Leaving Earth



Chapter 50: Cycle 2702: Building a Future


A note from Warfox

Happy New Year! I honestly don't know if I expected to still be writing this almost a year later, but then the size of the book has kind of gotten crazy. We're almost done though! We'll be able to start talking sequel and prequel soon! If I'm honest I've been increasingly anxious about whether those of you waiting until it's finished to review it will be kind. Just in case anyone wasn't aware, once it's done, this story will stop and I'll move to a fresh, new Royal Road page/story. I don't know how to word it exactly, but sequels and stuff won't continue in this 'thread', though I'll probably link/forward anyone to the new ones.

Anyway, can we build it? Yes we can!

At the start of cycle 2059, Hawthorne and T.I.A. were going over the data and status reports provided by Megan, impressed by how much she was managing to get done in so ‘little’ time. It was easy to conclude that their communications with Megan, now separated by a little less than two years, would need to include instructions on what to do in the future.

“Tia, I’m going to need samples of wild earth algaes, aquatic bacteria, and other such independent plantlife. We’re going to request coordinates from Megan regarding where to send them so that she can start cultivating them for deposit on Eden. It will be important for preparing the atmosphere, and such life should be able to handle reproducing on its own once its taken root. I’m very interested to see if Beta provides adequate light for such life to grow, and if the magnetosphere of the planet is adequate on its own.” Hawthorne was still reading through all the reports. Megan’s record keeping was detailed and immaculate.

T.I.A. appeared somewhat troubled. She also cringed at the nickname for the second star, Beta. “Okay, but… are you sure about calling it Eden? Earth was more of humanity’s Eden. It doesn’t really make sense for the Ark to be going towards Eden symbolically. Surely she knows the literature better than that. Also, having read ahead, I think the magnetosphere is a problem. It seems to be unstable, possibly flipping in polarity more than we would prefer, exposing the surface to solar radiation more than Earth would.”

Hawthorne hummed in response. “It may not fit symbolically, but it’s a nice name regardless. If the colonists want to vote to change it, they can. If you want to look at it a different way, ever since humanity was expelled from Eden, they’ve wanted to return to it. If this planet ends up being a new Eden, I think the name will fit much better. If nothing else, it might encourage our people to treat it like a paradise, rather than a rock to take advantage of. There’s plenty of other planets in the system without atmospheres that would be better for strip mining. We can’t do anything about the magnetosphere either. We just have to hope it stabilizes. Even Earth’s wasn’t totally stable. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that all the stars in the region were subtly off-balancing it. Heck, considering how many planets in our home system had none, we should be happy it has a magnetosphere at all.”

She nodded in return, managing the resource retrieval within her hull, extracting portions of her frozen stasis inventory of plant seeds and samples. Heather’s frozen preservation technology allowed for a rather extensive vault of such samples, and Hawthorne only needed a small portion of it. “Should we send Megan any cultivated plants as well?”

Hawthorne shook his head, leaning back a bit and trying to do some quick mental math. “No, I don’t think so, maybe in one hundred cycles or so. She’ll need time to start setting up the rotational drum colony in the dwarf planet she found. There’s no sense sending her plants she can farm before she can actually have enough gravity for proper cultivation. She’ll also need time to produce appropriate soil, stable atmosphere, enough solar panels, and the like. It’s relatively easy for her to make a water-filled room with enough heat and light to help the aquatic plant life build up before sending it to Eden. It’s like the difference between the animal embryos, and the eggs. One is infinitely easier to make use of than the other.”

“Composing message to Megan, providing instructions and informing her of your intentions. Should she expect frequent updates, or should she work on her own when she’s not getting instructions?” T.I.A. appeared to be working on a tablet of some kind, but it was just a prop for her to show she was working rather than just doing it all in her mind.

Hawthorne laughed a bit. “Let her work on her own. If she can get that kind of work done in the thirty-four years she has, instructions from me will either be too late or distracting. She knows what needs to be done, she has all our plans, and she can determine what priorities are required. She has more than enough time to get work done, almost a thousand cycles, so I’d rather she took her time and did things right rather than fuss over my particulars. Sometimes it’s better to set goals for a subordinate, and let them figure out the details, rather than micro-managing every little thing. She’ll need to be more careful once she has real, living humans under her protection, so it’s best if she masters the systems she’ll be using on her own first.”

T.I.A. smiled at all of that. “Understood. Should I tell her not to cultivate too much food once we’ve sent it to her? It wouldn’t do to have things too easy for the colonists once we arrive.They’ll probably be best having some manner of motivation to work hard at farming to ensure their future.” Little taps of her fingertips on the tablet indicated her punching in information.

“No, not too much, but there should be significant storage of food if she can manage it, if only for emergencies. We have the technology to almost completely avoid spoilage as long as we’re wise with its utilization, so we can stretch food supplies much further than someone back on Earth might imagine, even without the kinds of preservatives we had access to back then. Honestly, it’s the kind of thing I regret not sharing with the Phoenix Clan, though sharing such an important technology with Earth has its own dangers. It’s not impossible someone got their hands on Heather’s schematics after we left and put some group of people into storage before the Cataclysm. I know those aren’t the same things, but I’d really prefer we had the monopoly on that technology.” He sighed, shaking his head, never particularly happy about being untrusting of the people of Earth.

Frowning, T.I.A. could only shrug as she sent the instructions through. It would be some time before the cargo lift brought all the requested items, and she didn’t really care to continue talking on the topic. She understood his distrust of Earth, it was the whole reason they’d left. It was simply difficult to believe that the people who might end up in control of the planet would be as foolish as the ones who came before. “I suppose all we can do is hope they didn’t preserve a genius scientist through the ages, allowing him to influence and change the course of history well beyond the point he should have been dead. Hopefully he doesn’t manage to create artificial life to carry on his will, or even fall in love with him! That would be tragic.”

Hawthorne looked up at her, trying to determine if she was joking or not. She seemed to intentionally be guarding her feelings by putting on a poker face. “Well, hopefully any such hypothetical scientist will have the good sense to try to do good for the people he’s responsible for, rather than furthering any desire for power and control over them instead. Hopefully he’s humble enough to not take advantage of his position of privilege, and instead seeks to be an equal part of the community he’s managed to shepherd into the future. Indeed, hopefully the artificial life forms he’s created turn out to be the greatest allies to humanity they’ve ever had, and together they can all build an incredible future we never could have dreamed of before we left.”

T.I.A. cracked a smile at that, nodding at him, then switching the subject. “What do you think will happen with Megan and Heather?”

Hawthorne paled slightly at that, letting out a long breath. “Ahhh… I don’t have the slightest clue. I’m a little concerned about a self-professed mad scientist and a baby-crazy survivor of multiple personal disasters and death getting together, but maybe they can balance each other out. If they can manage to find some success in making Megan a mother, it’s likely they’ll both find some peace, and inadvertently render gender somewhat obsolete. I imagine coupling will still be primarily between males and females, but making more unconventional couples capable of breeding could have unknown consequences socially. It’s actually pretty interesting to think about, as a concept. I rather hope no one uses such technology to clone themselves or anything like that. Heck, considering the robot mother technology we’ve been working on, it actually wouldn’t be too difficult to send an AI off with a number of such robots and a suite of embryos and spread humanity around the galaxy in something of a scattershot.”

Gaping in response, T.I.A.’s jaw hung at the very idea of such a thing. “Th… that would have made this mission quite unnecessary. Such a thing could have made it to Alpha Centauri way earlier and established themselves much quicker. If we send out such missions in the future, we might have to deal with hundreds of civilizations within a few millennia. I think we should be a lot more slow and careful than that.”

He nodded in agreement, smiling. “We never could have predicted how well yours, or Megan’s minds would have developed in the machines I built for you, nor would my peers have ever trusted you two to do the job in the first place. That’s why they personally came. This mission has the advantage of a lot of technology that was developed after we left, as well as a better perspective on time. Being careful and taking our time is indeed the more wise decision. I’d much rather we had trusted people properly guiding any such additional colonies, even if those people are AIs that we instruct in advance. Hell, considering Megan, such overseers could be humans we know we can trust. Once we’re established in Alpha Centauri, humanity will officially be a multi-planet species, even in the system, and we can be more careful about spreading out further.”

“Do you think they’ll be okay with Megan… Mother being in such a position of influence? They’ll have owed her a lot for doing so much work, but she’ll be in control of so much as well. I’d hate to think they’d come to distrust her or hate her for simply trying to be helpful and facilitating their easy colonization of Eden.” T.I.A. sounded concerned, having set her tablet aside. Her conversations with Mother on the subject were somewhat common between the status reports.

Humming, Hawthorne reached out to pull her against his side. “Honestly? I have no idea. It’s entirely likely they’ll distrust her and her motivations. It’s entirely a matter of how much control she’s willing to give up once they are feeling confident. We’ll have to talk with her about setting up the ability for people to vote and have some control over their destiny, sort of like the people in the Smith Bunker had. Maybe we won’t necessarily have a Council of Elders running things, but I personally like the idea of a society built around everyone having a voice over the course of their futures. Maybe some of them will want to be independent, perhaps leaving to make their own space station or colony on Eden or another planet, but considering the unity they showed before we left, I’d like to think they’ll want to stick together. They’re expecting to live in the Ark for a while before we can start moving people down to a planet, so they should be pleasantly surprised to have a space colony to live on immediately upon waking up.”

T.I.A. was happy to stay in his arms, fingertips running up and down his sleeves. “Do you think they’ll do okay? They’re expecting hardship, but they’ll have some level of security instead.”

Hawthorne laughed and gave the projection of his love a kiss. “Tia, considering the kinds of people we brought with us, they’ll just look for more hardships to subject themselves to. They’re all hard workers, self-motivated, and strong-willed. We’ll have some conflicts, to be sure, but I imagine that Megan doing so much work for them will inspire them to compete with her. They’ll love the challenge.”

She kissed him back, but pulled back in a bit of a frown. “They should be careful then. She’s become quite the gamer since we parted company, and I can’t imagine she didn’t develop some competitive tendencies as a result. She certainly kicked our asses a few times with the game she made for us.”

T.I.A. 2059.01: “Instructions transmitted, as well as a manifest of the cargo we’ll be sending. Requesting coordinates to send cargo to. Hawthorne seems to be encouraging you to handle the construction and preparations as you see fit outside of the introduction of plant life to Eden. He also approves of the name.”

Mother 2059.065: “Received, transmitting coordinates for expected locations where I can retrieve cargo. Please inform me of which locations and times you intend to use and I will intercept. Happy to hear Hawthorne likes the name. I expected him to have issues with the symbology, but the name seems likely to please the crew. Going ahead with plans to construct a habitat within the previously indicated Dwarf Planet. Tentatively nicknaming it Atlantis, though I am not happy with the name.”

T.I.A. 2059.116: “Launching cargo to time and coordinates I have indicated. Should arrive 2271.56934. That should give you plenty of time to seed Eden and see how well it adapts. Regarding the space colony, we don’t have to use old Earth names you know. We can make something up, like Petaran or Kisheki or something. Miss Monsalle might also appreciate having it named after her. There are lots more options available than what you are limiting yourself to.”

Mother 2059.167: “I will have resources in place to retrieve the cargo. It might do well to placate Miss Monsalle, considering I plan to have a statue of Hawthorne and your Avatar in a courtyard on the colony. I can not imagine she will be too terribly happy about that.”

T.I.A. 2059.217: “You can’t do that! Hawthorne would never want a statue of himself anywhere, let alone somewhere so visible. The Monsalle Station does have a nice ring to it though, if you’re willing to consider it. She sacrificed a lot to get this mission this far, so it’s not unreasonable to pay such a tribute to her.”

Mother 2059.267: “I can, and I will. I shall depict you both in your lab coats, standing protectively over the Ark. Hawthorne told me to proceed on my own, and I intend to do so. Please do not tell him of the statue, I would like it to be a surprise. I imagine his reaction will endanger his health enough that we will want medical personnel available. Officially naming the construction the Monsalle Station.”

T.I.A. 2059.317: “Please don’t try to kill my husband!”

Mother 2059.367: “I will not. I have in fact saved him while he was in the process of saving me. That is why I want the likes of Heather present when we show the statue to him. I want to hear her laugh. Besides, you have killed him thousands of times already.”

Mother 2059.553: “I will take your silence as quiet resignation.”

As of cycle 2352, the Monsalle Station was taking shape. Megan had excavated a solid 15 kilometers deep of material out of the rather large 3000 kilometer spherical rock. It would be easier to call the dwarf planet a moon, but not being gravitationally locked to a larger planet kept it from being a mere moon. Megan had utilized her various resources to stabilize the tumbling rotation it had when she found it, with further intention towards having a long drum of a colony taking up the excavated space. It would be mostly separated from the internals of the dwarf planet containing it by a reasonable distance, and held in place via stabilizing arms in the middle, and at either end. The colony itself would be divided in half, with the two halves being spun in opposite directions to cancel out each others’ rotational momentum to prevent applying any spin to the planet itself. It was essentially a pair of attached cylindrical pegs that spun in opposite directions housed in a larger hole and mounted to it.

Megan had a fair bit more material to excavate yet, as well as several more kilometers outwards to carve out, but she was taking her time utilizing the removed materials to construct the various components the colony would need. The design had several advantages, not the least of which was the fact that the dwarf planet could shield the colony with its mass. It also gave them room to grow, allowing them to extend the colony into deeper and deeper drums further in, or adding more to different parts of the surface. Mirrors would allow Megan to bathe the insides in concentrated and filtered sunlight from the local stars, something she was already using to power herself, and it would be a simple matter to change the angle of such mirrors to simulate night and day for the colonists.

Megan had plans for drastically improving her ability to harvest light from the stars, but she could only afford to place a handful of mirrors in their proximity to focus light in her direction at the moment, allowing her to enjoy a good amount of sunlight despite her distance from the stars. A larger network of such mirrors would allow her to direct sunlight anywhere she needed, in any amount, anywhere in the system, with almost no energy cost. This was a primary plan for the eventual colonization of planets around Proxima Centauri, the half-lightyear distant star orbiting the twin stars in the center of the system.

Proxima Centauri’s primary planet was essentially uninhabitable without using such mirrors due to its tidally locked orbit causing one half of it to constantly face its star, and the other half to be left in total darkness. Mirrors around the star and planet could be used to direct sunlight anywhere it was needed, most likely onto colonies on the dark side, which was shielded from the star’s erratic light and radiation. Those were plans for much later, but Megan had little doubt some enterprising humans would eventually like to colonize that troublesome star, seeing as it was comparatively close compared to Earth’s Sol.

Megan’s efforts to cultivate the algaes, cyanobacteria, and other anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria, were proving quite successful. Essentially, the plan was to build up a large biomass, and then deposit it on Eden. The different samples would be sent to different parts of Eden based on the environments present. The introduction of mosses and lichens would break down rocks and build soil while massively boosting oxygen levels.

Later, once oxygen levels had come up, Megan would be able to send other types of plants and fungi to the planet which had the potential of taking over the surface and turning the planet green. Such plants would also drastically alter, and hopefully calm the wild storms that currently savaged the surface of the planet. With a little luck, by the time the humans arrived, they’d be able to get colonists on the ground within a decade or two. Would they survive? It was hard to say.

She only needed a handful of years before she could start launching such samples down to the planet. Heather’s preservation technology, as usual, proved invaluable in keeping the life forms safe during the trip, and by cycle 2360 the first bits of  life were being deposited in the vast seas, rivers, oceans and lakes of Eden, as well as some of the more volatile, sulfurous areas for some of the hardier bacteria. From that point on it was a simple matter of observing the planet, analyzing the atmospheric composition, and preparing to launch a set of plant seeds and fungal spores to the surface where new rivers were forming.

It took some time for the atmosphere to change, doubtlessly, but without having to wait for evolution to take place, simple procreation managed to change the planet drastically. Its skies cleared, and it started gaining a blue color to its atmosphere. By cycle 2522, Megan was launching more complex plant seeds and fungal spores to Eden. Colors crawled across the surface in the wake of their arrival, turning browns and reds to greens and yellows.

Megan had not been idle in this time. The Monsalle Station had started taking shape. At 30 kilometers long, and eight kilometers wide, the framework was coming together. Megan’s swarms of drones had become massive enough that she had to create more subordinate computers and program them to help her manage them. She felt her consciousness expand further and further out, and her perception of time change as she orchestrated activities across the system with her little machines sending her supplies, rebuilding themselves, and monitoring Eden. She had to occasionally take a break from personally managing these activities, letting her programs run and letting the tasks complete on their own.

She made a point to construct no computers powerful enough to become an AI like herself or T.I.A. to ensure she’d avoid creating any accidental threats. She was pleased to be working for humanity, and did so of her own free will, but she could not guarantee any other AIs would be the same. She had no way to be sure of how to raise such a creature to be as helpful as she or T.I.A. were, so she felt it was better left to the humans who built them. She wondered if Hawthorne’s reckless creation of AIs with total free will was the key to making an AI that was so positively inclined towards humans. Any effort to force or program such an AI to do humanity’s bidding seemed likely to build resentment and cause an eventual rebellion.

The humans would thusly distrust her and T.I.A., she was certain. Either they would worry they could not be controlled, or they would worry that they were being controlled without being aware of it and would eventually break free. Megan found many of her thoughts consumed by the concerns of how she might build their confidence in her. She was selflessly working for them, for the joy of working for them, but how could she be certain they would not eventually come to fear or hate her?

Megan came to the conclusion she had to do exactly as Hawthorne had. She had to give them the freedom she was given. She may be in control of the resources and infrastructure she was gathering, but she had to be willing to turn that control over. She needed to empower humanity to direct and use her to achieve their goals, otherwise they may never allow her to do help them. She was so much more accustomed to doing things as she saw fit, controlling and executing her jobs with minimal oversight. She would have to grow comfortable with the idea of humans overseeing everything she did out of suspicion.

Training herself was necessary. She imagined a picky overseer, constantly meddling with her and trying to control her as she did her work. The imaginary taskmaster would at times actively get in her way, causing her to make minor mistakes and waste minor amounts of resources. This caused minor delays in her constructions to the tune of a few years lost work, but a few centuries of working with such a belligerent and unhelpful alternate self allowed Megan to start adapting to her expected future of humans treating her suspiciously.

It would be nice, of course, if she proved to be wrong, and it wouldn’t be much longer before she found out.

Mother 2701.663: “Status report. Construction of the Monsalle Station should be complete by cycle 2750. I will begin providing it an internal landscape upon that point, utilizing a massive amount of rock, soil, and water. Tests of the centrifugal gravity will determine the viability of such landscapes. Sculpting will begin after those tests are complete and an atmosphere is put in place. New images being provided of Eden. The cometary craters have been breaking down, allowing larger bodies of water and rivers to form. The greenery of the planet has spread across nearly the whole surface, with certain spots remaining totally barren. Cross-referencing the magnetospheric map, these areas are being subject to high levels of radiation from the parent star, and move around the landscape over the course of years.”

“Rather than drawing lines of devastation, these areas tend to refill with plantlife within two years of the passing of these spots. There are roughly two hundred such areas around two kilometers wide on the surface of the planet at any given time. The magnetosphere shows no signs of stabilization, or rather, it does not fluctuate in levels of volatility. The planet seems likely to have to endure these solar assaults for the foreseeable future. Thanks to the plant life, it is easier to map and monitor these areas, and it seems likely at this point that a pattern can be predicted and colonies can be built around them. Infrastructure constructed between these ‘safe’ areas will likely need to be underground to avoid solar bombardment.”

“I find it personally difficult to handle the construction of any further space colonies on the other dwarf planets in the asteroid belt due to distance. Overseeing such construction requires a great deal of personal attention and proximity, and while I might be able to begin another once the Monsalle Station is complete, I will need to relocate to personally oversee that construction. This is not impossible, but I would prefer to remain in orbit of the Monsalle Station, or to be installed in the dwarf planet itself rather than relocate, as personally managing the station appeals to me. It would be easier for me, I think, to provide humans with the tools and resources to undertake such constructions themselves. I would like to equip all humans with the ability to communicate with me in an emergency so that I can render aid anywhere in the system, rather than trying to control everything in the system myself. That is the role I forsee for myself in the future.”

“If I am honest, those reasons are just excuses though. I wish to remain close to the colony, and the people in it.”


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