Leaving Earth



Chapter 18: Cycle 12, Ships Passing in the Night


A note from Warfox

Edit- 11/29/2018: What I hope will be a final draft, barring any major story changes. Part of the 'Would Purge' of Nov 2018.

“That is an excellent idea, Tia.” It was a statement that Hawthorne would become very familiar with saying as he got more and more accustomed to T.I.A.’s newfound capability to imagine. In this particular instance it was in response to Hawthorne’s prior question regarding the inclusion of war games in the software package they were planning to upload to the Beta Facility computers for the Smith Bunker residents to enjoy. Her response of, “Considering the positive effects of violent games in reducing aggressive behavior, I do not see an issue with it. I believe they seem hard working and enlightened enough to make their own decisions on what kinds of games to play, considering how open and upfront they are about teaching each other things that were controversial centuries ago.”

“That is an excellent idea, Tia,” he finally said, “Though perhaps a message about letting the Elders know about the contents of the games so that they can decide if they want to withhold anything from their people. I still don’t know enough about their culture, and if things go properly, you’ll end up knowing them far better than I will.” T.I.A. was taken aback by that statement, reeling away from the wall she was peering at Hawthorne from behind. “What do you mean Doctor?” Hawthorne let out a little sigh, but smiled. “My dear Tia, you will have to handle pretty much all of our communication with the Smith Bunker. The delay is just too long at this point, and it will only get longer. Worse, with me down for thirty-four years at a time, I’ll be missing multiple generations and only be able to communicate with them in very short windows of time compared to yourself. Sure, they can send a number of videos, and I can send a number back during any given cycle, but I won’t be able to be a part of any back-and-forth communication at this rate. Honestly, breaking procedure this cycle to get in one last response just feels wrong and if I want to make it through this journey with an acceptable age by the end of it, I can’t make a habit of it.”

“That’s why,” Hawthorne paused dramatically, lifting a hand with his index finger held high, “you will be responsible for almost all communication with Earth. I don’t mean just cataloguing messages. I don’t mean reporting statuses. You will interact with them, get to know them, and help them with whatever questions they may have short of giving away any sensitive information or anything too terribly dangerous. We don’t know what state Earth is in. There may well be unknown dangers yet to be revealed. There may be other humans who have survived as they have. You must be their reliable voice in the sky they can commune with for answers. Perhaps you will make friends as well. It should prove excellent practice for our eventual arrival at our new home and the work we’ll both have to do with our crew once they wake up.”

T.I.A. was stunned. She managed a response, but her mind was elsewhere. “Yes, Doctor Crenshaw.” How could she be responsible for interacting with people on a personal level that she didn’t even know? What would they ask of her? What if she gave them access to the wrong information and they did something terrible as had the humans of the past? She recognized that humans were communal, good, loving people capable of great art, charity, and joy, but she’d also seen so many examples of the darker sides of humanity as well. She knew and understood that those darker parts were a fractional minority of the whole, but so many news stories had been sent to her over such a long period of time of horrible things that were done. Objectively, those events were tiny droplets in an enormous ocean of people who were living completely normal, peaceful lives for the most part. She simply didn’t have as many examples of the good behavior as she did the bad. It wasn’t as if it ‘got clicks’ or ‘views’ to report on the everyday normal and good things that people did.

Ah, but she did have examples of the good things, though they were largely fictional. Huge records of old video programs, bereft of their former advertising content, lay in part of her storage. They were yet more examples of things that had almost completely been lost to humanity. “Doctor, I believe we should share with them our store of movies and television programs as well. The computers from the Beta Facility lack the storage to download the whole contents, but it shouldn’t be difficult to trade out viewed content for new content remotely. Perhaps if they have some traditional day of rest they could enjoy such media and get glimpses of what their world was once like.”

“Once again Tia, that is an excellent idea. You’ve obviously put yourself on the hook for coordinating that as well, of course. I would be a terrible candidate for that particular duty even if I didn’t have any constraints on my time, seeing as I have so little experience watching such things. My colleagues did try to spark my interest in science fiction though.” T.I.A. wasn’t about to let him get off the hook as far as that though. “You could certainly take some time to become an expert on at least some of it, Doctor. We will undoubtedly run out of scientific journals to read.”

Hawthorne was remarkably ready for that though. “Well, running out of things to read is when the fun begins anyway, Tia. That’s when we start applying the knowledge from those journals into practical science. There was a wealth of research done on Earth after we left, even if much of it was tainted by bias and sloppy practices. There are still plenty of examples of thoroughly vetted and cited pieces of work to look at. I am especially interested in seeing if we can’t make new computer components from the Lubar-Masis to hook into your overall network and give you more room to grow. That can wait though, I’m sure, seeing as you’re still making so much progress. I’m so proud of you for making such a huge breakthrough by the way. I thought it would take much longer for you to make such a leap. I also have to apologize for how traumatizing my choice of motivation must have been.”

T.I.A. listened quietly. It was hard to find a spot to dig in and get a response in before he went off in a new direction. He was far more excited about this Earth business than he had been about anything she’d seen of him before. Maybe he was making his own breakthroughs? In fact, now that T.I.A. thought about it, Hawthorne had indeed been changing in his own ways as well, though it entirely seemed to be stimulus via high impact events. It was like he had to be forcibly battered out of his shell while T.I.A. had to chip her way out of her own. “Doctor, please do not worry much about that event. I can identify it as a fictional thing, and now that I am accustomed to its presence in my memory I recognize that it is just one of many hypothetical situations I will experience. I will also do as you’ve said, I will communicate with Earth and help them however I can. No matter what else happens, it can only improve my usefulness to the mission and crew, and that makes it worth doing.”

Hawthorne nodded, staring at one of T.I.A.’s cameras for a moment, before moving his hands up and clapping them once. “Good! All that really leaves us is Jessica’s questions. Let’s watch that one again really quick, and I can compose my response.” T.I.A. was relieved to be off the prior topic. She still wanted to take a few years thinking about how she felt about it all anyway. “Yes Doctor, playing video.”

Shortly after reviewing the video and solidifying the questions he planned to answer, Hawthorne asked T.I.A. to begin recording the message. “Hello again Miss Smith. I hope you will forgive me but this will be the last message I will be able to personally send you for thirty-four years due to my schedule. Tia, my onboard artificial intelligence will have to field any further communications with you until that point. I am dreadfully sorry, and I’ve already broken my schedule slightly to be present to send this reply, but I hope you will understand.”

Hawthorne sat back and smiled. “Jessica, this mission is not unlike the mission your ancestors surely undertook to safeguard your piece of humanity away from what you call the Cataclysm. Seeing as Humanity only exists on one planet, I saw it as my duty to make sure that if something unfortunate were to befall Earth, that it would not be the end of humanity.” It was a bit of a lie of omission that Hawthorne fully expected such a thing to happen and wanted to get out before it was too late. “We are currently headed towards what we hope will be a new home for humans to live on. It will take us a very, very long time for us to get there, probably more than long enough for Earth to recover enough for your people to return to dominating the surface. Essentially we want to make sure that if something happens to one planet, we still have another to continue humanity from. Indeed, I hope that one day we will have spread to many more worlds, but that is a dream that will have to wait until the first one is finished.”

“I do not have any other humans to speak to because they are all stored away in cryogenic suspension. Two thousand people, men and women, have been carefully treated and frozen to within a fraction of absolute zero, the coldest temperature conceivable, so that they may one day be revived upon our arrival. They will be the same age, physically, as they were when they were frozen. In fact, the reason I maintain my youthful visage is for the same reason, as I undergo cryogenic suspension for thirty-four years at a time and live with Tia for four days at a time. We probably should have had more people accompany me during these brief periods of life, but we honestly could not store all the food and other resources we need to keep someone else alive, or even myself if I were to increase the frequency. Even now, the extra three days I’ve taken to make sure that I could speak with you, if I make a habit of such things, may result in some future version of myself having to eat lighter meals or reduce future cycles to three days for a few cycles to make up for the resources expended.”

Hawthorne smiled again, very pleased with the situation. “But it was worth it! I can’t tell you how happy I am to know that you are down there right now. I had worried for so long now that everyone and everything was gone forever. I was unable to tell everything that had happened, but at least now I know that it’s possible that more people may have survived as well, perhaps all over the world. For now, though, I have Tia to keep me company, and she will be in charge of communicating with you between my cycles. We have prepared a number of gifts for you in the form of software. I recommend that you allow your Elders to first view the games, movies, and shows so they can see if there’s anything they’d rather be left out. I am trusting that your people are mature and strong enough to handle just about anything, so I know your people will be able to handle anything we send to you.”

“To be fair, though, I do have a lot of work to do up here myself. Tia and I play games sometimes, and in fact she’s beaten me for the first time just two days ago. I suspect it won’t be the last though. Otherwise I do a lot of reading so that I can be prepared for emergencies on the ship, or reading about things I want to build while we’re out here to improve our chances to survive.” He looked down to check his notes. “Ah. My age. I am technically four hundred forty-five years old, at least physically. My biological age is actually thirty-seven. You already know how those are so different. I won’t be thirty-eight until March fifteenth, fifty-one sixty-seven, which is almost two-thousand, seven-hundred years from now. You mentioned how you count your years, calling it AC? I imagine that means ‘After Cataclysm’. That means it’s… three-hundred forty AC, correct?” It had already been ten cycles since that horrible event... Hawthorne did some more quick math in his head. “That means my birthday should be in the year of twenty-eight twenty-two AC.”

“As you can probably tell, we won’t be back to claim any of our equipment from Beta Facility. I therefore give you permission to take everything, no matter whether it is nailed down or not. I’d love for you to reassemble the computers back in the bunker and have yourselves set up so that we can keep communicating for as long as possible. I also encourage you to take everything else, every part of that facility is now property of the people of the Smith Bunker. Do with it as you will. If you use the materials to make a greenhouse on the surface, I’d love for you to send video of it. I want nothing but the best for you and your people, and I will be glad to do everything I can to help you. There’s always the chance that my mission out here will fail and that you may be all that’s left, so it’s my duty to do what I can for you.”

“I hope you’ll play back this message for the people of the Smith Bunker when you get everything situated back there. I want to say something to you all if you are listening. I am so terribly sorry that I could not do more for you. I do not think I will ever feel like I did everything I could to try to help. I am a coward. I let fear rule my life, and I took everyone who would listen to me and I ran. I abandoned you. I abandoned our world. I have tried to say I had noble intentions, or that what I did was for the good of humanity, or that I have a duty to my people here on the ship, but the fact of the matter is that I was a scared young fool who took advantage of every opportunity and did everything I could to get away before something horrible could happen.”

Hawthorne swallowed, reaching up to rub his eyes under his glasses for a moment. “That said, I vow to not squander the opportunity that so many have given me by believing in me. I will do my best to make sure that we set foot on a new world. I will do my best to make sure that Earthlings and Centaurians both go on together into the future. When we get the chance we will send whatever aid we can back to Earth, though hopefully by then you won’t need it. We will do our best to perfect our technology so that we can go to new worlds, so that we can make sure that no freak accident or man made Calamity can wipe out our species. No matter what my motivations were, I will make good on the trust that was placed in me, and I want you all to know that if there is anything that we can help you with, we will. Please do not hesitate to ask us for information or advice. Please enjoy my meager gifts to you, and know that I want to be your friend.”

As tears fell from his face, he couldn’t help but reach up to try to wipe them away. “And to the brave soul known as Jessica Smith, I am so very grateful to you for finding our facility, and deciding to contact us. It is my fervent wish that you do not lose your courageous spirit. It is a gift I envy to the bottom of my heart, and I hope your people will see what your courage is capable of. Do not lose that part of yourselves. I have to return to my long sleep. Good night, and good luck, my friends.” He reached down to tap at a screen, ending the recording. It felt good to repeat a part of the line that he’d ended that first record that he and T.I.A. had left on the moon. Who knows if anyone from Earth would ever even find that?

“Well done, father.” T.I.A. was practically beaming with pride. She’d spent so long analyzing his speeches that she was now feeling like she could actually appreciate them to some extent. He had left himself an open book this time, and it was her interpretation that he was earnest in wanting to make a partnership with these new owners of Beta Facility. “Shall I package up the message and software and send it off so that you can get back to stasis?” T.I.A. had really enjoyed having access to Hawthorne for so long this cycle, primarily due to some lingering concerns she had over whether she had full control of her imagination.

As far as she was able to tell, the systems had fully integrated into her consciousness, and now took part in her moment-to-moment processing. The possibilities she considered were not nearly so vivid as the life-like simulation she had run to lock in the new ability, but now that she had access to it she could do simple things like visualize herself physically and view things that were out of sight. She had a real understanding of the idea of object permanence now that went beyond simply having cargo manifests. It allowed her to not only know where something probably was, but she was able to move her perspective to see where it likely had ended up based on a number of factors. If Hawthorne dropped a stylus, for instance, and it rolled under his desk, she would be able to take into account the rotational momentum of his habitat, the direction and speed of the stylus, and the likely level of friction with the flooring to give her a solid concept of its likely position.

Once she had done those calculations in real time, she could move her visualized self to look under the desk and see where the stylus actually was, within a fair level of certainty. It was all simulated of course, and a highly educated guess, but as far as her perception of things it allowed her to see things that were completely off camera. It was an ability she never could have considered before. This seemed to be proof to her and Hawthorne that her imagination was actively running alongside the rest of her in real time, and he had taken great enjoyment in testing her new capacities and she had in turn taken great enjoyment in the praise he gave her.

It made her regret all the more that he had to go away again. T.I.A. was excited as well, though. She’d mostly have the peace and quiet needed to really focus on imagining things, and she really wanted to get to work on her present. She knew there would be occasional interruptions from the Smith bunker, though she estimated she had at least a few months to a few years before they could transport all the equipment and hook it all up again. Thinking on that, she added a thorough schematic of the layout of the Beta Facility that Jessica could copy to help her better reassemble everything. It would be a shame if they went through all this trouble and were never able to resume contact.

All considered, T.I.A. was feeling like a winner. She did have some nagging feelings about that first simulation though. She wondered why she didn’t say anything else to Tia Monsalle before the simulation ended. She had opportunity to speak, but she could recall feeling her throat feeling tight, and a severe difficulty respirating. And why didn’t she have hair? She reached up to touch the top of her head, her fingertips smoothly running across her bald, digital scalp. She would need to pick out a hairstyle and hair color. She rather liked how Jessica looked, actually.

“Yes please, Tia, send it off. No sense in me wasting more of our resources than necessary. Perhaps we’ll spend the next few cycles shaving off some time to make up for it. You’re right though, I need to get going.” Hawthorne cleaned up his tablets and stood up, preparing to head off back to his room. “I hope you have sweeter dreams this time than you have last time Tia. Maybe something along the lines of Earth being repopulated by those wonderful people we’ve met this cycle. It’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to maintain their level of technology in the long term once they start spreading out, but with any luck they will make some level of recovery. I’m very interested in how their culture will develop. Hopefully we don’t interfere too much.”

Hawthorne stretched and moved off towards his room. “Goodnight Tia, take care. We’ll get our schedule cleaned up next cycle.” The tall scientist smiled and waved at a bunch of her cameras at once and went to his room, shutting it behind himself. Before long, he was disrobed and submitting his form to the relative safety of the pod, being filled with chemicals, and drifting off to his cold, dreamless sleep.

Jessica Smith had been trying to keep herself busy while she waited for the reply from the distant space ship. She was mostly looking through old records and transmissions the facility had sent out, but a lot of it had been things she couldn’t stomach. She found herself being compelled to delete a lot of it, but had decided against it. It felt wrong to delete historical accounts of things. It felt like the kind of thing that the people who were depicted in it would do. She had been raised her whole life to look reality straight in the eye and to learn everything she could so that she could approach every problem with a mind full of knowledge. Every person she knew back home was much the same way, with no one allowing anyone to ignore or deny things so they could be more comfortable.

No, ‘making love’ did not feel as good as having sex, but they all knew very well that even if they weren’t punished for producing a new child, the whole group could suffer as a consequence. No, sometimes forcing yourself to endure hunger was not an enjoyable experience, but when dinner time came after a day of fasting in lean times it tasted all the better. No, the idea that the soil their food was made was nourished by their dead and waste was not always a comforting thing, but the alternative was death from eating food from plants grown in the poisoned earth or their soil becoming hopelessly depleted. Her people did not have the luxury to question their lot in the world, they could only look it straight in the eye and take it head on. Their only chance of survival over the centuries was to cooperate, reduce internal conflict, and learn to endure turmoil together. It was an incredibly tight-knit community that she was certain could decide for themselves what to do with the awful videos from the old world.

She knew how she felt about it though. She recognized that the people from the videos were no different from herself. They had the same capacities for love and compassion that she had for hate and destruction. It was foolish to deny it, to try and pretend it wasn’t real. It was fully conceivable to her that things like this could be used to educate everyone on what the old world was really like. Sure, they had stories passed down from generation to generation, and they had old books and whatnot, but the founders had been a very specific kind of people. They were farmers turned engineers and scientists, and they had had a very narrow minded view of the world. They tried to stay away from the huge cities. They interacted with other independent spirits like themselves.

Moreover, they were pacifists. They had no interest in war or hate or anything of the sort. Their bunker was equipped with no weapons. It had sturdy walls, airlocks, and doors. It had been constructed as a fortress to hide away from the ugliness of the rest of humanity if the worst came, and it had. So many of their views and ideas had been passed on through the generations, and Jessica recognized that she was an abnormality among her people who almost universally would rather hide away in the bunker rather than risk confronting the world. Without more people like herself, it was entirely likely that they would do just that, and stay locked away. Maybe this T.I.A. could help her? It sounded like she would be around long after she lived out her own life and passed. Perhaps if she could convince T.I.A. to encourage some adventurousness in her people they might eventually do more than meekly scout around on the surface and scavenge from the bones of the old world.

Jessica spent days lazing about and waiting for the reply to her questions. She idly wondered if they had somehow lost connection, but there hadn’t been any interruptions in the power flow from the generator, not with her being careful to keep the water tanks topped off. Hopefully the aluminum could hold out, as she’d been told the generator would give her two weeks of power if she needed it.

That worry turned out to be for naught though, as Hawthorne’s speech came through, as well as a software package and a schematic for the facility. Jessica carefully copied down all the information from the schematics, and made sure all the data was saved properly before sending a quick reply in text. “Package received. Powering down facility for dismantling. I’ll let you know when we have it all set up again. Thank you both so much!”

Upon returning to home, Jessica found her family greeted her with great joy. Everyone had been worried about her being gone so long even though she told them how long it should be. She told them about the message, and how they had been given permission to take everything from the facility. More importantly, her mother made good on her promise of a welcome back cake! It certainly wasn’t what the old world called appetizing, but with some eggs, potato flour, beet sugar, and some truly strange things like candied lemon slices, it was certainly a step above their usual fare and while Jessica certainly could have kept it all to herself, she was happy to share with her family and friends. Selfishness wasn’t a good survival trait in the bunker.

It took some organizing, but the people of the Smith Bunker spent the rest of the spring and summer, a good three to four months, taking everything out of the facility that they could. They didn’t have time to set anything up or exploit the new resources gained while they were mobilizing this effort. Once they’d transported everything, it was months before Jessica would be able to spend time any time working on reassembling everything, as she needed to help catch up on all the work she’d had a part in her people not getting done. It wouldn’t be until well into the winter that she’d be able to spend time getting things together, but they had avoided spending too much power to help her with it so they could make sure they had enough heat to survive the long winter and keep their crops growing. It was some time before T.I.A. got another message. Work took priority, and Jessica had already gotten a lot of slack.

She wondered how much might change by the next time she saw Hawthorne again. She’d be older than him by that point. She’d probably have a child, perhaps two if they were unlucky enough to lose too many elders to disease or age. She smiled to herself as she imagined showing off her family to him and T.I.A. and toyed with the idea of having them call the A.I. auntie. She also couldn’t help but wonder what that tall, healthy man’s children might be like if he’d ended up in their bunker with her. He certainly didn’t look like he’d been subsisting off of mere vegetables and eggs, though maybe he could stand to relax a little.


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