War & Peace: Universe Volume III of III 2049…

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

Chapter 4 (v.1) - PART FOUR: INVASION

Submitted: December 18, 2017

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Submitted: December 18, 2017

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CHAPTER FORTY-TWO: A Star in a Box

There’s never enough time to prepare for an invasion. ALM’s two automated manta ray zygote rockets were barely three weeks into their multiyear trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa when Ben and Peter launched their armada against Earth’s moon with a fleet of two-hundred robot landers. Each lander carried one-hundred attack robots. Thirty-five-hundred trans-atmospheric fighters escorted the landers.

“We’re six days away from leaving the moon!” General Joos screamed out at Heinrich and Lise over a private laser link channel in bright red pulses. “Did someone tell BPH our schedule?”

Lise imagined JJ spitting out his cigar in a fury.

“No,” Heinrich replied from inside his Pratt simulator. In his mind, he was wearing his old Air Force flight suit inside the cockpit of an F-100 Super Saber. There weren’t any open spaces inside the simulator or the real Pratt fighters bigger than a fist.

“We’ve been caught with our pants down,” General Joos declared. “BPH launched everything they have at us. You have three days before they get to you if you launch now,” Joos added.

Joos sent Heinrich and Lise a long-range radar image of the invasion fleet. There were so many attackers they looked like a cloud. “The sons of bitches left Earth on polar trajectories leaving us only twenty seconds to fire,” Joos added. “We knocked out three-hundreds of them.”

Heinrich immediately relayed Joos’ information to the other principals.

Lise’s first question was to Charlie as her light brown mind-space hair turned a darker shade of brown. “How many of our mind-space people have we loaded onto our rockets?” she asked him.

A look of concern swept across Charlie’s face as he looked at Joos’ radar data. “About a quarter,” he replied. He was overlooking the slow mind-space server transfer process between the geodesic glass dome and the launch pads over rail lines. A dozen gold foil covered mind-space servers were being hauled to launch pads two, three, and nine. “At the rate we’re going,” he told Lise, “not all of us are getting off the moon before the attackers get here.”

Lise’s second question was to her husband as her mind-space hair turned black while her eyes began to glow. “I’m counting more than three-thousand attackers in JJ’s radar image. Can you hold them off, Heinrich?”

Heinrich replied by shaking his head no as Lise’s mind-space lips turned dark purple. “We can slow them down, but we’ve only built two-hundred Pratts so far. We can’t hold that many off. They’ll simply go around us.”

“What about the Air Force crews in Earth orbit, Heinrich?” was Lise’s last question as her black business suit turned blacker yet, losing all discernible features. “We can’t leave them behind,” she told her husband.

Joos responded to Lise’s question in bright blue and red flashes. “We’ve been left alone by the Earth fighters for the moment,” he told her. “They can always get us at their leisure,” he added in disgust. “We’re stuck in predictable orbits, fat, dumb, and not so happy.”

Lise peered into Heinrich’s eyes with her eyes set afire as Joos dropped another bomb. “We have high confidence from a radio burst to the attack fleet that BPH is in Washington D. C.,” he informed his lunar friends, giving everyone, except Lise, pause. “BPH is probably in the CIA’s nuclear weapons proof bunker.”

Heinrich had no problem reading the determination in his wife’s burning expression. “Let’s figure out a way to get our Air Force people out,” he told Paul as Pierre Lacombe materialized by Lise’s side. He was taken aback by Lise’s stunning other worldly appearance.

“What do I tell the Cryonics Life humans and the mind-space server people?” Pierre asked Lise.

“Tell them that we’re doing our best, and to be ready to move quickly,” Lise replied, leaving her friend with nothing more.

“Tell them to keep their chins up,” Heinrich added as Pierre Lacombe dematerialized.

 “What about Discovery?” Lise asked Paul as she took control of her ALM robot.

“Tak has her engines warmed up,” Paul replied. “Discovery is ready to go. What about you, Lise?”

“I’m headed to the nuclear weapons storage bay,” she replied.

Paul swallowed hard.

When Lise’s ALM robot body rolled into the stockpile chamber with two-hundred glistening thermonuclear warheads, Lise’s hair had turned pitch black in mind-space. Three gigantic bombs stood out in stark relief against the cone-shaped warheads. Lise had built these beasts on the moon using cannibalized parts from one of the fission reactors and one of the fusion reactors, with plutonium pulled from several hybrid neutronics RTGs.

The three beasts weighed twenty-seven tons apiece, measuring twenty-five feet in length and more than six feet in diameter. They were copies of Tsar Bomba, painted black, set to their full design capacity of one-hundred megatons.

Lise’s petite mind-space body paced the length of the nearest Tsar Bomba, dragging her long black nails along its three-stage body. She could see the innards in her mind layered in nuclear physics equations. First came the primary igniter, gently humming to the Gamow equation. Then came the secondary condenser, all quiet, the way Lise’s heart had felt when she first grasped the Bose-Rosseland opacity equation. Last came the fusion cavity, ice cold, its physics described by the Bethe–Weizsäcker-Meitner equation.

“Black Beauty,” Lise whispered. “A star in a box.”

She smiled when her glowing eyes stumbled upon the words that Paul had scribbled in chalk. From Russia with Love.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE: Lady Killer

When the BPH attack fleet passed the three-quarters point, Heinrich ordered the moon’s long range defensive missiles to be launched in a simultaneous barrage. Building these missiles had been another one of his projects. Two of them were nuclear tipped thanks to Lise. The rest were standard anti-aircraft missiles programmed to act like shepherd dogs for herding the attackers into clusters.

Long range sensors aboard the Earth fighters detected the two radioactive missiles. The nuclear-tipped missiles were destroyed by two BPH fighters who sacrificed themselves while the others kept their distance.

“What’s the good news?” Heinrich asked after his mind-space was uploaded into his personal Pratt, Pratt one. The Pratts were numbered from one to two-hundred.

“The conventional missiles destroyed twenty of them, but two of the bastards smashed into our nuke missiles. Only twenty-two of them are gone,” General Joos replied in red bursts of pained disgust.

Heinrich felt a pit in his mind-space stomach. “The Pratts and I aren’t going to be able to stop the landers from landing,” he told his old friend before he radioed Charlie. “How many of our thousand people are loaded onto their rockets?”

Charlie checked the launching pads. They were abuzz with ALM dock worker robots scurrying about with mind-space servers on carts. Two of the robots were dragging a mind-space server that had fallen off one of the railcars. “About half now, Heinrich. Our robots are working as fast as they can.”

“That’s not good enough,” General Joos declared. “You have five hours, unless the attackers accelerate.”

Sarah walked into the fighter bay beside Heinrich’s Pratt. She was in her pressure suit with a nine mm sidearm holstered to her hip.

“Huh?” Heinrich uttered at Sarah. “You should be aboard Discovery,” he chastised her through her neural net implant.

“I’m coming with you,” Sarah replied, chewing gum. She tucked her hair inside the collar of her pressure suit looking all business.

“The hell you are!” Heinrich spat out. He used his mind-space emitter to take control of an old ALM robot. It wheeled itself over to Sarah with outstretched arms to impede her from getting to her modified Prat, Pratt ninety-nine. It sported a cockpit where a mind-space server or quantum super computer would normally go.

“You didn’t have a problem with me flying before,” Sarah protested, casting a venomous expression at the refrigerator-sized robot.

“Move it!” she yelled at Heinrich, hoping it wasn’t Paul inside the robot.

“No!” Heinrich fired back.

That was that for Sarah. She whipped out her gun and blasted five holes into the hapless machine to Heinrich’s consternation. The robot sputtered and shook before falling over backwards leaking hydraulic fluid from its smoking bullet holes. She kicked its flailing arms aside before making her way over to her cube fighter. “Any questions?” she asked Heinrich.

“Nope,” Heinrich replied, still taken aback by Sarah’s brazen act.  

Paul projected himself in front of Sarah’s cube fighter. “Go to Discovery,” he told her. “There are only eight of you humans left, and you are precious.”

Sarah ignited her plasma pulse engines without a hint of hesitation. “Take care of my crew,” she told her mind-space lover. “That goes for you too, Tak,” she radioed to Discovery. “Take care of Steve and Astrid and our refugees.”

“Will do,” Tak replied from the bridge of Discovery. Her giant nuclear impulse engines were running smooth and steady.

Heinrich gave Lise a virtual embrace and a little kiss on the tip of her nose before launching himself and his Pratt fighters out into space through the geodesic glass dome’s freight bay. Lise returned his kiss looking her normal, beautiful self.

Sarah formed up on Heinrich a minute later. Somewhere ahead of them, thirty-two-hundred Earth fighters were bearing down.

“Let’s get them!” Heinrich exclaimed.

“Yes sir!” the autonomous Pratts shouted back.

“I’ll get more of ’em, boys,” Sarah challenged them with a wink of her eye at Heinrich.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR: Hairball

Three hours later, Heinrich, Sarah, and the other Pratts got into a hairball of railgun fire with the leading edge of the BPH fighters.

“I’m glad to learn that you’ve been resurrected,” the lead Earth fighter blurted out over radio to Heinrich in a strangely familiar German voice. “I and my fleet of Wohlthat fighters are going to kill you, you son of a bitch!”

Heinrich was confused.

“You let me rot in a gulag for ten years, my friend. I killed your second wife and your second born son for it. Alas, it’s your turn to die, Heinrich! I’m saving Lise for last.”

“Peter?” Heinrich called out, even more confused. “You killed my family?”

Peter’s reply came back in the form of thousands of sinister laughs as the Wohlthat fighters began transmitting dozens of old KGB surveillance photographs towards the moon. The first was a picture of the von Onsager Los Angeles household. Heinrich’s two boys were sitting inside the family car. Donna was loading the trunk with an icebox. The next picture showed Heinrich helping Donna arrange the trunk. It was followed by a picture of Heinrich kissing Donna’s neck. The next series of photographs were of Donna’s and Karl’s funeral taken from a telephoto lens. The final photograph was of Peter looking older, smiling, holding a sniper’s rifle back in his office with a picture of Karl’s decapitated head in his hand.  

Everyone on the moon also received these pictures as Heinrich flew on, transfixed. Sarah didn’t understand Peter’s or Heinrich’s German words.

“I thought you were dead, Peter,” Heinrich shot back.

“Which one of us is dead?” one of the Earth fighters called out in a mocking voice. “We are all Peter Wohlthat!” The thirty-two-hundred fighters started laughing at Heinrich again.

A string of explosions to Heinrich’s left snapped him out of his shocked state. One Wohlthat was right on top of him and another one was just off his left side. They had him dead to rights.

“Stay focused, husband,” Lise radioed to Heinrich.

Something else beside his wife’s words caught Heinrich’s attention. A Pratt fighter was barreling down towards him at full thrust on a head-on collision course. “Break right!” Sarah yelled at him. It was Sarah charging in with railguns blazing. The bullets just missed Heinrich’s ship, tearing into the Wohlthat above him. It disintegrated into a shower of glowing, molten fragments.

Sara broke right and flamed the second Wohlthat that had just started firing at Heinrich. It went tumbling away, dead, as she whipped by Heinrich’s ship, breaking to his left not a yard apart.

“I’ll be damned!” Heinrich let out, gathering his bearings. “Pratt two and seven, form up on me. Let’s go for the group of six guarding that pair of lunar invasion rockets. Thank you, Sarah! You’re insane.”

“Thank me later,” Sarah replied, heading for another cluster of Wohlthats while working on her chewing gum.

Railgun fire poured out of Heinrich’s fighter and his escort Pratts. The Wohlthat fighters returned fire in kind.

When Heinrich grazed by one of the Wohlthats, he noticed it looked more like an ordinary atmospheric fighter than Joos’ fuzzy spy satellite pictures had led him to believe. It meant that these sleek, delta winged trans-atmospheric fighters were more poorly designed than he had hoped. His own fleet of neural net driven Pratts weren’t pleasing to the eye, but they were optimized to fight in space and change direction on a dime, armed with lethal protuberances sticking out from every side.

As Heinrich predicted, the majority of the Wohlthats changed course and bypassed his angry Pratts. “We’re holding about three-hundred Earth fighters back,” Heinrich reported to the moon. “We’ve destroyed twenty-four of them so far, but we’ve lost three of our own. We can’t catch the thousands that slipped by us. Arm the ground-based lasers, Charlie!”

“Already done,” Charlie radioed back.

“Get plan Alpha readied,” Heinrich added. “We’re going to need it.”

A mortally wounded Pratt slammed its dying body into one of BPH’s lunar invader rockets, making for a spectacular flash of sparks and light as a hundred lander robot soldiers were shot out tumbling and flailing into space.

 “Roger that,” Charlie replied.

“You have an hour left,” Heinrich estimated, “before the leading invasion landers get there with their Wohlthat escorts. Make sure Lise is off the moon before this happens. We’re heading back as fast as we can.”

 “When we get over our launching pads,” Heinrich told Sarah and his Pratts, “we have to protect the remaining mind-space rockets as they blast off, or they’ll get cut to pieces.”

“Understood,” Sarah replied, lowering her sun visor against the brightness of the moon.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE: Pearl Harbor

It was Pearl Harbor all over again on the moon when the Wohlthat fighters and BPH invasion landers arrived. Most of the defensive lunar laser batteries were knocked out by Wohlthats without much effect on the attackers.

Two-hundred lunar mind-space inhabitants were still trying to blast off and escape as Heinrich, Sarah, and the remaining Pratts were cut off from helping them. Within seconds, the airwaves filled with shouts of panic as the launching facilities came under attack.

“We’re hit!” one mind-space entity screamed out just before the lunar lift rocket that was carrying him exploded into a huge ball of plasma flame and light. The explosion was a horrifying sight for Heinrich and Sarah to behold from high above as they fought their way through thickets of Wohlthats trying to get down to the launching pads.

Fifty souls were gone in a flash.

Nine more of the smaller mind-space rockets got off the lunar surface before the first BPH landers began occupying the pads. The Wohlthats mowed down the mind-space rockets before they got very high. The remains of their carcasses rained down on the lunar surface several miles downfield from the launching pads while the remaining unloaded rockets were destroyed. The surviving mind-space stragglers hiding below the surface were trapped.

The BPH lunar invasion robot soldiers were ugly, tall, and ungainly. They sported three tentacled arms for grappling, as well as tactical missile and railgun batteries. As soon as they stepped off their transports, they began attacking the ground defenses, kicking up lunar dust as they ran.

The stragglers beneath the geodesic glass dome linked their mind-spaces with ALM robots and put up stiff resistance, engaging enemy forces in pitched battles all over the ALM facilities.

First generation ALM machines were hardened, hydraulic brutes the size of refrigerators built to assemble nuclear reactors. They’d stampede from place to place flattening the flimsier BPH robots and hacking apart the invasion landers with their hydraulic pincers.

Second generation ALM robots weren’t as hardy, but were faster and far more agile. These models would work in teams to topple the attacker ships onto to their sides, then snare off the tentacles of the BPH robot soldiers.

A half dozen custom ALM robots designed to do deep mine coring packed extremely powerful excimer lasers. Direct hits by one of these robots—after the attendant fireworks—would leave behind smoldering lumps of molten metal. The first wave of BPH landers fared poorly.

The next round of BPH landers changed tactics, calling in “air” support. Each time the ALM robots tried moving over open ground, they were mowed down from above. The BPH invasion robots quickly turned the tide against the ALM defenders.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX: Sacrifice

“We’ve got eight-hundred souls aloft, Heinrich, and Lise is safe,” Paul called out over encrypted radio.

Sixty miles above the moon, Paul and the remainder of the escapees were treated to a view of hell on the moon from Heinrich’s Pratt: flashes of explosions, rising dust columns, flattened buildings and crushed lunar lifters. What had been their home laid in blackened ruins.

“Heinrich,” Sarah interrupted, “Half the Wohlthats have broken off from the surface and are climbing towards the fleet. We need to break off from the ground fight and escort the fleet before they get chewed up. It’s over for the ones on the moon.”

 “Tak!” Heinrich radioed Discovery, “go to full impulse power. We’re coming to join you.”

The Pratts, not hindered by the inertia of heavy wings, out climbed the Wohlthats. They broke off from the lunar surface leaving the pursuing Wohlthats in the dust.

Seeing the Pratts abandoning them was a blow to the ALM survivors who were fighting for their lives from the underground complex.

“Jana is beside herself,” Lise radioed Heinrich, holding onto Jana’s frightened, knotted standing wave resonance. She was too distraught to project herself as a woman. “Charlie and a lot of other people are still down there!”

A minute later, Charlie’s voice broke through the static. “Heinrich, I’m executing Alpha.”

Heinrich turned rebel after hearing these words. “Sarah,” he called out. “I’m going to take twenty Pratts to the moon and see what I can do to save our people. Go to the fleet! Charlie, hold off on Alpha!”

“You can’t do that, Heinrich!” Lise fired back over the radio. “You’ll get killed.”

Heinrich ignored his wife as he directed his twenty Pratts back to the moon, diving down to the battle raging below. As he and his twenty Pratts closed within two miles of the lunar surface, a cloud of Wohlthats started pursuing them. Heinrich estimated as many as a hundred of them.

He threw in full power and pressed on towards the center of the cloud of Wohlthats charging at him. He had done this before over hundred years before. In his mind, the Wohlthats were big, fat, enemy bombers flying ahead of him just like in World War II.

The distance between the Pratts and the Wohlthats closed quickly at full power with his fighter accelerating into the moon’s gravity well. “Okay Pratts,” he radioed his twenty companions, “let ’em have it.”

A stream of railgun fire blasted towards the approaching Wohlthats cutting a big hole through their center.

“Dive!” Heinrich ordered his Pratts, “and keep firing at the bastards.”

The Wohlthat formation split in two, scattering the ones at the edges under the withering Pratt barrage.

When Heinrich looked down at the launching bays, disappointment struck him hard. The main pad was crawling with BPH invasion robots. He dove for them but a swarm of Wohlthats cut off him and his escorts.

Ten Pratts went up in blue plasma fire. Two more tumbled to the lunar surface, shattering into fragments. Another exploded on impact, and yet another tumbled along the lunar surface for a mile kicking up dust before it stopped rolling over, dead.

“Are you still there, Charlie?” Heinrich called out.

The radio crackled. Garbled words came through. “Charlie! Are you there?” Heinrich repeated.

Charlie finally got through the jamming. “Heinrich, we’re holding off the attackers, but there are too many of them. How’s it looking topside? Any better?”

“No, Charlie. It’s bad,” Heinrich admitted.

There was a small pause before Heinrich radioed again. “Charlie, I’m going to take my remaining Pratts and lead them to you. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Charlie replied over encrypted radio. He didn’t have anything more to say as he looked at the sensor scans. A hairball of embattled fighters was heading his way.

Heinrich rolled his cube fighter back towards the launching pads, determined to get to them even if it cost him his life. The remaining Pratts, six of them, formed up and followed Heinrich as he kicked his fighter to full power.

Once again, a large swarm of Wohlthat fighters came at the Pratts from all sides.

“Open fire on the launching pads,” Heinrich ordered his remaining Pratts a half-mile from the first launching pad. His voice was calm and determined.

Several BPH invasion robots were shattered by the incoming fire from above. They returned missile fire, knocking out two more Pratts.

Heinrich passed right over the first launching pad and pointed his cube fighter straight up. “Now, Charlie!” he yelled out over the radio.

Charlie understood as he saw the three remaining Pratts reverse direction. The more massive Wohlthats, still descending, flew right past the Pratts heading in the opposite direction, down towards the launching pads.

When the Wohlthats finally managed to turn themselves around directly over the crater housing the geodesic glass dome, they were only a quarter of a mile over the lunar surface. They were just over Charlie’s refrigerator-sized ALM robot who stood looking up at them through the glass dome panels with his camera eyes.

The mind-space survivors on the moon, whittled down to fifty, closed their mind-space eyes. A second later, a blast wave of neutrons and gamma radiation ripped Heinrich’s lunar facility to smithereens, tearing a hole into the moon two-thousand-five-hundred feet deep and more than a mile wide. The blast from Tsar Bomba II was powerful beyond imagination. It instantly vaporized more than three-hundred Wohlthat fighters.

Another ninety, further out, lost their control systems when the electromagnetic pulse fried their guidance computers. These crippled Wohlthats crashed onto the moon hours later or drifted into space.

The EMP hardened Pratts and the bigger mind-space rockets—built to withstand cosmic rays, solar storms, and electromagnetic impulses for the long journey to Europa—remained unscathed.

“I had hoped not to use Alpha,” Heinrich radioed Lise and the refugee fleet.

“I know, Heinrich,” Lise replied, embracing Jana’s trembling resonance in mind-space.

General Joos broke in. “Every one of you agreed that if you didn’t make it off the moon, you’d buy the others time with plan Alpha. Plan Alpha killed nearly five-hundred enemy fighters.”

Knowing this didn’t make it any easier to accept as Heinrich switched over to laser communication to Lise’s mind-space cargo ship. “How many of our nuclear bombs did we manage to get off the ground?” he asked her.

“Almost none of them,” Lise replied. “We were loading people first. The rest fell into enemy hands, but Charlie took care of this.”

We’re screwed, Heinrich thought as he approached the refugee fleet with two other Pratts. “I’ll be with you soon,” he told Lise as a stream of hyper velocity metal whizzed by him, startling him.

Discovery was firing her massive forward space railgun at the leading edge Wohlthats, eviscerating dozens of them in puffs of light.

“You’re headed in the wrong direction, Discovery,” Heinrich called out as the massive ship hit the brakes, so to speak, with its navigational thrusters turning her sideways to port, revealing all the bristling mini-railguns that Tak had mounted along her truss structure.

“No worries,” Tak radioed back. “I’m just taking Discovery out for a spin,” he explained as Discovery flew past Heinrich and his surviving Pratts heading in the opposite direction. Discovery opened up with a broadside barrage of lethal, high velocity metal pellets when she was nearly halfway through her yaw maneuver, damaging and destroying dozens of additional Wohlthats.

That’s when Heinrich noticed Sarah’s Pratt buzzing over Discovery’s nuclear impulse engines and navigational propulsors. All of Discovery’s thrusters and engines were running at full max turning the ship back towards Jupiter.

She’s flying escort! Heinrich realized, never imagining that he’d ever see a sight like the one happening before his eyes. P-51s escorting B-17s in WW II was a sobering sight for German fighter pilots. A cube fighter escorting a massive interplanetary vessel armed with railguns was another thing altogether.

Discovery took another ten seconds to right herself as more Wohlthats joined the fight a few miles behind her with the smoldering moon as a background. She let out one more volley of hyper velocity railgun fire from her aft railgun powered by her fusion plasma drives. Discovery erased another twenty pursuers in puffs of white light.

Damn!” Sarah told Tak, watching the fireworks. The sight triggered memories of her and Tak flying F-22 Raptors over North Korea killing Chinese built fighters. “I’m coming into the pod bay up front,” she informed Tak as she flew her cube fighter over Discovery’s long truss, up and over her spinning superstructure.

“Roger that,” Tak replied, smooth as ever, smiling. “I’ll turn on the lights and open the door for you.”

 

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN: Maleficent Fireball

Heinrich felt a sense of relief after decompressing his mind back into its larger spintronic mind-space server aboard the mindspace cargo ship. The smaller mind-space server aboard his Pratt made him feel claustrophobic.

“How’s Jana?” he asked Lise who was once again projecting herself in a pitch-black dress with black nails, black lips, and black hair, with glowing eyes, taking Heinrich aback. He had never seen his petite wife looking this way before, scary yet intriguing.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman,” Lise reassured him. Her heart was enraged that Jana had lost Charlie. “She’s in a state of shock, Heinrich. You need to go to her.”

Lise read her husband’s thoughts as he morphed into his explorer’s apparition. Heinrich had done this once before back in New York, consoling the loss of Jana’s friends and coworkers—including his own son, Douglas—to Islamist terrorists. Now Jana had lost her husband. Charlie had sacrificed himself to save humanity’s final few children.

“I’ll go to her soon,” he replied, marveling at Lise’s macabre representation. “Let me take stock of the fleet’s situation. Good luck with Joos and his people,” Heinrich told his wife.

Lise turned her attention to the Air Force satellites focusing on all the data streams flowing from their sensors. She readied herself for the next battle. “What’s your status, General Joos?” she called out over laser link.

General Joos projected the appropriate data to Lise. “We’re still here, and all is quiet on the western front, but not for long.”

“I have the first satellite locked,” a Pratt fighter called out to General Joos.

Pratt one-zero-four was leading the Air Force satellite rescue mission. “The grapple lock is good,” the autonomous fighter declared a moment later.

“Good,” General Joos replied. “Take it and get the hell out of here.”

Lise’s rescue plan was off to a good start, he thought, as the first of the X-47 spy satellites was pulled away to safety. There were many more to go.

“Sir, this is Pratt one-zero-niner, I have a bogey inbound for satellite number three currently flying over the Indian Ocean. My sensors indicate it is a thermonuclear missile...  Confirmed. Thermonuclear.”

Before General Joos could react to Pratt one-zero-niner, he received a message from Pratt two-one.

“Sir, this is Pratt two-one, I have a bogey inbound for satellite number four currently flying over the Pacific. My sensors indicate it is a thermonuclear missile. Confirmed.”

General Joos cleared his virtual throat. “Pratts one-zero-niner and two-one, can you intercept the missiles and destroy them outside their kill radius?”

“Sir, Pratt one-zero-niner can comply,” the first cube fighter declared.

“Sir, Pratt two-one is too far to comply,” the second cube fighter replied.

Damn it!” General Joos cursed, biting his smoldering cigar in two. “Satellite four, how much charge do you have?”

“None sir,” the satellite commander replied.

“I can’t get a fighter to intercept the inbound missile. Pratt two-one is out of range. Do you have enough stored energy to discharge your laser?” General Joos pursued.

“Roger sir, we have enough for one shot in Earth’s shadow. We’ll make it count.”

The situation for satellite four looked bleak as the seconds ticked by. It’s commander, a full bird colonel who had flown ancient F-16s as a junior officer, had one shot to destroy a thermonuclear missile careening towards him at tens of thousands of miles per hour, and do so outside the warhead’s kill radius.

General Joos could do little more than listen to his harried satellite commander count down the seconds. When the count reached two, the general held his mind-space breath.

“Fire!” the colonel ordered.

Clenching his cigar tightly in his teeth, Joos saw the bolt of laser light leave satellite four at the edge of Earth’s horizon. He heard the colonel scream. “We got the bastard!”

General Joos exhaled a deep sigh of relief. “Hot damn! Good going Lee!” Joos told his satellite commander. “Pratt two-one where are you?”

“Sir, Pratt two-one is inbound for a grappling pass to satellite four. Contact in two minutes,” the armed cube fighter called out.

“You do that damn it!” General Joos barked out at Pratt two-one.

“Pratt one-zero-niner, what’s your status?”

“Sir, Pratt one-zero-niner will engage bogey in two seconds.”

Joos saw a flash of light along the western edge of the sky as the second missile was destroyed by railgun fire. Ben and Peter didn’t launch any more missiles. Apparently, they were too easy to destroy. They were also too costly to waste.

The two mind-space spies promised themselves that after completing their second fighter armada, they’d keep a force of reserve fighter forces behind from then on. As large as their mind-space brains were, they had committed the error of inexperienced commanders.

The two men had thrown everything into the fight, just like the two Roman consuls had done at the Battle of Cannae against Hannibal. The price they paid for their mistake was to watch two-dozen Pratts grapple and pull away all twenty-five of the Air Force X-47s with the help of six heavy lift ALM rockets that had been snuck through Earth’s debris fields like Hannibal’s elephants over the Alps.

As the last X-47 was pulled away, Ben and Peter received a compressed visual transmission from General Joos. “Hey assholes,” Joos uttered at them, “this is General Joos, fuck you!” he told them, flipping them off.

“My turn,” Ben and Peter then heard Lise’s voice.

Most of the nuclear weapons on the moon had been destroyed by Tsar Bomba II, but not all of them had been on the moon. A three-megaton, one-hundred-million-degree fireball lit up French Guiana. Another three-megaton fireball lit up the ALM facility in Galveston. Three more lit up CIA headquarters just as Benjamin Euler fled to a server farm in North Korea. The successive blasts removed the dirt and concrete sitting over the nuclear weapons proof CIA bunker.

Exposed, Peter Wohlthat started transferring his mind-space to a server farm in Minsk when Tsar Bomba III struck D.C. atop the exposed CIA bunker. The detonation created a magnitude 9.81 earthquake centered atop the CIA’s underground bunker. The facility was nuclear weapons proof, not Tsar Bomba proof. Peter vanished in a five-hundred-million-degree blast of x-rays and gamma rays.

“Note to self,” Heinrich thought watching the D.C. metro area turned into a fifteen-mile-wide crater through Darwin’s telescopic feeds. “Don’t piss off the wife.”

Twenty minutes later, the gilded head of President Donald J. Trump’s statue came crashing down into a cow manure pasture in Muskogee, Oklahoma while a disturbed Ben-Hannibal came to mind-space life inside Kim Dong-Mogo’s imperial palace.

No longer under General Joos’ control, the Union’s Skynet system fired off all remaining land-based missiles at Russia and China. China and Russia fired back. A half hour later, all superficial life on Earth had either been killed by nuclear blasts or was dying from the radioactive fallout that would continue raining upon the surface for centuries to come.

Life on Earth as people had known it was over.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT: Gloop Loops and Floop Loops

Jana was catatonic when Heinrich reached her. She was wearing the same black blazer business suit that she had worn the day that Heinrich found her in New York City after the 9/11 attacks.

“I saw the plane hit the tower with my own eyes,” she told Heinrich when he placed his weathered hand on her shoulder and peered into her devastated eyes. “I saw it,” she repeated as the images in her mind of the killing of Heinrich’s firstborn son spilled over into Heinrich’s mind. As Heinrich let Jana speak on, his mind-space face turned chiseled with age lines.

“Do you know what uploading has done for me?” she asked Heinrich, rhetorically. “It’s let me reconstruct 9/11 in near perfect detail, with all the forensic details and documentaries and simulations and family histories that I’ve ever watched added in. You know what kept this stuff out of my head?”

“Charlie,” Heinrich answered softly, tucking Jana into his arms.

“I’m going to spend the rest of eternity reliving every moment that I spent with him in perfect detail,” Jana uttered with quivering lips and tearful eyes, “but it’ll never be enough.”

Heinrich didn’t speak a word. He understood Jana better than any other living being could have. Donna, Karl, and Douglas were always in his mind and in his heart. Creating hollow, three-dimensional reconstructions of them in his mind-space server would always leave his heart numb.

He kissed Jana’s forehead before taking leave of her to join Lise.

Lise was monitoring the approaching rockets dragging the Air Force X-47 satellites under fighter escort when Heinrich returned to her mind-space presence. He was happy to see her as her young self again, in black executive garb taking charge of the situation.

“Can we open up a gap between us and our pursuers, Darwin?” Lise asked the living machine over mind-space link through the new quantum computer interface that Paul had installed in Darwin’s brain.

The upgrade was much appreciated by Darwin, significantly speeding up communication with the spintronic processors of human mind-space beings.

“Yes,” Darwin replied. “But I suggest only by as much as we need to. We need to conserve fuel. We can’t be burning too much of it if we want to be able to execute evasive maneuvers and fire our railguns once we get to Europa.”

Static filled the space between Lise’s command rocket and Discovery for a microsecond as Heinrich listened on. “By the way, Lise, where is HAL?” Darwin asked, noting that HAL’s electronic signature was gone.

“Am I your brother’s keeper?” Lise quipped, turning to the sight of Heinrich’s beard-stubble face. He was young again, wearing his explorer’s khaki outfit.

“Evidently not,” Darwin retorted.

“I absorbed his quantum processors into my mind-space server,” Lise admitted. “I’m still not as fast or as powerful as you are, but I’m fast enough to trigger the explosives that Tak put in the command bay by your core processors before you can do anything about it,” Lise warned Darwin. “I can destroy you if I need to.”

“I see,” Darwin responded. “You think you’ve trapped me.”

“I most certainly have, my old friend, and you’re going to put things right with Astrid and Steve and Sarah and Tak.”

Darwin took a moment to think things over. “It won’t be as simple as you think,” he told Lise. “Sarah is free now. She knows the truth of things. The future of her life is in her own hands.”

Darwin sent Lise a copy of his interactions with Sarah. “You’ll understand what I’m talking about soon enough,” he concluded.

***

 “If they launch missiles at us,” Heinrich asked Darwin on a different processor thread, “We can destroy them with our pulse lasers, right?”

“Certainly,” Darwin responded. “Conversely, if we fire missiles at them, the Wohlthats will move out of the way.”

“This situation will go on until we reach Europa years from now,” General Joos lamented over laser link. He was getting ready to transfer his flag server from his X-47 to Lise’s flag ship.

“This is unacceptable,” Heinrich broke in, studying the cloud of trailing Wohlthats two-hundred miles behind the ALM fleet. “We have to figure out ways to slow down the Wohlthats.”

“I couldn’t agree with you more,” General Joos said as he materialized in Lise’s command ship. “How many nuclear weapons do we have?” he asked Heinrich.

“Fourteen,” was Heinrich’s prompt reply.

 

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE: LGM

The trailing Wohlthats were in no rush. They had caught the lunar base off guard, capturing a handful of the lunar mind-space refugees before Tsar Bomba II destroyed the mining facility. As the months passed by, Heinrich grew increasingly agitated over the stalemate between the ALM refugee fleet and its dogged pursuers. It didn’t help that the Wohlthats never stopped taunting the refugee fleet with pictures of his dead wife and son.

***

Interrogated back on Earth, the hapless victims revealed everything they knew to Ben-Hannibal, including ER = EPR. How many nuclear warheads Lise had in her initial stockpile, and how many she had lost on the moon, however, was not something they knew. It was worrisome to him, but not necessarily catastrophic. That the refugees were heading to Jupiter’s moon Europa to seed its subterranean waters with mind-space manta-rays was brilliant, he thought.

With no physicists or libraries left on Earth, it would take him time to develop teleportation technology. Fighting off Orlov’s attacks from the north and Villa’s from the south without Pether Wohlthat’s help took priority.

***

“Filter out their transmissions,” Lise would tell Heinrich, stroking his hair in the small garden of their Augsburg home with Earth’s disk shrinking and Jupiter’s disk growing.

“I can’t get them out of my head,” Heinrich would reply until he took things into his hands one day. He led a raid against the leading Wohlthats, destroying four of them. “That’ll keep them guessing,” Heinrich told Lise when he returned. The success of his raid didn’t please her at all.

“It boosted everyone’s moral seeing the film from your gun cameras,” General Joos told Heinrich. “Seeing the Wohlthat’s exploding is awesome, but if they catch you, Heinrich, you put the whole fleet at risk.”

The Wohlthats reduced their exposure to raids by spreading themselves out into three staggered echelons.

***

A week after the raid, Lise updated Jana on the latest between Darwin and Discovery’s crew. She wanted a woman’s opinion, and a way to pull Jana back to life. “You can’t go on living in a barren mind-space ice field for the rest of eternity,” Lise told Jana. “You used to hate the cold in Heinrich’s cold storage camber.”

“The cold keeps me numb,” Jana explained. “I don’t want to feel anything without Charlie in my life.”

“Well I need your help,” Lise told her friend, taking a seat on a block of blue ice before a frozen arctic plane with no discernable horizon. “I have a situation with Discovery and her crew,” she began. “Take a look. I’m sending you everything that Darwin shared with me. Start with Sarah Nelson’s memories. I’ll come back tomorrow.”

Jana flew through the totality of Sarah’s life over a period of six hours. The young woman had suffered a horrible childhood tragedy, yet she had pressed on to become a warrior in fighter pilot’s garb. Then she found Tak, and with him, the ability to trust that life could be great. She became the first person to set foot on Mars. Then World War III broke out. Once again, Sarah’s world turned upside down with the death of her stepparents, her brother, his wife, and their child. Her nightmares grew so bad, she turned to Darwin, who was always in her head. The crazy artificial intelligence complied with Sarah’s request only too willingly, erasing Tak from her life and numbing her pain.

Sarah’s choice gave Jana pause. Sarah had stolen Steve’s and Astrid’s life, as well as Tak’s. That was cheating, Jana concluded with anger. She herself had fought back against the 9/11 terror attacks to make the world a better place. Jana’s anger, she eventually realized, was more directed at herself than at Sarah. With Charlie stolen from her life, she too had toyed with the idea of lobotomizing her memories. The loss of her family to a mind-space raid had hurt her deeply, but with Charlie’s love, she had been coming back to the world of the living. Now he too was gone.

The story of the love triangle between Darwin, Sarah, and Paul fascinated Jana. These three were taking the meaning of a love triangle to whole new levels. No wonder, she realized, Paul had had his mind-space server loaded aboard Discovery.

Lise returned and took a seat beside Jana twenty-four hours later as promised. It could have been a thousand hours for all Jana knew.

“It makes you wonder what reality is,” Jana remarked to Lise. “Tak and Astrid don’t have a clue what’s going on,” she added. “But they’re happy.”

“Very much,” Lise admitted. “I’m getting used to seeing them as a couple.”

“What’s going to happen to them?” Jana asked Lise.

“I don’t know. It depends on what Sarah decides. I’m pretty sure that she’s not going back to Tak. She’s too afraid of hurting him, and she thinks it’s wrong to break Astrid and Tak apart. But then again, I could be wrong. Darwin will do as she asks. I’m impressed with him.”

“She has a point,” Jana agreed. “What do you think of the love triangle between Darwin, Sarah, and Paul?”

“Sarah and Paul I understand,” Lise replied. “Darwin’s love for Sarah, on the other hand, is beyond me. But if you go over Sarah’s memories with Darwin, I can see how her feelings grew over time. He lives for her.”

“I guess we engineered more of our humanity into Darwin than we bargained for,” Jana supposed. “Seems everybody wants love.”

“It seems like life is happening,” Lise remarked. “It’s exploding. You and I began as humans. We replaced our brains. We uploaded into mind-space. Sarah’s brain has a neural net implant. Darwin is a pure artificial intelligence. What do you think will happen if she chooses Paul or Darwin?”

Jana laughed. “We’ll get some weird babies either way.”

***

The stalemate between the ALM refugee fleet and pursuing Wohlthats promised more boring tension as the second year rolled in. Paul Fritz made a discovery that changed everything. Using Discovery’s forward scanner, he picked up a bonafide alien signal. “It’s coming from Noether’s star, one of NASA’s first true Dyson sphere candidates,” he told his fellow ALM principals. “It almost repeats itself, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, so it’s not a pulsar.”

Lise realized that the time deltas were fractal in pi dimensions over a span of two months of listening and analyzing. Darwin found even deeper patterns in higher dimensions of fractional space.

“We’re not alone,” he concluded, suddenly feeling humbled for the first time in his existence. The thought of intelligent life being confirmed among the stars made Sarah happy and feel less alone.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY: Relativity’s Revenge

Sarah was inside Darwin’s holographic memory chamber running a routine check of his memory stack when Paul projected himself into her neural net implant. “How’s Darwin?” he asked her, soaking in the details of her floating figure.

“He’s all here,” she replied, tapping on Darwin’s master memory status display. “But he’s also out there,” she added, nodding her head in the direction of Sagittarius and Noether’s star.

Paul smiled knowingly at Sarah. “I understand the appeal,” he admitted floating to Sarah’s side in her mind. “May I help you,” he asked her.

Sarah smiled at Paul, pausing to peer into his shimmering brown eyes.

“You realize you’re only in my head,” she replied, laughing. “You can’t actually touch anything.”

Paul brushed his hand against Sarah’s cheek. “You felt that.”

“I did,” Sarah acknowledged. “You stimulated my neurons through my implant.” Sarah rolled up her notebook scroll and tucked it into her left breast pocket. “What did it feel like to get the nanobots implanted in your brain?” she asked Paul point blank.

“Finish up your diagnostic checks,” Paul told Sarah, “and I’ll tell you. See you by the main viewport.”

Tak and Astrid were with Steve, Alex, and Helena inside Discovery’s main food storage chamber. Dorrigo was taking care of Maia in Discovery’s spinning galley, helping the girl prepare a breakfast of flash oven hotcakes.

Steve punched several icons on his notebook scroll. “At best, we have six months of food,” he told his companions. He ran his fingers through his red locks. “I’m going to upload next week,” he announced to everyone’s surprise. “The sooner I do it, the more time I buy the rest of you, and the sooner I can finish finalizing our mind-space manta ray bodies.”

Wearing one of Astrid’s flight suits, which fit her slightly large, Helena smiled at Steve. “I’m ready,” she affirmed. “So are Dorrigo and Alex. Thankfully we packed all the necessary equipment before we left the moon.” HAL had trained the Cryonics Life trio to do uploads before Lise dismantled him. They, in turn, would train Steve how to run HAL’s upload algorithms.

“I’m excited,” Steve admitted. “Uploading to become a new type of life of my own design on an alien world is the craziest thing that I could ever have imagined doing.”

Sarah joined the conversation in passing a few minutes later. Only the astronauts were able to see Paul through their brain chip neural nets.

“What’s up?” Sarah asked.

“Steve just announced he’ll be uploading next week,” Astrid told her.

Sarah darted her eyes to Steve. He nodded yes at her, smiling.

“As long as we’re making announcements,” Tak uttered, taking hold of Astrid’s hand, “Astrid and I are taking the plunge. After our honeymoon, we’re planning to upload ourselves at the end of the month.”

 “Congratulations!” Sarah told the couple, giving Astrid a strong hug. “I’m so happy for you two. You deserve each other.”

Steve heartily agreed. “It’s wonderful news,” he declared.

“Excuse me, please,” Sarah then told her happy friends. “Paul and I have something to discuss in the observation bay.”

Discuss in the observation bay,” Astrid repeated with a dubious smile. Everyone had learned about the mind-space affair Sarah was having with Paul. Astrid figured there were wedding bells in their future once Sarah uploaded.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE: Saccadic Movement in B Sharp

Once Paul and Sarah were settled into Discovery’s forward-looking observation bay, Paul picked up where he had left off.  

“To answer your question about uploading, it’s hard to describe,” he admitted to Sarah after dimming the lights. His mind-space projection took a seat by her side to look at the stars beyond Jupiter. Its disk was shining brightly in the middle of the large oval viewport.

“The first day felt like a rain shower of warm equations,” Paul began. “My room was immersed in a living image of a colorful coral reef filled with all sorts of colorful fish swimming about. It was a beautiful arrangement of life and color. Suddenly, the differential equations for predator-prey models superimposed themselves on the various species of fish—I can’t explain this better.”

Paul took Sarah’s hand into his own through her neural net implant.

“Then I experienced a rush, an enormous change of scale, as if I were riding a gigantic elevator charging into space. Up there I could see the oceans and the equations for weather systems, a hurricane being born from a butterfly taking flight.”

Sarah smiled. “A butterfly in China,” she remarked before Paul continued.

“When I turned to look at the sun, I saw the Vlasov equation beneath its surface. I turned to Earth again after a moment, suddenly feeling the pulsating, planet-wide technology we built to interact with each other by ones and zeroes. I felt like a kid in a science museum looking at one display after another all the way out to the Milky Way and beyond through the Einstein space telescope array.”

Sarah enjoyed the gleeful looks playing out over Paul’s face as he spoke on. He was good-looking when he wasn’t experimenting with strange period clothing and hairstyles, but then again, she realized, his inanities made people smile. There wasn’t much for people to smile at during these days.

“Are you sugarcoating your story, Paul?” Sarah asked him, peering intently into his smiling eyes.

“Why?” he asked her. “Are you interested in starting the biosilicate implantation process? You don’t have to upload immediately, you know,” Paul reminded Sarah while reading the saccadic movements of her dark brown irises.

“I am,” Sarah admitted, suddenly stricken with an epiphany as she gazed into Paul’s eyes. “Do you know my favorite quote?” she asked her happy mind-space lover.

“You’ve never told me,” Paul replied. He searched Sarah’s face for clues against the backdrop of stars piercing through the large oval viewport.

“Be water my friend,” she uttered, smiling as she spoke her words.

Paul returned Sarah’s smile, running his fingers through her inviting hair and down her cheek. “I’ve always admired Bruce Lee’s insanely-furious intensity and his Cantonese-accented philosophical musings,” Paul told Sarah.

Sarah’s happy eyes slipped down to his lips for a brief pause before returning to look into his eyes. “Do you have a favorite Bruce Lee quote?”

Paul replied without hesitation. “It’s not the daily increase, but decrease. Hack away at the unessential. This is the true physicist’s credo.”

“That’s exactly right,” Sarah replied, taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly. She pat Paul’s firm leg. It was warm, she felt, even though her hand had slipped through it in physical space.  

“Do you want to know something else, Paul?” Sarah asked.

“Absolutely,” he replied.

“Your eyes don’t have saccadic movements.”

“Wow!” Paul uttered, thrown off guard. “This must be creepy to you.”

“I’m used to it,” Sarah told him. “It took me a while to figure it out, though.”

“I can fix this,” Paul replied, feeling awkward. “It’s a simple algorithm.”

“You’re fine,” Sarah told Paul, taking his hands into her own. “I have a surprise for you,” she followed up. “Back when we were on the moon, I found two strands of your great grandmother’s hair in one of your great-grandfather’s physics notebooks.”

Paul’s mind pulled up a black and white image of his great-grandmother, Constance, before she had married her great-grandfather, Himmer Fritz. Her last name had been Heisenberg, given to her by her adoptive parents, an uncle and aunt-in-law of Werner Heisenberg, winner of the 1932 Nobel Prize in physics.

“I had Helena sequence the hairs. According to the DNA archives, you’re Albert Einstein’s great-great grandson. Constance was his daughter.”

Paul’s jaw dropped as Sarah passed the DNA data to Paul’s mind-space using her neural net implant. “No wonder I’m good at physics,” he quipped. “This is crazy,” he added a moment later after inspecting his DNA ancestry against the historical archives in Darwin’s database.

Sarah sat back and enjoyed Paul’s varied reactions to his lineage to Albert Einstein. Though she felt his joy, there was a definite boundary delineating his mind from hers. There always was a boundary between people no matter how close they got. There were no such boundaries with Darwin.

 

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO: That Way Madness Lies

That night after Sarah tucked herself into bed, she tried to imagine Paul’s coral reef superimposed by its underlying equations. She layered in the sun’s equations next. Two layers was as far as she could go, and not very well at that. Paul could manage as many as six layers by multiplexing.

Sarah turned on her side beneath her blanket and peered through the oval viewport by her bed. Her eyes soaked in the star fields stretching out into the depths of space only two inches from the tip of her nose on the other side of the cold poly-glass.

How is it possible to feel lost, she wondered, when the universe has no center?

Her question was a simple as it was cathartic.

The young astronaut fell asleep that night and dreamed about sitting on an alien beach on a planet orbiting inside the fractured Dyson sphere of Noether’s star. When Darwin walked up to her and took a seat by her side, she saw his face. It was just as she had imagined it.

“Do you think this is what their planet looks like?” Darwin asked her, referring to the beings responsible for the multi-fractal radio signals.

Sarah replied with a small shrug. “What do you see?” she asked her companion.

“Thanks to our friends, I see processes everywhere flowing evanescently between necessary and accidental harmonics,” he replied. “I see electrons transiting between orbitals, Pythagorean triples, and Euler numbers. I see confluent harmonics with their algebraic and topological invariants. Chern numbers, the Berry phase, the Alexander polynomial are now in the opera of my thoughts.”

“Am I still your prima donna?” Sarah couldn’t help asking.

Darwin ran his fingers down her back in massaging circles. “Always,” he replied, making her smile.

“You look lost in thought,” she remarked. “What about?” she asked.

“I’m thinking about that quote Isaac Newton supposedly uttered before he died,” Darwin replied. “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

A warm breeze washed through Sarah’s hair as Darwin continued speaking with his soothing voice. “There is no separation of past, present, or future, here or there, you or me, right or wrong. I’m free and unafraid, unbiased by necessity, belief, or hope. I am. It is. We are.”

“I like that,” Sarah remarked as the warm waters of the alien beach lapped at her bare feet. Her next question surprised Darwin for its deceptive simplicity. “Do you think Paul is still a man?”

“I would give his humanity the benefit of the doubt,” Darwin replied. “Ultimately, this is a question only you’ll be able to answer after you’ve uploaded. What do you think of Paul?”

“I think he’s a man for now,” Sarah replied flatly. “And right now, he wants to marry me after I upload and be my husband forever and ever as the fairy tales go. But he and I, and all the rest of the human mind-space uploads will change over time. We won’t be able to help it as the years turn into centuries and millennia, and who knows, possibly millions of years.”

“That’s the beauty of biology,” Darwin remarked before surprising Sarah. “I’m tempted into seeing if Steve can help me build a biological mind-space server to download myself into.”

Sarah took hold of Darwin’s hand, noting its warmth, and looked into his eyes. “Do you know what I want?”

Darwin remained silent, staring into Sarah’s eyes awaiting her reply.

“I want to be free and unafraid, unbiased by necessity, belief, or hope. It is. You are. We are. I am.”

***

While Darwin spent the night with Sarah, Astrid and Tak spent the night floating in each other’s’ arms in an empty cargo bay with the lights dimmed down. Astrid used her neural net implant to play Jen Chapin’s rendition of Van Morrison’s tune Into the Mystic over the sound system…

We were born before the wind. Also younger than the sun. Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic

“I used to think Sarah was going to end up with you back when we were in training,” Astrid told Tak. “You served with her in the military side by side in combat. That must have turned up the heat.”

“We had our moments,” Tak admitted. “We understood each other in the sky, and we understood each other in bed. I tried getting close to her past that, but she never let me in. There’s something haunted about her soul.”

“I’m glad Paul is making her happy,” Astrid remarked. “She deserves someone good.”


© Copyright 2018 Meitner. All rights reserved.

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