the facility. There’s nothing to indicate the importance of the place except for the mounds of charred human and other animal remains laying near the huge titanium-alloy doors. The body postures suggest that they must have realized that this was their only hope to survive and desperately tried to enter the caves, but without success.
I have to maneuver around and over several skeletons to reach the massive electronic door locks. I ‘arti-think’ the user name and password they burned for me back on Mars and then send the protocols to the mechanism a few feet way. It takes several seconds for the circuits to wake up and assess my credentials, but then, I can hear some heavy gearing inside begin to groan into life. Not having had any attention and/or lubrication for the last several decades doesn’t make the process go any faster.
Finally, the door is high enough for me to amble under it and gain the inside. My sensors register a drop of more than 200 ℉ inside the dark cave entrance.
“Permission to move around and explore, sir?” I ask and then wait the twenty-six minutes for the reply.
Although I have the authority to move around on my own, I decide that it’s best to wait for instructions from home since there is no rush at this point.
Twenty-six minutes later, I receive my permission.
“Yes, K-9, permission granted. You may move around inside the Depository to retrieve your data, but carefully and slowly. We can’t afford to lose you.” the voice is that of Major Jerry Alvindorf, Mission Control Director, and right after my Creator, one of my best friends.
I can safely use that term because he who created me, Brett Hightower, personally raised me since I was a ‘puppy’ and literally taught me everything I know, especially how to make friends easily.
I have to open my chest cavity to direct my light beams straight ahead to enhance the imagery of my dark and dusty surroundings. There appears to be a narrow service road a few feet ahead that curves around the opposite wall of the cavern some one hundred meters away and then disappears down and around a gently sloping path down into the depths of the cavern. Very steep and narrow, the path is a circular roadway that crash dives and screws its way into the bowels of the planet.
Calculating the angle of descent and the eventual distance covered of around five kilometers down, I compute my travel time will be a total of one hour and ten minutes. The trek back up, however, will be slower and I won’t be back to the surface for another hour and thirty minutes.
I relay that information to Mission Control and then start my way down the sloping access road. At one hour and nine minutes and fifty-nine and one half seconds, I arrive at the bottom of the circular path. It troubles me that I was off by an entire half a second on my time estimation. In the back of my mind, I’m arti-feeling that the heat and pressure even down here may be having an impact on my circuitry. I make a mental note to leave this place as soon as possible if I want to improve my chances at long term survival, which I do. In regards to a real survival instinct, as well as several other human instincts, my creators left nothing out, as you may see. I am grateful for that.
I make a mental note to thank Brett if and whenever I see him again. Over the radio, it would have little impact. No, I would rather wait until I can thank him in person, in the way that dogs do that sort of thing. Yes, that would make him feel good, I think.
I’ve descended down to another solid steel door that is thicker and heavier than the one above. I amble closer to the lock mechanism and when prompted I transmit the second user name and password that I have been given. I get no indication of success for 3.3 seconds and then suddenly the 30 foot doors start to squeal. In another matter of seconds, I can see inside.
Lights start to come to life automatically all throughout several long tunnels that go off in all directions for as far as I can see. Unbelievably, my sensors record that we’re at a very comfortable 31 ℉, just below the freezing point of water. I can suddenly understand what humans mean when they say ‘What a great sensation’ when they jump into the ocean or a lake, because it is.
The tunnels are mostly packed from top to bottom all along both sides with thousands, make that millions, of dull black freezer units that are each full of thousands of small glass capsules filled with DNA. I get an eerie arti-feeling as I trot about in the midst of billions of molecules that created all of the varied inter-dependent life forms on Earth which got its first foothold here billions of years ago.
My mission here today is to open a random number of these samples and test enough of them to allow me to make a reasonably accurate estimate of how much life may still be viable and for how much longer.
It will take me several days to test a significant number of the vials, so I prepare to get started without delay. I have a server arm that emerges from a small cavity in my side. It arrives a few inches from my left flank with a capsule-opener mechanism attached that was designed specifically for this task.
They call it the ‘cork-screw’ and sometimes I jokingly refer to myself in this role as the ‘Sommelier’ - the wine steward who goes around suggesting the right wines for his restaurant’s patrons. ‘
The cork screw slowly unscrews the cap of the first vial and then inserts a barely visible tongue smaller than a hummingbird’s that dips inside the vial and sucks up less than a milliliter of the sample. I can arti-feel the slightly nauseating chemical process deep in my gut that is quietly assessing the viability of the sample. It takes thirty to forty seconds on average to make the assessment on each vial.
This first one proves viable. Even better news: It will survive another century or more in this current condition of preservation. Several hundred more test the same or closely similar.
After a few hours, I can predict, if current results persist, that the other samples I extract from their hiding places over the next few days are going to be ninety-nine point nine, nine, five percent viable by my tests. It appears that if they’re successful in re-engineering the climate back to normal, they may be able to enjoy almost the same variation of life that once roamed the Earth at their highest moment. I can hardly wait to get back up to the surface and radio the good news back to Mission Control.
Before I begin the next phase of testing the vials, I follow my instructions for the higher priority of my assignment – namely to assess the nuclear powered refrigeration system running quietly enough in the background. The map in my memory banks is telling me that it’s down the hall labeled ‘Hall-M901’ just opposite the one I’m in ‘Hall N901’.
# # #
Mars Mission Control is not nearly as expansive as you might imagine after watching the old inter-planetary missions as directed from JPL or the NASA/Houston Space Center. In fact, it’s quite Spartan. Jerry Alvindorf and two of his volunteer-assistants are seated in front of two small computer screens lined up on a long dining table off to the side of a large domed building where hundreds of people are milling about the Dining Commons, the central eating place for the majority of colonists.
The domed building is one of several hundred domes that litter the surface of Mars in the area known as the Utopian Dunes just South of the Utopian Sea, which is currently a real salt-water ocean that is slowly coming back to life thanks to the terraforming - the transformation of a sterile atmosphere and surface area to one that is teeming with life – the major endeavor on Mars that’s been steadily moving forward for almost a century.
The Martian colonists are now able to walk around most latitudes of Mars without a Space suit for about an hour before they require a few minutes supplementation of oxygen. In about fifty years, at their present rate of progress, they will no longer need any artificial life support. The planet will eventually support between one thousand to ten thousand Martians who will work to continue the expansion of the forests and the oceans that may eventually support much larger numbers of humans. But, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, do we?
Major Alvindorf, whom many call by his nickname – ‘Alvin’ - and his assistant Noreen Baraka Ph.D in Space Science, his military liason, Spacex Captain Littleton are sipping a hot beverage at the Mission Control table while nervously waiting for the transmission from me that could dictate the next several years priorities for the Martian colony.
Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by the first words radioed back to them by myself since I descended into the Caverns in Greenland.
“Hello, Major Alvindorf. K-9 here. Do you read me?
It’s my voice bubbling over the static from a ninety million mile transmission. Major Alvindorf, a former astronaut himself, is middle-aged, tall,, clean cut, sports blue horn-rimmed glasses, hair slightly graying and dresses in his civilian uniform most of the time.
“Hey, fantastic, K-9, yes we hear you loud and not so clear, but we hear you nonetheless,” Major Alvindorf yells into the microphone and raises his right hand to signal to everyone behind in the cafeteria that they have news from Earth.
“So, what’s the news, K-9?” Dr. Baraka asks into the microphone.
Most of the people in the dome are quickly moving closer to the dining table that is lined with several Control consoles, excited to hear the news. They’re reluctantly prepared to wait the thirty-six minutes time delay.
“I have some good news and some bad news,” I finally return. “About ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine percent of the embryos and seeds are viable and should remain so for centuries. That’s the good news.”
They’re hanging on to the rest of the news, but there’s nothing but silence.
“And the bad news?” Dr. Baraka asks solemnly, focusing her eyes on those of her boss.
“We’ll find out in about thirty-six minutes,” someone in the crowd mumbles.
“Well there’s at least the good news,” Major Alvindorf says, reminding them of the obvious.
The crowd disperses enough so that some can carry on with their duties. Most stay where they are gathered around the Mission Control desk while they take various guesses at what the bad news could be, since they are all aware that what has happened on the Earth is already the worst news in history.
Finally, they begin to receive the bad news from me.
“I have followed my testing protocols for the nuclear power plant that is the heart of the refrigeration system down here and there’s a strong possibility that it fails within ten years. I’d say it’s an 89.7% chance of failing completely by then. It has to do with the main coolant pumps. They’re wearing thin about fifty percent faster than the manufacturer warrantied would happen. They probably didn’t account for the oven temperatures at the surface. So, I calculate that this allows for the very high chance of failure of the system within ten years. But, at five years out, the chance of failure is about one in five, or 20% and that’s not within a tolerable range given the import of what’s at stake, don’t you agree?” I continue.
“But I thought it was supposed to last for at least five hundred years,” Dr. Baraka replies quietly.
The reaction in the crowd is one of total astonishment and disappointment while the news begins to sink into their minds.
They know that if I’m right, it means that they do not have the time to complete their own mission of making the Red Planet as Earth-like as they wanted before they will have to contemporaneously launch a massive Space project of returning to and reclaiming their mother planet and snatching it quite literally from the gates of Hell and in time to rescue the grand design of all the forms of life that once resided there.
Back on the surface of Greenland, I’m waiting for my next set of instructions. I don’t have to wait long.
“Message received, K-9. Good Dog! You may proceed to your next destination where we will await your next report,” Major Alvindorf’s voice comes in through my radio receptors.
“Good Dog – indeed!” I arti-think to myself.
I saunter up the few hundred yards to my lander and send the signal for the ship to lower the ramp. I trot up into the ship and secure myself into my harness. I command the ship to begin liftoff. This time, my trip will be slow and resolute.
From underneath the main structure of the lander two stubby wings slowly emerge and extend out some fifty feet. From the upper flanks of the ship, just above the wings two side cut-outs emerge from the ship making it look more like a futuristic amusement ride rather than a real space vehicle. There’s a pronounced hissing noise in the cabin coming from all directions.
I’m watching my instruments as the ship lazily rises like a soap bubble vertically into the super-heated atmosphere. The helium that is being injected into the wings and cut-outs is almost fully deployed.
In a few minutes the Intrepid reaches an altitude of nearly one thousand feet. I shove the steering yoke forward with my right fore-paw extension. Very quietly and smoothly, my two rocket engines fire in the rear of the fuselage and my speed gradually picks up to about fifty miles per hour, the planned cruising speed for this part of the mission.
The atmosphere of the Earth is so dense, now holding the water vapor of all of the Earth’s former oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, that the Martian engineers concluded that the best way to move about the planet at this juncture is to fill an Earth-rover craft with helium so that it would defy gravity and in that way very little rocket fuel would need to be expended to move their brave astronaut around the planet. With little to no oxygen left in the atmosphere, a jet engine was out of the question and a propeller would also need oxygen. Thus the slow burning rocket engine with helium assist was born.
At times like this I marvel at the creativity of my makers. I am not sure if a creature like myself would have been able to conceive of such an elegant solution. I sometimes believe that creativity is the universe’s greatest force and sadly that it might delude me and I may never know it for the rest of my existence.
Perhaps my mind is not ready to seriously consider the source and power of creative thinking and imagination just yet. I’m certain, however, that such a time will come. I vow to myself to continue exploring potential thought patterns that may lead my kind to this magical place in the world.
“I’m proceeding to Washington D.C. as planned, sir.” I radio back to my commanders.
With my speed and direction data, plus all of the weather patterns I’m reporting, they should be able to compute that I am just a few hours away from my destination.
As the ship slowly meanders around in a Southerly direction, I notice the temperature indicators registering about ten degrees warmer with every minute of travel. Where I’m going, it’s going to be one very tricky place to be. I calculate that I will only be able to linger there for less than half an hour. If I remain any longer, even this well-designed ship will slowly start to boil and melt with me in it.
I don’t know fear and so the thought of Death is no more troublesome to me as running out of fuel might be to you humans, but I am programmed with a strong will to complete my mission successfully and possibly even return some day to Mars. I hope that my mission will succeed and that my masters on Mars will be pleased to see me again. I suddenly arti-feel a very foreign sensation of my tail wagging even though I have no tail.
‘Those scoundrels! Who the Hell planted that thought over there?’ I wonder.
# # #
Seventeen year old Brett Hightower hears the news while jogging around the perimeter of his favorite dome, the first to be built. Running is one of his favorite activities because the oxygen here is so plentiful and rich that no one cares if he uses more than his share to stay in shape.
He stops to get the news that is coming to him over the planet-wide intercom. Every dome on Mars is equipped with a speaker system at the top of the dome and several large screens scattered all around the walls of the domes so that when there is a major decision that needs to be made, everyone can debate the pros and cons and then vote instantaneously over the system. Literally anyone who chooses to speak on any given issue can be heard by all the other colonists at any time on any given subject.
They long ago figured out that they would not have the luxury of making decisions after countless months or years of debates by self-interested parties. So, the first thing the colonists did was to create the ‘Mars Constitution’ which set up a very rapid and efficient system of putting the most pressing problems on the top of the list and then solving them in order of urgency or its long term importance to their survival taking no longer than a 24 hour period to complete the job. A strong majority vote of over sixty-six percent on any proposed solution by the voters would be sufficient to win the day.
At his young age, Brett is the first on Mars to earn the position of Master Biologist and Artificial Intelligence Engineer. His main assignment is to genetically alter and grow the trees, mostly giant Beach, Dogwoods, Cedars, Oaks, Douglas Firs, giant Sequoias and Redwoods as fast as possible in order to efficiently convert as much carbon dioxide and methane in the Martian atmosphere to life-giving oxygen so that someday they will be able to enjoy another place in the universe as favorable to their survival as the Earth once provided.
Brett Hightower has taken his responsibility to heart and along with his assistant and girlfriend, Bailey Monnette are working, thinking, creating new and innovative biological and even computational inventions on a daily basis, simply because this kind of motivation and spirit is necessary here.
constantly experimenting with the fertilizers, and
more advanced healthy
concoctions of tree vitamins and minerals to keep the trees in tip
top condition. Using
CRISPR from the age of twelve, Brett has even taught the trees on
Mars to constantly train themselves to grow faster, reproduce better
with the goal of putting more and more oxygen into the air and putting more nitrogen
into the soil.
As he experimented more and more, he quickly realized that the key to their success on Mars might not be just with the trees but with other creatures that were showing a greater and greater role in the process. The data led him to take a look at the symbiotic relationship between trees and the fungi, the lowly mushroom.
Very quickly Brett realized the intimate role that fungi play in the development of most species of trees and other plants. The fungi, he had discovered, actually help the trees communicate among themselves by sending signals around through the root system of trees that are in close proximity to each other, and even better in those that stand together in a familial unit.
Utilizing all the new techniques known at the time about DNA editing, he experimented with different sub-species of fungi and found that by combining the DNA of two species of fungi, ectomycorrhizal fungi and arbuscular fungi, into what will become known as the ‘Hightower Strain’, they would perform beyond any of his wildest dreams.
Brett’s new strain of mushroom on Mars actually convinced the trees to accept nutrients at an accelerated rate which in turn greatly improved their rate of growth to mimic that of a wild Bamboo. The fungi, just as an added benefit showed the trees where to extend their roots to gather up and utilize much of the frozen water that lay under the Martian surface.
This, of course, made Brett’s forests greatly improved producers of oxygen and consumers of CO2. It was like putting the trees on steroids. Coupled with the iron oxide prevalent in Martian soil, the ‘Magic Mushrooms’ as he liked to call them became the planet’s best hope for the recovery and sustainability of the Red planet for the use and survival of the human race, and any other species they might favor.
Since these domed forests were the Martian’s main source of oxygen and therefore their fastest and most practical way to terraform the planet, Brett suddenly made himself the most important player up here and everyone readily gave him every type of encouragement that would stimulate his genius to always move in the right direction.
The urgency of their situation became obvious in 2037 when the Earth’s climate officially went past the Tipping Point and there was zero chance, especially with all the bickering and arguing among the nations about whose fault it was, that they would ever be able to reverse the climate crisis in time to save themselves.
Brett distinctly remembers his father telling him horror stories about how his great grandfather and his grandfather had to work like ‘crazy sons of bitches’, day and night, in the most horrible conditions, in order to get their own environment on Mars livable and defensible up here. They did it way ahead of the original schedule.
They also knew that going over the Tipping Point meant that there would be far too many people on Earth pinning their last hopes on Mars and their still pristine - although Spartan - living conditions in order to save themselves. This, of course, would be suicide for them all since Mars, could only support a few dozen people at first, and then by the time, Brett was born, a few thousand. Having any more colonists arrive from Earth at that time would have doomed them all and so they were forced to resist them and discourage them from making the trip.
“K-9 has sent us some good news and bad news,” Major Alvindorf’s voice is heard over the speakers high above the treetops.
“The good news is that the DNA bank has preserved all life that used to walk the Earth. The bad news is that the Nuclear Powered system to keep it cool enough to survive is about to go down in no more than five years. It could even be sooner. We’ll be accepting proposals from any citizen over the next few weeks and then we’re going to have to vote on the best plan of action to take and never look back. We have reduced the expected time to failure to two and a half years just to be on the safe side and that means we’ll have to start like yesterday. We’ll need everyone’s participation. That’s for sure. Failure is not an option,” Alvindorf concludes.
Then silence as Brett allows the news to sink in.
A gray squirrel with a bright white chest dashes out of the bushes near Brett’s feet, gives him a friendly chortle, grabs an acorn that has been laying a few feet away and then scoots off to one of the larger Redwood trees, scrambles up into the branches and disappears with his treasure.
“Well, Shirley, have fun up there with Brutus. I’ll be back tomorrow to see how you all are doing,” Brett mutters out loud.
Brett had long ago given all of his trees and animals in his care names. This particular Redwood, ‘Brutus’ got the name because it was one of the largest trees in the region. He gives the squirrel the name of ‘Shirley’ because she reminded him of a character in a classic old movie he had just viewed. One way or another, every tree, every creature in Brett’s forest domes would get a name that meant something to somebody. In Brett’s mind, this made them all one big happy family.
“What do you think about this news, big guy?” Brett arches his back to address the topmost branches of the giant Redwood.
There’s no wind inside the forest domes, and yet Brett detects a slight sway in Brutus’ trunk and branches in favor of one of his neighbors, who returns the sway and then moves back in the other direction to interact with the trunk and branches of its immediate neighbor. The pattern is repeated until all the Redwoods in the circle have shared the wave of a few inches each and now appear to be ‘in the know.’
“Oh, you don’t say,” Brett says out loud, for no particular reason. He believes his friends have communicated something to him that he might be able to put into words in a few days or maybe even in hours.
It’s happened before, like the time that he first introduced the fungi spores into their roots. This particular family of trees responded with a kind of appreciation and gratitude that Brett had never felt before. He couldn’t express it in words right away, but a few days later, he would be able to put into his report that the trees were talking to him, telling him how to help them grow and serve their purpose better.
At first, everyone on Mars enjoyed a good laugh about his report, until the day they all woke up and found this particular grouping of trees had grown more than forty feet overnight.
They laugh at him no more.
# # #
Hovering a few thousand feet above Washington D.C., my instructions are to look for any evidence of Humanity’s last attempts to save the planet. There’s hope on Mars that there may be some secret machinery or innovative environmental project unfinished somewhere that they may be able to use to start to reverse the ‘Green House’ over-heating of the Earth.
At this point, my instructions are to start my search with the National Archives, a place where all global data about the Climate Crisis and all other political, economic, and major social events were stored in digital form as they were reported and witnessed by the global news media of the time.
When my ship finally arrives at the mapped coordinates of the building not far from the Capital and the White House, I put the ship into a circular dive and lower my descent to a few hundred feet in order to get a better view through the haze.
Where there should be massive structures all around me, there is only scorched piles of rubble in places that are reminiscent of old and deep foundations. I surmise that twenty to thirty years of this kind of heat has actually melted the steel and the stone that was used to construct some of the most well-known and sacrosanct buildings on Earth. All over the landscape I can also make out the shape of what must have been cars and trucks abandoned all along the roadways.
They are no more than smudged shadows of melted steel, glass, plastics that make vague ghostly outlines of vehicles, a melted pile of pistons and casings where the engine must have been, shiny places where the windows would be, four dark oily spots where the tires would have been and so on. The roads are also littered with the unmistakable bleached bones, human skeletons and animal skeletons arranged along the roadways in such a way that it suggests a final panicked mass march to get away from the city. Many of the marchers were apparently holding weapons, sticks, guns - hard to tell - that are lying next to some of the skeletons.
I put the ship into a glide path that will follow the flow of the skeletons in an attempt to find out where they were going. After a few minutes of following the line of bones, I can see that they broke apart into two lines of progress. They were all trying to reach either the river on the West or the ocean to the East. A smaller detachment were trying to reach the Airport. There would have been no place to go, either by sea or by air since the conditions were worsening quickly everywhere on the planet all at the same time. From what I was observing things were worsening at such an accelerated pace that by the time of the first global panic of 2060, there was no time or interest to save anything.
Now I can appreciate how and why, in 2061 many thousands of people put themselves into the gravest of danger and attempted to reach Mars by getting into hastily-prepared rocket ships and launching themselves to Mars. Literally, with their last breaths, many of them reached the launching pads of any Spaceport they could find and bribed the operators to launch them towards the Red Planet with whatever life support and rations that were on hand. They believed that this was their only chance at survival and future events would prove it to be so.
The Mars Colonists that had built me knew that if any of them arrived in any numbers it would doom them all, so they were forced to shoot hastily made munitions at the ones that made it too close to their destination and that was that. They would all die, hundreds of thousands of Earthlings, young and old alike, in the attempt to reach safety. The Martians would hold a memorial for the souls they were forced to destroy, say a few moving words and then continue their work by dedicating every work hour spent to the purpose of saving as many future generations as they could. There was nothing else they could do.
The decision had been the toughest one the colonists ever had to make thus far, but as soon as it was plain that the Earthlings would only suck up their own precious oxygen and food and then doom the entire colony, they realized as one that they had no choice. They gave the Earth ships no warning because they also knew that going back to Earth was not an option either and so this would be the only humane ending they could envision. As their rockets reached each of their targets, everyone on Mars said a prayer and many tears were shed in those darkest of days in a place that does not encourage sentiment of this kind, except among the one religious cult on Mars, the Oblivians.
It should be mentioned that religious ceremonies on Mars grew more and more prevalent, at this time, to the point where the Oblivians were granted official status as the main Martian religion via a global referendum mainly due to the fact that most colonists really didn’t have time to argue this kind of thing. But, they mostly believed that someone they knew, not themselves of course, probably needed some set of principles, some basic reassurances about eternity to help get them through these very tough years.
( UPDATED 9/25/20 -- As I create this Science Fiction Thriller you are now enjoying - I will be adding pages to the book nearly every day. Come back often and tell your friends about the Extinction Live - www.Extinction.Live )