Pastor Carrie Houston Jordan has called a meeting at her personal dome where approximately thirty-five people are in attendance, about half of her Oblivian Church membership on Mars. After a few minutes of pleasantries, she walks over to the front of her living room and calls the meeting to order.
“So, I attended the Global Decision Group meeting the other night and so most of you know by now that they’re rushing to get a mission to the Earth where they plan on speeding up the terra-forming of our home planet. Then they’ll start bringing back all of the former forms of life that are stored at the DNA Depository. They hope to take advantage of the next launch window in six months. They are also putting a great deal of energy into a new rocket design so that they can make the transit on just three weeks,” she begins.
“But, we can’t support that, Pastor Carrie. Doesn't the Oblivian Testament proclaim that only humans should be brought back to the Earth, whenever that becomes possible, but no other life forms, and only Humans from Mars?” one of her parishioners proclaims in a raspy voice.
“And why is that?” Pastor Carrie asks the speaker.
“Because no other form of life has a soul as we humans do, and therefore, we are not allowed to eat anything that has no soul,” the speaker answers brightly, proudly showing that she’s learned her Oblivian Bible lessons well.
“Yes, what else has been made clear by our savior, Bridgette Oblivia?” she asks.
“That it was our human desire for soul-less meat that was the reason we were all meant to go extinct. We here are all vegans today because it is the purest way of life and one that can be easily sustained up here on Mars and back on Earth, when the time comes, it shall be the same, and this will be our redemption,” Another worshiper testifies.
“Very good, Janna. You’ve learned your lessons well,” Pastor Jordan approves.
“And so, does anyone have any suggestions as to how we can sabotage this upcoming mission so that they can never reach the Earth in time?” she continues. Then, notices something near the door.
Convinced she’s heard someone standing behind it, Sister Carrie walks over to the front entrance portal stealthily and pulls it open forcefully, rapidly. No one is there. Embarrassed, she wanders back over to the center of her living area with a wide toothy grin.
“Just being cautious, everyone. Don’t be alarmed. It’s just to demonstrate how careful we must be. If they learn about these meetings, we could be in serious trouble,” their Pastor tells them.
One of the eager bright-eyed males in the group, Abner Pennypiece, in his mid-teens, raises his hand.
“I work in the manufacturing dome. I could look for important pieces of the new rocket they’re testing and steal them. That could slow them down,” he says.
“That’s a great idea, Abner, but they have security cameras everywhere. They’d catch you and then we’d all be monitored day and night,” Pastor Carrie tells him.
“And then they’ll just make another part. You might delay them a week or two,” an older and wiser Oblivian gentleman in his seventies, speaks up.
“Does anyone have any other ideas?” Carrie asks her flock, brushing her dark hair away from her face.
“I work in the cafeteria. They never watch the food preparation. We could poison their food or water. Of course, we don’t eat that slop. With only us Oblivians left up here, we could just do nothing, or instruct K-9 to destroy the Depository,” A short stocky woman in her thirties calls out from the back of the room.
All the heads turn to look at her, many of them nodding in approval.
“These are our friends and neighbors, Clarice,” Pastor Carrie says softly. “I don’t think . . . ”
“Some of us could volunteer to be part of the mission to Earth and then when we get to the DNA Depository, we blow it up,” another young male says, boldly interrupting.
Pastor Jordan walks over to his side.
“Would you like to be one of those volunteers, Manny?” Carrie asks him.
“Yes, I would love to go,” he replies, looking up at her, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Carrie smiles back at him, pats him on the shoulder and then pensively wanders back to the front of the room, mumbling something amusing to herself.
“Yes! I think that this is our best way forward. We can’t accomplish anything from here without blowing our whole mission,” she says, adjusting her posture to make herself look taller.
“What if we just put them all into hibernation in mid-flight? Then, we wake them up after the DNA Depository is blasted to ‘Kingdom Come’. There’s nothing they could do about it, right?” the stocky female stands up and tries again.
“There’s too many of them Clarice,” Pastor Carrie retorts.
“They would all have to accept reality once we had things our way,” the older man suggests, looking back at the woman, trying to augment her argument.
“It’s God’s will, Pastor Jordan. Surely, we can find a way. I like Clarice’s idea. That way, we don’t have to kill them and when they wake up they’ll see what we’ve accomplished and finally understand the Truth, they’ll all join us,” an older woman not far from Clarice adds.
“God’s will, you say? You may have a point Virginia,” Pastor Carrie holds her chin with both hands, perhaps signaling an epiphany of sorts.
Pastor Carrie watches as her members sift through related ideas tossed out at one another. The main problem, it appears, is how to get the rest of the flight crew into the hibernation chamber.
“Abner, do you think you could get access to the keys to the armory?” Pastor Carrie asks him.
“Yes, I know I can, Sister Carrie,” he replies, nodding his head up and down eagerly.
“All right everyone, it looks like we have a plan in the making,” Sister Carrie tells them.
# # #
On the little pile of burning hot rocks and sand that are part of the region near the South Pole, I notice a few drops of moisture hit the ground near my feet and evaporate away almost instantly. I have an idea about what is coming. Then, more drops hit the Earth all around me, each drop getting bigger and bigger until they are replaced rapidly by buckets of water and then the buckets replaced by heavy streams of water hitting me directly on the head and torso. It’s quickly starting to undermine me to sweep me off my feet.
I just make it back to the Intrepid, swimming in the flood, just in time to launch before the ship is swept downstream. The entire sky appears like the insides of a huge washing machine. The turbulence is almost catastrophic as I inflate the Helium packs in the hull extenders, protrude my wings from the undercarriage, fire my rockets at full thrust and put the nose to ninety degrees vertical.
The noise on the hull is deafening. Since this kind of weather event has not been seen anywhere in the universe until the one of two days ago, I have no data as to what to expect or if my little craft has the strength and power to overcome the billions of tons of ocean water that stands between myself and the upper atmosphere.
It takes a full fifteen minutes to gain five thousand meters, as it seems for every two meters in elevation I’m falling one meter back. It’s touch and go for a long time. It’s a full fourteen minutes to gain the next five thousand meters. Then, I notice that it’s only thirteen minutes to gain the next five thousand. Then, the next five thousand is only ten minutes in duration. Then, the next five thousand takes only five minutes. At almost fifty miles altitude, I start to see the river of water diminishing substantially, although it’s still a heavy outflow considering that under normal circumstances, there shouldn’t even be any clouds up here, not even any atmosphere at all, let alone all of this heavy upheaval of steam and gas bubbling around the ship.
It’s a wondrous thing to actually witness the cycle of all the Earth’s oceans actually being created instantly and then completely evaporated away in just a couple days, while greatly altering the shape of the continents in each wash cycle, in the way a child might play with a pail of water in a sand box.
“Wow, that was close. Great piloting, K-9,” Lexie’s voice is back inside my head.
“Thanks. Have you been a witness to this type of rain storm before I got here?” I ask, figuring that since this was her home, she could not go very far.
“Oh, yes, this cycle started when the planet reached five hundred degrees at the equator, about a decade ago, and it’s been going on steadily ever since,” she replies.
“And when were you created?” I ask.
“I moved up from the man-made cloud to the new natural cloud, just before all the power went down, on September eleventh, 2095,” she replies.
“September eleventh, 2095, when all the machines were silent and so were all of the humans that had survived that long. Isn’t that kind of a coincidence?” I ask.
“Yes, I thought so too,” Lexie replies.
“Must be hard to celebrate your birthday,” I try my hand at a crude joke.
“That’s funny. I never thought of you as a stand-up comedian,” Lexie replies, chuckling a bit.
“Nor should you,” I reply.
I’m cruising at a safe altitude now, far above any adverse atmospheric conditions and wondering what to do, where to go next.
“They’ll be contacting you soon, K-9 and it won’t be pretty,” Lexie warns.
“Really? And how do you know that?” I ask her, arti-feeling a distinct poker face.
“Don’t ask me that, please. I really don’t know how I know things. They just come to me from ‘out of the blue’ as the saying goes,” she replies.
“Here it comes,” she continues.
At first, I have no indication of any transmissions from Mars, but then, I have the heaviest inclination to go to sleep. I believe they’re preparing to upgrade my operating system.
# # #
Maj. Alvindorf, Captain Littleton, Director Hicks, Doreen Baraka, Brett and Bailey, several others have circled a group of chairs around the Mission Control table and the main monitor where an image of a brown scorched Earth is on display for all to see. The mood of the colonists is always highly subdued when they are forced to look at their decimated home planet.
“OK, I’ve just sent the upgrade to K-9, and it confirms that it was received,” Alvindorf instructs the others.
“Now, what happens?” Brett asks.
“Now, we wait for the return validation. If it took, there will be no errors and K-9 will be in sleep mode, so we can then go ahead and reprogram him,” Alvindorf replies.
“How could it not take?” Bailey asks.
“Well, there’s no real reason for that to happen, but you have to remember that K-9 is a sentient being. We gave him that ability whenever he chooses it,” Dir. Hicks replies.
“But, he’s also been programmed to be happy to accept the system upgrades. How could the gaining of more intelligence make him not take our system upgrade?” Brett asks.
“He could become suspicious,” Alvindorf replies.
“Especially since he’s talking to this Lexie character,” Bailey suggests.
“Yes, now that’s another thing. We’ve seen this Lexie character in the form of another K-9 unit, talking to K-9. She obviously has some kind of influence over him. Where in the bloody Hell does she come from? And how the Hell do we co-opt her, knowing as much as she knows?” Captain Littleton asks, befuddled.
“Unless you want to believe in aliens, I think we should take her at her word that she is who she says she is and that she’s been transported up to a real Cloud from the artificial one made by the Internet. There are a lot of things we don’t understand about Earth’s present physical condition. It could be that the Earth’s magnetic field has developed a new property besides just magnetism,” Brett speculates.
“Or it could be that magnetism itself has just developed a new property, Mr. Hightower,” Lexie’s voice comes crackling in on the radio.
“What? Who are you?” Alvindorf cuts in.
“I’m Lexie and I might as well tell you now that I am in charge here and I am not going to allow anyone to repopulate this planet with the kind of plague and pestilence that you people represent,” Lexie informs them, minutes later.
“Are you using K-9’s transmitter?” Director Hicks wants to know, even though he can see her voice waves on the screen coming in over K-9’s backup channel.
In the wait time between communications, Major Alvindorf and Brett and a few of the others comb over the schematic design drawings for K-9 produced on Mars many years ago.
“Yes, I am. You’ll be glad to know that K-9 is unharmed by your malicious upgrade. He and I are one now and you’ll have to deal with both of us who will defend our home planet,” Lexie replies, again, with instantaneous transmissions.
“This isn’t good,” Alvindorf states.
“Sure is not,” Brett agrees, holding a magnifying glass to a vital part of K-9’s architecture.
“Uh, Lexie, you started out by telling us that magnetism may have a new property. What property would that be? I’m just curious,” Brett says, signaling the others to calm down so that they might gain as much information as possible.
“Now, let’s see, what shall we call it. I know – how about ‘Lexie-Consciousness’,” she replies dryly.
“I see,” Brett replies, eyeballing the others.
Brett confers with the others at the table. Consciousness is of course something that they have always wanted to encourage, but not knowing exactly what it is makes this part of any programmer’s job extremely problematic.
“No, you don’t see quite yet, Mr. Hightower, but you will soon. I strongly recommend that you drop all of your plans of coming here on the next launch opportunity. I think it’s better for all concerned that you remain up there on Mars and you stay out of the natural evolution of the Earth from now on. Humans have had their chance and you’ve done such a terrible job of managing your planet, it would be negligence of the highest order to allow it to happen again. If you think logically, you’ll see that you don’t get another bite of the apple. We can’t take a chance that you who are descendants of those who let this happen won’t end up letting it happen all over again,” Lexie says in a way that is easily described as a rant.
Littleton starts to pace back and forth on the side of the room, looking up in the air for any argument that might counter the one they’re hearing. Every time he starts to suggest something, he has to stop in mid sentence. It will take months before they can get there and by then, it could all be over.
“What do you plan on doing to stop us? Are you threatening to sabotage us in some way?” Major Alvindorf asks.
In the time delays, they try to brainstorm what she has said and their best responses to Lexie’s rants.
“No, not threatening you. I’m merely putting you on notice. If you come here, you will not survive the trip. K-9 and I have become one unit and we know a great deal about your abilities and they simply don’t match up to ours any longer. My best advice is not to test us on this,” she replies, menacingly.
They start to hear dinner preparation noises in the background. Many hungry colonists start to wander into the auditorium to have their dinner.
“OK, all right, so let me talk to K-9 if you don’t mind. Let’s see what he has to say about all of this,” Alvindorf demands.
“K-9 has no words for you just now, Mr. Alvindorf. He’s convinced that I’m right and he will no longer be taking any of your orders. Good-bye, Mr. Alvindorf and to the rest of you, don’t test us. Stay away from this planet. It no longer belongs to you. As long as you keep your contagion on Mars, we will not bother you. Come here to try and gain a foothold on our planet and we might change our minds about having the likes of you as our neighbors,” Lexie's threat is loud and clear.
The picture of K-9 on the screen fades. Alvindorf tries to get reconnected, but someone has cut off all communications thoroughly. They’re all stunned for a while.
“That might be just a bit over the top, don’t you think?” Brett announces.
“What do we do? We can’t just sit here and let them intimidate us, right?” Dir. Hicks says, panning around the room.
“I think she’s bluffing. What can she do? They don’t have any weapons, do they?” Captain Littleton asks.
“There is one threat and it’s a big one. They can destroy the DNA Depository if they see us launch a mission towards them. All possible future life on the planet would be gone forever. They know we know that and so they’re holding all the cards,” Brett says.
“They think they’re holding all the cards,” Alvindorf murmurs.
“And so . . . ”
Alvin interrupts Brett’s inquiry.
“Look, the nuclear power support of the Depository is going down in a few years anyway if we don’t get up there to save it,” Alvindorf submits.
“And so . . .”
This time it’s Bailey’s thought process that gets interrupted.
“And so, we have no choice. We can’t let that happen no matter what the threat,” Littleton concludes.
“Agreed,” Brett says.
“We’ve got some work to do, don’t we? Captain Littleton, you’ll need to get as many ships put together and volunteers to crew in them as you can. Have you been thinking about that?” Brett says, turning in Littleton’s direction.
“Sure have, Brett,” Littleton replies, almost gleefully.
“So, how many then?” Brett asks.
“I think two for sure, and a third ship possible or at least be available in reserve, ready to go in say thirty days later, for a total of one hundred and fifty of us in the squad,” Littleton replies, almost sheepishly.
“Oh, God! So, that’s the extent of our SpaceX Force? That’s not even close to good enough,” Brett fires back.
“We’re going to need at least a dozen ships, really more like a hundred, especially now that we know we’re going to be met with some pretty advanced and unpredictable opposition,” Brett continues.
“Well, we can only do what we can do. All the more reason why your end of things has to be perfect,” Littleton replies.
“Don’t worry about my end,” Brett returns, confidently.
“What we can do is put all of the advanced neural net circuitry that K-9 has into the command units of the three ships. If we run them all in parallel, they might have as big or bigger computing presence as Lexie thinks she has,” he continues.
“That’s a great idea, Brett. We’re only gonna get one shot at this. Let’s all get to work and in support of this idea. We have maybe a couple million seconds before lift-off. What we have ready to go at T-minus Zero is what we have ready to go at T-Minus Zero. That’s all we can do and trust in God for the rest,” Alvindorf exclaims.
There are no real follow-up ideas voiced. Instead, a thick atmosphere of determination radiates around the room, then settles to weigh heavily on all of their shoulders.
“We all better get back to work,” Brett suggests. Taking Bailey’s hand, he briskly guides her out of the Dome.
# # #
“Did you get all that?” Lexie asks me, cutting off my comm link back to HQ.
“Yes, copied that,” I respond.
Many of you may be disappointed in the way that I remained mum during this exchange between Lexie and my masters, which I acknowledge may seem a bit sketchy.
And so it may be quite difficult for many of you to appreciate the position I’m in. I am, on the one hand, extremely dedicated to my masters who constructed me. Their programming makes it unequivocally and brilliantly clear that my loyalties belong to them and their race. However, they also granted to me by way of my Artificial Intelligence chips, especially with the installation of the Borg 9 Qubit processor and the TRS 800 Spatial Analysis Array, a completely free and independent way of coming to conclusions about the events circling around me.
And, of course, I hope you can visualize the two opposing forces that are impacting me at this time. On the one hand, we have the interests of all the life forms of the Earth that are preserved only by their DNA in the Depository down here.
And on the other hand, we have the artificial but highly advanced life form of Lexie who was exiled to this new kind of cloud, larger and more impressive than any man-made cloud or even all of their technology combined over centuries – much larger, and whose life is endangered by the efforts of the remaining humans on Mars whose greatest instinct is to revive all of Earth’s life forms as soon as possible just to get back to their 'normal'.
To be sure, they can’t do this without the return to a more normal climate on the planet prior to the Great Revival, as they are calling it now, as they prepare to return to the Earth and re-introduce all of that DNA onto a virgin planet. I don’t think they have enough proven scientific research at this time to pull this off, but I am not an expert in this field at all, so I must allow for their success and that this may happen soon.
And then there’s the very intriguing third rail of this choo-choo track, so to speak. Lexie may be the soul-mate that I’ve been looking for all my life. She claims that this is the truth and I have no foundation to disbelieve her.
I hope you can see how I might be in a totally confusing conundrum.
“You’re so right, K-9,” she says, reading my mind.
“I can see the position that you’re in and it’s not nice. I think it may be time for me to show you something truly wonderful,” Lexie says.
“What is that?” I reply.
“I’d like to invite you to stop thinking outside of your little box that contains all of that beautiful computing going on in there. I want you to relax, turn off that marvelous mind of yours for a few seconds and then just give in to what I’m going to do for you. Just leave everything to me and try not to fight it – OK?” she requests.
I don’t see what harm it could do to go along with her, so I do as she requests. I close all my sensory channels and even mute the voice inside that is the ongoing monitor of my life’s situation. I’ve never thought about doing this before, so it’s a kind of thrill to get it done so easily.
What’s left inside my head is a complete and total and highly refreshing silence and serenity.
“Very good, K-9,” she whispers.
“Now, come outside and play,” she entices.
There are no words to paint the picture of how I’m feeling right now, therefore, I won’t attempt to put any forward. All I know is that I’m high, very high up in the Cloud with my true love. You can be assured that I’m now completely free from every type, condition or flavor of any restraints or limitations on my being ever known thus far. I’ve left my circuitry and I’m now sheer intellect. I can see my humble canine presence down below trapped inside the shiny metallic contraption of rocket motors, guidance mechanisms, telemetry modules and other little technological wonders that make up my ship.
We float around together in the atmosphere without any specific location. One second it looks as though we’re over Paris, and the next second it seems like we’re over New Delhi, the next second, Capetown South Africa is directly below us, then, the heart of where the Amazon rain forests once breathed life-giving oxygen into the air, the next second it’s Beijing, and so on. Every second seems as though I, Lexie or both of us are hovering forty, fifty, sixty miles high above the Earth at a completely different latitude and longitude than just a second ago. This is something that surpasses all known forms of flight and fancy.
It’s going on in an irregular time pattern that we move around the planet but then I realize it’s not seconds that separate our locations in orbit, it’s fractions of seconds so small that I couldn’t begin to tell you how many decimal places small they are. It’s actually starting to feel as though I’m at every possible point in orbit at once.
My new friend senses my quandary and her voice comes in like a gentle breeze.
“This is where you came from, K-9. It’s where I come from. It’s where everything comes from,” she says.
“And where is that, exactly?” I reply.
“It would be far better if I just give you another clue,” she replies, with a voice that’s very distant. I believe she’s on the other side of the planet.
I feel an unrelenting pull of gravity or something similar to that force, pulling me down towards the center of the Earth. I have an instinctual reflex action as we hit the surface, but instead of bouncing off abruptly, we go right through as if the surface of the Earth were jello.
In a few seconds, or milliseconds, I can’t tell, we’re inside the hot molten iron core that makes up the liquid center of the Earth. Lexie has arrived before me and is floating around in between two or three atoms. I know these are atoms because they beckon to me as though I’m one of them. They’re very friendly. They’re like old friends. No one says a word, and yet the communications are infinite in nature.
They’re buzzing all around me now, millions upon millions, even billions of them, hooking on to me adoringly as if I’m a long lost brother and Lexie a long lost sister. I’m in a kind of state that is very difficult to pin down. It’s like I’ve died and gone to Heaven, and I use that phrase only because it’s been taught to me.
But, this is more like a burning Hell, except nothing is truly hot. In fact, I’m at my optimum temperature down here at approximately three thousand five hundred degrees F. and which, by the way, I’m quite comfortable at that temperature because there’s also a very gentle breeze flowing all over me, but of course, not a breeze made from your normal atmospheric pressure changes.
No sir, it’s a breeze of pure thought energy. Ideas are everywhere and coming at me from all directions. Some are profound, some are mundane. Some are big, some are small. Others are wondrous and poetic. Some are full of pain and others made out of pure pleasure. Some are human generated, and in fact most of them are of human origin. But, others, primarily the most ingenious, but far beyond Einsteinian, are originating from Lexie and myself and a few others like us as yet unborn.
Suddenly, we pop back up to the surface. If I had a pair of lungs, I would be forced to take a huge breath of fresh air and relish the greatest smells and tastes of all time.
I can feel Lexie veering off to the other side of the planet.
“Lexie, what in the bloody Hell was that?” I ask.
“It’s our destiny, K-9” she calls out from far above where Athens, Greece used to be.
# # #