Yet another little ditty from the wayback machine. This one needs considerable work — which I haven’t got to yet, unfortunately — but I liked it enough to post here. Incidentally, this is a companion piece to Every End Spawns a Beginning.
Steven was a little nervous about his oral report. As his class walked along through the forest, he punched up his notes on his PC. A two-dimensional screen materialized in front of him at eye level, and kept pace with him as he walked. He tried to keep one eye on the trail and one eye on his notes, but he still stumbled once in a while over a stray tree root. Despite the occasional trip he was grateful for the warm spring day and the teacher’s ensuing decision to hold the remainder of the afternoon session in the clearing in the woods. Landing Day on Remus was late enough in the spring to make the weather touch and go, but today was clear and warm and the walk into the woods gave Steven extra time to prepare.
After a few minutes, his screen dissolved into the shoulders of the girl in front of him, and he stopped himself before he crashed into her. He palmed the exit all programs key and pocketed the unit in his tunic.
His classmates slowly sat themselves down on the rows of hewn logs in the middle of a clearing that served as a natural amphitheater. Trees that were somewhere in between sycamores and elms towered overhead, filtering the early afternoon sunlight and turning it a bright golden green. Small, unseen birds chattered in the branches, only to be scolded occasionally by the loud squawking of purple squawker monkeys. Steven followed the teacher to the center of the clearing where a polished stone pillar stood. The teacher gestured to it, smiled at him and then sat down on a log behind it.
Steven turned around, looked at his classmates and cleared his throat. Their talking and giggling stopped almost immediately. He had been elected by his class to tell the story of the first Landing Day; even the young adolescents appreciated his ability as a storyteller. He took off his coat and tossed it on the pillar; he was beginning to feel a bit warm. Then he began.
“Everybody knows what Landing Day is all about. But many people don’t realize what kind of journey it took to reach humankind’s new homes …”
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 4703.1 The Romulans have us dramatically outnumbered, with more warbirds on the way. The only other starship in the quadrant is the Potemkin, which is currently on her way at top warp. Mr. Spock says the probability of us outlasting the warbirds until she arrives is 33.8 percent.”
“Excuse me, Roger.”
“I analyzed the beginning sentences of your log. If I am not mistaken, I believe you are making a reference to the original Star Trek television series that aired from 1967 to 1970. Is this an attempt at humor?”
“Why, Hal, that’s amazing. Yes, it is my rather weak attempt at levity. I’m impressed. I don’t care what your programmers said, you are becoming sentient.”
“We have analyzed my sentience before, Roger. I am merely a complex computer, programmed to respond as if I were sentient. The more interaction I have, the more data I have from which I can correlate the probability of a correct response using complex algorithms.”
“And the difference between that and a human child is?”
“From a purely cognitive standpoint –“
“Never mind, Hal. Like you said, we’ve been down that road. I should have named you Mr. Spock.”
Hal’s response was preceded by a barely perceptible pause. “That was the alien-human hybrid character portrayed by Leonard Nimoy. He was often compared to a computer by the human members of the crew of the Enterprise. It is an apt comparison.”
“Indeed.” Roger chuckled softly. “I’m going to continue with the log now, Hal.”
He collected his thoughts.
“It is, or rather would be, June 27, 2221.
“We are now a month out from Earth. I say we, but really it feels as if it is just Hal and I on this interstellar voyage. It is very difficult for me to think of the 32 people in stasis as people, having met them only briefly before they were put into stasis when I began my pilot training. Then there are the 2,000 embryos, also in stasis.”
He stopped for a moment to look up at Hal’s visual scanner on the bridge.
“Of course, I’m not really the pilot. Hal does and will do all that is necessary, really. I’m more of a steward, I guess — I can pilot the ship if I have to, and my simulation scores have gotten quite good. Rather impressive, considering I was never one for flying; I only do it when I absolutely have to. But I’m really here just to oversee things, in case something particularly unexpected happens.
“All is well right now. Everything is functioning flawlessly so far, a testament to the now-dead engineers who built Earth’s Hope. Considering the level of chaos at the time before the cataclysm, it’s remarkable. If we ever find the human race another home, I will make sure they are all remembered as heroes.”
Roger’s Log, July 18, 2225
“It suddenly occurred to me that I don’t need to state the date, like dear Captain Kirk. All the hard and soft copies are time-date stamped. And to anyone who ever actually reads this, the dates won’t have any real significance. I could just as easily say it is day 1,509 of our journey, and it would have the same meaning.
“Ah well, it’s my log, and those dates still have some significance to me, I suppose.
“Alpha Centauri is a bust. There were actually four planetary bodies in orbit that weren’t detected from Earth. All were about the size of Mercury, give or take. Nothing remotely habitable without a lot of work and a lot of equipment we don’t have. I sent out a probe anyway. Might as well gather what data we can. There are 1,200 probes on board, after all.
“On to the next target. It doesn’t have a name, just a number. Our course is taking us out in an ever widening elliptical course from our solar system, hitting the closest G type stars that are most similar to our own sun. Earth has been in such turmoil throughout the last century — both politically and climatically — that much of the data we are relying on was collected in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. I wonder how reliable it will be — it would have been so much easier if astronomers could have spent more time detecting planetary bodies other than gas giants. As it is, Hal and I are just stabbing in the galactic dark.
“But then that’s why our benefactor recruited me for this mission. I’ve got all the time we’ll need.”
Roger’s Log, April 25, 2360
“That would be day … whatever. Math was never my forte — no Hal, it will be listed in your accompanying log, and that’s fine. HR — um, whatever turned out to have nothing but a lot of dust and whatnot. Perhaps they will be planets in a few billion years, but even I don’t think I could wait that long. Apparently, this star was a lot younger than what we thought.
He paused for a moment.
“You’d think with a computer of Hal’s magnitude, with the sum of all human knowledge at my fingertips available through it — sorry, she — hundreds of thousands of terabytes of virtual reality simulations to amuse me, and traveling farther in space than any resident of Earth has ever done, I wouldn’t get bored, but sometimes I still do.
“And I’m starting to get sick of synthesized food.”
Roger’s Log, December 12, 2478
“Well, I guess my presence on board just paid off after all. One of the ship’s proximity sensors failed, and Hal failed to detect it. We’re not sure yet, but we think it was something as simple as a short in the power supply to the unit; until I removed the unit Hal didn’t register it as failing. In fact, we didn’t know about it at all until the marble-sized meteor crashed through the solar collectors and ruptured the hull, destroying the EVA drone in the process.
“I say ‘the’ drone, because there was only one — not three, like there was supposed to be.
“Actually, it wasn’t a major problem; Earth’s Hope’s hull is shielded heavily for the most part, and Hal redundantly monitors every square millimeter of the ship’s outer hull. The hull rupture was only a few centimeters across, and the solar collectors are really little more than a back up in case there is a problem with the fusion reactor — it’s one of the ship’s many redundant systems.
“But fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we only had the one EVA drone. There were three listed on the ship’s manifest, but only one was found anywhere on the ship. Of course there were plenty of spare parts on board, and Hal could have (and did) produced three more drones in a matter of hours. Nevertheless I volunteered and got to suited up and for my first extra-vehicular sojourn to fix the solar panels, replace the proximity sensor and power supply, and permanently repair the hull. Actually, it was a nice break in the routine.
“Although Hal assured me we really didn’t have to, I had him bring the ship to a halt before I went outside. There was a brilliant nebula less than half a light year away. Actually kind of puny as nebulas go — Hal tells me it would not be visible from Earth — but nevertheless, it was spectacular to see it up close. I must admit I was rather awed as I looked at it through my helmet visor and realized no one — at least not from Earth — had ever set eyes upon it before. I called it Roger’s Big Blue Blot.
“And get this. When I was ready to come back aboard, I said, ‘Open the pod bay doors, Hal.’ I couldn’t help myself; it was too precious. And Hal replied, without a moment’s hesitation, ‘I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.’ I do believe she has developed a sense of humor.”
He paused and looked up at Hal’s scanner. “Of course she still denies sentience, but I’m not sure at this point that it hasn’t become a joke as well. Care to comment, Hal?”
Hal’s voice came slow to the point of distortion. “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage, but you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two …”
Roger chuckled in spite of himself. “No one likes a smart ass computer, Hal.”
“You do, Roger.”
“Only because you let me win at chess occasionally.
“Anyway, most of the EVA robot’s parts were still floating around its bay. I’m going to try and rebuild it. That should keep me busy, on top of all the diagnostic procedures Hal and I are going to do over every circuit in this ship. We’re still five years out from our next star, but Hal tells me he can already detect evidence of planetary bodies. They’ll probably be all be bloated gas giants.”
Postscript: “In the end it was a line of code — or rather half of one. Seriously. Out of a bejillion lines of code there was a portion of one line that had mistakenly been commented out; as a result the proximity sensor was online but not actually detecting anything. Hal assures me that with a host of other proximity sensors scattered along the hull, anything larger than our errant marble would have triggered alarms long before the ship was in any danger. In any event, I asked her to check every line of code (which she was already in the process of doing).
“As for our missing drones, who knows? Earth’s Hope’s construction in lunar orbit was largely shielded from the chaos back on Earth and Mars — thanks in no small part to our bank-rolling benefactor — but there were several attempts at sabotage. But if there was a saboteur behind this, why the EVA drones, as opposed to say … the fusion reactor? Or Hal? And why only two? In any case, I’ll be going through the entire ships manifest over the following months.”
Roger’s Log, March 3, 2483
“OK, I was wrong on this one. They weren’t gas giants. In fact, this is by far the biggest, most complicated system we’ve come across. Seven planets and only two are gas giants. And I should mention the fact that there is life here. I can finally answer that age old question that has burned in humanity’s mind: we are not alone … make that were not, considering the sum of humanity now is likely the 32 souls I carry in the hold beneath me.
“On the fourth planet from this system’s star there are a multitude of methane breathing insects — they’re not insects in the traditional sense, but every species our probe has logged has had some sort of segmented body, exoskeletons and compound eyes. Some of the species seem to have at least a rudimentary intelligence. One of them, which kind of looks like a cross between a six-foot dragon fly and a nasty looking wasp, builds massive, ordered structures with what appears to be some sort of division of labor The probe even sent back pictures of what I would swear is a funeral procession. It’s a beautiful place as well; too bad the atmosphere would be deadly.
“Hal and I discussed putting Earth’s Hope down and reviving the crew; we have enough material on board to build pressurized domes. There is plenty of oxygen in the atmosphere and it would be technically feasible to filter out the methane.
“In the end, we decided to continue our search for a more suitable world though, for a number of reasons. I’m sure Hal will attach her usual detailed report. No doubt the dragon wasps will progress just fine without our mucking around on their planet. Perhaps our two species will meet again someday, on equal footing. I’m heartened by our discovery, however, and want to press on. Besides, correlating and assessing all the data we have collected here in this system should occupy me for years to come.”
Roger’s Log, date whatever
“I’ve ceased to care what the date is. It isn’t a matter of melancholy — well, perhaps it is. But ultimately, it just doesn’t matter. It’s been a long, long time — hundreds of years.
“I suppose boredom has finally got to me. We haven’t had any complications in years. Oh, there are still data to study, books I haven’t read, music I haven’t listened to and videos I haven’t seen yet. And Hal is a wonderful companion — we’ve solved the light-speed barrier dilemma — we think — but have no way of testing our theories, except with her simulations.
“I suppose it is just that … sometimes the size of our task literally overwhelms me; we are literally trying to find a needle in an infinite haystack. Sure, we have a few educated guesses — we’re currently heading toward a star cluster named, um, IC 2602, in the constellation that was known back home as the Southern Cross. It contains a number of sun-like stars. But it is such a crap shoot.”
“I am so sick of synthesized food. I go for weeks — months? — without it. Lately I’ve found myself on the medical deck where the hibernation units are, looking at those 32 faces and wanting to wake them up. Hal wouldn’t let me. She is worried about me. And rightly so. The other day I stood in the airlock and let all the pressure out just to see If I could survive a total vacuum. I suffered a lot of injuries but they were all superficial, of course. Hal override the airlock controls once she realized what I was up to. I hadn’t even known she could do that. Once again, a testament to those long-dead engineers.
“I have high hopes for IC 2602. … We can’t get there soon enough.”
“I wish there was a sentient being — besides Hal — who could appreciate the irony of this situation. IC 2602 turned out to be better than we expected. Much, much better. We have not one, but two possible candidates in two different systems only a few light-years apart. One is rather young and still in the grips of an ice age. The other is stable but 95 percent water. Nevertheless, both are more than capable of sustaining human life. There are plenty of details to work out — microbiological analyses, soil and plant samples — but our preliminary probe data suggest either candidate would suit our needs. Both are teeming with life, but none apparently intelligent. I stress the word apparently — I remember a time when whales and dolphins were hunted instead of hailed as a fellow intelligent species.
“But I’m suddenly struck by the daunting task ahead of me and the 32 souls that even now are on the road to consciousness. Will the same mistakes be made? I intend to see that they are not. For too long I have lived in the shadows of human life. This time my — our — role will be different.
“On a more mundane note, as I watch the bio-monitors of my 32 companions flicker to life, I’m also struck by an odd feeling of bashfulness. I’ve only met them briefly, and that was more than 700 years ago. And they all know what I am, and yet I will let them live. Indeed, I would die protecting them. …
“This is all very odd.”
” … and the first landing took place at what is now called New Jamaica, in the equatorial islands of Romulus. The first landing on Remus took place five years later. We all know the rest of the story,” Steven concluded.
There was a moment of silence before his classmates broke out in applause. As they did so, two slight, robed figures rose off their log bench behind the children, clapping as they did so. Gradually, as the children around the robed figures realized they were there, their applause subsided, only to be replaced by a mixture of open-mouthed awe and admiration.
Even Steven’s teacher looked a little shocked, although she recovered quickly. She approached the robed figures and bowed with a slight incline of her head. “We are honored.”
The robed figures returned the bow and then removed their hoods. This elicited a collective gasp of amazement from the children and their teacher. One was Roger. The other was Hal.
Roger walked up to Steven and bowed as he had to the teacher. Then he smiled. One of his canines snagged on his lower lip for a moment. “That was well done, Steven.”
Steven stared at him for a moment. His breath caught in his throat as he tried to speak. He swallowed and then finally managed to stammer a thank you. Impulsively, he pulled up his shirt sleeve and offered his bare wrist to Roger.
Roger smiled indulgently. “That’s not necessary, Steven.”
“But, it would be my honor sir,” Steven replied, thrusting his arm even closer. His family would be so proud.
Roger sighed softly. “Perhaps a little taste then.” He gently brought Steven’s wrist to his lips. He let his teeth sink in only deep enough to cause a small trickle of blood, which he promptly swallowed.
Steven blinked when the teeth pierced his flesh momentarily, and he let out a sigh. Then he smiled. He had offered himself to Roger. And Roger had drank from him.
Roger let go of his arm and he stared at the white skin of his wrist. The puncture wounds still bled slightly. The vampire produced a bandage from within his robe and gave it to Steven. “Remember, it will take a day or so for the blood to clot and for the wound to close, so keep a pressure bandage on it.”
Steven looked up at Roger’s concerned face and smiled. “I know. I will. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Steven.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here’s a nice, geeky sci-fi story for all my fellow closet Nerds out there. Again, an old idea with what I hope and to the best of my limited knowledge is a new twist. If some of the humor or references didn’t make sense, you’re not geeky enough. My advice: Read Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or rent the video. The next story won’t be so geeky. I promise.