Everything in space seems to move so slowly, but at the time scales space actually operates at, it moves rather quickly. The predicted course of the Alpha Centauri system in relation to humanity’s cradle of Sol fluctuates little in a time scale of centuries, but much in a time scale of tens of millennia. While Megan was fast approaching the system, with her increased resistance to deceleration her ally, the Ark would essentially be chasing the system as it moved away. If the Ark could have moved faster, it could have spanned the mere distance of 3 light years between the star systems after twenty-thousand years, but due to their current course and speed it would be over double that distance by the time they arrived.
Human perception of time would more relevantly place Alpha Centauri closer to 7 light years distant by that point, and it would be many millennia more before the distance was 8. This still placed it closer to Sol than any other stars, though many had made similarly close passes before speeding away along the Milky Way’s galactic pinwheel. Thankfully, unmanned objects could traverse that distance much quicker, with the technology available to the Ark, allowing for certain types of payloads to be delivered in advance. More important than payloads, would be places to deliver them.
With Megan growing so close to the system, her ability to view it far outstripped that of Earth’s, especially thanks to a pair of probes she launched ahead of herself to provide additional angles to view the system on approach to ascertain its contents.
Mother 1844.597: “Tia, probes Alpha and Beta are providing data regarding the system. Possible planets and other objects are coming into view, though they are mostly predictions so far based on luminosity fluctuations. According to the analysis programs provided by Hawthorne, we are looking at seven planets so far, with one asteroid belt of huge magnitude. Sending updates as I receive them as separate messages.”
T.I.A. 1844.631: “That’s quite a few! Looking at the data there don’t seem to be any overt gas giants. Is that right? Sol has four, so it’s hard to imagine there would be so few in such a huge system. On the animals front, Hawthorne does not believe we will be able to make any probes to launch any potential animals to you for quite a while. He’s estimating you’ll be in the system by the time he has anything workable ready.”
Mother 1844.665: “I suspect any lack of gas giants is due to the fact that there are three stars. I have no idea how the system was formed, but considering a star contains the same elements a gas giant has, it is likely the stars monopolized all of it when it formed. Alternately, one or two of the stars weren’t originally part of the system, and absorbed any gas giants on the way in. We simply will never know. Tell Hawthorne to include Heather in his project. She will move up the timeline. Tell her I request it.”
T.I.A. 1844.699: “New data received, eleven planets, with two of them existing within the asteroid belt itself? They seem small, and I imagine they’re a massive hazard zone. The rest of them are around the twin stars in one form or another. Proxima Centauri still only has the one planet? I’ll let Hawthorne and Heather know. He seems very intimidated by her, and he kind of hates that he’s so indebted to her.”
Mother 1844.733: “It is for the good of life itself, he will do it. If he wants to worry about debts, he should consider that every member of the crew, even the dead ones, owe him a debt for helping them escape torture and execution on Earth. Granted they were only under that threat due to joining his team, but they all would have attracted such attention to themselves individually eventually. I know their types, and they would all have been labeled troublemakers at some point. Heather is very easy to handle, just be firm with her.”
T.I.A. 1844.768: “Understood. I do imagine you would probably be more firm with her than Hawthorne is likely to muster. Am I right in thinking she was attracted to Hawthorne as he once was, and is less interested in him now that he’s changed? Perhaps that will make her more manageable. I’m actually worried that if he’s too cold and unfriendly with her that he may unwittingly draw her attraction again.”
Mother 1844.803: “Good point. Hawthorne should instead be friendly, and playful with her. Tell him that being too impersonal may result in decreasing their work efficiency, and cause her to try to seduce him. I do not imagine she would be successful, but rebuffing her would almost certainly take her heart out of the project. Tell him to have fun.”
T.I.A. 1844.838: “Ah, right, fun, one of his least favorite things. I’ll do my best. Let me know when you have any data that shows anything more interesting about those planets. If any of them seem ready for us to interfere with, I want to start sooner rather than later. Even small amounts of seeding a planet should have dramatic results in the thousands of years it will take us to get there, depending on the environment they end up in.”
Mother 1844.955: “Updating data. New analysis of the second planet around Alpha Centauri B shows promise. Well within habitable distance from the star. Possible atmosphere and rocky surface. No signs of liquids.”
T.I.A. 1844.990: “Excellent! Prepare to launch your iciest comets towards it, and try to be careful to put a solar shield in front of the trail of them to protect them from the stars on approach. Hawthorne’s going to be so excited”
Megan looked over the message, considering it. She wanted to respond, to let T.I.A. know that she’d read the plans, and knows what she’s supposed to do, but if she responded it would arrive well after Hawthorne had come and gone for cycle 1845. She opted to not respond, just continuing to forward her data as she received it from her probes. They were getting much further ahead of her than she would have thought possible. It was difficult for her to imagine how launching a self-propelled object from a fast moving object like herself could allow it to attain so much more speed. She’d be able to take proper pictures from directly around the planets within 50 cycles if she were of a mind to do so!
She would also be arriving in a little over two-hundred cycles. How much could her friends get done in that time? How much was already done?
Megan was looking forward to a time when she’d be able to keep track of time in minutes and hours, rather than hundreds and thousands of years.
“Good Morning, Hawthorne! The cycle is eighteen, forty-five. I have lots of interesting news and data for you. They’ll be waiting for you after breakfast.” T.I.A. was being strict with him again. He’d been trying to skip meals as he got absorbed into the project, and he’d lost a little weight as a result. She wasn’t about to let his health suffer too much before she interfered. “You may also notice that Heather’s pod is present. I plan to revive her in several hours, after we’ve had time to talk.”
Hawthorne nodded and groaned as he stepped out of his pod, starting to stretch. “Mmh, okay, understood. I actually have a lot of questions for her anyway, and I could probably use a checkup as well. See you in a bit.” Hawthorne picked up his things and headed for the shower, leaving a dumbfounded T.I.A. struck silent. She was not accustomed to him being so agreeable about such things, and he actually wanted to see Heather? It was everything she could do to tamp down her fears about the human woman. It was bad enough that she’d assaulted her in the past, however enlightening that may have been, but she was probably the second most likely to try to take Hawthorne from her.
Hawthorne, oblivious to T.I.A.’s concerns, showered leisurely and seemed relieved in general. He had actually been wanting to call upon Heather again, and knowing that T.I.A. had anticipated this for him filled him with confidence and appreciation for her. The big smile he had on his face as he stepped out into their work room was impossible for T.I.A. to miss. It was not impossible, however, for her to misinterpret. He blinked as she noticed subtle hints of distress in her body language and expression. “Are you alright? It’s not bad news, is it?” He took his plate of food and settled down to eat, noticing the extra large portions.
She shook her head, blushing. “No, just me being silly. You don’t mind if I’m honest, do you? I’d expect you to be honest with me, after all.” Her insecurities were not as plain as were her general discomfort, but Hawthorne was finding it much easier to pick up on her cues.
He nodded in response, his hands at the sides of his plate. “Sure, please go ahead.”
She let out a sigh, hesitating for a moment, before confessing. “I’m experiencing a great deal of apprehension regarding reviving Heather. I was speaking with Megan, and she seems to think that if you’re friendly and amicable with Heather, she’ll be less likely to try to seduce you. If you’re cold and standoffish, that could instead cause her to be attracted to you the way she seems to have once been, the you that Megan was mimicking the last time she was here. I have no plans to put off Heather’s revival longer than it takes for me to update you on everything, but I want to let you know that I’m becoming somewhat preoccupied with the idea that Heather, or worse, Tia Monsalle might try to take you away from me.”
Hawthorne listened quietly, internally surprised at the thorough description of T.I.A.’s inner turmoil. She used to have so much more trouble articulating herself about such things. “So what? Let them try. I’m not budging from your side. I’d be happy to be friendly with Heather. I’m not that thing that Megan mimicked, I’m not a human robot, as Heather described what I was. I feel affection towards both her and Miss Monsalle, but I feel much more strongly about you. We’ve been through too much. You don’t have anything to worry about regarding any women whatsoever, outside of possible clones of you which I’d thoroughly recommend against at this point due to the conflicts that could cause. Well, barring any potential copies made of myself to pair with them, anyway.”
T.I.A. blinked, struck in so many ways by his sincerity, loyalty, and the strange idea of multiple pairs of them wandering off into the cosmos in many separate love stories. “I… b.. But… uhm…” She stammered momentarily before rushing forwards to kiss him, with him catching her and laughing as she nearly made him bowl himself out of the chair. He held her close and smiled, hands rubbing at her back.
“You know, as much as I’d like to have you for breakfast, I have to eat before you brief me on all this news you mentioned, and then get on to attending to Heather.” He grinned as she blushed, helping her off of him so he could get to eating. She could only nod as she reconsidered her worries over his health.
In an excellent mood, a somewhat thinner, certainly older Hawthorne stood besides Dr. Heather O’Malley’s stasis pod as it gently brought her back to life. T.I.A.’s feelings for him, and concerns over him brought him an incredible amount of joy, so much so he could hardly believe he was the same person he once was. If he had a wish to ask of the endless cosmos now, he wished he could have experienced such delight when he was younger. Maybe if he’d been suffused with such positive emotions in his youth, he might have stayed on Earth and tried to reverse the course it was on, and perhaps try to save humanity from itself. He hummed softly, though, as he considered that if that had happened, he may never have made T.I.A., and even if he had she’d never have had the time she needed to develop herself into the person he’d fallen in love with. It was these quandaries of situational causality that he pondered over as he awaited the arrival of Heather.
Heather’s eyes, as they regained their sight, took in the curious, blurry sight of a dimly-lit Hawthorne standing over her pod, looking positively pleased as punch. She didn’t even recognize him, as the worried furrows in his brow had been joined by laugh lines and faint wrinkles. His hair was long and neatly kept, with abundant streaks of grey. His posture and demeanor lacked the heavy weight that they used to have upon them. How long had she been in stasis this time? Had they arrived already? She waited quietly as her other organs filled with life, her body warming and filling with circulation and beats of her heart.
A series of clicks, pops, and a hiss announced the opening of her pod, the multiple layers of transparent material sliding away as if they were one, allowing her to audibly respond to Hawthorne’s presence. Before she could make fun of him, or start complaining about he looked, she yelped as he leaned over and reached in to help her up with hands under her armpits. “Whaa!”
“Good morning, sleepyhead! Sorry I can’t ask your permission before reviving you, but I hope you won’t mind. We’ve got breakfast ready for you, and a nice, hot shower. I have brought you here on business, but I hope you don’t mind some socializing too? Tia’s been keeping up with Megan since she went on ahead, and I thought you’d like to hear about what she’s been up to.” He settled her down on her feet, letting the short, slender, naked woman get her wits about her before letting her go.
Heather huffed as the comparative giant of a man lifted her up and helped her out of the pod like a child. She scooped up her clothes and things from the table next to the pod, and stomped off to the showers. “Fuck you, Crenshaw.”
He laughed softly as she hurried away. “You’d love that, I’m sure.” She only growled in response.
She didn’t even know why she was so mad all of a sudden, but as she doused herself with hot water she started trying to figure it out.
“... sorry…” Heather meekly spoke up as she sat down to the plate of breakfast, Hawthorne looking up from a tablet nearby while T.I.A. peeked at what he was doing from over his shoulder. She also looked up as Hawthorne responded.
“For what, my friend? I certainly caused you enough grief last time. If anyone should be apologizing, it should be me. Thank you so much for saving my life, for giving me a future, and enabling this whole enterprise to even be possible. I can’t even begin to hold anything against you.” He was smiling in a way that irritated Heather more. He raised an eyebrow as she hung her head.
“I’m just sorry, alright? I’ve been a bitch. A selfish bitch. Just stop acting like that, please? I know I haven’t had much time to stew over it, but after what happened with Megan I realized I need to apologize, to both of you. I’m glad I could be helpful in the process, but I’m sorry I didn’t treat Tia like a person, and I’m sorry I was trying to jump your bones, Crenshaw.” She fidgeted in her seat, feeling like she was a child being scolded, but without the feedback from someone else to make her feel like she could blame anyone but herself.
Hawthorne frowned a bit, nodding as he set the tablet down. T.I.A. floated around the table and gave Heather a hug from behind, feeling Heather first tense up, and then relax against the embrace. Almost at once, T.I.A. and Hawthorne responded. “You’re forgiven.”
Heather squirmed against T.I.A.’s hug, glancing over her shoulder at her. “D… do you have to be so soft?”
T.I.A. gasped, blushing. “But Hawthorne likes me this way!” Hawthorne chuckled softly for a moment, before Heather suddenly threw her arms up, breaking out of T.I.A.’s embrace and standing up. Her hands slammed down hard onto the table, making her plate clatter and splattering food about.
“Please stop! Stop being so sickly sweet! I can’t handle it. You’re both too cute! I don’t know how to deal with this. Can…. can we just get to talking about work and.. And Megan?” Heather looked rattled, feeling totally out of control of the situation. She did not appear to appreciate being unable to dictate the course of conversation, and these two were seemingly trying to get under her skin.
T.I.A. drifted away and nodded, internally wondering why she was worried about Heather.
Hawthorne smiled and nodded. “Sure. We’re on approach to Alpha Centauri. More specifically, Megan’s within a few hundred cycles of arriving, and we’re about to put some plans into play to get some habitats prepared for us.” He waited quietly as Heather sat down, gathering up some of the fallen food back onto the plate and starting to eat as she listened. She had no apparent concerns about contaminants being on the food that landed on the table, considering she was very aware of how completely sterilized this room had been probably hours before.
T.I.A. continued for him, alighting next to Hawthorne and looking very businesslike. “More specifically, we’ve been working on some ideas Megan had to produce robotic animal mothers. Do you recall the work some of the teams briefly did trying to determine the viability of producing artificial wombs to grow human babies and have them be the first inhabitants of a colony?” Heather nodded, chewing. That plan was stupid.
Hawthorne picked up the baton. “Well, Doctor Miguel Saul arranged a little surprise. He was unable to join us, but his son Anthony Saul did. He brought with him a rather enormous sampling of various animal embryos with him from around Earth. Those are currently in storage utilizing your technology.”
Heather swallowed her food, taking the metaphorical baton from Hawthorne. “And you’ve been looking into whether it’s possible to make robot mothers with artificial wombs to birth these embryos, and presumably rear the offspring until such time as the juveniles grow up and can breed on their own. You’re also far enough into the project that you feel like it’s actually possible, and you need someone with expertise in all the other requisite technologies and concepts to bring the project to its fruition.”
Hawthorne and T.I.A. nodded, both smiling in a way that made Heather groan.
A semi-loud clank sounded out as Heather stabbed a fork against the plate. Her arm picked up the sample of sausage and thrust the fork and pork out towards the couple. “I don’t know how far you’ve gotten, or how much work you’ve done on it, but that kind of project requires a lot more than four days. We also don’t know if the planets you’re preparing will even be able to handle animal life yet. There’s too many unknowns, and too much work to do. It’ll have to wait until we arrive, I can put a team together, and we can spend years working on it.” She retracted her hand and bit the meat.
Hawthorne shrugged. “You’re right, of course. That’s why we wanted to do this in a space habitat, a heavily scaled up version of these rooms, something the size of a city wrapped in a cylinder. Megan’s going to be building us such a thing, complete with soil, air, water, and sunlight. It will be our own little home while we prepare planets for habitation. We want to see if we can include animals in that mix, or at least we’d like to be able to start them off and then transport them down to planets.”
T.I.A. blurted out her own thoughts, causing Hawthorne to widen his eyes. “We could even do the same for humans, if need be!” She blinked at Hawthorne’s expression, and looked a little startled, before adding. “Y… you know, for emergencies, or other colonization missions!”
A cheshire smile curled at Heather’s lips, her whole demeanor turning predatory. “Yes. For emergencies. And what if, oh, a human-shaped android were to be about, pregnant with someone’s child? What if, for instance, that android was controlled by a certain… artificial person? What if that child were a certain enterprising leader’s?” Heather laughed at the way Hawthorne and T.I.A. seemed to shrink back from them, but then shook out her shoulders a bit and took another bite of her food. She made them wait as she chewed, then swallowed. “Sure. I’ll be happy to help. I’d love to have little kitties and puppies around. The idea of humans without pets is a sad thing indeed, and I want a part in that.”
T.I.A. and Hawthorne let out a sigh of relief, their shoulders sagging, at least until Heather spoke up again. “BUT!” She watched them tense up, grinning a bit. “Humans come last. Low priority. We’ll want livestock, especially animals that produce food products renewably like egg-laying poultry and milkable mammals. If the Sauls were smart, the poultry should be the easiest, as eggs pretty much handle themselves. I’d rather we not get our milk from platypodes though, so I’m totally with the plans for mammals and the like. I also want to formally declare my intention to eventually make it possible for Megan to have my baby.”
T.I.A. gasped. Hawthorne nodded. “Deal.” He looked up at his confused wife. “It’s not that hard to understand. We have Megan’s genetic data on file, we just need to find a way to engineer it into actual DNA, and then inject that into one of Heather’s egg cells. It could only be a daughter, but it could work. It would be much easier to simply have Heather be the mother, but if-”
“No!” Heather narrowed her eyes. “No. Megan wants to be a mother, not me. I’ll do my duty for humanity, but I want her to have this. I don’t care if I’m called a father, or another mother, but she fucking deserves it! If anyone in all of this mess deserves to be a mother, it’s her. And don’t either of you tell her! I want this to be a surprise, and I also don’t know if we can actually do it. Building a DNA molecule from scratch is… daunting to say the least. I’d need specially designed nanotechnology, and we’re only going to be able to develop that on the colony. I’ll need multiple scientists helping me, as well as an engineer. Both Tias may get to be mothers first, but you will promise me right now that you’ll make sure Megan does too.” Heather was trembling, looking like she was about to start crying.
Hawthorne was at a loss for words. T.I.A. was not. “We promise! We’ll make it happen for Megan! If it can be done, she deserves it, you’re right. The Sauls deserve a lot of credit for inspiring this idea too.” Hawthorne nodded in response.
Heather smirked. “Oh, Anthony’s going to be receiving my thanks. Don’t worry about that.” She drummed her fingers on the table, swaying a bit in her seat. She blinked as she noticed Hawthorne and T.I.A. staring at her. “Yes, like that.” She laughed as the couple groaned. “So, where’s your rings? Hiding them?” She stared back as they failed to respond. “Oh come the fuck on! What’s wrong with you two? You have to give each other rings. It’s not official if you don’t have rings. And don’t start with the, ‘Oh, Heather, how did you know we were married?’ shit. It’s bleeding off of both of you in waves. It’s like a ‘Don’t fuck me.’ aura, and it’s totally repellant.”
T.I.A. and Hawthorne laughed, though the AI was the first to articulate a response. “I forgot how crude your language can be! God, you’d give Jessica a run for her money. As far as the rings-”
Hawthorne interrupted, “We were married under Phoenix Clan traditions, by Megan. They don’t exchange rings, as far as I know, but they do get awful handsy after the ceremony’s over. I’m pretty sure one of them tried to stick a finger u-”
“Hawthorne!” T.I.A. slapped his arm while Heather guffawed, falling out of her chair laughing.
Heather ensured Hawthorne’s checkup was as humiliating as possible, including references to his wedding ceremony and her asking multiple times ‘did they touch you like this?’ as she checked him up. Their afflictions with regards to being unable to feel pain required her to give him a painstaking search all over his body, checking every muscle, ligament, and blood flow to his limbs. By the time she was done she declared that he had the body of a thirty-five year old, and the heart of a thirty year old.
With Hawthorne pleased with his health prospects, and Heather pleased with all the news she had gotten, they got to work. Hawthorne’s progress was nothing short of impressive, though with Heather’s input he was able to determine that they had a long way to go indeed. A womb was not a simple thing to make, nor was independently growing and maintaining organs and other structures needed to supply such an endeavor. Thankfully, though, DNA was a remarkable thing, and if given the right tools it could practically do the job on its own. It was just a matter of providing it with said tools and appropriate workspace.
T.I.A. was able to provide schematics for all manner of artificial organs created on Earth before the Cataclysm, many of them similar to the sorts of things Megan had in her own body once upon a time, and Heather found those to be far more useful. A single replacement organ could work in concert with a flesh-and-blood body, allowing it to continue living. Heather’s idea was to make a whole body out of those kinds of artificial organs. They didn’t need things like skin, or muscle, just organs, bacteria, and blood.
Heather’s essential idea was to utilize an artificial digestive system, with digestive bacteria probably being harvested from a human, and support that with lungs, filtering organs like kidneys and a liver, and whatever hormone ‘glands’ they needed. The primary goal was to provide the correct nutrients to the baby, and Heather was convinced that machines could do most of the work. Blood was probably the only thing that they couldn’t build, and that was only a matter of technology at the moment. It wasn’t impossible that a semi-organic, totally self-sufficient android couldn’t be built that could take in nutrients and produce things like flesh, or babies.
The technology didn’t allow for a fully functional brain, only a simple programmed brain or a remote control, but the latter certainly would allow for both T.I.A. and Megan to eventually be mothers. Heather and Hawthorne agreed that they’d need a proper team to get the particulars together, as well as start building prototypes and beginning trials, but the groundwork was solid, and it would probably only be a few years to a decade once the colonists were established that they’d have animals.
T.I.A. had to utilize a mental vault, similar to Megan’s, to contain her excitement, if only to keep from blowing the secret to Megan.
Mother 2058.03: “Making final approach to Alpha Centauri. Orbit of Proxima Centauri is on the far side of the system. It should be at roughly the three-o-clock of your position upon your arrival. Approaching central asteroid belt, and initiating the assault of the second planet of Alpha Centauri B with icy comets. Recommended name: Eden.”
Mother 2058.27: “Relative velocity within predictions. I should be able to decelerate towards the asteroid belt within a few years while bringing my orbit in tighter. Chain of comets on approach towards Eden. Impact will occur in four years. God help anything down there if it exists.”
Mother 2058.40: “Remote imagery of comet impacts uploaded. Eden appeared to be pock-marked with dozens of impact craters before steam clouds shrouded the atmosphere.”
Mother 2058.70: “Craters remain upon Eden, of course. The surface has visible liquid water on the surface, primarily collected in the craters and other lowlands. Some chained craters have resulted in larger lakes. Crater impacts seem to have lowered the surface of the crust. Rotational period of the planet has altered from almost thirty hours, to nearer twenty-seven hours. Average temperature is eighteen degrees centigrade.”
Mother 2058.90: “Lightning visible on Eden where none was before. Climate system developing. Average temperature is seventeen point eight nine degrees centigrade and appears to be cooling. Launching four Minerals Extraction and Materials Fabrication Devices and accompanying takeover packages to nearby asteroids to begin harvesting the belt for future constructions. Investigating dwarf planets within the belt for possible subsurface construction.”
Mother 2058.93: “First dwarf planet primarily made of light metals and ice. Good colony candidate. Iron asteroids may allow for easy construction on the surface. Expected gravity of such a colony estimated at point two Gs. Gravity will be adjustable if converted into rotational drum, but that conversion will require significant expansion and mining of internal mass.”