Leaving Earth



Chapter 29, Cycle 16, With Millennia Ahead


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.

Dr. Hawthorne Crenshaw’s Tentative List of Priority Projects:

1. Help T.I.A. mature into a fully-functional, independent being.

  1. Develop T.I.A.’s virtual environment to allow for planning and testing conditions necessary for further research to proceed without risk to ship or crew.
  2. Utilize T.I.A.’s VE to develop new construction designs including:

3a. More advanced storage space for T.I.A.’s memory.

3b. More advanced propulsion for secondary vehicles.

3c. Secondary vehicles required to probe Alpha Centauri for appropriate planets.

3d. Secondary vehicles required to seed planets with plants, bacteria, and fungi for atmosphere alteration

3e. Secondary vehicles to harvest asteroid belts and multiply themselves to further exploit asteroids

3f. Different types of self-sufficient space habitats.

3g. Primary system command nexus to coordinate the secondary vehicles.

  1. Create a system to control the command nexus, most likely a copy of T.I.A.’s mature self.
  2. Use T.I.A.’s VE to explore the development of new/useful power sources, most likely fusion or reflected solar power.
  3. Research the Smith Bunker/Phoenix Clan bloodlines and records.
  4. Research Anthony Saul’s animal embryo cargo and develop methods to utilize it.
  5. Research viability of utilizing quantum-tethering to produce an instant long-range communication device to allow T.I.A. to operate as the command nexus remotely.
  6. Develop a computer system adequate to house a human mind, modelled after T.I.A. and utilizing 22nd century technology.
  7. Install Megan Clark’s mind into such a computer system.

-File updated Tuesday, May 23, 2575

Hawthorne sat in his chair, the VE reproducing T.I.A.’s imagined version of a ‘present’ Phoenix Clan town at the edge of the ruins of Medellin. A series of towers had been constructed that seemed to provide several functions at once. They each operated as water towers, while also having the caravan’s assortment of solar panels mounted atop them. A central tower, taller than the others, stood between these multi-purpose towers that operated as a high-angle anchor for a series of sturdy tarps that hung draped between the shorter towers. With the smaller towers arranged in a large octagon and a radius of forty meters, it allowed for both a great deal of water collection, as well as shelter from the sun above. This canopy provided power, a series of grounded lightning rods, water, and shelter.

Hawthorne’s chair was closer to the edge of the shade provided by that canopy, enjoying the simulated sunlight as he worked at a table. Arranged around this canopy was a ring of tall greenhouses that filtered sunlight coming from the sides. The greenhouses were filled with all manner of plants, though Hawthorne was relatively certain T.I.A. had embellished the variety the Clan had available to them for the sheer aesthetics of it. He could see places where she’d reused plants from her simulation Clapham Common, but he wasn’t about to complain. Underneath the canopy were the new permanent structures of the Phoenix Clan, large and small alike.

Hawthorne and T.I.A. were not alone either, and while he was content to work on his tablet, reading relevant texts related to the list of projects he had created, there was a large number of people to see around them. T.I.A. seemed to have developed a simple method for producing lots of background characters, dressed similarly to their friends back home, with a high degree of variation in looks and attire. There were even a handful of Old Ones, primarily the real ones, mixed in among the others in the Clan. Hawthorne was pretty sure he’d even seen a frail old Hawthorne ‘Thorne’ Crenshaw wandering about with a small crowd of children with him. He was nearing a century old at this point, no doubt. Checking back on his records, Hawthorne was amused to see that tomorrow would actually be Thorne’s 99th birthday.

There wasn’t an enormous amount of space horizontally under the canopy, but it did allow for up to four stories of vertical space towards the middle, and doubtlessly had several levels of construction below that went well outside the radius of their canopy. Considering the vast majority of the founders of this settlement had come from underground bunkers, he couldn’t fault the idea that they might go back underground given the opportunity. It remained to be seen if she ended up deciding that younger generations would prefer to be above ground, but then he didn’t know quite how much scripting she had applied to these characters of hers. It was a pretty practical design, but the durability of some elements seemed questionable to him. He wondered how much it might change as they increased the complexity of T.I.A.’s VE to simulate wear and tear on this simulated community.

“Tia? Can you share with me what you’ve learned from creating this simulation?” Hawthorne set down his tablet, curious about how detailed everything actually was.

T.I.A. had been sitting across from him, holding a book in her hands that just so happened to be the exact book he was looking through in his tablet. She had been enjoying the sensation of paper moving against her skin as she turned the pages, and the weight of the thing in her hands. She had even done her best to simulate the smell of the book, though she was still trying to figure out how to properly simulate that sense. Looking up at the question, she glanced around at everything going on around them. So much of it was happening on its own that she didn’t even need to think about how it was actually working.

It was remarkable how much repetition of things like this became like mental muscle memory for her. “Well Doctor, I have learned a lot about the way that Sol’s light passes through the atmosphere of Earth, producing colors differently than the artificial light within the ship. I’ve also learned a lot about how light refracts through glass with the greenhouses and how it lights other surfaces after hitting the surrounding ground. I had to research a lot about that, and the structural tolerances of reinforced concrete and steel to produce the structures, and how various genetic traits are passed along to offspring. It was really fun to try to figure out which people might have had kids with whom, and try to determine what traits they would inherit.”

Hawthorne nodded, humming softly. “Did you do that through simulating DNA or liberal use of Punnett squares?” He had not had much opportunity to help his colleagues sort through the various embryos and reproductive candidates, so he wondered how much his rudimentary understanding of such things would be reproduced by his A.I. companion. A Punnett square was a useful tool in helping farmers and breeders determine the chances of traits being inherited by the offspring of a reproductive act in centuries past. Such a tool could absolutely be used to manipulate the gene pool of a community if controlled for properly over time. Similar techniques had been used to improve on the methodology that had allowed for the domestication and specialization of Earth’s beasts of burden, farm animals, pets, and plants.

T.I.A. responded quickly enough, smiling. “I don’t really know how to simulate individual atoms, let alone such complicated molecules just yet, so Punnett squares provided what I needed to create all the new young people around. I also made an effort to age humans as best I could, seeing as I had a lot of examples of friends aging over time to compare to. It’s entirely likely they allowed their population to grow, but I didn’t want to make too many assumptions about how much. I might have to change some people around once we try to figure out how they picked who has sex with whom, but until then I was happy to handle it randomly.” She knew she didn’t have the expertise in simulating things to make a perfect representation of everything, she was very much fudging the numbers, but she was happy with the results for now.

Hawthorne seemed pleased with her answers, glancing around. “Is the atmosphere static, or are you simulating some level of weather patterns and atmospheric pressure changes? I’m trying to figure out what scale you’re working with here. It seems similar to something like a relatively simple video game at first glance, but the work you went into producing the characters and simulating the objects, environment, gravity, and all these bodies seem to be anything but simple.” The mental math the simulation required her to do to keep everything standing could not possibly be what he thought it was. A lot of it had to have been done in advance and many of the things were just static after the fact.

T.I.A. felt like her illusion was being picked apart, her creator and teacher trying to figure out where she cut corners and what she was actively simulating. “The atmosphere is not static, though the fluid dynamics of it remain relatively consistent. I don’t usually change the weather or pressure unless I’m trying to achieve a specific look or effect. Most of the things I’ve constructed in the environment I simulated once and now they’re just being rendered with those original properties remaining static. It seemed like the appropriate way to handle structures and terrain, though it does mean most of my attention is focused on keeping people walking around and talking to each other and simulating the light on surfaces.”

He nodded back at her, feeling like he was getting a solid grasp of things. “So, if you were to, say, actively simulate all these objects and people in their entirety as well as actively alternate in weather patterns to interact with them, how hard would that be? What if you were to simulate all the organs and senses of all your characters as well? Where are the roaches? They should be moving around and interacting with everyone too, right? Maybe they help with the farming, or moving construction supplies?” He wanted to know what it took for her to push herself. He needed her to eventually be able to simulate molecular structures if they were to start working with DNA, chemicals, and testing structural tolerances over the course of centuries. It was the kind of thing the supercomputers back on Earth had to be tasked hundreds of hours to do.

She was looking pretty flustered as he laid all that down on her. She had just been working on this project as a way to practice her imagination and work on construction after what she’d seen Hawthorne accomplish with designing the caravan. She hadn’t expected to be openly challenged like this. Rather than try to tell him, she decided to show him, causing everything around them to visibly stop.

Things weren’t actually stopped though. Hawthorne could tell that people were still moving around, but it was like trying to watch the hour hand on a clock proceed forward in time without the second and minute hands to distract one’s attention. It was so incredibly slow that when he got up to walk over to someone and push at her, he saw T.I.A. visibly flinch as he altered the physical forces on their bodies and made her compensate for everything from her direction of movement to the effects of momentum on all of her organs and bones. The simulated woman even started to gasp, her eyes widening in surprise incredibly slowly. It would take hours for her to fall down at this rate.

“I see. You can stop that for now.” T.I.A. nodded, letting everything resume as it had before, with the woman hitting the ground next to him and the people looking up at him in shock before they hurried away. “Alright Tia, I think I know what I want you to do. While I am in stasis, I want you to practice on this simulation. Think of it as a workout, doing something over and over until it becomes natural and you get better and stronger at it. Vary the weather, change the people, change the materials everything is made from. Master this simulation so that when we proceed to more difficult work, you can handle doing something like this and more in real-time.”

“And don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly impressed at what you’re already able to do, but this is the perfect environment for us to do science safely. I’m sure you saw my list. This kind of exercise will be perfect for allowing you to design and create things most people find impossibly complicated. We’ll work on your ability to improvise things at some point too, later, so that when you end up having to adapt to lots of different circumstances in Alpha Centauri you can handle them without my assistance.” He looked excited at the possibilities, but he knew it would probably be many months before they could move on from this relatively simple exercise.

T.I.A. looked rather dismayed at the idea of what she was being asked to do, but she only needed to remind herself how much she had enjoyed creating the simulation in the first place. Maybe she could expand upon it eventually. Maybe these sorts of shelters would totally replace Medellin in her simulation someday. “Yes Doctor, I will do my best to work on this project in your absence. I trust you will continue doing your research in advance of us working on the projects from your list?” She didn’t know if she could feel tired, but the enthusiasm she had in advance of what would be centuries of grinding on this problem certainly made her feel like she was in a low-power state, her generators struggling to keep up with her. Emotional sensations were so strange for her.

“Absolutely. It’d be horrible of me to ask you to do something like that and not put in work of my own. I made my first priority to help you mature, not only because of the fact that we need you, but because you deserve to reach your potential. I would not be much of a father if I didn’t do my best to work with you rather than letting you do all the hard parts.” He hummed, wondering about something, interrupting his speech. “Maybe we’ll see if you can simulate the Phoenix Clan’s narcotic substances some day too. I think you should avoid those for now, as we don’t know what effect it will have on you. Those sorts of experiences have been known to make irrevocable changes to how humans think and experience the world.”

T.I.A. hadn’t even considered drugs. They were such an integral part of the Phoenix Clan society, but she hadn’t even tried to pretend like her characters were under the influence of them. It was a remarkably simple oversight considering how many types and strains of them Clint Crenshaw had described to her on the rare occasion where he’d talk to her. She liked Jessica’s husband quite a bit. He seemed quiet and kept to himself and loved plants as much as he loved his wife. He had confessed to her at one point that the only thing that kept him from drawing the ire of the Elders by having another child with her were his other babies, the various plants that fell under his care. He was hardly the only farmer, almost half of the Clan was responsible for tending to the food, but he was one of few who made a full time job of it. He simply didn’t care about anything but his family and his plants.

He had told her how hard it was for him to let go of them, to let them be eaten or smoked, or processed into any number of useful things. He took incredible pride in the fact that his babies were so important to the health, both physical and mental, of the Smith Bunker, and later the Phoenix Clan. He was endlessly fascinated with the biological reactions the Old Ones had to the food they made for them, as they had adapted to a completely different kind of diet. He had worked endlessly with Teitara Poundstone and her colleagues to help asses their allergies and intolerances to their foods and drugs. It had been a true joy when they’d found ways to utilize the Old One’s plants, in combination with their own, to produce food everyone could eat.

T.I.A. had been so focused on making sure Clint would be proud of the gardens she’d constructed in the greenhouses that she hadn’t considered their effects and what they could be used for.

It was in that moment of reflection, after Hawthorne had warned her to not partake in drugs, that T.I.A. broke down crying. She fell to her knees as the skies darkened and the clouds burst, filling the area with loud rain and thunder while she wailed and bawled her eyes out. Her arms were slack at her sides and her body trembled while Hawthorne stared at her in surprise. The rest of the simulation had mostly frozen to allow her to focus on herself and the weather, but Hawthorne wasn’t exactly paying attention to anything else as he dropped down onto the steel floor next to her, his arms hesitantly reaching out to pull her up against his side. He had always been terrible in moments like this, but a handful of experiences with Tia Monsalle had taught him that sometimes you just needed to hug the girl and shut your mouth.

“I miss them, father! I miss my friends! I miss Jessica and Barry, and Tammy, and Elena, and Cindy, and Walter, and everyone!” She felt totally irrational in that moment, her heart broken and her emotions totally falling apart around her as the weight of the ideas that she’d never see them again and she could only simulate their likenesses hit her all at once. She couldn’t believe that Clint was the one that had set her off, but remembering everything she knew about him just sent her into a spiral of remembering everyone else. Windows popped up around them as recordings played of all sorts of people.

A mousy Cindy Harrison appeared, her squeaky voice saying, “I always admired what you’re doing up there. I’d love to have been born early enough to be on that ship with you.”

An old Jessica sat with Elena in another window, arguing. Elena asserted, “Look, just because you look older doesn’t mean that you can talk to me like some child.” Jessica retorted, “Sure it does, because you’ve probably forgotten so much you don’t remember much more than a teenager!”

Leonard Harrison, with his salt-and-pepper hair and beard appeared behind her. “And that’s why you need to make sure to never give up, no matter how many mistakes you make. No child that gives up easily ever truly grows up.”

A blonde Walter Carlson appeared to the side, obviously younger than when he took up his role as the Elder head historian. “You’re making history out there, you know that right? Our people and your people will come together some day and make the beginnings of galactic human civilization.”

Even Thorne appeared, the young man bearing none of the stern demeanor or scars he later would as a soldier. “Yeah, I’m scared, but I gotta protect my family and friends. Nothing else matters. What good would I be if I let something distract me from that?”

The voices and images all melded into each other in a cacophony of life lessons and familiar faces causing even Hawthorne to cry as he realized how much they had tried to help T.I.A. learn and understand in his absence. She’d spent so much more time with them than she had with him. He was a mere guest star in the life she’d lived as the distant companion of a group of humans struggling to survive. He owed them so much. He cried his eyes out with her as all-too-real memories of their friends appeared and disappeared around them. He had not fully appreciated the profound loss that T.I.A. was going through until now.

“I’m so sorry Tia, I’m so sorry, I didn’t… I didn’t realize how hard this was for you! You don’t have to start working on the simulations right away. It can be something else if it’s too hard for you to remember.” He hugged her tightly, though he had to restrain himself lest he hug her through him, seeing as his gloves had no way to provide resistance. Still, he could feel the way her body was trembling and shaking against him, convulsing as she sobbed. He could even feel the moisture of her tears against his skin as he moved to wipe at her tears as she started calming down. Maybe it was a little too early to be thinking about work. Maybe now was the time for emotions.

Once he got a chance to reach for his tablet, he added a new number 1, shifting everything else down: Properly mourn all that we’ve lost before worrying about work.


Support "Leaving Earth"

About the author


Bio: Join us over at the Leaving Earth Discord! :p https://discord.gg/z9Zn863

Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In