Hawthorne and T.I.A. had just sent off the ‘inspiring speech’ that had been requested of them, leaving Hawthorne unlikely to be able to communicate with them much more this cycle. “I find myself feeling kind of jealous, Tia. You and Elena get to watch all of this happening in real time while I have to play catch-up and try to time my interactions out with the world. It was a lot less complicated when it was just you and I.” T.I.A. hummed aloud, a somewhat odd sound coming from the wall speakers rather than her short, feminine avatar. “From my perspective, Doctor Crenshaw, because of the fact that I have to be immersed in the ‘now’ all of the time, I find that I miss things or fail to consider things that you end up catching when you are around. I believe your circumstances allow you to come to each cycle with a fresh perspective.”
Hawthorne nodded softly, sitting down at a chair at the table, his surroundings still that of Clapham Common as he started tapping and sliding his fingers on the screen of the tablet he’d left there. “You’ve got a point. Even if I have to miss the ‘now’ that you get to experience, the times I do get to experience have the advantage of you being able to compress and summarize everything that’s happened, allowing me to take in more information in a shorter time to work on solutions of my own. There’s less questions for me to wrestle with because you already had the time and opportunity to gather answers. It does make for an interesting problem-solving dynamic that I hadn’t considered. I had just assumed that, while I am able to assist you during my times awake, that you will end up doing the vast majority of the work. I’m glad that I can be of more assistance to you than I expected, Tia.”
T.I.A. fussed with her dress with her hands, flattening out wrinkles and smoothing down folds. She kept finding herself prone to pointless physical motion to help herself focus on thinking, which was rather odd considering the amount of processes that needed to happen. She had to simulate the fabric, and her hands, and the relationship between the two. There was also the atmosphere at Clapham Common and the gravity of Earth she tried to simulate, all so she could fuss with her dress. Strangely enough, her fidgeting did allow her to focus on her thinking, at least in these sorts of moments.
“I believe I’ve said before that I would not be able to handle nearly as much without your assistance Doctor Crenshaw. It feels like no matter how many years pass, you have a perspective and sense of problem solving that make my abilities seem feeble.” Hawthorne looked back at her, smiling and shaking his head. “Nonsense. You’ve made huge leaps already, and we have so much further to go before we get to our destination. The more you get accustomed to different elements of problem solving, the more you’ll be able to fall back on what you’ve already learned to help you deal with more complicated issues. By the time we get to Alpha Centauri, you’ll be every bit my match, if not my superior. We may well find ourselves rivalling each other and making each other better over that time. Just focus on the things you have as your advantages, and you’ll do just fine.”
He hummed, deciding to add. “The people on Earth have their own perspectives of course. They have to worry in entire different ways about how they’ll survive the next day. They also have a lot of people they can depend upon to help them figure things out. It’s no wonder they finished re-purposing their bunker so much faster than I expected. It kind of reminds me of the sense of urgency that drove my own companions and I to complete the Ark and launch it. I don’t know if the roaches are directly analogous to the terrorists and protesters we had to deal with, but they do have a similar desire to devour others for their own benefit.”
T.I.A. let out a shocked gasp. “I do not have any records of widespread cannibalism being reported in advance of our departure!” Hawthorne laughed heartily, almost falling out of the chair. “No! No Tia, I meant figuratively devour.” He sobered a bit as he clarified. “They destroyed people's’ lives, branded them as evil monsters, as less than human, and fed on their despair to grow in power and influence themselves. They tried people in the court of public opinion, found them guilty, and executed them professionally without ever having to bring the actual law into it. Sometimes they executed them literally as well.” T.I.A. recognized these descriptions from her records, making her stare with wide eyes.
She squeaked out a response, her range of expression having expanded so much by interacting with the Phoenix Clan. “But father, how did people let them get away with such things?” Hawthorne reached out to hug her against his side, rubbing a hand up and down her arm. “The rest of the people outnumbered them, certainly, but they were afraid. They weren’t even all that afraid of the terrorists and protesters themselves, honestly. I think they were afraid of what might happen if they spoke out. Anyone who dared to express a differing opinion was worried that they would be abandoned by the masses to the demonization and ridicule of the vocal minorities that held sway. Just like these roaches our friends are dealing with, their mere presence promised pain and loss. Even just the threat that they might take notice of them was enough to keep them in line and complacent. I think that is why Elena feels like she needs to protect the Phoenix Clan, despite her smaller numbers. The dogs need to protect the sheep from the wolves.”
T.I.A. seemed like she wanted to protest a bit. “But we armed the ‘sheep’ too! They can defend themselves! Scout Master Crenshaw even helped hunt down the roach that killed Tabby!” She tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but found herself unwilling to give up the comforting embrace. This rebellion from her self confused her a great deal. “Yes, we armed them, but when did they go to hunt that roach, Tia? Before or after Hawthorne had evidence that the thing could be killed? Before or after Elena’s own scout had decided to hunt it down? If the Phoenix Clan had its own wolves, they’d have hunted that thing down immediately.” T.I.A. hung her head, unable to argue.
“That’s okay though. The Old Ones can show them how. And maybe our friends can show them how to be sheep a little too. It’ll be a good chance for both groups to mix their ideas and philosophies. I suspect they will find a lot of things about each other to admire. As much as I stumble in social situations, I find myself envying the interesting prospects in their futures trying to grow accustomed to each other.”
Megan Clark had hopes and dreams, once upon a time. As a young media executive, she had leveraged some favors and significant funds to get herself into a gene therapy program. Their intentions with her therapy were to remove the familial tendencies towards cancer and cardiovascular disease from her DNA so that when she decided to have children she wouldn’t have to worry about passing those traits on. It was a pretty logical idea in her mind. If she got the modifications to herself, she wouldn’t need to deal with modifying each child in her womb. Of course, things don’t always go as planned.
Megan was never the same once the week and a half of feverish DNA rewriting took place. A specially engineered virus tore through her body, replacing the DNA of every cell in her body, in particular her reproductive, stem cells, and brain cells. It was an agonizing process that could not be performed with any level of sedation. Thankfully her body had responded by mostly staying unconscious. It was not evident that anything had gone wrong, at first, with her doctor releasing her from his care and collecting his paycheck, telling her to contact him if anything had gone wrong.
She’d called him that very night. She complained of a total disinterest in sex with her husband. She was incapable of arousal, and no manner of aids helped. Bringing her in for examination, it was determined that her reproductive systems had been terribly damaged, with the biggest surprise being a huge reduction in her necessary hormone production. With the kind of damage done, and potentially a week or more of neglect, it was determined that she’d been rendered completely sterile. They might be able to salvage some of her eggs for a surrogate mother, but even that prospect seemed dubious considering what the virus had done to her body.
Needless to say, she got rich off of suing her doctor for malpractice and emotional turmoil, but she took no joy in it. She divorced her husband, paying him a tidy sum to not darken her doorstep again, and fell into a deep depression. By the time she’d returned to work she was practically already a robot, having locked off her emotions tightly, lest she have to face the painful reality that she’d never have children, and that she’d probably live a long, cancer-free, heart-attack-free life because of it.
Megan Clark threw herself into her work. She even fell into a habit of adderall abuse to help her focus even more. She was ruthless, cold, and efficient in her efforts to censor the media and internet in her position working under President Hector Price. Promotions and raises came quickly for her, but nothing filled that swirling emptiness where her hopes and dreams of a big happy family had gone.
And then the world ended.
Megan was left behind with so many others locked up in bunkers across the world. She clung to Elena Price for fear of losing all that she had left, her life. Accidents, complications, and unforeseen illnesses as a result of her botched gene therapy caused her to seek out alternative solutions. The doctors available removed the diseased parts, and replaced what they could. One after another, piece after piece, Megan Clark lost her humanity. More importantly though, that emptiness inside of her died more and more with each part changed out. She grew numb to those old pains as she lived longer and longer, and by the time she was encountering the reality of making first contact with another group of humans it was totally numb and gone.
What Megan did not realize, as she tried to escape her pain, was not that she was killing her pain, but rather she was killing the parts of her that could feel it. What remained was barely human, barely even alive. She was a pathetic creature who nevertheless was able to prove herself useful in every capacity she applied herself to. In some strange way she still remained true to herself, for she never lost the two things she always had. A fear of death, and an ability to completely lose herself in work, though now she did not have much of a ‘self’ to lose.
And now, new people had presented themselves for her to evaluate. The Council of Twelve, soon to be Thirteen was certainly capable and powerful, but one in particular among them seemed to hold special influence and power. Megan found herself focusing on Jessica Crenshaw, and to a lesser extent her son, and did her best to awkwardly ingratiate herself to them. It wasn’t Jessica that she wanted to befriend though. It was that A.I. on Doctor Crenshaw’s ship. T.I.A. was perhaps uniquely capable of rescuing her from the hostility that Earth presented her. Megan was not certain just how she might go about it, but if she could manage to secure permission to upload her brain to T.I.A.’s data stores, she could ensure that no matter what happened to her on Earth, some part of her might be reborn on Alpha Centauri, perhaps as a robot or another spaceship. Maybe a sample of her DNA could be uploaded too to allow them to try to clone her and place her brain in the body.
Megan totally lacked the education to truly know what was possible, but she did know that nothing was possible if she did not make her move. She influenced Elena Price into keeping them close to Jessica, and the Phoenix Clan. She needed them if she could secure her future, and Elena was still useful to her in securing it.
The former President of the LSC, and now the newest member of the Council of Thirteen, Elena Marie Price could only describe the last few days before their departure towards Sacramento as wanton debauchery. To her escort Jessica, it seemed like a pretty normal day of relaxation before weeks or months of hard work. Elena watched, in particular, as people paired off and went to private places in different rooms in the caravan, as well as between the various cars. Surely they were in line of sight of someone, but no one seemed to mind. “I don’t understand. How can they just be doing it out in the open like that?” Jessica laughed. “They’re not ‘out in the open’, they’re ‘conspicuously easy to see’. You don’t have to look directly at them. It’s not like you know any less of what they’re doing if they were behind closed doors.”
Elena shook her head, still appalled. If the obvious acts of sex weren’t enough, there was a notably high level of drug use as some people downed pieces of mushrooms, and others smoked wrapped up leaves. She recognized the activities of course, but they seemed so much less taboo than she could ever remember seeing. The fact that four and five-hundred year old music was blaring on the speakers, causing more than a few people to dance in inebriated revelry was just icing on the proverbial cake. “You people don’t just get high and procreate whenever you want, do you?”
Jessica was having a wonderful time dealing with the ancient prude. “Listen, if you’re paying any kind of attention, you’ll find plenty of your people out there partaking as well, and we do not procreate whenever we want. Procreation implies reproducing. We do everything but that; though there are a few people with special permissions to procreate with select Old Ones as a bit of an experiment. Otherwise, non-reproductive sex acts are the norm, and mind-expanding chemical experiences are a wonderful way to relax the mind and body in advance of all of the work we have ahead of us. Elena merely scoffed at this, though she was not entirely unconvinced. “Okay, I’m willing to believe you for now. It’s not as though you haven’t proven yourselves capable of surviving in this world. Maybe you understand more about the human experience than I do.”
For her part, Jessica looked rather surprised that Elena relented so quickly. “Our bunker wasn’t exactly the most spacious place, considering how many people we have, but we also didn’t overpopulate it. Our Elders have always managed how many people were allowed to breed, and they carefully made sure that our gene pool remained as strong as it could considering our limitations. They’ve also always understood that people need to manage their stress, and our founders were wise to provide us both the knowledge and the means to help people blow off steam. Every one of us is educated in the carnal arts, not for some form of perversion, but because if we allow ourselves to become too chaste or closed off, that’s when people start breaking down. We’ve had very few killers over the centuries Elena. We’ve had very little violence outside of the playful hormones of boys and young men before they manage to mature.”
The new councilwoman nodded a little, honestly a little jealous at how some people layed about in euphoria, while teenagers shared what appeared to be diluted versions of marijuana to pass between themselves. They certainly weren’t getting as high as the adults were despite being just as eager to partake. Maybe there was some wisdom and judgement in how they did things. “Before the Cataclysm, I remember there were some places in the world where the young were allowed to drink alcohol, usually diluted, and by the time they were adults they had a much healthier relationship with it than adults who were kept from it until they were older. Maybe your founders had some good ideas about teaching people things that others might keep from the young, exposing them to the realities of their world so they can properly adjust to it rather than hiding them away and then forcing them to face it when they’re adults.”
Elena continued. “Those fruits my people brought? The apples? They can make a great tree, if we can get the seeds to grow. The apples can be used to make a nice alcohol. Maybe we can enjoy some one day, once we get to South America.” Jessica kicked back and relaxed in her seat, nodding as she watched the young and ancient people playing and relaxing about. “That sounds nice. I’d love to try it, even if the Elders always recommended against producing recreational alcohol from potatoes. We’ve always had too much need of them for food and medicine. I’ll probably only try a little of it though, since I never really liked mushrooms anyway.” Elena wondered if the founders just had a poor opinion of alcohol, but she sat up a bit, raising an eyebrow at her at the mushroom comment. “What? Why?” She seemed pretty confused after Jessica had defended them just a moment ago. “Well, they have a habit of making reality feel more real, and reality kind of sucks sometimes.”
Thankfully, their travels together the rest of the year ended up being relatively uneventful. No more roaches had been spotted, and the terrain and access to water remained friendly despite the occasional drought. As they went, there were a handful of new children born, but there was one pregnant woman that everyone was keeping their eyes on. Early the next year, both Elena and Jessica were able to celebrate the birth of the first child borne of a ‘human’ and an Old One to a human mother, and considering the... types of celebrating going on, it did not seem like that baby boy would be the last.