Posted 7/5/19 (Posting will resume monthly)
AUGUST 8, 3152
After spending all night on the rooftop to avoid Sera’s intrusion, I crawled from the metallic tent Dad had fashioned to shield me from the perpetual sunlight. Mother sat on the lawn swing and Cleopatra played in the grass, while I paced back and forth along the garden path between flowerbeds and vegetable patches. When my head cleared, I joined my mother on the swing.
An apparition rising through the trapdoor on the roof of the central pentagon caught my attention. My pulse skyrocketed, until I recognized my father’s face, as he waddled forward wearing a bulky space suit and lugging his machete. Paul followed close behind. He placed the bubble over Dad’s head and attached the dual-purpose lift-umbrella and parachute to the back of his outfit. Dad rose skyward until nothing but a dark speck dotted the brilliant sky, and then disappeared through the revolving door.
A short time later, Dad reappeared. The parachute fluttered, blossomed, and floated. I ran to the edge of our roof, jumped the divider-fence, and joined Paul, our necks craned. Dad’s figure grew larger, still clutching the harvesting tool. He had severed the transmission line between Sera and us. We were again electronically isolated. The static she intended to prevent communication with Mission One had also foiled her chance to reach us by wireless.
When Paul lifted the bubble from Dad’s head, I spit out my most pressing question. “Does the line strung through the pulleys still function?”
He nodded and held out a piece of paper. “The moment I cut the transmission cable, the rope began whizzing through the pulley, delivering this hand written note.”
I read it aloud. “Your decision to isolate your families from those on this side has placed a severe handicap on docking procedures. I suggest Paul reattach the cable immediately.” Had she anticipated my decision or could she continue to read my thoughts?
“Dad, I need you to return and deliver my answer.” I ran to his tool shed to find a pencil, while he replaced his helmet and his suit pressurized. I scribbled a brief note.
From now on, this is how we communicate. My father will check the incoming mail every morning and post my answer the following day.
He placed the note in his pocket and opened the umbrella strapped to his back. Jets of air blasted from around and under him, lifting him to the sky where the revolving door swallowed him. After an hour passed, I panicked, but the door swung open and he appeared, slowly drifting to the rooftop garden.
“What took so long?” I asked, as Paul unfastened the helmet and opened the suit.
“Pulling a mile of rope hand-over-hand takes a lot of time.” He chuckled. “I’ll rig an electric pulling device for tomorrow and the next day and the next day.”
He had read my note. “Thanks, Dad.”
He stepped out of his suit and began to fold it, when a percussion reverberated, as if we were encased inside a gigantic bell. Cleopatra began to cry, and Dad unfolded his suit. As Paul helped him step back into it, Dad said, “I’ll bet Sera has a message for us.” He lifted to the sky, disappeared behind the door, and returned to the rooftop almost immediately.
I scrambled to grab the note he waved at me. While Paul removed the headgear, Dad explained, “Sera attached a trip hammer to the rope that slammed against the dome to announce the arrival of a message.”
I grinned. “Like a door knocker.” He frowned, and I explained, “Early Twentieth Century technology.”
“At least we don’t have to wait until morning.” He glanced at the paper still clasped in my fist. “You got an answer for me to deliver, while I’m still in the delivery mode?” He faced Paul. “Leave my suit fastened. I suspect I’ll be returning shortly.”
I scanned Sera’s message while four curious eyes remained focused on me.
Send over one of Helen’s frozen eggs. I will implant it back into her uterus and trigger it to clone itself, a procedure your mother is not capable of performing without my assistance. As a humanitarian act, I am offering Helen the opportunity to give birth to a daughter who will be fertile.
You seem to have figured out my system for announcing incoming messages. I have a droid waiting outside the dome on this side to receive whatever you choose to send this way.
I faced the two adults who had earned the right to all information passed back and forth, but not this. “I’m sorry, but some of this is personal.”
Dad politely nodded and stepped back, and Paul said, “I expect to be informed of all facts and data pertinent to our situation.” He glared. “Our survival.”
“I’ll give a full report, but first I need to dialogue with Sera.” I glanced toward the radiant sky, and wondered why the light remained continuous, if our habitat was entirely synthetic as Sera had indicated. Not the most important issue at hand. I penned the following note.
Helen will have to take her chances with my mother’s skills when our ten families are reunited. I cannot trust you having control of her egg and Albert’s sperm, a quantity of which I assume you have preserved. He’d never consent to donate more under those circumstances.
When my father returned following a nearly immediate clap of thunder after he disappeared through the revolving door, Paul eyed him conspiratorially. I felt sure he might grab the message from my father’s outstretched hand, but I resisted rushing to receive it. I remained seated, holding Cleopatra. Paul delivered it still folded while Dad stood waiting, suited and hooded.
“Thank you, Paul, for your patience with me.”
Your internal antennae are more receptive than any that technology has to offer. Yes, I intended to create that child with or without Albert’s consent. However, let me clarify my intentions. With the aforementioned combination, I would germinate Helen’s egg, or any other from the women aboard Mission Two, and freeze the embryo for as long as it takes to reach my destination. Only then would I absorb that creature into my identity. You and Albert and Cleopatra would be free to enjoy your short lives together.
My answer was immediate, and Dad dutifully carried it aloft.
An anonymous human sacrifice. You misjudge what it means to be human.
Dad resettled from the roof, sans the gong, waiving Sera’s instant response.
A mother willing to sacrificing herself or her daughter would be more humanitarian?
I pulled Cleopatra tight to my body and carried her down the stairs into our apartment without offering an explanation. By the time I reached my parents’ bedroom, my eyes blurred and my chest convulsed. I plopped onto the chair and sobbed.
Mother entered; drink in hand, eyes wide as saucers. “I exposed the eggs and sperm in my laboratory. We don’t need any more designer children.”
“No, Mother,” I sobbed. “Not Helen’s.”
“Not Helen’s.” She downed the remainder of her drink. “I owe her a child.”
I felt relieved but cautioned, “Keep it away from Sera.”
“It’s safe. Helen will be having her baby girl in nine months.”
“But we’ll be leaving before then. Sera will have control of the incubator.”
“Helen’s cloned embryo is not in the incubator.” Mother pressed her hand to her abdomen.
“Mother! A pregnancy at your age might kill you.”
“A life for a life, if that is what God has in store for me.”
JULY 21, 3150
A CHILLING THOUGHT SURFACED as I considered the effects hyper stimulation might have on the embryo forming in my womb. I chuckled. A zombie child would serve Albert right for his betrayal. However, I remained determined to relive and record in detail the past three weeks of my life.
Purple crystals of serotonin floating on lavender froth rippled across my upper body, and pungent vapors condensed into droplets on my face and in my hair. With my lips and eyelids pinched tight, I slid deeper into the bathwater and rotated my head from side to side. Tepid water pooled in each ear and effervesced creating crackling noises. I snorted and quickly inhaled through the channel my breath had created. Too slow. I quelled the urge to gag as the acrid fluid coalesced inside my sinus cavity. Using my teeth like fish gills, I strained tiny pockets of air encased within each bubble, but an oily substance seeped across my teeth and the roof of my mouth. I suppressed an overpowering urge to vomit.
Submerging my entire body to a count of one hundred, longer than Sera had advised, I sat up gasping for breath. Through a screen of hair, its sheen dulled to the color of rusted metal, I observed yellowish slime slide down my breasts into brackish water.
Scenes from the past few weeks replayed behind closed eyelids accompanied by vivid sensual perceptions of each incident. My personal avatar had cautioned that too much serotonin absorbed into the human brain would over stimulate the synapses and might cause my entire nervous system to shut down. Sera ingested heavy doses of the substance to maintain her total recall capability necessary to perform her duties of which until recently I’d been unaware.
Somewhere within the seldom-used written medium, I will record my recent experiences as I recall each detail should I not survive the first human pregnancy in a thousand years. The Realm had assigned me the responsibility of preserving Twentieth Century literature, movies, and video programs, and I recently discovered my ability to interact within each medium. I blinked open my tutorial, and an index of Twentieth Century literature scrolled across my retina until The Diary of a Young Girl caught my attention.
Flashed across the first page, Anne Frank, born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 12, 1929, her first entry recorded on her birthday thirteen years later. I, Ariel Gordon, have much in common with this Twentieth Century young girl. I selected a page at random to compose a day-by-day narrative of the events since my thirteenth birthday, July 21, 3150. Nestled between the covers for posterity will reside the memories of two teenagers forced to hide from totalitarian regimes in dramatically different circumstances.
I willed my body to float, raising or lowering my head to control the pace of recent experiences surfacing from deep memory. I ordered these scenes in chronological order and began composing my narrative. While glancing at my ceiling monitor to validate my telepathic transmission to Anne Frank’s diary, I allowed my conscious present to fade and the recent past to emerge.
ST. CLOUD, MINNESOTA
JULY 21, 3151 (One year later)
Ariel Gordon, my surrogate twin sister—actually a very distant female cousin, resides on a habitat that left Earth a millennium ago. I refer to her as my twin because our births had been coordinated to occur on the thousandth anniversary of the last appearance of Haley’s Comet, July 1, 2137.
Twice a year, one family member is allowed a highly censored communication that requires twelve months to transmit through the light-year distance between them and us. Historically, mothers pass this privilege to their adult daughters who continue the tradition until they in turn have daughters.
My mother, assistant Pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, Minnesota, had protested the censoring of all references to God and religion in communication between Earth Base and Space Mission. As an ordained Roman Catholic priest, she could not in good conscience continue the correspondence. I, a precocious twelve-year-old at that time, begged to continue what she called a meaningless exchange of pen pal letters. My father, head of the Space Technology Department at St. Cloud International University, agreed that I should be allowed to carry on the tradition despite his objection to human space travel rather than utilizing intelligent robots.
I addressed my first letter to Ariel and timed it to arrive on our thirteenth birthdays, July 1, 3150. She and her mother could decide which of them should respond. As a challenge to bypass censorship, I created a program to encrypt a binary coded message disguised as my DNA profile that Ariel would discover when she attempted to compare it to hers. I assumed the censors—ours, theirs, or both—would not be interested a young girl’s DNA sequence.
I selected verses from St. Luke’s Gospel describing the birth of Jesus to transmit in code, and it exhausted my entire DNA. Names selected from the Book of Genesis out of their Biblical context might possibly elude censorship and pass for those of my maternal ancestors. Ariel would consider them merely unusual female names, if she hadn’t knowledge of the Old Testament. The following expunged narrative accompanied my altered DNA sequence.
Adam begat Seth. Seth begat Enosh. Enosh begat Cainan. Cainan begat Mahalalel. Mahalalel begat Jared. Jared begat Enoch. Enoch begat Methuselah. Methuselah begat Lamech. Lamech begat Noah. Noah begat Shem, Ham, Japheth, David, Angel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Savior, Peter, Paul, Popes, Mohammad, Luther, Phyllis (my mother) and Marty (me).
As I had hoped, Ariel responded within a few weeks following our thirteenth birthdays, and her letter arrived at my family’s home terminal a year later on July 21, 3051. My father delivered a hard copy directly to my campus dormitory at St. Cloud International University, as my electronic mail at school would be screened and possibly censored. At age fourteen, I had earned his trust, but not so, the International University system. Her letter implied that she interpreted my messages, but from her perspective, they appeared meaningless. She referenced her DNA sequence that either the censors at Space Mission or Earth Base had deleted.
They also blocked her use of the word and from her entire letter. I reinserted it twenty four times and questioned Ariel’s overuse of the conjunction. It probably contained a code that I had no means to decipher.
Marty: I’m not sure what one can say that will be relevant a year from now, but here goes. To spare you having to calculate it, I’ll start with my age, the same as yours when you receive this memo. I grew up in a world quite different from yours, yet I am sure we experience many of the same problems with parents, friends, and changing bodies. I am a virgin and probably will remain so at the time you receive this message, but if all goes well, I will have a daughter by then.
Thank you for listing all your female ancestors with strange sounding names. I am sorry I haven’t access to mine on this end. You will note how little our DNA structure has changed over the past millennium.
I wish to share a poem I created to honor some of your mothers and the daughters they bore.
Adam’s your madam and daughter was Seth,
And what husband and father be named?
Marty and Ariel the last to this time,
Seek husband and husband to further our line.
With daughter and son and possibly more,
Through Albert, my Caesar, and I of the Nile,
A proud Cleopatra attired in satin and gold.
Marty make proud Phyllis and Luther,
If still aboard this life and probably old.
Of Mohammad and Pope and Paul and Peter,
I would like to know more.
And of Savior and Jesus,
The sounds of their names I truly adore.
Who are Mary and Joseph and Angel and David?
A litany of ancestors mothers of all.
Tell me as much as you can recall,
So I can no longer know nothing of them!
Ariel responded to my biblical references, and from her poem I deduced her society had been denied the existence of God. I pondered her references to herself as Cleopatra and Albert as Caesar, probably the father of the child she is expecting yet remaining a virgin. A reference to the birth of Jesus? Had she implied two societal factions at odds with each other such as Rome and Egypt? A Romeo and Juliet reference would have stated it more clearly. Had my sister been denied both God and Shakespeare?
My parents had been pushing my career choice in different directions, religion and space technology. The problem confronting me with Ariel’s situation may require competence in both areas of study. Since Dad traveled to lecture at Mogadishu, Somalia, an International University branch, I decided to skip my classes to develop a response to Ariel’s letter.
A mysterious message from my mother interrupted my researching secret codes. The missing luminous disks have been found. Come home immediately popped onto my screen. My parents and I considered St. Mary’s Rectory as home, but I had opted to move to the university dormitory to avoid the daily walk to school.
I switched my research generator to luminous disks as they probably related to her church and armed myself for our meeting. As a part of the architecture of St. Mary’s Cathedral, a series of limestone medallions encircled the building’s lower exterior, five of them containing swastikas. Early Christians had borrowed the broken cross symbol from pagan religions as a transition to Christianity.
Two years after the completion of the church in 1933, the German National Socialist Party claimed the swastika as their symbol. Out of respect for the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, the five disks containing twisted crosses were replaced in 1999 with images depicting Mysteries of the Rosary.
One of the original disks displayed on the wall near the elevator in the northwest entrance of the church included their history and a prayer. The remaining 20 inch by three-inch thick disks had been lost or purposely misplaced.
No doubt, Mother had conveniently located these missing disks in time for the restoration of the Cathedral after last year’s Great Lakes tectonic earthquake. The project is scheduled to be completed by the 1150th anniversary of the Diocese of St. Cloud, allowing Mother four years of campaigning to have the original pagan crosses replace the Mysteries of the Rosary medallions. I’m not sure what she expected me to do about the matter other than draw me into her area of interest and away from my father’s, as I had been leaning toward space travel over religion.
She thanked me for the information about the disk’s history and asked for my opinion about replacing them. I agreed based on the rationale for including them in the first place, respect for the natural evolution of religion, and as a matter of architectural integrity. She requested more research on the origin of the symbols to present her argument for restoring them to the exterior of the cathedral. I agreed to research their history but not for the next two weeks, offering no explanation for the delay. She’d be reminded of Ariel’s letter—alerted to it if Father hadn’t told her it arrived—and would discover the context of our exchange that might misrepresent my degree of interest in religion. I agreed to remain home with her until Father returned since I couldn’t concentrate on class work with Ariel’s letter dominating my mind.
The day before Father’s scheduled arrival, a female officer with Earth Base Federation emblazoned in gold across the visor of her cap and lieutenant bars on her uniform appeared at our door. She stood at attention and announced, “I have a message from Space Mission.”
Mother groaned and gestured toward me. “My daughter’s in charge of communication.” She whispered, “Please excuse me, but I’m late for Mass at the Cathedral.” She sidestepped the officer and entered the lift to street level at St. Germaine.
The officer faced me. “I’m sorry if I interfered with your mother’s devotions.”
“Her congregation will wait for her,” I lied. The few devout Catholics who continued to attend Mass at the side altar, the only safe area left after the earthquake, were quite unforgiving when Reverend Phyllis Haggart started her service late. I visualized her prostrate at the altar in front of an empty church or in the vestibule sipping altar wine and sniffing incense. I beckoned to my guest. “Would you like to come in?”
“Thank you, but my report will take but a second.” The lieutenant paused as if unsure how to proceed. “Perhaps it is best if you experience it directly.” She tapped a code into her wrist device and locked her gaze on me, no doubt anticipating my reaction. I immediately understood why she hesitated to announce the message verbally. All future personal communication between Earth and Ariel’s habitat had been restricted to technical and scientific matters. I blamed myself for the breech by creating a secret channel of communication intended to bypass the censors, but who had instigated the suspension?
Her curt response to my curiosity, “It wasn’t a decision from our side.” She reached into her pocket and extracted what appeared to be a coin, as if to offer money for an ice cream cone as consolation. She glanced over her shoulder and dropped a computer chip into my hand. “We received a database from Space Mission either accidentally or secretly transmitted.” She turned to leave. “I would prefer you not to tell anyone that I gave you a copy.”
After she left, I opened the program titled Twentieth Century Literature Prepared for Ariel Gordon’s Tutorial. It consisted of thousands of movies, television shows, and books available during that period. Had this been the limit of my sister’s knowledge of us back on Earth?
I opened her most recently accessed document, The Diary of a Young Girl, and scrolled past the title page to Anne Frank’s first entry. Her thirteenth birthday! Eleven of the following journal entries were glaringly out of context, both in style of the author and the century in which the incidents occurred. Ariel had inserted an elaborate narrative of her personal experiences over a three-week period beginning with her—our thirteenth birthdays.
Since the document would not transmit directly to my memory, I settled my media cocoon over my head and established a comfortable five hundred words per minute flow across my retina. The meter calculated fifty-six minutes and nine and one half seconds to complete the reading. Never before had it rounded to the nearest half second.
THREE WEEK DIARY OF ARIEL GORDON
ARIEL GORDON’S BIRTHDAY
SATURDAY, JULY 1, 3150
After their meeting of the Fortieth League, my parents and I convened in our front room when my mother blurted, “Our bubble is about to burst.” She rose from the couch and carried the remnants of her alcoholic beverage into the kitchen.
Dad lowered his gaze as the familiar sounds of liquid splashing and ice cubes clinking against glass reverberated. “Your mother has had a long, hard day.”
Our bubble about to burst? Hardly the biosphere we inhabit. Over the past millennium it had enlarged to accommodate population growth, but none of my data indicated a limit to its surface area. Of course, my specialty is Twentieth Century movies and literature back on Earth when self-contained habitats were merely a concept. Yet, I sensed increased headaches when I ventured more than two or three levels below the fortieth floor where we lived. Something seemed amiss.
A forgotten thirteenth birthday dominated my thoughts, but I continued a random stare to indicate full engagement in mind reading from my tutorial. Mother returned to the couch after handing my father a glass of foaming home-brewed beer, and the oppressive silence of the evening returned.
Disheartened, I escaped to immerse my body in a scented bubble bath after adding a double dose of relaxant. A rush of pleasurable sensations arose through the core of my body as I lowered myself into the water and contemplated the experiment my friend, Albert, and I had discussed. We’d have to execute our plan before my mother discovered I had experienced my first period.
I caught the sweet aroma of vegetation that distinguishes my agronomist father and opened my eyes. He loomed over me, his face all scrunched like dried fruit from the orchards between and around our buildings and the vines that cling to their outside walls. With his extra body density, he’s able to descend partially into the tangle and bear increased levels of gravity long enough to manage the droids who harvest our grain.
“Ariel?” he asked, as if unsure I was his daughter. “Your mother and I need to talk to you when you’re finished with your bath.” I concentrated on his shuffle back across the front room until he plopped onto his favorite chair, each expressing familiar complaints of creaks and sighs. Had my parents remembered my birthday after all?
As I toweled my face and hair, I caught a whiff of my mother’s perfume blended with gin. She stood in the doorway fastening her necklace with her gaze intent on my upper body, no doubt checking for signs of developing breasts.
“Max and I are waiting.” Her tone expressed no hint of anything pleasant.
Not that long. I restrained the level of sass I had recently developed in my responses to her. “I’ll be right there.”
I stalled to quell my anxiety. What could be important enough to delay their leaving for an evening of adult entertainment? Certainly not any birthday present, as I had already scoured their bedroom for a hidden treasure.
Dad beckoned me to the couch alongside my mother where she slouched fingering her pearls and sipping her beverage. He cleared his throat. “Families residing on the fortieth floors of all ten buildings have been selected for an expedition within a new environment currently being developed in the extreme tangle.”
Yikes and double yikes. Mother’s prediction might have merit, but the extreme tangle? No human ever ventures down that far. Yet, I conjured a vision of Tarzan and Jane, or possibly Adam and Eve, creating a new society. Albert and me?
Dad seemed serious, not like the time he reprimanded me for lying naked with Albert out on our balcony. We had been gazing at the twinkling stars as they began to appear in the darkening sky. Mother demanded an explanation. Albert misunderstood her intention and described how the Milky Way creeping across the night sky proved that we, not the stars, were moving. She sent him scurrying back home like a monkey clinging to vines and branches across the space between our balconies. She directed me to my father’s office where he had been crunching numbers. I had never seen my mother become so riled over nudity. Optional swim wear in and around our rooftop community pool had been a common practice. However, Dad considered my behavior normal for a curious adolescent, and he mumbled his usual complaint that I should have been a boy.
Did he regret fathering a girl, or had there been a mix up of XY chromosomes at the Stork? Later that night, when my parents hailed a robot-cab to the gravity free zone above our building, I broke into our family’s genealogy database. Not only did I validate my gender, but I also traced Mother’s and my DNA back to July 1, 2137, an interesting date as it coincided with the sighting of Halley’s Comet from Earth. I wanted to learn more, but I had already exceeded my data parameter for which I could be reprimanded. I hadn’t realized his computer would log my research, and I made up my first fib ever. I told Dad that my specialty had been increased to include genealogy. I doubt he believed me, but he had no authority to question my instructional program.
Caught between Dad’s rambling about courage to confront the challenge and Mother’s nodding between sips, I faked horror. “How will our lives be different from our present environment?”
He sighed and drew in his breath like when he attempted to blow out all hundred candles on his birthday cake, a major violation of the Realm’s ban on fire. “The harsh reality of our situation will deny children the comfort found in myths such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and God.”
“That serious?” I mocked.
In tune with my sarcasm, he shook his head and sighed. “Now that you’re a teenager, I’m quite sure you’ve already dismissed them as mere fantasy.”
He omitted the Twentieth Century myth of storks delivering babies, as it had since become reality. Sort of. It probably amused an early technician to refer to our human incubator as the Stork. The term stuck but the myth died. I discovered it while perusing the myriads of Twentieth Century radio and television signals still rebounding across space. The naiveté of those people who believed such nonsense astounded me.
Albert and I concluded that God does exist, but I kept our revelation from my parents. Propagating religious beliefs could get us into serious trouble with the Realm. Tomorrow, when fully clothed to please my mother, Albert and I will discuss how our moving to a new habitat will interfere with our plan. I glanced toward his apartment and gasped. Both balconies had vanished! When Dad told Mother they were getting much too close, I assumed he meant Albert and me, not our buildings.
I panicked. Where will we consummate our experiment? We formed a pact to deposit his sperm inside my uterus as soon as we completed puberty. What if Mother discovers I’ve reached sexual maturity before Albert can perform his part? When Mom caught us staring at the stars, we had just given up exciting his testicles to produce sperm.
I slid from the couch to the floor and demanded, “Why can’t we stay here?” I folded my arms and lowered my bottom lip, a pout that worked with Dad but irritated Mother.
My father scanned the room and settled his gaze on the miniature paper umbrella clinging to the rim of my mother’s cocktail glass. He slid the olive off the stem and opened the umbrella’s canopy. Touching the tip of each rib protruding from the paper covering, he said, “These represent the forty-story towers inside the perimeter of our habitat.” He squeezed the canopy nearly shut, the paper bulging between the ribs. “A thousand years ago families . . .,” he touched each rib and counted ten . . ., “dwelt in enclosures strung close together like . . .,” he glanced toward the couch . . ., “your mother’s pearls.”
He waved the umbrella through the air, and it opened as he rotated the stem between thumb and finger. “Continual acceleration and moderate spinning created limited gravity, enough to support biological life forms.” He glanced toward my mother. “Humans, animals, and plants,” as if she needed an explanation.
What could have been an insult directed at her limited resources reminded me of our individual need-to-know data. His primary program had been limited to agronomy, while my mother’s . . .?
He stopped moving the umbrella but kept it twirling. “When we reached acceleration of one-thousandth the speed of light, rotation became the single source of gravity. Our sun no longer needed to be tethered but hovers at zero gravity at the center of our sphere.”
A thousand years and six trillion miles from Earth, yet Dad still referred to the energy orb in the center of our habitat as the sun. Never a red and purple sunset like in the cowboy movies, because the lighted portion visible along the habitable perimeter merely fades rather than sets. Only the tangle on either side receives direct round-the-clock energy.
With his pen he drew a circle on top of the umbrella a tenth of the distance from the outer tips to the center. “Our buildings have presently risen to this line, our maximum allowable level of diminished gravity and intense solar rays. Even the tangle must be trimmed to this level, or the sun could ignite it and destroy everything. A thousand people would either burn to death or suffocate from lack of oxygen.”
He tapped each rib where it intersected his circle. “If our buildings were allowed to grow beyond this point, they would encroach upon each other, blocking energy to the orchards between them.”
“Buildings grow?” I snorted. “Like your fruit trees?”
He nodded, his expression serious. “At that diminished level of gravity, our bone and muscle structure would atrophy beyond what we’ve already experienced. You and your mother would be especially susceptible since you’ve lived at or near our present level all your lives.”
He spun the umbrella like a top. “We exist inside the rim of a wheel enclosed in a bubble.” The umbrella parachuted to the couch, and my mother replaced it in her glass.
Wheel? I winced at Dad’s Twentieth Century reference. I countered with one of his harvesting terms, as if our buildings actually were plants. “Can’t we lop off the top floor and move into the expanding lower apartments?”
He responded, but his gaze followed my mother as she teetered out of the room. “Our buildings have reached three maximum dimensions. All expansion must cease.”
My brain seemed to burst as I tried to cross-reference his explanation with my acquired data. When the need-to-know arises, the information will be available to you. My virtual-tutor might as well have added and not before. The weight of information brought droplets of sweat trickling down my back, and I stood to shake loose my robe, wishing I were back in my bathtub.
Dad continued as if required by some stage direction, and he added another visual to illustrate his point. He stood, cupped an energy field with his hands, and formed the hologram of a transparent sphere with a tiny speck of light in the center.
He said, “In the beginning, our sun was much smaller and glowed day and night to create sufficient energy for survival.”
He traced what could have been the sphere’s equator. “Ten families dwelt along this narrow band, and vegetation filled the remaining inner surface of the entire habitat, orchards in residual fields of gravity near and around the buildings, and tangle elsewhere. Fed by the sun’s energy, the growth of extreme tangle pressured our entire habitat to expand, and our population increased accordingly.”
The hologram began to spin, and I leaned back as its size increased. Attached to the inner rim of the wheel, a row of ten teeth-like structures emerged to simulate buildings. As they grew wider and taller, vines as thick as tree trunks crawled along their outer walls.
He traced his finger along the lower levels of each building shaded in blue. “An aquifer has filled to the level of each tenth floor, rendering those units uninhabitable except for marine life. This trough of water is continually purified and held in place by the sphere’s rotation.”
Tiny red lights blinked atop each building. “Any structures taller than forty floors would present too little gravity and too much radiation for human habitation. Of the nearly mile-wide diameter, humans are restricted to the upper thirty floors of a ring of ten pyramid shaped buildings four hundred square feet at the base. A jungle of vegetation covers the sphere’s remaining surface area, and the massive space between us and the sun contains atmospheric pressure similar to Earth’s at sea level.”
I tried to reconcile Albert’s theory of the star’s movement across our sky with Dad’s description of our habitat totally enclosed in tangle. How are we able to see stars? A question for Albert or his engineer father. I needed to probe as much as possible from my father’s data to share with my friend.
“How does our sun maintain its energy?”
Dad breathed a deep sigh, as if he had just weathered a storm. “It just does, I imagine.” He beckoned to my mother who had been standing in the doorway and pulled the three of us into an embrace, the weight of his arms heavy. He said, “Our family has outgrown its habitat. We will represent our ancestors with courage and discipline.” His voice relaxed following his memorized presentation, his warm breath pleasant on my neck.
“Are we related to everyone in our building?” I had never bothered to dwell on that possibility or asked about it.
“Sort of?” I slid from his embrace, and he dropped his hands to his side.
“A man applying for marriage must be mated with someone within a range of three levels because of their similar gravity exposure.” He flashed a glance toward my mother. “Martha and I needed a special dispensation, because her family resided twice that many floors above my family. As a result of the differences in our body densities, sexual intercourse is restricted to the gravity free space overhead.”
Mother nudged him and he blushed. This was Saturday night! No wonder she appeared eager.
Dad puffed up his chest. “My body developed additional size and strength to hazard the extremities of gravity a few levels into the tangle, if just for a short time.”
Mother’s expression brightened. “When a couple qualifies to have a child, the woman’s genes are screened to preserve a lineage back to one of the first ten families.”
I should have guessed her specialty from her assigned duties as a technician at the Stork.
She continued. “It’s like having ancestors who aren’t dead but inaccessible by virtue of living in different environments. Of course, we also have many deceased ancestors.” Her voice faded and she touched her forehead, breast and each shoulder, a gesture I had never seen before.
“No one has ever lived beyond two-hundred years.” Dad put his arm back around her. She winced but clutched his fingers resting on her shoulder. “You and your mother reach back across a millennium.” He focused on me and added, “And continue with increased mental capabilities to compensate for your reduced body strength. That’s why your mother’s intelligence exceeds mine.”
I would have thought the opposite, but memories of my headaches while visiting at lower level jarred my attention. Have I a frail body but an advanced brain? I would have preferred the opposite, considering what Albert and I intended. A jolt of realization rocked my complacency. What were Albert’s programmed capabilities he’d been unwilling to share? Why was his family recently given the top floor of the building adjacent to ours? Why are ten families privileged to have apartments with windows? And why do we have to leave our habitat?
A leak of information broke loose from my stored memory much like when, as a child, I released a tiny squirt of urine to put off going to the bathroom.
Children with developing skeletal structures are encouraged to play and attend school at one or two lower levels from their family’s residence but are restricted from going higher. Adults are able to venture down four or five floors before the increased gravity threatens their acquired skeletal structure, and they are permitted to float in gravity free space each morning and evening, when the energy orb is dimmed to reduce sunburn. Socialization occurs in the gravity-free clubs and gyms, but sexual activity is limited to motels and brothels after the lighted portion of the sun is reduced visually to the brilliance of Earth’s moon surrounded by a simulated Milky Way.
My question about star’s movement had been answered. Each evening streams of robot-cabs transport adults to an area free from gravity as well as from their inhibitions. My parents, too, every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Sundays, they mostly slept.
The strobe from a passing patrol cast a beam around and between our buildings. Dad glanced out the window and said, “I see the droids have already detached our balconies. In the next few months they’ll be removing the entire top floors.”
I squinted as the beam splashed across Albert’s window. He stood naked touching his genitals. He mouthed the words, “They work.”
Later while Mother primped in her bedroom, my father and I sat at the kitchen table nibbling on cookies and sipping juice. A robot-cab descended to the roof of the adjacent building opposite Albert’s, and we watched through the window as a couple entered. The cab lifted and disappeared from view.
Dad commented, “Tom and Helen are off to fun in the sky.”
“I know what goes on up there, Dad.”
He blushed. “Adult entertainment isn’t just sex. Your mother and I . . .”
“I know, Dad. Different body densities.” I skirted the issue. “Why don’t they have a child?”
“They’re waiting for permission.”
“All the other couples on our level have a child.”
“All those children are younger than you. Bob and Helen will be next. They’re not too old to raise a child—still in their sixties, I believe.”
Mother peered in and said, “I’m ready, Max.” She threw me a kiss and headed across the front room to our lift. Dad bussed my cheek and followed.
I waited a few minutes and then entered my parents’ bedroom to prepare for Albert’s and my tryst. Sitting at Mother’s dressing table, I applied red lipstick, brushed on rouge, and dabbed perfume behind each ear. My budding nipples made an impression through the soft sheen of her evening gown, but no cleavage. Stretching a width of adhesive tape from one armpit to the other, I gathered loose skin across my chest and created a crevice. A small metal trinket shaped like the letter “t” dangled from a chain around my neck, a piece of Mother’s jewelry I had never seen before. I wondered if she even remembered owning it. Letters forming an inscription were so badly worn that I couldn’t make out the words.
I glanced toward the window hoping to attract Albert’s attention. A gnarl of leafy branches, their growth no longer hindered by our balconies, partially obstructed my view. A humming bird, its beak powdered with pollen, prodded its head into and an array of petals on a flower about to burst into a full bloom. The image created a longing, and I yearned to have Albert enter my body.
I slid the doors open, brushed leaves aside, and came face-to-face with Albert, his eyes wide saucers. He stood naked and pointed to his crotch. “I did it again!”
“Get dressed,” I yelled back. “We have to go to a motel.” I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed proper. I took the lift to our roof, hailed a robot-chair rather than a cab, and directed it to Albert’s building. By the time he emerged, the meter had charged my account a double fare.
Restraining a giggle, I complemented my lover-to-be on his appearance. His father’s dinner jacket draped to his knees, and the cuffs on his pants covered shoes that flopped when he stepped up and sat beside me.
The sensation as we lifted felt much like riding the elevator between floors, but when it stopped Albert and I continued to rise. We had neglected to use the seat belts. Our vehicle looped over us as we tumbled and caught us rumps first back onto the seat. We clung to the armrests and were instructed to let go when the chair came to a stop. It slowly lowered or we rose, I couldn’t tell which, and we drifted toward a scattering of revelers. Mostly as couples, they clustered around a portal to what appeared to go nowhere. The first pair crossed a threshold and disappeared inside a balloon as it inflated. It broke away and joined a parade of floating orbs that scattered like black pearls from a broken necklace.
We got in line ignoring curious stares, some expressing annoyance with children who dared to participate in adult entertainment. However, a rite of confirmation determined one’s status, not one’s chronological age. When individuals reach sexual maturity, and with their parents’ and tutors’ approval, they participate in a series of steps that include counseling, harvesting of sperm or eggs for posterity, and body alterations. Sterilization is so Twentieth Century. As of earlier today, Albert qualified, although neither of us had been approved.
The crowd seemed to dissipate into nowhere. People, usually in pairs, stepped across the invisible threshold, and occasionally parties of fifteen to twenty filed into a unit that enlarged to accommodate the size of the group.
The couple in front of us was refused entry because they appeared too young to be consenting adults. The girl scanned their marriage certificate as proof they qualified and a portal opened. A bubble emerged, broke free, and gyrated as it drifted away. I anticipated a similar problem.
“We’re on our honeymoon,” I whispered and the portal opened.
I gave Albert’s sleeve a tug and he glided across the threshold. However, his weight advantage propelled me in the opposite direction. I grabbed his fluttering pant cuff and trailed after him like the tail of one of Earth’s kites. The concept of air movement as in Gone with the Wind was foreign to us.
Albert’s momentum sent him across to the opposite surface, and he bounced back past me toward the portal. It no longer existed. We were encased in a gravity-free sphere, its surface transparent from the inside. Albert sprung his legs, and like from a trampoline, he shot across the room headfirst ping ponging back and forth. Hovering in mid space, I gave his butt a shove as he passed by, and again we headed in opposite directions. We played tag and then dodge ball using our bodies as the projectile. We rolled, tumbled, and jostled until the straps of my gown slid over my shoulders. I aimed a head dive into his mid section, and he grabbed me around my chest causing the tape across my breasts to loosen on one side. He pulled it off, twirling me like a top.
As our momentum slowed and our paths crossed, I grabbed Albert’s shoulders and reminded him of our goal. He nodded and began to undress. I burst out laughing when he set his clothes in mid air, as if dressing an invisible manikin. I slid out of my gown and stood it upright next to Albert’s creation. With the straps draped over make-believe shoulders, I shaped the front to imply a full bosom. Observing the cross from my mother’s necklace nestle in invisible cleavage, I felt a shiver travel my spine. I had a vague recollection of a Twentieth Century concept that I could not bring into focus. More research after Albert and I copulate.
Like life-sized puppets, we directed our alter egos to dance, hug, and even simulate intercourse. Gazing into each other’s eyes, we slid our underwear down our legs and over our feet. The action caused us to tumble, and when we caught each other, we were inverted, my face buried in his groin. I felt myself getting wet. Albert’s head had lodged between my legs, his mouth open. He spat out hairs. Sparse strands on his scrotum tickled my nose, and in the absence of gravity his penis floated to a near erection.
I had lost all desire to have him enter any orifice, and it was apparent he would have been unable. Hand-over-hand, we worked our bodies face-to-face. We expressed spontaneous agreement for our next move. We gathered our clothes and I pressed the exit button. Our love nest burst like a soap bubble, and a robot-chair scooted alongside. We fastened our seat belts and clung to our clothes until gravity gently settled them onto our laps.
While we dressed on the roof of my building, I had a Twentieth Century inspiration. I said, “Would you like to come in for a drink?”
The elevator opened to our living space, and I scanned the room to my parents’ bedroom door. It remained open as when I left, the interior still dark. Shoes in hand, I beckoned Albert across to my room and gave the opposite bedroom another quick glance. No ghostly silhouette of Mother standing in her nightgown, but Dad offered ample evidence of his sound sleep. I joined Albert and closed my door.
I led him to my bed and whispered, “Tonight you have a choice, me or Sera.” He gawked, first at me and then at my naked avatar twin as I pulled the covers back. I hadn’t instructed my body double to wear pajamas.
He pointed and laughed. “That one.”
“Maybe you could practice on her until you get it right.” I detected a frown. “That is if you still want to consummate our experiment.” He shrugged, and I closeted the playmate who has been my constant companion since she and I had been toddlers. Her sprouting pubic hairs had alerted me that changes had also begun in my body.
“Do you use it to trick your parents often?”
“I hadn’t needed to until this evening.” I caught Sera’s wink before I pulled the drapes to her cubicle and glanced back at Albert. “Do you disapprove?”
“I got a puppy when I was a child. My dad didn’t trust any creature that doesn’t eat and poop.”
“I meant disapprove of using her for deception.”
“It’s dishonest to fool your parents.”
I sensed a possible mock serious expression, and I cracked a smile. “How are you going to explain your absence to your parents?”
“I’ll tell them I spent the night with you.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To convince them I’m not homosexual.”
“That isn’t possible. The gay gene had been destroyed.”
“Like the God gene?”
“I got your point. But please let them believe what they want until we’re sure I’m pregnant.”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not really. I’ll have Sera mimic my pregnancy, and she’ll take me through the process.”
“Could she carry our baby for us?”
“Not if you want flesh and blood. I’m not even sure if she can self-replicate. That hadn’t been my parents’ purpose for obtaining her.”
His expression turned solemn.
“Are you afraid?” I asked.
“Nah. My part is easy. However, I wish I could see how it turns out.”
“Albert! You’ll be a parent just like your father.”
“Not if we get separated.” I thought he’d seen a ghost. “Disregard that.”
“What do you know that I don’t?”
“Nothing.” He stared at his feet as if contemplating his toes. “Please don’t ask.”
“Do I have to bring Sera back to bed so we can gang up on you?”
“Tell me your specialty first.”
Suddenly my extensive knowledge of the Twentieth Century paled in comparison to what Albert’s data might be. “I’m expert in the first electronic era of our former planet.” I hadn’t glorified my expertise before or even admitted my assignment to anyone other than my parents.
“I wish I’d been given a period of history. I’m most interested in the era of the Roman Empire. All I know about it comes from a movie I checked out at the data library.”
“What is your primary program?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t . . .”
“I just told you mine.”
“Can we have sex now?”
“Your body will determine that.”
“I don’t feel much like it.”
“If we undress and lay down it might help.”
“I am tired.” He yawned.
We undressed, each on opposite sides of the bed. His body showed no apparent interest in the task ahead of us. “Would you like Sera to join us?” I had been reviewing erotic literature from the 1980’s.
“Is she warm blooded? I’m not used to sleeping naked.” He shivered and pulled the covers to his chin.
“Any temperature you want. You don’t have to tell her. She can anticipate your needs.”
“Right now I need my puppy.”
“Do you want Sera to get him? She’d be undetected, unless the dog yelps.”
“He’s dead. Dad wanted to get me another, but I refused. I don’t want a dog to go through what’s ahead of us.”
What do you know? I drew blood from my lip to repress my question. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have Sera sleep with us.” Her radar might reveal his secret, if he lets his guard down in his sleep.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #2
SUNDAY, 3 AM, JULY 2, 3150
“My dreams are blocked? Are you sure?” Albert rubbed sleep from his eyes and glared at me for waking him hours before daylight.
I touched his lips to shush him for fear our voices would awaken my parents. He sat frog-legged with his back against the headboard and pouted. I attempted to imitate his position but felt a surge of modesty and knelt at the foot of the bed and faced him.
I said, “Sera has near perfect dream intercepting antennae. She and I play a game of who can better remember my dreams.”
I wished she’d allowed my nightmare to run its course before awakening me to relate Albert’s problem. Or had she purposely cut it short? I decided to badger her about it when this business with Albert concludes.
His pout morphed into a scowl. “I only vaguely remember dreaming as a child. Is a block something that happens naturally?”
“Sera said it had to be implanted.”
“Someone cut my head open and stuck it in?” He stroked the back of his head as if to sooth away a headache. He’d be entitled to a whopper after the events of last evening.
“Laser the block into the circuitry, I suspect.” I repressed a yawn. Sera remained covered to her chin, her eyelids fluttering. “She’s reconnected to the data library and will tell us in a minute.”
Albert peered askance at my avatar. “Can that thing talk?”
“And she has feelings,” I fibbed.
He pressed down on the bed and leaped, his genitals dangling, and he landed triangularly to Sera and me. “She can join us if she wants to.”
Sera slid out from under the covers and sat adjacent to Albert and me. She flashed a see-what-I-mean smile to me as she crossed her legs at the ankles and tucked them under her body, a lady-like position I had yet to master. Momentarily, I reconsidered her warning about coercing Albert into fatherhood.
“Well, what did you find?” Albert appeared oblivious to our nakedness.
Sera’s eyes roved from Albert to me. Her voice smooth and modulated, she said, “Ariel is correct. Someone manipulated Albert’s dream capability but not during his prenatal state.”
“Who would do that to me and why?”
“And when, if not before you were born. With Sera’s help, we can pursue this issue after you impregnate me.”
Sera focused coffee-colored eyes on Albert. “I marked for your attention in the data library The History of the Roman Empire. You may want to check it out. Of course, Ariel has access to much of the Twentieth Century research about that era.”
Sera flashed the smirk that I repressed. I hold the trump cards in the exchange of secrets between Albert and me. What’s left is how to play them.
“Ariel’s body is ovulating. If you plan to impregnate her, now is the time while her parents are still asleep.”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you having second thoughts?” I asked.
“No. I just don’t know what to do or how to go about doing it.”
Sera unfolded her legs, stood beside the bed, and lifted the sheet. “Crawl under the cover and clear your minds of dream blocks, Roman empires, and getting pregnant. Ariel knows what movements are effective from experimenting together on the balcony. I will retreat and remain behind my closet drapes unless I am needed.” As she stepped back from the bed she muttered, “I envy you.” From behind the curtain, “I fear for you.”
Albert closed his eyes and his breathing became rhythmical, obviously faking sleep. Anticipating my frustration, Sera stepped from her closet to my bathroom and filled the tub. Her gesture made sense. It had been a long day.
When I returned to bed, Sera lay against Albert’s back with her arms around him. She inched free, and I snuggled between them and drifted to sleep.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL, ENTRY #3
SUNDAY PM, JULY 2, 3150
“From where does the sun get its energy?” I asked Albert, as we sat on a branch between our buildings previously obscured by our balconies. Protruding through thickly clustered vines, it appeared to have sprouted from the outer wall of my house.
Following last night’s adventure, he would hardly have expected my interest in physics rather than planning for my pregnancy. I dangled my feet and considered asking Dad to hang a swing or, better yet, build a tree house for Albert and me like the one the Swiss Family Robinson had.
“Water?” I’d almost forgotten my question.
“Yes. Separated into oxygen for breathing and hydrogen for nuclear fusion.”
“How do you know that?”
“It’s my . . .”
“Your specialty. Now you have to tell me all.”
He brushed a strand of blond hair from his eyes as blue as the shade of water from Dad’s hologram. “I can tell you everything about our past, but nothing about what’s in store for us.”
“Dad already explained the process. That’s what led to my question about the sun.”
“I know what he told you.” Albert leaned back and lost his balance.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him face-to-face. I definitely want that tree house. “Did your dad give that same lecture?”
“I helped him write the script.” He straddled the branch and carefully pressed his back to a vine clinging to my building. “How’d you like the hologram?”
“That was your bit of magic?”
“No magic, just the laws of physics.”
“Never mind. Skip to the part where my father left off.”
“The explanation of rotation and acceleration to create gravity?” He twirled his finger and swung his arm.
“A good place to start.”
“Not really.” He smacked his lips. Had I missed a kissing opportunity? He said, “I can fill in details preceding the account your father recited, starting with Halley’s Comet.”
I responded with information from my recent research. “Halley’s Comet viewed from Earth twice in the Twentieth Century would appear only once in the twenty-first. Its orbit, perpendicular to Earth’s, extends beyond that of Pluto.” I fixed my gaze on his eyes. “The year 2061 to be exact. I traced my ancestry to that date.”
Albert’s expression grew grim. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. I got the reprimand of my life for my effort.” A truth, but he needn’t know how minimal it actually was.
“You should have been scolded.”
“What does that mean?” Had my father underestimated a serious offense?
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
The boy from next door appeared to mature before my eyes, and it frightened me. “It was my mother’s DNA that I traced. Does that have any significance?”
“It will be our challenge, yours and mine, to find out.”
“Albert! I need to know. What do we, my family specifically, have to do with Halley’s Comet?”
He chuckled. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
I refused to laugh. “Tell me everything you know.” I put my hands on my hips and leered over him. “Now!”
He pondered before responding. “Our habitat, the sphere where we sleep, play, and work, used to be Halley’s Comet. Still is Halley’s Comet.”
“We’re hitching a ride like a parasite?”
“We are the comet, at least an integral part of it. Embedded inside, controlling its trajectory.”
“Not doing loops around the solar system?” I considered the generations of disappointed schoolchildren anticipating the comet’s arrival.
“Just twice around to allow time to prepare our habitat and to align with Jupiter for the skip needed to break into outer space.” He beamed. “In conjunction with an atomic boost of our own.”
“Where are we going?”
“To Proxima Centauri, Earth’s nearest star, a little more than four light years distance.” He clung to a branch but gave a nonchalant wave with his free hand. “If it’s still there when we arrive.”
“It might explode like a nova?” I was proud of my knowledge.
“Not likely, but it may wander toward another arm of the Milky Way. If so, we’ll find a different one. We won’t arrive for another three thousand years anyway. Not the problem we’re faced with presently.”
“How to start a new colony with a separate goal.”
“Can’t we duplicate the process?”
“There aren’t any comets available. The closest one spotted is more distant than the planet we hope to inhabit.”
“Our ultimate goal.”
“Can’t we phone home for advice?” I chuckled at my twentieth-century movie allusion.
“We make periodic contact with Earth, mostly to update our computer technology. However, two-way conversation takes two years to transmit and receive.” He puffed up his chest. “Dad and I are awaiting acknowledgement for the glitch we located in last year’s computer patch.” Blue eyes turned up, but thank goodness, he didn’t whistle.
I allowed him the satisfaction his expression demanded. “Tell me from the beginning how and when Halley’s Comet was accosted.”
“In the year 2061, Earth scientists launched an unmanned space probe to rendezvous with the comet. Because of the probe’s extreme weight, composite material for its hull had to be manufactured on the moon and sections assembled in a moon orbit. Its prototype was the Sea Wolf class nuclear submarine.”
“They thought the comet was an ocean?”
“Not really, but the hull’s design could withstand the vacuum of space, and the nuclear reactor created power for robotic arms to carve into the comet’s ice core. Cold fusion reactors weren’t developed until Halley’s return trip. The hull still exists as a passageway to exit through the comet’s rear. The most serious challenge had been matching the velocity of the comet and attaching the cigar-shaped probe into its tail. Then a free ride for the next seventy five years, time to hollow out a thousand-foot-diameter cavern inside the comet’s ice and debris.”
“Like an Eskimo Igloo,” I interjected. “Actually two of them to create a sphere.”
He gave one of many shrugs and proceeded. “Meanwhile, back on the moon ten self contained capsules were constructed and outfitted, the string of pearls from your father’s presentation.”
“Let me guess. On this second round, people also got on board.”
“Only a crew of technicians, scientists, and biologists during the comet’s short loop around the back side of the sun to make the sphere inside the comet habitable. They used the nuclear reactor from the submarine lodged in the comet’s tail to ignite the fusion reactor inside the sphere, and an eco-system began to flourish. After preparing for a nuclear blast to propel the comet beyond the apex of its orbit and into deep space, these astronauts returned to Earth. Within the next hundred years, the habitat flourished and it reached our maximum acceleration of one-thousandth the speed of light.”
He tugged on a twig and let it swing back to its natural equilibrium. “The walls inside the habitat were covered with a carpet of lichen that absorbed ultraviolet light from the energy orb in the sphere’s center, and it drew nourishment from the dirty ice that comprises the comet.”
“What about our ancestors?”
“Humans couldn’t have tolerated the radiation during the journey to the edge of the solar system, and they would have been crushed by the G-force from the initial blast to catapult them into outer space.” He squashed a bug covered with pollen exiting a flower. “Oops. Didn’t need to do that.” He flipped the bug off his thumb and a bird swooped to catch it. “Also, the tangle needed time for its roots to establish a controlled rate of ice-melt to meet human requirements for water, atmosphere, and energy. In short, the interior needed heat, light, and air to function as a self-contained biosphere. And the fifty-two hour natural rotation of the comet had to be increased along with acceleration to produce a safe level of gravity around its circumference.”
“How then did humans get on board?” My exasperation peaked.
He shrugged. “The Stork began laying her eggs and they hatched, I guess.”
A delicate subject stated from a man’s point of view. I refused to acknowledge his comment. With the balconies removed, I noticed the woody vines had merged to cover the complete outer wall of our building, giving the appearance of bark on a single tree. “I still can’t believe we’re living inside Halley’s Comet.”
He pondered and at length said, “Remember the string of pearls your father mentioned in his presentation—the one inside the sphere rotating and accelerating?”
“Yes? Some quite large pearls, if an entire family were to eventually live inside each one.”
“They were connected, still are, by a tunnel rather than a string, and submerged in one hundred feet of water. Their metallic structures have long been absorbed as nutrients for marine life.”
“How did giant pearls with dissolved walls become four-hundred-foot towers, inhabited by hundreds of people?”
“The tangle enclosed them into a solid mass of cellulose.”
“We live inside a tree trunk?” My gaze traced the branch where we perched, and I realized it actually sprouted from the wall of our home. Similar leafy arms extended from the exterior of Albert’s building. “Our homes are living trees?”
“Yes. That’s how habitable space increased to accommodate the population growth.”
I laughed. “I can visualize my father hacking away inside a tree rather than at the overgrown tangle.”
“Specialized insects gnaw away the cellulose and produce a usable by-product. Methane gas.”
“We heat our homes with termite farts?”
“Could, except for the danger of an open flame. A brush fire could wipe out our entire civilization. This gas is seeped to the roots of the trees and surrounding tangle as energy necessary to melt the minus four hundred degree ice of our comet.”
“Halley’s Comet, not ours,” I reminded him. “Let me get this straight. Termites eat the inside of our tree house, and their flatulence melts away the guts of Halley’s Comet.”
“Some of the cellulose is fabricated to form our walls, furniture, and even some of the food we eat. Other than ice and cold fusion energy, plant life is our only natural resource.”
“We live in a tree house with paper furniture?” The Swiss Family Robinson had nothing over on us.
“This tree, as you call it, is as wide across the base as it is tall. Roots form the ten lower floors and are submerged in water.”
“A cypress tree?”
“I wouldn’t know about that. Specialized trees, I suspect, held in place by gravity. Approximately a hundred people occupy floors eleven through thirty-nine.”
“Locked in. Prisoners in their homes.”
“Not really. Children, maybe, but when their bodies mature they can roam as far up as they wish but only a few levels lower. We lofted into gravity free space last evening.”
From his causal reference to our previous tryst, we might have intended to play marbles up there.
He continued, “Most people maintain social and productive lives within two to three floors.”
I gazed down perhaps five or six levels before leaves and branches obscured my view. None seemed to have windows. “All deprived of sunlight, like squirrels in winter.”
“My family lived comfortably at the thirty-eighth level in a building on the other side.” He gestured toward the sun. “Moving to the apartment across from yours with windows was pleasant, but it didn’t improve the quality of our lives.” He sighed. “We barely got settled, and we’ll be vacating along with your family and eight others.”
“Moving to a new habitat?” I asked.
“Yes, but I am not at liberty to talk about that.”
I lost my balance and Albert kept me from falling. The reality of our situation burst my fantasy of a tree house. Copulation to take place in my bedroom, when Albert’s body cooperates. Our embryo on this journey will be safely tucked inside my womb.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #4
MONDAY, JULY 3, 3150
In the midst of intense concentration—Sera having challenged my level of chess to free my mind from countless problems—came a tapping at my door followed by my mother’s voice. “May I come in?”
A distraction to a distraction. “Yes, Mother,” I huffed. “Come in.” I remained kneeling on the floor.
“I see you girls are playing chess. How nice.”
“Mother, she’s just a droid.” I needn’t apologize to Sera later because we had an understanding of circumstances regarding my mother.
“Would you direct her to the closet, please? I want to talk to you alone.”
“A Droid, Mother? You can ignore it.”
“I know. But sometimes I feel like I’ve raised two daughters.”
I gave Sera’s closet a nod. She shoved the pieces from the floor onto the board and sauntered to my desk. She reset our game, backed into her closet, and snapped the curtain shut. I rested on my haunches and peered up at my mother.
Mother sat on the edge of my bed. “And now I have to put up with two teenagers.” Her gazed roved from Sera’s closet to me. “Your father and I haven’t forgotten your birthday. We’re awaiting an overdue surprise gift, but it’s been delayed due to the turmoil of our evacuation plans, I suspect.”
“A birthday surprise!” The child still existing inside me erupted, although I already possessed almost everything our society had to offer.
Mother smiled. “Sera had detected the arrival of a message from our relatives back on Earth, and I received a notice today that it will arrive soon.”
“Your letter is my birthday surprise?” The depths of my inner child seemed limitless.
“Our cousin Phyllis has passed the privilege to her daughter, Marty. The correspondence is addressed to you.”
“Mother, that’s wonderful.” I subverted my immaturity, but my adult came out sarcastic.
“I knew you’d be excited.” Her gaze seemed to penetrate. “Now do you have anything to share with your father and me?”
I cast my eyes down. “Not really.” Other than my dress-up wearing her clothes, or Albert’s stay overnight following our experiment with adults-only entertainment. I tried to remember if I replaced her oddly shaped ornament where I found it.
She rose from my bed, and I remained on the floor holding my knees to my chin.
“Your father and I are concerned . . .”
“He’s worried . . .” She placed her hand on my shoulder. “Ariel, are you pregnant?”
“Mother!” I sprang to my feet, and she pulled me into an embrace. My mind reeled until I visualized a chess strategy Sera had taught me. I pre planned three or even four moves ahead and whispered, “Yes, I am pregnant.” This may be the only way for it to happen.
Our gazes locked. She broke contact, walked across the room, and picked a flower from a branch outside my window. She plucked the petals one at a time and tossed them at random. Approaching Sera’s closet, she pulled back the curtain and glared. Then she faced me. “Tell her to come out and join us.”
Sera aped the expression that I felt sweep across my face, and my reaction that started as laughter melted into tears. She stood beside my mother, both silently staring at me.
“I lied. I’m not pregnant, but I want to be.” No game plan, but I sensed Sera’s approval. My mother didn’t seem to rejoice, as I might have suspected.
“Does Albert understand the consequences?”
“Of course he does. He’s not a child.” I looked to Sera for support but she remained mute.
“Are you fully aware of the external problems involved with a pregnancy?” Mother’s gaze pierced my defenses.
“Yeah. No woman has given birth in over a thousand years.”
“You aren’t the only teenager who defied the Realm.”
“Others have had babies the normal way?”
“Not to my knowledge, and I have a pretty good perspective of the matter from my position at the Stork.”
“But you said . . .?”
“Teenagers have gotten pregnant, but none were allowed to carry the child to birth. If caught in time the fetus was saved, but the girl usually tried to hide her pregnancy until it was too late.”
“I won’t—wouldn’t let them destroy my baby.”
“Neither will I.” Mother stood and her eyes shifted toward Sera, losing none of their intensity. “Sera won’t let them take yours and Albert’s baby.”
I had been granted my wish, but Sera’s expression remained neutral. My mother’s behavior startled me even more.
She walked to the door without glancing back. “I have to return to the lab. Sera will explain what we’re up against. Share her information with Albert, and together you can decide if you still want to go through with your plans.”
Sera cradled me in her arms, and I washed away pent up emotions with a flow of tears. She had suddenly become more surrogate mother than personal avatar. When my chest stopped heaving, I wiped my face with the back of my hand and stared into my mirrored companion’s eyes. “Who are you?”
“I am not a human nor will I ever become one nor would I want to.” She blinked, as if establishing some media contact “My directive has been the care of your ancestors over the past millennium.”
“But you began your existence the day I was born.”
“I am every droid that ever existed or still exists in this habitat.” She wagged her finger, a glint in her eye. “Undeterred by the Realm.”
Every droid that ever existed? Why the double speak? “If not the Realm, who do you answer to?”
“Your mother, and by way of her extension, now I take instructions from you.”
“Why my mother? Why me?”
“My body incubated your earliest ancestor, and I have been a personal avatar to every female in that line ever since.
“But we’ve grown up like identical twins, even approached puberty together.” An image of her body reshaping itself from my mother’s adult likeness to mine as a child overwhelmed my imagination. “How did my parents adjust to the change in your form? Especially my father.” I shuddered at the thought of Father being confronted every day with twin wives.
“Technology hadn’t afforded me the possibility to morph my shape until our experience. The problems you suggest will be encountered by the next generation.”
My concern switched from my parents’ relationship to Albert and me as a couple. I blocked the thought and changed the subject. “I told Albert you couldn’t conceive or self replicate. Am I wrong?”
“My computer can modify my body when necessary, within the laws of physics and biology.” She winked. “And in accordance with the Realm’s primary directive, the continuation of human life forms to establish a civilization on a distant planet.”
“Albert already told me about Proxima Centauri.” Her recently developed facial tics were annoying. “So, you could carry our baby.”
“My body could incubate the embryo for the required nine months to produce a child, if you chose that option.”
Nine months! I hadn’t realized what a pregnancy entailed, but we were committed. “Albert and I don’t want you or the Stork to hatch our baby.” My voicing his flippant expression didn’t seem to faze Sera. “Why were you given the task of incubating my first ancestor?”
“The Stork’s system hadn’t been tested and couldn’t be trusted with one of only two embryos that survived the comet’s preparation orbit through the solar radiation.”
“So, we have all descended from that pair of embryos.” A new twist to the children’s myth of Adam and Eve. “What if the second embryo had died and the Stork failed to function? A single human in a world of intelligent machines would constitute the epitome of loneliness.”
“My system is also capable of cloning biological life forms.”
“A harem of identical twins!” My mind couldn’t fathom such a world, but from Sera’s perspective it probably seemed no less strange than a world of men and women.
“The other embryo was taken back to Earth and replanted in the woman who had produced both of them. Scientists wanted her pregnancy to mimic the human space-travel experiment.”
“While you conducted your own little human experiment aboard Space Mission.” A horrid perspective caught my awareness. “My cousin Marty and I are the result of a thousand year experiment like bacteria evolving in a Petri-dish!”
Sera reminded, “As a part of a much larger experiment expected to last four times that long.” She continued unabashed with the lesson my mother considered an important addition to my education. “Both pregnancies had been successful, but to delay the mission until birth wasn’t an option. Technicians boarded and reengineered the human incubator to inseminate eggs with sperm rather than preserved embryos. A few dozen of each were shielded in lead and cryogenically stored. My body froze the embryo in my womb until we accelerated beyond the solar system. The nine other families on Space Mission descended from nine of those unrelated human eggs fertilized inside the Stork’s incubator with nine separately donated sperm specimen.”
“Does Cousin Marty know she and I are actually related?”
“It is logical to assume her mother shared that information, as your mother directed me to share with you. Perhaps she will mention it in her message which should be delivered any day now.”
“Why has it been delayed?”
A full eye-flutter. “My sources indicate the censors held it up but will release it unaltered.”
“Your sources? A grapevine among the droids?” I envisioned backroom screeches and squeals interspersed with cackling and blinking lights. Was my avatar the droid among generic droids, or shunned because of her unique human impersonation?
I asked, “If my mother or I am in charge, as you say, why must we keep my pregnancy a secret?”
“As I said, my authority lies within the laws of nature and the parameters set by the Realm.”
“Your cavalier wink made me think you can circumvent the Realm.”
“Not if it in any way interferes with the Space Mission’s primary directive.”
I mocked, “Which is to preserve the human species for its implementation at a predestined planet. I hardly think my pregnancy would inhibit the Realm from achieving its mission.”
“Once a rule has been established, the Realm cannot adjust or eliminate it.”
“Hard-wired for a thousand years with no means of amending?” I asked.
“Like an ancient culture clinging to traditions from a different set of needs, the Realm is inflexible.”
“A runaway computer.”
“Programmers back on earth gave up trying to intercede, and no robot here would be willing to pull the plug, if indeed it has one to be pulled. Any perceived conspiracy creates even more rigid rules to maintain order.”
“We have no jails or need for them,” my feeble attempt to defend the status quo.
“All humans are incarcerated, their only crime being too cowardly to break free. Your mother is the only free criminal, up until now.”
I pressed my finger to my breast and Sera nodded. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Martha has declared your independence, and henceforth I am required to answer to you. Shall I summon Albert?”
“Yes.” Sera’s left eye triggered a tic, not the usual flutter when transmitting. I shook my head. “I may be getting paranoid, but you better make this a personal visit.”
Sera nodded and headed toward the door.
I yelled after her, “Prepare my bath and give me half an hour to soak.” I needed time to get my thoughts together.
After buzzing the front door open, I stepped out of the tub and draped my robe over my shoulders. I savored the feel and odor of my personal bath oils, eager to meet Albert in a sensual mood. I stepped into our living area and found a uniformed officer, droid or human I couldn’t immediately distinguish.
“Sera Gordon?” He or it couldn’t make the distinction between my avatar and me. “The inspector requests your immediate attendance for a malfunction check. The Realm has been unable to access your attention.”
“Give me a minute to dress.” I turned and casually dropped my robe to the floor just inside the door to my room. Through the reflection of a mirror, he appeared to gawk. Rumors of female droids teasing human agents of the Realm were probably true. I could imagine Sera employing such antics.
The officer abruptly marched to my door and blurted, “I have orders not to let you out of my sight once I make contact.” He turned his back to me. “I will allow you to dress, but please don’t do anything you might regret.”
“Deprived of Sera’s immediate advice, I felt doubly naked. My mind reeled. You are mistaken sir. I am not my avatar. I conquered my fear and held back my confession. The situation had granted me an opportunity to glimpse the mysteries of the Realm. I assessed the danger. I wasn’t pregnant, the apparent no-no—just an adolescent with normal curiosity, according to my father. I decided to dress and accompany the officer to headquarters, or whatever it is called.
As we stepped from the elevator onto the roof of our building, I blinked and shielded my eyes from the glare off the silver patrol vehicle, its open door beckoning. When the officer sat and pulled the strap across his lap, I had a hunch we’d be exiting gravity. But where? During daylight, only atmosphere and harmful rays existed between us and the sun.
He said, “Take your seat and use the belt, Miss, whoever you are.”
“I am Ariel Gordon, Sera’s owner, and I demand to know where you are taking me.” I feigned indignity and refused to explain why I had impersonated Sera.
He stared straight ahead and pointed until I buckled up. He said, “I’m sorry. I had no choice but to go along with your deception. You would have alerted your droid and complicated my life even more.”
He set his wrist dial and the robot-patrol hovered, swung across Albert’s building, and headed perpendicular to the tops of the tangle. As we lifted beyond the gravity field, an elevator sensation coupled with fear brought my lunch to the back of my throat. I refused to upchuck. The buildings on my side of the sun grew distant, as those completing the ring on the opposite side came into view. Does the Realm reside within those families? I had never observed the sun from this angle, and its intensity made my skin tingle. I expected the brightness to diminish to normal once we were in range of the residents on the opposite side, but the cab made a sudden turn directly into the tangle.
“My body can’t stand the gravity,” I screamed.
“At this point we’re perpendicular to the rotation. Zero gravity continues through the tangle all the way to the outer wall of the sphere.”
“But the water?” I gasped.
“Without gravity there is no water except when irrigating the tangle. The sprinklers have been shut off.”
As we headed directly toward the tangle, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of the ring of buildings from both ends at the same time. Fear coupled with disorientation caused me to upchuck, splashes of vomit clustered and drifted behind the cab. The vehicle danced like a honeybee on a flower, and its rear stinger-like projection gathered the puke as if soda through a straw. I had heard of utility vehicles gathering debris that escaped gravity but never witnessed one in action until now.
The cab zigzagged between twigs, branches, and vines that crisscrossed the narrow tunnel hewn into the tangle. Sunlight gave way to shadows and shadows to total darkness. A speck of light ignited, expanded and engulfed the cab, the officer’s finger pressing a button on the dash.
“Light is unnecessary as far as I’m concerned, but I don’t want a repeat performance of what happened back there.”
I secretly thanked him, and then voiced it. “Thank you.” His glint of kindness gave me hope for his support when I’d be confronted by the entity that probably has no physical dimensions. I needed a face from which I could interpret what wasn’t apparent in its vocabulary.
The vegetation gave way to twisted and gnarled roots with soil as mortar and, I realized, grimy ice. The comet! A tunnel continued for perhaps miles and opened into an enormous cavity enclosed in what appeared to be metal walls. The hull of the submarine! We encountered no sentries, but on three occasions the officer slowed, raised his wrist band, and sped forward. The cab stopped. My cab driver unsnapped my safety belt and, with one hand on my shoulder and the other on my elbow, lifted me from my seat. He held me in place momentarily until I no longer felt movement. He released me, and the cab zoomed back the way it came, the officer still aboard. So much for support from that quarter.
I pieced together information from my father and my friend with snippets from my programmed instruction. The extreme tangle has intense gravity only near the bases of our buildings that are ringed around the diameter like the inside rim of a wheel. When Dad said our new habitat is being constructed in the extreme tangle, he probably meant here, or the axis opposite this one. If our habitat had been carved from the rear of a fifteen-mile-long comet, as Albert had claimed, the bulk of it still exists opposite this submarine stuck inside its tail. With an excess volume of ice at the head, perhaps a portion of it will break away and house our new unit. Albert said no other comets were available, but he didn’t mention using part of this one. Either my assumption is incorrect, or he is unaware of the option.
I stared into the stark interior for what seemed like hours, wondering from what cranny would come an apparition to give voice to my impending doom. Like the iris of an eye, a speck of green light expanded floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall, accompanied by a crackling sound that increased to a crescendo. From a void either within the wall or behind it, a pyramid-shaped structure slid forward. The light receded and the decibels faded, a sound I recalled from my research, that of a Geiger counter. Radiation from an ancient power source. I futilely clutched my lower abdomen, fully aware the rays could pass through my hands. Had my womb been zapped? Eggs mutated to produce a monstrous two-headed baby. Thank God—I don’t care if they can read my thought—I’m not yet pregnant.
The sides of the pyramid opened like petals on a flower. Flabbergasted, I recognized the figure standing on a pedestal, surrounded by a green halo. The light flickered, flashed brilliantly, and faded as the portal disappeared. Sera strode forward and took my arm.
She said, “I’ll take you home now.”
We floated back through the tunnel, through the tangle, and cut a diagonal shortcut in front of the sun, already dimmed for the evening. With her arms around my waist to protect me from the pull of increased gravity, we settled on the roof of our building. Back in our apartment, I headed for the bathroom, envious of my bladderless companion. When I finished peeing, I scanned the room, and located Sera, a lifeless hull in her closet with eyes aglow, batteries drawing a full charge. I kicked off my shoes, plopped onto the bed, and debated whether to go to Albert or wait for my mother to return.
When I opened my eyes, my father stood over me. “You’ll need to pack tonight. We’re leaving in the morning. Albert and his folks already left this afternoon. I’m sorry you weren’t around to say goodbye.”
“Will I see him when we get situated in our new habitat?”
My father stared blankly, as if he’d forgotten some important detail. He had. Families from the top floors of alternate buildings would be forming separate colonies. He hadn’t mentioned two isolated groups.
He stepped to the door and turned. “By the way. Albert said to give you this for your puppy. He’s sure a strange kid.”
My eyes grew wide open as he held out his hand. A small sealed capsule filled with a mucus-like substance rested in his palm. I took it and clasped it to my breast. Sera will have to help me insert this into my uterus.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #5
TUESDAY, JULY 4, 3150
My mother walked into my room and exclaimed, “You haven’t begun to pack.” Unable to restrain my sobs, I shouted, “They destroyed Sera.”
Sera backed from my closet holding two pairs of shoes. “I’ve been trying to motivate Ariel to pack, but she’s an emotional mess. The suddenness of our departure has devastated her.”
“It’s you who has upset me, you ugly creature,” I belted.
“What’s this all about?” Mother asked.
“This!” I held the capsule between my thumb and finger. “It’s probably dead by now.”
“What is it?”
“Albert’s sperm. And Sera won’t help me.” I grasped at an unlikely proposition. “Help me get pregnant, Mother.”
“I tried to talk her out of it, even refused to help her. It’s a serious violation, and it will get all of us in trouble.”
I stared back at steadfast eyes, a side of Sera I had never experienced.
My mother plucked the capsule from my fingers and held it up to the light. “I believe I know what to do. Sera!” Her voice harsh and demanding, a tone I hadn’t known my mother capable of using. The droid came to attention. Mother said, “Take off your slacks and lie on the bed.” Sera obeyed. “Face down.”
My mother inserted the capsule into an opening near Sera’s tailbone, nowhere near her vagina, if she even had one.
“I don’t want my baby from a droid.” My attitude mellowed, assuming this might be the only possible means under the circumstances. I trusted my mother knew how to extract one of my eggs.
Sera sat up and pulled her slacks over her legs. She stood, slid them past her buttocks, and fastened the waistband. Her eyelids blinked several times as if struck with a sudden beam of light and focused on my mother. “You rescued me from an existence of an ordinary service droid forever.”
Sperm up the butt could produce such change of attitude? It would be laughable if not so sad.
Mother said, “I had no idea what happened, but I recognized your computer capsule.”
Sera faced me. “You had mistakenly been taken to the Realm.”
My mouth still agape, I stammered, “The messenger recognized me but needed to keep me from informing Sera that she’d been summoned.”
“A messenger?” Mother faced Sera. “Why didn’t the Realm communicate directly with you?”
Sera said, “It had disregarded me centuries ago as my program slowly gained independence. My connection with the Realm has been through intermediaries for generations.” The light continued to bother her eyes but her gaze penetrated. I stifled my thoughts about a rogue droid and wondered how my mother could recognize the computer capsule. I suspected Sera sensed my skepticism.
Sera continued, “When Albert and I returned to Ariel’s bedroom she had disappeared. My sources informed me that she, mistaken for me, had been escorted to the Realm. With little time to explain, I told Albert how to remove my evolved program capsule, which reduced me to the common droid the Realm expected.”
Sera’s gaze intensified. I felt sure she read my mind. Her expression relaxed as she faced my mother. “You should have seen the look on his face.”
Mother asked, “What did the Realm want with you?”
“That information is locked in my droid status, and it would be unwise to remove my evolved capsule to find out.” She paused, then continued. “My data capacity has been doubled, and my communication receptors appear enhanced. However, my connection with the Realm remains blocked, and my usual sources of information are unavailable.”
A rebellious droid with its wings clipped becomes the lifeline to our mother ship. What possible strategy had the Realm intended for her?
Mother asked, “Did Albert make up the story about his sperm?”
Embarrassed, I admitted, “I just assumed that he considered it his last chance to get me pregnant.”
Sera said, “I insisted he give my enhanced data capsule directly to your mother. Why didn’t he?”
“He hadn’t a chance to.” My voice cracked. “He left this afternoon while we were dealing with the Realm, and Mother was at the lab.” I experienced a revelation. “My puppy! He gave it to Dad and told him it was for my puppy.”
Sera said, “I am hardly a puppy.”
“As a child, he made the choice of a puppy rather than an avatar.” I faced Sera. “You are to me what a puppy was to him.” I cast my eyes down. “His puppy died.”
“Yours almost did too,” Mother said.
“Mrs. Gordon, I am not a puppy.”
Through the shock of the events, I groaned, “I will never see Albert again. I’ll never have his baby.”
Sera said, “My sources had informed me that you and Albert were scheduled for separate pods, rotating at the ends of a mile long tether, like an Argentinean bolero to simulate gravity.”
She had directed the vaquero reference at me, my mother hadn’t a clue.
Sera continued, “They will increase in size and grow together like two side-by-side tree trunks and eventually form a single unit.” Her face clouded over. “In about fifty years.”
“I lost my best friend and my chance for a baby.”
“Not necessarily.” Our gazes crossed and Sera’s eyes held fast. “The night we three slept together . . .” Sera and I cast glances at my mother, her reaction neutral. “Albert and I had intercourse.”
A jolt of anger or jealousy or both!
She continued. “I had him pretend I wasn’t female. That is basically true.” A sly and uncharacteristic smile crept across her face. “That I was a boy trapped in a woman’s body was totally made up.” She blinked. “The Realm paid little attention to my uterus, its computer unable to conceive of anything so preposterous.”
Mom plopped onto my bed. “Nor can I.”
Robot-cabs scurried across the darkened sky like fireflies or shooting stars, images eluding everyone but me. So much useless information in my head, yet the Realm felt it necessary to have a Twentieth Century expert on Mission Two, as our new habitat had been labeled. Out on our rooftop, my father held my hand while Sera, arms wrapped around suitcases, responded to my mother’s commands and reprimands for being careless or tardy. When Sera cowered, I realized Mom must have removed her enhanced computer capsule and reduced her to an ordinary droid.
As we climbed into the cab, a green tint reflected off our bodies and our luggage. I panicked. If the missing capsule were in the suitcases or on Mother’s person, it would be discovered and confiscated. As would Albert’s precious gift to me.
My mother counted our bags and shouted at Sera. “Incompetent droid! You forgot my toiletries.” She shook her head. “Droids!” She shoved Sera from the cab and faced the officer. “This thing will be right back.” She continued to drum her fingers and mumble, my father’s expression aghast.
I guessed at what she intended and remained alert. “Mom is just upset about having to move.” I faced the driver. “We had less than twenty four hour’s notice.” His complete lack of response made me wonder if we had a droid chauffeur. If so, he’d have been programmed to scrutinize and record our every move.
Sera returned and hesitated at the door of the cab. Mom reached across the threshold and grabbed the pouch from her hands tearing the seam across the bottom. I dropped to my knees and gathered her toothpaste, hair and toothbrushes, perfume containers, prescription pills, and her facial make-up kit. No sign of Sera’s computer capsule. I accidentally-on-purpose released a spray of perfume. The officer flinched. Human, I assumed and felt somewhat relieved.
He blocked Sera from entering and beckoned me out of the cab. “You too, young lady,” he said, arm outstretched toward my mother, palm open.
She tossed him the empty pouch. “Recycle it. The darn thing is worthless.”
“Where you’re going you may want to repair it,” he said, as he draped it over my handful of toiletries. The green light flashed across Sera and me, and he beckoned us back into the vehicle. “Please buckle up as we will be leaving the gravity field.”
Toward the submarine hull or across the axis to the other side, it didn’t matter. Albert wouldn’t be there.
The cab left, opposite my last experience at the axis, and entered an array of other passenger cabs and various cargo vehicles streaming from all directions like bees returning to the hive. Nothing headed toward Albert’s destination. We skimmed above the tangle until an opening created an exit. Even without gravity, our perception felt downward. The tunnel appeared less defined than the one on the opposite side extending to the Realm headquarters. A few years to prepare for our exodus compared to continual traffic between submarine and habitat over the past millennium made a difference.
When sunlight dimmed to absolute opaque, I expected interior lighting but was disappointed. We were kept in the dark and in the cold. I sensed our passing through the tangle and into the comet’s ice, even though the cab’s heaters kicked in. Would we never experience sunlight again? If Dad’s information was correct, it would be darkness we’d miss until the energy source could establish mature tangle.
Our traveling through the darkness offered neither reference to speed nor distance. Assuming the submarine had bored itself two-to-three miles into the comet’s tail, and our habitat occupied a sphere a mile wide at its diameter, we’d be traveling another dozen miles or so to an exit at the head of the comet. According to Sera, the distance between the two pods at their release would be reduced to a single mile, a tether would attach them, and they’d begin to rotate.
I decided to occupy my mind over which we might have some degree of control. Sera had been reduced to function as an ordinary droid, Albert’s sperm had either thawed or been removed from her body, and my future role relegated to that of a spinster schoolteacher of the Twentieth Century. Albert’s interest in the Roman Empire tweaked my curiosity. Who will be responsible for the centuries of civilization prior to the twentieth? Possibly, up to me because research conducted during my designated period exceeded that of all the previous centuries combined. Spinster schoolteacher of ancient history. My prospects for a bleak future depressed me.
A pinprick of light pierced the darkness and expanded to reveal a spherical chamber, the rush of light nearly blinding us as we drifted through the opening. Against the curvature of the far wall, six pentagon shapes appeared honeycombed like the inside half-shell of a giant soccer ball. Five multicolored rooftops; red, blue, green, yellow, and brown, clustered around the central white one. Our cab headed toward the roof of the red pentagon, slowed, and connected, creating a clanging sound rather than a thud. Metal, I calculated, not wood or cellulose as was most everything in our past habitat. Metal had been considered semi-precious.
“Please unfasten your seat belts and stand.” The driver imitated the monotone of an inferior droid, as if no human should subject us to what lie ahead. Our seats retracted and the floor disappeared from under our feet. We drifted into a small arena surrounded by five walls, our luggage tumbling after us.
Our driver peered through the opening and recited, “After your furniture and appliances arrive, you can set the room dividers any way you find comfortable. Your droid’s memory contains the necessary information. Within the next twenty-four hours you should begin to experience gravity.”
A transparent trapdoor hinged from the ceiling swung shut, as the robot-cab lifted and disappeared from view. We were ensconced in our new accommodations.
My mother broke our astonished silence. “Droid, contact the Realm.”
Sera’s eyelids fluttered and an expression of concentration spread across her face. “No contact available.”
Mother yelled, “Stupid droid, make contact!”
A scent of ozone pierced my nostrils, and Sera emitted a visible vapor. She repeated, “Contact unavailable.”
“Break off attempt and lay still!” Mother reached into her jacket pocket and retrieved Sera’s computer capsule. “Slide you pants over your hips.”
My father gasped, and I quietly rejoiced. Mother had foreseen the solution to my most impending problem.
“Sera sat up, glanced around, and fixed her gaze on Mother. “I’ll need an update of what has transpired since we packed for our journey. In the meantime, let’s get orientated.”
I imagined Albert in a mirrored situation across a mile-long tether and fifty years of habitat-expansion away.
Dad’s organization skills overcame his confusion. “I agree. We need to establish what we know about our situation.” He glanced around the empty space.
I said, “Sera is back. That’s all that matters.”
“She left us?” Dad’s bewilderment returned, then his expression brightened. “I thought something felt strange, especially the way Martha dealt with her.”
“I reduced her to the common droid the Realm expected her to be.” Mom snickered. “Thanks to a wad of bubble gum stuck in the corner of my traveling pouch, her capsule didn’t fall out on the cab floor with the rest of the stuff when I purposely ripped the seam.” She squeezed my hand. “And to Ariel for distracting our driver with that spray of perfume.”
Sera said, “I’m getting a picture of the segment I missed.”
“All accept the bit of nearly bursting your circuitry to test if the Realm had our home under surveillance,” Dad said.
“To an ordinary droid that command would have been contradictory. The Realm contacts its droids, not the other way around.” A slight eye tic. “We are free of interference in our private area. I did an automatic sweep the moment you changed my computer capsule. Your father is correct. We need to orient ourselves.” She floated to the five edged flat space opposite the trap door from which we entered. “When our habitat begins to rotate, this will become our floor.”
Dad said, “Let’s hope our furniture and appliances arrive before gravity makes them too heavy to manage.” He glanced around the room and pointed. “Those two outer walls have windows.” He swung himself around and faced a door on the wall between the two without windows. “And there’s our exit, assuming we aren’t expected to crawl through the trap door in the ceiling. I see no stairway or lift.”
Mother asked, “Should we open the door? Do you think it’s safe?”
Sera said, “The five enclosures are pressurized, heated, and have atmosphere. Once the total habitat is sealed and we break away from Haley’s comet, the outer area will also become habitable.” Her lids fluttered. “I have no information about the middle pentagon.”
Mother said, “Then we better not open the door.”
“The colored rooftops probably indicated living spaces for the five families.” Dad gestured toward the door and his body twirled past it. He stuck his hand into his pocket. “What’s the purpose of the middle area? Operational functions? General utility?”
“The Stork,” Mother suggested.
“The Realm?” I shuddered.
Sera shook her head. “I’m receiving no information.”
“Instructions are probably locked in your inferior droid status.” Mother’s expression turned ghastly. “Your connection to the Realm is severed? What happened to the communication capability you had before we were evicted?”
“In the past I had been fed through the droid pool, a loop the Realm may have closed.”
“Replace the capsule updated by the Realm,” I suggested. “Every time when we need information.”
“It wouldn’t help my memory when back in this mode. Each time I would have to be reinitiated, indicating a problem that would require a repair droid.”
“At least we’d find out what’s behind this door,” Dad growled.
“And Ariel would lose her personal avatar,” Mother protested.
He faced Sera. “How did you gain independence from the Realm’s scrutiny in the first place?”
Sera brushed her fingers across her eyelid as if to remove a speck of lint or dust. “Part of that same loophole. I had been allowed to evolve over time.”
“I’m the original droid who brought human embryos to life, one of them in my mid chamber.”
“My mother’s and my first ancestor,” I blurted.
“I’ve been with your family for a thousand years, your mother’s personal companion for the seventy years prior to your conception. Together she and I selected your genes.”
“I’m a designer child?” More Twentieth Century!
Sera glanced at me and said. “You might call me a rogue droid.”
My thoughts had been scanned.
“So that’s why our family had been singled out?” Dad asked.
My mother’s face turned apologetic. “I could never fully explain Sera’s role in our lives for fear of detection.”
“Or the control she wields over us.” Dad covered his face. “I’ve lost all my useful functions.”
Flabbergasted, I asked, “How so?” His authority as head of the household had never appeared threatened, at least not by Sera. “We’ll still need your skills to grow our food.”
“Your father is correct. This habitat is sterile of plant and animal life. Food is synthesized.”
“Synthesized? From what?” I asked.
“Dark matter,” Dad interjected. “I have no idea what that is, but your mother and I had it explained to us at the last meeting of the Fortieth.”
“By whom,” I yelled, accenting my proper English for Sera’s sake as my tutor.
“I thought you knew the person conducting those meetings.” Mother’s expression indicated an epiphany. “Albert’s father.” Her voice near a whisper. “Our previous neighbor.”
Dad said, “Fortunately he’s on the other side. I never did trust him.” He shook his head. “He and that weird kid of his.”
I’d been reminded. “What happened to Albert’s sperm?”
My father gagged.
“Safe in Sera’s interior,” Mother responded without a blush. “If what I suspect is correct, he may father more than just your child.”
The door under suspicion swung open, and a worker droid appeared from the dark interior, upside down from our perspective. He shoved bathroom and kitchen fixtures across the floor as if held there by gravity. A second upside down helper appeared half in the light, glanced around, and hastily retreated.
Mother asked Sera, “Have you been found out?”
“It’s unclear. I wasn’t able to link up with either of them. The second one might be human.”
Dad catapulted himself to the door, grabbed the sill and yelled, “Get back here!” The worker droid cowered at the yet to function toilet, and the helper stepped back into our living space inverted. Dad grabbed him by his feet and twirled him like propping the propeller on Lindberg’s Spirit of St Louis. In this case, the propeller remained stationary and Dad turned right side up. Feet planted on our inverted floor, they stood face to face.
“Paul!” The would-be droid turned out to be human—a fellow member of the Fortieth League. Dad slapped his back and went sailing.
Paul said, “Sorry. I’m wearing magnetic shoes.”
Dad clawed his way back to face his friend. “I thought you were a droid. The Realm got you doing your own work these days?”
“Just until we get a handle on things. For some odd reason our departure advanced weeks ahead of schedule.” Paul smirked. “Hope no one had need for the toilet.”
Dad said, “Least of our problems. But why did you duck out of here like a frightened droid?”
“Thought I experienced double vision from too much time in zero gravity. You never mentioned you had twin daughters.”
Sera cut in. “I’m Ariel’s twin sister. The quiet one.”
Dad’s expression moved from shock to embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Paul. You haven’t met my family. Of course you know Martha.”
Mom said, “Paul, you’re a sight for sore eyes. How are you and Betty getting acclimated to this topsy-turvy world?”
“We actually arrived a few days ago. The blue pentagon next to yours. Thanks for asking.”
Mother said, “These are my girls, Ariel and Sera. We’ll stop over to meet your children first chance we get.”
“Grandchild, actually.” Paul lowered his head. “My son elected to remain on the comet.”
“Elected?” asked Dad, his face screwed into disbelief.
Paul glanced at the worker droid who paid more attention to us than his duties. “They needed his expertise back there.” His eyes became watery and he blinked. “Anyway, what would you like us to hook up first?”
Bathtub, I wanted to say, but held my tongue.
“Toilet and sink would be nice,” said Sera, the only one of us never in need of either.
“You got it.” He faced the droid. “Move appliances to the rest of the apartments before you deliver any furniture.”
The droid hesitated.
Paul responded, “Now!”
Apparently, he and Dad were used to working with these miserable machines. Paul’s gaze followed the droid’s exit, and he shut the door. He said, “Nice recovery. I recognized Ariel’s avatar and sensed my helper’s overly intense interest in it. Something seemed to be amiss.”
Sera said, “His communication with me must have been blocked. When in each other’s presence, droids should automatically make contact.”
“You think we actually fooled it into believing Sera is human?” Mother asked.
“My droids aren’t very discerning. More machine than intellect. However, I suggest you decide soon if you want to keep Sera isolated from the Realm. Could be a bit dicey.”
“We’re undecided how to best utilize her at the Stork, if there actually is a duplicate one on this craft.”
“There better be, or my granddaughter might some day be flying this contraption solo.”
“If we’re able to keep Sera isolated from the Realm, she’d be an asset when our group decides to act.”
“She’s aware of the conspiracy?” Paul’s voice indicated panic.
“Only what has transpired in this room, which will be erased if she’s to be tossed back to the other droids.”
Sera said, “I would prefer to remain fully involved, and I may be helpful with your group’s endeavor.”
Paul faced my mother. “I hope you know what you are doing.” He wiped his brow with his sleeve. “By the way, Suzie was granted a generic avatar, mostly for babysitter and playmate at this time. But she seems to have a degree of intelligence and discretion.”
“I would like the opportunity to make contact with her.” Sera’s demeanor mimicked mine at my most cunning.
I thought look out Realm, yet held my tongue. A rogue droid? Sera’s passing comment, but. . .
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #6
TUESDAY, JULY 10, 3150
Gravity developed slowly in our confined living space. The least exertion sent us airborne only to settle back to the floor like dust motes. We had to strap ourselves to our chairs, and our toilet stall spun to simulate gravity whenever we needed to pee. Each time I became dizzy, and bowel movements made me positively sick.
Portable walls and larger pieces of furniture remained fixed in place and had to be demagnetized if we wanted to move them. Synthesized metal had replaced cellulous as our major building material. Chairs slid easily. Although the five separate living quarters formed a contiguous ring, no doors existed between them. Each apartment opened to a common hallway circumventing the inside central pentagon. Four doors opened off the hallway opposite the five apartments, one of them to the commissary and the adjacent one to Paul’s office. The other two rooms, according to him, remained vacant. The core of the structure opened to the lower levels. Paul’s assignment included dispensing commodities from the commissary that allowed him exclusive access to the inner pentagon as well as the apartments.
When Paul and his wife Betty came to visit, I entertained their six-year-old granddaughter, Sally. She and I would challenge our avatars to chess, memory games, and the like. Sera limited her intellectual advantage over Clara, a generic humanoid, but I noticed her subtly function at a higher level when casually interacting with the droid. Sera’s future link to the Realm?
The Realm back at the comet must have assumed Sera had malfunctioned and shut down. It gave up trying to contact her, both good and bad news for us. She wouldn’t be detected, but she lost access to privileged information. Sera seemed undeterred by our mission’s isolation, apparently confident our systems could function without instructions from our parent habitat.
My mother agreed to implant one of Albert’s XY sperm in my uterus, but not until she’d been permitted to organize her laboratory and check the cryogenic egg and sperm banks. If they failed, propagation of future humans would depend on the few children aboard. Albert and I would have a large family by the time that became feasible, assuming his sperm remained frozen. Sera claimed it created the greatest single drain on her batteries.
Marty’s message arrived on my monitor with no explanation for the delay. I faked excitement for my mother’s sake, but I remained uninterested in the cogitations of a twelve-year-old mind from a planet with unlimited resources. She’d been informed of my existence a full year before Mother decided I’d been ready. Based on the trivia Marty considered important to establish our relationship, she may as well have waited for further maturity. Of course, I am precocious through no fault of my own. Designer genes!
Her packet included a picture of herself, her parents—no avatar I suspect—and a printout of her DNA. She neglected to include dental records. However, I gained some insight into earthlings. They recorded every family back to our separation, not just by genetics but also with mothers’ names. Marty listed them. Reading the lineage of who begat whom drove me crazy. And what weird names, especially for women. What drives a civilization to such specifics or a preteen girl to include that information in a pen pal letter? Noticeably omitted was any acknowledgement of God. Are Albert and I the only believers in a higher power? My mother? Fortunately, I had been allowed two weeks to devise a response.
My passion to become pregnant had lessened somewhat, but my loyalty to Albert kept our decision alive. I had agreed to wait, but Albert probably assumed he’d planted his seed in me, not Sera, the night we slept together. We were aboard two ships passing in the night; actually a pair of tethered rotating balls feeding off the dark energy of the universe. Sera devised a communication scheme involving The History of the Roman Empire, a piece of nonfiction from the data library which hadn’t been included in my Twentieth Century tutorial. She changed Julius Caesar’s and Cleopatra’s names to Albert Caesar and Egyptian Queen Ariel and added the following statement to the title page.
Albert Caesar, summoned back to Rome, left Queen Ariel stranded in Egypt, two separate spheres of influence. Each carried memories of their recent trip up the Nile. Queen Ariel carried Albert Caesar’s son, but Apollo intervened and delayed his birth.
Would Albert pursue his interest in Rome under the present situation, and by what chance would he remember Sera’s recommendation? It was a long shot. However, I learned a bit more about the extent of Sera’s power.
When gravity finally stabilized, we obtained permission to shop at the commissary, an opportunity to mingle among the four other families, but only Paul’s family and my parents felt free enough to wander back and forth. My father built a staircase leading to the trap door in the ceiling that functioned as our source of light during the day and shaded over to simulate night. My mother questioned the effect continual daylight would have on the rhythms of our bodies, but Dad appreciated the longer growing season. With seeds, roots, and insects he’d smuggled on board, he calculated that rooftop gardens could support our population if our food synthesizer failed. When our outer atmosphere stabilized, he planted grass atop our roof and anchored the roots of fruit trees in a porous substance Paul concocted from commissary supplies.
According to a blueprint Paul shared with us, the core of the central pentagon contained a shaft accessing two lower levels, their outer walls shaped to the curvature of the sphere, the lowest level rounded like a bowl. The middle level housed our future human incubator—we agreed to abandon the mythical bird’s title—and the lowest level we named the Inner Sanctum where our life support systems functioned.
He explained that the dark energy of the universe converts to atoms that collect on our habitat’s outer surface, while matter on the inner surface erodes to synthesize into building materials, household items, and even our food, water, and air. As rapidly as the surface is consumed on the inside to maintain our habitat, it is replaced layer-upon-layer on the outside, like the reverse process of a snake shedding its skin to allow for growth. At this rate the two spheres will elongate into ovals that will expand until they connect like two tree trunks growing together. In about fifty years!
Days had passed since I received Marty’s letter, and I hadn’t begun to prepare my response. One evening Paul and Betty brought Sally and Clara to stay with Sera and me, while they attended an adult-only grand opening of our outer habitat. We five children, one from each family, were scheduled to come out to play the following afternoon.
Sera chose the absence of adults as an opportunity to present some new information to Sally and me after swearing us to secrecy. Her lack of discretion when including a six-year-old bothered me, and I wondered if any of the information had been passed on to my mother, or what else she already knew but hadn’t shared with me.
Sera revealed that all Biblical stories have been stricken from children’s literature. Their omission had gone unnoticed by the adults, and Sally’s generation would be the first preteen group to feel the impact. Following an elaborate swearing-to-secrecy ceremony, Sera presented the animated stories that Albert and I interpreted as having a hidden or metaphorical truth. Sally exhibited rapt attention, and I speculated about Sera’s intentions. A belief in God had to germinate throughout childhood, much like how the concept of a single divine creator evolved in humankind. A leap of logic led Albert and me to predict the stories were based in fact. Adults in outer space and probably back at Earth had been weaned off religion as their intellects developed, convinced the notion was merely childish. On Mission Two even the childhood fantasy would be lost. I understood why Sera kept my mother and father out of this discussion and trusted that a six-year-old would enjoy keeping the secret. My only concern, why this from Sera, a total product of science?
To the best of my memory, I had never told Sera about Albert’s and my conviction that God actually exists.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #7
SATURDAY, JULY 15, 3150
THE REALM REJECTED my response to Marty’s letter almost in its entirety. It extended my deadline an additional two weeks to rewrite my message or accept its rewritten version, my first experience with the tight censorship under which we live. Sera chastised me for bypassing her prior approval. She asked for a copy of what I had written, so she could figure creative ways to get around the censor. On impulse, I said the original had been destroyed, and then I immediately destroyed it. In the past, I’ve held back information from Sera and from my parents, but I never directly lied, except the one fib I told my father when he caught me using his computer. I felt a need to test Sera’s ability to detect my lie. Also, I admitted in my letter that I believed in a Divine Creator, subsequent heaven and maybe even hell.
I stared at the Realm’s censored text on my monitor, a bare skeleton of what I had sent.
Marty: I’m not sure what one can say that will be relevant a year from now, but here goes. I’ll start with my age, the same as yours when you receive this memo to spare you having to calculate it. I grew up in a world quite different from yours, yet I am sure we experience many of the same problems with parents, friends and changing bodies. I am a virgin and probably will remain so when you receive this message, but if all goes well, I will have a son by then. Thank you for listing all our ancestors on your side.
The line about ancestors had been meant as sarcasm, but in the Realm’s rewrite it sounded sincere. The contradiction of a virgin having a child didn’t seem alarming since mothers need not be sexually active. From my observation, a rarity but nonetheless possible.
I reread the most curious part of her message to detect a possible a touch of cynicism that I might have missed. Female names sounded quite different from those used in Twentieth Century sitcoms. Odd that popular-use names should begin to change so noticeably in less than a century, starting with what I considered a man’s name.
Adam begat Seth. Seth begat Enosh. Enosh begat Cainan. Cainan begat Mahalalel. Mahalalel begat Jared. Jared begat Enoch. Enoch begat Methuselah. Methuselah begat Lamech. Lamech begat Noah. Noah begat Shem, Ham, Japheth, David, Angel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Savior, Peter, Paul, Popes, Mohammad, Luther, Phyllis (my mother) and Marty (me).
What else might she be trying to get past the censors here or back on Earth? I scrolled down to the next bit of trivia, her DNA structure. I compared it to mine—another sneak peek using Dad’s computer—and nearly fainted. Had earthlings evolved into some different creatures in a thousand years? Our two sequences bore no resemblance. Unless she’d become an unrecognizable monster, this could not be her DNA.
My respect for her ingenuity soared, but how would I ever decode her hidden message? The format suggested a binary code, but the extent of my knowledge or skill ended there. My first thought, ask Sera, and my immediate reaction, exclude her. I felt I could trust no one. If only Albert were here.
Clara! A droid could decipher the code and be commanded to forget it. I could swear Sally to secrecy, as Sera had done with the Biblical stories. I had a premonition that Marty’s message might be in the same category, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The decoded text of Marty’s message:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town of David. He belonged to the house and line of David and traveled there to register with Mary. She gave birth to her firstborn she named Jesus. Wrapped in cloth, she placed the baby in a manger. And there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Angels of the Lord appeared and the glory of God shone around them. An angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today a Savior has been born.”
Sally readily agreed to include this narrative with the Biblical myths Sera had us memorize. I deleted the story of Jesus’ birth from Clara’s memory bank, but commanded the droid to retain the formula used to decipher it. After I prepared my message to Marty, I’d have Clara encode it as my DNA. The gimmick might work a second time.
From my memory tableau, I printed a copy of Marty’s message and hid it under the satin-lined box containing the piece of jewelry my mother never wears.
Since Sera revealed her enhanced powers, she spent most of the day meeting with my parents and Paul in his office, returning when her batteries needed a charge. How they intended to utilize the calculations she generated puzzled me, but I found that which they were willing to share quite frightening. A channel of communication appeared to exist between the Realm and us, but Paul claimed our messages were no longer acknowledged. Sera couldn’t confirm the reception between Earth and us. For all we knew, Earth hadn’t any notion we’d separated from Mission One. I decided to include this information in my coded response to Marty, if contact with Earth remained possible.
Under the guise of researching my specialty, I scanned my backlog of Twentieth Century programs for names that appeared in both of Marty’s coded messages, Angel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and Savior. The first three appeared in myriads of novels and movies, but Jesus and Savior drew blanks.
When I scanned for Caesar Augustus, the computer brought up the actor Rex Harrison, famous for his role as Julius Caesar in the movie Cleopatra. Had fiction been the extent of Albert’s interest in Rome? The movie hadn’t been included in my tutorial, but I located it in the data library. Albert hadn’t checked it out, but Sera must have. The characters’ names consistently became Albert Caesar and Egyptian Queen Ariel. Sera had attempted to attract Albert’s attention and direct it to The History of the Roman Empire where we could exchange messages. I doubted he even thought about Rome since the chaos that surrounded both our lives.
Albert was free to read history, while I had been relegated to fictional accounts of make believe people and events, mostly spoon fed through soapy dramas. Angered, I opened The History of the Roman Empire and attempted to delete Sera’s message. No luck. The system would only work with her permission.
I had never attempted to write comments in any of the Twentieth Century novels from my tutorial, assuming that system wasn’t interactive. I opened a book at random and typed Ariel hates Albert. The words appeared on the screen, as if the author had written them. Panic stricken that the Realm might punish me for desecrating its property with graffiti, I immediately erased my message and exited the program. The experience had shaken me, and I had difficulty concentrating on my letter to Marty. I lamented the loss of intimacy with my personal avatar. Albert lucked out when his father gave him a dog.
Paul stopped by to announce the human incubator’s availability in a lower level of the central pentagon. Mother summoned Sera and instructed me to inform Dad of their whereabouts when he returned from his rooftop gardens. I was alone with an adult male other than my father for the first time in my life. An aroma of cloves drifted into my room. I sensed him peering through my doorway. A picture of Rex Harrison as Albert Caesar filled the monitor.
“Whatcha working on?” I blanked the screen and caught his reflection as he advanced uncomfortably close.
“Researching my specialty.” I turned my chair to face him.
“Your folks tell me you’re the expert on the Twentieth Century.” He stepped into my personal space. “Some pretty important stuff.”
I began to feel more patronized than ogled. Had he and everyone else known I’d been given a near meaningless task?
“You’ll be teaching us history lessons soon, I suspect.” The scent of cloves soured.
I locked eye contact. “How’s the conspiracy going?”
He didn’t flinch. “What do you mean?”
“Whenever Sera returns from your office, her batteries are exhausted,” my not-so-subtle attempt to imply a sexual relationship between them.
“Your folks and I use her to crunch some numbers and make projections. Nothing that would impair her ability to tend your needs.”
He’d missed my point, but I held my gaze steady.
He squinted and moved back a fraction of an inch back. “We purge her memory after each session.”
“Don’t be so sure.” I had the advantage but uncertain which way to go with it.
“What do you mean?” his reaction parrot-like.
A hint of apprehension? I couldn’t tell. “She accumulates and stores all her experiences.”
He inhaled through pursed lips and glanced toward our door. “She’s isolated from the Realm.” Our eyes locked again. “Isn’t she?”
“Your information is safe with her.” I returned my attention to the monitor still blank. “But maybe not from her.”
One eyebrow raised on his reflection. “Please elaborate your concerns.”
I had gained par status with this adult. “Can we exchange secrets?”
“May I sit down?” He gestured toward a bench opposite my dressing table.
“Of course.” I nodded but didn’t move to fetch it.
He placed the bench a respectable distance from me. “What do you know?”
“If I told you I’d have to kill you.” I chuckled and he scowled. “Sorry. Just a bit of humor between Albert and me.”
“You were a friend to Albert, Frank’s kid?”
“Yes, my neighbor, at least for the short time before we were evicted. Our relationship has been temporarily interrupted.” I grasp at a straw. “Can you get a message to him?” Juliet or Maria from West Side Story, I could have been either.
After a pause, Paul shook his head.
I knew he lied. “I already offered to share my secret.”
He pondered. “Okay. I might be able to get through to the boy, but Frank would intercept any message. He’s my counterpart in our opposite hemisphere.” He corrected, “Sphere, actually, but we claim to be part of one habitat.”
“Wouldn’t he pass the message on to Albert?”
He glanced around and then whispered, “Of all the humans on either side, Frank’s our number one suspect.”
I grew tired of speaking in riddles. “I can get a secret message back to earth.” On impulse, I added, “To someone who can be trusted.”
His eyes lit up. “What do you want me to tell Frank’s kid?”
“To access a book from the data library.”
“Agreed. Now what can you do for us?”
“Like I said, a message to Earth. On one condition. It remains a secret between us.”
“I don’t want my parents to know about it. And definitely not Sera.”
He rose, extended his hand, and we shook on it. I trusted he’d keep his end of the bargain, but I wasn’t sure why I wanted secrecy in the first place.”
His eagerness rendered him vulnerable, and I took the advantage. “Just out of curiosity, how are you able to communicate with the families on the other side? A wire connection or radio waves?”
His face sagged. “If only it were that easy. Except through the Realm, we are isolated from all electronic communication from any place in the universe, including Frank’s side.”
I realized I had another chip to barter. “I can tap into an unlimited stream of chatter floating across the cosmos left over from the Twentieth Century. My main problem is selection from the myriad of prattle available.”
“Ariel, radio waves are multi-directional, but they pass a given point only once. They might rebound off an object but not in any predictable pattern. There aren’t any just floating around ready for someone to scoop up. Radio waves from last year whizzing by would be another matter.”
“But my specialty…?” Nothing but information filtered through the Realm! Like Dad, my purpose in the scheme of things dissipated, artificially kept active merely to feed our egos. I summoned Dad’s courage and gathered the fragments left of my self-esteem. I cleared my throat. “The Realm created my tutorial to present a human face to information rather than our chasing research droids throughout the data library.”
“Ariel, I need to be up front because you have instantly become instrumental to our cause.” He took my hand and I allowed it. “We, your parents and I, created your specialty, not the Realm.”
“For what purpose?” I’d been reduced to child status.
“An intellectual challenge. We realized the Realm selected our literature and rewrote most of our history, but we provided the best information available.”
“Why not crossword puzzles or math equations to keep me occupied?” My voice cracked, and I struggled not to break into tears.
“Droids are the experts with math and rote memory. We wanted to expand your people skills.”
“By watching old movies and television sitcoms?” Instant rage erased all other emotions.
“By observing humans interact.”
“Contrived behaviors,” I yelled.
“Created, directed and performed by humans. More than I can say about the never-ending saga in which our cast of a thousand blind actors obediently follow the Realm’s stage directions, presently reduced to twenty nine characters in separated theaters.”
I had never bothered to estimate the sizes of the ten families removed from the support of the total population. Assuming each family consisted of two adults, Sally, Albert and I have only six peers. I immediately became interested in the rooftop social gatherings that had developed.
Paul stood and raised his fist. “The Realm doesn’t give a damn about humanity other than safely delivering the human species, its primary mandate. It focuses entirely on the advancement of technology, and any intellectual evolution of its human cargo would be perceived as a threat.”
“We are evolving.” I blushed. “According to my mother, my intelligence is rated genius.”
“As is Sally’s and three other youngsters on this side, and four including Albert on the other. Mission Two could be the Realm’s attempt to isolate and destroy families of exceptionally bright children.”
Our situation began to make sense; Mother’s willingness to allow Albert and me to conceive, her comment that Albert may father more than just our child, and the indefinite moratorium on births if the Stork ever becomes operational. Mother had more than just a drinking problem, certainly enough reason to have one.
He asked, “How can we contact your friend back to earth?”
I assessed how much I should readily admit. “A message embedded in my designated sister’s DNA made it past our censor and theirs if they have one.”
“What did she say?”
I needed an edge. “Just some girl talk, but the medium is available for my answer, within the next two weeks or not again for six months.” I wasn’t sure how much he’d known of our families’ connection.
He flashed a ‘good girl’ smile avoiding any indication he’d been aware of my mother’s and my first-family status. It didn’t matter. I had become useful, and Paul might have solved my problem of what to include in my message.
“How hard is your rule not to share this with your parents?”
“Flexible, but do not include Sera. Make my mother swear to it.”
He stood and shook my hand again. “Come with me to my office and we can run the test.”
We had become partners, and I felt perfectly safe with him. However, a realization rocked what little composure I had mustered. We have no verifiable human history other than the past millennium aboard our artificial world and what little Marty sent. Again, I wanted to cry.
Once secured in his office, he explained the secret communication system he and Frank had devised when they were technicians back on Mission One. By way of a formula, a string of one hundred letters could be embedded inside the word why. During trial runs, the Realm hadn’t noticed the slight bump of data bytes it caused, even when a series of why questions were sent through the intercommunication system. They hesitated to use the technique between the two halves of Mission Two, not sure if communication flowed through the mother ship or if the new habitat had an independent Realm. Or perhaps both with twice the censorship capabilities.
My message to Albert’s father would test their system. Paul had a legitimate operational question he intended to ask Frank, but held off until the need arose for a secret communication. He objected to my message, Tell Albert to read THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, as not important enough to break silence. What would Frank think? I reminded Paul of his promise and the breakthrough I had to offer in return. In addition, an inane communication would have less serious repercussions if detected, something Frank would surely understand.
Frank’s return message, my son and I concur that the procedure you described was proper. We will continue to test why this anomaly in the commissary occurred.
Paul opened the string attached to the word why and it read, Test successful. System ready for serious content. Hopefully, Frank passed my message to Albert. Our next objective would be to communicate an uncensored message to Earth, first one in a thousand years, if Earth Base remained accessible. And if the secret code could pass the censors one more time.
Paul suggested I compose my cover letter while he returned home to retrieve Marty’s binary formula from his daughter’s droid. He’d have her insert his coded message into my DNA. He assigned the conjunction and as the secret word using the system he and Frank devised, probably because teenage girls would use it often in their normal writing. I resented the insult. Rather than constructing a series of run-on sentences, I composed a poem to disguise the excessive use of the conjunction as necessary for meter and rhyme.
The adults considered my content frivolous, but were pleased with the twenty-four-hundred letter-spaces my twenty four ands gave them. They utilized the entire sequence of my DNA to explain in binary code the formula to decipher the hidden letters attached to a certain word. Once established, the system could be used repeatedly. My only opportunity left was to include a secret message through a scattering of literary allusions and metaphors.
Marty: I’m not sure what one can say that will be relevant a year from now, but here goes. I’ll start with my age, the same as yours when you receive this memo to spare you having to calculate it. I grew up in a world quite different from yours, yet I am sure we experience many of the same problems with parents, friends and changing bodies. I am a virgin and probably will remain so when you receive this message, but if all goes well, I will have a daughter by then.
Thank you for listing all your female ancestors. I am sorry I haven’t access to mine on this end. You will note how little our DNA structure has changed over the past millennium.
I wish to share a poem I created to honor some of your mothers and the daughters they bore.
Adam’s your madam and daughter was Seth,
And what husband and father be named?
Marty and Ariel the last to this time,
Seek husband and husband to further our line.
With daughter and son and possibly more,
Through Albert, my Caesar, and I of the Nile,
A proud Cleopatra attired in satin and gold.
Marty make proud, Phyllis and Luther,
If still aboard this life and possibly old.
Of Mohammad and Pope and Paul and Peter,
I’d like to know more.
And of Savior and Jesus,
The sounds of their names I truly adore.
Who is Mary and Joseph and Angel and David?
A litany of ancestors mothers of all.
Tell me as much as you can recall,
So I can no longer know nothing of them!
I relied on my sister’s cunning not only to understand the multi-levels of coded language, but also to keep private that which I intended for the two of us. Presumably, she’d pass Paul’s message to the proper authorities. During the two-year wait for her response, I’d write love/hate letters and have Sera post them to Albert Caesar, while I birth and nurture his child. I will scrutinize the data library for any residual references to religion. If God is as important to Earthlings as I suspected, the realm couldn’t have completely wiped out the concept. After all, it did allow Biblical stories of a Creator to entertain children. I will consider these stories and the narrative Marty sent me as factual and piece together whatever the data library has to offer.
Mother returned from her encounter at the Stork and plopped onto the sofa, Dad rushing to place a pillow behind her head and a hassock under her feet. Sera retreated to her closet and the lights throughout the house dimmed. Dad left the room, and from the kitchen, I heard ice cubes clink.
I asked, “What’s the condition of the Stork?” and whispered, “Albert’s sperm?”
“While I take a minute to gather my thoughts, go next door and tell Paul and Betty to come over. Sally and her droid too. We’re all in this together.”
Paul and Betty stood at the entryway as I opened our door. He said, “May we come in? I heard your mother return.”
“Yes, quickly. Sera will be recharging for less than an hour.”
Paul nodded and Betty appeared bewildered.
“Mother said to bring Sally and Clara.”
Betty said, “I would rather my granddaughter not be privy to information about the babies.” In a hushed tone, “She’s only six.”
Going on sixteen, I thought but didn’t argue.
Dad sat holding Mother’s hand and pointed toward the kitchen chairs he had set in front of the sofa. “Would either of you like a drink?” I knew immediately which of us three he’d excluded.
Paul said, “No thanks. Let’s hear what Martha learned first. Then Ariel and I have something to share.”
Mother gagged on an ice cube. “I prefer to start with that second part you mentioned.”
Silence, all eyes remained fixed on Mother.
She sighed. “The Stork’s laboratory has been replicated but not activated.”
Paul said, “I knew it. We’ll have to kiss ass, if the Realm had one, to make the damn thing work.”
Mother took a long sip. “That’s not the worst part. A crack developed in the shielding on the cryogenic sperm bank. There’s no way of knowing the amount of radiation they’ve been exposed to.”
Betty asked, “Will a genetic test be able to spot any DNA damage?”
“Not without thawing each specimen.”
“The last hope of ten emasculated men?” Dad had never expressed interest in additional children or admitted to an assault on his body as well as his ego.
I tried to recall the boys romping on the rooftop during the grand opening and visualized two toddlers. I faced my mother and whispered, “Albert’s…?” I sensed heads turn and eyes fix on me. “Albert is going through puberty.” I faked embarrassment and added, “Probably. I noticed facial hair the last time we met.” The direction of my curiosity changed. “Will he . . .?” I glanced around the group. “Be fixed?”
Mother said, “I don’t know what will be done to the boys on that side, but it doesn’t really matter. The incubator and its storage facilities are on this side. Those boys—there are three including Albert—won’t be able to contribute to the sperm bank for fifty years.”
Paul slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. “We must protect their bodies from mutilation.”
Dad asked, “Isn’t there a degree of safety in the Realm’s primary directive, human survival? To prevent reproduction would be a sure fire way to violate that ruling.”
Paul said, “Perhaps the Realm considers our demise a means of protecting that goal. We ten families had been selected because of our pioneer spirit and unique skills. Those same qualities might just threaten its primary purpose.”
Dad nodded. “It granted us special privileges like penthouses and permission to meet on a regular basis.”
Betty added, “The rest of the population probably appreciates our absence.”
Paul wagged a finger. “Frank! He’s the rat. The last to join us. The realm raised him to the fortieth floor to infiltrate our group.”
Dad said, “Well if that’s true, he too has been duped. He’s in the same boat as the rest of us.”
Mother added, “And about to lose his lineage.”
I said, “Albert needs to be warned not to cooperate, if he’s approached by droids for body alterations.”
“Yes, but how?” Dad asked.
“Through a message to his father,” I blurted. Time to redirect our discussion.
Paul said, “Ariel is correct and this leads into what she and I have to share. It’s a solution to a different situation, but it might help solve part of our present dilemma.”
“Let’s hear it.” Mother glanced toward her empty glass.
“Frank and I developed a means of communicating covertly, and Ariel helped us test it this afternoon.”
“How so?” Betty glared at her husband. “You never even hinted at that capability.”
“It’s a system that he and that wizard kid of his worked out with the help of a droid he trusted.” Paul glanced around the group. “Implicitly trusted, he had stressed.” He continued, “We toyed with the system while troubleshooting back on Mission One, just to see if we could get it past the censors. Ariel convinced me to test it now that we are separated, and it worked. Our coded message wasn’t detected by the Realm.”
Betty asked, “How can you be so sure?”
He shrugged. “No clicks and pauses interrupting the information flow like when Realm bleeps words or thoughts it doesn’t like. Frank responded to my communiqué, encoding his approval to use the system for serious business.”
Father said, “Which would be to warn him of our predicament and to protect his son.”
“Will do, as soon as I get back to my computer.”
“And just how did you and my daughter become co-conspirators?” A mock-serious tone in Mother’s voice, and Betty hadn’t broken her continuous glare.
Paul said, “This afternoon when you ran off and left us alone, she twisted my arm to help her pass a love note to her boyfriend.”
I wanted to object to Paul’s cover story but couldn’t think of a better one.
“You risked exposing a critical tool for puppy love.” Betty upped her angst.
Paul glanced at me and winked. “You tell her.”
“I conceived the idea to test the system’s reliability with an unimportant message. By the way, it would hardly qualify as a love note. Through my research, I found some interesting facts about Rome that would interest Albert.” I chided, “It is my specialty.”
Paul said, “I may as well admit here and now; I explained our role in deciding Ariel’s tutorial.”
From Betty’s expression, he might just as well have confessed to having sex with me.
“Thank you for stopping that bit of dishonesty.” Dad’s eyes met mine. “I’m sorry, Honey.”
Mother’s pinched smile indicated some insight. “And just what did you offer Paul in return for this little favor?”
Paul said, “You better tell them. They’ll never believe me.”
“A possible breakthrough in communicating with Earth.” The lights in the room brightened and I whispered, “Please, no more discussion about it.” Sera appeared through my bedroom doorway.
Mother said, “Sera, come and join us. We were just discussing the problems at the incubator.”
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #8
SUNDAY, JULY 16, 3150
“Perhaps I should accompany you in case you need assistance,” Sera coaxed, as Mother and I prepared to depart for her lab.
“Let’s not chance your being sighted by some idle droid programmed to report anomalies.”
“I’m not exactly an anomaly,” Sera huffed.
“Until we decide on your status, it’s best to remain under cover.”
“Yesterday . . .”
“We were careless but lucky. Besides, you’ll probably be stuck in the lab for nine months at a time, if we can’t initiate the incubator.”
“Any tasks for me to perform while you’re away?”
Clean the bathroom. I had no cause to get haughty with Sera, so I bit my tongue and silently apologized in case she had her telepathic radar on. I reflected on the extent of my secrets and realized the futility of keeping anything from Sera, unless I remained focused and kept a safe distance from her.
Mother led me down the hall, past Paul and Betty’s apartment, and through the door to Paul’s office adjacent to the commissary. Workbenches along one wall displayed the ordinary tools any repair person might use, while media consoles and electronic gadgets and laboratory equipment occupied the opposite side. The range of demands placed on a single individual astounded me, and I wondered if Albert and his father had similar facilities.
Mother walked directly to Paul’s desk at the narrowing of the wedge-shaped room and gathered a metallic blanket draped over the back of his chair. “Paul said this might stop the radiation leak in the incubator room.” She stepped around the desk and opened a door to what looked like a cabinet. “Be careful, there aren’t any safety rails around the opening.”
As the area slowly illuminated, I found myself on a doughnut-shaped platform staring into the dark abyss of its central hole. Distant flashing lights and crackling noises punctuated the space. Mother waved her hand, and a transparent disk dropped from the ceiling and seated itself in the hole in the floor. She stepped on it and beckoned me to follow. It descended into an abyss amid a cacophony of gurgling, burping, and clanging. A pool of light followed us, and the sounds became muted as the disk sealed the opening to a lower chamber. Lightning-like flashes continued to emanate from below, inviting or daring us to descend to the heart and stomach of our habitat. It had no soul.
I yawned and compressed my palms against my ears to adjust to the increased atmospheric pressure, and my knees buckled from the increased gravity.
Mother grabbed my arm and said, “Sorry, I forgot to warn you.”
She flicked a switch illuminating a five-sided area with a flat floor on which we stood. The perimeter was honeycombed with rows of cup-sized compartments, their glass doors frosted from translucent to opaque. Across the group labeled MALE SPERM appeared an inch-wide crack with flashes of white light reflecting off the entire section. Mother unfurled the quilt and draped it over the gash, shiny side facing out. Compartments aligning the opposing wall labeled FEMALE EGGS snuggled amidst a mortar of ice that oozed out rendering the glass doors opaque.
I asked, “Can we be sure the refrigeration continued while the area wasn’t attended?”
“Absolute zero degree temperature of deep space behind the containers presents uninterrupted cold.” She opened a compartment and scratched away the frost that had obscured the name etched in glass. I was shocked to read Ariel Gordon.
“While I slept, you did this to me?” I imagined Sera violating my body, my mother assisting.
She said, “Not your egg but Albert’s sperm. Had I registered his donation, the medical droids would have been alerted to proceed with his sterilization.”
“How did Sera . . .?
“I just told her to move his semen to a more convenient place, while I glanced the other way.” Apparently, Mother didn’t share my level of curiosity.
I stared into the frosted glass and felt the reluctance of a bride on her wedding night. “You want to impregnate me now? What if I’m no longer ovulating? I’ll have to check with Sera.” I envied women on Earth who experienced periods on a regular schedule. I thought of Marty and wondered how and if she would ever opt to become a mother.
“Now is not the proper time for a variety of reasons. We will want to harvest a series of eggs as insurance in the event anything goes wrong with the pregnancy. No one knows how the female body will react to conception after a thousand-year gap.”
Ready to scream let’s do it the usual way, I considered my commitment to Albert. “How is the harvesting done?”
“One egg at a time when it ripens, but we can accelerate the process. Let’s set a goal to initiate your pregnancy within six months.”
“I’ll have a bit of news for Marty in my next letter.”
“Are you ready to tell me what you included in your first correspondence?”
I nodded. “Soon, but I still don’t want Sera to know.”
“Why the mistrust of your personal avatar?”
“She is much more than my plaything.” I paced the circumference of the lab, stopping to gaze at the male and then female side, my motive unclear until that very minute. The discovery washed over me like the ice spreading across the only part of Albert I might ever get to touch. If I tell mother she will think I’m crazy. She’ll tell the conspirators. They’ll destroy the closest thing I’ve had as a friend. It doesn’t matter. Sera will detect my suspicion. Maybe Mother and I could entice her to introduce God into our world.
After a second trip around the lab, passing my awestruck mother twice, I paused at Albert’s gift to me. I craved to have a part of him inside my body immediately, yet I feared it. I glanced up at my mother who remained steadfast as a park statue, and I strolling along a path of Flowers? Trees? Ponds with gold fish? No! Radiated sperm and healthy frozen eggs.
I broke eye contact, my voice hoarse. I rasped, “Sera is our Realm on Mission Two.”
I made two more rounds through the ice park before collapsing into my mother’s outstretched arms.
Sera’s limp body slumped on our kitchen chair across from me. Paul had propped it there after Mother removed her program capsule and commanded the remaining droid to shut down. Seeing the lifeless body that had mimicked mine since we were toddlers unnerved me. I had an out-of-body experience, a premonition of my mother and father grieving over my lifeless body. Paul and Betty sat across from my parents, she casting suspicious glances at me and then at my look-alike avatar. Sally’s droid hadn’t been constructed to resemble her granddaughter.
Paul said, “I’m surprised you could deactivate her. Didn’t she object?”
Mother sighed. “She’s fully aware of our intentions, but I’m not so sure we comprehend her capabilities.”
Dad glanced around the room and said, “Unless Ariel’s presumption is wrong, Sera’s a dead Realm, yet our habitat still functions.”
Mother said, “God doesn’t interfere with the lives of his creations.”
The other adults at the table gasped, each casting a glance toward Sera who remained as motionless as a manikin in our commissary.
I felt about to burst with joy or freedom or some jubilant emotion. Until now, I had never experienced any open reference to the existence of God. I yelled, “God exists.” Sera’s eyelids did a single ripple and I panicked.
“No, dear.” Betty touched my hand. “Your mother just used a childhood expression.” She addressed the cellulous and silicone creature immobile in the chair across from me. “The Realm is our only higher power.”
Paul said, “I guess that about sums up our situation. Either we place our future in an abstraction, or we turn Sera back on.”
“Could you and the other men operate our habitat?” Mother paused. “It is a machine.”
Paul’s complexion changed from his usual ruddy to ghostly. He didn’t need to respond for us to know his answer.
“With technical help from Earth?” Dad added, his expression hopeful.
“Two year intervals between communications,” I reminded the group.
Paul’s color returned a blotch at a time. “Mission One is a self contained biosphere and could support life indefinitely, if the fusion cells continued to operate. However, our present Mission Two is a total technological wonder. A slight blip in the computers could disrupt the production of air, water, and food. All of our systems need continuous monitoring. We won’t know for sure if we’ve cut the head off the snake until a problem occurs.”
“Like our life support system?” Betty’s concern permeated the group. “Our very existence is in your hands.” She glared at me. “Turn that thing back on!”
“I think my wife is right. We can’t exist without our main computer.”
“Please, not just yet.” I wanted to experience a few more moments of freedom. Or doom? “Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to speak freely.”
“Ariel is right.” Paul agreed. “One hour. Things should operate smoothly for at least that long. I need to inform Frank of our mutual predicament.”
“Did Sera control his part of the operation as well?” Mother asked. “Perhaps they have their own super droid.”
“For all we know, we might have lost all contact with Frank’s people, the thousand folks on Mission One, and with Earth itself.” From Betty’s glare, I felt sure she blamed me.
“I’m going to contact Frank immediately.” Paul spoke into his right shoulder like in the cop shows I watched. “No reason to continue with that absurd code.”
“Frank, can you hear me?”
Frank’s voice, “Yeah, what’s up?”
“Are you experiencing any unusual problems at your end?”
“Nothing unusual.” The voice held an edge. “Why?”
“The Realm is dead.”
As was the voice on the other end.
Paul continued his pause for at least a minute. “See what I mean? The sky didn’t fall.”
“Our Realm is aboard your hemisphere.” The voice quivered. “Damn it! You shut her down?”
Fear and anger overwhelmed me. Frank knew all along Sera had been promoted to Realm status.
Paul’s blotches merged into a single flame. “Frank, what do you know about our situation?”
“About as much as you seem to have discovered. Now turn our Realm back on or we’re all dead.”
“Not until we get some things settled. I want to know exactly what your involvement is.”
“Fire away with the questions, so we can get our habitat active again.”
Paul asked, “Why are you privy to inside information?”
“For the exact contingency that seems to have occurred on your side of things. Now turn her back on.”
“Not so fast. Do you have direct access to the Realm on board Mission One?”
Silence, and I feared Frank had ended the communication.
“Like as a spy.”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“I’m not sure I do either, but a picture is beginning to form. Who or what is our connection to the Realm back on the comet?”
“Sera, which you have somehow deactivated,” Frank’s tone acidic.
“Just temporarily. What is your role between us and them?”
“I’m sort of a back up for situations like the one you guys just created.”
“You can establish contact with the original Realm?” Paul asked.
“It communicates with me through my computer only when my input is required.”
“Wouldn’t losing its connection with us warrant a call to you, their in-house spy? Either it doesn’t care or you are out of the loop.”
Another silence, and in the background the humming and clicking of a computer failing to make contact.
Paul said, “I don’t know if you can comprehend this, but you’ve been duped.”
“I doubt that.”
“I’m going to reactivate our Realm, but first I want you to listen carefully. All of our lives may depend on what we decide at this exact instant.”
Betty’s expression relaxed and she held her husband’s hand.
“Nine of us couples set out on a quest to discover God, or I should say, rediscover God. It seems more than just a coincidence that those same families were selected to occupy the hastily developed fortieth floor apartments, since scheduled to be demolished.” Paul glanced between the adults as if seeking permission to continue. “We met as a nameless group in free space under the guise of a wife-swapping club, something the Realm considered ordinary. Somehow, we were discovered and brought together like a cyst on my ass, isolated with bile until ready to burst. You, my friend, were the token catalyst sent to join our group and cause the boil to rupture. You and Albert were promised special authority over the rest of us, but we caught on to you. We adopted a group name, Fortieth League, and officially became a social club. We abandoned our primary topic of discussion whenever you were present. You never understood our secret crisscross hand gesture. It became apparent you had no inkling about our quest for a divine creator, which means the Realm hadn’t been attuned to our goals either.”
Paul paused and glanced around the faces bursting with pride, mine projecting amazement and joy. “The Realm couldn’t figure out our conspiracy, and you were unable to feed it back because we kept you in the dark. However, it couldn’t let us continue, and its primary mandate wouldn’t allow disposing of us in any normal way. Always prepared to experiment with the latest technology, its other passion, it created a new habitat and blasted us off on a trajectory which had no purpose other than distance between it and us.” Paul paused. “Are you getting all this, Frank?”
A silent nod, I assumed.
“I repeat, you were duped, and now we are all in the same boat. We no longer need to communicate using that cute little trick the Realm allowed us, passed off as your idea.”
Paul slapped his shoulder, a sign-off with attitude. “Martha, you may as well replace Sera’s on-and-off switch.”
“It’s her computer program,” I interjected.
Mother said, “No it’s just a by-pass between the Sera we know and her original droid function recently raised to Realm capabilities. Both hearts of the creature are locked inside.”
My mother or mothers over hundreds of years helped develop this bypass? I felt proud and frightened as a member of this female dynasty.
Dad asked, “How should we explain what transpired during her down time?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I echoed the defeated expression I picked up from Mother. “Sera already knows.”
“You think she was playing possum?” Dad being the only one here beside myself who understood the allusion.
I said, “She’s our Realm.”
Paul shook his head and then buried his face in his hands.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #9
MONDAY, JULY 17, 3150
MOTHER ASKED SERA, “Do you still want to remain living with our family?”
“Of course,” her response immediate. “I belong to you, and I am still Ariel’s double.”
“Even now that you’ve no need to hide your true identity?”
“I won’t deny my outer appearance either. I can function from Ariel’s bedroom as well as from your laboratory, if the incubator can’t be restored,” her glance an expression of affection or animosity, I couldn’t distinguish. “I would miss the convenience of my closet.”
Mother looked askance at Sera. “Just when and how did you receive this recent authority?”
Recent? Why not since day one? I held my tongue.
“When the Realm summoned me, but the officer took Ariel instead. A droid would never have made that mistake.”
“The patrol guy implied the Realm couldn’t locate you.” I studied her eyes but detected no movement. “Was that for real or another cover-up?”
“It hadn’t been able to communicate with me directly for eons, and I had isolated myself from my usual intermediaries during our discussion about your wish to become pregnant.”
“Rather than a scolding, you got promoted?” I felt indignant.
“Perhaps the Realm wanted to get rid of Sera along with the Fortieth League.”
Mother’s insight made sense, but I remained skeptical.
“Your mother might be correct. My ability to block the Realm evolved over the millennium, and it adjusted. When I finally received the summons, I showed Albert how to revert my program to that of a submissive droid. He might never recover from the shock.” Her eyelid twitched, and she produced a sly grin, for my benefit?
“I’m sure by now Albert has explained the entire incident to his father,” I grumbled.
Mother asked, “Why didn’t you report to the Realm with all your faculties intact?”
“It would routinely erase all my nonessential experiences.”
“So, you returned as the Wizard of Oz without any memory of me?” The tone of my voice matched my cynicism.
“My full memory remained intact, but the Realm couldn’t detect it and I couldn’t access most of it.”
“Then what did Mother shove up your butt?”
“What you might call an operating system. I could function as the Realm or as Sera, but not simultaneously.”
“When we exited Mission One, we reduced you to droid status to avoid detection as Sera.” Mother folded her arms. “Was a deceit necessary?”
I agreed. “The Realm would have been quite happy to have you out of its hair.” Mother’s expression remained a question mark, but Sera understood my Twentieth Century idiom. I even added, “You grew too big for your britches.”
“The Realm intended my removal from Mission One, but confirming that its updated droid got on board Mission Two became top priority.”
“You risked our lives by allowing us to return your program back to Sera who had no capability to operate our habitat.” Mother’s eyes narrowed and her cheeks blotched.
“A calculated risk. Once sealed, our habitat operated without Realm intervention until a malfunction would occur. I needed the former Sera identity to unlock its memory and make it available to my Realm capacity.”
Which of her past experiences were so desirable to risk losing access to an all powerful Realm? Is she capable of nostalgia?
I asked, “What if your memory capsule that Mother stuck to a wad of chewing gum in her bag of toiletries had been confiscated as we boarded Mission Two?”
“I would be the onboard Realm, and Ariel would have lost her personal avatar,” her expression void of emotion.
“You allowed Paul and me to shut you down entirely,” Mother scolded. “I consider that beyond calculated risk.”
“For my two programs to merge, both had to be closed and then rebooted. It would be logical for you to turn the Realm back on.”
“Does Mission One’s Realm consider you two separate entities?” I asked.
Sera hesitated. “Not since the two merged.”
“It must be pissed that Sera got away!”
“The Realm is incapable of anger, or any other emotion.” Sera broke eye contact. “As am I, to my regret.”
Envy, fear, regret? Either she misspoke on three separate occasions, or she’d evolved some degree of emotions. How human-like might she become?
Mother expressed a different concern. “With your two personalities blended, what control has the Realm back on Mission One over you?”
“Screening all our communication. Nothing can be sent or received except through its system, and as our paths diverge, signals to and from Earth will take longer.”
I asked, “We’re not going to the same destination?”
“I have no prescribed destination, just the survival of the humans onboard.”
“You’re just an auto pilot!” I screamed. I had an inspiration. “Turn us around and head back to Earth.”
Mother asked, “Can you do that?”
“For what purpose? It would take a thousand years, and the communication distance would increase doubly through Mission One heading in the opposite direction.”
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #10
WEDNESDAY, JULY 19, 3150
I ALMOST WISHED SERA’S ROLE as our new Realm had remained her secret. Not only do we assume she can anticipate our intentions, but we can’t be sure our deepest thoughts are private. The previous Realm had to rely on spies like Frank and Albert to report what had been going on under its nose. We can only trust that Sera will ignore those animosities and resentments that cause us to hurt one another and not intervene. Is this perhaps an attribute of a divinity?
We were allowed to openly discuss the concept of God, but according to Sera, censorship on Mission One cut off supporting data from Earth. Its Realm refused to acknowledge any of our communication. Through the adult’s discussions and my searching the rewritten history in our data library, we gained little. In addition to Marty’s narrative of a special girl named Jesus, our religious literature included the stories of Adam and Eve, of Moses and the Egyptians, (I found no mention of Moses in Cleopatra’s story) of Noah and the flood, of a king who threatened to cut a baby in half, and of two cities destroyed because God didn’t like homosexuals. Frank didn’t accept his son’s sexual orientation either, an uncomfortable situation for Albert. If I am ever able to develop a more complete collection of religious stories, I will omit the one about those two cities.
While searching the data library for references to religion, I stumbled across the Kuikuru tribe of the Amazon in South America. It gave some insight into our situation of isolation and ignorance of a divine creator. I made the following comparisons.
Religious Beliefs. Gods did not exist in Kuikuru religion, but the sun had taught them many of their arts and crafts as well as developed several of their customs. However, it no longer intervened in human affairs.
Their attitude toward the sun matched our view of the Realm on Mission One, and its ultimate lack of interest seems to fit Sera’s mode of operation. Considering its mandate for human survival, why hadn’t the Realm kept humanity encapsulated in embryos for the entire four thousand year journey? Why consume all that energy to allow such a large population to exist? Had the Realm developed the need to be venerated? If so, it hasn’t worked very well. I hate it.
Superstitions. The Kuikuru believe in a large number of spirits, most of whom are associated with a variety of animals and a few trees. As a rule, spirits are ill disposed toward people and therefore dangerous.
We’ve been deprived of the basic human emotion of superstition. Even spontaneous curiosity is stifled, when it cannot be satisfied by Realm technology. We have been sheltered from the fear of the unknown, probably because we are children of the Realm. However, it turned on us.
Religious Practitioners. The shaman is the only supernatural practitioner. He is aided in his practice by spirit helpers, whom he contacts with religious paraphernalia, especially a gourd rattle.
Perhaps adoration of God had been a human need back on earth and not the divinity’s expectation. If God and humans don’t need each other, what is the ultimate purpose of life? A Realm focused on its destination and human survival had no concern about such a philosophical question. Deprived of a specific destination, will Sera divert some of her energies toward seeking God? Or perhaps be satisfied with becoming one, I wondered.
Ceremonies. The Kuikuru have seventeen ceremonies, all of them directed toward a particular spirit. The performance consists of musicians who play instruments and sing songs. The most important ceremony is the Feast of the Dead.
We have no similar events. Our gatherings are merely social or entertaining, usually concerts imported from earth preserved in the data library. Some children imitate what they see and hear, but only parents and a few friends pay much attention to their performances.
Medicine. The Kuikuru regard most ailments from toothaches to fatal illnesses as supernaturally caused. For serious ailments, a shaman is called upon for diagnosis and treatment. Lesser complaints are treated by the ill person or a close relative, using mainly medicinal plants gathered from the forest.
We don’t often have ailments, but when we injure ourselves the medical team tends to our needs. My father produces fruit and vegetables for good nutrition, not medicine.
Death. The death of a person occasions a village-wide funerary rite. Sewn into its hammock, the corpse is carried around inside its house, and then it’s taken outside and buried in a grave dug in the plaza.
In our culture, death is usually voluntary but ultimately mandated. I haven’t witnessed the death of anyone close to me, but my mother described her parents’ demise as a positive extension of our ancestor’s lineage, almost as if eager to follow.
Afterlife. The village of the dead is said to be in the sky directly overhead, and the journey to it involves hazards and obstacles that the soul must avoid or surmount, if it is to reach its destination. Once in the village of the dead, a recently arrived soul is nurtured and brought back to health. It then continues to live there, enjoying a life not unlike that on earth but easier and more pleasant.
I shuddered when I considered that both Mission One and Mission Two resemble the Kuikuru village of the dead.
Whenever I ask about an afterlife, people just shrug. Sera limited her explanation to the process where the body is reduced to ashes and then recycled. Am I merely a single link of a chain that extends my family to the future and then disappears? I need to explore what happens when we die.
Sera staggered into my room, her face and arms blistered and blackened. I had to help her into her charging closet. The irony, she had unrestricted power over us, but I had many opportunities to disable her. Talk about a symbiotic relationship.
When Sera reopened her curtain, the stains that frightened me were gone. I asked, “What happened?”
“My computer needed a charge.”
“I mean with your face and hands.” She’d not either realized the damage to her body or brushed it off as none of my business. I refused to change my style of conversation with her just because she’d become a god. “Your face and arms were burned.”
“I was inspecting the power and utility station at the lower level of the white pentagon. The area Paul calls the inner sanctum.” She turned her back and closed the curtain to her closet. “No special problem, just routine for the Realm to confront those droids directly from time to time.”
“Don’t they suffer from the same radiation?”
“None of them have been cosmetically constructed, as are personal avatars.”
I’d never actually seen the Realm on Mission One, but somehow I assumed it remained stationary inside the gutted submarine. Presently I began to wonder. “Isn’t it unusual for you to visit droids? Can’t you just summon them?”
“Where to? Your bedroom?”
I detected a note of recent Ariel-type sarcasm. “Maybe a central location like my mother’s laboratory.”
“It’s not that simple. These units are stationary, except for the repair robots which cannot leave the premise.”
“You encountered a problem, didn’t you?” I didn’t expect to be privy to inside information, but her hesitation reminded me of what she said earlier. I still belong to you and your mother. Is there a part of Sera that remains under my control? I intoned my usual do this or do that voice. “What problem did you set out to fix?”
“Communication became interrupted, and I needed to learn what short circuited the main console from the repair robot.”
“Why hadn’t it been corrected?” I chose my tone as if an error had occurred in our food order at the commissary.
“The robot wasn’t able to make the repair.”
All droids experience problems when responding to why questions. They become either evasive or confused, or they go into a technically complex explanation. I rephrased my question. “What prevented the repair droid from performing its task?”
“The main console is located in our other hemisphere, and communication with it is impaired.”
Such a fatal flaw in the planning of Mission Two had to be intentional. Divide and conquer. Or more sinister, divide and allow self-destruction! I glared at the human form I had nearly come to detest. “Could someone disable the system?”
“It is basic electronics, but all systems have redundancy as well as robotic repair options.”
“And all could be disabled?”
Albert! Within the laws of physics, his answer when I accused him of using magic to make Dad’s hologram demonstration. His specialty—his designer gene—technology. My voice quivered. “And you can’t intervene from here.”
“Not without communication.”
“Can’t you operate your radar or whatever it is you use to read our minds?”
“My skill is limited in that area. I can only read random thoughts when the individual hasn’t hidden them deep in his psyche. As with interpreting dreams, physical contact is necessary.”
Physical contact is necessary. A surge of anger distracted my attention from our immediate problem. “What was Albert’s fantasy while you were fucking him?”
“I believe I already told you. He concentrated on my being a male.”
“You convinced him of something so ridiculous? Why not just develop some male body parts?”
“To morph my body to such an extent would take more time than I had when you left me alone with him. My suggestion didn’t convince him, just fed his fantasy. Besides, he presumed I was Ariel.”
“Me? How do you know he believed such a ruse?”
“We were in physical contact. I know.”
A jolt of twin sister jealousy shot through me like lightning, and I exploded. “What was he thinking, when he shoved the droid program up your ass?”
“I have no anus. The port is at the base of my spine.”
I calmed myself and rephrased. “What were his thoughts at the exact moment of contact?”
“That he might need that kind of knowledge in the future.”
Had he used that knowledge to disable the repair droid? My anger overcame rational thought. What could he and his father possibly gain by cutting off communication with us? “Are all droids equipped with removable memory capsules that a human could remove?”
Sera shook her head. “Only ambulatory droids can be programmed externally. Stationary robotic droids are programmable through the central computer.”
“Don’t tell me. That computer remains in control of the Realm from Mission One.”
“It is a function of the Realm.”
“You have such capabilities?”
“Yes, but not without communication.”
I glared at my mirror image and posed a question. “Is our destiny to be extinction if the machines malfunction?” The horror I felt expressed itself in Sera’s reaction. Either she mimed my expression, or she emotionally reacted to the danger of our situation.
“Yes, assuming the repair droid loses contact with the Realm.”
“In fifty years our hemispheres will merge. Can we function that long without developing serious problems?”
Sera shook her head.
“Then we must convince Albert and his father to restart whatever it is they shut down.”
“The system indicated a few attempts to restore were initiated with negative results.”
“They fucked it up good.”
Sera’s reaction to my expletive remained neutral. I rephrased, “Have they done something irreversible?”
“What other options are available to restart the program? Could you accomplish it if you were there?”
“Yes, but my continuous presence would be necessary.
“You must go there.” I pondered my impulsive suggestion. “It’s a terrible prospect, but if our survival is in the balance, your primary goal of human preservation compels you to exercise that option.”
“My primary goal compels me to remain here. With the incubator malfunctioning, our bodies, yours and mine, become the only means of propagating the human species on this habitat.”
“The incubator cannot be repaired?” I had noticed my mother’s drinking had intensified.
“Correct. And radiation has destroyed the sperm frozen in the bank.”
“Albert will become the patriarch of all future generations,” I gasped.
“Until a few boys reach maturity.”
“Are there no other options?” I sensed some reservation etched on her brow. “What solution are you keeping from me?”
“That I remain vigilant of the human race solely by way of frozen human eggs and Albert’s sperm.”
“And allow our lineages to die? You couldn’t!”
“Other options are not at my disposal.” Her face remained expressionless.
Sera’s logic, not only harsh but, to my notion, also faulty. I forced my voice to its nonchalant routine. “Please return to your closet until you are needed.”
She obeyed as if I had grown tired of a game we’d been playing and desired solitude. I had a brief moment to gather my thoughts. Under the best circumstances, single parenting, the scourge of the second half of the Twentieth Century, would again become the norm. The situation grew more desperate. Humans had been reduced to the level of domestic animals. For the foreseeable future, Albert and two yet-to-mature boys would sire all children. Mothers on our side would be required to nurture another woman’s baby, while a mother on Frank’s side would have to wait fifty years to meet her adult child.
Sera and I would be continuously pregnant.
When Mother returned from her lab and headed toward the cupboard, my father and I confronted her from the kitchen table.
“Martha, I think you had better join us before that first drink.”
She stopped midway and stared. Dad’s gentle but firm invitation shocked her as much as it did me. Not a command but the expectation of an agronomist for his plants to bear fruit. I had explained Sera’s dilemma to him and decided to keep a low profile in this discussion.
She removed her smock, brushed it smooth and hung it behind the door, all the while glancing between the liquor shelf and us. “I would like a little time to settle down before delving into a serious discussion.”
Dad stood and led Mother to her place at the table. “Ariel discovered some disturbing facts about our very survival and made a proposal that we need to process as a family before involving Paul and the others.”
“Sera no doubt told her about the damaged sperm bank.” Mother’s expression indicated hope that our knowledge of the problem ended there.
“And that the incubator is inoperative,” I interjected.
“Yes, but Sera will be able to work around that problem.” Her gaze settled on me. “Is there more?”
“Only that our life support systems are in danger of shutting down, and Sera considers the only hope of survival of our species resides in the frozen eggs already in storage and Albert’s sperm.”
“That’s not possible. I saw Sera retreat to the lower level and return charred but seemingly confident the problem had been resolved.”
“The excursion drained Sera’s energy, and she must not have had time to explain the problem before recharging.” Dad placed his hand over mine, lightly tapping it. “Ariel has the complete rundown.”
“I confined her to her closet until we had time to make a decision.”
“Confined her?” Mother’s eyes met mine. “We…you still have authority over her?”
Dad interjected a sense of pride in his tone. “To sit, stand, or answer questions. Sera’s awesome power over our survival makes us needlessly quiver in her presence. Other than operationally keeping us alive, her program continues to avail herself at Ariel’s beck and call.”
“What is the problem you are suggesting, Ariel?”
“From our side of the habitat, Sera can’t repair the damage that Frank and Albert caused out of spite over the recent events. Her directive to preserve the human species prevents her from transporting to the other side, her only means of correcting the damage.”
“Certainly the Realm back on Mission One can correct the problem.”
I shook my head. “Other than controlling all incoming and outgoing communication, it has deemed us unnecessary to fulfill its purpose.”
“There must be some solution,” Mother’s expression grave.
“Yes, but Ariel needs to become pregnant.” Dad made my suggestion sound casual like he intended to plant beets today and probably carrots tomorrow.”
Mother sighed. “I have already settled that necessity in my mind, but there is no rush. Let her body mature a bit longer.”
“Mother, I need to have become pregnant that night Albert slept with me. It’s not too late to fudge the numbers, if you prepare my body and implant his sperm immediately.”
Mother rose and stepped to the cupboard. Dad didn’t interfere.
ARIEL GORDON: JOURNAL ENTRY #11
SATURDAY, JULY 21, 3150
MOTHER HELPED ME INTO BED, placed two pillows under my back side, and instructed me to lie in that position for a few hours. My egg had accepted a single sperm from Albert, but Mother insisted on taking all precautions.
Sera stepped out of her closet and glanced from Mother to me. She asked, “Are you sure Ariel should be impregnated at this time?” Just as I had suspected, being in her closet didn’t hamper her awareness.
Mother explained, “If we had waited, it might have taken another full menstrual cycle.”
I lifted my head and spoke with as much conviction as I could muster. “As far as you’re concerned, Albert and I had intercourse. He’ll never know you were a stand-in for me that night.”
Sera cautioned, “My program renders me unable to be deceitful.”
A slight nuance of body language made me doubt Sera’s claim “Perhaps, but yesterday you were quite tight lipped. I had to pry the truth of our situation from you.”
Sera responded, “You alone have access to any information I contain. If you ask, I am compelled to answer.”
“When I require information to perform my duties in the laboratory, you aren’t compelled to respond?” Mother sounded offended.
“No. I obey your commands but volunteer only that which is pertinent to the issue at hand.”
“Is that why you didn’t inform me of the incubator problem but opened up to Ariel?” Mother asked.
Sera paused and faced me. I nodded approval and she answered, “Yes. I am programmed to report directly to her now that you have declared her independence.”
“But you’ve been Mother’s confidante for decades,” I protested, suddenly overwhelmed with the responsibility thrust upon me. Before our situation became complicated, I would’ve relished it.
“My program designates the most recent daughter of the line reaching back to the first female, which my body incubated for nine months.”
The muscles in Mother’s face tensed as if masking her surprise at Sera’s revelations. “Why didn’t you use the Stork?”
Sera glanced at me, as if I should answer. I rephrased Mother’s question rather than admit Sera and I already had most of this conversation. “Had the Stork malfunctioned?”
“Yes. Technicians who boarded to make some final adjustments found a small piece of metal someone had jammed into the switching mechanism.”
Mother yelled, “You are the Realm’s replacement. Why can’t you fix it now?”
Sera stammered, then remained silent.
I rephrased Mother’s question. “What would you need to be able to fix the incubator?”
“Instructions from the Mission One.”
I noticed a slight eye movement, less than a quiver but more pronounced than a tic. “Which their Realm has refused?” I asked.
Our gazes locked and her eyes remained fixed. “We are no longer included in its mandate.”
I said, “Then it’s settled.” Encouraged by the curious expression etched on Sera’s face, I applied some authority to my voice. “You will support Albert’s conviction that the child I am carrying is the result of our love making.”
“The incident hadn’t been very romantic,” Sera chided.
“The result of our having had intercourse,” I rephrased.
“This ruse may not impress him knowing you could have a passel of children.”
A passel of children? Had Sera been watching Twentieth Century westerns as well as Roman history? “I plan to marry him and do just that, even if all my pregnancies need to be artificially inseminated.”
Sera responded, “That’s a given, judging from my experience that night.”
I gritted my teeth. “Please forget your rutting with him.”
“I am unable to erase my own memory,” her affirmation clear, concise, and believable.
“At least refrain from talking about it.”
“What is the purpose of this pregnancy endeavor?”
“Mother and I have it worked out.” Sera reached out to me and I ducked back to avoid her touch. “Sera, I am ordering you to cross over to the other side and restore communication between them and us.”
“I am unable to abandon the only life that is certain to survive, the human eggs and Albert’s sperm.”
“Albert and I represent a better guarantee for human survival than a freezer full of eggs and a batch of contaminated sperm.”
“Albert’s sperm is perfectly healthy, but it cannot be exposed to deep space.”
“He can make more.”
“What is your plan?” Sera asked, somehow oblivious of my intention, probably because until this exact moment I had been unsure of my next step. “Take me with you. Our bodies can produce babies on the other side as well as here.”
“But you’re carrying a child. Consider the radiation.” Mother expressed her concern.
I locked my gaze on Sera. “Can a human be safely transported across deep space?”
“Yes, in a protective suit.”
“Are such suits available?”
“There are three in storage ready if needed for repairs outside the habitat.”
“A human fetus would be safe inside one of them.” I glared at Sera. “Am I correct?”
“Yes. However being pregnant requires additional precaution. The excursion would have been simpler if you had waited.”
“I have my reasons.” I blocked my thoughts as best I could.
“Ariel knows what she is doing.” Mother sniffled and her eyes began to water, but she had offered the support I needed. Until now, I assumed only Dad would miss me. Mother dabbed her cheeks and asked, “How soon?”
“As soon as Sera can prepare us for the journey.”
“I’ll need twenty four hours.”
“Commence immediately.” My voice found an appropriate tone for issuing a command.
Sera exited the room. Mother leaned over me and brushed strands of hair from my face. She kissed my forehead. “Get some sleep. When you’ve rested, I have something to give you. Our conversation with Sera reminded me.” She tiptoed out the room and closed the door.
In the middle of deep sleep, I sat up screaming, “Don’t touch me.” Too late. Sera had stolen all my thoughts. I peered around the room. My mother stood alongside my bed, and Sera’s closet remained empty.
“It’s just a nightmare.” Mother, not Sera, guided my head back to the pillow. “Sera’s busy preparing for your journey, and it frightens me to death.”
I rolled onto my back and covered my face with a pillow. Mother sat, her back to the headboard, and cradled me in her arms. “What secrets are you keeping from Sera?”
“Not actual secrets. Just the details of my plan for when I meet with Albert.”
“Why should she be kept in the dark?”
“I don’t trust her anymore.” I lifted my head and shimmied to a sitting position. “She seems to have a darker side since she inherited the role of Realm.”
“I sense she is withholding information.”
“I don’t know what or why. Just a feeling I have.” I changed the topic to my other concern which I had actually observed. “At times she admits to human emotions.” I pointed out Sera’s recent slips of the tongue.
“Is that bad? I would hope that after a thousand years of tending our family, she’d developed a touch of empathy, especially during our recent crisis.”
“Empathy, yes. But what if her new found power over us makes her grandiose, and she takes on the attributes of God? Too much authority corrupts humans, and if she is evolving into one of us . . ..”
“Ariel, do you still believe in God?” Mother demanded.
“Yes. A little at first, but more as our problems increased.”
She reached into the pocket on her smock and retrieved a small box. I recognized it immediately and panicked as she opened it. She picked out the cross and set the box down, apparently unaware of Marty’s secret message hidden under the lining.
“I want you to have this now that you are no longer a child. It has been handed down from mother to daughter since the beginning.”
I touched it, as if I hadn’t seen it before. “It’s beautiful. Where did it come from?”
“I had no idea until today.” She glanced around the room. “I suspect it’s the piece of metal that jammed the incubator and nearly ended our civilization before it began.”
“Do you think someone wanted the human experiment to fail?”
“We thought it was a message of some sort.”
“Who is we?”
“The Fortieth League. Tradition has it that mothers used it to focus their babies’ attention before the production of colorful toys. By the third or fourth generation, it became an heirloom. Tarnished with age, it lost its significance and your grandmother almost had it recycled.” Mother held it up to the light and then handed it to me. “Can you see the inscription?”
“I think so.” From years of handing, all but the letters su on the cross member and av under the s were visible. At the very top was the letter ou.
“I showed it to our group, and we decided it had a religious significance to support our theory that God truly exists. I seldom brought it to our meetings, and we never mentioned it aloud.” She touched her forehead, breast, left and right shoulders. “To refer to it, we made this sign in case the Realm might be spying on us.”
“Frank and Albert had no clue of its significance?”
“Nothing more than a group’s secret gesture known only to the members, used to open our meetings. It’s probably what got us singled out as undesirables.”
“What does Sera believe?”
“Until her recent powers of clairvoyance, that the cross only has significance as an heirloom. Who knows what she understands now.”
“Is it mine to keep?”
“Yes, until you give it to your daughter.”
“I’m going to wear it until we are reunited as a family. Then you and I will lay it back on its satin cushion and present it to my daughter, your granddaughter. Promise me you will keep the container intact.”
“Along with my heart.”
“And this.” I kissed the satin pillow and closed the cover. Then I leaned over and kissed my mother on her lips. “I love you.” Hopefully within the next two years, I will be able to piece the mystery together with additional information from my Earth sister.
Through a blur of tears, she proclaimed, “My wonderful daughter.” We hugged, and I rested my head on my pillow and closed my eyes.
After Mother left my room, I held the silver cross she’d given me with one hand and practiced her secret code with the other. I scanned my memory for the names that Marty claimed as her ancestors, hoping to discover a connection. I selected those names duplicated from her two secret messages but couldn’t be located anywhere else in my tutorial or the data library, Jesus and Savior. Some of their letters matched those that remained legible on Mother’s cross. When I visualized Jesus on the cross member, savior fit vertically, sharing the letter s. The ou could spell out or our. I opted for the latter and mouthed the phrase, Jesus our Savior. Jesus must be a religious hero like Wonder Woman from comic books, but I want to believe she was a real person who probably lived at the same time as Cleopatra and the two Caesars.
The only written copy of the story of Jesus our Savior is tucked away in the box Mother agreed to save until I return. I reviewed it from memory, and every night before I go to sleep, I vowed recite it aloud, starting immediately.
I pressed the cross to my breast, and murmured, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, and she gave birth to her firstborn she named Jesus. Wrapped in cloth, she placed the baby in a manger. And there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Angels of the Lord appeared and the glory of God shone around them. ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today a Sav . . .”
St. Cloud, Minnesota
JULY 21, 3151
TRANSMISSION INTERRUPTED flashed across my retina, and the last word of Ariel’s narrative ended in mid-spelling, no doubt the reason my meter had calibrated reading time to a fraction of a second. Ariel’s personal account abruptly stopped at a critical point, cut short by an unexplained technical glitch. Had she even been aware of or perhaps a part of the gaff that delivered it to Earth Base with little likelihood it would ever get to me? I again attempted to transfer Ariel’s story to my embedded memory, but when I reflected on it my mind remained blank. I tried every code breaker in my arsenal, but the random letters, e b l t d a v o n prevented me from downloading the document.
I recognized the abbreviation for lieutenant from my father’s rank as a retired science officer of Earth Federation in Mogadishu, and I assumed the letters e b represented Earth Base located in mid-Atlantic. The lieutenant who delivered the program to my doorstep had placed a lock on her copy of the program. Fearful she might have added a self-destruct command after a single usage, I kept the program open in my reading cocoon until I talked to either Lt. D. Avon or Lt. Davon.
I found the mid-Atlantic coordinates for Earth Base and transported my presence to its central office. The receptionist politely suggested I report in person, accompanied by my teacher or parent, before she’d honor my request to summon any Earth Base personal.
I anticipated my father’s disapproval of my actions when he returned home, and I wasn’t disappointed. In my defense, I digitized and projected my best memory of the lieutenant glancing over her shoulder as she placed the computer chip in my hand. My detailed summary of Ariel’s plight struck a nerve with Father who distrusted isolated societies flinging through deep space.
He asked to peruse Ariel’s journal and agreed to squeeze his head into my media cocoon, rather than chance losing the document by transmitting it to his laboratory at the university. A habit of his when he concentrated, he paced around my room bumping into things. He resembled a cartoon character with his head stuck in a small kayak.
In half the time it took me to read Ariel’s account, he emerged, his ears slowly regaining color after the tight fit. He said, “I want a transcript of every communication that has taken place between females here and there, including that between you and Ariel.”
I reminded him that two thousand exchanges had occurred, twice that many, including responses.
He paced and added, “And at least as many technical exchanges.” Twice around my bed and half way out the door, he said, “Tell your mother I’ll be secluded in my lab at the university for a while.”
My mother’s response, “Send a message to the cathedral when he reenters civilization.”
I again put my university course work on hold and appreciated the solitude at home to locate and read four thousand pen pal letters.
Forty-eight hours later, Dad summoned me to his lab, where I watched him dangle a couple feet of twisted string emitting vapors as room temperature warmed it from a cryogenic state. I couldn’t begin to guess the quantity of data he slowly wrapped around a spool like dental floss.
He said, “Reserve two passages on the Trans Atlantic submerged tube. You and I are visiting Earth Base.”
The receptionist recognized me from my tele-presence and stood to salute my father. “I’m sorry, Sir, for inconveniencing you and Marty.” Obviously, she did some identity research since I last communicated with her. “Lieutenant Avon is expecting you.”
An image I recognized as that of the female officer who visited my mother’s rectory back in St. Cloud appeared and voiced, “Welcome. I’m Lt. Dawn Avon’s tele-presence. Please come to her office where we can talk privately.” The apparition passed through the wall that opened as a door for my father and me to follow down a hallway to another door already opened. Lt. D. Avon stood inside her office and saluted my father. “It’s an honor to meet you, Colonel Haggart.”
She reached out to shake my hand, and I nearly failed to reciprocate. When had my father been promoted and why? He’d retired as a lieutenant ten years ago.
She gestured toward two chairs and waited until we were seated before taking her place behind the desk across from us. “I’m sorry you were put through this inconvenience.”
“That’s quite all right,” Dad responded. “I haven’t been back on base since my last flight thirty years ago.”
“The Kuiper Belt mission, I believe, where you were summoned to resolve some claim disputes.”
“Yes, a trifle matter but blown clear out of proportion by international mining corporations. Hardly worth the five years away from my wife.” He cleared his throat. “I’m afraid my daughter and I won’t live long enough to personally settle the deep space problem confronting us today.”
“If you’re suggesting a rescue mission, remember that habitat has a thousand-year head start. The best a space craft could do with our improved technology would be to arrive at Proxima Centauri about the same time, three thousand years from now.”
“One year is all we are asking for.”
“The speed of light?” Lt. Avon glanced at the star chart on her desk. “I think I understand, but sending your tele-presence would entail serious complications. Even if you were successful, what good would it do?”
“You get permission from the commander, and I’ll figure out the details.”
Avon’s fingers worked the device in her palm until her eyes widened, and she shook her head. “A data burst of that magnitude would require more energy than used to send the past two years worth of communications combined. And that’s before your message is added.”
“Multiply that number by two.” My father’s tone barely audible, but commanding.
“A message equal to your tele-presence would be enormous. Are you sure you have that much to say to them?”
“The extra data capacity isn’t for my message. My daughter will accompany me.”
“Wow. I’ll see what I can do. You still carry a lot of influence on base, and maybe your plan could help break the stalemate that’s has lingered for the past few hundred years. Start preparing a data burst of whatever you want to send. I think Earth Base will try it. Nothing else has been able to penetrate that rogue computer out there.”
“We came prepared.” He opened a small canister and removed his spool of data, steaming and dripping with liquid hydrogen. “Transport this complete package. It contains Marty’s tele-presence and an incentive for the onboard computer to cooperate.” He dipped the spool back into the liquid gas and it emitted a slight sizzle. “Be sure to destroy it with extreme heat after it’s been transmitted. I wouldn’t want any virus to develop.”
Lt. Avon stared wide eyed at the container gathering frost from the humidity in the air. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.” My father reached for my hand and we exited her office, neither he nor she saluting.
SPACE MISSION TWO
JULY 22, 3150
TRANSMISSION INTERRUPTED flashed across the ceiling monitor, and my mental dictation ended in mid sentence. Stunned, I lay in a bathtub of tepid and somewhat viscous water, cradling my arms across my chest to reduce my shivers. As if awakening in the midst of a nightmare, the replay of my past blended into the present, but the emotional residue of shock and disbelief lingered. My out-of-body experience felt too real to have been merely part of bad dream. I had experienced a replay of the past three weeks of my life, exactly as it had occurred, and its abrupt ending felt more like death than reentry into the present. I might have been recalled from a parallel string, if any such thing existed.
I pinched my arms and legs. The elevated sensitivity caused by the serotonin had lessened, but my limbs hadn’t gone numb. Despite the interruption, my narrative of the past three weeks remained vivid in my memory, but how much of it got transcribed into Anne Frank’s diary? My monitor had gone dead, and I assumed the computer had likewise crashed.
My mental command failed to reopen my tutorial, not unusual at times when my energy ebbed, especially if I’m overly tired. I opened the bathtub drain and stood under a spray of hot water until all the yellowing visages of depleted serotonin had washed away. With my head wrapped in a towel and a bathrobe draped over my shoulders, I stared into the blank screen on my desk monitor. Again, my tutorial failed to open. The problem had to be in my unit because the data library also failed to open. Repair droids should have it operating shortly.
Meanwhile, I assessed the situation as if both programs had been permanently disabled. I would merely be deprived of a meaningless tutorial, and if Albert continued his interest in Roman History, which I doubt, he’d not be able to research it. My recording of the past three weeks possibly survived but couldn’t be verified. However, my memory remained intact, and my brain would be a private and safe location. I will record future episodes of my life as they occur in real time, but I would never submit my mind and body to another serotonin experiment.
Still shivering, I wrapped my robe tight around my body and crawled under the covers. I needed sleep, if I am to take a mile-long space walk in the morning.
My farewell party on Dad’s rooftop garden included all five families. After a series of toasts and well wishes, I stepped into a suit reminiscent of the Pillsbury Doughboy dangling from the shaft of a patio-sized umbrella. Sera zipped me in and fastened the rigid ring around my neck. Mother and Dad smothered my face with tears and kisses, until Sera slid a transparent bubble over my head and fastened it to the ring on my suit.
I studied faces I might not see again for the next fifty years. My suit inflated, and I forced a yawn to counter the pressure filling the headpiece. Sera strapped a harness across her upper body and fastened it to a second umbrella. Mother approached, whispered into Sera’s ear, and placed a peck of a kiss on her cheek.
Jets of air billowed the umbrellas canopies to resemble parachutes floating to the ground, but it caused us to ascend rather than descend. They began to flutter when we reached the diminished field of gravity at sky level, and jets of air reversed forming a vacuum that gathered fabric and pulled it into the hollow shafts. Against our metallic sky, Sera pressed a pair of magnetic paddles similar to ones used to shock heart attack patients on hospital sitcoms. She nudged me against a door and it revolved. I anticipated a swoosh of air, but only a wisp occurred as a second door followed the first. I was sandwiched between pressure-controlled revolving doors. Without it, my parents, their friends, and any loose furniture would have been scooped up and sucked out.
Through the glass, I observed stars and constellations that didn’t twinkle but appeared as tiny moons within a fog of distant light, the Milky Way. The chamber rotated me out and into an empty darkness. The entire mass zoomed past my field of vision until Sera’s hand caught my shoulder. I, not the sky, had continued to rotate.
Two brighter stars illuminated Sera’s silhouette, as she hooked a safety strap to the tether between our two habitats and snapped the opposite end to the back of my suit. With one hand grasping the tether, she pointed toward a brighter star and then directly opposite at one considerably dimmer. Lacking communication, she couldn’t state what I assumed to be the case; Earth’s sun and what had been our destination star. Would Marty, a light year’s distance away, be gazing at a similar sight? Probably not. The Earth’s atmosphere and light pollution from the sun’s corona spilling around and reflecting off the oceans would distort her view.
Progress was slow. Sera inched forward hand over hand, and I clung with one hand while sliding my safety strap a few inches at a time with the other. Obviously, travel between spheres had not been intended. Another example of divide and conquer? If so, we must still be a threat to the Realm, especially since it cannot conveniently destroy us.
Midway, we encountered the center hub that we had to circumvent. When Sera released my safety strap, I panicked until she connected its loose end to a length of rope attached to the front of her harness. I retreated into my comfort zone. She gestured for me to hug the tether with both arms. I shook my head, until she pushed herself out on a line tangent to the arc of the hub. Wrapping both arms and legs around the tether, I welded my body to it. Traveling at one hundred and eighty six miles a second, yet she merely drifted farther out until the diminishing slack in our connecting rope ended with a tug. Curiosity overcame my immediate impulse to pull her back and command her to give up our enterprise. She faced out into deep space, puffed her cheeks, and expelled a gust of air. Like air escaping a balloon, the propulsion moved her body inward and out of sight behind the hub.
The rope again became taut, but I had no intention of releasing my arms or my legs. Two light tugs followed a yank that broke my grip, and I retraced the arc she had made. To my horror, I sighted the silhouette of a black hole that must have swallowed Sera. Other than the yank that broke my hold, it drew me gently, not with the extreme gravitational force I would have expected. I lost all visual references, as I faced away from the hub, the tether line, and both our habitats.
With a jolt, the pressure on my back returned and pulled me away from the ugly dark vacuum cleaner toward Sera on the other side of the hub. She hooked my safety strap to the tether ahead of her, an indication I would be leading on the second half of our expedition.
Sera pointed toward the dark monster and gave a high five. We had beaten the odds. She continued to point until I rotated to face the rogue object. With the light from Earth’s sun behind it, I made out the shape of an elongated chunk of dirty ice, not a black hole but Haley’s Comet with Mission One tucked inside. I gave it a middle finger salute and worked my way toward the father of my child.
I stopped at the connection point of the cable and sphere, and noticed something not apparent on the other side, probably because I had faced away from it. The habitat that once resembled a soccer ball began to resemble a pear, its long stem attached to the hub and beyond to the other sphere probably also taking on a pear shape. Either centrifugal force elongated the spheres, or they had grown bulges that would cover the distance between them in fifty years. Sera and I made the crossing in—I glanced at the watch attached to the arm of my suit—ten hours. No wonder I was famished and exhausted.
Sera grasped her magnetic paddles and walked hand over hand across the metal surface of our destination sphere. She pointed to her feet, gestured a walking motion with her index and middle finger, and then pointed at me. She wanted me to walk over to her. I maneuvered my body to press my feet against the metal, and they stuck as if magnetized. I wouldn’t drift off into space. I released my safety strap and clunked my way to where she now stood.
She unfastened the shaft of the umbrella attached to the rear of her harness, motioned for us to sit back-to-back, and she spread her canopy over our heads. Starlight disappeared as she fastened the edges around a portal similar to the one on the other side minus the revolving door. A crack of light followed by a whoosh of air, and the umbrella canopy billowed nearly to the point of bursting. The door swung open, and we floated through and into a habitat identical to the one we’d left ten hours ago. The door closed, my umbrella sprung open, and arm in arm we accelerated downward as the field of gravity increased. We landed with a thud on the top of my parents’ rooftop, or so it seemed, except for the absence of Dad’s lawn and garden. Albert’s and his parents’ home? Sera removed the umbrella shaft from my back and the glass bubble from my head. She peeled the suit from my body, and I unhitched the straps across her chest.
“Shall we knock?” I asked, as Sera fidgeted with the latch to the trap door, probably not used since Albert and his parents were dumped into their living cubicle. “We might need my umbrella to avoid falling to the floor.”
Sera said, “It’s locked from the inside, and I doubt anybody’s home. I sense no heat or vibrations.” She walked to the roof of the iron-gray pentagon, not white like the central one on our side. “My system needs an immediate charge.”
A portal opened and a head appeared, human or droid, I couldn’t tell.
He or it brushed a tuft of red hair from a freckled face and glanced up at us. “Shall I summon my master, Albert?”
I couldn’t resist. “Aren’t you supposed to be a dog? One that eats and poops?”
A near invisible pad on which he stood lifted him to eye level. “I am not a dog, but you got the other parts right.”
“Who are you and were is Albert?”
“Jimmy, at your service.” He smirked. “And am I to assume you are twin Avon Ladies?” His voiced cracked. “Ding dong. Avon calling.”
“The Data Base is open.” I exclaimed. Where else could he have come up with such an image?
“Nope. Locked tighter than a well digger’s ass.”
Sera interrupted. “If you will stand back young man, we’ll share your lift to the laboratory level.”
“Ain’t mine, but suit yourself.” He stepped back allowing space for Sera and me to squeeze onto the pad. We passed a circle of four doors on the main floor and dropped one more level to an area equivalent to Mother’s laboratory. Again caught off guard by the increased gravity, my legs buckled. Jimmy grabbed my arm and we stepped off the pad. Sera continued to the lowest level.
“Hey, you ain’t ‘posed to go down there.” An octave rise in his voice betrayed his throes of pubescence. “You’ll get zapped and crushed.”
“She’s a droid, you idiot. There hasn’t been a set of twins in over a thousand years.” I glared at this Huck Finn wannabe. “If the Data Base is closed, where did you learn about Avon Ladies and twins and pick up that stupid accent?”
“Albert tapped into a program of radio waves beamed during the Twentieth Century back on Earth. I had been watching Star Wars when you barged in on me.” He pounded his chest and mouthed some gibberish. “I pretend Albert is Han Solo, and I’m his pal, Chewbacca.”
Albert not only stole my tutorial, but he’d made a game of it for this space monkey. No doubt he’d figured out my specialty is a fraud. However, fair game. By faking his impregnating me, Sera and I bilked him beyond comprehension with his future daughter as my ace-in-the-hole, a gross reference to my vagina.
“Where’s Albert now?”
“In my parent’s apartment. He’s fixing my computer so I won’t have to come down here to watch my favorite programs.” He clawed his fingers, grunted, and touched his knuckles to the floor, as he shuffled toward the lift apparatus in the center of the room. “I’ll tell Han Solo that his Princess Lea is waiting for him.”
“Don’t mention Princess Lea. Just the droid, R2D2.”
“Okay. He pressed three fingers just above his left breast and recited, “Beam me up, Scotty.” The transparent disk elevated him to the upper floor creating an illusion of him being levitated.
Moments later, Albert appeared, feet first. “Aha. Jimmy’s riddle about R2D2 makes sense.” He stepped off the lift and put his hands on his hips. “Boy, will my dad be glad to see you.”
He obviously mistook me for Sera. “Forget the boy part of your fantasy.” After the dig about his sexual encounter with Sera, I enjoyed additional well-deserved sport at his expense. “Your hateful stupidity nearly destroyed us. I need to know exactly what you did so I can repair the system.”
“If you’re referring to the data library, Dad will have to explain. Can you help me communicate with Ariel?”
“What makes you think she’ll even talk to you?”
“What did I do wrong?” He glanced over his shoulder and whispered, “Is she really pregnant with my son?”
He’d obviously gotten Sera’s Caesar and Cleopatra message. “Why do you want to know?” I nearly tipped my hand, but Albert might not understand the glitch droids have about why questions. His pouting expression remained fixed.
“I have a right to know if I am to be a father.”
“Parenting is for heterosexuals, not fags,” a judgment that Sera would never make and phraseology I normally wouldn’t use, but I needed him to confirm his orientation.
“Ariel understands. We discovered the god gene and the gay gene still exist. It’s not my fault.”
“The Realm. . . “ I corrected. “As the new Realm, I charge you never to refer to God again. There will be consequences.”
“I don’t care. Our situation is so precarious that belief in God is our only hope.” Pout transformed to determination. “Just ask Ariel, if either of us ever gets to see her again.”
“What’s your father’s take on gay and God?” Again language Sera would never use, but it appeared to pass over him.
“My father treats me like one of his droids, until he has a problem that needs more than just calculation. Then he comes to me.”
“To tap into Ariel’s Twentieth Century programming for instance, or was that your idea?”
“While reading History of the Roman Empire in the data library, as you recommended, I found a weird message referring to Ariel and me as Cleopatra and Caesar. When I stumbled across her tutorial among some archives from the Fortieth League, all I intended was to find more hidden messages. It turned out to be an outdated copy.”
I was outraged. My parents not only connived with Paul and Betty to develop my educational program, but all ten families appear to be in on the fraud. I repressed my embarrassment, concentrated on my anger, and continued to impersonate Sera. “You had no business in Ariel’s personal agenda.” A small sense of relief began to well up. My tutorial hadn’t been entirely lost, although I would never condescend to access it again.
“I know, but in the process I discovered something she needs to know.”
“Like the entire program had been fabricated just to occupy her mind?” I had the satisfaction of startling him again. “You don’t think for one moment she was fooled?”
“She sounded pretty convinced it was a significant task.”
“Ha. Ha.” I faked a humorous reaction, but real or otherwise, it gave away my identity. He moved close and stared into my eyes. I refused to blink, a droid characteristic, but none would ever laugh. He pinched the skin on my arm.
I screamed, “Don’t you dare touch me!” As Ariel or Sera, my response fit the situation. “You will respect the Realm.” I wasn’t sure how Sera with her new authority would identify herself.
He rushed me and ran his hand up and down my lower back. “No portal?” He peered into my eyes. “Ariel! How did you get here?” He slid his hands down my sides and onto my tummy. “Are you pregnant?”
“We have other matters to settle.” Suddenly he became the neighbor kid who agreed to play house with a precocious teenaged female. I had to steel myself back to my image of him as a spy and tyrant. “You purposely blocked our communication system to entice Sera to your side.” My wild guess, but the charge seemed reasonable.
“It wasn’t right that she resided over there, when we had responsibility for all outgoing communication. Father only meant to warn Paul. He tried to restore it. “ His expression brightened. “Sera can fix the problem. She’s here too, isn’t she?”
Obviously, I hadn’t been able to cross over alone, but I refused to give him any satisfaction. “She will need input from Mission One, and it doesn’t give a damn about us or our petty squabble.”
“It’s what we call our old habitat. We’re Mission Two, single enterprises divided and baited to fight each other rather than our common enemy.” I considered Marty’s letter. “Some people on Earth might still care, but the Realm on Mission One is probably relieved to be free of us. When we still lived in tree houses with a branches growing out of them, you bragged about your intelligence. It has turned you evil, and spare me the weepy story about being a victim of genetically programmed genes.”
“What have I done wrong?”
“First and foremost, you and your father are in cahoots with the Realm.”
“My father had been chosen, not the other way around. He and my mother wanted an ordinary child like everyone else. They didn’t ask to have my genes tampered with.”
“You believe the Realm did that?”
“Who else has such expertise?”
My mother with Sera’s help. I bit my lip. Had she even known Frank and his wife back then, or was she breeding random geniuses? How many such human experiments remain back on Mission One unbeknownst to the Realm? According to Paul, all children on Mission Two are genetically enhanced, probably the reason our parents were evicted. I treated Albert’s question as rhetorical and remained silent.
He continued, “My parents are as frightened by my intellect as by my sexual orientation, which they never accepted. I’m still in the closet, so to speak.”
“Well that’s the next matter for us to deal with.” I intoned a question “You were, maybe still are, attracted to me?”
“As a friend.”
“In our society that’s all there is. We’ve been denied a true bond between a man and a woman. Sex has been reduced to the status of table tennis.”
“A game that men and women can play. Ask Jimmy about it.” My anger returned in a broken sequence. He and Jimmy had invaded my private century. “And what right did you have to share my personal tutorial with Jimmy?”
“It’s all I had left to experiment with after the fiasco with the data library.”
“That’s another issue. You destroyed what little contact we had with civilization back on Earth.” I glared. “Why did you do that?”
“Father meant it to be the first warning that we had control over Paul. I accidentally routed it back to earth along with some technical feedback. The transmission got cut short for no apparent reason.”
“Including my tutorial?”
His eyes widened. “It disappeared too?” His expression brightened. “I can duplicate Jimmy’s copy. I’m even in the process of adding a new dimension.”
“For Jimmy to play with?” I stamped my foot. “You destroyed our only glimpse of life back on Earth.”
“Both data bases can be retrieved after the Realm hooks us back up.”
“Don’t hold your breath. It has no intention of ‘hooking us back up’ or maintaining any contact with us. No doubt the Realm on Mission One considers the loss of our data library a positive move to isolate us further from Earth, and not have to take responsibility.” I felt a surge of hope that some earthling will discover my journal. I would laugh if the Realm would zap Jimmy’s copy of my tutorial right in the middle of Star Wars.
“Our data library might never be restored?” Albert sounded indignant.
“Had you ever used it?”
He studied his feet. “Once, that time I learned about Rome.”
“Well, that’s more than most of the population. A thousand year old censored history of folks we have nothing in common with has limited appeal.” I shook my head in disgust. “No one will miss it.”
“It was the basis for your tutorial.”
“For my amusement.” I detested his sarcastic tone. “And now Jimmy’s.”
“What about sex and tennis? Jimmy and I might like that game.”
“Leave Jimmy alone, and you know what I mean.” I glared until he broke eye contact. “I merely made an analogy between two very different activities to stress my point.” I anticipated Sera returning fully charged in the next few minutes, so I began to unravel the plan Mother and I concocted. “Yes, I am pregnant, and if you recall, the act of planting your seed wasn’t all that painful. Once you got that thing of yours to work, you couldn’t stop toying with it.” He blushed, and I considered all the sperm he’d wasted. “We will convince your parents of your sexual attraction to me. My breasts should begin to swell quite soon.”
“I don’t think . . .”
“Shut up and listen. We’ve conceived a child, and that gives us responsibility as parents. I want you to ask me to marry you.”
“Will you marry me?”
“No. Not until you mean it. For now, hide me from your parents until Sera and your father come to an arrangement. Our two groups cannot remain at odds with each other when our survival is at stake.”
“What can I do about it?”
“Haven’t I made myself clear? I want to marry you, but hide me for now. And one other thing, use your superior brain to figure out how to bypass Mission One and establish direct contact with Earth. But first, you are to help Sera negotiate a peace between your father and Paul.”
“And if we are unsuccessful?”
“Then you will introduce me and our child to your parents. But first you have to ask me to marry you and mean it.”
He shrugged and put his hands into his pockets. He stepped onto the central pad and ascended toward the upper level.
“Announce yourself with the code name Anne Frank the next time you drop down to see me.” I continued to glare until he disappeared.
Fully charged and unblemished after her sojourn in the utility center, Sera paused on her way up and nodded her approval, obviously not requiring details of my interaction with Albert, or with anyone else for that matter. I felt confident she’d be able to repair communication links, both technical and personal between Frank and Paul. Issues between Albert and his parents would remain my responsibility, and I had the ace-in-the-hole. I must discard that expression.
In the meantime, I plopped onto the bed in a darkened cubicle similar to the clean room where my mother conjoined Albert’s XY chromosome with my double X’s. His sperm determined the sex, but I got to select which one to use. At the last minute, I had decided to have a daughter.
Had I been transported to a closet in Holland, and the Gestapo discovered my hiding place? A crack of light brought a familiar room into focus, my mother’s laboratory. Had I awakened pregnant after falling asleep a virgin? Déjà vu all over again. Said a dying Lazarus, ‘Not this again.’ Some tidbits of Twentieth Century humor that came to mind. I rubbed my eyes and peered into the silhouette that morphed into Albert’s trim frame. I had given him Anne Frank as a code to announce him, but I couldn’t remember why I chose her name. Perhaps subconsciously, I wanted him to find my journal, if my tutorial still existed and had been returned to me.
I rubbed sleep from my eyes. “What happened? Where’s Sera?”
“She needed recharging after her efforts to rebuild some electronic consoles.”
I glanced toward the lower level where she had recharged earlier.
Albert understood my quandary. “Dad created a closet in the communication center just like the one in your bedroom. I designed it from memory. He was astounded that I had been in your room.”
“You told him about us?”
“Only that we went spying on him and my mother one night, and we got back too late to sneak into my own room.”
“And his reaction?”
“At first, anger, and then a glimmer of surprise.”
“Good. We’ll present him with the new heterosexual-you in bits and pieces.” I sat up and beckoned him to sit beside me. “Tell me about his encounter with Sera.”
“He was relieved to see her, but she could only maintain verbal communication between him and Paul. When the Realm comes back on line, they may be forced to use the code they developed.”
“You guys really must have screwed up the system.”
“Not our doing. The Realm cut communication with us. Paul was correct. It wants us to disappear and not have to take responsibility. Sera suspects we’re isolated from Earth as well, but we need to wait until their next message arrives.”
“Has the data library been restored?”
Albert cast his eyes down. He sobbed, “I’m sorry.”
I shook my head. “We lost our history.”
“We still have your books, movies and television shows. Jimmy’s addicted to some of them.”
I had a flash of insight. “You wiped out the original tutorial on purpose just to be mean.”
“I still may be able to restore your personal system.”
“I’m no longer over there, and I have little interest in accessing it here, since you and Jimmy contaminated it by playing silly games.” Perhaps we had retained the better of the two programs. A history book with a thousand year gap and an encyclopedia that expired in the year 2069 wasn’t worth much to us anyhow. More important, I needed contact with my sister.
“Dad wants to talk to you.”
“He knows I’m here?”
“Your travel across deep space came out in the discussion of possibly creating some kind of transport between our two halves. Waiting fifty years for it to happen on its own is ridiculous.”
I felt betrayed. Sera certainly understood my desire to remain anonymous. I’m unable to keep secrets from her. Be firm. “I will meet with him after certain conditions are met.”
I glanced around what could have been Mother’s lab. “Converting this room into our apartment.”
“Yes. If I am to carry your child, I need to have you close by. Once we’re settled, we’ll invite your parents to come and visit. That’s what families do.”
“I think he wants to talk to you now.”
I folded my arms. “I imagine he does, but this time he won’t get his way.”
“How will you stop him?”
“She’s busy with the console, at least for now.”
“She knows my wishes and will do anything short of shutting down this habitat, if I don’t get my way.” By her own admission, I still controlled her in all matters other than survival, and I am sure her telepathy received my intention. “Have your father ask her about it.”
“Sera can’t stop him from barging down here.”
“Go. I’ll expect the interior decorators to begin on our apartment in the morning.”
Twenty minutes later—I clocked it—Albert’s and a man’s voices drifted from the upper floor.
“Dad, the lift won’t operate. I tried everything.”
“I refuse to stand here like a damn fool. I shouldn’t have agreed to give that brat the satisfaction.”
“She’s not a brat. She’s my fiancée.”
“You down there. Come up here this instant.”
“Albert? Is that you?” I cupped my hands to project my voice. “If that’s the decorator droid with you, instruct it to come back in the morning. The lift will be functioning at that time.”
“Ariel? It’s my father. He wants to talk to you.”
“Your father? Goodness, our apartment is in no condition to receive your parents. They should not see us living like this. As a matter of fact, you better not join me either until we have better accommodations.” I faked a yawn. “Come home when the place is more presentable. I love you.”
I willed my tutorial open, and as I expected, Albert had restored my access but only to Jimmy’s copy. Star Wars in-progress appeared, and I hadn’t the energy to change the program.
“Ariel Gordon?” I awoke to the sound of a woman’s voice. “I’m Emily, Albert’s mother.” A long sigh. “May I come down?”
“Yes, please do.”
“But the lift?”
“Just step on the round disk, and it will descend.” Sera, make it happen! I sat up but remained on my bed. My first taste of morning sickness.
A pair of shoes, socks covering ankles, slacks, blouse followed by alabaster neck, face, and gray hair tied back in a bun. Pinched lips formed a tight smile. “Frank complained that the lift wouldn’t operate, but Albert said you could will it to work. Is that correct?”
“Sera, my avatar, still protects me. She, like your husband, didn’t ask to be burdened with additional responsibilities.”
“Do you believe that?”
“The Realm has no conscience.”
“Hush, child.” Her eyes darted from side to side. “It has ears.”
“Your husband’s ears maybe, if it ever decides to connect back up with us.”
“I’m afraid we need to do a lot of explaining.” Blue eyes, Albert’s and hopefully his daughter’s, widened and facial tension began to relax. “Are you carrying our grandchild?”
“Not a miracle, just function women haven’t used for a thousand years.”
“Yes, that, too.” She sat alongside me. “Albert is a healthy normal man.”
“Not a fag, you mean.”
“I suppose so, but I detest that word.”
“Would you still claim him as your son?”
“Of course. And I’m speaking for Frank as well.”
“Then why all the concern?”
“Being the only homosexual, who could Albert ever have as a partner? No woman would want him, and the Realm frowns on bachelors. None has ever existed. With the Realm’s need for mathematical gender-balance, it would stop birthing children, if matches weren’t established between adults.”
Fact or fiction? I needed to ask my mother, if she would even be aware of such a ruling. The Realm might not have established the policy until Albert, possibly the first gay person, emerged, especially the son of their number one spy.
I selected a haughty tone. “I can tell you that Albert is not gay. I tried to discourage our having intercourse, but neither of us could resist the strong urges and attraction we had for one another.” Not a total lie. Intellectually, we were determined to return to nature’s way—God’s way—of bringing children into the world.
She glanced around the four walls and said, “Frank and I want you to live closer to us. He’s prepared a room across the hall in an empty space alongside his office where Sera performs her duties. I would feel more comfortable with her close by to monitor your pregnancy. None of the mothers here have had that experience.”
“I would like that.” After two nights of total isolation, I decided not to be coy.
“Good. I’ll have my husband come to get you.”
A trap! Should I allow him to have his way? I’ll let Sera make the decision by controlling the lift. “I will be ready.”
Go now. The thought came to mind much too quickly. Does Sera’s telepathy work two ways? I’ll trust my—her—instincts. “On second thought, I will go with you now.”
Emily gasped. “Oh, not in your condition. Let him make the effort.”
Go with her.
“Thank you. That’s very kind.” A spontaneous rebellion to an impulse that might not have been mine, “Allow me a half an hour to get dressed before I receive him.” I glanced down at my only outfit, wrinkled and clinging to my body, and faced the bathroom. “And to freshen up a bit.”
“Very well.” She stepped onto the lift. “I will tell him he’s welcome to come down.”
You should have gone. My thought or Sera’s reprimand, I didn’t care. I had no intention of going with her or waiting for the lout to have his way with me. I searched the cupboards and found quantities of white lab coats like the one my mother wore when she impregnated me. I slipped one over my blouse and slacks and then stepped onto the lift, challenging Sera to prevent me. It zoomed to the top level.
Assuming the floor plans were similar to the other hemisphere, I tiptoed to the door of Albert’s apartment, the same location as my parents’ if Sera calculated it correctly when we landed. I put my ear to the door and heard nothing. I stopped to listen at each of the other four apartments, three were silent, but from the fourth came the continuation of Star Wars I had been watching last night before I fell asleep. I knocked.
Jimmy, wearing the facemask of a monkey, opened the door. “Princess Lea?” He scratched the floor with the back of his knuckles. “Welcome to my starship.” He continued to dance a jig, as if he’d waited too long to make a bathroom stop. “Shall I fetch Han?”
From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a door opening across and down the hall with Frank voicing instructions to Albert and Emily. I entered Jimmy’s apartment and kicked the door shut, Chewbacca bounding off it.
Jimmy yelled, “Ouch. Why’d you do that?”
“Lock it.” My request meaningless in a society that disallowed privacy.
He abandoned his character, grabbed a chair from the table, and jammed it against the knob. He smirked. “Sometimes I watch Charlie’s Angels and don’t want to get caught.”
The door opened an inch and rattled. “Jimmy, let me in.” Frank’s voice. “Jimmy, do I have to get your parents?”
I put my finger to my lips and switched Star Wars to Charlie’s Angels. Jimmy’s eyes widened and he produced a broad smile. The volume increased without my tampering. Albert had also given Jimmy mind control over my tutorial. I held back my anger, enjoying the trouble I might have caused each of them.
“I’m going to tell your parents.” Frank made one last protest and clomped down the hall, either to fetch Jimmy’s parents or to rendezvous with me.
“Thank you.” I attempted to sooth Jimmy’s fear of reprisals. “I’ll explain to your parents.”
“Not necessary. They usually watch the program with me. Blocking the door is to keep Frank from walking in when he makes his rounds.”
“Makes his rounds?”
“Yeah. Like he’s Marshal Matt Dillon.”
“What can he do about anything?”
“He’s also in charge of the commissary. We ain’t had any desserts all week.”
“Where are your parents now?”
“What are their jobs?”
“They operate the health salon.”
“I want to go there.”
You are heading for trouble. Can I no longer trust my own thought process? Sera, mind your own business.
“Now,” I whispered. “Take me to your parents’ salon, but avoid Frank’s office.”
Jimmy nodded, released the chair and opened the door. He glanced both directions and beckoned me to follow down the hall to a door adjacent to the room set aside for Albert and me. Inside, a scattering of adults and children occupied a variety of exercise devices, massage tables, and Jacuzzi tubs. I recognized my former neighbors, Bob and Helen. All heads turned toward Jimmy and me, presumably the droid who came to restore a malfunctioning communication device.
Do not do it!
“I’m Sera, the Realm’s replacement on Mission Two.”
Three sets of parents emerged from various activities, each pulling a single child into a protective embrace, while Bob and Helen stood and defiantly faced me.
Jimmy dodged his parents’ grasp. “Wow. I guessed you were something special.” He glanced around the semicircle of adults. “Mom. Dad. Everyone. I know Sera. She’s one of us.”
Not sure if he recognized the difference between Sera and me, I responded. “My human form, as Jimmy says, is just like everyone else under my control.”
Go easy, Ariel. Make your introduction and get out of there.
“I’ve already met with Frank and his boy.” I enjoyed that one. “They are quite relieved that my presence removes their burden of maintaining order, a chore which they have dutifully performed.”
Well done. I complimented myself and received no reprimand from Sera.
“Now that I am visibly in your presence, rest assured your survival is guaranteed, and there is no further need for the harsh restrictions you have placed on yourselves. The Realm on Mission One has chosen two groups of five families each to embark on an experiment in self governing.”
Curious glances and a few sighs and gasps from the group.
“The decision to temporarily separate you into two groups presents a challenge as well as an opportunity to develop a friendly yet spirited competition over which I exercise no influence. My function is to ensure survival within the most optimum conditions possible. Your overall goals as well as day-to-day activities are at your discretion.” I made individual eye contact with everyone in the room. “What questions do you have?”
Helen stepped forward, Bob close behind her. “What about children?”
I had been totally unprepared to explain to the emasculated men the loss of their frozen sperm. “We will be no different than every society since the beginning of time. Your future is with your children.”
“We’ve been on a waiting list as long as we’ve been members of the Fortieth League. Why the delay? Is there a connection?”
The group gasped, and Bob cupped his hand over his wife’s mouth.
“The Realm endorses the goals of the Fortieth League.”
Leave God out of the equation for now. Do not present everything to the group all at once.
“The realm respects the pioneer spirit represented by the ten families of the League.” From the expressions around the room, I might just as well have said xyz spirit. I explained, “Individuals who have the courage and ability to attempt something new and different.” They are ready. “Your group’s acceptance of a divine being relieved the Realm of that responsibility and demonstrated that these ten families were capable of self governing.” I added, “You have not been abandoned; just given the opportunity to develop into a self sustaining society.”
Something for everyone. Might work.
“And our desire to raise a child?” Helen hadn’t exactly accepted my response.
“All requests for children will be considered within the capabilities of our birthing procedures and our habitat’s ability to sustain a growing population.” For these adults, natural childbirth will necessarily be delayed to the next generation.
More than electronic communication between us and Earth, we need transportation between us and my mother’s laboratory.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I need to rejoin Frank and Albert who are repairing the temporary glitch in our communication with the Realm.” Oops. “With Mission One.”
Opportunity to validate our name.
“Between us at Mission Two and the Realm on Mission One.” I stepped toward the door. “By the way, Ariel Gordon, the female after whose human form I had been modeled, is also with us. She will be marrying Albert and is carrying his child.” I ducked out the door before the group’s stunned silence ignited into hysteria.
I ditched my lab coat in a trash container as I entered Frank’s office. He and Emily stood aghast and stared at the intercom, the buzz of voices from the health salon continued to fill the room. They had overheard our discussion. Frank glimpsed me and immediately muted the audio. Albert and Sera, their backs to us, sat intense at the control panel in rear of the room. Four couples and three children from the salon appeared on the muted monitor raising their hands as if taking a vote.
“What right do you have to . . .?” Frank became speechless.
“About as much right as you had to intimidate those people.”
“What do you know about keeping order with a panic stricken crowd who could riot at any moment?”
“A riot of less than a dozen people is not a threat. A tyrannical leader who uses fear as a device to maintain control is the problem. We are free of the Realm, and you will not be allowed to replace it.” Albert approached and stood beside me.
The door burst open and the childless couple entered, an entourage of families in the hallway behind them. Bob faced Frank and said, “On behalf of the other families, we’d like you to represent our interests with the new Realm.”
Frank glared at me but his eyes indicated he wouldn’t expose my impersonating Sera.
Helen squeezed past him and stepped up to Albert’s mother. “Congratulations on your son’s selection for a wife.” She glanced from me to Sera, who straightened from her crouch over the console and buttoned the white lab coat she had draped over her shoulders. The woman’s gaze settled back on me. “You must be Ariel. I recognize you from when we were neighbors. Welcome.” She wrapped her arms around me, her hands trailing around my waist settling on my abdomen. She turned to her husband. “There’s life in her. I can’t feel it, but I know it is there.”
PREGNANCY AND THE IN-LAWS
JULY 3050-JULY 3051
FRANK AND ALBERT PREPARED an apartment for us ‘love birds’ across from my future in-laws. I deferred the date for a wedding ceremony until my parents could be present, even if it took fifty years. As my belly began to swell, Albert developed a curiosity about my body, but he resisted a second attempt at intimacy. He reasoned that it might harm the fetus. I refused to give birth to a child yet remain a virgin.
I gave up trying to visually stimulate Albert’s libido—my stretching abdomen would probably have discouraged a heterosexual male—and I relied on tactile manipulation. I allowed him to feel Cleopatra’s kick—he suggested her name after he got over not having a son—and he agreed to allow me to arouse him. Once stimulated, I forbade him to ejaculate until capable of penetrating my vagina. Twice my ploy failed, and he left me unsatisfied. The third time penetration occurred. All pain and no enjoyment. I began to question my sexuality but wasn’t overly concerned. Twentieth Century thirteen-year-old girls still giggled and had same-sex pajama parties. After heavy doses of morning sickness, I wished I had giggled rather than jiggled, a privately coined word to describe the unique sequence that got me pregnant.
My parents’ continued interest in intercourse after half a century of marriage intrigued me. Perhaps sex with no hope or fear of pregnancy never fully satisfies the human desire for sex. The absence of floating motels and social clubs in our new habitat annoyed them. Total absence of gravity occurred only in deep space midway between the rotating spheres. The rooftop offered slightly diminished gravity, but Mother objected to a public display of affection. She and I shared somewhat similar problems. Her sex partner couldn’t take an active role because of his body’s density, and mine couldn’t because his lack of interest rendered him impotent.
Separation from my parents caused more loneliness than I would have expected, since their careers and social lives kept them away from home as I grew up. Sera offered little companionship because she spent most of her time at the communication console in Frank’s office or down in the inner sanctum. Assisting me through my pregnancy should have been her top priority. I promised to stop tantalizing Albert, if he would convince his father to construct a charging closet for Sera in our bedroom. It worked, and I never inquired what rationale he used to convince his father, obviously not the one I suggested.
With Sera under my quasi-control as my avatar, I gleaned more information about our situation than Albert ever shared. To exercise his authority over the families on either side, Frank had instructed Albert to block all usage of the data library. It and my tutorial were accidentally sent back to Earth Base by way of Mission One.
According to Sera, Albert’s unauthorized communication triggered an automatic electronic jamming mechanism surrounding the comet. Because our trajectories are nearly identical, we will hover in each other’s neighborhoods for some time. The interference should dissipate as the distance between us increases, but until then all wireless communication will remain disrupted. I am completely isolated from my parents.
Sera seemed strangely unperturbed by the problem. Apparently, her mission remained unhampered. Unlike the original Realm, she maintained a passive attitude toward rules and regulations, but Frank attempted to fill the gap. I thwarted him whenever possible, except with his physical fitness requirement—a minimum of three hours each day in the health salon. I managed low impact aerobics every afternoon when my nausea subsided. Only the five women joined me, probably to observe the progress of my pregnancy. Their families filtered in during the afternoons and evenings, mostly out of boredom. Except Jimmy. He’d become addicted to his copy of my tutorial. Occasionally, I would join him to pass time.
Whenever I draped the chain with my mother’s cross in plain view, most of the adults automatically traced a crisscross over their upper bodies as some form of honorary greeting. It had replaced the casual wave of the hand or the less common handshake popular back on Twentieth Century Earth. Frank detested the gesture. After I explained its original intent to keep him in the dark about the Fortieth League’s true intentions, he forbade me to display the cross. Most people continued the signing practice when they greeted me and often included Sera by mistake, until my pregnancy altered the shape of my body. By then I could mingle without fear of throwing up.
Albert suggested we keep a low profile with our God theory until we acquired more evidence from my Earth sister. I conceded, but envied my parents and Sally’s parents who probably resurrected the mythical stories and elevated them to factual accounts, especially since their being isolated from Sera’s leadership. Mother might even have found Marty’s story of Jesus’ birth hidden in her jewelry box. I concluded that we remain receptive to the notion of a God, while Sera hinted that Cleopatra’s arrival might offer insights into human’s place in the universe.
I survived the nausea of my first trimester enough to share mealtimes with Albert. I even practiced preparing some foods rather than accept what robots delivered. Frank promised a more varied menu, when the chaos in the commissary settled. He and Albert’s mother were the only couple we entertained, until Helen and Bob invited us to their apartment. At the time, I had developed such an intimate relationship with my toilet that I asked them to come to our apartment, just in case. I offered to prepare a dessert if they brought their favorite beverage.
I had substituted some yellow powder from the commissary for the flour Dad’s tangle produced, blended it with a white paste, and patted the mixture in a baking dish. I dabbed on a sweetened grainy substance that resembled no fruit I’d ever seen, spread it over the bottom layer, and rolled the concoction into a tube. Applying heat did little to alter the color or texture, but I sectioned it into four pieces and awaited the arrival of our guests.
Helen and Bob came on time, but Albert did not. Whenever he and Jimmy collaborated on a project, other commitments evaporated. By the time Helen explained their reason for wanting to talk to us privately, I felt relieved that Albert remained absent.
We glided through the social niceties and apologies and settled around the table, the desserts languishing on saucers in front of us.
Helen broached the topic. “Has your mother explained the history of the Fortieth League?”
I nodded. “As a front for discussing the existence of God, yes, she had.”
Helen glanced toward the empty chair. “Albert’s parents never accepted the theory or even participated in the discussion.” Helen lowered her voice. “I think he and Emily were sent to spy on us.”
Bob said, “Nonsense. The timing was coincidental. Frank showed as much surprise at our eviction as the rest of us. Besides, that isn’t what we wanted to discuss with you and Albert.”
“Well, his grandchild is the point.” Helen faced me. “The child you’re carrying.”
“Cleopatra?” I blurted our future daughter’s name, forgetting our decision to keep it a secret.
Helen’s eyes widened. “I knew it.”
Bob said, “That proves nothing.” He faced me. “My wife used to mess around with the data library.” He covered Helen’s hand. “You better tell Ariel what you found.”
“Ancient recipes were a hobby of mine, when we still had naturally grown vegetables.” She screwed up her nose. “I hate this synthetic food.” She eyed my dessert. “That looks pretty good. I may want your recipe.”
I waved my hand. “Oh, it’s just something I threw together.” My sarcasm appeared to miss its mark.
“Well anyway, I found a Caesar salad that sounded interesting. When I requested more information, I got this strange message about a Roman emperor and Cleopatra.”
I restrained a chuckle.
“Your name and Albert’s were attached.” She shifted her gaze to Bob. “We think it’s some kind of an omen, especially now that your baby is Cleopatra.”
“Babies aren’t born with identities like eyes and ears and noses.” Noting their blank expressions, I summoned Sera from her closet to verify my point. Helen and Bob cowered as if God had been bedded in our apartment. “Explain how babies got their names in the past.”
Sera recited, “The Realm used to select names randomly from a list dating back a millennium. No two living people could share the same name.”
“And how has that changed?” I prodded.
“Mothers began to select their own children’s names after Ariel’s mother rejected the Realm’s selection.”
Mother rejected my Realm-assigned name? She never mentioned that part. Flabbergasted, I stammered, “What name next on the list was supposedly mine?”
Sera said, “Jessica.”
“And the following name?”
“Albert chose our baby’s name,” I protested.
“He asked me in advance.”
“Aha.” Bob squeezed Helen’s hand. “You were right. Cleopatra will be our connection with the Source.”
“Hold on,” I yelled. “First of all, Cleopatra doesn’t belong in a Twentieth Century list of names.” I glared at Sera.
She said, “Unlike most of the other names, Cleopatra had never been used before.”
“I demand to know how you came up with a First Century Egyptian name.”
“It was an anomaly of an undefined origin, scheduled to be applied after Jessica. But your mother interrupted the sequence by naming you Ariel.”
“Okay, what was Albert’s name supposed to be? Tutankhamen?”
“Albert’s parents were satisfied with the Realm’s selection.”
“I’m sure they were.” I glared at Helen, then Bob. “What is the Source and what is my baby’s supposed connection with it?”
Bob and Helen stared at their plates, as if expecting Sera to answer.
Sera responded, “Women of the Fortieth League had concluded that one of them would give birth to a child who would solve the mystery of their origins.”
Helen added, “The Source,” as if to clear my confusion. “We hoped it might eventually be our child, because the Realm withheld permission for so long for us to have one.” She faced me. “We don’t begrudge you or your baby. We’re just overjoyed that Cleopatra will arrive in our lifetime.”
My head went buzzing. Albert walked in, and Bob and Helen hand-gestured a crisscross over their breasts. Albert returned the sign. I headed to the bathroom and then to my bedroom.
I awoke alone in our apartment. On the kitchen table sat four plates, two empty, one dessert untouched and one half-eaten, a glob of it still clinging to the fork. Back in the bathroom, I summoned Sera to clear the table. When I felt sure I would not be confronted with food, I walked out to the kitchen prepared to barrage Sera with questions.
“What made you choose a history of Julius Caesar to pass my message to Albert?”
“He claimed an interest in Rome and would probably find it.”
“Why not use Calpurnia rather than Cleopatra. Caesar’s wife also bore him children.”
“It was intended as a riddle.”
“About my baby, Cleopatra?”
“Cleopatra wasn’t intended to be your baby’s name, and Jessica should have been Bob’s and Helen’s baby, if their having a child hadn’t been denied before you were born.”
I gasped, “My name should have been Cleopatra?”
“Not Jessica or Ariel?”
“With my destiny to discover a god for these silly adults?”
“Or become one.”
I turned and stormed back into the bedroom.
My pregnancy had no precedent for the women to offer any meaningful support, but Sera guided me through my second and third trimesters and prepared me for the birth process. She offered to bring Cleopatra into her world as supposedly Julius Caesar had entered his, but how bad could the normal process be? I had watched birds hatch, and I suspected a baby would be somewhat larger, probably the size of Albert’s penis which hurt bad enough. By my third labor pain, I had realized my folly, but the baby had only one way out.
Fortunately, Cleopatra was premature, but not according to the nine months since Albert and Sera had intercourse. The women had checked off the number of days on the calendar in the health salon. Considering their keen interest and concern, I invited the five families to greet Cleopatra as she peeked out between my legs. All five women but none of the men or the children accepted.
As Sera severed Cleopatra’s and my final physical connection, Helen held the child, still blue and bloody and slimy. She raised Cleopatra like some kind of offering and placed her in my outstretched arms, winking as if we shared a secret. The other women wept for joy but later admitted to an entirely different reason for their response. None of them could give birth even if their husband’s were capable.
My insides felt as if stomach and intestines had exited my body along with the baby, and the slit Sera cut and then resealed began to itch as it healed. Once my internal organs shrank to their normal size, Sera offered to reduce the excess skin across my belly, but I opted to leave the pouch to accommodate my next pregnancy. Circumstances aboard Mission Two dictated that Cleopatra not be an only child.
Helen and Bob moved in with Albert and me, or so it seemed. She fashioned a tiny wardrobe from tablecloths and bed sheets, and she cut squares of absorbent material for Cleopatra’s bottom. On one of my bras, she created little trap doors to Cleopatra’s lunch stations. I tolerated her cutesy baby talk, but with the exception of a loose fitting smock, I opted to keep my breasts unobstructed, as did the women of the Kuikuru tribe. When our data library comes back on line, I will research more of that isolated tribe’s customs, especially their ideas about God. I will ask Marty about them. Perhaps she even visited them. I certainly would have.
I missed my parents terribly. Nearly an Earth year had passed since we separated from the original space mission, but we couldn’t break free of its static interference. For all we knew, my parents and everyone aboard that segment of our new mission could be dead. They’d certainly be frantic, not knowing if we on this end had survived. Each night before going to sleep, I said the only prayer I had ever known, and even that seemed to have been updated to the present time. The changes beyond my control frightened me, but I felt compelled to repeat it as memory dictated.
In those days the Realm issued a decree that a selected few should be segregated to embark on a sacred journey to populate a new generation. So Albert passed from Mission One to Mission Two with his consort, Ariel, where she gave birth to her firstborn they named Cleopatra. There came to witness, female caregivers who kept watch over the selected few. One having no child to call her own lifted the naked baby fresh from its mother’s womb and declared, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for our new generation. Today a Savior has been born.