Waking up the next day after having burned through a good tenth of the news I was reading, I’d realized I was having a nightmare. I could hear T.I.A. trying to wake me from my bed as I tumbled free from it, feeling sick and vomiting across the floor. It was all hitting me at once as tears stung at my eyes and my insides heaved. My family was dead, so many families were dead. The world was spiralling into chaos. I never in my life had wished I was wrong more than I did today. And to think that it all happened so long ago! A time period equal to almost my entire lifetime had passed and the world was already falling apart.
I knew they’d all be dead already. That was a foregone conclusion undertaking a journey as long as ours. No matter how it happened everyone on Earth was supposed to be dead within three or four cycles of my cryogenic hibernation. To think of how quickly it was happening was completely crushing me though. T.I.A. was sounding very alarmed as I tried to pull myself together on the floor, slick with my own sweat and sick as the emotional turmoil of my nightmare still gripped at me. I needed to pull myself together. I needed to halt my tears and there was so much noise!
I realized that that noise was me. I was why I couldn’t hear T.I.A. I was wailing and crying out as I convulsed on the ground. I’d spent twelve hours the day prior reviewing as much news as I could and in such granular detail and trying to absorb it in the context of its day. I’d always known how unhealthy it was to expose yourself to negative news over time, but decades of terrible, horrible, graphic news had taken an unexpected toll on me. It felt like hours that I was on the floor, panting and gasping for air, but it had only been minutes. My throat was raw. My eyes were bloodshot. As I struggled my way up onto my feet and looked at myself in a mirror I did not recognize myself.
I could only imagine how it must have looked from above. T.I.A. had never seen me in such a state. Surely she’d be studying that for multiple cycles to try to understand what had happened to me. I’d speak up, undressing myself as I made for the shower. “T.I.A. I’m going to need to clean up before we get back to it today. I apologize for my behavior. I believe taking in so much news yesterday has made me ill. I’ve never felt like that before. We’ll talk about it later.” I hoped that she was able to interpret the hoarse, rough voice I was speaking to her with, but I would be able to clarify myself after I calmed down, if I calmed down.
“Doctor Crenshaw, I could provide you with a mild sedative…” It was a helpful offer, but I shook my head, climbing up into the shower. “Let me just get my head together, I was just caught unawares.”
The feeling of the shower, even knowing the water would be recycled endless times over the course of the journey, was a soothing balm upon me. I felt like my heart had been hit with a hammer. I was completely crushed. I was exhausted by it. My appetite would take most of the day to recover. It wasn’t the first time I’d had a nightmare; they were relatively common since that first terrorist attack I’d experienced all those years ago; but this was certainly the worst one I could remember. There was that grasping, clawing grip that had tangled itself around my insides as I had awoken. I could feel the damage caused by my screams as they scraped at my throat like sandpaper. Stomach acid had burned my mouth and the insides of my nasal cavity. It was so much worse than past nightmares.
It took me a while to clean up my quarters. My body was still trembling. I felt hollow and weak, though once I thought about it vomiting had brought some level of relief. It was as though stress had wound my stomach up into knots and this morning’s turmoil had unwound it, however violently. As drained as I was, I was now free to actually recover. Maybe it was a symptom of the stress of our day’s departure catching up with me. I’d killed someone. Perhaps multiple people. I don’t know if that terrorist had hostages or not. That person had a family too. That family had seen their child or sibling or parent murdered on live television just like I had seen mine and Tia’s parents murdered yesterday.
As I left my quarters, wearing some fresh clothing, I was a husk of the man I was the day before. I was beginning to suspect some of my physical weakness had something to do with some after-effects of being thawed out combined with the stress I’d already been under. I need to be more careful about letting stress build up that way. It’s not as though I’d been in any kind of mood after reading such awful news the day prior to even masturbate before I’d gone to bed. I needed to take care of my mind as well as my body better. I also needed to appreciate that this whole time T.I.A. was looking over me, likely very concerned. Maybe our conversation the day prior about my mild reactions to the news was a dead giveaway of how bad off I was.
“T.I.A.” I spoke up simply, rubbing my eyes with a hand, replacing my glasses on my face when I was done. She’d respond quickly, waiting for me to call upon her like an over-eager student. “Yes Doctor Crenshaw? Are you well? I’ve consulted the medical databases but I could not find any diseases that might cause such a situation. Your sympt-” I had to interrupt her. “T.I.A., please, just... listen for a moment. I think the concern you’d shown at my reactions yesterday was more apt than I realized. It was abnormal. I think I was repressing my reactions, swallowing them back so I could focus on the work. I believe it is likely that in my sleep, as I processed and made memories out of everything that had happened that everything caught up with me all at once and I was not properly prepared for either the emotional or physical reactions to it. I made a mistake in not letting myself experience what I was seeing in the moment.”
I let that hang in the air for a moment before T.I.A. responded. “Doctor Crenshaw. You created me. You are essentially my father. You gave me the power to think and express my thoughts. In endangering your health you have endangered me and the crew, and our entire mission. I was powerless to do anything as I watched you on the floor. You could not hear me as I gave you instructions on how to avoid drowning in your own vomit or reminded you to breathe. You must not be so careless in the future. I will not forgive you if you leave me alone through your own carelessness.” I did not know how to respond to her. This wasn’t entirely true, though it was true enough. She could have utilized robotic arms similar to those outside the ship that could extend down through the ceiling to tend to me, but she simply didn’t know what to do, so she froze.
I swallowed back a huge lump in my throat as my eyes grew wet. This machine I’d built and programmed and brought to some semblance of consciousness just scolded me. Worse was the fact that she was right. I couldn’t afford to be so reckless or so selfish anymore. I wiped at my eyes as I inhaled sharply through my ravaged throat, straightening my back and trying to recompose myself. “You’re right. I should have trusted your concern yesterday. We need to work together to accomplish our mission and that won’t work out if I accidentally kill myself. I’ll be better at responding to your concern in the future T.I.A. I need to trust your insight better than I did yesterday. I can’t just think of myself as your teacher, we need to be partners too.”
The room was quiet for a few more long moments. What was T.I.A. thinking about now? Would she forgive me? Was she capable of holding grudges? The pseudo-organic nature of her construction and emulated programming left her capabilities something of a mystery. She was an evolving creature at this point. “Doctor Crenshaw, your breakfast and coffee are ready. I have sorted today’s workload in such a way as to not front-load the bad news nearly so much as yesterday and it awaits you at your console.” I smiled faintly, nodding and getting up from my seat at the table. “Thank you T.I.A.” Gathering up my simple breakfast and coffee, I thought about what she said. She called me her father. What a curious insight. “What possessed you to arrange them that way?” I asked, wondering. “That is how they were recommended to be sorted, Doctor.”
It made me feel all the more guilty for forcing my daughter to watch me in the throes of despair on the floor of my quarters, helpless to do anything. I wondered how much of this reaction she would be able to process from the body language she was observing from me right now. I couldn’t disappoint her. I couldn’t allow my daughter to travel the interstellar distances alone. Who knew what that kind of isolation might do to her developing mind? I suppose she could revive someone else to replace me, but how could I trust someone else to do my duty for me?
Getting underway with the day, pored over the new arrangement of articles, videos, and images that T.I.A. had provided for me. This was when I realized why our people back home had been sending good and sweet things to help me swallow the bitter pills that had been the catastrophic news of the prior day. Mixed in with stories of terror and pain were images and heartwarming stories of cute animals and heroic stories of the kindness of the human heart. Having gone through such a large amount of the most dire things, this caused the remainder to have a higher percentage of those lighter stories to help soothe the sting of the others. In a sense, by rushing through so much of the worst stuff, I was now free to enjoy more of the nice things. It also helped restore to me some faith that it was only a small percentage of people that were causing the problems I had observed on Earth. How could the silent majority be mobilized to defend themselves from their own destruction? How could I possibly go about showing them the ways that they were being betrayed by those in power who took advantage of them while the same people taking advantage of them provided so much comfort, safety, and ease for them?
Also mixed in with T.I.A.’s list of items were occasional new inventions and the very rare unbiased scientific papers. The types of things being invented did not surprise me though. There were the occasional adaptations of old technologies to compensate for the inability to acquire rare materials, but the majority were things of war. Most surprising were things like nuclear bullets, extremely impractical things that nevertheless caused remarkably devastating wounds that festered with radiation. They were basically poisoned bullets with extremely hazardous remains. It was surprising because it didn’t need to exist. There were banned weapons and ammunition that were plenty effective at killing people already, but they seemed to be trying to outdo each other in cruelty now. Maybe it was just that they were trying to get around restrictions on other things?
Medical science even seemed to tend towards the nefarious as clumsily engineered diseases were unleashed on populations. None of these incidents were claimed as intentional, they were all called ‘accidents’, but the conditions necessary to develop such things should have made it impossible for such accidents to occur, presuming that standard safety practices from my day were still being applied. One small population was affected by a disease that caused sterility, essentially dooming it to die out. Thankfully that disease seemed to run its course and die out as well, but those poor people had no more offspring of their own to look forward to.
“How unfortunate. These people are evolutionary dead-ends against their will. Without offspring, their genetics will be wiped out no differently than if they had been killed.” I murmured to myself. T.I.A. felt it appropriate to speak up as well though. “You are right, of course, though they have the advantage of being alive long enough to help people not forget them. They can protest and bring sympathizers to their plight. They have many more options than would the dead. They are harder to ignore.” I nodded in response, sighing. “Maybe I’ve been too concerned about maintaining genetic diversity once we arrive.”
Another of these diseases caused a population of people to develop strange, regressive primate traits. In some people this resulted in their arms growing longer and greatly more powerful, while others grew fur, or tails, or lost the capacity to vocalize normally and found their range of sounds limited to something similar to an ape. The differences in these traits didn’t seem to follow any particular other patterns, and did get passed on to children who oftentimes developed traits that their parents didn’t. The media initially tried to treat these people like innocent victims, which is exactly what they should have done, but when it got out that it was contagious an influential vocal minority started calling for them to be wiped out.
“Humans doing what they do best,” I said, “alienating the unfamiliar and deciding it needs to be destroyed rather than fixed. Is there any possibility we could get DNA samples of those people so that we could see if there isn’t a way to reverse the damage?” T.I.A. brought up related stories which talked about quarantines, failed serums, and failing health. While I flipped through the information T.I.A. told me what I was starting to suspect. “Our facilities on Earth believe that these people were gathered up by the company responsible for the disease and experimented on in a supposed effort to cure them, but they are quickly dying off as those cures fail. Our people believe that they are being intentionally murdered, but slowly, to cover things up to maintain the purity of humanity.”
That was a very dangerous sentiment to be levied. The ‘purity’ of humanity was becoming a thing of debate as more and more genetic meddling was performed. Boutique embryonic genetic engineering for the offspring of the rich was becoming more common, and while it was already considered a controversial way for the wealthy to widen the poverty gap and keep their offspring successful, it became another example of the ‘polluting’ of the human gene pool. People did not seem to take very kindly to the idea that the rich and powerful were trying to separate themselves genetically from everyone else.
I could understand this thinking, evolutionarily speaking, as people lashed out at the strange and unfamiliar, but it only proved to be yet another crack in the wall of humanity as people further divided the planet when what it needed was to come together in common purpose. The twenty-first century, it turns out, was a century of fear, division, paranoia, distrust, lies, slander, and the smothering of anything inconvenient to the narrative. Massmedia had initially looked like it was on its way out, but in its death throes it managed to find its path to survival. All it had to do was tap into the most primal fears and weaknesses of Humanity and stoke the flames in people's’ hearts to maintain relevance and power.
“T.I.A. please ask our facilities to gather whatever information they can about these procedures, in particular the alterations being done to people of influence and power. I don’t know how much use the information may be to us, but data gained at horrible costs is all the more precious because of those costs. It would simply be immoral to let their suffering be for nothing. Perhaps some day it can be used to help people.” T.I.A. took yet another note for me for the day. “Yes, Doctor Crenshaw.”
By the time I’d gotten through this second day, I was thoroughly exhausted. An extra long shower and a hearty meal brought it to a close, as well as a quick ‘goodnight’ to T.I.A. She seemed pleased with our interactions after breakfast, and lowered the lights appropriately as I fell asleep.