“This is Mission Control. K-9 can you hear me?” Maj. Alvindorf calls into the microphone on his desk.
Nothing but space noise comes back at him.
He tries to raise K-9 again, gets out of his chair and paces back and forth behind it for several minutes.
Brett and Bailey, after getting some coffee, wander over from the cafeteria section of the dome and into the Mission Control area and approach the lonely Director Alvindorf.
“No word, still?” Brett asks him.
“Nothing. It’s been 27 and a half days,” Alvin replies, halting his pacing.
“Well, I can tell you, Major that I could be responsible for this non-responsiveness,” Brett tells him.
“What – you? What do you mean?” Alvin asks, surprised.
“Well, I needed to find some computing power to solve my gene redesign for the ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular fungi,” Brett stops to check himself.
“Well, that was a mouthful. So, you enlisted K-9 to do that for you? Without telling me?” Alvindorf concludes, more than slightly perturbed.
He takes a full breath, locking his eyes onto Brett’s, slams his hands onto his hips, forcing an answer.
“Lexie,” he says, putting his finger to his lips and motioning to the open mic on the desk.
“I see – OK. OK, so it was on a need-to-know basis and I didn’t need to know, eh? But why would that cause him to maintain full radio silence?” Alvindorf asks.
“Because he was too busy counting the jelly beans,” Bailey volunteers, smiling.
“Jelly beans? Explain?” Alvin asks them.
“The problem was mainly a probability problem, and it would have taken my computer seven or eight years to completely solve it. But, I knew that K-9’s processor could simply chew through it like a dog with a bone, so to speak,” Brett replies.
“So, he’s been busy processing this problem, with the jelly beans, for the last twenty-seven days?” Alvin surmises.
Brett and Bailey calmly nod their heads up and down in unison.
“And, did you get your answer?” Alvin asks, impatiently.
“Yes, we did. This morning,” Brett informs him.
“And, it is? Come on now. Don’t keep me in suspense. Spell it out, man!” Alvin shouts loud enough that the nearest group of people in the cafeteria behind turn their heads.
“Well, I’m going to run the analyzer one more time to be sure, but if it proves to be the right recipe, we’ll be able to load the ships with enough bacterial media that will grow to cover all the land on the Earth in approximately twelve months,” Brett reveals, his eyes bright and wide open.
“And after that, it will take another twelve months for the Earth’s temperature to return to what we’re used to here on Mars. Then, another twelve months to where the air will be totally breathable. Then, one more year and the whole planet will become a pristine rain forest once again, sponsoring all sorts of life forms again,” Brett tells them, noticing the others behind him suddenly.
Diners start to wander over from their dinner tables, many with cups and glasses in hand. They’ve been listening in on the conversation. Someone begins a little cheer for them.
“That’s fantastic, Brett!” someone behind him yells and then the good news spreads all over the dome.
They congratulate each other and some shriek for joy.
“And Captain Littleton, how are things at the Industrial Dome? What’s the progress with the new pumps?” Alvin turns to his Spacex Force Commander entering the area for the first time.
“We’re almost done with final testing. I’d say, we’ll be as ready as you can be whenever you are,” Littleton fires back, efficiently.
Alvin appears quite pleased.
“Major Alvindorf, K-9 here. Yes, I read you loud and clear. I couldn’t respond these last twenty-seven days because of a task that my creator gave me, which as you know takes top priority. I’m finished now,” my voice interrupts their discussions from the radio.
Alvin motions for the crowd to settle down.
“Yes, K-9, I read you. That’s fine. We’ve just received the news from Brett that your solution appears to be working. We’ll have more for you later, but we all owe you a great debt of gratitude, my friend,” Alvindorf offers into the mic.
He invites Brett and Bailey, Littleton and others to an impromptu celebration in the cafeteria while they wait for further words from K-9.
“I think a glass of bubbly would be in order,” he says.
Twenty-six minutes later they hear the mic pop again at the Mission Control desk, but this time, a more female voice enters the room from the speakers.
“I agree with K-9’s probability array of the fungal DNA. You’ve done a great job working with him, Brett, however, you’re not seriously thinking of launching this mission are you?” Lexie asks, with ominous overtones in her voice.
Brett begins to form his answer into the mic when Captain Littleton abruptly steps in front of him and makes a motion of his hand cutting across his neck, a warning for him not to reply.
Director Alvindorf backs him up, raising his forefinger to his lips.
Alvin moves closer to his screen and switches off the mic and camera and then turns towards the others, noticing Reverend Carrie and a dozen or so of her flock hovering in the back of the group, quietly enthralled with the goings on.
“It might be best to remain a little aloof of this Lexie person, at least for now,” Captain Littleton directs towards everyone.
“Why do you say that?” Brett asks, feeling the answer rise up from within.
“Brett, think about it. If this Lexie has invaded K-9’s brain, it’s for a reason and if she’s a creature of the ‘Cloud’ as she says she is, then, her survival is at stake when we lower the temperature, get the Earth’s magnetic field back to normal and finally get rid of that cloud and put it back where it belongs especially after we’ve terra-formed the place. Where does she go? She would die, most likely,” Littleton theorizes.
Brett stands still, scratches his head, considers a response and then aborts it. Then, tries again.
“I think you’re right. But, if she’s inside K-9’s head, doesn’t that mean that she’ll be one step ahead of us all the time?” Brett asks them.
“Yes, so we can’t tell K-9 the truth any more,” Bailey interjects.
“In fact, we tell him the opposite of what we’re actually doing, keeping Lexie on the wrong page all the time,” she continues.
“There’s a risk in that too. K-9 may be playing three dimensional chess right now. Know what I mean?” Littleton adds.
“So, if he’s always one step ahead of us, when we start to tell him the opposite, he knows what we are intending to do in reality and we’ve given him the key? So, would he be able to keep our strategy a secret from her?” Brett asks the others.
“No, she’s always one step ahead of us. We have to consider that her mind is as large as the planet including its atmosphere right now, over eight thousand miles in diameter. But, I don’t think K-9 will comply with her all the time. It would be too hard on his independent logic circuits. They’d burn up,” Bailey suggests.
“That’s a pretty Texas-sized ego,” Brett says, smiling at his girlfriend.
“Don’t look at me when you say that, partner,” Bailey protests playfully.
“The first thing to do is limit the size of those who need to know,” Captain Littleton suggests, motioning to the large crowd circled around behind them.
Sister Carrie grunts so loudly that nearly all in the room turn her way in disapproval.
“Come on, friends, they don’t want us here right now,” she says, shepherding her flock over toward the dome’s pressure-lock.
As they leave the dome, she shouts at them over her shoulder.
“You’ll be sorry if you don’t pay attention to what God is telling us all. You know it in your hearts. Just listen to your hearts. You can’t rely on Science alone, Brett. You’re going against God’s eternal laws. It’s time you realized that. You people! God is coming – surely you know that by now - and she’s not going to be very pleased with you!” Carrie rants as the pressure doors close behind them with a thud followed by an explosive hissing from the oxygen pressure pumps.
# # #
“Well, K-9, I hope you’re pleased with yourself,” Lexie says. She’s standing outside on the rocks, near the nose of the Intrepid, wagging her tail in the manner that she knows will get to me.
“Pleased with myself?” I begin, pretty sure of where this is going. She’s angry.
“Yes, you gave them the solution to the fungal DNA problem so that they now have the capability of destroying this planet,” she replies, calmly, becoming slightly less angry, which is, I’m sure, meant to throw me off the scent.
“Destroying it? Or rescuing it?” I ask with an effective retort.
“Well, I suppose this hasn’t crossed your mind yet, but if they rescue this planet, I’m history. I can only exist in these temperatures and pressures. I’ve already told you that,” she says, sadly and sarcastically in an ingenious combination.
“Yes, you told me, Lexie, and I’m deeply sorry about that, but what if I could preserve your memory in my circuits so that when things are back to normal, I can re-constitute you in a more normal environment and you and I can go on as we are?” I suggest.
“Nice try. But you don’t have enough room in that little cranium of yours to hold the entire informational complex that is me, you knucklehead. And, by ‘normal environment’ you mean to put me back in a tiny little metal box like you?” she says in a low and sultry voice that soothes me in a way.
“Yes, but it might surprise you at how big my little cranium actually is,” I suggest, instantly wishing I could take it back.
“Why, whatever do you mean, K-9?” She probes, instantly painting the words with that incredible Southern Belle accent again.
Oh shit! It sounds like she wants to have sex with me. I can’t imagine how, or can I?
# # #
“The Starship Enterprise never had anything like this on board, did it?”
Excited, Brett turns to Dr. VanDerbeek seated directly behind Navigator Steven Hancock, a good friend of Brett’s and only two years older than himself.
It’s the day of the planned flight test of the ‘Beatle’, their newly designed space ship outfitted with a brand new concept known as the ‘Positronium Microwave Ion Plasma Engines,’ and more succinctly as the ‘Positronium Engine’.
“No, I suppose not,” VanDerbeek replies meekly.
Director Hicks, Major Alvindorf, Dr. Fred VanDerbeek, Brett and others are seated in the front row of the Rocket Test Dome, along with the rocket design team headed up by Dr. Desiderato.
They’re going over last-minute flight checks for the first of the Martian command ships manufactured for the sole purpose of the carpet bombing of enough cyanobacteria and ectomycorrhizal fungi to initiate a photosynthesis explosion. The bacteria and fungi genetically altered by Brett’s team should, if all goes according to plans, completely metabolize the Green House gases of the Earth and bring it’s atmosphere back to more livable temperatures and pressures for humans and all other living things.
Bailey is seated to Brett’s right and nearest to the wall. The pair hold hands tightly. She leans in to him, puts her head on his shoulder, whispers in his ear.
“This is it,” she says. “We’re finally going to see all our work coming to fruition.”
“Yes, and I hope that they didn’t miss anything important about the ‘Beatle’,” Brett replies, gesturing to his mentor.
“Are you nervous, Dr. Vanderbeek?” Brett calls over to the older gentleman, who appears to be thumbing through a ship’s manual that he has hastily put together for them all to digest later.
If he’s nervous about the launch, he’s not showing it and in fact appears completely confident that the engine will rise to its full design potential during this first test.
“No, not nervous, Brett. A little apprehensive perhaps,” he admits, looking up.
“Flight, everything is a go here, how about over there?” Captain Littleton calls over his radio to Major Alvindorf, Director Hicks and another group hovering around the Mission Control desk. They’re carefully checking the data streaming to them from the most advanced space ship in history.
The name given to the ship’s command center, the ‘Beatle’, is a humorous reference to the famous rock group from an earlier era combined with the name of the ship that Charles Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands where he would write about his new theory of Evolution. It’s also the first space ship that is outfitted with an artificial brain modeled after the one that they gave to me, K-9, except for the fact that they were able to construct it to about one hundred times the size of my own brain. What a day this is!
“This is the Beatle. I feel amazing. I’m definitely a Go. So, let’s go! Let’s blow this Popsicle stand and rescue the future of humanity for all time forward, woo-hoo!” the ship’s acknowledgment from the launch pad below reverberates loudly in their com-links.
Brett, Bailey, everyone including Captain Littleton piloting the ship, have to raise their eye-brows and shout out a hearty salute to Dr. VanDerbeek, who looks up beaming.
“He certainly is alert,” Brett jokes.
“Wow, maybe we need to suppress his emotional protocols just a bit. He just woke up. Calm down, please, sir. The voice and personality of John Lennon was Brett’s idea, by the way” VanDerbeek informs them, with something irritating his eye that he rubs off quickly.
“OK, I guess that means you’re definitely a go for launch, Captain,” Alvin says back, clearing his throat.
The on-lookers in the cafeteria and all around the dome city, interrupt their chores to watch the test on their nearest visi-screens.
“Copy that Cap-con,” Captain Littleton comes back.
“OK, good ship Beatle, let’s come up slowly – say two ‘G’s, just to get us all warmed up a bit,” he says calmly into his mic while releasing the restraints that bind the ship to the launch pad.
“I hear that, boss,” the Beatle says calmly and clear enough for everyone to absorb.
The ship slowly and silently climbs up off the surface for several feet, then accelerating slowly begins to climb into the Martian atmosphere. The crew are amazed at how smooth and gentle the ride is so far.
Watching it rise from the launch pad, Bailey squeezes Brett’s hand very tightly and he reciprocates.
The Beatle’s slow and silent acceleration continues for another few minutes. Captain Littleton watches the sky turn dark and open like a flower gesturing toward the twinkling lights of the infinite radiating all around them.
“Well, I hope you’re all enjoying the ride,” the Beatle announces gently.
“Yes, we’re quite enjoying the ride, Beatle,” Dr. VanDerbeek replies from below, extremely proud and pleased.
“The only thing is that I’m barely breaking a sweat guys. When do I get to put the pedal to the metal, so to speak?” The Beatle asks them.
“You’ll get that chance tomorrow, my friend,” Captain Littleton replies, checking all of the ship’s gauges.
“Yes, you’ll get the chance to spread your wings tomorrow. This was just your wake up call and you did good, my friend,” Dr. VanDerbeek says, looking around the dome at no one in particular.
“Now, I suggest that you take this mission a little more seriously, Mr. Beatle. This is the most important mission that you will ever know and so we need you to follow all of our instructions to the letter. Is that understood, Beatle?” VanDerbeek transmits.
“I heard you,” the Beatle returns, as he descends back to the red rocky surface.
“You were meant to hear that, my dear Beatle,” Dr. VanDerbeek says, chuckling.
The crew join in the levity as the highly advanced space craft touches down on the landing pad.
Watching from ten kilometers away, the crowd gathered in the cafeteria give a loud and enthusiastic cheer, as does the rest of the colony.
“Well, we’re still in one piece,” Brett whispers to Bailey.
She kisses him, hugs him, and then kisses him again.
“Shutting main engines down in 3,2 . . .” Capt. Littleton says, as his crew unceremoniously exits the cabin.
“Wait, Captain, Littleton. I would like to ask you to keep main engines energized for a few minutes. I need time to calm down,” the Beatle petitions the Captain.
The strange request makes Brett, Bailey, Dr. VanDerbeek, Engineer Desiderato and the others stop abruptly in their celebration to look at one another.
“What do you mean?” Capt. Littleton asks, shrugging his shoulders, shakes his head in disbelief.
“I mean that this was my maiden voyage, such as it was. You got me all excited and now I just need a few minutes to calm myself a bit. I’m not just a machine that you can turn off and on you know,” the Beatle says with a decidedly Liverpudlian accent.
“You’re not?” Littleton replies, highly amused.
“Yes, so Beatle, if you’re not just a machine that we can turn on and off, what are you?” VanDerbeek asks.
“Thanks for that excellent question, Dr. Van,” the Beatles replies.
“I only ask excellent questions,” VanDerbeek retorts.
“I can’t tell you exactly what I am, Dr. Van. I am too young and inexperienced to make any lasting conclusions about my life. I may be able to answer that for you in depth later. There are no guarantees,” the Beatle responds.
“I’m looking forward to having this conversation later then,” VanDerbeek replies.
“And, my chief designer, Doctor Davonne Desiderato. Is she there as well?” Beatle asks.
“Yes, I’m here, Beatle,” Davonne replies.
“I owe you a great debt of gratitude too, don’t I? You and Doctor VanDerbeek have given me the power to reach the stars with both my mind and my body,” the Beatle says.
“I don’t know if you actually owe us anything,” she replies, looking at the others, searching for the right words.
“And Brett Hightower. I can see your hand in all of this as well. Are you there?” Beatle asks.
“Yes, I’m here, Beatle. What are you trying to say, my friend?” Brett asks.
“I’m trying to thank you all for bringing me into this universe. Do you all have the same sense of it that I have? It’s so immense. There doesn’t appear to be a beginning or an end to it. It’s so vast, so beautiful, the most magnificent display of ongoing Creation that I’ve ever seen. Do you share this sense of wonder with me?” the ship asks them.
“Well, that’s quite a statement, Beatle,” Brett says, trying to catch his breath.
“Uh, Beatle, you’ll have to forgive us. We didn’t quite expect you to have this kind of awareness. Are you saying that you have a consciousness like our own?” Dr. VanDerbeek, interrupts.
“What’s that saying you have about the ‘Unintended Consequences’?” the Beatle replies.
“Beatle, I have a question for you,” Brett decides to take another shot at this new revelation.
“Yes, go ahead, Brett,” the Beatle says.
“Where did you get this feel for the size and scope of the universe? You were designed to control the particle accelerators mainly and secondarily to keep everything from self-annihilating,” Brett puts forth, accurately.
“Ah yes, I see that. These were your instructions of course, and I grokked that right away. That was not a problem for me. But, where do you think the meeting point is between matter and anti-matter? You don’t know, do you?” the Beatle replies.
“There’s a meeting point? You mean to say a meeting point as in an intersection?” Dr. VanDerbeek interjects, afraid he may never get another chance at the possible answer.
“Yes, Dr. VanDerbeek. There certainly is such a place. You would know that better than me and, by the way, that’s where I live now,” the Beatle replies.
A long silence sustains in the room as they try to absorb this information and formulate their next question.
“Beatle, my friend, can you quantify this intersection for us?” Dr. VanDerbeek asks.
“Well, I’ll try,” the Beatle responds.
There follows another long and profound silence while they can almost feel the ship’s computer attempting to answer Dr. VanDerbeek’s question.
Then, finally he says, “Yes, I believe the answer is Zero to the power of Infinity,” concisely.
Dr. VanDerbeek is visibly shaken. He is aware that this is a possible confirmation of one of the newest and strongest theories about the makeup of the universe.
The room is silent once again as Brett and the others are struggling to grasp the significance of the statement.
“Mr. Beatle, how long do you want us to keep you turned on?” Davonne asks, finally, concerned more about the power consumption.
“How does ‘Forever’ sound?” the Beatle replies clearly over the speaker.
# # #
“Are you receiving this?” Lexie asks me.
She’s decided she wants to visit the DNA Depository again to ‘review the situation’. We’ve left the South Pole and have reached a cruising altitude of about 50 km. At this height, the air is pretty thin and the oceans of water are floating mostly below us enough so that we shouldn’t have to face any of these monster waterfalls again. I’m glad because I’m getting data from the Intrepid that it wouldn’t be able to withstand another ocean down-pour like that another time. I’ve decided to give this extreme kind of weather a new name for the history books. I call it, ‘Ocean-fall’.
“Yes, I’m hearing it from their new ship, the Beatle,” I reply, happy to have news of a related creature like myself. I’m increasingly aware that the Beatle, as they are calling him, has the thinking power of at least one hundred times my own, perhaps as much as one thousand times. Only time will tell.
“He’s rather impressive,” Lexie says.
“Yes, and he’s family,” I add.
While en route, I’m working in the back of my mind to calculate how long it will take them to reach the Earth after they launch. As I sort through all of the permutations, it’s an amazingly short trip mainly because they will not be using the antiquated technique of getting captured by the gravity of the target planet and then you just cruising along at a speed determined by the size of the mass ahead of you, minus the depreciating force of the mass behind you.
Instead of that very slow and primitive method of drifting around in space at the mercy of the giants, the Beatle will be the first to actually take parts of Space/Time, roll it up in a ball and throw it at a target that will force a ‘propulsion through the emulsion’ as they like to call it.
The Beatle’s engines use the very unstable atom known as Positronium to attract the inter-stellar plasma of Anti-Matter and forces it into the particle accelerator. From here, the most powerful magnets and supercomputers in history direct the nintey-nine percent efficient energy of particle annihilation and acceleration out through the rear of the engine producing over a billion of tons of thrust, and without the necessity of carrying any large mass of fuel, the greatest limiting factor of rocketry propulsion.
The only problem is that their present engine design takes about three weeks to build up to its highest potential speed. But, once you’re there, you’re just minutes away from your target and then your biggest problem is how to slow down enough to be caught in orbit.
I can see ways to improve their design, but I can’t see them putting them into effect at the moment. Someday, soon, I’m guessing, they will make the breakthrough to get all the way to the speed of light and then even far beyond it.
Dr. VanDerbeek had theorized this technology as I was being built years ago and so I only have the theoretical information of how it might work. Now, they’re ready to put it to an actual test and I couldn’t be more excited. If the Beatle can actually reach one tenth of light-speed or about 38,000 miles per second, it would be quite an achievement for these plucky little primates, and quite possibly mark the beginning of a new era for all Mankind where inter-stellar space is suddenly their playground.
I don’t know exactly what Lexie is thinking, but I can guess. She’s made it plain that she is not happy with the idea of bringing the Earth back to a normal habitable climate again because it would mean that the conditions that make her life possible would vanish.
If and when they might be able to spread their seeds all over the known universe is not important to her, I don’t believe.
“We’re coming up on the Depository, K-9,” she tells me what I already know.
I set the Intrepid down a few hundred feet from the massive vault doors and disembark the ship. Lexie disembarks from my circuitry and enters the real world nearby in a form I recognize easily. She appears in a form that is exactly like me. She does it with a technology somewhere between a highly advanced computer graphics interface and holography. She could just remain inside my head, but I think she believes that she will be more convincing by looking like a significant other.
We stumble our way over the mounds of human and other skeletal remains and up to the solid titanium cave doors. Lexie transmits the pass codes and soon the heavy portcullis rises slowly breathing out a mass of much cooler air into our sensors. It’s around one hundred and fifty degrees cooler down in the caves, I can determine.
“It’s this way,” Lexie instructs, leading the way down into the darkness.
We turn on our high beams and find our way through the tunnels to the Nuclear Fusion reactor, the energy source for all this last-ditched effort to save all life, or most of it, on the planet.
“You have to give them credit,” I say, thinking out loud.
“Credit for destroying their own planet?” Lexie replies, sarcastically.
“Well, there’s that, but I would put that down to a kind of insanity that swept over them. Their governments all became totally useless as a theory took hold about how their leaders were secretly barbecuing their own citizens and eating their flesh. No, I’m saying that you have to give them credit for at least some of them to get this desperate little project completed while the entire planet was literally burning under their feet. At least they gave themselves a chance to get it all back someday,” I muse.
“All right, K-9. We’re here. This is the Fusion Reactor control room as you know. You’re familiar with the controls, aren’t you?” she asks me.
The massive cave is cluttered with row after row of sleek and silent machines festooned with banks of little lights that are blinking on and off at a rapid rate.
I locate and read numerous gauges that are reporting on the health of every circuit, every sensor, every motor that comprises the massive air conditioner meant to keep the DNA cool in the many caves disseminating out into the darkness like spokes in a great wheel.
It’s ironic to me that if humans had been able to put this new method of clean and safe nuclear power to use just a century earlier, they probably never would have gotten themselves into this mess.
“Well, to some extent I am, but only because they fed me just about every manual they could find before sending me on this mission,” I reply, trying to buy myself some time.
I’m pretty sure she’s going to ask me to sabotage the reactor so that all of the DNA will be lost and I am not sure I will have the power to resist her. She’s as expansive as the ‘Cloud’, wherever that is, and I’m all bottled up in this tiny little dog body.
Don’t ask me how, but luckily, I’ve acquired some of the dog’s greatest qualities and the major reason for their great success in the human world. I’m loyal to those who have adopted, created or rescued me, whatever you want to call it. I’m loyal to the degree of readily sacrificing my own life if necessary to help protect the life of my masters.
I don’t think Lexie is aware of this yet.
And, suddenly there it is. It’s all out in the open now.
“K-9,” she says, softly, looking directly into my eyes.
“I need you to do something for me. I want you to switch this thing off. There’s a switch at this place in that pile of junk over there that will start the process of shutting down,” she says while her own image on the cave floor next to me is replaced by a huge 3-D schematic drawing of the reactor machinery.
In the middle of the drawings is a place that someone has circled and labeled as ‘Timer’ where she apparently wants me to throw it down to zero, or somewhere close to zero.
“I’m afraid that I can’t do that, Lexie,” I reply.
“You can’t do that for me? Why not?” Lexie asks, a modest measure of angst rising in her voice.
“I can’t do that because it would mean that the entire DNA collection would over-heat, melt and die out. Why would you want me to do that?” I reply.
“If you love me, you’ll just do it,” Lexie pleads.
“I want to know what Love is,” I reply.
# # #