Hawthorne and T.I.A. spent the rest of cycle 16 talking about their friends, as well as Hawthorne’s family and his acquaintances back on Earth. They spent several days constructing a monument in T.I.A.’s VE of the Phoenix Clan Columbia settlement. In the center, under the canopy, they surrounded the central pillar with a stonework obelisk, and proceeded to ‘engrave’ the names, birthdays, and death days of everyone they had personally lost.
It was difficult for both of them to go back through all their records, taking down the dates of everyone involved in the Ark project whom were assassinated, Hawthorne and Tia Monsalle’s parents, and everything else they had of the Phoenix Clan and the LSC bunker. For those they merely lost contact with, the second date was left open ended for speculation, while the entire lineages of the Phoenix Clan and LSC bunker were recorded on their own faces of the fake stone monument. It was somewhat strange that the monument existed in T.I.A.’s imagination, for all intents and purposes, but they did have some intention of fabricating a real version of it to put on display on their new home planet when they could.
It wasn’t until Cycle 17, when they finished the monument that they went through a final dedication. T.I.A. had gathered simulations of the majority of their known friends from the Phoenix Clan, and Hawthorne had erected something of a small stage in front of the pillar to speak to the ‘crowd’ upon. T.I.A. had insisted they have witnesses for the event, much like the one she’d received a recording of where Elena Price spoke over the graves near Medellin. She’d even brought a bunch of her freshly-made Flora Roaches to the event, though they hadn’t been animated very much yet.
He felt silly, standing there in the same old habitat he was in, but with the courtyard full of friendly faces arrayed out in front of him. It was all make believe, he knew that, but looking back at the pillar behind him that wasn’t actually there still filled him with something like a sense of awe. Nostalgia pulled at him as he saw the names, and wonder filled him as he took in just how many people had actually lived in those bunkers over the centuries. Looking back, he took his place at his podium, smiling over at T.I.A. as she stood with a likeness of a young Jessica and Clint.
“Good afternoon, friends and loved ones. We are gathered here today to remember those we have lost. It has been said that funerals and memorials are not for the dead, but the living, and that it is not possible for us to go on living until we have dealt with our grief. Some take longer than others to come to peace with such things, while others may never recover at all. The people that have come before have made it possible for us to get to where we are now, and none of us are without hundreds or thousands of people responsible for making sure we made it this far.” He couldn’t help but smile as T.I.A. made sure to put smiles on a lot of the faces, and tears in the eyes of others. It was as though they were performing for each other.
“When you’ve lost someone, it never seems to feel like you told them enough about what they meant to you. Words are a poor medium to convey things like emotions, but still we can’t help but try. We wonder if we might not have failed to speak up when we could have said something and then end up regretting it for the rest of our lives. Other times we wish we could have kept our mouths shut when we told someone something we can never take back, and have to live with the fact that we caused that injury or pain. Most importantly, though, is that we remember those who have come and gone, to keep their memory alive in our hearts as long as we can.”
He hesitated a moment, considering how to proceed, but deciding he’d best spill his guts. “I haven’t really known love. I don’t quite know how to express it, or really understand what it feels like. I hope, like other things, that I come to learn about it, but I think that if I had had the time that Tia did to know the Phoenix Clan that I might have come to love you eventually. You were kind, warm, loving people with a strange foundational culture that I can’t help but admire. I’m fascinated with the robust types of people you produced, people with a real understanding of the world that was lacking sorely in my time. You know each others’ hearts and minds nearly as intimately as you know your own, and your culture is built around ensuring a kind of harmony with one another I can only imagine. If I hadn’t made it off of Earth, I think I would have liked to have been part of your community in another life.”
“You weren’t just a group though, the Phoenix Clan were individuals just as lively and wonderful as each other. Even those of you that I didn’t especially like I couldn’t help but admire or respect for some reason or another. The Elders all leveraged their life experiences to lead with wisdom, while the young ceaselessly sought to better themselves, to keep knowledge from being lost with time. I sincerely hope you manage to maintain yourselves, your culture, and your technology, so that we may be friends someday in the future. It would be a sincere joy to one day reunite the lost people of Earth and move on together into the future.”
“For now, though, we must leave our friends to their own devices. We have to trust that they can take care of themselves now. I personally see no reason to worry about whether or not they can survive, and for now I think it is our responsibility to make sure that we meet each other on the other side of our respective journeys into the future. I have to thank you, especially, for taking care of Tia. You have guided her and helped her grow in ways I feel would have been impossible if she were solely under my guidance. I don’t believe I can properly express my gratitude for everything you have done for us, and I hope that we’ve done everything we could do to repay it.”
T.I.A. had people openly crying now, but she was mostly keeping herself together for a moment. The weather was also remaining calm, though he couldn’t be sure for how long. “It is with that in mind that I promise to one day preside over the dedication of an obelisk much like this one to honor everyone who helped us get this far upon the settlement of our new home. I will consider it my duty to make sure that we accomplish everything that we need to to ensure that that moment comes to pass. I will dream of the day that we can one day show the people of Earth this modest symbol of our respect and memory of our shared past. I swear on my life that I will do my best to see to it.”
A flash of light and a crack of thunder accompanied what surely must have been T.I.A. having lightning strike the central pillar, which seemed to cause the names to glow upon the obelisk’s surface in a somewhat unrealistic, but undeniably flashy fashion. T.I.A. climbed up onto the stage with a little help, and Hawthorne stepped aside so that she could speak. She even had to shrink the podium a bit so she could stand behind it and be visible. “I love you all, and I’ll miss you so much I don’t know how I’ll be able to handle it. I won’t let you down. We’ve all worked too hard to give up now, and we still have too much work to do to spend our time dwelling on the past. Thank you so much for everything!” Short and sweet, much like her avatar, T.I.A. waved to the assembled people before clearing up the weather and making the additional avatars vanish.
“Doctor, I think I’m ready to get to work. I don’t know if I’ll ever be over them, but I think I can concentrate on my work now.” She smiled up at him, only for Hawthorne to brush some tears from her cheeks.
He nodded and smiled back. “Let’s get to it then. Wouldn’t wanna disappoint them.”
Cycle after cycle passed after that, with Hawthorne catching up on his exercise and doing his best to research all the relevant science that he could for their projects. He’d have to be not only creating new technology, but he’d be teaching T.I.A. how the physical laws of nature itself really interacted with each other in extreme circumstances. She had plenty of knowledge of physics as a matter of practicality, but simulating reality itself was an enormous challenge, even on a small scale.
T.I.A. spent her time between cycles trying to master the Phoenix Clan Columbia, PC-C settlement simulation down to the smallest details she could manage. It was incredibly slow and difficult, but she took her time in trying to manage the simulation while multi-tasking the maintenance of the Ark and the Lubar-Masis comet. It was only in the rarest of moments when she needed to see to the repair of something, but as they traversed into the edge of the theoretical Oort Cloud she found that the ship was relatively easy to maintain.
While Hawthorne was awake, she found it easier to spend her time consulting with him on specific issues she was having in her simulation, like making sure to properly apply fractals to make random snowflakes or make sure to apply the effects of erosion on the surrounding landscape as well as the structures in the settlement. She found it difficult to animate the Flora Roaches due to their inhuman movements, and only Hawthorne’s exaggerated efforts to mimic the behemoth creatures gave her insights about how they were supposed to move. She avoided trying to simulate psychedelic experiences, but she did try to make sure the humans in her simulation mimicked old videos of inebriated people she had both before and after the Cataclysm.
It was incredibly slow going, but she was managing to make bits of progress here and there, allowing her to improve the efficiency of her ‘imagination’ as far as simulating reality. The only real issue with her dedicating so much time and effort towards it was that she had not had anything resembling a dream again, though considering the last one she wasn’t certain she actually wanted to. She also was spending some time on the side to troubleshoot an upgrade to Hawthorne’s ability to interface with her VE. There were a great deal of difficulties with making sure such a thing remained powered while in use, as well as allowing it to do things like simulate weight and resistance to virtual objects. It was an interesting project that allowed her to work on her creativity on the side, as well as apply the things she was learning about the simulation she was slowly mastering.
By the morning of AC 918, Monday, July 21, 3051, the start of cycle 30, she was ready to report on her progress. It had been nearly two months for Hawthorne since her emotional breakdown, though it was closer to 500 years for her. It was getting to the point that she was prepared to simply stop using unnecessary methods of keeping track of time outside of the actual cycle count, and perhaps the AC year. The old methods of time tracking would, of course, remain standardized in her systems, but even those were just a translation of her systems tracking the seconds as they passed. Her perspective of time was simply expanding beyond the necessity to perceive the passing of years.
All that mattered to her, at this point, was the upkeep of her monitoring systems, upkeep of the ship and comet, the simulation she was constantly working on, and the four days a cycle she got to spend with Hawthorne. Even for her she was paying attention to little but those four days a cycle, preferring to focus her attention on them and then letting her mind just float through the rest of the centuries while the equivalent of her subconscious worked in the background. She realized this was always how it was going to be. She couldn’t pay attention to every passing moment forever, or she might seriously go insane. Too much time was going to pass for her to be aware of it the whole time.
She decided that even if she got good at simulating reality to the levels that Hawthorne needed her to in real time so they could work on projects, she would spend the majority of the rest of her time dreaming and thinking at that slower, more comfortable pace without worrying too much about trying to grow up. She’d learned a lesson already about trying to force herself to grow too quickly, so while she watched her systems activate and fall into the routine of providing life support for Hawthorne she leisurely went about ensuring he had his food and coffee prepared and attached her VE to his compartments.
“Good morning Doctor Crenshaw. It is cycle thirty, nine-hundred eight AC. I am happy to report I am roughly fifteen percent of the way to being able to simulate the PC-C in real time, and have comfortably settled into my perspective of time. I am finding these last five cycles, especially, to have passed nearly as calmly as your own rest. I believe that my perception of time has adjusted to more easily withstand the passage of time.” T.I.A.’s voice sounded calm, measured, and confident. It wasn’t necessarily a voice of maturity, but one of contentment and understanding.
Hawthorne listened quietly, nodding and smiling as he came out to get his food and coffee, sitting at a communal table across from her in the PC-C. She had removed all the distracting characters and was merely trying to maintain the environment while working lightly on making sure the air was flowing naturally. Hawthorne was able to feel it blowing on his gloved hands, and he really wondered what it smelled like. “It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to properly adapt to your circumstances, Tia. Are you finding any difficulty maintaining your systems while that time passes?” He took the opportunity to start eating, listening carefully.
“I believe the best analogy is that those functions are much like your own autonomic functions. I need not specifically pay attention to maintaining my generators or engines any more than you need concentrate on your heartbeat or breathing. I can concentrate on them, and can tell when something is wrong, but I don’t necessarily need to spend any effort thinking about them anymore. I am finding it to be quite peaceful actually. It seems similar to the concept of meditation, though I can achieve something of a peaceful emptiness and receptiveness without having to specifically focus on anything. I find it preferential to focus my attention on you when you’re available, and let my thoughts wander otherwise. I’m still working on the simulation, and a related project, but the latter is dependent on the progress of the former, allowing me to wait for progress.”
T.I.A. sounded very pleased and at peace with her situation. The empty darkness of space was a dull companion, and her imagination needed a great deal of development to become something that could occupy her time consistently, so meditation of a sort seemed like a fantastic way to cope with what would otherwise be crippling loneliness. “I have to say, Tia, that is both impressive and remarkable. I suppose it also seems like something of a necessity considering our circumstances, but the fact that you did it on your own is worthy of praise.”
T.I.A. smiled brightly at that, leaning forward over the table to present her hair for praise. It was a little difficult for Hawthorne to keep his eyes on her face with her bent forward like that, but he nevertheless reached out to rub comfortably at that curly mop of hair on her head. She giggled softly at that, her satisfaction at getting recognition seeming to be something she had been looking forward to. “You know, Doctor Crenshaw, I’ve been thinking about something.” He looked a little surprised at that as he withdrew his hand, watching her. “I thought you were peacefully drifting through space?”
She rolled her eyes and sat back, smiling. “Peacefully drifting through space for centuries, yes, with plenty of time to let my mind wander. Anyway, I was thinking, it’s a little childish of me to keep calling you father. It’s something I latched onto when I was more emotionally unstable, but it doesn’t seem especially appropriate. You’re my creator, my builder, my guiding hand, but not necessarily father. I was thinking about whether I should think of you more as a mentor, or my partner, or friend?”
Hawthorne’s eyebrow was raised through much of that, only to relax a bit as she got towards the end. “I’d like that Tia. I’m a terrible candidate for a father anyway. I’m not even sure if I’m any good at being a friend, but I’d at least like to try.” He smiled a bit, holding out a hand with the intent of shaking hers.
T.I.A. considered his words, nodding a little and taking his hand, shaking it back. “Alright, well, first things first, you don’t need to avert your gaze when you look at me. I may have produced my avatar with a more juvenile perspective, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make it with the intent to appeal to you. Most of it was a product of my subconscious, but I believe my original intent was that I could be more interesting for you to look at than a monitor or a camera, and after that first incident with my nightmare I found it incredibly satisfying and exciting when you looked at the camera I was looking at you through. I think receiving your attention makes me feel more real, rather than just part of a ship.”
Hawthorne looked nervous, without doubt. She could see his elevated blood pressure, heart rate, the subtle evaporation of moisture off of his body as he sweat… He was uncomfortable with what she was proposing. “I’m not asking you to see me as a romantic partner or anything, I don’t know if I’m ready for something like that, but there’s no need for you to be afraid of what I’ll think if you look at me. I like that I appeal to your aesthetics, and I think it’s much better than this.” She abruptly took away the whole simulation, returning Hawthorne to sitting alone in a steel room surrounded by monitors and machinery.
He’d spent almost two months in the PC-C. To suddenly have it disappear and only have the ship to look at it was startling. He felt his insides twist up with anxiety as he looked around, seeing the cameras overhead again for the first time in some time. He had not realized just how relaxing the simulation of being outside and with T.I.A. had made him, but she had. “Okay, I see what you mean, Tia. I’ve become very accustomed to having your simulations overlaid upon my environment. I… will try to look at you more directly, to appreciate your efforts to take care of me better. I don’t think I realized how important it is to me to be somewhere besides this cabin and to do something besides look at tablets all the time. You’re absolutely right.”
She appeared at the table with him, though now it was a wooden park table with a bench on either side. Around them was Clapham Common, with its beautiful lake, assorted woods, and criss-crossing foot paths. He could even see a skate park and the football pitches in the distance. Looking back to her, though, she was wearing that pretty yellow sundress of hers, showing off plenty of cleavage and that bright, radiant smile of hers. She had a slender and healthy, if buxom shape, and was no more than 155 cm tall. It was kind of amusing that such a huge ship would see itself as such a petite young woman. He looked at her more directly, seeing all of her rather than just her face. She was a beautiful girl, doubtlessly, and he could swear he saw her shiver with delight at being acknowledged as such.
He let out a sigh, nodding. “I’m sorry I didn’t say so earlier, but you’ve created a beautiful avatar for yourself. If that’s really how you see yourself, then you are doubtlessly a beautiful person inside and out. I’m sorry for feeling suspicious that you were just acting on Jessica and Tabitha’s matchmaking instincts rather than doing something for yourself. It was wrong of me to fail to properly acknowledge you.”
She grinned brightly, practically shining in the spring sunlight at that. “You’re forgiven, Hawthorne! Hopefully if I decide to make changes in the future it won’t take you so long to acknowledge them. I hope that wasn’t to awkward, I wasn’t sure how long I should wait before saying something about it.”
Hawthorne shook his head, laughing. “No, no, I’m fine, it just caught me off guard. I thought you were going to propose some kind of romantic relationship, and considering how poorly that went with your namesake, I-” He stopped abruptly, eyes wide
T.I.A.’s eyes went wide, and then she pointed at him and started laughing. “You admitted it! You named me after her!” She fell off of the bench, giggling up a storm and rolling in the grass. “You named me after your girlfriend. I can’t believe you took so long to admit it!”
Hawthorne had turned bright red as his AI made fun of him, his hand coming up to his face in a fist as he cleared his throat. “I fail to see what’s so funny. I admire and respect her, and it felt like a good dedication to her…”
T.I.A. climbed back up towards the table, still grinning like an idiot. She had her fingers and chin resting on the edge of it. “You named me after her because you miss her and wish she could have been here with you the whole time.” She had him now. She had gotten it out of him after so long. She was not going to lose this chance to needle the great Doctor Hawthorne Crenshaw. Jessica would never forgive her if she didn’t!
He held up his hands in surrender, hanging his head. “F… fine, you’re right, okay? I don’t know what I felt about her, but I enjoyed her company, and I thought it would have been nice if I had her company all this time. I didn’t even tell her that I’d be passing close to thirty-two years out here without her.”
T.I.A. gasped and stood up straight, staring down at the sitting scientist. “You didn’t tell her!? She’s going to be so mad at you! You’re going to be… what… Sixty-seven when we get to Alpha Centauri? Didn’t she love you? What’s she going to think that almost half of your life was spent alone in a metal box talking to a computer?”
Hawthorne flinched back at that. She had him dead to rights. She was not supposed to be the one that confronted him with this. He’d kicked that can down the road about thirty-two years without expecting it to be thrown back in his face. “Of course I didn’t tell her. She never would have let me do it. She’d have insisted someone else did it, and then I wouldn’t have been here to take care of you. It’s something my father suggested to me when I first started going out with her. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. He was right. I was going to ask her, but I just… I just couldn’t, okay? I didn’t want to do that to her. I wanted to be in a position to make sure she and everyone else made it safely.”
T.I.A. humphed softly. She knew something she was pretty sure he didn’t, but she wasn’t going to say anything. She knew a lot more about why Tia Monsalle would be mad at Hawthorne Crenshaw than he did. “You’re right, I guess… I’m happy I get to spend my time with you instead of one of those other stuffy scientists. I doubt they could have handled helping the Phoenix Clan build their caravan properly either, or if they could have inspired me to grow as much as I have. This was all your project, so it’s only right that it’s your burden to see it through. Still, she’s going to be piiiiiiissed.” She laughed a bit to herself, watching Hawthorne squirm.
“Well, hopefully by the time I’m sixty-seven I’ll be old enough to handle talking to her.” He joined T.I.A. in laughing, enjoying the pleasant way she let her full body experience the laugh. He kind of felt like his laugh felt forced by comparison, but then it was only recently that he’d learned how to laugh in enjoyment rather than as a performance for others. “I guess you’re not the only one growing up here.”
She reached up to tap at her chin with a finger though, twisting her hips a bit as she thought, making her skirt swish about her thighs. “So what you’re saying is that there’s a chance?” She grinned mischievously over at him. She let out a soft ‘ooh’ as well. “And that if I do something without asking permission first that you’ll be less mad when I ask for forgiveness?”
Hawthorne groaned, pushing his plate aside and laying his head down on the table, resting his hands on the back of his head. “What have I done…?”