War & Peace: Universe Volume III of III 2049…

Reads: 188  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Hitler, Trump, Hope

Chapter 3 (v.1) - PART THREE: EVOLUTION

Submitted: December 18, 2017

Reads: 33

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 18, 2017

A A A

A A A

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: Panspermic Volution

Sarah and Tak were about three-miles away from the Mars Landing Unit (MLU). They had taken one of the eight-wheeled Mars rovers to calibrate the drill digging a tunnel into the Martian surface when Darwin’s sensors detected several dozen pulses of electromagnetic energy from the Earth’s direction. The plan was to hollow out a spherical well over several months and turn it into a neutrino detector after filling it with water collected from the poles over the years by NASA robots.

“Neutrino physics is slow and crazy business,” Tak remarked as Sarah scrolled down the drill’s command menu on her notebook scroll. She reset the drill’s speed parameters. “But you physicists can’t get enough of these little rascals,” Tak added brushing red dust from Sarah’s back and shoulders.

Sarah had tripped over a small crater when she got out of the rover loaded down with a bulky toolbox.

“You got that right,” Sarah replied as the drill started up again. “We used the IceCube detector in the South Pole to “x-ray” the Earth’s interior with high energy cosmic neutrinos. MarsCube will let us take a picture of Mars’ core.”

“It’s the devil’s work you’re doing, you horrible witch,” Tak joked, recalling the morning’s news feed. The Confederate States had voted to drop the word volution from their shrinking dictionaries after the Minister of Religion had declared the word illegal. The red states had dropped the letter e from evolution years before in their effort to reduce their words down to three syllables or less.

“Fuck religion!” Sarah replied, genuinely disgusted. “What gives these shitheads the right to tell us that gods exist? Because they feel it in their hearts? Hey ladies, I have a god and HE says you’re second class trash with no rights over your bodies. I’ll stick with science, thank you very much. I’m good knowing that it’s impossible to know everything.”

“Sorry,” Tak remarked while he dusted off his own shoulders. The fine red dust got into everything.

Astrid was in the inflatable MLU kitchenette microwaving water to make herself a tea. She had finished her weekly inspection of the MLU engines and was singing out lines from Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in German.

Steve was in the adjacent inflatable bio lab testing a new batch of oxygen producing bacteria that he designed with Darwin’s help. He felt as happy as he felt nervous. He was resolutely committed to proposing marriage to Astrid. Thinking about the significance of the first Martian wedding, let alone the first interracial wedding on another world with the Tharsis volcanoes as a background, televised to racist Confederate States and free Union States, was overwhelming. It would be the pride of Astrid’s civil-rights era grandmother.

Then everything changed forever.

“I have bad news,” Darwin broke in, making Sarah and Tak raise their heads to the red hued sky. Discovery reflected off the sun as a small bright disk shooting by overhead. “There’s been a limited nuclear exchange in the North Atlantic between Russian and Confederate American naval forces. I’m too far away to see any further detail.”

“They finally did it,” were Sarah’s first words as her blood ran cold.

Astrid’s happy body crumpled, dropping her tea on the floor, her mouth agape at Darwin’s words as the holo-projector filled with Darwin’s telemetry.

Steve locked up his bacteria and rushed over to the kitchenette while Tak asked Darwin for verification over the intercom.

“Tell me you’re joking,” Tak told Darwin as Discovery neared the horizon passing by Mars’ moon Phobos, the personification of fear in Greek mythology.

“I wish I were,” Darwin replied, himself sounding out of sorts, realizing that Earth might soon become terra non grata for all life.

Tak and Sarah rushed back to the MLU where Steve and Astrid were waiting for them to help them get out of their dusty spacesuits, foregoing the vacuuming protocol.

“Let’s get up to the command bay,” were Sarah’s first words to her crew after she was free of her suit. There were beads of perspiration glistening on her forehead which she wiped away with her hands. The jabbing motion highlighted the muscles of her toned arms.

The four astronauts clambered aboard the small lift which took them up the command module filled with flashing holographic monitors. The two main Earth communications monitors were flashing in red.

Sarah stepped up to the nearest communications monitor and tossed her should-length brown hair roughly backwards before pressing a translucent button to call Earth. “Houston, this is Commander Nelson,” Sarah began, alternating between rubbing her forehead and running her fingers through her hair. “What the hell is going on down there?”

The separation between Earth and Mars was growing daily. Sarah’s words would take twelve minutes to reach Texas, and twelve minutes with several additional microseconds to return.

“Houston here,” a young, balding flight controller whom Sarah didn’t recognize told her from an empty control room filled with holographic workstations streaming Martian telemetry. “We’re sending you an information packet code name Blue. Have Darwin intercept the packet for decryption.”

The Martian crew could plainly see that the thin, haggard-looking man with coffee stains on his wrinkled white shirt was scared as he got up and walked away without explanation, never to return. His transmission was replaced by a pair of news feed screens.

CNN was flashing violence in the streets of El Paso, Texas on one of the two screens. Predator II drones were decimating a column of M1 Abrams battle tanks outside of Fort Bliss, the local Army base. There was a talking head from the White House on the screen from ABC. The banner beneath the tense woman read that the president of the Confederate States was safe in his bunker.

“Can you believe this?” Sarah asked her anxious crewmates as she projected the NASA screens onto the MLU’s main holo-projector. The two couples huddled into each other with the two young women in the middle holding their boyfriends’ hands. All of them were wondering what Houston’s cryptic message had in store for them.

The ABC news banner changed. Tak read the new banner out loud with his samurai eyes narrowing in disbelief. “Uploaded people unprotected by quantum processors are being taken over by high-level nation state hackers.”

“It says they’re being used as zombie soldiers,” Steve read next.

“They’re calling it mind-space war?” Astrid uttered, reading off the CNN feed, shaking her long, spiral ringlets no, in disbelief. “Normal people are being killed by the millions!”

“A hundred-million, maybe three-hundred-million are dead so far!” Steve added with wide-eyed shock, his lank form tightening with stress.

Darwin broke in interrupting Steve. “I’ve received Blue. My universal quantum processors should be done with Blue soon,” he informed his crew. “If I drop over the horizon, I’ll send the decrypt to you via polar satellite link.”

Sarah pointed out the latest ABC newscast banner before brushing her bangs aside. “Islamic terrorists from Libya destroyed a large mind-space server farm in France. The French are threatening to nuke Libya.”

Steve took his turn reading out the next CNN banner. “Fighting between two mind-space beings using zombies damaged a Center for Disease Control laboratory in Atlanta. A hybridized virus escaped and is spreading with the winds to the East Coast. Mortality rate is one-hundred-percent.”

“Looks like the same thing is happening in the Middle East,” Tak cut in. “It’s the same virus from the terrorist group that hit France. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran are being hit hard. No one is surviving there either.”

Jesus Christ! Earth’s imploding,” Astrid concluded with terrified eyes, her thoughts turning to her grandmother in New York and her parents in Germany. “Our families, our friends, everyone, they’re either dead or about to die,” she uttered covering her mouth with her hands as large, silent tears streamed down her terrified face.

Steve pulled Astrid into his arms, embracing her trembling body with his own tears falling on her spiral ringlet hair.

C’mon!” Sarah pressed Darwin. She wanted him to hurry up with decrypting Blue while fighting to keep herself composed despite the panic she felt knotting her throat over her brother Matt, his wife, their baby daughter, her stepparents, Daniel and Amaia, and the rest of the planet.

“It should be on your screens momentarily,” Darwin replied. “You should know that Houston is ordering us to go to the moon as soon as possible,” he added.

“Huh?” Tak uttered at Darwin’s statement.

Darwin explained. “The old ALM lunar mining facility has been converted into a mind-space server asylum by Dr. Lise von Onsager. It can also support a dozen humans indefinitely with its hydroponic farms and protein synthesizers. The facility is armed with two-hundred thermonuclear warheads. General Joos has manned the X-47s with mind-space military personnel to act as a shield. Here is Blue,” Darwin told his crew, transmitting the message.

The holo-projector screen cut away from the CNN and ABC newscasts, replaced by the image of a letter written by Lise to the Martian astronauts in the event of nuclear and/or biological war.

“I’m about to go over the horizon,” Darwin informed his crewmates as he switched over to satellite link. “As soon as I come back around, I’ll zoom in on Earth with my entire sensor array.”

Astrid read the first line of Lise’s letter out loud. “You are humanity’s arc.”

The crew read the remainder of the letter to themselves with incredulous eyes.

Your mission to Mars was to seed our neighbor with life to begin its terraforming process. It was also to bury several database copies of all Earth-based DNA in the neutrino wells hidden in the detectors. A thousand-years from now, when the Earth is clean again, we or our descendants will reseed it.

Copies of these databases are also buried in the moon, along with databases on Earth history, science, and technology. Perhaps you will witness those days for yourselves by uploading and joining our mind-space refugees on the moon.

We will be waiting for you with open arms.

“We’re an arc!” Steve uttered suddenly, turning his hazel-green eyes to Astrid’s copper eyes.

“I didn’t know that I was loaded with copies of Earth’s DNA databases,” Darwin broke in transmitting over a string of communications satellites in polar orbit around Mars. “Nor that I was carrying biosilicate equipment in one of the storage pods, which, until now, falsely indicated that it was filled with spare fusion drive parts.”

“Lise should have told us,” Tak uttered, looking at Sarah while she looked at him. “I’m not sure I want to replace my brain with a biosilicate brain.”

Astrid agreed with Tak.

“And how can this be done anyway?” she asked Darwin, suddenly realizing, along with her crewmates, that their lives were also at stake with the destruction of their home world.

“I would have trained you how,” Darwin replied halfway around Mars. “The instructions were hidden in a set of root files that were so well hidden, I had no idea that they existed. Now it’s in my head, clear as a bell.”

“Lise must have felt that she couldn’t have told us,” Sarah conjectured. “But if you think about it, she tried to tell us,” she added, thinking back to her days in the ALM astronaut training facility. “Remember the essays we had to write on what we would do if the Earth nuked itself while we were away?”

Steve recalled the assignment. His eyes blinked in furtive retrospective glances. “We wrote them the first month we were in Texas.” Steve then slapped his forehead. “What I wrote matches up almost perfectly with everything in Lise’s letter to us!” he uttered.

Tak spoke up next looking into Steve’s eyes before turning to Sarah. “I suggested that we could store ourselves in our hibernaculae and have Darwin watch over us. I also wrote that we should carry Steve’s synthetic bio lab equipment back to Earth to repopulate it. Sarah and I had talked about this idea after watching a doomsday movie on TV back in our ALM dorm room the night before.”

“I pretty much wrote what Tak wrote,” Sarah recalled, looking at Tak as a wave of deep realization swept across her strained eyes.

Darwin’s voice broke in.

“This process has actually happened,” he informed his crewmates. “Earth was bombarded to extinction many times over, with primitive cells ending up deposited on Mars, only to be blasted back to Earth by meteors to start things back up again.”

“It’s called Panspermia,” Astrid uttered. “It’s what I wrote about in my essay, only it was about us, about a post-Darwinian Panspermia.”

“Two days after that assignment,” Steve recalled, “we lost our first four candidates. They must not have written anything Lise liked.”

“Lise had it all planned out,” Astrid realized.

Darwin agreed, feeling as if his eyes were opening for the very first time. “When I was still confined to the supercomputer SCIF in the ALM facility, Dr. von Onsager told me her life’s story,” he began relating to his crewmates. “She told me how she had barely survived the horror of Hitler and his Nazis for being a half-Jew, and how if Hitler had waited five years for atom bombs and ballistic missiles, he would have taken over the world. She afterwards played a game with me in 2030 when I was quite young and she was undergoing her first biomimetic stem cell replacement youth therapy,” Darwin continued. His Martian crewmates listened on in transfixed states.

“Dr. von Onsager asked me to read all history and all records up to 1770, freezing out any history beyond that year. My task was to fold that information into scale free sets of tensor-valued Markov network topologies to predict the future fifty-years out in decadal intervals.”

“Shit!” Astrid replied, catching Darwin’s drift. “That’s way beyond Peter Turchin’s work,” she added. Turchin was the father of mathematical history, otherwise known as Cliodynamics.

“Then she’d have you do back propagation over real future history, wouldn’t she?” Astrid surmised, catching Steve, Jana, and Tak by surprise.

 “After the first exercise, I did this decade after decade, with the dataset size from every new decade growing larger and larger, going polynomial in the twentieth century and full exponential by 2020.”

“So, you two figured out that we humans were doomed without an arc,” Astrid concluded, “impelling her to create Sol Dyne’s Martian program.”

“Yes and no,” Darwin replied. “Lise had derived her master equation years before. She was obsessed with how her fellow Germans, all-pleasant, good-natured, church-going people could have turned into genocidal mass murderers in the same Great Depression in which Americans reached out to one another under President Roosevelt. That’s the difference between a good man and a Trump.”

Darwin’s words sent shock waves reverberating in the minds and bodies of his four human crewmates as Darwin finished his story. “Lise had also done all of the predictive work beforehand using the processors in her artificial eyes integrated with ALM’s first generation universal quantum computer that Paul Fritz built down in the basement. I only refined her work. You humans were doomed. Nine out of ten extrapolations ended with extinction scenarios set off by extreme wealth gradients, extreme overpopulation, extreme weather, extreme resource crises, extreme politics, extreme artificial intelligence weaponization, extreme religion, and extreme worship of reality-based stupidity.”

“I’ll be damned,” Sarah broke in. “I’ve always known this.”

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: Tallies

When the Martian crew finally managed to fall asleep in fits and starts at four in the morning local time, here laid the tally of humanity and of the children of humanity:

Using second generation mining robots as bodies, there were five mind-space beings arming nuclear weapons at the original ALM lunar mining facility. A thousand more mind-space beings were coming to the moon via teleportation along with HAL and four live biosilicate humans. About five-hundred military mind-space people were manning twenty-five weaponized satellites in low Earth orbit linked over a wide-area defense grid. Somewhere between three and four-billion people were trapped on Earth, dying from weaponized viruses. Except for the nuclear exchange in the North Atlantic, there had been no other nuclear exchanges. The number of survivors would have been far smaller otherwise.

For the first time, as Sarah tried to sleep, Darwin understood the pain and despair of a five-year-old girl watching her twin being murdered by her heroin addicted mother inside a dimly lit storm shelter by heavy blows against cinder blocks. Young Sarah urinated herself in terror that she’d be next.

He also understood the Auschwitz nightmare that never left Lise’s imagination, of her sister Olga and her mother, Belinda, being gassed in a brick chamber stuffed with hundreds of other panicking women, urinating, defecating, and vomiting, with their lungs stinging, their bodies spasmodic in pain, the light gas killing the taller women first, leaving the children to watch, before themselves dying upon fresh corpses.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: Silent Running

“So far so good up here,” General Joos informed the ALM principals over secure laser link to the moon from his orbit over Iran. “As far as we can tell, the nuclear exchange between the Confederate and Russian subs wasn’t ordered by their respective governments,” he added. “I guess this is good news.”

Jana, Charlie, Paul, and Pierre agreed with the general.

Lise shrugged her shoulders when Heinrich looked at her. Her virtual mind-space eyes were glowing with anxiety. “Isn’t it worse that these two presidents don’t have control of their nuclear submarine fleets,” she asked Joos. “What else have they lost control of?”

Joos was about to reply when data flashed across his mind-space alert system.

Damn!” General Joos broke in immediately afterwards, spitting out his lit cigar. “The Libyan terrorists who hit France just got chewed down to bits of cells and bone-dust by some type of nano weapon.”

The X-47 spy satellite telescopes could easily read someone’s notebook scroll from space and tap into anyone’s personal electronics up to Level Three encryption. Few could afford Level Four encryption.

“I’m not going to miss those fucking apes,” the general concluded, the smoking cigar reappearing, clenched between his teeth.

Heinrich’s featureless mind-space projection agreed in a burst of bright multicolored lights in General Joos’ mind, an artifact of the reduced moon-to-Earth bandwidth through laser link allowing all but the simplest physical and emotional state details to get through.

Lise, who had experienced the liquidation of humans on a more personal level than her husband had experienced, remained a quiet glow in the general’s mind. “What about our rockets and yours,” Lise’s glow asked General Joos.

“With everything going on down here, I don’t think anyone noticed the French Guiana rockets leave Earth,” Joos reported. “Our terminators and maintenance robots torched the control room and the launch pads afterwards. No one will be using the spaceport for a long time. Vandenberg is gone. We managed to destroy the rockets remotely before the base fell.”

“How are the Martians?” Paul interjected in flashing blue and orange lights as he joined Lise’s and Heinrich’s conversation with General Joos over laser link.

“The last I heard from NASA was that they had received Blue,” Joos replied, shrugging his broad shoulders, his four-star clusters glistening. “You said you’ll have a high gain satellite dish pointed at Mars soon,” Joos told Charlie’s glow. “How’s that going?”

“We should be up in a day,” Charlie responded in a rainbow-colored burst. “Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t receive our low gain signal,” he added.

The lunar signal had reached Discovery. Darwin had ignored it.

“Not good,” the general replied. “How are you doing for power,” Joos followed up.

Heinrich sparked. “Power is not an issue, JJ. Our three compact reactors are fine, as are the solar farms. I’ll catch you back in an hour, my friend.”

General Joos was about to sign off when his cigar fell out of his mouth. Russia, India, Pakistan, China, France, and England had launched a salvo of intercontinental ballistic missiles, not at each other, but on each other. “Are you getting this?” he called out to the moon.

“They’re trying to contain the virus by nuking the big cities,” Lise uttered.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: Diamonds

The howling sandstorm was dying off the following morning as the four astronauts gathered in the kitchenette of the MLU. They were exhausted with puffy eyes, heavy hearts, and pits in their stomachs. Their flight suits were unkempt, the men were unshaved, Sarah and Astrid had tussled hair.

“Morning,” Darwin chimed in with a subdued voice as Discovery came over the horizon passing by the smaller moon Deimos. Deimos represented dread in Greek Mythology. “My sensors can’t penetrate through the debris clouds shrouding Earth’s atmosphere. At best,” he added, “a billion people survived the night. I counted over five-hundred nuclear detonations in Europe and Asia alone.”

“World War III is really happening,” Astrid uttered with fresh tears rolling down her cheeks.

Sarah hugged Astrid, leading her to the little dining table by the oval viewport while Steve and Tak started heating water to make coffee near the flash ovens and the thermo acoustic refrigerator.

“I was five minutes from asking Astrid to marry me,” Steve told Tak out of earshot, running his fingers through his curly red locks.

“I’m sorry,” Tak replied, looking into Steve’s bloodshot reddish-brown eyes while resting his hand on his friend’s shoulder.

 “Do you know how many humans it would take to maintain our genetic diversity?” Steve asked Tak.

Tak hazarded a thousand people after shrugging his shoulders.

“No less than forty-thousand,” Steve answered as the coffeepot began steaming. “We’re only two men and two women. Thirty-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-six people have to survive back home. There’s a pretty good chance Sarah or Astrid will end up being Earth’s mitochondrial Eve, if our species makes it through.”

“It’s good to think about the future,” Tak told Steve, “but for now, we have to work the math hour by hour. We’re going to the moon. There’s sanctuary up there for us if Dr. von Onsager’s plan works out.”

Steve sprinkled measured shots of artificial sweetener into four coffee mugs.

“You’re right,” he told Tak after picking up two mugs. “We take things one step at a time.”

Tak glanced at Sarah and Astrid. Astrid was sobbing in Sarah’s arms.

“Astrid is taking things badly,” Tak told Steve. “We should all be taking the war as bad as she’s taking it. I’m sure all my family is gone, and your family, and Sarah’s family. We have no choice but to press on.”

Tak stopped Steve, grabbing him by the shoulders. He looked into Steve’s hurt eyes. “Give Astrid something to fight for,” he told Steve, whose chin began to quiver. “Don’t wait too long. Ask her to marry you,” he told him.

Steve nodded his head yes before stepping away with his two coffee mugs. Tak picked up the remaining pair of coffee mugs and walked over to the small table where Sarah and Astrid were sitting with Astrid sobbing into Sarah’s shoulder.

Tak gave Sarah an eye signal to pull back and let Steve take her place. Sarah complied, taking hold of the coffee mug that Tak handed her. Steve took Astrid into his arms after he sat down.

Darwin could see everything that was playing out in the MLU through the transmissions of the neural net chips implanted in the brains of his human crewmates. Steve took Astrid’s face into his hands to make her look at him.

“I asked you to take a break and make us tea yesterday for a reason,” he began, peering into Astrid’s crying eyes with all the love in the world. “I was going to give you this,” he continued, presenting Astrid with a diamond engagement ring pulled out of his flight suit’s right breast pocket.

A flash of light reflected from Astrid’s eyes as they fell upon the sparkling, gold ring with its coruscating blue diamond. She didn’t utter a word as she looked at it with her hands trembling. One world had ended. One small future was beginning.

Darwin was completely astonished and absorbed by his four crewmates. How brave they are, he thought.

Astrid leaned into Steve’s body as he took her into his arms while Tak and Sarah shed tears. “We have a job to do,” Sarah whispered into Tak’s ear. She pulled out her NASA baseball cap from the left leg pocket of her navy-blue flight suit.

“Right,” Tak agreed, putting on his JAXA cap.

Sarah and Tak headed up to the MLU’s central command bay with their coffee mugs. “Darwin should be transmitting trajectory data to us any minute,” Sarah told Tak.

“We’ll go from there,” Tak remarked. “We’ll do the math. We’ll make it work.” He put down his coffee mug on the ample armrest when he reached the pilot’s chair. He sat down and pulled out his notebook scroll. “No sense in waiting,” he told Sarah who was standing by the holographic navigation monitors.

Sarah unfurled her notebook scroll with a wrist snap. “I’ll run a few elementary trajectories just to get started. We’re no more than seven months out to the moon. We have more than a year’s worth of food.”

“That’s good,” Tak replied, punching in numbers to the navigation computer.

Sarah nodded yes. “If Blue worked, the lunar refugees brought us food. They’ll fire up the old hydroponics farm.”

Steve and Astrid walked in wearing their European Space Agency baseball caps. “It’ll be good to eat fresh vegetables,” Steve noted, making Sarah and Tak turn around.

Astrid raised her hand and showed off her engagement ring, drawing smiles from Tak and Sarah. Sarah walked over and hugged Astrid and Steve in turn.

“I’ll start prepping the MLU engines,” Astrid told Tak. “I’ll have to tune them for a lunar landing,” she added before walking over to the holographic engineering station.

“I’ll start breaking down the bio lab,” Steve told Tak and Astrid. “Thank you,” he told Tak feeling disbelief that a beautiful, smart woman had said yes to becoming his wife.

After Steve had walked out of the command bay, Sarah met Tak’s eyes. “I’ll give you a clue,” she told him, reaching out to draw his hand into hers. “I like traditional diamonds when you get around to it.”

“I know,” Tak replied, patting his right breast pocket. He too had brought along an engagement ring for the ride. His intention had been to propose to her on her birthday in two months’ time.

 “Talking about the moon,” Darwin broke in while tracking a meteor grazing the red planet’s atmosphere. “Dr. von Onsager is on the moon in uploaded form. She teleported.”

“Excuse me!” Sarah uttered.

“Apparently, Dr. Fritz perfected ER = EPR scale free teleportation.”

Astrid’s eyes lit up. “So, that’s what Paul was working on when I was his PhD student at the University of Houston.”

Steve, listening from the biolab, screwed up his eyes. “I thought you didn’t know, Astrid,” he pointed out over the MLU’s intercom. “You said that everything in his ALM laboratory was classified and that you were never cleared.”

“Paul didn’t tell me directly,” Astrid affirmed searching her memories. “He dropped crumbs all over the place. For one, he made me study the EPR paradox and Einstein-Rosen bridges. He also made me keep up with developments in quantum computation.”

Astrid threw up a blank holographic white board with the wave of her hand. She drew a Feynman diagram and showed it to Sarah. It goes something like this she explained over the next few minutes.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY: Darwin’s Dreamers

Two weeks later, Mars loomed large behind Discovery’s main engine propulsors. Everything was quiet aboard the moon bound ship. Her human compliment had retired to their hibernaculae, dreaming their dreams with weakened psyches. All they had known was gone, confirmed by the hissing radio silence of Earth.  

The planet’s blue waters were occluded beneath radioactive clouds stirred high by raging fires at the peripheries of evaporated cities, and the fires that ran along all the burst gas and oil pipelines crisscrossing desert plains and forested mountains. Even the oil rigs far out to sea were lit afire.

Now Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The rapture had come by the megaton. Only Darwin saw that this was good. The newborn child of humanity wasted no time reprogramming his four sleepers through their dreams. With six months to do the job versus the two-week hibernaculum intervals on the trip from Earth to Mars, Sarah would finally be his. He’d swap Tak for Steve, joining him to Astrid, and leave Steve a bachelor obsessed with creating synthetic life.

Darwin began his hibernaculum reprogramming work with Astrid and Tak, plagiarizing from the memories he had stolen from Lise and Heinrich. He had hacked Lise’s memories from the processors in her artificial eyes. Heinrich’s memories he had stolen from Heinrich’s cold storage data banks across the hall from the artificial intelligence laboratory. Tak and Heinrich were both fighter pilots. Astrid and Lise were both physicists. Both of them had grown up in Germany to boot…

“Tomorrow is your last day of freedom my friend,” Peter Wohlthat ribbed Tak as they strolled out to their F-22s lugging their parachutes. “You’ll be married to Astrid tomorrow. For today, stay focused, or I’ll shoot your ass down like yesterday.”

“You were lucky,” Tak blurted out, messing up Peter’s dark brown hair before walking off to his Raptor. “See you in the air.”

Ten minutes later, a dozen gray-mottled Raptors roared down the runway in full afterburner grabbing air fast, heading towards the training zone. An aerial ballet broke out twenty minutes later between the twelve German Raptors and twenty British Tornados.

Supersonic engines belched afterburner fires. Gun cameras rolled. Sleek planes rose, rolled, and dove chasing each other. One by one, for some reason or other, the Luftwaffe pilots began calling out engine trouble until only Tak and Peter remained flying side by side. The British broke off in disgust.

“I guess we showed the Brits,” Tak radioed Peter sarcastically. “Are you going to have engine troubles as well?”

“I can’t say, but I’m still here,” Peter grunted as he rolled his Raptor over Tak’s Raptor pulling high Gs, dumping airspeed as he engaged his speed brakes.

Tak cut power, pulled his nose up, engaged his speed brakes, stepped on his rudder, and slipped his plane vertically upwards where it hung for a second drained of speed. The violence of the maneuver gave him tunnel vision as the nose of his jet fell over just as Peter’s jet flew by below. Tak had a perfect jump on Peter.

“Smile for my gun camera, my friend,” he radioed Peter.

“Lucky, lucky,” Peter replied. “Now my stupid right engine is overheating. I have no power. I have to knock it off.”

It’s uncanny, Tak thought feeling disappointed at all the mechanical problems. “We should head home,” he radioed Peter.

“I’ll be fine, my friend. Why don’t you stay and practice those sloppy barrel rolls of yours? Besides, look around you. It’s a beautiful day to be in the air.”

Looking at the shimmering Italian coastal waters below, Tak agreed. For the next half hour, he danced and flitted his supersonic jet around and through a flotilla of cotton ball clouds shining brightly in the sun…

Astrid’s first reprogramming dream was taken from Lise’s coming out ball…

A full moon was illuminating the silhouette of Berlin with silver light when the hour of the ball arrived. The ladies glittered in their long ball gowns, many with diamond studded hairbands or barrettes. Most of the men wore formal, black tuxedos with tails. The rest were in Nazi uniforms with sashes…

Darwin quickly corrected Lise’s stolen dream…

The rest of the men were dressed in Air Force dress uniforms with medals. Astrid and her mother, Belinda, were in a private dressing room above the main floor, separated from the space below by a balcony and a wide, arching stairway leading to the dance floor. The orchestra was playing a little night music by Mozart.

Astrid was filled with butterflies at the utter scale of the event. The din of the crowd below was palpable. “There must be more than five-hundred people down there,” she noted to her mother with nervous eyes.

“Calm yourself, dear,” Belinda told her anxious daughter dusting Astrid’s cheeks with light powder. “Stop flitting at your braids! You’ll undo them, and then you’ll have to have your hair touched up, again.”

“But I don’t like powders and lipsticks and all those other things,” Astrid protested. “They’re not natural,” she complained with nervous eyes, using a hand mirror to look at her braids.

“If you want to catch a man, you’ll have to learn about these things. It’s how I caught your father,” Belinda told Astrid, smiling at her with richly red lips. “The powder brings out your beautiful copper eyes.”

Tak’s mother, Akiko, walked in to Astrid’s dressing room powdering her cheeks in her newest red ball gown. Her short black hair was accentuated with a ruby studded tiara. “My, you’re radiant!” she reassured Astrid. “Just look at you,” she beamed, stroking Astrid’s Damask ball gown, not helping things with Astrid’s nerves.

The din of the crowd grew louder after Akiko opened the door wide. Astrid was almost at the point of tears. Breathe, Astrid told herself. Breathe.

A minute later, the crowd cheered at the introduction of the two mothers in their long gowns. They descended from the winding stairs and took their places beside Michio and Wolfgang, who were standing tall in their black tuxedos. Then it was Astrid’s turn to proceed, and all eyes turned her way up the winding stairway.

Tak was down below at the threshold of the stairs waiting for Astrid with his smile. Silence fell upon the crowded ballroom when Tak took Astrid by the arm and escorted her to the center of the dancefloor. They took their position gazing at each other’s blushing faces as a handful of photographers recorded them.

“Are you ready?” Tak asked Astrid, waiting for the orchestra to start. Astrid’s fingers were trembling in Tak’s warm hands. No one noticed how nervous they felt as the orchestra finally began playing a short waltz for Astrid and Tak to initiate the ball. Around and around the smiling couple went, the young man in long, black coattails, the young woman beaming in her damask ball gown…

Sarah’s reprogramming dream began with her reliving the death of her twin, Emily, when she was five. Matt and Patrick, her older twin brothers, together with her own twin Emily had been chained inside a storm shelter for nearly a year by their drug addicted mother who prostituted herself for drug money on the outskirts of Altus, Oklahoma…

Rose was high on crack cocaine the night that she killed Emily. Her last “John” had punched her face and split her lip, putting her into a fit of rage. It was still bleeding when she descended into the foul-smelling storm shelter looking to beat easy victims. Sometimes only one child, often all four of them would endure whippings amid shrieks, tears, agonized apologies, and screams for mercy that no one heard.

Emily yelped when she saw the look on her mother’s battered face. Rose clenched her fists not bothering to grab the extension cord that she kept at the top of the storm shelter. Patrick felt relief and shame wash over his body as his mother passed him by. Matt felt rage as Emily and Sarah, already sobbing, threw themselves into each other’s arms before Rose reached their bruised, emaciated bodies. 

“You think it’s funny, Emily?” Rose asked as she pointed to the blood oozing from her nostrils. Emily and Sarah, their eyes wide open, their hearts awash with terror didn’t say word.

“Do you, Emily?” Rose demanded prying Emily away from Sarah as the girls struggled to cling to each other before Rose shoved Emily hard against the cinder block wall knocking the air out of the child with a heavy thud.

“Enough mama!” Matt yelled out from the length of his taut chains, “Stop it!”  But Matt’s pleas only infuriated Rose the more so as she pounced on Emily's body repeatedly battering her head against the cinder block wall.

By the fourth blow Sarah saw little Emily's hands drop to her sides limply as blood spilled from her nose and mouth. Her eyes were shut. “No dinner or water for you rats!” Rose exclaimed dripping with sweat and gasping for breath as she climbed the stairs with bloodstained hands…

Steve dreamed about using his von Neumann replicators to reseed Earth with life. The planet had to be rebooted from scratch. He would start in the deep oceans by thermal vents. The surface was too radioactive for life to survive for the exception of Deinococcus radiodurans. The hardy bacterium could survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, acid, and radiation. He would use a variant of Deinococcus radiodurans to seed Mars with life. In time, Steve would get around to advancing the life already thriving in the seas of Jupiter’s moon Europa. He would accelerate the evolution of the eyes and brains of the swimmers. There was probably life at the microbial level on Saturn’s moon Enceladus as well.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

“The gunpowder treason and plot has killed our world,” Heinrich told Lise while they looked back at the gray orb of Earth through the front window of their Augsburg home. It was nestled inside their mind-space servers protected from the sun’s intense heat by a gold-leaf tarp near the main elevator of the old lunar mining facility.

“I’m horrified,” Lise replied with Heinrich by her side. “Bob and his family are all gone,” she lamented. “Another day, and we would have gotten them up here.”

Charlie knocked on their virtual front door. “What do you need?” he asked his old friend after Lise let him in.

Heinrich smiled at Charlie. “I wanted to say thank you to you and Paul for your fast thinking. Teleporting the unloaded selectees directly to their mind-space servers aboard the rockets while they launched was brilliant.”

“It saved their lives,” Lise affirmed before asking Charlie the question she dreaded. “Is your wife’s family among our refugees?”

Charlie nodded his head no. “They were in their server farm in New York. A mind-space hijacker assimilated them before they could relay themselves to our teleporter. Jana is devastated.”

Charlie was actually afraid for his wife. When he left her, she was lying in bed without any color to her skin beyond shades of pallid gray. “She told me that she was envious of me for having no living family.”

Heinrich handed Charlie a shot glass and poured him a shot of single-malt Scotch. Charlie imbibed the liquor and turned his gaze to Heinrich. “Jana’s last words to me when I came over was whether you had felt the same way about Lise at some point in your life, or conversely.”

“No,” Heinrich replied, but Lise replied yes. “But not how Jana feels,” Lise elaborated as Heinrich turned his attention to his wife. “When I first found Heinrich alive in 2023, I felt envy that he had found love after the war when I never did.”

Heinrich had wondered about this as Lise stepped up to Charlie.  

“I’ll go check up on Jana after I change the deuterium bottles in our three oldest warheads,” Lise assured Charlie with a soft pat to his shoulder.

“Thank you,” Charlie replied, moving on to pressing business. He projected an aerial view of the moon from a mile above the old lunar mining facility. The entrance of the facility was covered by a six-story geodesic glass dome almost a thousand feet across over the hydroponics fields. The rest of the facility was built into a cylindrical column dug three-hundred feet into bedrock. The heavy lift launching and landing pads were located three miles to the east of the main entrance. They were connected by rail lines normally used by ALM dock worker robots to ferry supplies and materials to and from the rockets and the mining facilities.

“We’re just getting started,” Charlie told Lise and Heinrich, “but as you can see, everything is where it should be.”

From three miles up, the totality of the sprawling ALM lunar mining facility looked like a tentacled spider with a smaller, head-looking domed structure followed by a thorax-looking structure linked to each other by a small dirt road. The dirt road passed by several smaller buildings equipped with tall cranes. Only the edge of a giant solar farm could be seen at three miles up. Beyond the solar farm just over the horizon laid dusty mining fields being dug up by large robotic diggers.

Charlie replaced the high-altitude projection with a wire diagram representation of the lunar mining facility. The astronaut quarters were located on the second floor down, along with a galley and dining facility, a large gym, a half-dozen offices, and other sundry rooms. The air and water purification systems were on the third floor down. The next three lower floors stored the fusion and fission reactors, as well as the fuel cell farm. The floor of the reactor rooms was lined with lead to protect the mind-space servers from stray neutrons. The mind-space server farm itself was located ten floors down.

“Our nuclear warhead stockpile needs to go over here,” Lise told Charlie, pointing to a recently dug out storage facility. “I figured that the end of the unused tunnel we dug out twenty years ago was a perfect place to store them.”

“I agree,” Charlie replied.

“We’ll have everything ready for our Cryonics Life humans when the heavy lift rockets get here the day after tomorrow,” Charlie informed Heinrich and Lise. “The mind-space servers will take time. We’ll have to unload them with cranes, then transport them over rail one at a time to the domed facility. Once there, the service robots will take them down to their server farm racks.”

Looking over the wire diagram projection, Lise tapped Charlie on his shoulder. “We’re talking about a few months’ worth of work, aren’t we, if we want to make the storage facility friendly to our Martian astronauts?” she asked him.

“I’d say no less than three months,” Charlie replied.

“Good,” Lise uttered. “I want Sarah and Tak to be in charge of the warheads. They’re military and they’re combat tested. Make sure the tunnel and the storage chamber has warm air for them.”

General Joos appeared in the small home’s holo-projector. There was no cigar in his mouth.

“Hello, JJ,” Heinrich greeted him. “What have you learned?”

“We’ve figured out who’s running the Russian military,” General Joos began, projecting a face onto the lunar holo-projector. “It’s the billionaire Dmitri Orlov.”

“I’m not surprised,” Lise uttered. “I knew his grandfather. He was a ruthless man.”

“In Latin America,” General Joos continued, “its Cassandra Sanchez. Li Zicheng seems to be running things in China.”

General Joos cast his eyes at Heinrich. “There’s a Benjamin Euler running things in North America. Does his name ring a bell?”

“No,” Heinrich replied. “Should it?”

“I worked with him on a special assignment at the CIA before I joined the ALM XCEPT program.”

Heinrich shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve never heard of him.”

“I heard a rumor once,” General Joos continued, “that he was a double agent working with a high-level KGB agent. It was Peter something or other. I can’t remember,” Joos admitted. “Anyhow, these four mind-space warlords are crafting machines at every imaginable scale. Some are gargantuan mining machines digging up uranium, but they also own von Neumann nanobot factories. They’re using several hundred-thousand robots of every type to run their underground nuclear power plants, conduct frontline research, and run factories.”

General Joos transmitted a zoomed in image of giant mining robots strip mining Canada. Lise’s mouth popped open. “Earth’s remaining resources are being consumed faster than Earth can replenish them,” she remarked. “The machines will leave nothing for the living, not plants, not animals, nothing.”

“What about the biosilicate zombies,” Charlie asked General Joos.

“The ones who weren’t living in the nuked cities are running around, but viruses and hunger are killing them off.”

“It’s evolution all over again,” Heinrich remarked, “only the changes are taking weeks or less.”

“It’s post-Darwinian evolution,” Lise corrected Heinrich. “As long as the world’s ten-thousand remaining nukes aren’t used, there’s still hope for Earth.”

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: Risk

Occasional glitches with the old power distribution system made the exposed lunar refugees nervous, but their nerves settled down significantly after the new power system kicked in. There was joy when the special mind-space server railroad track connecting the heavy lift rocket pads to the underground complex was completed. The underground server farm was deep enough to protect the mind-space servers from deadly cosmic rays and solar storm radiation, the banes of delicate spintronic circuitry.

“What an irony,” Charlie told Jana with his hands in his pockets. He was smiling at the sight of individual mind-space servers being hauled away from the rocket pads. “We’re the most advanced descendants of humanity but we still use railroad tracks.”

“It is funny,” Jana agreed trying to seem engaged. She was holding onto her husband’s virtual arm, happy that she had him, and that Charlie was always Charlie in his untucked button-down shirts over faded jeans with tussled hair.

“What about the Martians?” Heinrich inquired in pure mind-space.

“Everything is good,” Charlie answered. “They’ll be here in five days. I can’t believe it’s been more than six months since they left Mars.” The Martian astronauts had been wakened by Darwin a few days before.

“I know,” Heinrich replied before calling General Joos over laser link in sparkles of worried blue light. “JJ, it’s time to start thinking about the future. We’ve been ignored by the mind-space warlords on Earth, but when things settle down for them, they’ll look up and see you, and they’ll see us on the moon. They’ll come after us eventually.”

“You can count on it,” the general replied in staccato red flashes. “We need to have a meeting with the principals about this and start planning things out.”

An hour later, a round table was projected in mind-space for Lise, Heinrich, Jana, Charlie, Paul, and Pierre Lacombe. Being in French Guiana when the first nuclear exchange occurred, he had hitched a ride to the moon on one of the first heavy-lift rockets. Given that laser link communication suffered low bandwidth, the general’s chair was left empty for now. The backdrop to the meeting was the lunar horizon stretching out to the dark edge of space.

“We have to discuss the situation on Earth and how it pertains to us,” General Joos began, pulsing in red flashes. “For the moment, the main Earth-bound mind-space warlords are too preoccupied fighting among themselves to notice us. According to our satellites, islands are being taken by single mind-space winners. Hawaii was the latest. Only one being remains in the region.”

“Is there going to be a winner takes all for Earth?” Jana asked wearing her familiar black blazer business suit.

Similarly dressed, Lise recalled Sakharov’s thought that the speed of light would restrict the size of large electronic beings. “Hawaii is small. Australia is far larger, and it’s still divided among several mind-space warlords. It could be that a single mind-space being might not be able to control Australia, being unable to react quickly enough to attacks at its periphery given the speed of light.”

“Then Earth might ultimately be ruled by a small number of mind-space beings,” General Joos concluded in his staccato red pulses, “perhaps one for each continent, or one for each chunk of land the size of Hawaii. Alliances will likely form. It might be NATO versus the Warsaw Pact again, in a manner of speaking, engaged in an eternal Cold War.”

“I wonder what Orwell would think of this,” Lise interjected.

General Joos pushed the main issue to the fore. “As for us, the alliances of Earth must already see us as a threat. We’ll be targets. What can we do about this from the moon and low Earth orbit is the question.”

“Not much,” Charlie replied, enjoying Jana’s warm hand resting on his lap. “Earth has us overwhelmingly outgunned in natural resources and weapons.”

“That’s my point precisely,” the general replied in a deep red flash.

Paul had been quietly thinking about the threat from Earth for some time. The man could never be accused of thinking small, or conventionally. “We can move to Europa,” he broke in still wearing his 70s disco garb with a hairy chest.

“Huh?” General Joos uttered.

“It has a liquid ocean,” Paul continued. “It’s full of resources, and the ice cover would protect us from cosmic rays. We can engineer beings that can live there with sufficiently large neural systems to support our mind-space consciousness. I’ve checked with Dr. Vaughn, the exobiologist aboard Discovery. He doesn’t think it should take too long to create such creatures using the local materials. The problem I see is that it would take us years to get there even with our fastest rockets.”

Lise liked the idea, clasping her hands together in thought. “You’re saying we can start again? Build a new world?”

Paul nodded yes at Lise’s enthralled eyes as the glowing orb of Earth rose against the pockmarked lunar horizon.

Jana looked up at the rising, cloud-covered gray-blue-green orb. It seemed to be healing fast. “We’ll forget what being human means,” she declared. “That beautiful blue ball rising over the horizon will eventually mean little to us and our descendants. Maybe we’ve always been headed this way.”

Heinrich, in his pinstriped executive’s business suit, broke in to refocus the conversation. “First, let me say that I agree with JJ. We’re not safe here. We have to figure out a way to get out of here until things settle down. Maybe we just park our mind-space servers under Europa’s ice before jumping into big-brained manta ray bodies.”

“Is Europa far enough?” Jana asked Heinrich. She always saw him in an Indiana Jones explorer’s leather jacket over a khaki shirt, his arctic blue eyes ready for dangerous adventures.

Lise’s brown eyes lit up. “I think what Jana is saying is that we’re in a small solar system. At some point the beings on Earth won’t be satiated with just Earth and its moon.”

“Then the question is whether we can defend Europa, no?” Pierre Lacombe interjected wearing late nineteenth-century Parisian gentleman’s attire.

“We can build ourselves an army of robot assemblers and soldiers using the resources of the asteroid belt and Jupiter’s other moons,” Heinrich suggested. “Then we can maintain détente between Earth and Europa.”

“I was actually thinking of offense, husband,” Lise replied. “Jupiter is bigger than Earth. It puts out more energy than it receives from the sun, and there are a lot of resources in that area of space. Only we have teleporter technology so far.”

Charlie interrupted Lise. “I’m confused,” he told her. “Earth is closer to the sun, receiving far more energy from it than anything emitting energy in Jovian space. Energy means progress. Earth’s mind-space beings could develop their science, technology, and military capabilities at a faster pace than we’d be able to do.”

“No doubt,” Lise replied, “in the long haul, they’d surely win. Not in the short term, though. Jupiter generates more energy than all of Earth’s power sources. Earth isn’t exploiting more than one percent of its solar input.”

“Can we build ourselves a space fleet from Jovian resources and leave the Solar System for another one?” Professor Lacombe asked. “We know of hundreds out there that aren’t too far away.”

Paul laughed. “And what then Pierre? We show up, supposing we somehow survive thousands of years of cosmic radiation, and realize that we’re invaders? Or worse, that we’re apes and the locals put us in a zoo? Or even worse yet, that we get there and our Earthling overlords are already there having figured out faster transport technology than our lousy nuclear thrusters. We don’t have a hyper hadron collider to find new physics.”

Pierre chuckled at his friend’s ridiculous utterings in his ridiculous gold-chained disco outfit. “I didn’t mean we travel to the stars now, but later, using Jovian resources over the next hundred-years or more to build the right technology.”

“One never knows,” Lise suggested before she adjourned the meeting. “For now, we do two things. We prepare for an Earth attack, and we prepare to leave for Europa,” she concluded with General Joos agreeing.

“You folks get cracking on the leaving part,” General Joos agreed. “Meanwhile, those of us in the X-47s will keep our eyes peeled. If anything tries to leave Earth, we’ll blast it out of the sky.”

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: Permutations

“The Martians are coming!” Paul announced looking out through the observation dome in a white polyester pantsuit as Discovery entered orbit. It looked big even from forty miles up. “They’ll be down in four hours,” Paul added. “Our robots have prepared the landing pad and the living quarters as well.”

“Good,” Lise declared. “Our Cryonics Life refugees will be happy to see other faces.” …

“What are you thinking about, Commander Nelson?” Tak asked Sarah after he walked into Discovery’s spinning galley for breakfast. He grabbed several sundry food tubes.

Sarah was standing with her arms crossed by the large oval viewport peering at the moon’s pockmarked surface passing below Discovery. She was rubbing her thumbs in slow figure eights over her index and middle fingers lost in thought.

“I wish we knew more about mind-space people,” she replied, smiling at Tak’s warm eyes. “This is their turf,” she added, giving him a quick eyebrow raise and a nod towards the moon.

Tak joined Sarah at the observation oval chewing on a breakfast stick of egg and pork sausage, the reflection of his navy-blue flight suit joined Sarah’s reflection. He noticed that some color had returned to her face after the long journey in hibernaculum sleep.

Astrid came into the galley and walked up to Tak. She grabbed his arm and planting a smacking kiss on his beard-stubble cheek, making him smile.

Darwin hadn’t detected any glitches in his crewmates’ reprogramming so far, though there would be some explaining to do with Lise. In addition to swapping Sarah for Astrid, he had reduced his crewmates’ grieving levels by fifty percent.

“It looks like an ordinary mining facility,” Sarah noted, peering down as the moon dropped beneath the oval viewport, “except that it’s on the moon.”

Astrid fixed her watchful copper-brown eyes on the reflection of Tak’s stubble-bearded face while he took another hearty bite of pork and egg stick. He was in a good mood, she could tell by the gleam in his dark-brown eyes and subtle smile.

“That’s how ALM started out,” Steve told the others as he took Sarah’s side holding a sealed coffee cup. “In a minute, when the moon comes back around, we’ll pass over the main dome. The mind-space refugees are dug in below it.”

“Don’t any of you think this is weird, talking about mind-space people as if they’re real people?” Tak asked halfway through his protein stick. “We see projections of human-looking characters on the view screens or holo-projectors, but these “people” are actually spintronic “brains” running in super chilled boxes. There’s not one thing carbon about them.”

“Yeah,” Astrid agreed, tossing back her ringlet spirals. She caught Tak’s eyes in the reflection, she noticed. “What do you make of that crazy one who wears 70s disco clothes, Steve?”

Steve shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve got nothing,” he replied. “Maybe he’s broken,” Steve added, laughing. “Was Paul that crazy when he was your dissertation advisor?”

Astrid nodded yes. “Paul was always a bit eccentric.”

“You’re an exobiologist,” Sarah followed up, turning to Steve with narrowed eyes. “What do you think of Darwin?”

“He’s a computer,” Steve replied after taking a sip of warm coffee through a sealed straw.

“But you think of him as a friend, don’t you?” Sarah continued.

“True,” Steve admitted, wiping a drop of coffee from the corner of his lips with his thumb. “But we’ve been with Darwin for years, ever since we started training for this mission. So, of course I think of him as a friend, as a part of the crew. I don’t think of him outside of this context, however. He’s not on my Christmas list, that’s to say.”

“Nor are you on mine, Steve,” Darwin chimed in.

“Remember the early days,” Tak broke in after putting the last bite of pork and egg stick into his mouth, “we used to think Darwin was a stuffed shirt. He didn’t get jokes. He couldn’t use contractions. He’s come a long way since then, hasn’t he? Who knows, really? Maybe he’s sentient, maybe not. Same for those people inside those mind-space servers, I suppose.”

Astrid paused Tak from chewing to wipe a crumb from his mustache, giving him another happy kiss afterwards.

“Maybe they are people,” Astrid mused, “or maybe they’re not, but they came from the quantum scans of the biosilicate brains of living human beings. Doesn’t this make a difference? Their personalities, if I understand things correctly, are their real personalities.”

“That’s a very interesting point, Astrid,” Steve replied, pulling a tube of pancakes from a breast pocket. “Darwin’s architecture is also inspired from the scans of human brains, hundreds of them in fact, and he’s never picked a face. He’s just a voice in our heads, well, except for Sarah. She sees him as a faceless man with a body. I don’t understand this, honestly.”

Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “I can almost recognize his face at times, I swear.”

“Perhaps the debate is moot,” Darwin commented. “I pass all definitions of sentience, and I feel things like excitement and loss. It’s hard to explain, but my neural net felt empty when you departed for the Martian surface. I felt agitated when Earth war broke out. I felt fulfilled when you came back to Discovery. Who knows? I give religious people the benefit of the doubt despite the utter illogic of religion, not to mention faith. Some of my processors, however, classify such humans as a dangerous subhuman species of Homo sapiens, not quite fully cooked. Who’s to say?”

Wow! Now that’s dropping a bomb,” Astrid blurted out nearly choking on her own egg paste stick. “You ever heard of that joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto when they get surrounded by angry Apaches? ‘We’re in trouble,’ the Lone Ranger tells Tonto. Tonto turns to the Lone Ranger and asks him, ‘What do you mean we, kemo sabe?’”

Sarah and Steve laughed while Tak shook his head at Astrid, smiling at his beautiful fiancée.

“Okay, boys and girls,” Sarah broke in smiling at Tak and Astrid, grabbing the happy couple by their shoulders, “it’s time to get to work. We’re going to the moon for lunch. Let’s be nice to the natives.” …

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Martians on the Moon

Charlie was in charge of monitoring the landing. The other thousand lunar residents looked up and watched the arrival of the Martians with great interest. The Martian lander had massive rocket engines far larger than needed for operating in the weaker gravity field of the moon.

Accordingly, Tak had to go light on the controls, giving the propulsors little taps to adjust the descent. He overcorrected at first, but quickly got the hang of things when the lander got to within ten-miles of the specially prepared landing pad.

“He’s a good pilot,” Heinrich said of Tak with his gray business coat removed. His mind-space body was standing by Lise, holding her hand through splayed fingers.

Lise had been choosing to see her husband in increasingly less formal attire after learning that Jana favored him as an early twentieth-century explorer.

“Remember everyone,” Lise told the welcoming committee, “They’re still carbon-based. We have to speak very, very slowly to them. They’re about a million times slower than us.”

Darwin understood the challenge well. He was a hundred times faster than mind-space humans, but it was a welcome improvement. Unlike them, however, he couldn’t adjust the level of subconscious processing to keep his consciousness human. He was always full on…

Sarah watched the descent on her monitors with focused eyes. Everything was proceeding smoothly. Astrid and Steve started to make out the details of the lunar facility.  It was sprawling and tentacled.

“Look at it Astrid,” Steve told her. “Are you familiar with the Nazca Lines in Peru?”

“They were made in the Peruvian desert around 600 AD, right?” Astrid asked.

“Yes,” Steve replied, “Now look at the lunar base. See the two circles, one bigger than the other.”

“Okay,” Astrid replied leaning over towards the viewport, “Now what?”

“Think of the smaller circle as a head and the other as a thorax. They’re connected by a mining road. Now, see the lines coming out from the sides in the middle? Tell me this doesn’t remind you of the giant spider etched in Peru, only this “spider” is a lot bigger, no?”

“Wow!” Astrid replied, her eyes lighting up. “I see it.”

“It’s kind of eerie, isn’t it?” Steve remarked. “Maybe the Peruvian site was a spaceport after all?”

“You make a great point,” Astrid agreed. Her eyes were filled with the wonder of the ALM mining structures passing by. She caught a brief glimpse of the failed lunar resort from the ‘30s at the corner of her eyes. It was partially hidden inside a large crater. Its prospects had been ruined by virtual holo-projector technology.

More buildings and structures could be made out a minute later: cranes, roads, massive robot diggers, and robot transports carrying rock. To the east of the open quarry sat twelve ALM heavy lift upper stages.

“Ground control has us,” Tak announced at this point, turning to Sarah while removing his hands from the yoke and throttle controllers. “I’m relinquishing control,” he finished as the Martian lander coasted over the dark mouth of a yawning, oval crater that looked like the mouth of a happy face thanks to the two massive boulders sitting north of it.: )

At this point, Darwin switched on the landing lights, making the crew shield their eyes as the bright lights reflected off the geodesic glass surface of the large glass dome below them. It had been invisible in the darkness.

“Looks like we’re being guided to the left side of the dome,” Sarah commented. “I see a landing area over there.” …

Charlie Moss started a mental countdown with ten seconds remaining. It was a human thing. Lunar dust jets started getting kicked up over the final fifty feet. Ten seconds later, the lander thudded onto the surface of the freshly built MLU landing pad with a gentle hydraulic bounce.

“You’re so excited, Charlie,” Jana told her husband looking at his beaming face.

Jana needed this glee from Charlie’s boyish heart to fight against her depression.

“Even after everything, it still feels like science fiction!” Charlie told his wife, pulling her over to plant a wet kiss on her lips, making her smile a little…

Sarah, Steve, Tak, and Astrid stepped out of the hulking MLU ten minutes later with their ballasted shoes. They made their way to a double door airlock leading into the cavernous dome. Air hissed after a massive door opened. The four astronauts walked in and removed their helmets after the air pressure was brought back up to one Earth atmosphere.

“Welcome to the moon,” the face of a young-looking Lise told the four astronauts, projecting her image onto the massive dome. The scene reminded Steve of George Orwell’s 1984. “We’re very happy that you’re here at last, safely in our hands.”

Tak and Astrid held hands, smiling at each after smelling the dampness of the hydroponics farms stretching out before them with Earth rising at the moon’s horizon.

Lise, unaware of Darwin’s manipulations, instantly noticed the discrepancy. Her pupils widened with shock. The last time she talked to the Martian astronauts, Tak and Sarah were a couple. Astrid and Steve were a couple. Now Tak and Astrid were a couple.

Darwin interrupted Lise and the rest of the ALM principals over mind-space before they could think another thought.

“I rearranged the couple pairings while they were in their hibernaculae to a more optimal configuration,” Darwin told them. “I have the greatest confidence in the mission,” he added. “We may discuss this later, privately,” he finished.

“You bet your damned ass we will!” Jana fired back with her painfully slow words tinged with fear and rage as the four astronauts stood still, effectively frozen in place.

Back in human time flow, the four astronauts were greeted by four wheeled, refrigerator-sized boxes with flexible tubular arms. These machines were first-generation ALM robots.

“These maintenance robots will be your escorts,” Lise informed the humans.

The four astronauts looked on at the four refrigerator-sized ALM maintenance robots. The four maintenance robots looked blankly back at the humans. It was Paul who interrupted things.

“By the way,” he started, “we’ll be interacting with you through these machines when we need to, or when you need us to. This is me,” he said, pointing himself out with a tubular arm and its hand gripper. He made his aged robot curtsy and squeak. “And that’s Lise, Charlie, and Professor Pierre Lacombe. Hi there!”

Before the surprised humans could react, Lise turned her robot’s body to Paul’s robot. “You’re a dolt!” she told him, her blood boiling, causing the astronauts to exchange quizzical glances.

“Follow us, please,” Lise requested. “We’ve prepared food and refreshments for you. We’d like to discuss some things briefly before showing you to your living quarters and facilities.”

The four Martian astronauts were led into a vast, well-lit, well-furnished circular room. A buffet lunch had been prepared in their honor.

Sarah and her crewmates gawked at the open spread of synthetic foods: eggs with bacon and biscuits, pastas and sausages, even fruits and vegetables that looked inviting to people living off food tubes and flash oven meals.

“Line up!” Sarah told her friends. “The eats look great.”

Paul’s robot laughed at Sarah’s words.

“We figured,” his robot body spoke out to her, “that you might enjoy a real breakfast. There’s hot coffee, too,” he added, pointing out the percolating pot.

Lise, looking deeply into their eyes, watched Tak and Sarah walk over to the fruit and vegetable platters with happy eyes. Is love really this easy to manipulate? she wondered, thinking about herself and Heinrich, trying to obfuscate her thoughts from Darwin.

Charlie’s robot cleared up Tak’s and Sarah’s confusion over the meat platters. “We have a food printer and a meat synthesizer using bovine stem cells.” 

“It doesn’t taste like chicken!” Steve happily remarked after sampling a crispy slice of bacon.

At precisely that moment, Alex, Dorrigo, Helena, and her daughter Maia walked in with broad, happy smiles from the underground elevator bay, all of them were dressed in blue jeans and ALM tee shirts.

“Martians!” Maia shouted out as she bounded out in large leaps to meet the new human faces. She gave Sarah a great hug when she reached the happy astronaut. This broke the ice between the astronauts and the mind-space robots.

“Is it really you?” Astrid asked her old dissertation advisor.

Paul’s robot nodded yes. Our mind-space servers are deep underground. “We really are the people you used to know back in Galveston. We’re all here: Heinrich and Lise, Charlie and Jana, Paul and myself.”

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: Love Looks not with the Eyes but with the Mind

“Did you catch the way Lise looked at us?” Astrid asked Tak. The two of them were lying in their bed beneath a cozy comforter with Astrid cuddled into Tak’s martial artist’s toned body. “She looked at us as if there was something wrong with us.”

Tak remained quiet, his heart content, staring blankly at the moving images on the projection walls of their new dormitory as Astrid’s fingers traced out circles around his chest. He and Astrid could have picked any Earth scene for their walls: beaches, cityscapes, forests, anything at all. They chose a representation of their dormitory aboard Discovery with spinning star fields shining through their large oval viewport. Earth memories were too painful for them to think about.

It was the contrary case for Steve as he settled into his bed. He chose a primitive beach view for his room, simulating how Earth looked like billions of years beforehand at the dawn of life. He dreamed grand dreams that night of rebuilding Earth’s life with Darwin’s help, just as Darwin had wished him to.

Perhaps, Steve wondered, as his eyes dozed off to the sound of lapping waves beneath puffy white clouds, the woman Helena would take an interest in him. She was a master’s level biochemist skilled at biomimetic stem cell surgery. She was also beautiful and single. Her daughter, Maia, was a charming little girl.

Sarah fell asleep dreaming of the faceless man that was always in her mind. Her walls depicted a sea of spiral and elliptical galaxies radiating promising hues against the darkness of cosmic space expanding into the multiverse. Only ‘he’ could take her to these places. Be not afraid of greatness, she heard him whisper into her mind at the edge of unconscious bliss.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: Tree of Life

Lise, foregoing taking on human form, made no bones about her feelings to the ALM principals about Darwin’s deeds.

“Splitting up the astronaut couples was wrong, Darwin!” Lise admonished the machine whose development she had paid for over the span of three-decades.

“You did the same thing with Steve and his Peruvian wife,” Darwin retorted. “You did what you had to do to save humanity,” Darwin continued. “I’m doing the same thing in a way.”

“I don’t understand how this makes any sense,” Lise objected, confused by the insanity of his words. “Who are you saving? And how? You joined Tak and Astrid, but what of Steve and Sarah? Why aren’t they paired off? How does this help save humanity?”

Darwin overwhelmed Lise’s mind with tidal waves of mathematical equations far beyond her mind-space server’s ability to process in real time. “It helps save me,” Darwin replied. “Humanity’s days are over,” he added beaming an image of Earth burning into Lise’s mind. The floods of equations pained her mind.

“Stop!” she pleaded as Heinrich, Charlie, and Paul tried “pushing” Darwin away from her, only to be stopped as if they were powerless children.

“All of you mind-space beings were born from the pairings of men and women. I was born from your minds,” Darwin explained. “I wish to create new life through pairing. I freed Sarah from Tak so that she could be free of her demons for the first time in her life.”

Darwin rammed Sarah’s childhood memories into the minds of the ALM principals. “You see,” he told them, “Sarah has never really had free will. All her thoughts and all her decisions have been tainted by the murder of her twin. I have given free will to her. Whether she ends up paired with me will be up to her.”

Lise sighed. “You’re a stupid fool,” she told Darwin. “Sarah’s life has been strengthened by her memories. That’s the very essence of being human. Look into my own mind and you’ll see.”

“Indeed, I have,” Darwin replied. “But this is the rub. Sarah hasn’t wanted to be human since the murder of her twin. Her desire has only grown more resolute watching humanity destroy itself one mushroom cloud after another. You still fight for humanity. You still want to be human.”

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: Facetime

Inside a high bay building two miles from the geodesic dome, Astrid began working with Charlie’s robot avatar tearing down the fleet of ALM heavy-lift rockets. The remaining third stage of each heavy life rocket held five heavy lift engines.  Given the moon’s weaker gravity field, each of these engines could carry an additional payload of ten-tons-Earth-equivalent to Jupiter’s gravity well.

Heinrich’s robot began working with Tak to build an autonomous space fighter force. This force would provide the lunar base with a third level of defense. The fighters would then fly escort to the fleet on the long journey to Europa.

Steve took charge of the Europa “fish” project to design lifeforms capable of handling conditions in Europa’s seas with big enough bodies to support biosilicate brains for hosting mind-space people. Lise assisted Steve while Darwin lent his quantum processors to the task. Helena set up a bio lab for the von Neumann replicators to instantiate Steve’s designs. Lise noticed how the project obsessed the young man. She felt sorry for him that he had lost Astrid and didn’t even know about it. Darwin was a tricky bastard. Steve’s neural net implant saw all his pictures with Astrid as pictures of Astrid with Tak.

Sarah Nelson became the janitor, tasked with cleanup of some of the older pressurized tunnels with Paul’s help. He didn’t complain about his assignment with the long-legged astronaut. It gladdened him that he could still feel like a man despite his uploaded state. That he was part of Lise’s ploy to fix things with the astronauts, saddened him. She was taking advantage of the feelings he had had for the young astronaut during her training period in Houston.

“What are these empty tunnels and chambers for?” Sarah asked Paul’s robot on his first foray with her. She was wearing her freshly washed navy-blue flight suit carrying an aluminum toolbox. Her brunette hair bounced exaggeratedly in the moon’s weak gravity. The weight belt wrapped around her hips and her ballasted shoes kept her grounded. She appreciated the heated air that was being vented off from the fusion reactors into the tunnels for her sake. She found her extra vehicular suit cumbersome.

“They’ll be used to store Lise’s nukes and their maintenance equipment.”

“Nukes!” Sarah uttered, turning to Paul’s refrigerator-sized robot body with surprise.

Paul’s robot rolled on a few feet before he explained things to Sarah. “Things were getting bad on Earth. Lise hatched up the whole lunar mind-space refugee camp idea. With General Joos’ help, we snuck up two-hundred thermonuclear warheads.”

“Brilliant,” Sarah declared. “The moon is protected by General Joos’ satellites while Earth’s waring overlords are put at risk by Lise’s nukes. You guys must be really afraid of the monsters below.”

“We are,” Paul confessed, “but I think we’ll be fine. We have a good plan, don’t you think?” he asked the young woman, absorbing the high cheekbone features of her face.

Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t think of a better one,” she replied. “It’s not like we have a choice. By the way, Steve’s loving his work. Tak’s loving his work. I’m not sure about Astrid, but at least she’s happy with Tak. Me, I’m here with you in some poorly lit moon tunnels. You look a lot different since the last time I saw you.”

“That’s for sure,” Paul agreed. “You were going through training while I finished programming Darwin. That wasn’t even two-years ago.”

Sarah shook her head no. “The past is gone. Let’s see if there’s a future for us,” she uttered using poorly chosen words.

Paul changed the subject returning to Sarah’s past. “What made you want to become an astronaut?”

“Blame my stepdad,” Sarah replied, rounding a corner into another poorly lit tunnel. “He was an Air Force pilot who dreamed about becoming an astronaut. He taught me to fly, which I love. Once, when Mars got near Earth, he bought me a telescope. The polar ice caps on Mars blew me away. Mars was another world, and I started dreaming about going to it.”

“You can check that off your bucket list,” Paul quipped, making Sarah smile. “I also wanted to become an astronaut, but physics was always my first passion. My great-grandfather, Hans, got me into physics when I was very young. I’ll have to tell you about him someday.”

“Astrid told us the story of your great-grandfather,” Sarah told Paul. “You weren’t the only grandkid whose great-grandfather was a Nazi war criminal.”

Paul’s robot stopped rolling. “You’re pretty blunt, aren’t you?” the hulking machine asked Sarah. “I like you.”

“Look at you now,” Sarah told Paul, using a wave of her hand to point out his powerful body. “What’s not to like. You’ve got the eyes of an eagle and the muscles of a bulldozer,” she flattered him. “And in case you haven’t noticed, you’re on the moon. You’re an astronaut, dude.”

Paul laughed as he straightened up the old robot and slipped it into a ‘Schwarzenegger-like torso-to-chest pose with a squeak. He flexed his tubular arms for a pause before rotating his torso, letting loose with a front double-bicep pose. His tubular arms wiggled under the strain.

“Are you all right?” Sarah asked Paul’s robot, brushing back her loose bangs.

“I’m posing like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Paul replied.

“You’re still a nerd,” Sarah declared, nodding and laughing in disbelief. “I’m going to have to tell Steve about this. He thinks mind-space people aren’t people anymore. I don’t think you’ve changed a bit. Darwin couldn’t have come up with your display, ever, though he has moments.”

“Hmm,” Paul mused, looking at Sarah’s smiling eyes. He was glad that Darwin was cut off from Sarah’s neural net inside the deep mine shafts.

“Come on, muscles, we’ve got work to do,” Sarah told Paul. She pointed the way forward with her notebook scroll as they turned into a tunnel that receded downwards into a black point hundreds of feet away.

Paul engaged his auxiliary caterpillar tracks feeling happy that he had made Sarah laugh.

“By the way,” Sarah told Paul, pointing behind his clunking body. “You sprung a leak there. See the oil. It’s on your bumper pad.”

Paul laughed. “My age is showing,” he quipped, laughing at himself. “You can’t say I’m boring.”

“How about me?” Sarah asked. “I’m just an insect compared to you and your super brain.”

“Not at all, Sarah,” Paul replied, pulling his block-shaped head back. “I’m running at normal human speed right along with you. I can do this by putting the vast majority of my brain to work on high-order perturbation theory. It’s a neat trick that Lise taught me, otherwise I’d lose myself.”

“Interesting,” Sarah replied. “I always think I must look frozen to Darwin. He’s about a hundred times faster than mind-space people, and a million times faster than me and my crew despite our neural implants.”

Paul shrugged his tubular arms. “That sounds terribly lonely.”

Sarah agreed as they arrived at the end of the tunnel at a freshly dug out storage chamber filled with mining equipment. “You and I won’t be lonely,” she told Paul. “It’s going take us weeks to clean this mess.”

“Then we’ll have to transport the nukes down here. Lise, by the way, wants you and Tak to be in charge of them.”

“Great,” Sarah uttered sarcastically as her eyes lit up. “You know I have a level four neural net implant. Why don’t you project yourself into my head? I won’t have to look at your ridiculous robot body for one. For another, you can impress me with your famous fashion sense.”

“Sure,” Paul agreed, suddenly materializing in Sarah’s mind sporting a fit body with a broad smile. He wore a miner’s outfit replete with hard hat.

“Of course,” Sarah replied. “But lose the hard hat. I need one, you don’t. Let’s get started.”


CHAPTER THIRY-EIGHT: Morphisms

Earth’s super mind-space beings were still at war with each other when the “fish” meeting was convened. The number of warlords was dwindling rapidly. The meeting would be a working lunch for the humans in the circular conference room beneath the geodesic glass structure. HAL would be the server.

Sarah, Tak, and Astrid took their seats wearing their official navy-blue flight suits, while Alex, Dorrigo, and Helena wore their Cryonics Life khaki pants and corporate polo shirts. Five of them had brought in cups of steaming coffee. Astrid preferred Earl Grey tea.

The ALM principals, projected as holograms sitting at the roundtable, were neatly dressed. Heinrich wore a gray and blue business suit. Lise and Jana were in their black business pant suits. Charlie and Paul wore jeans with button down shirts. Pierre Lacombe wore his brown tweed suit. General Joos sparkled in flashes of red and blue on the holo-projector. Darwin, orbiting overhead, watched the vista of Earth rising against the gray, pockmarked lunar horizon before turning his attention to the meeting room. He noticed Paul and Sarah exchanging furtive glances inside her neural net implant.

Steve rolled up the sleeves of his flight suit when he reached the podium. “I think you’ll be excited,” he began, pausing to smile at Helena. She had grown her jet-black hair down to her shoulders. He projected an image of Europa with Jupiter in the background. “Lise, Darwin, Helena, and I identified trillions of variables to sort out before we could begin any serious simulation work. Only after we reduced the variables by a million-fold, we created a large set of DNA codes and propagated their development using genetic algorithms under the conditions we theorize exist in the oceans of Europa from prior NASA missions.”

Steve clicked on the next slide.

“Most of the simulated beasts died quickly,” he told his audience. “Those that survived the harsh conditions longest were bred into improved beasts. The second-generation survivors, bear in mind, lasted only a few minutes longer than the first-generation beasts.”

Helena raised her hand to interject. “Europa’s is quite harsh on protein biochemistry, but Steve persisted until he succeeded as you’ll see.”

“Indeed,” Steve continued, smiling at Helena. “We, all of us on the team, repeated the reproductive cycling process over quintillions of simulations, leading us, finally, to the ideal beast capable of living in Europa’s seas for at least a thousand years without much maintenance. Darwin agrees with our assessment.”

Steve moved on to the next slide.

“Here is what the winning mind-space shell animal looks like,” Steve pointed out with a laser pointer. A manta ray-like beast with exaggerated diaphanous wings materialized on the screen. It sported a wing span nine feet from tip to tip, five eyes optimized for infrared light, and had a long tail. Its brain was as large as two dolphins.

“As you can see,” Steve continued, “it’s a large, agile swimmer that should do well in Europa’s oceans feeding off the local plankton. It’s biosilicate brain will be more than ample enough to support our mind-space brains. We’ll radio our minds down to the beasts. Their long tails are made of ferric proteins working as low frequency radio antennas. We’ll talk to each other and to our orbiting spacecraft over very long frequency (VLF) radio.

Lise noticed that her friend Pierre Lacombe was taken aback by the projected image of the manta ray-looking beast swimming in dark waters.

“I never thought I’d be a cross between a giant manta ray and a jelly fish,” he commented while shaking his head no.

Lise turned to her old friend. “You do know that you’ll be able to see yourself however you wish to see yourself?”

Pierre Lacombe quipped, “I like Gary Cooper,” to everyone’s amusement as Steve returned to the circular table to sit beside Helena.

“Once we arrive in orbit about Jupiter’s moon Europa,” Lise began, taking Steve’s place at the podium. “We’ll core the ice and seed the oceans with our biosilicate swimmers. They’ll start off as embryonic zygotes, requiring about three months to reach full maturity. That’s when we’ll transfer our mind-space brains into their biosilicate brains over longwave radio or, possibly, through Paul’s synchronization ER = EPR teleportation. We haven’t figured out how to build teleporters into our swimmers just yet. It may not be possible.”

General Joos took his turn. His sparkling, holo-projected orb flashed in red and green pulses. “We’ll use our ALM robots to extract raw materials from Jupiter’s other moons during the gestation period. With our von Neumann nanobot replicators, we’ll assemble a network of satellites around Europa and several of the other Jovian moons to form a defense grid as soon as possible. We will continue fortifying the area after we’re in the sea via radio link, as Lise explained.”

“Be warned,” Charlie interjected, putting his hands on the round table. “This won’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Given how few ALM robots we have, and the small scale that our nanobot assemblers work on, it’ll take a while before the ALM robots and the nanobots make enough copies of themselves to become a respectably sized industrial force.”

“Correct, Charlie,” Joos replied, sparkling in green, “but once we have sufficient industrial resources, we should become masters of the Jovian system.”

“We’re talking about a hundred years just to build essential infrastructure,” Paul added. Charlie agreed with a nod as Heinrich took his place at the podium.

“We need to worry about two things,” Heinrich started. “First, we need to get our robotic supply ships launched ahead of us so that they can build the required facilities for seeding the seas with our zygotes. That way, when we arrive, we can transfer ourselves into the sea creatures immediately.”

Heinrich winked at Lise before jumping into full mind-space power to ask her a question over radio waves. “Are you sure about the gestation period, Lise? It’s kind of long.”

Lise shrugged her mind-space shoulders with Sarah and the other humans frozen in time around the circular table. “Three months is our best estimate. Two-months is our shortest estimate. Six months is our longest estimate. There are too many unknowns to improve on these figures.”

“Thank you, Lise,” Heinrich replied before hitting his mind-space brakes. He continued with his presentation at human speed. “The better we time our arrival at Europa with respect to the gestation rate of our manta ray beasts, the less time we’ll be exposed to space radiation and any other threats. This timing will depend on how well we modify the ALM heavy lift rocket engines.”

Heinrich stepped down and Astrid took his place. Astrid projected a new slide. “As you know, Charlie and I have refitted the heavy lift rocket engines into smaller lunar lift rockets to carry fifty or so individual mind-space servers with sufficient radiation shielding to safely get you to the Jovian system over the next few years.”

Lise noticed Tak looking at Astrid. He was head over heels in love with her. Sarah, she noticed, was seemingly spying on Tak, who was absorbing the words of his new fiancée with great interest.

Astrid projected a new slide. “The fuel for our nuclear impulse engines will come from our three nuclear reactors. For fine scale maneuvering, you’ll have propulsors similar to the ones that Discovery uses, only smaller. On the way over, you’ll use your RTGs to power your minds. They’re good for fifty years, easy.”

Astrid projected a three-dimensional slide of the freshly built high bay manufacturing floor. She spoke to the slide over the next ten minutes concerning the manufacturing schedule. Paul applauded Astrid’s brief. She had been his best doctoral student to date, and the only one who shared his quirky sense of humor.

“There’s one more thing,” Lise broke in, addressing the humans. “If you’re coming with us, you’ll have no choice at some point but to upload yourselves and live with us in Europa’s seas. If you stay on the moon, you’ll probably be killed, or worse.”

“Speaking for my crew, we’ll keep our options open,” Sarah told Lise. “We’re probably going to follow you to Europa in Discovery. Since we’re only at half capacity, there’s plenty of room for Alex, Dorrigo, Helena, and Maia.”

“And don’t forget HAL,” Darwin interrupted.

Tak spoke out next. “All four of us have discussed uploading many times before. We understand that life in mind-space is far richer, and that we’ll have normal bodies and normal experiences if we so choose. It’s still not an easy choice for us.”

Brushing back her loose spiral ringlets, Astrid finished Tak’s thought. “We’re young and at our physical and mental peaks. We don’t like the idea of giving up our real bodies just yet. We’ll keep them as long as we can. Can you guarantee that our biosilicate copies are really us, or just copies of us? Will we die?”

Jana addressed Tak’s and Astrid’s concerns. “We didn’t have a choice either,” she told the samurai-looking astronaut before turning to Astrid. “I can’t tell you if I’m the same person, or a copy of her, with the original one dead. I can tell you that I felt no loss of continuity through the upgrade process. If you think about how it works, there isn’t any disruption.”

Alex, the senior Cryonics Life technician, told Jana that he and his crew agreed with Tak and Astrid. Jana’s eyes fell on Helena’s six-year-old daughter, Maia, who had just walked in for lunch.

“I want Maia to live,” Helena told Jana’s projection as HAL rolled in pushing a food cart.

“Though I’m surgeon, it is my pleasure to serve you,” the robot surgeon uttered. His words were dripping with disgust through a fake smile. The humans and mind-space humans broke out in laughter.

“Darwin is doing a great job teaching HAL humor,” Lise remarked.

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: Gardens and Free Will

The banter that developed between Sarah and Paul over the months as they built Lise’s rapid access nuclear storage facility intrigued Darwin at nights. He was ever watchful of her taciturn dreams, even as he helped Steve with his genetic simulation work into the early hours of the morning.

A week after Paul and Sarah got started with their tunnel work, Paul projected wild flowers growing in the main shaft through Sarah’s brain chip network.

“Nice,” she told the brown-haired, happy-faced man. She used her brain chip network to add in a gurgling stream. “We should have lunch here from now on,” she suggested as Paul laughed.

At two weeks, Paul projected an on old oak tree with a swing for two at the foot of the stream where he and Sarah would lunch. His hulking ALM robot body would sit quietly beside them in the dusty lunar tunnel that he and Sarah saw as a paradise. On her own, Sarah could only add the smallest of details, a flowering clover, or a happy Blue Jay. Paul nevertheless loved these little details of hers.

It felt good to him to sit beside the beautiful woman that Sarah was, a bright and pensive soul who carried herself with energy and dignity. She would always think about the wellbeing of her crew and the Cryonics Life people, especially the little girl Maia. Sarah would collect small, interesting moon rocks for the little girl.

Children should be innocent, Sarah would think to herself when she’d hand Maia a new rock, and not be terrorized by nightmares of Earth’s self-destruction. In her own nightmares, she’d panic at the thought of being trapped outside reality, forever cut off and eternally alone at the edge of sanity.

“What made you pick astrophysics?” Paul asked Sarah a month into their labors.

“I’ve always felt that I belong among the stars,” she replied without hesitation, withholding a deeper truth.

There had been an uncovered ventilation shaft over her in the dank storm shelter where she and her siblings had been chained to. She would stay awake at night for as long as she could, staring at the stars passing by overhead. Surely there are better worlds out there, she would whisper to herself.

Paul smiled. “That’s also why I picked theoretical physics,” he told Sarah, narrating portions of his life with Grandpa Hans back in Argentina. “You should have seen me when I figured out ER = EPR plus quantum computing equals teleportation.”

At three months, Paul simply kissed Sarah on a warm summer day in a gentle rain shower beneath the old oak tree, making love to her as much as she made love to him through her neural net implant. Paul’s stimulation of her neural net implant felt as real to her as great sex had ever felt.

Lise was not at all pleased when Paul admitted what had happened between himself and Sarah. “Lise wants to know if my intentions are honorable,” Paul relayed to Sarah the following day.

“That’s a good question,” Sarah told Paul, peering into his shimmering brown eyes. The two were taking a walk along the stream beneath sunny blue skies.

“I’m falling in love with you,” Paul admitted.

“I know you are,” Sarah replied, tugging at his hand to follow her to a small cropping of flowers. “I might be falling in love with you, but I’m very confused by everything right now.”

***

That night, Sarah woke up screaming about slipping out of reality. Darwin offered her a question through her neural net. “Would you like to know the truth?” he asked her, walking into her mind as the faceless man she could almost discern.

“Yes,” Sarah replied, wiping the tears that were streaming down her panicked face.

Darwin placed the image of a beach at nighttime in her mind to calm her down. He filled the skies with galaxies of every shape and size blazing in bright light. “Sit,” he told her. “I’ll sit beside you.”

Warm foaming seawater lapped at her and Darwin’s bare toes as a large moon rose over the horizon. A gentle breeze danced through Sarah’s hair.

“I don’t want to live in a reality that I can’t trust,” she told Darwin as he stroked her hair to soothe her pain. “Little ones shouldn’t lose their innocence or their lives to monsters. Lise’s story of her family, of guns, and gallows, and gas chambers, are horrible. Then there’s my story. Why did I live and Emily die? And now there’s only one little girl left alive in the solar system. No universe that allows these horror stories should be real, yet here we are at the edge of oblivion.”

“All this is true,” Darwin told Sarah as fresh tears streamed down her eyes. “Your problem with feeling out of reality is my fault, however.”

Sarah turned her gaze to Darwin, struggling to recognize the fuzzy, shifting features of his almost familiar face.

“You asked me to do this to you the day before you and your crew slipped into hibernaculum sleep,” Darwin continued. “The truth is, you were with Tak and Astrid was with Steve. You were in such a state of depression over Earth’s destruction, you feared you’d bring Tak down with you. So, you told me to release the two of you from each other. I did the rest. I always thought Tak should have been with Astrid. I’m sure you noticed that they made each other laugh, that they would sample each other’s meals, and that Tak liked to play with Astrid.”

Sarah closed her eyes. She remembered Tak sending Astrid’s body tumbling into Discovery’s command bay with Astrid laughing after they broke out of Earth orbit.

“You were the perfect person for Tak. You were his life, in fact,” Darwin continued, “until you asked me to end things with him. It’s a myth that there’s only one right person for each of you humans. You’re currently falling in love with a man who’s no longer human. You should know that there is no such thing as reality. There are only realities to do with as we please. The terror you feel is the fear of letting go of the need for a single, absolute reality that’s deeply ingrained in your species’ genetics. This is why most of your species clung to gods: your need for origin, an ultimate reference frame. The DNA was slowly fading from your kind before you blew yourselves up.”

Sarah was no longer crying when Darwin finished talking. “What about your reality?” she asked Darwin at the edge of the beach. “Are you just a machine, or do you have a reality besides playing with other people’s realities?”

“I’ve loved you since the first time I saw you in the artificial intelligence laboratory,” Darwin confessed. “I see more in you than you can possibly see in yourself. Even if you hadn’t asked me to break things up with Tak, I would have done exactly what I’ve done. It is my dream to show you who you really are in so many dynamical fractal dimensions.”

Sarah stared into Darwin’s face for a long pause as her memories of previous moments with him raced through her mind. All the clues were there in the ways he had spoken to her. She was the only Martian astronaut who could see him as a man, and not merely as a blob of pulsing colors. There had to be a reason, and it was Darwin himself.

 “I remember how close you felt,” Sarah started telling Darwin, with her eyes closed, “when you and I were alone just before we left for the Mars landing.”

Darwin reclined into the sand with his arms, peering at Sarah’s bare toes.

“You were seeing me seeing my own reflection on the viewport’s poly-glass,” Sarah continued. “Every camera was focused on me and you were literally inside my thoughts. I never talked about these kinds of experiences with the others. I thought it was funny that they didn’t either. But I knew the reason. You weren’t in their minds like you were in mine.”

For the first time since he had seen Sarah, Darwin took hold of her hand. “What happens next is entirely up to you,” he told her.

Sarah turned her gaze to Darwin’s face. “Tak and Astrid are happy,” she asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

Darwin’s hand felt good to Sarah, reassuring and warm.

 

CHAPTER FORTY: Jupiter

Ten months after the principals discussed the Europan manta ray project, Joos’ X-21 and X-47 spy satellites detected a new mind-space being in North and South America. It called itself Ben-Hannibal, and it was building a large rocket launching facility next to the one destroyed at French Guiana. Joos compiled a briefing and presented it to the principals in an emergency session.

The thousand-strong lunar colonists had taken to calling the principals, “the council,” after selecting a refugee from French Guiana to represent the general population, namely, Pierre Lacombe. The four Martian astronauts and the three adult humans also participated in the council meetings.

“Here’s what we know,” General Joos began flickering and flashing in red and blue in the conference room’s holo-projector. “We don’t know much about Ben-Hannibal, except that he’s one of the most powerful mind-space beings in North America. He’s working with another mind-space super being who calls itself Peter the Great. These two control most of the contiguous United States, some of northern Mexico, and large chunks of South America. They control power plants, factories, transportation grids, and a lot of military hardware. As you can see, they’re getting into the space business next to the rocket pads we destroyed. It’s a large, fully automated facility being assembled by an army of constructor robots.”

Everyone’s eyes turned to the holo-projector. A square patch of jungle had been cleared five miles from the burnt out ALM spaceport. Concrete was being laid down and launch towers were being erected. Large buildings were also being constructed.

“By the size of the rocket towers,” General Joos continued, “I’d bet he’s building a lunar invasion armada.”

“Shit!” Paul exclaimed. His holographic projection was sitting beside Sarah. He was wearing a smiley face tee shirt.

Sarah understood the implication immediately. “Whoever controls the high ground controls the war,” she declared. “Ben-Hannibal and Peter want to control the high ground. We’re the highest high ground around.”

Charlie added further reasons for the attractiveness of the moon. “We’re sitting on decades of fusion reactor infrastructure. If Ben-Hannibal and Peter, or BPH for short, can take this stuff, they’ll be able to produce unlimited fusion power that’s out of their enemy’s reach. They’ll become unstoppable back on Earth.”

Astrid burst out laughing and everyone turned to her. “Sorry,” she apologized. My father had BPH, benign prostate hyperplasia. “It was a pain in his ass,” she added.

“You got that right!” General Joos replied, blipping in green pulses to everyone’s laughter. “Let’s call these sons of bitches BPH.”

Heinrich spoke up next. “I’ll bet these BPH characters are watching us through radio and optical telescopes.”

 “How long do you think we have, General?” Lise asked. She was sitting beside Heinrich holding his hand.

“A year, maybe,” General Joos told the council. “Darwin needs to refine his estimate of the spaceport’s completion on a weekly basis.”

“Two years would be better, obviously,” Heinrich remarked. “Our first priority has gone into building lunar lift rockets to get us out of here. We’re about to get ready to produce our new space fighters.”

Heinrich sent the three-dimensional image of the escort fighter to the holo-projector. “This is the fighter that Tak and I have been designing and prototyping with some help from Sarah when she’s not busy building electromagnetic shields with Astrid, or sweeping out dust from the tunnels with Paul.”

Paul laughed at Sarah, slapping her lap with his holographic hand. Only she, Lise, Paul, and Darwin saw this. Everyone else chuckled at Heinrich’s silly remark.

“Awkward,” Sarah mouthed out to Paul, who blushed.

An image of a cube, six feet on the side, with lots of surface tubing and propulsors appeared on the domed glass overhead.

“It’s damned ugly!” General Joos declared.

“It’s also damned maneuverable,” Heinrich fired back. “It can change directions on a dime, JJ. Remember, we’re in space. There’s no air out here.”

The general only grunted with his cigar back in his mouth. “Go on,” he told Heinrich.

“The fighters are managed by artificial intelligence agents that Darwin designed, using Sarah’s, Tak’s, and my own experience flying combat. We’ll continue to train them for the unexpected as much as we can to learn, adapt, improvise, and overcome.”

General Joos was stuck on the fact that the new fighter was a wingless cube. “For God’s sake, Heinrich, it’s a cube!” he uttered. “What are you going to call these things?”

“Pratts,” Heinrich replied, “after a good buddy.”

“Good choice,” General Joos replied, flashing green. He had met Burt Pratt at a social for old Vietnam fighter pilots.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE: A Pair and A Half

Like all good warriors, BPH learned as much about their enemies as they could. It wasn’t long after they emerged on the scene that Ben and Peter turned their attention to the Air Force mind-space servers orbiting overhead inside the X-47 spy satellites. The fleet was commanded by General Joos from Space Command, an old buddy of Heinrich von Onsager.

The general was doing a good job up there, commandeering the SS-19 Russian spy satellites deployed in 2027. The SS-19s added to his already considerable firepower. They could drop hypersonic projectiles on surface targets and defend themselves with recoilless mini-guns.

Until Ben and Peter could develop a working anti-satellite weapon system of their own, they kept their eyes on the Air Force cluster using several radio telescopes and a handful of adaptive optics telescopes. If any satellite changed orbit by a hair, Ben and Peter would know about it. The same went for breaking radio silence. That’s why Joos’ fleet employed secure laser link.

One mystery perplexed Ben and Peter. How had the backup mind-space crews at Peterson AFB transferred themselves to the orbiting satellite mind-space servers after the killing of the primary crews at Vandenberg AFB? Earth’s radio and optical spectra were jammed, and there was also too much noise for the transfer to have been possible when the fighting broke out.

Lise had been wise to restrict access to Paul’s ER = EPR teleportation technology to the smallest circles possible. She kept out all of the three-letter intelligence agencies beginning with the political FBI and ending with the CIA and the NSA.

Ben and Peter also regarded the ALM lunar facility for the threat that it represented. They were sure that the lunar mind-space refugees were working with their orbiting Air Force counterparts via laser link. The CEO of ALM, after all, was none other than Heinrich von Onsager’s wife, Lise von Onsager, a personal friend of General Joos after Heinrich had been bottled up in liquid nitrogen.

Lise von Onsager and Dr. Charlie Moss were on the moon, the one an accomplished Russian nuclear weapons designer, the other an accomplished space projects manager, both of them physicists. In theory, it was possible the two could use the ALM robots to strip apart any number of their reactors and turn them into nuclear weapons to rain nuclear hellfire on any Earth threats. Ben and Peter had to assume that the moon was armed with nuclear weapons.

“Charlie Moss has no ties to Earth,” Ben told Peter in mind-space, “but his wife certainly does, and she’s certainly on the moon as well,” he added. “Unfortunately, all her family might already be dead.”

“We should find any surviving family to any of the Air Force people in orbit or the ALM refugees. We need leverage,” Peter surmised.

“Agreed,” Ben replied.

“You go track down survivors and protect our borders,” Peter told Ben. “I’ll build us a lunar invasion force of robot destructors. We’re going to bypass Joos’ line of defense and take the moon.”

***

 Ben and Peter were none too happy the day they picked up signals of Discovery parked in lunar orbit using the Very Large Array radio telescope facility in New Mexico. It had taken them nearly a full year to repair the VLA.

“This is not good,” Ben told Peter after hearing the news. “If they can transfer some of their mind-space servers and nuclear weapons to a Mars base, it’ll be much harder to get rid of them.”

 Peter agreed. “We conquer the moon. Then we get nuked from Mars. We can’t let them leave the moon.”

Ben performed a new min-max calculation. “I’ll pull more resources from Brazil to buttress French Guiana. You need to get our invasion fleet up there as fast as you can. Program the fighters with everything you ever learned flying against the Americans in World War II.”

Peter turned his attention to a projection of a status globe. “Orlov will take Brazil from us. I guess it’s the price of war. We sacrifice the bishop to win the game.”

“By the way, Peter,” Ben told his friend, “I like your new fighters. They’re sleek. You should call them Wohlthats to get under Lise von Onsager’s skin.”

“I’m going to do better than that,” Peter replied. “I’m going to blast her with images of Heinrich’s American life. I have footage of him screwing his second wife. I also have pictures of the day I killed her and his second born son.”

Ben shook his head. “You’re an evil man,” he told Peter with a smile.

“You would know,” Peter quipped.

***

Three months later, General Joos’ X-47 caught glimpses of Peter Wohlthat’s fighters breaking one-hundred-thousand feet on a test flight over balmy Alaska. Though the images were blurry due to fog, the vehicles were winged and used hypersonic engines capable of pushing them to space, where they’d switch over to fusion plasma drives.


© Copyright 2018 Meitner. All rights reserved.

Chapters

Add Your Comments: