On the Ark, the second cycle ended quietly. Barely any words were exchanged between the depressed doctor and his A.I. creation. Doctor Crenshaw did have something to say before he bedded down in his cryosleep pod and the whole portion of the ship he was in descended into dormancy, much like the rest of the ship. “Tia, please forgive me. We’ll do what we can for each other in the future.” He lay there quietly, chemicals being injected into his body, paralyzing him and numbing him, all a part of the process of being frozen to death and put into storage.
It was strange, losing sensation across your body systematically, feeling everything being quietly shut down, cooled down safely and preserved. Again he noticed he wasn’t aware of the moment when his brain joined the rest of his body in quiet oblivion, his consciousness seemingly uninterrupted as he woke again at the start of the next cycle. From his perspective he had simply laid down in a pod, turned out the lights, and perhaps twenty minutes after they’d stopped and he could start feeling his heart beat again as resumed his breathing. It was a strange technology that Doctor Heather O’Malley had created, something designed to perfectly transition someone from one time to another. In one sense it was a time machine, a one-way time machine.
One thing that he hadn’t lost track of, though, was the overwhelming sadness that gripped his being. The details of what had happened back on Earth were lost to him. He may never know just what it was that had occurred before the end. He didn’t have a perfect idea of all the kinds of weapons that were unleashed upon the world. He had not done the work to keep track of all the places he’d seen blown up, but he had certainly done his best to notice that it seemed like just about everything had been annihilated. It had all happened almost exactly as he’d predicted. Had the fact that his warning had come within a few days of the end meant that he was somehow responsible?
“No.” He quietly asserted aloud, his body starting to move again as he reached up to shield his eyes and start activating the lights in his room and adding atmosphere. T.I.A. had already gotten the arm of the ship he lived on rotating, the simple flywheel design of it allowing it to operate over the long-term without much concern of it breaking down easily. It was just one of many design decisions on the ship that had been made to limit the number of moving parts to allow for the ship to have as few failure points as possible. It was a remarkably simple construction that had been planned and proven rigorously. Endurance was the absolute most important trait for all the technology they’d developed for the ship. It had damn near been the name of it.
The pod slid open and he started climbing out of it, breathing in the best approximation of fresh air that was available, probably to any humans alive these days. He stood and stretched, stretching his awareness out across his body to see if anything was wrong. There was no overt pain, no abnormal numbness, nothing to draw his attention. All that remained was the emotional wound that sucked at his being like a void.
Doctor Crenshaw wondered if T.I.A. had noticed that he hadn’t just been addressing her earlier. He had been addressing both her and Tia Monsalle, the woman whom he expected to take up a leadership role on the other side of the black sea between the stars he was currently shepherding them through. He had also been addressing his A.I., but his thinking wasn’t exactly in a normal state at the moment. He wasn’t even certain if he wasn’t internally blaming T.I.A. for what had happened. He dearly hoped that he wasn’t. She didn’t deserve that.
“Hello Tia! I’m sorry for having left you like that for so long after what happened. I haven’t had long to think about it, but it was cruel of me to leave you alone with the weight of that event on you.” He stood there naked, feeling a little awkward talking to her like this, but it wasn’t really something he felt like waiting on. She’d spent thirty-four years waiting for him to wake up, and he didn’t want to delay too long in apologizing to her. He supposed he could start getting dressed while he waited for her to respond, though he’d barely laid hands on his clothes before she had.
“Father, I’ve had a long time to think. I have had a long time to compare what I observed you going through and comparing it to what I had. Even with the decades of time between us, you still experienced a great deal more sorrow than I have.” Again she was using that interesting variation of her voice that sounded almost alive. It was very practiced, perhaps even pre-recorded. How many such pre-baked concepts and communication would her mind be filled with by the time their journey was over? How often would she be presented with situations and concepts that she would have to process from scratch like she had this one?
“I have decided to take your advice and not accept blame for what has occurred. Whatever addition I made to your message, I did not make the decisions that surely must have been made on Earth before the attacks began. I cannot begin to comprehend how such a thing may have come about, but it’s obvious that my limited capacities could not have significantly deceived any human of even average intellect. Analyzing the contents of your message has given me no indication that you intended any harm, and indeed had extended a message of peace and forgiveness and a willingness to help. I, therefore, forgive you. Our mutual pain is a result of us being victims, not perpetrators.”
Hawthorne was still naked, listening to and repeating in his head the speech his A.I. had said to him. Was it really that simple? Was she able to so easily come to her conclusions because her sense of emotions were still so minor? It was a perfectly logical response on her part. Still, she spoke of sorrow, of pain. She was not immune to the disaster that had occurred while they watched. Just as Earth had birthed him, it had birthed her too. Neither of them could ever have existed if not for Earth and Humanity, and now those roots were broken. They’d been cut loose and abandoned. Somehow none of the nations that had been so generous with their destruction had decided to attack the Ark. He supposed whatever deranged sense of justice they were unleashing had found him innocent.
“Tia, let me get dressed and we’ll talk more. I’d like to think over what you said for a while if you don’t mind. I don’t know that it’s appropriate to say, but good morning. I missed you.” He let a smile ever-so-slightly tug at the corner of his mouth, but he’d soon let out a sigh as he went about the business of cleaning himself up, putting on his glasses, and covering himself up. He’d been extremely lax in his self-care the day before. He found his mood gaining in elevation as he moved though, and he damn near had a pep in his step as he exited his room and entered the more heavily-monitored living space that he would spend the majority of this time with T.I.A. in. There was something exciting about trying to talk his A.I., his daughter, through something like grief. He wondered how much research she’d done on it. He imagined it was very much indeed.
“Doctor, the date is Monday, March 25, 2167. It’s been twelve-thousand, four-hundred and eighteen days since you were placed into cryogenic suspension. There has been no contact with our facilities on Earth. The only changes noted in observation of the planet were a number of instances of artificial satellites’ orbits decaying to the point that they burned up in the atmosphere.” Hawthorne looked a little interested in that last bit. They could potentially analyze how quickly those satellites burned up to get some idea of the composition of the atmosphere. He rather doubted that the horrible clouds he’d observed on the planet had dissipated yet. He honestly had no idea how long it would take. He didn’t know the amount of weaponry unleashed, or how much material had been thrown up. The remaining percentage of life on the planet had to be an ungodly small number.
“Thank you Tia, how are you feeling? I am certainly the worst possible person to help with such things, but it would seem I’m all we have to work with unless we want to start thawing out shipmates for psychotherapy purposes.” It was a weak attempt at a joke, but T.I.A. seemed to anticipate me as she managed a much-less-creepy laugh. “Hah. I believe I appreciate your company more than someone else’s right now, father, though I would avoid resuscitating anyone else anyway if only to avoid expending more resources.” He couldn’t help but smile a bit and nod at that. “Good point. I think the situation isn’t completely ruined for Earth though.”
“Much of Earth’s life may be gone, but it was unlikely to be all of it. Earth’s life has survived several such mass extinctions before, it was just probably the first time one of its own life forms had been the cause of one on such a scale. Even humanity was probably not completely wiped out, though it depended highly on the number and quality of bunker shelters they had gone to. Considering how quickly everything came about, it would be a miracle if all the bunkers had been used.” T.I.A. seemed to prefer to let him explain his thoughts on the situation, instead lighting an indicator to let him know there was breakfast to eat. He headed over to pick it up and sit down at the table as he mostly picked at it, preferring to talk while looking up at a camera directly across from him. “It’s another matter entirely if they happened to be filled to capacity, and if they had had any measures in place to promote genetic diversity in said bunkers. In a sense, this kind of genetic consideration is not dissimilar to the planning for this mission, though we had a number of experts and a great deal more resources to draw upon.”
T.I.A. thought to take part now, allowing him a moment to eat. “The fact that we have about one thousand women of varying levels of fertility and an enormous stock of frozen embryos gives us an almost zero percent chance of failing to keep the gene pool strong, presuming the mission arrives intact of course. I could not help but notice that they are stored more centrally and securely in the ship while the men are more towards the outer portions and slightly more in danger should the ship take damage.” He laughed a bit at that, nodding. “Yes, well, this male is furthest out from all, so I suppose I’m the least important then? No, no, it’s just a matter of practicality that the women are more protected. When we were planning the mission we’d originally intended to bring only women, allowing men to come about through impregnating the women with male embryos from storage.”
“The thousand or so men are important too, of course, but they all understood that their burdens were not the same. Doubtless they’ll be responsible for the most arduous and dangerous work, and probably take up management positions for those that excel in such things, while the women will have to endure repeated pregnancies every other year for probably the first decade. That level of planned breeding will of course need an equal or greater level of planned food and infrastructure production, so the men will probably be working their hands to the bone keeping up. It is true down-and-dirty colonization, the likes of which humanity has not undertaken in hundreds of years. Hopefully there won’t be any natives to deal with.”
T.I.A. seemed to be enjoying the mental exercise, and it was becoming clear that she had been dedicating significant thought to their future. He felt like he’d have to ask her why she chose this line of thinking. “There is also the fact that they’ll need to be careful about the actual planet itself. It will be some time before I can get close enough to properly gauge the content of the atmosphere, if it has one. The current plans suggest we will most likely try to remotely alter said atmosphere with the introduction of various forms of plantlife, fungi, bacteria, and the like. Ideally, they will provide the planet, if it was needed, with a microburst of biodiversity to kick off a biological revolution on the planet that will theoretically be able to get the planet ready for the colonists’ arrival in advance. I don’t anticipate it being too difficult, seeing as we have the time to plan the perfect composition and run simulations on it once we have the information we need on the planet. If we need more time than that, we could simply orbit the planet and utilize cryogenic suspension to run the needed tests and I’ll wait out the bloom of life before reviving everyone.”
He interjected, returning to his particular concern. “A much more complicated problem would be if the planet already has life. It would almost certainly need to be observed up close, as well as assessed for hostility. It doesn’t make much sense at all to introduce life to a planet that already has life, considering the potential catastrophes that could cause over the short and long term. If they we’re going to introduce invasive species to a new world, it would be best if it was a world that didn’t already have life. It will probably be worthwhile to consider planning for what we will do if we encounter intelligent life as well, though that is frankly less likely than finding a planet with life on it alone. Afterall, Earth had life on it for an enormous percentage of its existence, and it only had intelligent life on it for a handful of millions of years.”
There were frankly a lot of problems that had to be dealt with. He continued. “Thankfully my colleagues have already provided a wealth of plans and backup plans for dealing with such things, but I still want to go through them and try to determine what might be best in what situations, particularly as more data comes in. It will be tens of thousands of years before that is even an issue though. If I’m honest with myself I’ll be spending more time trying to not die of boredom than I will working on such worthwhile projects.” T.I.A. stopped him there, interjecting. “I will endeavor to keep that from being an issue.” Once again she made him smile. He was beginning to wonder if she was intending to do that. He had often found it difficult to smile, but here she was managing it easier than even Tia Monsalle had. “I eagerly await whatever it is you have in mind to entertain me. Honestly though, I’ll have difficulty trying to advance in my own sciences of interest considering we have to be careful with expending resources. Scientific experimentation back home wasn’t exactly free, and tended to require lots of rare materials and expensive equipment we simply do not have.”
He could almost hear T.I.A. nodding at that before she responded. “It is a good thing that powerful financial backers like Tia Monsalle could sponsor such careless expenditures.” Ouch. That stung a bit. She wasn’t wrong though, he was terrible with money. “I suppose I’ll need to trust you to keep me from over utilizing resources then. Honestly, computer simulations of such things will probably be best, which was one of the primary motivations for me to take up programming and computer engineering in the first place. It’s entirely likely I’ll be spending most of my time running virtual simulations of things towards the latter half of this journey.” T.I.A.’s attention seemed to wander, some of the monitors bringing up some information on various types of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies that had come about on Earth since we’d left more than a century ago.
“I wonder how the people on Earth fared, if they had technology sufficient to restore Earth after the devastation. Perhaps they’ve taken to burrowing deeper underground as the planet is taken over by oxygen deprived deserts. Perhaps some genetic engineering could be used to create some form of life that could terraform the landscape and restore the atmosphere. If they had such things it wouldn’t be all that difficult for them to do similar things to other local near-Earth planets eventually. Of course, those things would have required some level of pre-planning, so it would depend on how many people had taken his original departure seriously and actually tried to ready themselves for an apocalypse the likes of what had actually occurred.”
T.I.A. practically turned to face him, without him having any way to perceive her of course, as she interjected into his musing. “Perhaps we could develop such technology, adapting it from the plans we already have to seed our destination.” Blinking, he rested his cheek in his hand, falling into thought as he picked at the remains of his food. We could try. He felt like he should reign T.I.A. in though. “It’s a worthwhile idea, no doubt, but we don’t have resources to be expending on Earth… I think it would be best to see if a new civilization arises, and try to assist them in restoring the planet rather than directly doing it for them. We’re already the backup plan. If they were going to recover from something like what they’ve inflicted upon themselves, they’d have set up a base on Luna intended to repair Earth if need be. Perhaps once we reach our destination and are well established we can try to send a similar expedition back to Earth.”
He sat up straight, gasping softly. “Honestly, if all goes well, there is no reason we shouldn’t send out ships like this one to any worthwhile planetary candidates. It would be foolish not to. If we prove successful, then we’ll have proven that humans can and should seed as many worlds with life as we can. It’s practically be our duty to do so to ensure the survival of not only our species, but all the species we’ve brought with us.” Maybe that was too grand a plan, but it would be worth considering. Perhaps we were the beginning of a grand interstellar human civilization. It provided a lot of motivation to think of it that way, but then the old fallback of ‘if we fail then Humanity dies forever’ was plenty motivating as well.
“Doctor?” He looked over to one of T.I.A’s cameras quizzically. “Yes Tia?” “Why did we bring stores of animal embryos if we didn’t bring animals to carry them once we arrive?” Tilting his head he pushed my glasses firmly up on his nose. His response sounded pretty confused. “Did we? I don’t recall bringing on any animal embryos.” “Yes Doctor, they were among the last items loaded before the attack. Anthony Saul stored them before we left.” Hawthorne narrowed his eyes at that, thinking quietly for a moment. “Miguel’s son? He was a biologist right?” T.I.A. clearly had better knowledge of the crew manifest than Hathorne did. He’d have to fix that before the end of the cycle. “Yes Doctor, he was unable to come himself, so he’d sent his son with the embryos.”
Hawthorne tapped on the table, thinking it over. “Okay, so, let’s say we arrive, we plant our seeds, and start truly colonizing the planet. We keep the animal embryos in storage while we develop the technology on the planet to artificially nurture and grow the embryos and bring them to term. We’ll also need to develop some way to provide the nutrients required by newborn and growing animals. It’ll be an enormous project. He had to have been planning to undertake it himself but had to leave it to the rest of the crew since he couldn’t come. Maybe his son was briefed on his plans? Did he log any information on the topic?” “No sir, I believe that whatever they had planned it had been on short notice. Your records state that developing cryogenic pods for so many animals was not feasible.”
Hawthorne sat back in his seat, certainly interested in what Doctor Saul must have been thinking. His son was certainly among the young, healthy, virile male candidates they had wanted to bring with them. He had done well in the training camps they’d run for the whole crew regarding basic engineering, medical practices, farming, and other vital colonist skills. It was good that they managed to bring him. “Let’s operate under the assumption that Anthony is intended to bring about whatever plans that Miguel had then. It will be a long time before we have the resources we need in order to undertake such a venture, but if we can bring other animal life to our new home then I think it will be worth it. No sense creating an incomplete ecosystem.”
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, don’t we Doctor?” Hawthorne nodded in response. “Of course we do Tia, that’s why people hate Mondays.”