Hawthorne waited quietly as he felt his body regain life. He listened for any sign of agitation from T.I.A., perhaps from waking him up prematurely, but it seemed this cycle was starting as planned rather than with urgency. There was the possibility that her silence so far was a sign of bad news, but he supposed it was worth waiting to address that until after he’d properly been revived and gathered his things. He couldn’t help but feel a dull tightness in his chest and throat as a sense of anxiety nagged at him, though. It was an interesting sensation considering he was still largely numb, but it was enough to strike a sense of fear in him. The last time he’d been active, his friends back on Earth had been dealing with quite a lot of trouble and were well underway for an epic journey across unknown terrain.
Nevertheless, he got up out of his pod, gained his balance in the centrifugal replacement for gravity, and headed over to gather his various clothing and belongings. Curiously enough, T.I.A. had prepared for him a black lab coat, which did not help his anxiety one bit. Putting on his AR contacts revealed that even his bedroom had been altered as part of T.I.A.’s virtual environment. He was still standing in a metal container, but it was slightly more cramped and resembled the blueprints he constructed for the Phoenix Clan to rise out of their bunker and travel the lands. Through a window in the wall he could see T.I.A. standing ‘outside’, looking up at a harsh sun that bathed the landscape in brutal light. Other people were about, people he recalled seeing from videos sent to them, and she turned to watch them with a terribly sad expression. “Oh dear…”
As he stepped out of his room-turned-car, with the real door sliding to the side and the AR door lifting up above and shielding him from the projection of sunlight, he couldn’t help but admire the work she had put into the environment. A blasted landscape stretched out around him, with sun-scorched sand, hills, and the skeletons of a city nearby. T.I.A. stood watching children play in a black dress of her own, though it became clear pretty quickly it was only a few seconds of animation before the children in question leaped back in time and performed the same actions again. “Tia? Are you alright?” Hawthorne looked down at his hands, watching as they trembled as he stood and watched his companion.
T.I.A. shook her head, looking back at him with a distraught face. She had even made her eyes look puffy and her cheeks stained with spilled tears. He wondered if she even realized she had simulated such things at this point. Her voice was trembling as she spoke back to him, her voice unfortunately still coming from speakers overhead in the ‘sky’. “No, I’m not okay. I lost contact with Earth again, and even with me sending a signal over and over they never answer back.” Hawthorne let out a long, tired sigh, reaching out to run his hand through her hair, wondering how aware she was of his hand trembling. Of course, she had both the AR input and her camera view of his hand shaking, so she bit her lip and looked up at him, concerned about him now too. He attempted a soft smile, one that failed to brighten either of their moods. “So, what happened?”
T.I.A. breathed in deeply, then let out a shaky breath as she looked up at him with tearful eyes. “Well, it took them awhile, but they made it to Columbia in South America, but the Iron Roaches chased them almost all the way there. They managed to escape across a river, but that only delayed them a few weeks. They met some friendly roaches outside of an old failed bunker, and I helped them with plans and schematics to build defenses to fend off the other roaches if they came after them. The last I heard about the situation was that they were coming, and then Jessica and Teitara started sending Megan Clark to me.”
Hawthorne stiffened a bit in alarm at that, blinking down at her. “Megan? The cyborg woman? They sent her to you?” T.I.A. nodded, fidgeting. “I made sure it was safe, she’s in a set of un-networked hard drives in a low power state for monitoring. She was apparently pessimistic about whether or not the Phoenix Clan could survive the attack, and wanted to be uploaded immediately. She knew she was probably going to be stuck in storage forever, but she was scared enough that she felt it was worth the risk. I lost contact right after she finished transferring her data.” Hawthorne considered what she was saying, wondering what danger Megan could pose.
It should be relatively easy to keep Megan contained, honestly. He just had to make sure she had no wireless capabilities nor a way to network into T.I.A.’s systems physically. Essentially he had to make sure she had no way to manipulate anything aside from talking and perhaps displaying images. It would probably be best to put any such system somewhere where T.I.A.’s cameras did not have direct line of sight either, in case she tried to transfer some kind of code visually or something. Earth’s computer technology had changed a lot before the Cataclysm, and while hardware had mostly taken backwards steps due to material scarcity, software had still continued apace and he couldn’t be sure what capacities she might have for hacking. It was not clear at all whether she was malicious or not.
“I suppose that’s fine. Keep her in storage for now until I figure out what I want to do with her. I might have to try to design her systems to be similar to yours, though from what I heard she lost a lot of her capacities in exchange for her longevity.” He shook his head and sighed again though. Megan was a distraction at best. “Tell me about these friendly roaches.”
T.I.A. waved a hand, causing a visual of a Flora Roach to appear, complete with its plant-encased body, powerful internal musculature, and strangely friendly eyes and fragile hands. Hawthorne stepped away from her to look the creature over. It was very similar to the Iron Roaches he was more familiar with, though even the way they stood seemed more humble and disarming. Considering their great height and obvious physical strength, this was very interesting indeed. “How did they end up like this?”
T.I.A. brought up a number of windows, displaying them in thin air around them as she sought to explain. “Elena believed that both species of roaches originated as a pre-Cataclysm bio-weapon. Looking through old records of internet conspiracy theories by Alexandro Jones I was able to find some evidence of such claims. Apparently a company-turned-country called the True American Accord in South America had been working on some manner of roaches that ate metals. The intent seemed to be to have them disable the infrastructure of other nations, but in order to accomplish this they had to give the roaches the capability of consuming and assimilating DNA and traits from other creatures. The baseline creature they fed it to attain their goals were from the Crenarchaeota phylum, a type of Archaea. Presumably these roaches were released during the Cataclysm before they removed that DNA absorption trait, allowing them to consume other life forms.”
Hawthorne nodded, reaching out and scrolling through the windows as she spoke, picking up where she left off. “First of all, there’s every chance Elena’s still alive. Second, it seems those roaches then ate everything they could, but mostly found dead humans and plants. They made a heavy split in preferences at some point, and one remained hostile to humans and the other became friendly to humans. No wonder there was so little evidence of other survivors, the Iron Roaches were hunting down their shelters and eating them.” If his growing frown were any indication, that did not bode well for their friends. Still, they were pretty well armed from what he could tell, as T.I.A. had also provided him with details on the information she’d given them.
He did let out an impressed sounding ‘hm!’, despite his prior displeasure though. “So, the Phoenix Clan had weapons, defensive positions, and allies of nearly equal strength and power.”
T.I.A. nodded in response. “Yes father, I helped them every way I could. I ended up sending them practically my whole library, though they had trouble finding computers to store it in. They were having issues recycling their equipment as it got damaged.” She looked understandably troubled at the idea that they were losing computers too.
Hawthorne looked increasingly hopeful though. “I think they’re fine. They would have had an enormous defensive and technological advantage. It’s troubling to hear that their equipment was breaking down, but that’s only natural considering the rigors of travel and the difficulty of fabricating such small components in properly sterile environments. Hopefully they can get such facilities together now that they’re settled in place again, but honestly even if they don’t they’re in the best possible position to survive the Ice Age. It’s just a matter of rising to the challenge at that point, and I think their name appropriate enough to describe their ability to do that.” He looked back to his A.I., smiling over at her and watching a hopeful smile appear on her face as well.
“Do you really think so, father? They’re going to be okay? I did enough to save them?” She had a fragile but blossoming hope in her digital heart. The thought that her friends, even if they were cut off, might be living their lives happily back on Earth heartened her quite a bit. If she had known of the deaths that occurred in the battle she’d probably have been heartbroken, but she had the armor of ignorance to protect her from that.
Hawthorne smiled brighter at her, moving over to give the petite avatar a hug about her back. “Tia, I dare say you might be the only reason they’re alive at all, let alone that they have a chance to continue on into the future. It’s also good to hear that they made some friends too, however strange they are. I’m surprised they didn’t shoot them on sight considering their appearance. It will be very interesting to see what kind of culture grows out of those interesting people once the planet becomes more hospitable.”
T.I.A. sank into the simulated hug, very comforted by the idea that she helped so much. Considering that she still felt guilt over possibly having contributed to the Cataclysm in the first place, it made her feel like she had atoned for something. Once again, ignorance of the truth of that fact protected her, something Elena Price could have easily revealed but kept to herself. Megan remained a possible source of that information, however. “It’s kind of exciting, thinking that they could be the progenitors of a new human race on Earth. Maybe they’ll meet us at Alpha Centauri when we arrive?”
Hawthorne shook his head, giving her an extra squeeze and then pulling back. “I don’t believe that’s too terribly likely. The Ice Age will probably take longer to end than we will be in space. It’s not impossible it will be a hundred millennia, but it’s more likely to be three to four-hundred millennia considering historical precedent. Still, it does give us the opportunity for our own civilization to come back and help uplift the descendants of the Phoenix Clan and their roach friends into space. It’s just a matter of producing a culture that can match theirs in warmth, kindness, and hardiness. I do believe we have a lot to look forwards to though, so we should make the best of our time and see how much work we can get out of the way in advance. We even have some practice with helping people survive a hostile environment.”
T.I.A. stepped back as well, and her clothing flashed for a moment before turning into a less grim dress. It was a bit more revealing than Hawthorne was expecting though, causing him to cough and turn away a bit as he looked away from T.I.A.’s exposed cleavage at the top of the strappy sundress. She mistook him looking away for looking somewhere else though. “Ah! Right, your breakfast. I’ll have that prepared right away.” She hopped off, her shapely figure jostling and bouncing in all the right places.
Hawthorne sighed and looked up at the sky, shutting his eyes against the light of the sun which was ironically being projected by the contacts under his eyelids. He muttered under his breath. “Goddamnit Jessica.” He recalled all too clearly the videos of her and Tammy encouraging T.I.A. to seduce him.
Hawthorne and T.I.A. spent much of the rest of the cycle catching up on the various conversations she had had with their friends on Earth, as well as reviewing what they knew of their available equipment, technology, and experts. There was no reason to think that their friends couldn’t teach themselves just about everything they needed to know from the massive digital databases they had access to. The larger problem would likely be taking the time to actually study such things while they had to maintain their equipment, build new structures, and integrate their Flora Roach friends into their society.
With all those challenges added on top of making sure they were fed, protected from further enemies, and withstanding weather that would surely only get worse over time, how much could they really spare towards non-vital education? Unfortunately, it seemed very likely that the dark age that humanity had already entered could only get worse as their survival became more and more demanding. The only saving grace was that their great library was much less flammable than the Library of Alexandria, so hopefully they will maintain access to all of that information. It was no wonder that they haven’t gotten back in contact with them, as they will surely be busy fortifying their position. It was also entirely possible that the necessary documents, technology, and math needed to contact them was also lost, or at the very least misplaced in some old database likely to be forgotten.
“Tia, are you still trying to contact Earth?” She nodded over at him. Of course she was, why would she stop? “I think you should stop.”
T.I.A. blinked, obviously confused. “What? Why?” She had been so desperate to resume contact with her friends that she hadn’t stopped to consider if she even should. Her reckless efforts to contact anyone on the planet had been a further overreaction.
“Well,” he began simply, “it is entirely possible that a hostile civilization could arise elsewhere on Earth, intercept your communication, and launch some kind of attack on us in the future. It is probably best that we stop meddling. It’s not our world anymore, and as good as it felt being like their shining beacon in the sky, it’s not our place to play god with them. They’ve proven themselves capable of surviving the worst, and any further contributions we make will only diminish what they’ve accomplished. I think it’s good what we’ve done, but we have to trust them to take care of themselves, and protect ourselves in case some group on Earth turns against us.”
T.I.A. looked rather upset that he insinuated that the Phoenix Clan could ever become hostile, but he wasn’t necessarily talking about just the Phoenix Clan. Had he known that she had been broadcasting to the whole planet out of desperation? “I can still listen for them trying to contact us though, right?” She sounded meek, realizing how much danger she’d placed them in.
“Of course, there’s no way for them to find us unless we contact them back or they find records of how to find us. We’re lost to the void of space as far as most people on Earth are aware, if they even know of us. Our friends may keep records of us and tell stories about us in their history, but beyond that we need to keep our distance. We were lucky they turned out to be friendly in the first place, but there’s no guarantee that will remain true in the future. Until we are established and safe in our new homes, we really should not risk compromising our position. Space is dangerous enough as it is.”
She begrudgingly agreed, and they continued their work. Hawthorne even drew up some preliminary plans for an isolated computer system he wanted to work on some day to install Megan Clark into, seeing as he was very interested in the desperate survival instinct she had cultivated over the centuries. He wondered if making a computer system like T.I.A.’s and installing her into it might allow her to become a more complete being than she had become back on Earth, and maybe it could allow her to grow into something of a human A.I. on the same track that T.I.A. was. Much of that would have to be a project for the future though, as Megan was very much an unknown quantity, and best dealt with under much more safe and secure conditions. She could well be a fine candidate for a secondary colony ship’s A.I. after they got themselves established at their new home. Perhaps they could even make copies of her, though Hawthorne would be much more inclined to make copies of T.I.A. instead.
That was another moral quandary he’d rather have other peoples’ opinions on though. The ability to copy an intellect was something he did not have any logical issues with, but he could feel an emotional reluctance that bordered on the immoral. The nature of life and consciousness once again reared its ugly head, with three separate beings to consider with regards to it. Hawthorne’s own frequently suspended consciousness was something of a moral problem because while he felt no gap between cycles, he was very much dead in between them.
T.I.A. was a totally new lifeform as far he could define, one that he had the personal pleasure of nurturing and guiding towards what seemed to be an admittedly juvenile consciousness. She lived for centuries but had advanced emotionally only perhaps a handful of years, though within a few hundred cycles she’d probably be a full-fledged adult as far as he could estimate.
Megan Clark was a totally different sort of problem. She had baggage aplenty, and was less of a human and more a shard of a human. She had once been a complete consciousness that had had pieces of it strategically removed to create what she now was. Even the storage space her mind took up was only about 45% of what he had expected a fully-grown human’s mind to need, and that wasn’t considering the fact that she had centuries of experience and knowledge as well. Providing her with a full ‘mind’ again, with her only capable of initially filling up less than half of it could prove disastrous as she tried to grapple with her forgotten emotions again. There was no telling if a new, more well-rounded Megan would emerge, or if she might be the same old tortured soul that had destroyed herself in the first place.
The idea of copying them struck him as extremely troublesome. He could easily overlook his own cheating of death seeing as he wasn’t seeking to make clones of himself, but effectively cloning T.I.A. or Megan seemed wrong somehow. Honestly, the fact that Megan’s backup existed at all was distressing enough if not for the fact that she’d willingly requested the transfer, with her original body’s death being entirely likely considering the technology used. Megan hadn’t even necessarily made her wishes known. She had trusted him and T.I.A. to safeguard her and use her however they would.
Did he have a duty to revive her and allow her to choose what she would become, or was it her duty to serve them to repay their efforts to revive her? He honestly wished that T.I.A. had not accepted her upload at all, so he didn’t have to consider such difficult questions. Thankfully dealing with Megan was not an urgent thing, and she seemed like she’d have been content enough with being safe in storage like the rest of the crew. He was very inclined to leave the decision for his colleagues to decide upon once they got to their new home, though it didn’t hurt to prepare a computer to use if they needed Megan in an emergency.
There was also the option of making some manner of body for Megan to inhabit so that T.I.A. could have her as a companion. It probably wasn’t healthy that she was stubbornly trying to recreate her friends and their home in her imagination, though imaginary friends were hardly strange for a girl of her level of emotional development. Regardless, Megan seemed far too dangerous to be left unsupervised, so whatever he did with her it was likely she’d spend the same time shut off that he did frozen. He simply couldn’t trust her.
Considering that she had trusted him so blindly, it felt like a bit of a shame, but a desperate woman was dangerous. It was easy to imagine that Megan Clark was possibly the most desperate woman in the galaxy when it came to her own survival, and that made her very dangerous indeed.
“T.I.A.’s log, AC 408, May 23, 2541. Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw has just completed the cryogenic suspension process for the end of this cycle. I find myself greatly soothed by having had his guidance through this troubling time. I had allowed myself to become obsessed with the Phoenix Clan, and even though I knew I could be utilizing my time better I wasted much of it trying to pretend they were still with me. I believe I will continue working on the PC-C simulation, though rather than trying to recapture the image of my lost friends, I will instead try to faithfully reproduce the environment and atmosphere of their new home in Columbia. I will try to imagine what it might become rather than what it had been.”
“I feel bad for underestimating the Phoenix Clan’s ability to survive. They have already been through so much, and I know first hand what humans determined to survive are capable of. I will prefer to believe that they are alive and well, and will instead look forward to being reunited with them someday far into the future. I will most likely not be the same ‘person’ I am now by then, but surely they will be very different as well. It seems appropriate that I add that to the list of reasons and motivations I have to see things through and make sure everyone survives. I have lost my ability to assist Earth in that, but I am still in total control of making sure the Ark and its occupants survive.”
“I am troubled by the existence of Megan Clark as well. I feel myself both curious about her, as well as strangely threatened. I feel as though I could learn from her in a way that no flesh and blood person could teach me, but she also sounded like such an overwhelming force of will that she makes me feel like I could be eaten up. Her focused purpose reminds me of the danger I brought to myself and my crew by pursuing imbalanced growth, and she has been in such an imbalance for many centuries more than I was. It might be interesting to assemble a computer on the Lubar-Masis to store her in and perhaps construct a small ship around it to bring along with us as a new companion. Isolating her seems like it would be difficult though.”
“I suspect that Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw will want to begin going over our colonial options. It will be a good way to occupy our time to start making plans for how we might eventually start making use of the new star system. In anticipation of that, I will focus my efforts on scanning the Alpha Centauri system and trying to detect more planets, their makeup, and suitability for life. The outer star of the system, Proxima Centauri already appears as though it will be difficult to deal with, though the other two stars pose their own problems. The sheer distance of Proxima Centauri from Alpha Centauri A and B makes it worth considering as a first stop as it could perhaps be settled in a handful of centuries, similar to the amount of time it would take to get to the other two stars and their potential planets.”
“The sheer number of options and the varying levels of manpower and time needed to exploit them will likely keep us busy for a very long time. I have to admit having so much work to do has a certain appeal after so much loss. End log.”