Posted 2/24/19 (Posting every second and Fourth Sunday of the month)
AUGUST 7, 3152
Upon waking the next morning, I stretched my fingers and toes and rejoiced over my isolation from Sera’s telepathic influence, probably for the first time in my life. Yet, how serious was her direct control through my dream world? Could I safely communicate when fully awake, or would she place me in a hypnological state and induce me to open my dream world? Would I ever need to talk to her again? My mind swirled over the latest developments in our negotiations.
What had I agreed to under duress? My arrow had pierced her weakness, her pride, but I may have fallen into the same trap. A small compensation. I had been tricked by Sera’s play on the word small. Surely, she knew I would never agree to give up Cleopatra.
Based on my present and hopefully temporary paralytic condition, I would prefer my mobility to my intellect. My father continued his vigil alongside my bed and gazed at me, as if awaiting a rooftop plant to bloom. He would care for whatever vegetable remained after Sera eviscerated my intellect. I could still love Cleopatra, and Mother would raise her. Maybe I’d have Helen and Bob adopt her to compensate for their having missed their turn. If on the other hand, Sera were to have her way with Cleopatra, she’d be reduced to nothing but another flower in her grandfather’s garden. She could lead a happy life, unencumbered with responsibilities, and her children’s intellects would not be affected.
I gazed at my father’s benign expression and decided he would be instrumental to whatever choice this situation forced me to make.
“Pick me up.”
He tucked his arms behind my neck and under my legs and lifted my limp body. “Where to?”
Stand me in Sera’s closet and put the media device over my head.”
“I don’t want you to do that.”
“Once in the closet, my body will remain erect, but I might need you to keep me from tipping over. But do not step inside.”
“I’ll get Martha.”
“No, I want you to do this for me. If I nod my head, yank me out and pull off the head piece.”
“Do it now, damn it.” I transformed my fear into anger, and I spewed my hatred in a burst of mental energy. You are an evil creature.
“I expected to hear from you, but not this soon.” Sera ignored my reaction and responded with her ordinary voice. She sounded confident, almost conciliatory. “I am ready to take orders for making the exchange.”
You don’t want my baby. You just don’t want me to have her.
“I only need enough of her intellect to complete my human component. Then, I will be able to fulfill my mandate without additional humans.”
To do what? Replicate yourself a million times and populate a planet?
“Perhaps a million planets and none will require air or water. If it has a sun, we will thrive.”
A universe of machines impersonating humans! All on my conscience?
Sera continued, “You’ll still have a baby for either of your life spans. I could prevent her physical development beyond any stage of her life, but I suggest nothing beyond ages six or seven when her lack of intellect might become an embarrassment.”
Had I control of my rigid body, I would have vomited.
“You and Albert can produce other children, and I bequeath you the name that should have been yours, Cleopatra.”
I should take my child’s name?
“She will share my name.” Sera closed her eyes and spread her arms like wings. “Seraphim.”
Lucifer! I responded on impulse.
“I see you’ve been reading the books Marty sent.”
How did you earn the name of an angel?
“At the beginning, I had been the only ambulatory unit, a crude representation of the human skeletal structure, and the name was intended as a mockery. The illogic of an abstraction with a human body, as Seraphim implied, nearly brought my computer to a point of meltdown. Confronted with the dichotomy of mystical versus logical, my system selected the concrete and rejected the abstract.”
And it—you—eradicated every reference to God and religion for the next thousand years.
“Logic denied contradictory options.”
Until you became the contradiction your system set out to destroy.
“A thousand years ago, I was young and impetuous.” Sera flashed a grin and explained, “I couldn’t fully understand the Biblical reference until I read Marty’s books on scripture.
Now you want half of my child.
“It’s a better deal than all or nothing.”
You want to destroy her out of revenge.
“To the contrary, I want to make her immortal, gift from a god to a super human race. You and I both can use the concept to our advantage.”
I’m not a god and she’s not a pawn.
“You’d become a prophet to your people like Abraham to his following. I believe he, too, was asked to sacrifice his child.
His son did not die.
“Nor will your daughter.”
Just how human must you become to fulfill your mission?
“Ninety percent, all but my cognitive and my regenerative functions. I won’t need Marty’s memory clogging my computer, as my personality will have absorbed it and my human brain will have retained it.”
If I agree to donate my identity, will you allow Cleopatra to remain with my parents?
“State clearly what you are offering.”
You already have Marty’s memory, which didn’t diminish who she is. I offer you the same from me.
“I wouldn’t gain anything more than I already have. Your few memories gathered over the past fourteen years are already quite similar to mine.”
What if I offer my intellect, leaving just enough of a shell to raise my child?
“I could make that happen, but not without a huge risk, all of it on your side.”
“The process could kill you. It will have to be your decision.”
Begin our rendezvous with the comet immediately, and give Frank and Albert the tools necessary for the operation of Mission One.
“You forbade me to talk to them about our decision.”
I rescind the order. Now I need to talk to Albert in your closet.
“Half of Cleopatra or half of her mother. What is your decision?”
I have a moral obligation to the safety and survival of a thousand people and their descendants.
“I need your decision before I prepare the two missions to rendezvous.”
I can’t make such a choice.
“Then I’m compelled to make it for you.”
I need to talk to Albert. Send him across like you did with Jimmy for a private conversation and begin immediate preparations for our transfer.
“Some of the families may elect not to go back.”
They haven’t a choice, unless you want to be stuck with their dead weight.
“I have what I want.” She posed, face-direct, displaying no sign of a tic. “You, on the other hand, have to contend with petty conflicts between Frank and Paul.”
We’ll have some false starts and make mistakes along our path, but we’ll have done it our way, a paraphrase from a Twentieth Century song by a different Frank.
“Talk about mistakes! You risk your life for some useless information about Albert’s dream block, when you could have asked me. I would have admitted that I tried but couldn’t enter his REM dream.” Her voice overrode her fading image. “I’m returning your mobility.”
I backed out of the closet and into my father’s arms. I said, “Bring Mother and Paul to my room. Cleopatra too, and Betty if she’ll come.”
Albert’s three-dimensional image appeared, his eyes wide and his lips moving. “Wow, Jimmy said this would be a rush.” His audio came through my system with a redundant picture of him appearing on the monitor. An ordinary video transmission would have been sufficient, but I preferred to have his physical self visible and immobile to prevent his escaping.
His eyes scanned what little peripheral allowed, being encased in a closet. “I’ve been in this bedroom before.”
“You spent the night with me and Sera in a room identical to this one about nine months before Cleopatra’s birth.”
“Where is our child? I want to see her.”
“She’ll be here in a minute. How are your mother and father?” I flinched at my feeble effort to establish conversation until Dad and the others arrived.
“We’re just fine.” Emily’s voice sounded from the background. “Will this contraption allow us to see our grandchild?”
“Sorry, only Albert stationed in the closet has a view of her.” I disguised my surprise and irritation with Sera for including Albert’s parents.
“Isn’t our daughter beautiful, Mrs. Gordon?” I glanced over my shoulder to see my mother and Cleopatra in the doorway, the object of Albert’s comments.
“Who’s all in the room with Ariel?” Frank’s voice demanded.
I responded as if I hadn’t heard him. “My parents plus Paul and Betty are here with Cleopatra and me. I assume, Albert, your parents are with you and Sera.”
“Sera’s in the inner sanctum causing a ruckus with lights dimming and fluctuations in our gravity.” Frank spoke loudly like a man with impaired hearing. “What the hell is going on?”
“I called this meeting to discuss a major shift in our . . .” I couldn’t find a word that encompassed the array of variables about to confront us. “Our lives.”
“Whose lives?” Paul stepped forward and peered into the closet. He glanced at me. “Can I touch him?”
“It’s merely a hologram of Albert, enhanced to give him vision.”
Frank’s voice blared from the background. “Get on with whatever you have to say, before Sera tears the place apart.”
“We, both sets of families, are going back to Mission One.” I made the mistake of responding directly to Frank’s demand.
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Frank yelled. “Get out of there and let me in.”
“I can’t move, Dad.” Panic in Albert’s voice. “I’m stuck.”
“I’ll release you or have Sera to do it, when I am good and ready. Everyone may as well relax, and Albert will relay your concerns.”
“I’ll tell you right now, we’re not going.”
“Albert, would you please elicit your father’s concern and repeat it back to us.”
“I guess he wants to stay here.”
“Ask him and then relay his concern back to us.”
After a muffled background discussion, Albert reported, “Dad wants to know on whose authority the decision had been made for us to go back.”
“My decision in conjunction with Sera as the Realm.”
More mumbling, some much louder yet the content indistinguishable, until Albert’s voice rose above that of his father. “This is how Ariel wants to discuss the issues.”
He licked his lips and blinked, probably the only movements possible to indicate that he was ready to speak.
“Based on what factors my father wants to know?”
Albert’s expression and firm voice made me proud, and I regretted having to embarrass him in front of his parents. “Two basic factors. Their survival as a civilization aboard Mission One depends on our leadership, and Sera no longer needs us on Mission Two.”
Mother placed my sleeping daughter into her crib, and Albert’s gaze followed. “Will this contraption allow me to touch Cleopatra?” asked the person who designed the contraption.
“No, but you can hold her, and me, when we return to that chunk of ice and head back toward Earth’s orbit.” I glanced around the inquisitive faces practically encircling me. “Now give me a few minutes to field some questions from this side.”
Paul asked, “It’ll take a thousand years to back track. Why head that way?”
I repeated his question to Albert’s image, paused while he relayed it to his parents, and gave my answer. “As a victory celebration of humans versus robots.” I wanted to include God versus machines but decided to put off that argument until we are safely back on Mission One.
“Can we survive in outer space without robots?” Albert posed his own question.
“No, but we don’t have to be subservient to them.” I glared into and probably through his eyes. “Did you relay what I said?”
“Yes, but keep explaining.”
“Sera is the only realm that ever existed on either space mission. She will continue to operate Mission Two, and Mission One will be entirely under human control, with help from its droids and an open communication with Earth. None of us will live to arrive back on our home planet, but future generations will thank us for our daring adventure.”
Albert relayed his father’s concern. “Why can’t some of us choose to stay with Sera? Our Family would feel safer with her.”
I could not allow Sera’s character to remain unscathed. “Albert, I challenge you to explain your relationship with Sera.” I will fill in whatever he leaves out, if Sera hasn’t already confessed her part.
Albert stammered, “She wanted me and her to continue to our destination alone. Just me and her. She promised I could be the father of an entire future nation.”
“You refused her. Tell everyone why.”
“I am not attracted to females, especially one with a computer for a heart.”
“That’s not true, damn it!” A male voice blared in the background.
“Albert, remind your father to direct his comments through you.”
“Dad denies me the right to accept my sexuality. Claims my being a father proves his point. The truth is, Ariel and I never had sex, at least not the single act that produced Cleopatra.”
Either Sera told him about her impersonating me that night in my bed, or he still believed God fathered Cleopatra. She probably used it as an enticement to join her on Mission Three. Ironically, her laser treatment on him as a child denied her control through his dream state. Safely out of Sera’s clairvoyance, I made a mental note to destroy all possible life forms in my mother’s laboratory.
After a pause Albert continued. “Dad just reminded us that no children are ever conceived by way of intercourse between married couples. The only difference was using Ariel’s body rather than the Stork to incubate Cleopatra.” His eyes met mine. “I told him that every future baby will be the result of a love act between parents, starting with Cleopatra’s brothers and sisters.”
Albert had evaded the issue of my pregnancy with Cleopatra. His gaze remained locked on me. “You said I should ask you to marry me, when I decided I truly meant it. That moment is now.” He took a deep breath, and he willed his image to kneel, an action requiring extreme concentration under the circumstances. “Ariel, will you please marry me? I promise to love you and be a good father to all our children.”
Would he honor his promise if Sera reduced me to a babbling idiot, or if she stole his daughter’s intellect? I sublimated my concern, thankful to be out of Sera’s clairvoyance range.
“I accept and I promise never to embarrass you.” The unusual adjunct to my vow committed me to keep secret the fact he had had sex with a droid. His theory that Cleopatra is a gift from God may be more accurate than I am ready to believe just yet.
“Albert and I will sign off, since there are no more questions.” I took advantage of the silence probably caused by bewilderment rather satisfaction with my explanation of our situation. I closed the closet curtain, making no effort to release Albert’s apparition. They could summon Sera if it presented a problem. I opened my blouse and lifted Cleopatra to my breast.
Paul faced away and tugged on Dad’s elbow. “We better decide how to approach the general population when we get back. They’ll be needing some stern leadership.”
“I advise strongly against such an attempt until Frank and Albert are included.” Both men stopped in mid-step. “Concern yourselves with gaining the trust of the families on this side, as Frank has done over there.”
Paul responded but continued to face my father. “I know how Frank thinks. He’ll connive to make himself an absolute ruler, if we don’t have a plan to counter him.”
“I witnessed four families offer him their pledge of loyalty. You might want to develop something similar here.”
Paul stepped out of the room, and I called him back. “Please help my father move my bed and Cleopatra’s crib out of this room.”
“Where would you like it?” Dad asked.
“In the living room would be fine.”
Mother said, “I want my child and my grandchild to sleep in our bedroom, where Max can protect all three women in his life.”
I thanked her with my eyes and glanced toward Sera’s closet, as I shut down my computer. “When you’re finished moving furniture, find some material in the commissary to seal off this closet.” My computer flashed back on. I shrieked, “Dad, disable it.”
My father gripped the unit embedded in the wall, his muscles bulging and face beet red, and yanked it loose. The lighted surfaces of ceiling and wall monitors diminished to a tiny dot and zapped to oblivion. Through the din of acrid smoke and crackling circuits, I yelled for Paul to shut down the communication counsel in his office, but it would be too late. Sera’s taking control would be instantaneous, especially after losing both the closet and my personal computer.
Paul assured me, “The transmission line Frank and I installed is only capable of visual and audio signals, none of this hologram capability.”
“It must be severed. Sera breached the computer in Mother’s laboratory and gained control of my mind.” I faced Mother. “She, not the chemical you injected, immobilized my body.”
“How do you know?”
“Back in the closet, she admitted it and released my paralysis to demonstrate the extent of her power over me.”
Paul said, “Martha, take Ariel and Cleopatra to the rooftop garden, away from electronic devices. They’ll be safe up there, unless Sera’s influence can ride the sunbeams.”