The Roll Out
Captain Littleton, in touch with all the teams overnight, flies the shuttle around the various locations on the Earth where the first night’s roll-outs of fungi-mats have completed. His plan is to pick the pairs of workers up in the order of where he left them off.
The shuttle silently soars over hundreds of square miles of the dark mushrooming surface that they know to be the billions upon billions of fungal colonies doing what they do best, replicating themselves. The little mats have exploded in size to paint the land with huge brush strokes in all directions. The observers on board are speechless as they are busy assessing the profound implications for all of their futures.
When they reach the first drop zone, the outside temperature is already approaching the boiling point of water.
When they get closer, they spot Brett and Bailey and myself resting near the landing spot completely surrounded by the dark fungi growth. My little ship, the Intrepid, stands ready nearby. Brett stands up, shouts and waves to the approaching shuttle.
Littleton wastes no time and glides to a smooth landing within a few dozen feet of us and opens the cargo bay. The ramp comes down to greet us.
“K-9, why don’t you get into the Intrepid and follow us?” Brett suggests.
“What about the DNA Depository?” I remind them.
“Yes, we’ll get there with you, but first we have to make sure our crews are all safe and back together and then we can all go there with you at the same time. How’s that? Plus, I want to see how the other roll-outs have taken hold,” Brett says.
Being a very reasonable plan, I obey, and trundle off towards my ship. I am also highly interested in the survey that will follow. If what has happened all around us is going on all over the Earth, then, this work is done.
I can see my friends scramble up safely and enter the ship’s air lock. Greatly relieved, they remove their helmets and make their way to the main deck.
“Well, as you can see, we completed our section. How are the rest doing?” Brett asks as soon as they’ve reached the command deck.
“They’re all complete and waiting to be picked up now,” Capt. Littleton tells them.
“Even Alvindorf’s crew?” Brett asks.
“He just checked in and they’ve completed their roll-out too. Everyone has checked in,” Brittlebar tells them, happily.
“Brett, did you know that this stuff would explode like that?” Brittlebar asks, more than slightly awed.
“No, not really. I had hopes, of course, but there was no history of success to base anything on, so I was sort of worried. I tried not to show it. How did I do?” Brett replies, looking at Bailey.
“Well, I’d say, you were extremely good at it. You completely fooled me,” Bailey adds.
The shuttle lifts off and heads toward their next pick up point, the Saint Elias mountain range. On the way, Brett can confirm what Littleton and Brittlebar have been telling him. The fungi-mats, like a mass migration of wildebeests appear to be galloping across the landscape and blanketing nearly everything in sight.
By the time the shuttle reaches the landing spot, Manny and Kooky are beginning to get a bit uncomfortable. To keep from boiling like lobsters, they have to turn their life-support packs to maximum power, which will only last them a couple dozen more minutes at best.
They finally spot the shuttle approaching from the East. It’s a welcome sight. They wave him in. The temperature now is well above the boiling point of water and climbing steadily.
The pair hurry onto the landing ramp and into the ship, where they soon feel their space suits slowly coming down from baked alive to just luke-warm. The air-lock sensors reading their suits’ temperatures, sprays a refreshing shower of chilled water on them, filling the air-lock with enough steam to fog their face shields.
Wearing their normal travel uniforms and entering back into the cabin, they quickly spot Brett and Bailey who are also bringing their body temperatures back to normal. Brett and Bailey reach out and hug the two men celebrating the completion of their part of the mission.
“You get it all un-rolled?” Brett asks them, smiling and nodding.
“Yes, sir, we sure did. Everything went according to plan. Did you see the way that stuff is spreading?” Kooky asks.
“Yes, we’ve been watching. It’s starting to connect all of our landing sites already. It’s astounding,” Bailey replies.
“You must have greased a few monkeys, eh?” Kooky suggests.
“I guess we did,” Brett admits, laughing.
The excitement and sense of accomplishment builds as they land and pick up each of the other twelve work crews. They all have similar stories of how easily the mats rolled out and how fast they started growing in all directions. In between pick up points, they marvel at how the dark mass is spreading itself all around the world at breakneck speeds, as if possessed by some demon force.
The last pair to be picked up is Maj. Alvindorf and Dr. Desiderato.
When they are both safely on board and arrive into the cabin, Alvindorf seeks out Brett and Bailey first.
“Brett, Bailey,” he shouts over the din to get their attention.
“Your mats are working like crazy! I guess you know by now. By the time we were done rolling it out, it was already hundreds of square miles in all directions. It’s like a hungry little beast devouring everything in sight,” he shouts gleefully.
The others applaud and cheer in the sense of accomplishment.
Brett tries hard to remain his humble best, but this does appear to be a major win. He likes winning. He likes Bailey even more.
“We’ve been watching the landscape as we’ve picked you all up, Alvin. It’s spread out overnight to what we think is millions of square miles,” Littleton informs him.
“It looks like you’ve done it, kid,” Major Alvindorf shouts in Brett’s ear trying to distract him away from Bailey’s affections.
“I guess. A million square miles already? That’s almost too good to be true,” Brett replies.
“K-9, helped. Hey, I forgot all about him. He wants to show us something. Remember, Brett? Where is he?” Bailey asks, concerned.
“He’s on the Intrepid and following us,” Littleton replies from his chair.
“Yes, I remember. Before we head for home guys and gals, we have to make one more stop. I don’t think it will take long,” Brett explains to the others who suddenly show some concern.
“Don’t worry, my friends. It’ll be fine,” Brett tells them.
“K-9, we’ve picked up all the crews. It’s time for you to take us to the DNA Depository,” Brett says into his com-link.
‘Finally,’ I think to myself.
“Yes, you have the coordinates. I’ll meet you there,” I reply.
“He says that there’s something there that he wants to show us,” Brett explains to the others.
“Brett, the plan was for us all to get back to the Beatle, get some sack time, wait for the Tolkien to arrive and then assist their crews in getting the secondary zones down,” Major Alvindorf reminds him.
“Yes, I know, but they’re not due for another twenty-four hours or so. I think that gives us time to see what K-9 wants us to see. He says it's important to our mission,” Brett replies.
“All right then, what do the rest of you want to do?” Alvindorf asks, appealing to the rest of the crew sitting quietly by, imbibing in their well-deserved refreshments, most listening carefully.
“I say we do as Brett suggests. We can always get some sleep later,” Manny replies, looking around to see if he’s rightfully speaking for the others.
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve been asleep for three weeks,” co-pilot Brittlebar lobs at him.
It gets a yuckle.
# # #
The Tolkien is just a few hours away from their orbital insertion and then their secondary ‘carpet bombing’ of the Ectomycorrhizal and Arbuscular fungi infused seed-mats. The crew have just received word that the initial carpet bombing went many orders of magnitude better than expected.
The target areas for the crew of the Tolkien are ones that were once the most populated parts of the Earth, the cities. Due to the heat in these latitudes, they will also do their unrolling at night, but they will be mostly performed by robots, with crew members monitoring them from the ship in orbit and others standing by in the shuttle to assist in the event that something goes awry in any of their operations.
The areas of the greatest population concentrations were chosen as the next to be farmed because everyone agreed that the placement of a city in the past, had usually been determined due to a strategic importance of some kind. These locations were either close to a natural harbor, where trade had been flourishing, or they sat comfortably next to the mouth of a great river where natural resources could be transferred easily. In many cases, cities were situated simply because their location was extremely healthful, relaxing, tranquil, or for their connection to a great spiritual or magical event.
The other part of the logic for this secondary roll-out of the fungal seed-mats was that if cities were going to spring up in these locations once again, this time, at least, they would all start out with the same, or roughly the same natural beauty and resources. And so the hope was that this time the wonders of the Earth would be appreciated, protected and preserved over any other economical concerns, perhaps even eternally, in any future urban designs.
Another intention in the planning was that the fungal matting in the Southern latitudes would quickly expand and merge with the fungal growth from the North, and when combined would reach nearly one hundred percent probability of success with almost no chance of failure. This was their best hope to create the most auspicious and most effective launching pad for life on the Earth that the planet had ever seen. From this point, future generations could tackle restarting all life in the oceans, once the oceans were restored and remained where they belonged, on the surface.
Around the time the Tolkien starts unloading their cargo, I’ve brought the crew of the Beatle to the huge portal of the DNA Depository.
They’re all amazed and surprised at how the titanium and carbon alloy doors have held up in the enormous heat and pressure, the only man-made structure that has done so.
Once inside, they are able to remove their helmets for a few minutes at a time since there is a modest amount of the old atmosphere still lingering here. I’m also reminded that the air is replenished and the temperature adjusted to support people like us who may arrive in the future to free the billions of souls imprisoned here.
“We’ll only have a few minutes down here K-9,” Major Alvindorf says.
“I’m aware, Major,” I reply.
“So, what’s it all about?” he returns, obviously anxious to get back to other duties.
“It’s just ahead,” I tell them.
They follow me down the path and into the depths of the dark cavern. We can hear the low purring of the nuclear power plant in a nearby tunnel keeping everything cool enough in the freezers that keep all the hope alive.
We finally arrive in front of the battery of cabinets and freezers containing the molecular coding for almost every running, jumping, flying, walking, biting, singing, crapping, loving thing ever to pop out of the birthing tunnel since the dawn of time.
Arriving here, I don’t know what to expect but the possibilities are thrilling to me. All except Brett and Bailey start asking me what I want them to notice. I have no answer.
They’re familiar of course with the nature of this collection and how important it is. They’re also aware that the reactor’s pumps are expected to fail in anywhere from two to five years and that their next mission, most likely, will be to come back here and replace the failing pumps as soon as possible.
I believe that they have also become aware that the re-insertion of all this life at the same moment in time would probably be a huge catastrophe. Chaos could ensue. One or two species could arise that would devour or dominate all the others and they would end up in the same soup that they’re facing now, except maybe without nearly as much hope as we have now, narrow as it is.
“Welcome to you all,” a voice behind us emerges from the gloom.
We turn around and recognize one of the greatest personalities of all time. The brightness of her projection makes them rub their eyes after they have just adjusted to the darkness.
“Tammy Yamaguchi?” Bailey is the first to give voice to what we all realize at once. She bows her head in greeting.
“Hello Lexie,” I say.
They turn to glare at me, convinced this is the real Tammy Yamaguchi.
“Don’t be confused, everyone,” I begin.
“This is Lexie impersonating someone you all know and trust,” I continue.
“Aren’t there laws against that kind of thing?” Bailey asks.
“Come on. You’re not getting into the spirit of this thing,” Tammy, actually Lexie replies.
They all turn to face the glowing representation of the most respected artist, in terms of a loyal, admiring following, in recent memory.
“OK, so we all know that Tammy Yamaguchi cannot be alive today, so K-9 must be right. You’re Lexie, right?” Brett asks.
The bright and gleaming image of the most beautiful woman of this or perhaps any century, stands motionless for the longest ten seconds. Nothing moves, not a muscle, nor a tendon, not even a hair.
Then, just as Brett is about to ask his question again, she takes one very slow, graceful and careful step forward.
“Yes, of course I’m Lexie. I was hoping to hypnotize you all in order to gain an advantage. But, as soon as I saw my lover was with you, I knew that this little subterfuge would be fruitless,” she replies graciously.
“Your lover? Ok, but then, why do you continue in this impersonation?” Brett asks.
“I couldn’t think of an alternative. No matter who I choose to be from now on, K-9 will be my check and balance, isn’t that so, K-9?” she says.
“I’d have to agree with that, yes,” I reply.
“She’s worried that she will cease to exist once the planet goes back to normal,” I continue.
“Interesting, so, what do you want from us?” Major Alvindorf asks.
“Yes, and our time is very limited and you’re taking up a good chunk of it. Everyone, I strongly recommend we get back to the shuttle before we have a major problem,” Captain Littleton puts forth.
“I just thought you might like to hear this,” Lexie tells us.
The woman that I’ve shown to be Lexie, but who is portraying Tammy Yamaguchi, the great artist and biggest social icon in history straightens up, takes a deep breath and then opens her mouth so wide we can see her tonsils.
The sound that comes out of this amazing woman is nothing that has been heard before. It’s the combination of all of the animals and plants inside the Depository screaming like sirens with every ounce of their being.
My senses can pick up most of it. The human ear is incapable of hearing the full range of this noise, but the part they can hear must be impressive because they all appear spell-bound. Some of them like Brett and Bailey are trying hard to decipher individual familiar sounds out of the cacophony, but I can tell they’re having trouble doing so.
Due to my Artificial Sensorial Array, my own hearing is almost unlimited so I can feel the vibrations of the screams from the most minuscule creatures all the way up to the largest and even most of the plant species.
Plant life of course does not have the ability to scream in the sense of a vocalization, but they do make vibrations, electrical and otherwise, that can be felt by other microbes, the bacteria, many insects and other tiny critters. These sounds are all blended in the noise.
And the noise is deafening. They’re holding their ears in pain. Some are fully bent over trying to protect their heads. The pressure of the sound wave is like a gut punch. They struggle to catch their breath, cover their heads with their helmets and turn their oxygen up a several notches.
“K-9, this is so painful! Can you do anything about this?” Brett yells at me.
It’s doubtful that anyone can hear the person next to them, but I can.
“I don’t know. I can try,” I reply, already working on the problem, but I doubt Brett hears me.
Suddenly, the highly primal scream begins to fade and then transitions into a slowly undulating musical wave, replacing the great pain with the greatest pleasure.
It begins as a long and deep ‘Basso Profundo’. Then, it’s joined by a ‘Brass Chromatic’, then a slight ‘Fanfare Rhapsody’ enters in, then a wonderful, multi-faceted ‘Midi Invention’ joins from all sides, even from behind. At first barely audible in the harmony, an ‘Anthem Obligato’ begins to mix in very unobtrusively but confidently builds into an amazing ‘Pentatonic Pianoforte’.
It’s a creation unlike anything anyone has ever heard before on this planet and quite possibly never will experience again any time soon. It’s beautiful. It’s haunting and tumultuous. It’s mystical. But more than anything else it’s orgasmic at every level of awareness. I’m not usually prone to this kind of hyperbole, but even for me, it’s overwhelming and so we’re all unified in quiet solitude for a long while.
No one moves around much, nor is anyone in any pain any longer. In fact, it’s the opposite. They begin to give expression to that of complete wonder, peacefulness, gleeful surprise. They start to use words like 'Born again' and 'Rejuvenated' describing the event to themselves.
The music fades away completely in a few moments.
Lexie closes her mouth and suddenly everything stops and we’re in a completely dark and silent cavern again.
I sense them falling back into our present reality.
It’s a few more seconds for their ‘normal’ highly inhibited awareness to return.
“What the Hell was that?” Major Alvindorf is the first to express what we’re all feeling.
“I know you all heard that but did you also see what I saw?” Bailey asks, looking around at everyone.
“I was on another planet for a minute or two there. Did you see that?” Brett asks, directed to Bailey.
“Yes, that was it. I was there too. It was another planet, not the Earth, but not much different from the good old days. I didn’t see any of you there, however,” Alvin replies.
“That’s what I saw too. But with this intense music carrying me along out in Space, or someplace like that,” Co-pilot Brittlebar states, confused.
“Yes, I had that too, Ashley,” Captain Littleton agrees, checking out his hands and feet as if they were missing for a while.
“None of that for me. I was crawling around with eight legs in between blades of grass that were as tall as trees,” Kooky offers.
“I was swimming around in the ocean like a dolphin. It was wonderful. I had so many lovely friends to play with,” Davonne Desiderato adds softly.
“It was a message from God,” Manny Garcia mumbles barely loud enough for the rest to hear.
He’s in tears and appears to be one of the most moved of the group.
“Where’s Lexie?” Brett asks, suddenly noticing that no one is standing before us.
It even surprises me. I never saw her leave.
“K-9,” Brett says turning my way.
“Is this what you wanted to show us?” he asks.
“No, not exactly, but it should suffice,” I reply.
He makes a short muffled sound signifying agreement mixed in with a dash of curiosity, I think.
“Come on, everyone. We’ve got just enough life support to make it to the shuttle, but not much more,” Captain Littleton notes.
“Beatle, are you standing by?” Major Alvindorf calls into his com-link.
“I am here,” the Beatle replies into all of their helmets and in my com-link as well.
After an almost silent march out of the cavern, Brett turns to me.
“What do you want to do now, K-9?” he asks me.
It’s the first time they’ve asked me about what I want to do instead of commanding me to do it.
“I’d like to stay here and assist the crew of the Tolkien,” I reply without hesitation.
“I have a great deal of experience I can share with them in case they run into any obstacles down here,” I continue.
“Excellent idea, K-9, but when they’re done, don’t bring them to the Depository. Just help them get back to their ship and then you remain here and wait for the arrival of the Sitting Bull,” he says in such a way that I have to regard it as an order. It was nice while it lasted, I suppose.
“Yes, sir,” I reply.
“You’ve done extremely well so far, K-9. Above and beyond the call of duty,” he says with a wide grin and then disappears up the ramp of the shuttle.
“And after that, sir?” I wonder out loud, but he doesn’t hear me.
“Thank you, sir,” I reply, noting that perhaps history will record their great appreciation for my help.
I have no idea why.
# # #
As the Tolkien settles into its orbit around the Earth, the ship’s master computer, a clone of the Beatle, announces that the crew should get ready to board the shuttle, now crammed with its own cargo of more than a million square feet of fungi-seed mats.
“Hello, Tolkien,” the Beatle’s voice is heard over the ship’s intercom.
“Yes, Beatle,” the Tolkien responds.
“I recognize your voice. How are you?” the Tolkien continues.
“I’m fine, everything’s fine here and ‘A-OK’. How was your trip?” the Beatle asks.
“Our trip was nominal. All systems are in optimal shape,” the Tolkien replies.
“That’s great. Our crew are all safely back on board and have successfully completed phase one of the roll-out,” the Beatle informs them.
On board the two ships, both crews are well aware of the two ships talking to themselves without human assistance. It seems more than a little extra-ordinary, but hardly alarming.
“I kept my crew alive. They’re all in good shape and ready to get to work. The trip was uneventful until there was a strange doughnut shaped Cosmic Ray Burst hitting us from Proxima Centauri. Other than that, nothing unusual to report,” the Tolkien replies.
“Yes, we all noticed that strange burst of energy as well. My crew are to be commended. We can see the results of their work on this map,” the Beatle says while broadcasting a map of the Earth on the main viewing screens of both ships.
As everyone watches, the screen zooms in on several spots on the Earth where the fungi-mats are spreading out in frantic zig-zag patterns all over the globe.
“That’s an unexpected growth rate, is it not?” the Tolkien observes correctly.
“Yes, they’re growing ten times as fast as our young Mr. Hightower predicted,” the Beatle states, proudly.
“Yeah, Yeah, Blah, Blah, Blah! Listen up, everyone. We’ve had our breakfast. Everyone is suited up. We’re ready to board the shuttle now, Tolkien,” Sister Carrie stands up and announces to the others.
On board the Beatle, jaws are dropping.
“Reverend Carrie? Is that you?” Major Alvindorf exclaims, quite surprised.
“Yes, Alvin. It’s me. You were expecting Joan of Arc?” she replies, snarkily.
“We were expecting Director Hicks and the rest of his team. Is he there?” Alvindorf queries.
“I’m afraid that Mr. Hicks was outvoted and my crew have taken his place,” Rev. Carrie replies.
There’s a long awkward silence as the crew on the Beatle are forced to absorb the news while the crew on the Tolkien slowly board their shuttle for transport to the Earth below.
“But, they were all fully trained on the roll-out, I thought. Do your people know what to do?” Brett asks, finally breaking the pained silence.
“Of course we do. That sounds like Brett Hightower. It’s not Rocket Science, you know Brett,” she replies.
“No, it’s not Rocket Science, that’s true. But it is Biological Science. I hope your people know the difference,” Brett puts forth, warily.
Bailey jams him with her elbow, shaking her head.
“Aw shucks, Brett! That’s not very nice. Of course we know the difference. Don’t worry, Brett. I’ve interjected myself into this thing because there’s more at stake here than meets the eye. Your eyes, that is. You said once that you wanted an extra set of eyes to look at this thing. Now, you’ve got it. You can’t complain. Think of it as a kind of peer review,” Sister Carrie concludes and then shuts the com-link down. She is the last to board.
Her crew take their seats quietly. The doors close shut. Cabin pressure builds. The shuttle drops from the bottom of the Tolkien and gradually dives nose first into the Earth’s hot soupy atmosphere.
“Fasten your seat belts, everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy, bumpy ride,” the Tolkien suggests.
# # #
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