Leaving Earth



Chapter 20: Cycle 13, Working Against Time


A note from Warfox

Thanks for your patience everyone! I managed to survive the last week well enough. I'd scaled back a lot on hours at work so I could concentrate on writing this, but the start of the month and other circumstances necessitate spending a lot more time. The extra hours do help top up my savings though, and maybe, hopefully someday I can earn a living doing this and not have to expend my energy on that.

I have really been anticipating writing this chapter. I hope you like it. More details will be forthcoming in future chapters, of course, but if you can't wait, I did do my research on as much as I could and will be happy to answer questions privately. If you do ask such questions, do avoid spoiling anything.

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.

Hawthorne had no idea anything was amiss. Once again he knew nothing of time passing between the time he was put in stasis and revived. His body started up again, his awareness of himself returned, but something strange did happen this time. A voice was speaking to him. It took him a moment to understand, but he recognized the voice. “..an you hear me? Doctor? I need your assistance.” He blinked a few times, still mostly paralyzed, but he was starting to gain the use of his lungs. After taking his first breath he spoke weakly. “I’ll be with you in a moment, Tia.”

Hawthorne remained calm as he drew himself up out of his pod, taking care not to rush himself. The lights slowly gained in luminescence, and he adjusted well enough. “Okay Tia, what’s going on? Did you wake me up early?” He blinked, moving his hands across the nightstand that T.I.A. had always put his glasses case on before. A different shaped case was there this time. “Tia, what’s this? Where are my glasses?”

T.I.A. let out an inward groan. She’d replaced his glasses. She was not prepared to be giving him his present yet. “Are these gloves? Tia, what’s going on?” She really needed to get things moving. “Forgive me father, I had intended to begin the next cycle by giving you gifts, but my plans have changed. Please try them on, a pair of contacts and some gloves. I wanted this to be more of a surprise, but the simulations I’ve been running on behalf of the Smith Bunker have resulted in what appears to be an emergency situation.”

He raised an eyebrow at that, but picked up his gifts and went over to his small restroom. It took a little trial and error, but within a few minutes Hawthorne was looking at himself in the mirror, with visible circuitry obscuring small lines around the edge of his irises. He seemed to be impressed with how perfectly they clarified his vision, only for T.I.A. to poke her face out of his mirror. “Father, there is an emergency. Come to your workroom.” Hawthorne had stumbled back from the mirror at the appearance of T.I.A. and took a moment to gather his wits. “Jesus Tia, a little warning next time, please? Okay, obviously you’ve prepared some manner of Augmented Reality lenses like the schematics from Earth. And these gloves…” He reached out and put them on, tugging at the wrists to fit them snugly. “Tactile sensory input gloves?” He hummed, wondering what else she had prepared. “Right! Emergency, right.” He checked the date on the Heads Up Display in the contacts. Saturday, May 25, 2497. Almost ten years too early for the next cycle.

Rushing back into his bedroom, he grabbed some pants and almost hobbled himself pulling them on and hurried out into the workroom. He paused for a moment as he seemed to walk back into what appeared the old park next to his college overlaid atop the cold steel of his workroom. Even the walls did not seem to obscure his view of the park extending off for at least a mile. What had she been planning? T.I.A. was standing there next to the table in the center of the room in a pretty yellow sundress. Her hair was a chestnut brown and she’d even bothered to have slippers on her feet. In her hands was a section of the globe of Earth, which she placed on the table. Its dark black surface was starting to turn a lighter brown, with thick clouds moving across above the surface. She appeared to be displaying the simulation she’d been working on to Hawthorne. “The Elders asked me to help predict the future temperature changes and soil quality so they could work out an estimate of when they could return to the surface. While running the simulation I noticed that the temperatures started to get colder.”

She waved her hand across the surface and soon enough there was an encroaching sheet of ice moving down from northern Canada down towards the Smith bunker. “The glacier will take a great deal of time to arrive, but the temperatures and the winters will become intolerably cold. The water flowing through their underground river will freeze. The surface will become permafrost. The thawing period they have been experiencing is only temporary.” Hawthorne reached out to touch the surface of the simulation, his fingertips feet the heat and firmness of the world, but as the simulation ran his fingers felt colder and colder.

“The Black Rain…” Understanding filled his expression as he gently stroked at the figment of Earth he could see with his contacts. “The Black Rain fell and colored the planet and cleared the majority of the atmosphere. The blackened surface absorbed heat from the sun and counteracted the nuclear winter. Further erosive forces from the lack of vegetation are burying the blackened debris from the Cataclysm. Without that extra heat absorption, the glaciers that had already started forming are reflecting more light than the world needs to absorb to maintain its temperature, causing it to cool. The more it cools, the more snow and ice will form, and the more light will get reflected, and it will just keep compounding upon itself…”

“Father, what do they do? They can’t survive that! It’s only going to get worse. The bunker will fail.” T.I.A. looked distraught. She appeared to be on the edge of crying as she had in her dream of Hawthorne’s death, but at the moment she was just hanging her head, staring at the simulation between them. Hawthorne sighed, stepping over to her and resting a hand atop her head. He gently stroked his fingers between those brown curls of hers. “Tia, send an emergency message to the bunker. Tell them to cease any construction they have been working on. Tell the Elders that the simulations have revealed a danger and that we will contact them with plans for how to deal with it.” Hawthorne kind of enjoyed how she called him father when she got emotional. He tried to move forward to give her a comforting hug, only it was just his hands able to touch her back, but he imagined she simulated the whole embrace for herself. He gave her a little pat on her head and nodded towards the control panels. “Go, send the message, I’ll finish getting dressed, and we’ll get to work. I’ll need some coffee and something to snack on. We’ll be pulling some all-nighters.”

T.I.A. nodded and slipped away unnaturally quickly, her feet sliding across the ground and disturbing the grass as she began waving her hands at the computers. They danced to her commands, and the message was away. Hawthorne shook his head, smiling and went back into his room to finish changing. So this was how she’d been visualizing herself all this time? He felt it was such a shame that such a thoughtful gift had to be overshadowed by something so dire. Still, depending on how it worked, it could help them get their new project done very efficiently.

It was an awe-inspiring thing to see Hawthorne work. He immediately started putting together tools to work with as he literally started drawing objects into T.I.A.’s imagination. He requested she create objects for him to ‘paint’ with, having her help form his palate as he learned to utilize the new capabilities she’d given him. Within an hour she had formed all manner of sizes of steel plating, wiring, switches, plastics, lighting, gears, glass, belts, and any number of other pieces of equipment that Hawthorne specified and helped her construct. His tools ended up being so much more elaborate than the utilities she’d put together to construct the simple park he had barely had any time to appreciate as he wolfed down his breakfast.

Hawthorne and T.I.A. were building something quite elaborate, and in the process he had asked her to do certain things. “Tia, analyze the structure visible from your videos of the Smith Bunker and try to determine what it is constructed of, as well as its thickness and weight. Estimate a likely size for the whole facility based on what you’ve observed, and determine the amount of materials that could be obtained from cannibalizing the structure. Rough numbers will be fine, I just need something to work with for the moment. Send a message to the bunker requesting blueprints and any inventory of building materials they have not yet used. Use their reply to refine the measurements I’ve requested you estimate. I’ve got to keep working.”

T.I.A. did not hesitate for a moment to work on what he’d asked her to. He could see her when he glanced in her direction through the wall, outside of his habitat where she’d decided to work. She was pulling up dozens of windows all around her of video and watching them all simultaneously while her hands moved to construct a vague representation of a miniature version of the Smith bunker. She tossed her estimates in his direction as she made them, and he added them to his available ‘inventory’ of materials to work with in his designs. She threw him everything from estimated farming rooms to bedrooms and common rooms. Bathrooms, power generation facilities, and storage all joined the others as she tossed him room after room. One of the windows closed, suggesting she’d sent the request for information.

Hawthorne’s work was taking up the whole table he usually ate his meals at. A big, boxy but functional vehicle was forming. It had huge, wide tracks, and walls that seemed to be able to open up on the sides to provide shelter for anyone walking under it. The thickness of materials varied from spot to spot, but as he formed more and more of the vehicle it became obvious it was something like a tracked train. Hydrogen-aluminum generators and solar panels made up the primary power sources while efficient electric engines ran the tracks. Certain compartments had thick panels of glass in the ceiling, not unlike the ones above some of the common rooms in the bunker, but rather than being a living space they were compartments for the bunker’s gardens and chicken coops.

Almost six days straight of painstakingly intricate and exacting virtual construction resulted in a good initial effort in Hawthorne’s plans to help the people of the Smith Bunker convert their whole home into a mobile bunker. Only a handful of naps provided Hawthorne much needed rest. It wouldn’t be fast, it wouldn’t be pretty, but all it needed to do was get them a safe distance away in a reasonable amount of time. The tracks should help them get over the muddy landscapes and rugged mountains they would have to navigate. Insulation made from dried vegetative matter, primarily hemp, could protect them from the worst of the cold. Triple stacked bunk beds stuffed various compartments, allowing thirty people to sleep in individual compartments of the long train that he was forming. It was a quick, efficient design for a desperate plan to save people he’d only just met.

Hawthorne and T.I.A. also had to put together schematics for how to construct the tools that needed to be made to accomplish the audacious plans, though halfway through the fifth day he needed to take some time to sleep more than a brief nap, almost forgetting to remove his new gloves and contacts. T.I.A. saw to the cleaning of the AR equipment while she awaited the response from Earth. By the time he’d groggily woken up ten hours later and taken the time to eat and clean up she was receiving the requested information from Earth. They had apparently kept that sort of thing on hand among the Elders, and there had been some plans put in place to expand the bunker with the materials from the Beta Facility.

Newly armed with more precise data about what he had to work with, he was able to make some expansions on the plans, as well as work out where the bunker dwellers had to construct a sort of garage for the equipment and materials to exit the bunker more easily. In the end, the plans had essentially converted a large percentage of the bunker into a much more cramped, mobile version of that bunker. It seemed the survivors of one cataclysm had to do a lot of work if they were going to escape another. After all, there was no guarantee they’d have any shelter once they reached their destination, so the most logical thing to do was to bring their shelter with them.

Young Hawthorne 'Thorne' Crenshaw was seeing something none of his fellow bunker dwellers had ever seen before, at least outside of documentaries and other movies. Off in the distance as he scouted out a southern portion of the old city of Seattle for useful materials, he saw movement! It was still distant, and its shape was hard to pick out among the old, deteriorating buildings, but it was certainly something that was moving under its own power. Moving closer, but keeping a safe distance, the light-brown, almost olive-skinned blonde man tried to get a better view at the creature. His green eyes peered through the cracks of an old concrete wall as he peered at the strange thing in the distance, his sturdy clothes doing a fine job of protecting his skin from the harsh ultraviolet radiation that bathed the planet every day.

It was a large thing, about the size of a man, but with strange proportions. Its body was thick and segmented and hunched over into a long-armed quadrupedal form. The surface of its body seemed to be covered in long, stiff-looking hair or spines that ranged from a shiny black towards the base and a dull brick-red towards the tips. The limbs had much shorter hair spines that were mostly black and bunched up around the more bulbous parts of its upper arms and forearms. He couldn’t see the head at his angle, but he could see that it was hunched over the jutting form of a very rusty old steel girder, its forelimbs ending in flat pads. Its legs were especially thick and powerful looking, and they seemed to very slowly shift the body around, suggesting it was both heavy and powerful. The air around the thing seemed to waver slightly, very faintly distorting its shape.

When it did finally turn to the side, Thorne almost yelled in shock at what he saw. It had long, hairy black antennae, huge orbs that appeared to be eyes, and a multi-segmented mouth was was writhing grotesquely over a section of rusty steel in its mouth. It had another pair of smaller arms that were holding this several-pound chunk of steel up to its face, and unlike its other limbs these arms seemed to possess something that looked more like hands, though honestly they were like insectile oven mitts. The twenty-one year old son of the explorer Jessica was quick to gather his things and sneak away, hurrying back to the bunker with the news.

Thorne found the bunker in a bit of a tense mood. Seeking out his forty-three year old mother, he found the partially-retired explorer whom had mentored him talking to his grandfather Barry. She immediately hopped up and threw her arms around the shoulders of her son, happy he was safe. It had only been an hour since T.I.A. contacted them. “Hawthy, honey, I’m so glad to see you!” He laughed and hugged his mother back, lifting her off the ground for a moment before setting her down. He switched to a more serious face, but before he could speak up she was already talking. “Dad says that Doctor Crenshaw thinks there’s something wrong. We’re waiting to hear back about what that is, but they’ve asked us to give them an inventory of all our building materials, including the bunker’s blueprints and construction.”

Thorne blinked at that, looking over to his grandfather. The darker-skinned Elder merely nodded his head. “Go help the other men, boy. They need help gathering the information.” Thorne shook his head at his family patriarch. “Grandad, mom, I saw something out there. It wasn’t human. It was big and weird and had four arms. Two of them were way bigger than the other two and seemed to be for holding up its weirdly shaped body and the smaller arms had these weird hands and it was holding up some old metal up to its face and was sucking on it.” Thorne was miming all of the things he was describing, from the hunched over frame, to the wiggly appendages around the mouth. Jessica responded, sitting up straight with a serious expression. “Draw it.” In the previous years as she taught her son everything she knew about exploring, she was good about teaching him to take pictures if he had battery to do so, or to draw what he’d seen.

Jessica and Barry sat close together as Thorne started drawing on a tablet, muttering to each other and getting in a quiet argument here and there. He focused as his fingertips utilized the various utilities in the app to depict what seemed to be like some strange bipedal-looking roach creature with a sturdy carapace and spiny hair. It differed greatly, of course, from the pictures of roaches that Barry had pulled up on his own tablet, and Jessica did her best to try and argue with him about what was different and what was the same. They didn’t have much to go off of, but when Thorne started intentionally smudging the image Barry reached out to stop him. “What’re you doing boy?”

Thorne looked up at him, blinking. “Well, the air around it was, like.. moving, almost shimmering. I don’t know how to explain.” Barry frowned though, looking at the drawing. He’d been around long enough to see all kinds of things, and this description reminded him of one time a heater had malfunctioned and overheated to very unsafe levels. “It’s hot for some reason.”

By the time Doctor Crenshaw saw fit to addressing the Smith Bunker himself almost a week later, he was looking very tired indeed. Heavy bags hung under his eyes and he leaned heavily on the counter as he looked into the cameras. He glanced over at T.I.A. as she started worming her way into the camera view, watching as she slipped up under his chin to wave hello before sliding back out of frame. He rolled his eyes and got on with it. “Obviously my daughter lacks the capacity for exhaustion that I do.” He laughed softly. “Smith Bunker. I sadly can’t say that I have good news. The days ahead will be filled with work. We have enclosed blueprints for a series of vehicles you must construct, vehicles you will use the bunker itself to create. The vehicles will provide temporary, if uncomfortable shelters while you work on building the rest. You need to convert your bunker into something more mobile.”

Reaching up to rub his eyes, he continued. “I know this is a lot, and I wish I could do more to help, but the sooner you get this done the better. The warming of the planet is only temporary, and a true ice age is going to descend upon the world. The temperatures are already falling,  though the effects aren’t obvious yet. They will be, and it won’t be more than fifty years before you’ll find yourselves trapped there and forced to survive conditions I don’t believe you’re equipped to withstand. The underground river will stop flowing as it clogs with ice. The earth itself will freeze. Snow will bury the bunker so deep it will be nearly impossible to dig your way back out. I suppose you could try digging deeper into the Earth to stay warmer, but I can’t guarantee how long that might be effective and it would require you to both excavate deeper as well as move the whole bunker deeper and acquire a new source of water and air.”

He let out a sigh. T.I.A. decided to hide away behind him. She did not want to be the bearer of bad news. Hawthorne always seemed more adept at these things. “You’ll need to navigate south on the surface. You’ll want to get to at least Central America, but you’ll be better off getting to the equatorial region of South America in all honesty, probably around northwest Brazil. I have no idea if any of the infrastructure of the old world is still intact, which necessitated the design we’ve enclosed being able to handle a wide variety of terrain. I’ve used old maps to try to give you a good course to try, and instructions on how to build a compass. In the event that the compass doesn’t work due to abnormalities in the Earth’s gravitational field, I also have instructions on how to navigate using the stars as a backup.”

“I can’t think of anything else I can do to help at the moment. If Tia or myself can be of assistance, please contact us. I’m going to take some time to go over the plans a few more times to make sure they’re right, and I’ll send you any updates, but I really need to get back on ice before too long. It was worth Tia waking me though, this was something I had to attend to personally. I’m sure you have plenty of engineers, but thanks to Tia I was able to get the plans together in remarkably quick order.” Hawthorne reached out to end the transmission, only for T.I.A. to speak up. “Doctor, I’m receiving another transmission.” Blinking, Hawthorne paused his movement for a moment. “I’ll see what it is you’re sending and append my response to that to this message.” He then paused the recording.

Turning about to look back at T.I.A. he found her watching a free-floating visual of the transmission from the bunker. She seemed to be keeping the audio down for him at the moment, but rewinded it and piped the audio through her own speakers. The fact that T.I.A.’s voice and the sound from the transmission had to come from the speakers in the wall rather than from her mouth or the floating recording felt a bit disoriented at times. He wondered if there was a way to fool his ears into thinking the source of the audio was different. “Okay, let’s see this.”

On the screen was a familiar face, one that was notably older than the last time he’d seen her. Jessica had aged gracefully since she was nineteen, and was now a mature and vibrant looking forty-three whom had transitioned nicely into ‘beautiful’ from ‘sexy’, though the latter attribute was still readily apparent. Also present was the face of her father, sitting behind her to the left, and a new face to her right. Hawthorne was totally unaware that he was about to be introduced to someone named after him. Jessica spoke first. “Hello Doctor Crenshaw, we hope everything is okay up there. We were a little startled at the message you sent, but I imagine you have things under control. Your request came shortly before some news riled us up though. First, let me introduce these two, my husband is off helping finish up the inventory you requested.” She gestured to her father, and then son in turn. “This is my father Barry Smith, and my son Hawthorne Crenshaw. I don’t know how much Tia’s told you, but my husband changed his name and we named our son after you. Anyway, that’s not important right now. Tell him what you saw, son.”

The young man spoke up after clearing his throat, while Doctor Crenshaw glanced over at T.I.A. as if to ask, “Why didn’t you tell me about that?” T.I.A. blushed and smiled sheepishly. Her expression was much more akin to, “I didn’t want to distract you.” Regardless, they silently observed the young man addressing his namesake. “Uh… hi Doctor Crenshaw, Thorne here, uhm.” He held up the drawing he’d made, hiding most of the people with the tablet. “This is a drawing of some… thing I saw in south Seattle last week. We don’t know what it is, but granddad thinks that it’s really hot for some reason. I wasn’t able to get close enough to tell what it’s made of, but I did see it sucking on an old girder from a collapsed building. It was about two meters tall, and it seemed to move around as if it were very heavy. The air around it seemed to blur or shimmer. The Elders think that it probably eats some kind of bacteria on iron, or maybe dissolves and eats the iron itself. We’re not really sure.”

Doctor Crenshaw interrupted the video, “Tia, isolate that image and pull it out for me.” Pausing the video, she pulled the drawing up and out, and Hawthorne expanded it and stood it up before him. It was slightly shorter than he was at young Thorne’s estimate, and he took a few moments to look the thing over. He seemed mostly interested in its color as he observed the spiny hair on its body. Turning back to the video, he nodded to T.I.A. and the video resumed.

Barry spoke up, gently pushing the tablet out of the frame as he leaned over his daughter’s shoulder a bit. His voice was deep and his skin several shades darker than Jessica’s. “Doctor, we don’t have any weapons of any kind. None of us have killed and we’ve rarely had to defend ourselves. If this thing turns out to be dangerous, we’re helpless against it. We need you to send us schematics for some kind of weapon to hopefully deal with this thing, especially if it turns out there’s more than one of them. We haven’t told the people about this yet, but we’re almost certain it will result in some kind of panic if we don’t have a plan for how to deal with them. They’re already rattled by the unknown reasons for your last message. We don’t feel safe letting them know what’s happening until after we have a possible solution for it.”

Jessica sighed and nodded. “I think they’re right, Doctor. As much as I hate the idea of us having weapons, and I don’t think we’ll actually be able to use them if we need to, they’re all much more likely to freak out if we don’t have them than if we do.” Thorne spoke up quietly, mostly talking to himself, quoting Kafka. “It’s better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have.” Barry slapped the boy on the back, grinning proudly. “I thought you hated reading, boy?” Thorne jolted at the slap, only to smile sheepishly. “No more than mom, granddad. It’s always nice to have something to read when you’re out alone in the ruins.” Jessica smirked at being thrown under the proverbial bus, but shook her head and got back to the topic at hand. “We await your response.”

Doctor Crenshaw and T.I.A. watched as the video ended, and he looked back up at the beast. He let out a sigh and shook his head. “I’m too tired to think about this clearly. Tia, can you send them some information on some simple guns and stun weaponry they could construct? It should be powerful enough to take down a bear or maybe a rhino. It looks like it has a pretty thick hide, or perhaps a carapace. Those spines bother me, but I think the temperature can be explained by its black coloration. It’s obviously some kind of mutant, but I don’t have enough information to tell much about it.” Biology was not his field. He’d have to do some reading. T.I.A. was quick to gather up several files, and Hawthorne couldn’t help but watch as she withdrew them from a virtual cabinet that appeared before her and she directed a small waterfall of documents into a box that was marked ‘Smith Evacuation Blueprints and Response Video’.

He returned to the recording he had paused, looking back at the camera and unpausing it. “I received your transmission regarding the news the Elders have been debating. We’re packaging the data you requested along with the blueprints for the vehicles you need to build. Keep me updated on the situation and request whatever information you need from Tia. She’ll be able to handle most of your needs. I’m next scheduled to awaken in AC three seventy-four, so you can anticipate me being available then on May fifteenth. Good luck and godspeed, Smith Bunker. I hope you will forgive me for not being able to do more to help.”

He ended the recording, sighing and hanging his head. A pair of hands touched his right gloved hand, and squeezed at it. He smiled down at the A.I. who was looking up at him from his right side. “Send it. And bring back that park you’d modelled.” T.I.A. smiled brightly and nodded, sending off the box and setting the other images and constructs aside in a saved folder as she brought back her reconstruction of Clapham Common, filling the area with grass and relaxing scenery. Hawthorne took hold of it for a moment and pulled the terrain around until there was an old looking tree, which he pulled up against one of the walls. He moved to settle down against the wall, and pretended it was that tree against his back.

Hawthorne waved T.I.A. over to sit with him, his left hand brushing through the grass, enjoying its feel against his skin, even if he could only feel it with the gloves. T.I.A. sat down next to him, leaning against the tree and the side of his other arm. “You know, I used to sit under this tree almost every day to read and think. It was so peaceful and soothing. I never considered how much I might miss it.” He turned his head to smile down at the young woman in the pretty yellow sundress. “It’s a wonderful gift. Thank you. I wish we could have enjoyed it under better circumstances.” He lifted his right hand, watching T.I.A. smile happily, and rubbed his hand into her hair, enjoying the soft curls against his fingers. It wasn’t exactly human contact, but it was nice. “So, let’s see these videos you’ve been sending back and forth.”

T.I.A. blinked and nodded, smiling sheepishly as she started playing back all of the back-and-forth correspondence between her and the bunker, catching him up under the warm summer sun back home. He almost couldn’t see the cold steel surrounding him.


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