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 what?”
“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.

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.”


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?”
Sera nodded.
“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.


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.”
“Like what?”
“I sense she is withholding information.”
“About what?”
“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 . . .”

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