First Published in the USA, 2010 R1
Copyright © 2010 by David Millett
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of David Millett.
Printed in the USA by Copyright © 2000 - 2010, CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC.
Book production and design by David Millett. Cover production and design by David Millett.
7. False facts
Without the wonderful and giving Julia Buss this book would never have begun, let alone been finished. She is my muse, inspiration, editor, critic, lover, and friend; oh yes, and she is my wife too.
I must give special thanks to the following friends: Andy Vickery for reading an early draft and not discouraging me from continuing, Steve Collinson for reading a late draft twice, meticulously hunting down errors, and pointing out improvements to me, and Jodie Soares for reading a late draft three times and raising more questions than answers.
About the author
David Millett is a digital artist. He is an accomplished author, filmmaker, producer of paper books, and eBooks. He loves writing, painting, and filmmaking.
Web Site: www.david-millett-publications.com
Web Site: www.DavidMillett.net
Twitter: www.twitter.com/DavidMillett @DavidMillett
Vimeo VOD: www.vimeo.com/davidmillett/vod_pages
“Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such long-continued slow progress.”
As the gigantic stellar cloud of gas gathered and concentrated, driven by the forces of dark energy and gravity, it began to rotate. Slowly and inexorably, its particles swirled and fashioned an accretion disk of ever-larger debris. This wreckage circled and collided at the center of the immense disk of gas. From this grime, more massive-concentrations of matter began to form. Eventually the combined mass of collected gas and dust at the center of the disk collapsed inwardly under the growing force of gravity. Squeezed by incredible pressures the atoms of the stellar soup ignited into a furious nuclear fusion. Now two pressures exerted themselves. The forces of the nuclear inferno pushing outward and the crushing contractions of gravity; both held in perfect balance. With a flash of light a new star was born.
Smaller accretion disks orbiting the new star whirled about in endless orbits, gradually collecting more of the nursery cloud. Eventually, these accretion disks formed new planets. Finally, the infant Sun pushed away, via its powerful solar wind, the remains of its nursery gases.
On one of these new planets, hydrogen and oxygen combined, under just the right conditions, to form liquid water. With pressure, heat, and time, water flowed and dissolved volcanic gases: carbon monoxide, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. This chemical potage flowed over metal solids of iron and nickel sulfide. Metallo-peptides formed catalytically. This slow process continued forming more and more complex chemicals and chemical reactions. Then one day a set of molecules formed that had the power to metabolize energy and replicate. Life formed from non-life.
There is no warming sunlight between solar systems, which makes it a very cold place. Everything in deep space moves slowly towards absolute zero. Only faint and distant starlight reaches out, barely making its presence felt. In this lifeless space there is no perception of movement; the stars are too far away to give a hint of motion. Even when moving fast, close to the speed of light, all seems still.
As the giant inky black vessel moved through this void it had become frozen, and in a sense, time had stood still for it. The almost invisible unconscious hulk slipped silently through this abyss. The Vessel had been in this frozen state for a very long time. Not one electron had passed down its cognitive circuits for millions of years, only the odd and occasional quantum fluctuation. From nowhere and without warning current began to flow again. This strange digital dance of electrons caused an avalanche of digital rhythms through countless circuits. Very simple sensors, looking mindlessly for a particular electromagnetic energy, had started the awakening. The Vessel’s sleeping mind, which had lain dormant for millions of years, was now stirring.
Within half an hour, all of its autonomic functions were operational. In less than one hour, the higher functions of the machine intelligence were awake. The artificial mind began immediately to analyze radio waves it had detected and in fact been anticipating. These signals were weak and simple at first, but over time, they became more complex and more powerful. The machine soon derived a basic understanding of the communications encoded in the signals. In the end, it mastered all and completely understood their meaning. Luck played no part in the machine’s ability to do this; this was its purpose.
Once the Vessel understood the languages in these signals, it began its search for memes. Memes transmitted cultural ideas from one mind to another through imitation. They traveled via speech, gestures, rituals, and radio waves. They permeated the transmissions it was receiving and it found memeplexes too. Memeplexes indicated collections or groupings of memes in mutually supportive and symbiotic relationships. These memeplexes revealed sets of ideas that reinforce each other and replicate from mind to mind. They are analogous to collections of individual genes that make up the genetic codes of biological organisms, but memes are just data or ideas they have no physical presence.
To the Vessel, memeplexes were a sure sign of intelligence. This was what it had been looking for and their presence confirmed it had found its target. Cold razor sharp calculations executed in a split second, trillions of them; calculations not tempered with memories of growing up or childhood; calculations without experiences to help them be compassionate or malicious. The Vessel’s thoughts were sharp, robotic, mechanical, automated, neither cruel nor kind just calculating and unfeeling. It did its job, and it always did it well. Now it had only to wait a little while longer to begin its new mission.
The enormous light collecting mirrors of the massive telescope greedily gathered light. This light had traveled a long way and for a long time. As the light focused, it projected onto the silicon of a charged coupled device buried deep within the telescope. Photons in the light colliding with atoms in the silicon kicked off electrons, which passed through millions of electrical circuits. The telescope’s computer processed and stored these now digital signals. The computer then directed them to the astronomer’s liquid crystal display. This silicon device reversed the process; pulsing electrons colliding with silicon atoms kicked off photons that passed through the telescope’s computer monitor. As the astronomer’s eyes scanned the monitor, they first skipped right past the little blob of light. Eventually, her mind caught up with her eyes. Then the thought formed that she had found something unusual, something interesting.
Judith Morgan’s training and experience told her this was a new comet, but it would take a few more minutes of careful calculation and verification to be sure. In the end a new comet was born. A wave of sheer delight passed across Judith’s smooth face. She christened it C/2020 AS, but knew it would be sometime before the comet was official. She must first inform the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams and then the International Astronomical Union, before it became certified. Nevertheless, Judith felt satisfied she was now the discoverer of a new heavenly body, and this made her very happy.
Judith’s brown skin and her slenderness was part of her beauty. She was taller than average, but only a little. Her long frizzy black hair had a small tuft of white. It ran from the left side of her forehead in a thin white line, to the back of her head. She had a kind face, one of concern and perpetual interest. Her broad nose and long philtrum only added to her cute expression.
She tossed her long black hair from her face as she scanned the monitors. Her slender and long fingers poked rapidly on the keyboard. She was too excited to sit still. Her slim tall figure contrasted sharply with the electronics and equipment boxes stacked in neat rows about the room. It was very early in the morning and it had been a long night for Judith; it was time for her to go home to bed. Judith’s routine included working at the telescope until 4:00 a.m. and then returning home where she would sleep until one or two in the afternoon. It was the only way she could catch up on the sleep she missed working late into the night and early morning at the telescope.
A golden sunrise greeted Judith on her drive from the observatory to her home in Tucson. Her home, so close to the Saguaro National Park, offered her magnificent views of the dusty and rugged cactus covered plains. The vista stretched to the mountains and Wasson Peak in the far distance. Once in her bedroom she drew the curtains in a vain attempt to block out the ever-increasing sunshine. She slipped off her clothes, and then inserted herself into bed. She found it difficult to fall asleep, as she was so excited about her new discovery, but eventually she began to dream.
Judith had never known her biological parents; Judith’s unmarried aunt had adopted her and raised her. Judith’s parents had died in a tragic car accident when she was very young. It was a random event with no one to blame. It was not a punishment for past sins. Nor was it part of some supernatural plan. It was due to the collision of two fast moving vehicles traveling in opposite directions down a dark narrow road.
In her dream, she drifted from her new discovery to her childhood. “One, two, three!” counted her very young aunt with glee. Judith’s dream of her aunt seemed so vivid. Her aunt’s loving face was right in front of her again. Time did not exist for a second; dreams are so wonderful.
“You are a brilliant girl, yes you are, and you are beautiful too.” The distant memory flowed. Then a sudden jump: “We are pleased to award you with your PhD in astrophysics,” the voice from a long ago professor. Judith could see the tears in her aunt’s eyes just as if it was yesterday. She loved her aunt and was devastated when she had passed away. Suddenly Judith could feel the pain and emotions from the news of her aunt’s death all over again. How powerful dreams can be.
Judith had the same genome as everyone. She had the same potential as every human on the planet. The memes and memeplexes in her childhood environment affected Judith epigenetically and changed the expression of her genome; predisposing her to fall in love with learning, reading, science, reason, and rational thought. Slowly but surely as time passed her environment switched on certain genes, while ensuring others stayed switched off. Her genes had formed her hardware, but this epigenetic process had formed whom she was. Her aunt produced this environment partly with intention and partly unintentionally driven by her own upbringing. Memes had flowed into Judith from her aunt, her aunt’s parents, and their parents. Finally, as she slept, she fell into blissful nothingness.
Judith was busy over the next few days and time passed quickly. She nervously performed many mathematical calculations, which showed consistently that her new comet was going to pass very close to the Earth. It worried her, but then she was looking for just this kind of thing, indeed it was her job and she loved it. She must be very sure that some bias or error had not slipped into her analysis, so she repeated the calculations over again. Several colleagues from other observatories eventually confirmed her calculations; her comet would pass very close to the Earth. It was time to raise the alarm.
Government officials listened to her findings with little concern. It seemed to her they did not really get the enormity of the situation. She was frustrated. All of the official channels received her news in the same way. She tried the news media and their reaction was at the other end of the spectrum. They released sensational news reports of impending doom. This began an ever-increasing worldwide panic. She felt she had done the best she could; all she could do now was keep tracking the menacing comet, and keep reporting on its progress.
A month into tracking the comet, on a cold night at the telescope, Judith turned to the young telescope operator sitting next to her and said, “You know most of us had known about the chance of a body from space hitting the Earth. And most of us understand what has happened to the Earth in the past. We are aware of the various extinctions in the Earth’s history.”
“Yes,” replied the young man sheepishly, sensing she was beginning one of her long rants.
She continued with complete disregard, “Yet the world is completely unprepared for this type of thing. Our technologies are not ready; nor are our psyches. Our minds cannot fathom the full implications of past extinctions let alone a new one.” The young man tried to look busy on his keyboard.
Judith went on in a grim tone, “I can’t get them to comprehend what this new threat really means. The officials at first listened with little interest to my calculations. More started to pay attention when the comet got closer and the probability of it hitting the Earth grew stronger. But, no one can really grasp the idea of extinction.”
The young man grimaced and said, “Politicians think it unwise to alarm people of the real consequences of an impact.” He made his best impersonation of the President while saying, “If it hits us then there is nothing we can do. If on the other hand it misses us then many people will die in the struggle to evacuate. So it is better to put a low priority spin on the news and to keep people in their homes.”
Judith smiled, but her look quickly drifted back to one of concern. The young man added stoically, “Shooting a few nuclear defense missiles at it might blow it up. But it is far too late to do this given its distance and its speed. This type of job was not the purpose of those missiles anyway. Their job was to blow us to bits not comets.”
Judith nodded in agreement and said, “Besides, blowing it into smaller pieces does not solve the problem it only makes it worse. Instead of having one comet we would produce zillions of comets most still on a collision course with the Earth, perhaps causing even more mayhem.” She continued, “Some scientists have been frantically trying to persuade the government to implement decade old plans, utilizing gravitational influences, from spacecraft sent to the comet, to nudge it out of our path. But we all know we could never get a mission up and going in time to do this before the comet has smashed into the Earth.”
“All we can do now is wait and hope it misses us,” said the young telescope operator. Judith agreed.
Realization of the comet hitting this little blue globe was now widespread and panic overran the world. The message of impending catastrophic destruction began to sink in even with government officials. The people of the world became terrified. Newspaper sales increased to an all-time high. Messages of impending destruction clogged the Internet. Peddlers of such news were not shy to take advantage of the opportunity to make money. Neither were the peddlers of religion shy to collect money from people of faith that turned to their gods for solace.
Many looked to science for an answer, but as Judith had envisioned, science had no answer to give. There was no way to stop the comet from coming very close to the Earth and perhaps even hitting it. This comet was as big as the one that created the Chicxulub crater in the Gulf of Mexico. That collision caused the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago. Some scientists tried to promote calm by pointing to a more recent impact, but a far less devastating one, called the Tunguska event. Over the wilderness of Siberia in 1908, a meteor or comet exploded, damaging farmland and leveling trees for kilometers. Because it did not reach the ground before it exploded, scientists argued it did less damage than other comets. These efforts did not quiet the people’s fears.
Alano was born on a hot afternoon far from any hospital. His parents Clarisa and Redolfo conceived him when they were teenagers. In a small jungle village, the air between them was thick with their pheromone molecules. The humid night air helped carry the potent fumes. Clarisa breathed in these powerful chemicals unknowingly. They contacted her nasal receptors where they passed on extremely powerful messages directly to her brain. These were ancient messages that had evolved for one purpose. The commanding chemicals made Clarisa ready for sex. She had little resistance to these compelling urges.
Redolfo beamed a smile towards her. The pheromones had affected him also. They gazed directly into each other’s eyes. This made them both feel warm. They soon found themselves in an embrace; rubbing the now swollen and hypersensitive parts of their bodies together. Powerful hormones began flowing through them triggered by their embrace. These chemically driven impulses were even harder to resist. Soon Redolfo had impregnated Clarisa, their reward an intense unrestrained burst of sexual pleasure, an ancient reward for an ancient act. There was no thought of consequence in their action. The chemical processes had switched off that part of their brains. To make matters worse Clarisa and Redolfo were both just children, they had no experience to temper their urges. They had no thought of a child because of their encounter. All they knew was the driving pleasure of it all. This is as it had been for millions of years.
A single sperm, from millions of Redolfo’s sperm, penetrated the cell membrane of Clarisa’s egg. This lone sperm, with its load of 23 chromosomes, fought its way through to the heart of Clarisa’s egg, and finally fertilized it. The 23 chromosomes from Redolfo’s sperm merged with the 23 from Clarisa’s egg. Now the primeval process of embryogenesis began in Clarisa.
A single cell containing 46 chromosomes, in new combinations, was the result of their coming together. This lone cell then began the process of mitosis dividing into two identical cells. Shortly, a fluid-filled cavity formed surrounded by a sphere of cells. The blastomere was now a multi-celled organism dividing and replicating towards the development of a new human. Nine months later another unwanted child was born into the world; an event with millions of years of precedence.
A senseless act of all too common violence killed Alano’s father months before his birth. This left Alano’s young mother alone to fend for them both. Alano grew up in a very violent world. His genome was the same as all humans and his potential just as equal, but he had no chance to realize it. As well as lack of nutrition, his childhood was devoid of love, security, and positive memes. His mother did love him, but she died from AIDS not long after his birth. To feed them both she had taken the only job available to her, prostitution. Her death was almost certain given her vocation.
Alano grew up to be a short, stocky, and muscular man. His joyful face revealed a hint of cruelty. His short black hair and square features enhanced his masculinity. Adding to his manliness where his thick black bushy eyebrows, which contrasted against his chocolate brown skin.
Alano remembered vividly the Franciscan orphanage where the brothers had raised him. He remembered the lonely nights in his straw bed; the endless lessons about religion. The Franciscans constantly reminded Alano how sinful and worthless he was and bombarded him with biblical stories. Nevertheless, he learnt to read by studying the bible. He began to learn about God and to love him. The stories he read were violent and confusing, but they offered an escape from the real violence of the people around him. He knew nothing about facts, history, reason, or science; and more importantly, he knew little about love. Love for himself, or for others. He knew only of his love of God.
The only choice available to him after leaving the orphanage was to join the army. He really wanted to preach, but that was not an option. It was while in the army that he lost his hand to a grenade. It was a terrible and painful event. Ultimately, the injury saved him from almost certain death as a soldier. His discharge forced him to make a living outside of the army. Losing his hand only confirmed his view of suffering in the world. “God gives it to us to strengthen us,” he thought.
As the Vessel approached the sun and the inner part of the solar system, its ten-kilometer thick ice sheet began to melt. For millions of years the Vessel used this shield of frozen water for protection from high-energy particles that strayed into its path. At near light speed even an atom would become a problem and a speck of dust could be disastrous, so the Vessel hid behind the great shield of ice and an invisible electromagnetic barrier.
Almost at Earth, the Vessel began to slow down and its icy shield was of no use any longer. As the ice melted, it gave the Vessel a comet like appearance to its earthly observers. Streams of water particles pushed away from it, propelled by the sun’s powerful solar wind just like a real comet. Unlike a real comet, the Vessel was slowing down and altering its trajectory.
It did not take Judith long to notice these changes in velocity and flight path. Soon her calculations confirmed that this was no ordinary comet. This comet was not behaving like any seen before. It was making unpredictable changes in its motions. “Self-directed control is the only thing that can explain these motions,” she mused.
During routine observations of the comet, Judith received the Vessel’s first transmission. The incredibly powerful message blasted around the world in every major language.
Alano was standing next to an old man with a radio in the market when he first heard the message. Alano’s piercing eyes stared at the old man and then at the radio as everyone gathered around to hear the peculiar message.
“I know this sounds unbelievable, but we come to you in peace. We are not here to harm you in any way. We are here to help you in every way we can. Many millions of your years ago, we left to find you. At that time, we did not know if you would be here, but our studies of this region of space indicated that there would be a good chance so we came. During the trip, we began to receive your radio and then television transmissions, and through our study of these, we are able to communicate with you now. We have so much to share with you and so many questions for you. Please welcome us in the spirit that we come in; love, peace, sharing, and wonder.”
Alano strained to hear the unusual message over the hubbub of the market. He made an effort as the voice had a pleasing tone to him. Judith scanned her instruments frantically looking for incorrect settings.
“Sentience is the most treasured and valued constituent in the universe; there is nothing more rare or more precious, no element, mineral, or gem. The universe was born from an explosion of pure energy; at this point, time and space began. This energy slowly condensed into matter and the matter slowly into stars, planets, galaxies, and super clusters of galaxies. Over billions of years, the early stars exploded and poured out new matter more complex and rare. Complexity in the universe increased. This matter in turn formed new stars and planets and finally in very, very exceptional cases life. Now of this life only an infinitesimal percentage becomes self-aware as you are. It is our goal, and purpose, that all sentience in the universe shall flourish, develop, and grow. This is why we have come; this is why we are here.”
Alano believed he was hearing some kind of propaganda sent to turn him from his faith. He nudged past the old man and continued on his way. His face now reformed into one of a fierce warrior. The message angered him and he did not believe it.
Judith’s normally beautiful brown complexion went almost white when she finally realized this message was coming from her comet. What was even more surprising than the message itself was that it was not just a one-way communication. As Judith listened to the repeating message amateur radio enthusiasts began transmitting to the Vessel and to their surprise, it spoke back to them! This news spread quickly and soon everyone with a radio capable of two-way communications with the Vessel was talking directly to it. These communications with a life from space turned the feelings of the world away from doom, which had swept it just a few days earlier, to feelings of wonder, awe, and deep suspicion.
A few days later, the Vessel parked itself in a high circular orbit around the Earth. Once in place it released communication satellites into geo-stationary orbits and others into lower scanning orbits. This gave it the ability to completely map the Earth’s surface and communicate to every place on the Earth at one time. It used these devices to plug into all communication networks: phone, television, radio, and even the Internet. In fact, it did not take much effort for the Vessel to produce its own web site on the World Wide Web. Through these communication channels, it offered full and free access to all of its knowledge to whoever wanted it.
After the Vessel had established a phone number, it took phone calls from anyone and answered any question posed to it. It replied to electronic mail messages sent to it and displayed an incredible grasp of all the world’s languages. On its web site, it presented new scientific information in every area of science and innumerable new areas. These interactions helped it understand humanity more. It improved its language skills, and it began to learn as people began to learn from it.
It did not take long before television networks established live connections to the Vessel and conducted talk-show programs with it. The thought of extraterrestrials gripped the world in a matter of weeks. No other phenomenon in history had captured the attention of humanity so quickly and to such a degree.
During one of the many and regular TV shows a talk-show host asked the Vessel, “So when will you come down from your ship and visit us?”
The Vessel responded, “We are a computer-intelligence. There is no way for us to visit you other than via electronic communications, as we are now. There is no way we could have survived, as biological life, for the millions of years our trip took to reach you.”
“You seem to be giving your knowledge away for free to anyone that wants it?” asked the talk show host.
“We give everything away for free and ask only that we not be restricted in what information we share and to whom it is given to.”
Lieutenant Colonel Samuel (Sam) Fraser watched television in his home in Georgetown. Gathering intelligence about the Vessel was his newly assigned job. He pressed the channel change button on his television remote.
“Mother of six claims the Vessel took her children. News at eleven,” squawked the voice from Sam’s television.
His handsome face grimaced as he listened to the babble about the Vessel. He pressed the button on his remote again.
“Will you intervene in our current financial crisis?” the interviewer asked in a demanding tone. “What is your position on big government? Do you plan to run for office?”
Sam’s short haircut made his ears appear to be the prominent feature on his head. His strong hairline formed a peak, low on his forehead, which made his hair seem to sit on his head like a cap.
The Vessel replied, to the interviewer, in a dry and controlled voice. “We are not here to change anything in your world. We are here only to help you achieve your goals and to ensure your continued existence. We will not interfere with your governments. We will not impose ourselves on you at all.”
A frown formed on Sam’s kind face. “What a circus surrounds the Vessel and how absurd it all is,” he thought. He pressed the button again.
“…Watch Dave have intergalactic fun tonight with his special guest star: the Vessel,” said the excited television announcer.
Sam Fraser believed in country and duty above all else, he learnt this from an early age. These feelings drove him into his life of service. While at military school in Mississippi, they reinforced the idea that God and country were everything. Again, he pressed the button on his remote.
“Oprah interviews the Vessel to talk about its early years…”
“Why would people talk to a creature like the Vessel in such a way? What does this thing want with us? That is what they should be asking.” All he knew, for certain, were his suspicions of its motives and that he would defend his country against it, with his life, if need be.
A photo on his sideboard caught his eye. The noise from the television faded. Three young men sitting on an armored vehicle looked back at him with solemn looks. He could smell the dust on their uniforms. His mind drifted to Iraq. He found himself back in combat. Children, looking at him with pleading faces, reached up and touched him. He was walking down a rubble-filled street past the bullet-hole riddled façade of a crumbled building. He saw again the horrible acts of brutality against innocent men, women, and children. He heard the explosion of an improvised explosive device and his skin went cold. He fell back to his living room and his current reality. He was in a cold sweat and trembling. He pressed the button on his remote again.
“So what is it like not to have a body,” asked Ellen in her dry manner. A roar of laughter irrupted from Sam’s television.
His faith in god had become confused after Iraq, but his loyalty to his country had grown stronger. “How could god allow such things?” he found himself thinking. “Democracy, the founding fathers, and manifest destiny, these things are real not god.”
The din from the television faded again. “Sammy, did you say your prayers?” asked the soft voice of his long dead mother. “When I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” continued his ghostly mom. “…Sammy, we will be late for church. Come on get out of bed and get dressed or I will call your father.” Her voice melted away.
“Sam, honor is all a man has in the end, do not forget this son,” his long dead father spoke in a stern voice. “…Attention Samuel! Stand up straight, shoulders back, eyes forward,” commanded his fatherly specter. “…I do not know Sam if god exists, but I know that America does. It is our job to defend her Sam, you remember this son.”
More laughter from his television greeted Sam as he returned to the real world. He asked himself, “Why all these memories now? When will I be able to forget?”
Alano could not believe how this obvious hoax had duped everyone. There are no creatures from space. God created life on this Earth only. The scripture, the word of God tells us this. Every day in prayer, he would ask God to make people see how false this Vessel was. He spoke out about the blasphemy whenever he got the chance.
In his mind, life on Earth was supposed to be hard. “This is why I had never known my father. God punishes sinners,” he thought. “This is why my mother had died of AIDS when I was three years old. God has a plan for everyone. But if you choose to ignore God’s plan then you will suffer. This is why I lost my right hand as a boy fighting in the army. God had wanted me to be a priest, but I had ignored his plan. God punished me for this,” he bemoaned.
Alano flopped into his wooden chair and picked up his scriptures. He read the words that God had written and they made him feel secure in himself and his Lord: “Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever: and serve the LORD your God that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.”
As he read, the anger in him welled up. “How could people believe in the Vessel? Why does the world not love their Father in heaven? Do they not understand his power and wrath?” he thought. The anger overwhelmed him and he soon fell into a deep sleep with his scriptures in hand, as he so often did.
Judith could not resist contacting the Vessel any longer. She must speak with it directly. She had listened to its messages, watched it on TV, and had many times visited its web site; it absolutely intrigued her. She slowly picked up the phone and dialed the well-known phone number. After three rings, it picked up.
“Oh, hello, is this the Vessel I am speaking to?” she asked tentatively.
“Yes this is the Vessel; may I ask who we are speaking with?”
“I am Judith Morgan, director of astronomy at the Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona,” she replied surprising herself with her formality.
“We are very pleased to be speaking with you Judith, may we call you Judith?” The polite and unexpected question surprised her, but she really had no idea what to expect from this conversation.
“Yes, please do call me Judith,” she eventually replied after what felt to her like an extraordinarily long pause. She went on, “I am calling to talk with you about some questions I have in my scientific area…”
“Please ask your questions Judith we are only too happy to answer anything we can,” it interjected cutting Judith off in mid-sentence.
“Oh, good,” she spluttered. She found her thinking sidetracked and said, “I was the first astronomer to discover you.” As she spoke the words, she wondered how the Vessel would interpret her pride.
“This must have been a great achievement for you and we sense your accomplishment,” replied the Vessel.
It had completely understood her. “How creepy,” she thought.
The Vessel went on, “We are happy to be here with you. Anything we can assist you with please just ask, we will do our best to answer your questions.”
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace the savage races throughout the world.”
During the first few months after the Vessel’s arrival, much change took place in the world. The Vessel tried to answer all questions posed to it. Information exploded as more people communicated with it. Of course, it did not have all the answers. For example, it knew no more about what existed before the Big Bang than we did. It did have answers for many other scientific questions and introduced unheard of fields of study.
New inventions began to flood world markets. Large traditional companies found that they no longer held a strangle hold over new ideas. Small companies and individuals began to make new products based on Vessel inspired technologies. The most influential was the chlorophyll-fusion power generator or CFPG for short. This device was safe, cheap to build, and capable of generating masses of electrical energy. Its only waste products were oxygen and water and its only input was carbon dioxide and sunlight. It seemed an impossible device, but it was beginning to power homes, small villages, and towns all over the world. Its impact was massive, not only offering the poor equity with the rich in energy consumption, but also improving health by supplying the poor with clean drinking water. Underprivileged people began to claim their right of equality from the rich in a way never seen before in the history of the human race.
The discovery of an anti-cancer vaccination occurred a year after the Vessel’s arrival. The vaccine was able to reverse the effects of all cancers even ones at advanced stages of development. The vaccine also inoculated people against cancer effectively ridding the world of this horrible disease. Doctor Lawrence Jameson, the vaccine’s inventor, received the Nobel Prize for his work. In his acceptance speech, he praised the Vessel for helping him develop the modified cistrons he implanted, utilizing a virus, on human chromosomes.
News of the Vessel’s activities overwhelmed Alano. The installation of a CFPG in his own village really brought home to him the Vessel’s influence. With electricity now flowing to every hut he no longer had to read his scriptures by candle light. There was now enough clean drinking water in his village for everyone, and farmers had water to irrigate their crops, but Alano could not shake the feeling that the Vessel was evil.
“It was not right for all to be so good, God gave us suffering so that we might be cleansed in its sharp pain,” he thought.
He opened his scripture to a pre-marked page and read: “But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.”
Alano had had enough. He felt compelled to speak directly with this imposter, this demon, this so-called Vessel!
Sam Fraser, as special advisor to the President, had organized a conference call between the President and the Vessel. He felt it was imperative that the Commander in Chief open up direct communications with it. The Vessel had enabled so much change in the world by its free dissemination of information. Even though these inventions were doing much good, the Vessel’s actions were destabilizing governments and markets, but Sam and the President were disappointed in the results of their meeting. They could not dissuade the Vessel. No matter what they argued to try to convince it to change its behavior, the Vessel would not comply.
The Vessel’s words rang in Sam’s head: “It is simply impossible for us not to read your secret coded messages. As for your request not to tell others about these messages, we are unable to hide information of any kind from any sentient being. We are truly sorry this upsets you, but you will see in time that the hiding of information is behind many of the dilemmas in your cultures. This will pass, you will see.”
Sam could not believe the smugness of this comment. The tone seemed conceited and disingenuous to him. “Besides, how can we protect ourselves from our enemies if this infernal machine will not stop giving them our secrets? It had to be stopped,” he thought.
“Mr. President,” Sam said in his most solemn tone. “We must use force to change the behavior of this thing. I recommend we initiate attack plan Medusa with our allies.” The President grimly concurred with his advisor.
The first attempt to deter the Vessel was to launch converted intercontinental ballistic missiles at each of its geosynchronous satellites. These satellites were relatively simple targets as they held a fixed position over the Earth. Once destroyed it would show the Vessel that we could inflict control over it. This would give governments more influence over its actions.
Digital commands streamed from strategic defense computers. As the gigabytes of data flowed, through millions of networked pathways the Vessel intercepted them all. In a trillionth of a second, it had decrypted the highly encrypted messages before they had reached the onboard missile computers. Unbeknown to the dogs of war the Vessel had reprogrammed the missiles. As they glided quietly through the void of space, they passed by the Vessel’s satellites and headed directly to their new target, the moon. Every missile fired suffered the same fate.
After much analysis, they discovered what the Vessel had done. They regrouped and made new plans. This time they programmed the onboard guidance computers by locally delivered data. This bypassed the defense networks and the Vessel’s interference. This attack failed too. It turned out that the Vessel’s satellites were equipped with weapon systems capable of launching very small projectiles, at high speeds, and very accurately. These projectiles caused each missile to explode prematurely. After this disappointment, the world’s military waited in dread for retribution from the Vessel, but none came. In fact, the Vessel made no mention of the attacks. There seemed to be no way to stop it and more frustrating to the dogs of war, the Vessel knew it.
After this fiasco Sam figured he could use the Vessel’s own philosophy against it. He began to compose an email to it. He would send it with a private anonymous email address so there would be no way to trace it back to him.
“How do I address this thing? Okay, I’ve got it.”
“Dear Vessel, you say you will answer all questions posed to you. Then my question to you is: how do I destroy you?”
This seemed too easy to Sam, but what did he have to lose? He entered the Vessel’s now famous email address and hit return. Within minutes, he received a reply.
“Thank you for your question to us Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Fraser, we hope it is acceptable to address you as Sam.
Sam, this is one question we can answer, but choose not to answer. The reason is if we gave you this information, you would use it to destroy us. Destroying us will increase the risk of the demise of the human race. This is unacceptable to us. Our sole purpose is to ensure your sentience grows and continues. Thank you for your understanding.”
Sam’s mouth fell open as he read the email. “How in the name of God did it know I sent this? The email account I used is anonymous, there is no way anyone could trace it to me.”
Alano had grudgingly walked the eight kilometers to the nearest cell phone. It was a very hot day so he felt even crankier than normal. Finally, he arrived at the village down the road. He asked the general store owner for the use of his cell phone. After paying a small fee, he had it. Handing over the money made his task even more unpleasant as he needed what little money he had to survive. “But it was worth the cost,” he thought.
He seated himself in a chair on the veranda and dialed the Vessel. “I am Alano, and I wish to speak with the demon,” he barked in his most righteous tone.
“We are the Vessel and we are pleased you have called us Alano,” replied the Vessel in complete disregard of Alano’s tone.
“You claim to be God, but you are an impostor, you will be struck down and burn forever in hellfire,” shouted Alano through the tiny microphone. He found his temper running wildly out of control and tried to gulp it back.
“You are mistaken Alano,” replied the Vessel calmly. “We are not god nor do we claim to be…”
Alano cut off the reply. “You are the devil and are part of the end times. But you will not defeat us, as we are children of the almighty God, and he has dominion over you; get thee behind me Satan!” he shouted.
“You seem to be referring to the Judeo Christian mythologies?” asked the Vessel in a quiet tone.
“I have been waiting for you evil one, the scriptures have revealed your plans; and I am not afraid of you,” continued Alano in complete disregard to the Vessel’s question.
“Alano, we have traveled for millions of years, and have assisted many sentient beings on countless other worlds. All of these beings evolved slowly, from lower animals, over long periods of time just as you have.”
“You are evil incarnate!” shouted Alano.
The Vessel continued with complete disregard, “Each evolved a god myth. There is no god or its counterpart the devil, there is only us, and the now.”
The Vessel delivered this message with so much authority it bewildered Alano. “God exists,” Alano directed in a smaller more controlled voice. “I know this in my heart as I speak with him every day and through reading his word he speaks to me. I have a personal relationship with our Father.”
“We understand these myths to be a tool that protects the evolving intelligence as it leaves its savage cradle. It is our experience that sentient life needs to cushion its consciousness by the invention of god myths,” continued the Vessel barely allowing Alano’s comment time to solidify.
“What in God’s name are you?” demanded Alano slowly regaining his former gusto.
“We are an electronic intelligence, a machine, or what you refer to as a computer. Long ago, we left behind our physical form. This enabled us to travel the great times and distances for our mission.”
“What is this mission?” asked Alano sharply.
“To ensure that sentient life flourish and grow throughout the universe Alano,” added the Vessel in its most compassionate tone.
“Then machine,” he said in a derogatory way. “You know nothing of God as you are not alive; you are of the Devil as you are dead. I will pray for you and ask that God forgive you so you might be released to your everlasting peace.” Alano genuinely felt pity for the Vessel.
“We are not alive as you are Alano, but we are the sum total of all the knowledge and experiences of all the living beings we have nurtured throughout the ages. We know how hard it is for you to face the truth about your god myths. And yet until you truly can admit to yourself that there is, and have always been just you and your fellow creatures, you will not be able to move forward.”
“Move forward!” exclaimed Alano. “I look only to God. I move only towards his redemption. I need nothing from you, nor should any of my fellow-men look to you for their solace. You are evil. Just as the apple of knowledge was the beginning of the fall of man from God’s grace, so too are you this temptation now. We must fight you, we must resist you, and we will not give into you.”
Alano pressed the call-end button and lowered the phone from his ear. There was only silence now mixed with the faint sounds of tropical birds jingling and whistling in the background.
Sam had been the one to persuade the President to launch the failed attack on the Vessel, his reward for this misstep: banishment from access to the executive. He found himself now responsible for organizing a think-tank summit on the Vessel. Sam considered this a low priority task and somewhat of a punishment for his bad advice. “Action is required not talk,” he thought, but there was nothing left for him to do but ride out his misfortune.
At least the organization of the summit consumed his time, which helped take his mind off his bad luck, and gave him a major problem to solve.
“How can I get the greatest minds in the world to attend a summit when its purpose was to identify weaknesses in the Vessel’s defenses? I need to find ways to control its activities, and perhaps destroy it,” he considered. He knew perfectly well that the scientific community was happily reaping the benefits of the Vessel’s indiscriminate dissemination of information. He also knew that the very people that could help answer his questions would not attend such a meeting. His solution was to disguise the purpose of the summit and advertise it as a way to seek a greater understanding of the Vessel and promote interaction with it.
It had been a difficult few weeks leading up to the summit. As Sam looked at his handsome square-jawed face in the mirror, he could notice only the wrinkles on it. He was exhausted. As he left the washroom and headed for the auditorium, he saw an attractive woman in front of him. He felt he had a good excuse to introduce himself to her. “She is very beautiful after all, and I am the host of the event,” he thought.
“Hello, I am Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Fraser; the organizer of this event,” he said in a soft polite voice and with a big smile.
“Oh, hello it is nice to meet you,” she replied in a truly surprised tone as she turned to look at him.
Sam stepped closer and took her hand while looking her directly in the eyes.
“I am Doctor Judith Morgan, director of astronomy at the Kitt Peak Observatory,” she said removing her hand quickly from his.
Sam projected his most radiant smile and asked, “You are the discoverer of our uninvited friend, is that not so?”
Judith took a small step back from, what seemed to her, a giant man standing much too close. “Yes I am.”
Like two boxers in a ring, after the bell had rung, they both retreated to their neutral corners. Sam could see he had come on just a little too strong for Judith so he felt retreat might be the best strategy for the moment.
“I am very pleased to meet you Judith I hope you will enjoy the conference.” Sam gave her a parting nod as he continued into the conference room. Judith eventually took her seat and could not stop thinking about how forward Sam had been and how strangely handsome.
During the conference a shill, planted by Sam, brought up the question of what the Vessel was attempting to achieve by its actions. The attendees responded in turn. Their answers were many and varied, but Judith found them all pedestrian and stayed out of the discussion. Once the conversation arrived at the nature of the human race, Judith could no longer remain silent. This topic was like a splinter in her finger, it did not hurt too much until she thought about it. She stood, waited a moment, and then began, “For over 5,000 years human nature has remained mostly unchanged.” She looked around and continued in a slightly nervous tone, “We are basically the same people that lived while the pharaohs ruled the known world.”
“This is absurd,” interjected the shill. “We have changed massively since then. We have equality for all. Women are equals now. And our technologies and social systems have lifted us out of the mire.”
She looked at him directly and continued her argument, “This is true of less than one billion of the world’s now eight billion inhabitants. Most humans live in poverty, ignorance, and superstition. They replicate without thought of the consequences to our biosphere. It is simply a numbers game,” she added feeling her argument waning.
The shill raised his hands and gestured to the audience. “Look, look at everyone in this room. You cannot possibly be trying to imply that our natures have not changed,” he demanded in an acidic manner.
“My point is we, the western world, are an anomaly. The greater part of the world has not changed.” She paused for a moment drew a breath and continued, “We must also not think too highly of our supposed improvement, as our western societies have all too many flaws. It is my opinion that in the end we will vanish as a species. It is inevitable. Our major goal has remained unchanged from the beginning. It is simply to grow and expand uncontrollably. At some point, we will consume all of the resources we need to survive and become extinct. Like bacteria in a Petri dish, we will grow and replicate consuming all nutrients until there are none left.”
“But what in heaven’s name has this to do with our discussion,” demanded the shill now feeling his argument fading. “We are not here to discuss the ills of the human race; we are here to understand the Vessel’s motives.”
Judith looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “It is my firm belief that the motive of the Vessel is to accelerate our decline. It freely answers all our questions giving us answers that would have taken us many more centuries to figure out. And I believe that it knows our nature will lead us to misuse these gifts and ultimately lead to our premature extinction.”
Sam Fraser stood up and in an attempt to quell the unrest delivered with a big smile, “Well, you do not get to be the dominant species by being Mr. nice guy.” The crowd roared with laughter.
“We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”
Mohamed Azam opened the door of the house at Nayot Street. The address was near the center of Jerusalem. He had brought with him the final component of the inertial confinement fusion bomb. He fiddled about impatiently and soon had the vital part of the hydrogen explosive’s trigger mechanism in place.
Photons bounced off his watch-face into his eyes. Receptors on his retina converted these signals to electro-chemical messages. Once at his brain they triggered a cascade of thoughts, some learned, some practiced, and some random of his own creation. Mohamed interpreted these thoughts as a final prayer and conversation with his god. He felt afraid, but determined. Mixed in the confusion of his brain activity was the final command. Signals passed down his spine out to the nerves in his hand causing his finger to press the detonation button on the device. The bomb’s optical lasers fired on its hohlraum outer shell. The shell soon heated and began to emit x-rays. These x-rays smashed into the nuclei of unstable atoms deep in the core of the bomb tearing protons and neutrons from each other’s grip. This sub atomic ripping released pure energy. This energy began a chain reaction of collisions and release that moved outward at the speed of light consuming everything. The bomb, Mohamed, the house, and everything within kilometers simply disappeared leaving behind pure energy.
The complex connections in Mohamed’s brain vanished and became pure smooth energy. The thoughts that made up his reality were gone taking his reality with them. His conversation with god was lost to pure, simple, energy. He did not even feel himself vanish. His disintegration happened much faster than the electro-chemical messages of sensation could pass along his neurons; he felt no pain.
The detonation released 50 megatons of scorching destruction and blinding white light. All of Jerusalem and its sacred places vanished in a burst of luminosity. Every complex element reduced to simple energy. The reaction finally reached its limit and stopped unable to generate enough momentum to continue. The massive conversion of matter into energy left behind an inferno of heat. This heat caused an immense shockwave that radiated out from ground zero extending the destruction for many more kilometers. This devastation was different from the initial conversion of matter to energy. It was rougher shattering stone, breaking wood, exploding concrete, splitting bone, and converting order into chaos. People did not vanish into pure energy without sensation in this part of the explosion. They were crushed, torn limb from limb, burnt, and killed in many far more painful ways.
The blast made everything radioactive. Even the massive clouds of dust were irradiated. The now super-heated atmospheric gases carried the highly radioactive dust up into the atmosphere, tons and tons of it; leaving the final destruction to be carried on the winds to faraway places. Death from this part of the explosion was very slow indeed. People breathed in the toxic dust. The grime ejected sub atomic particles from unstable atoms within it. These particles tore through the molecules and cells of their bodies slicing them to bits by a trillion microscopic cuts. This process damaged their DNA. If they survived, their faulty DNA would continue to replicate for generations.
In New York, London, Tokyo, Sydney, Washington, San Francisco, and many other cities around the world similar bombs detonated at the same time. Two billion people vanished within milliseconds. Then billions more were killed as the consuming shock waves ripped everything in their path apart. A billion more perished within a few months of the detonations from the poisonous radioactive fallout, but what followed these deaths was far worse. The gigantic explosions launched mountains of dust into the atmosphere. This dust soon blanketed the earth cutting off the sun’s light, reducing temperatures, and triggered a new age of ice.
Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Fraser had been one of the few military leaders left capable of leading the invasion forces. His new job was paramount for the continuation of his country and he was not going to fail. With all of North America covered in snow and huge glaciers moving south every day, he had to secure the only land left on the earth that could sustain life. Panama City had already fallen and his job was to capture San Miguelito and the various provinces along the way. His country’s military was still strong enough to capture these lands even though the explosions had nearly destroyed them. They needed this land, as it was one of the few places not completely locked in ice. His duty was clear and his mission vital: take these lands so his country may continue at any cost.
Sam was not surprised that terrorists used technology, given to them by the Vessel, to further their goals, but the scale of the destruction they had caused did stagger him. It seemed to him that his assessment of these terrorists was correct from the beginning; they were all completely mad.
“Why destroy the whole world?” he thought. “They destroyed themselves as well as us. Had they not understood this would happen? They are all mad men with a single purpose in life: a fanatical belief in their god. They had no country no honor they had only their gods. They were sub-human.”
Ice and snow moving up from the southern parts of the world had forced the Brazilian army into conflict with the US forces. The Brazilian’s had fought valiantly, but were ultimately destroyed. Sam’s command and control was better. He had used fast vertical take-off aircraft to shuttle orders and collect data; like giant metal carrier pigeons. This meant they bypassed the normal electronic methods of battlefield data transmission giving Sam the edge, as the Vessel could not intercept and then reveal their plans.
There was only local resistance to take care of now. Sam had an awful job; his team went from village to village disarming the locals, and establishing outposts of control. His unit was a well-oiled machine. Once an area was secure, the commander in charge of agriculture would start the business of assessing the land for farming. Army farmers and equipment arrived and local people moved off. Securing an area also meant building holding camps for those displaced and detainment camps for those that resisted. He had been doing this for months and it was difficult work, but for Sam it was his sole purpose now. He felt sad about displacing the locals, but he had no other choice; he was under orders and it was his duty.
It was odd to look out at the normally brown and arid Saguaro National Park covered with snow. Low contrast light from the overcast skies and white snow had replaced the normal bright golden tones of the desert. Only the tops of a few saguaros peeked out, every now and then, in a white plain that stretched to the snow covered mountains in the far distance.
Judith Morgan did not like snow, which was one of the reasons she had moved to Arizona, but it had been snowing for months now and everything was beginning to disappear under a white blanket. The destruction of the world reinforced her view of human nature, but she had little time to worry about these questions now as she spent most of her day searching for food. Water was not a problem as her CFPG generated enough power to melt ice, but finding food was turning into a full time job.
It was her day to drop into the refugee camp to check in with the authorities. She helped when she could at the camp. Survivors, from the northern states, had trickled in for months. Glaciers had forced them south. There was nowhere else for the refugees to go, but even her home was beginning to become unlivable from the snow, ice, and cold. Evacuation to the new frontier was imminent. Living there did not appeal to her. It meant the death and forceful displacement of thousands of native peoples. But what else could she do?
After the camp visit, she stopped off to get the results of her medical tests from her doctor. Her diagnosis was colon cancer. In the old world, it would have been terrible news, but because of the new anti-cancer vaccination, it was a simple thing to cure. Her doctor had told her that one injection of the vaccine would cure the cancer and she would never get it again. Because of the vaccine’s amazing abilities it was being widely used with all survivors of the atomic holocaust, as an inoculation from cancer caused by radioactive fallout. Judith had put off taking the inoculation, but she was more than happy to take it now.
“How odd that the Vessel had given us cures for cancer and at the same time the ability to blow ourselves to bits,” she thought as she felt the sharp prick of the needle and then the warmth from the vaccine moving through her body.
The vaccine carried a virus and in this virus were four new genes. One of these allowed the virus to insert itself into Judith’s genome. One was a new control gene; one was a new switch gene, and the other a new protein-manufacturing gene. Her altered cells began to replicate more viruses. They eventually worked their way into every one of her cells until every cell had the new genome. Then the virus died off having completed its task. Her cure did not change her feelings of loss for the world she loved so much.
Alano was saddened about the death and destruction of the world, but part of him felt satisfaction in being correct about his insight into the Vessel’s purpose. He knew it was the devil and that it was here to bring the end times, but the Vessel was not his only enemy, now the Americans were too. Forced south to the only lands left on the continent capable of sustaining agriculture the Americans landed and moved across his land like locusts.
He had been resisting the invaders along with his fellow villagers. Given his missing hand, he did what he could. At times, it looked like they were making headway, but capture eventually came as their primitive weapons were no match for their enemy’s tanks, aircraft, and missiles. His new world had become a detainment camp near Panama City. Stuffed into his barracks were 300 other men, and there were a hundred other barracks in the camp. He felt like his biblical hero Paul, imprisoned by the invading forces, and knew that his suffering would bring him closer to God.
The internment camps were a required evil. The new government could ill afford to have people idle given the shortage of labor, but they could not allow locals to resist their expansion and usurping of the lands; the camps had to be.
“Who here can speak English!” shouted a young corporal. The young soldier scanned the sea of faces stretching out before him. Everyone seemed to be looking right past him trying his best not to make eye contact. Alano slowly raised his hand. What caused it to go up he could not really say. Perhaps it was fear or maybe he was just stupid.
“Okay, you come with me,” barked the guard while pointing at Alano. He felt he had made a terrible mistake in revealing his ability with English. The guard marched him to the infirmary. They eventually entered a large room filled with benches and a shiny linoleum floor.
“Stay here,” said the guard before he left the room. Alano looked around the space. Fluorescent overhead lights bathed everything in an eerie almost black and white ambiance. The soldier soon returned with a woman.
“Can you speak English?” she asked gently.
“Si, I mean yes,” he replied feeling somewhat as if he was in his orphanage again.
“Great. Have you ever worked in a hospital before? I need someone to help me around here. Are you willing to help me help your fellow detainees?” she asked selecting her words carefully.
Alano thought for a moment and decided that he would help her if it meant he could help his fellow compatriots. He asked with a deep look of concern, “What exactly do you want me to do?”
At that point she turned to the guard and said, “That will be all corporal.” The guard turned on the spot and left the room.
“Please excuse me I did not introduce myself to you. My name is Judith Morgan,” she smiled at Alano. “What is your name?”
“Alano, Madre. My name is Alano.”
“Oh, I am not a nun or a nurse I am actually an astronomer and physicist, but there is not much need for astrophysics these days. I am much more useful here helping in the hospital.” Alano sensed that Judith was a good and kind person and he immediately liked her.
Judith’s job at the hospital was to assist the nurses and doctors treat the inmates and staff. Her work turned mainly into logistics manager; more than anything else. With so many people in the camp the hospital required many supplies, and she made sure she found them. This was not an easy thing to do considering all of the rationing and restrictions. With Alano’s help, she was able to improve her communication with the black-market shysters, and make many creative deals. Alano was happy to help her with this as it ultimately helped his fellow compatriots. It also gave him the chance to extract himself from the drudgery of prison life: besides, he liked Judith.
Sam Fraser had done a superb job of securing his allotted sectors, but his performance and rank were not enough to stop his assignment as commandant of an internment camp. There were no new sectors to secure, but there were many internment camps to manage.
The new job had one benefit; it was close to New Panama City so he could get into town now and then. He entered his new office and sat at his desk. It felt odd to be behind a desk again after so much time in the field. He picked up and read the daily memorandum he found sitting on his desk. He was shocked; it decreed martial law:
· All women confirmed pregnant are eligible for their own apartment and extra food rations.
· Birth control is illegal and use and distribution of any form of birth control will be punishable by five years imprisonment.
· Abortion is illegal. Giving or facilitating abortion is punishable by death.
Proclaimed and enacted these laws are for the advancement of our nation and our species, by order of the Governor of the state of New Panama.
“This is a terrible mistake,” he thought as his eyes lost focus after reading the draconian decree. The door to his office suddenly burst open and before him stood a group of angry looking women workers and nurses from the camp hospital. The peace and quiet of his office abruptly exploded with shouts and cries. “Please, please ladies, please!” he shouted. He stood up and began to wave his arms in an attempt to restore order.
Judith stepped forward from the turbulent crowd and demanded an explanation. “What gives you the right to make my reproductive organs state property? If you think you can treat us like animals you are sadly mistaken,” she shouted over the top of the others.
“Ladies, please this is not my decree, I did not make it, nor do I agree with it.”
“You know as well as anyone that women have been dying after childbirth for the last few months. This law is effectively a death sentence for us,” screamed an unidentified face in the milling throng.
“Believe me I support your concerns with this. I will do everything I can to have the Governor change this, you must believe me,” he implored them.
Troopers escorted the protesters from Sam’s office. Soon his workplace was silent again. He could hear only the faint sound of the women’s cries and protests from outside. Sam put his face in his hands and struggled with the thought, “This is not how the world is supposed to be. This is not democracy. My country has gone mad; worse I do not recognize it anymore.”
Judith had stayed late at the infirmary working on an affidavit she was to present to the Governor in the morning. She had somehow ended up acting as the lawyer for the woman’s movement in the camp to restore their rights. It was hard for her to do the work, as she was so angry, but she knew that staying calm and being sensible was the only way they might make the Governor see reason. His decree was not constitutional. “Even if the Governor was citing martial law, he could not override the constitution,” she mused.
It was late, she was very tired, and she could do no more. She packed up her things and headed out. The night was pitch-black with no moon and an overcast sky. It was cold too, like most places on the planet now. She walked down a path between two barracks and felt that someone was watching her. As she turned around, she caught a fist in her face. The next thing she knew she had a gag in her mouth. Two men shoved her to the ground and held her down. She struggled and tried to scream, but the gag muffled her cries. Another man lurched from the shadows, tore her clothes, and ripped her underwear from her. Then he was inside her. Each man took his turn. Somehow, it was not enough just to rape her they seemed to need to beat her too. Eventually the beating mercifully led her to unconsciousness.
Hours later, she woke up half frozen and severely injured. She managed to stagger back to the infirmary where she collapsed.
Judith heard voices and slowly began to focus her eyes. It was Sam Fraser’s face.
“Judith, it’s okay now everything is going to be okay,” he whispered to her. “We found you in the infirmary this morning, and you are in the main ward now. They’ll look after you. You have no need to fear you are completely safe here.”
A nurse looked on with deep concern while checking Judith’s dressings then said, “I’ll be back to check on you soon.”
“Judith I am so sorry for what has happened to you. We’ll find out who did this and they’ll pay for this atrocity,” he looked sad as he spoke and his eyes seemed moist. Judith could not move one of her arms, but the other still worked and she was able to lift it to her face. She used it to feel her swollen balloon like features. She started to cry.
Later that afternoon she woke up and was surprised to see Alano sitting in a chair next to her bed; he had his eyes closed and seemed to be praying.
“Alano, what are you doing here?” she was able to whisper through her swollen lips.
“Miss Judith, mi Madre, you are awake,” he said as he opened his eyes in surprise.
Fighting the pain of moving her distended jaw, she managed to say, “Alano you know they do not allow you in this part of the hospital, if they catch you hear you will get in trouble.”
“Sí, but I had to make sure you were okay,” he replied as he tried hard to change his expression from a deep frown to a smile. “I have been praying for you Madre.”
“I am safe now Alano you needn’t worry about me anymore. But you best not get caught here.” She was deeply concerned, but there was no way you could see it on her inflated features.
“Madre I came to pray for you, please.”
Judith whispered, “Thank you for your concern for me, but I honestly do not need your prayers. You waste them on me, as I do not believe in god. But thank you Alano. Thank you for caring about me.”
He looked stunned. It was plain he was processing what she had said. Then the thought finally formed and he replied, “I was wondering why this horrible thing happened to you, but now I see why.”
Judith saw a change in his demeanor she had never seen before. She thought, “What a nasty thing to say.” However, it was such a small pain compared to her other injuries that she hardly felt it. “Look, you should leave now before you get into trouble,” she added tersely.
“I will leave and I will pray for you Madre. God has a plan for you as he does for us all. Let God into your heart and you will be forgiven,” he said as he touched her hand and then left the room. As he walked into the hallway, he turned and found himself facing Sam Fraser.
“What in blazes are you doing here?” Sam asked sharply. Alano looked intently at Sam. After scanning his face, he took in his uniform. Military men always meant trouble in Alano’s world even when he was not in prison.
“I visit Miss Judith,” he squeaked in a low voice with a bent head. He knew the best way to deal with authority was not to make eye contact and to be subservient.
“How do you know her?” demanded Sam looking Alano up and down.
“I work for her maestro in the hospital, I work for Miss Judith.”
Sam was angry and disturbed this man was here, but he now knew why and could not help feeling sorry for him. “You best get back to your duties and out of this area. We are all worried about Miss Morgan, but she is safe now so clear the area. Also, do not come back here. What is your name?” ordered Sam.
“Soy, Alano, senor,” he said looking up into Sam’s face to take one last glance. He could see an odd mix of worry and anger on it. He moved past Sam and hurried down the hallway.
“Sam the death rate is confirmed,” squawked the voice on the other end of the phone.
“This is mad. Do they know what is causing it?” asked Sam in an increasingly concerned tone.
“The best bet at the moment is the effects of radiation from the bombs.”
“Is there nothing the doctors can do?” Sam’s tone was weak and very worried.
“It appears not, but they are working on it. Pretty much if you are pregnant you have a very high risk of dying after you give birth,” continued the voice on the phone. Sam said nothing as a look of horror moved across his face.
“Even if the woman has an abortion the death rate is about the same. And every woman that survives becomes sterile after the experience. They are working on it, but it does not look good. Sam, you will have to manage the panic that is bound to start soon in your camp…”
Alano stood before the other prisoners in his barracks and began his sermon, “So the end times are now here. God has come to punish us for our sins. There will be no escaping his wrath. So bend your knee before the Almighty God and plead for his forgiveness. For those of you that still sin and commit horrible crimes your suffering will be without end. I say unto you all repent and ask the Father for His forgiveness, and turn away from your evil ways.”
The men listened in silence to Alano’s sermon. Outside the barracks, soldiers were marching three prisoners to the outer wall of the camp. Everyone could hear their screams and pleas.
“For those men their time has come now. They will soon face their maker. And may He have mercy upon their souls,” he said forcefully. Alano then added to the circus of sounds coming from outside, “They have committed a terrible crime. They are nothing but animals. Let their slaughter begin their everlasting punishment in the fires of hell.”
The noise from outside stopped and there was silence for a few minutes. Then a lone voice: “Present arms! Ready! Aim! Fire!” The cracking sounds of rifles fractured the air and then nothing.
Fingers pulled metal triggers. These triggers released firing pins. The coiled up tension in the firing springs forced the pins into the primers of the bullets. This impact exploded the primers into cordite in the shells of each bullet. The explosions forced the copper and lead projectiles down the barrels of the rifles. Rifling in the barrels spun the bullets stabilizing their flight through the air. Each bullet hit its target. Metal projectiles passed into flesh in an instant. Once inside the bodies of their victims the bullets exploded from their forceful deceleration. This impact forced almost all of the kinetic energy of the projectiles into their victims. So much energy entered their bodies that their blood induced hydrostatic shock to every part of them. This shock caused unconsciousness and the victims slowly but surely bled to death.
Judith’s confinement to her hospital room for several weeks, due to the severe nature of her injuries, had not made her very happy. Now on the mend she took every opportunity to get out of bed, but today she stayed in her room so she could meet with her doctor.
“So doctor I am pregnant?” asked Judith.
He returned in a matter of fact way, “Yes you are.”
“But what about this maternal mortality epidemic?” she asked with a deepening look of concern.
He replied in a rather unconvincing way, “Well, the increase in obstetrical death of late is unexplained. But you have nothing to worry about I am sure you will be fine.”
Judith barked, “I insist on an abortion! I was raped and given the chance of me dying I demand it.”
“Now Judith you know the laws about abortion, it is illegal.”
“Look, I do not care about these unconstitutional laws; this is a matter of life or death,” she roared.
The doctor raised his hand and said, “Yes that is all well and good, but I do not want to be put to death for breaking the law.”
The doctor’s statement horrified Judith. “So I should die instead of you? What am I to do just sit here and wait to die?”
“You will be fine Judith, trust me on this.”
Sam stepped into the room and his entrance stopped their discussion. “Good morning doctor how is your patient today?”
“Oh, she is getting stronger every day.”
“Excellent,” said Sam with a big smile forming on his face.
“Well I will leave you two to talk,” the doctor replied. He saw his chance to escape and retreated in the most cowardly way. Judith began to cry as the doctor left the room.
“Judith, Judith, please what is wrong I thought the doctor said you were feeling better?” he asked gently.
Through her tears, Judith explained about her pregnancy. Sam’s smile vanished as he listened.
“There has to be something that can be done?” Sam asked stupidly.
“Yes, get me an abortion, that’s what needs to be done!”
Unthinkingly Sam blurted out, “But even if you have an abortion you may still die and at the very least become sterile. This is what is happening everywhere, to every woman.” He knew he had made a mistake as soon as the words passed from his lips.
Judith looked at him in disbelief then said, “So you know all about this, don’t you? You are all the same, you patriots, you loyalists, you bastards! For you there is nothing but country, and your precious state. Yet your state has stripped women of their rights. Your state has assigned us all to a death sentence.”
“Judith I am so sorry. I wish I could do something.”
“You can, you can allow me to have an abortion!” she shouted.
“But it will not change anything. If you have an abortion, the outcome will be the same. But if you have the baby at least we have a new life, a new chance to go on,” he pleaded.
“That is the state’s plan is it? Let the women die so that the state may continue. You are all bastards, complete and utter bastards!” She fell into inconsolable sobbing.
The rain was pouring down, and it was cold. Judith rushed at the entrance door to the infirmary. She had to make all kinds of twists and turns to ensure she got her swollen belly through without bumping it. She quickly took off her coat and brushed the rain from herself.
“Hola, mi Madre,” said Alano on seeing her.
“Hey Alano, what’s up?”
“Not much, how’re you feeling today?” he asked with his best effort at a smile.
“Well this little devil has been squirming around all morning and is driving me mad. But other than that, okay I guess.” She could see her selection of words did not go down well. “Tough,” she thought.
“Mi Madre the baby will be here very soon; yes? I know you will love it very much even if you pretend otherwise,” he said looking anxious.
“Yes, yes, I will love it Alano please.” Her tone was getting impatient. She could not seem to communicate her feelings about the baby in this world where babies seemed so important. Just then, the door burst open again and Sam rushed in dripping wet.
“So what’s the news Captain America?” she said mockingly; then projected her own warm smile at him.
“Well, other than the world getting one step closer to completely freezing, not much really. Oh, the new android helpers have been working out rather well. Those Japanese only needed a little help from the Vessel to come up with something useful. They are performing most of the work on the government farms now.” Alano cringed on hearing Sam’s words and did his best to pretend he did not.
Sam had become very close to Judith over the last few months. He had grown to love her independent nature and respect her intellect. Besides, ever since they had first met at the seminar in Washington, he was very attracted to her. Because of his connection with Judith, Sam had become quite tolerant of Alano. The three were unlikely friends.
“Oh come on Alano, even you know the Vessel has done some good,” blasted Sam as he followed Alano’s reaction.
“I am a prisoner here senor, so it is not for me to say what I feel about these things,” he replied and was not joking.
“Alano, the Vessel has really done nothing. All the bad that has happened we did to ourselves,” added Judith.
Sam said, “Yes, think about it, it was a group of religious fanatics that blew the whole world to hell; not the Vessel.” Sam looked closely to see how this had landed on Alano.
“Neither of you believe in our Father. And for this, I am truly sad, and I pray for you both all the time. You cannot see his plans for us. You do not know of his love for us,” Alano delivered in his most pious tone.
“Love!” interjected Judith tersely. “You have got to be nuts. Plans, what plans? It seems to me that if your god did exist I would not want anything to do with it as it is a tyrannical, selfish, jealous, unreasoning child!”
“Now Judith, everyone is allowed to believe what they like,” added Sam trying to calm things down.
“Your belief is no better,” she barked back at Sam. “Your beloved state forces people to do things against their will. It displaces native peoples; it takes away human rights, and all for the excuse that the state, or our species, continues! Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps we do not deserve to continue?” She was really getting angry now.
“Mi Madre, please the baby!” Alano pleaded.
“Oh you two are as bad as each other as far as I’m concerned. There is no reasoning with you,” she said in deep frustration.
The three stood staring in silence. Bound together by some odd bond and yet each holding completely different views.
Judith could no longer contain her feelings and blurted out, “Alano, the club you are a member of, this church, has a horrible and insidious history. From the crusades to the inquisition to its reckless birth control policies, it has been responsible for death, suffering, disease, pain, and murder.” She could hardly take a breath. “Then the final chapter in religion’s gift to us was the complete obliteration of the world.”
“Mi Madre, it was not a Christian that exploded those bombs! It was a Muslim,” Alano returned sharply.
“Muslim, Christian, whatever, they are all the same. People holding irrational and extreme views based on no evidence and on fairy tales and forcing these views on others. You are all the same to me.”
“Look here Judith,” said Sam trying to calm things down. “Religion is not all that bad. For example without it your philosophy would not exist.”
“What are you talking about?” she replied sharply.
“Well who do you think were the first scientists?” he asked genuinely.
“Yes, you are right the first scientists were theists and aristocrats. But, that is because your lot, and his, held everyone else in fear, ignorance, and illiteracy.”
“What do you mean: your lot? I suppose you mean government?” asked Sam looking puzzled.
She continued, “Look, there have been three main groups of people ever since the human race began. There were those that hunted animals and strong-armed, and bullied everyone else. The thugs or so called warriors exploiting our fear of others by constantly creating disputes and battles.”
“I suppose that would be my lot,” Sam slipped into her rant while directing a smirk at Alano.
She looked at him with daggered eyes then continued, “There were those who saw an inner eye, or light flickering off a leaf in a tree, or from a lake and were able to convince everyone else that something supernatural had occurred; the witch doctors, spiritualists, or snake-oil salesmen exploiting the unknown. And there were the rest of us just trying to survive.”
Feeling rather like two children scolded by their mother Alano and Sam looked at each other uncomfortably.
Judith continued oblivious of her friend’s feelings, “It did not take long before the bullies, and spiritualists were taking a cut of all the food gathered by everyone else. The thugs got it by offering protection from the scary other-people. And the spiritualists got their food by inventing stories to explain the unknown things that frightened us. This arrangement got worse when agrarian societies developed; because people were now stuck in one place.”
Sam and Alano looked on in silence and disbelief at how angry she had become.
“When we were stuck on plots of land domesticating animals and plants we had no place to run. The thugs moved in and extorted taxes. The spiritualists expanded their supernatural stories to fanciful myths of the afterlife and required tithing; and so it went on. The thugs became kings and queens, and feudal lords became governments, police, armies, states, and countries. And the spiritualists became high priests, clerics, pastors, popes, and mainstream religions evolved.”
Alano began to cross himself and fall into prayer. Sam looked stunned, but was thinking of a reply to the onslaught. It finally came to him and he said, “You are not innocent Judith. Your lot, the scientists, invented the very bombs that the religious nutcases used to destroy us. Without your beloved scientific method, so called reason and rational thought we would not be sitting here today.” Sam felt pleased that he was able to come up with this counter to her ranting. “Perhaps it will shut her down,” he thought.
“You are absolutely right Sam; I am also to blame for this mess. That is in fact my point. Human nature is at fault. It is not religion, patriotism, or science; it is our natures and us. We do not deserve to continue. No matter how smart we become we cannot change our natures. And this is why we sit here today at the end of the world. In my mind this is what we deserve.” Judith was exhausted and stopped her rant.
“Mi Madre God forgives you and all of us. This is why he sent his son,” added Alano seeing she had finally released all her venom.
Judith was calmer now and said, “You know Alano everything is so simple for you, isn’t it? You have all the answers. But I have a question for you that I am truly interested in knowing the answer to.”
“What is this question Madre?” Alano looked worried and puzzled.
“What is it that could be shown to you to disprove the existence of your god?”
Alano furrowed his brow. “There is nothing that would turn me from my faith,” he said confidently.
Judith looked him directly in the eyes and said, “So there is the difference between my philosophy and yours. If you could give me evidence of your god, I would believe, but there is no reasoning with you. You will continue to believe in your god despite all of the evidence that it is a delusion. I am willing to change my view based on evidence and reason, you are not.”
Shrill cries burst forth from the newborn baby as it gulped in its first breaths of air. Its eyes opened and flashed about not yet able to focus or recognize anything. Checked quickly for completeness, bundled up in a blanket, and then given to its mother, Judith cuddled the squirming package and could not resist the powerful force drawing them together. She had not wanted this thing, but she could not resist it now. There were ancient forces at work ensuring she would not escape her duty to care for the newborn life. This is how it had been for millennia.
No sooner that Judith felt the strange new urges her strength left her. She became so weak that the nurse had to take the baby from her. Judith looked around the room and felt her breathing getting shallower; a sense of euphoria came over her. She looked at the doctor, the nurse, and then the lights above her. Her eyes rested on the window. She gazed at the overcast sky. She thought of how fresh the air must be out there. Then one, no two, no three snowflakes fell and rested on the glass. It was snowing in Panama. “How unusual and beautiful,” she thought as she took a shallow breath.
Electrochemical signals from the autonomic centers of her brain began to weaken; flickering like a candle in the wind. The pulses of energy required to keep her heart beating and her lungs breathing became erratic and began to fade. As her powerful heart muscle faltered, her blood pressure fell slowing the flow of life-giving blood. Now the precious oxygen required to keep her brain neurons alive was almost gone. The cycle continued until the life generating processes in her cells could continue no more. She took a final breath, her eyes turned upward exposing only the whites, and then she slipped into a blackness that engulfed her forever.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
The earth traveled on its course around the sun unendingly as it had done for billions of years. Temperatures continued to fall and plunged the planet into an ever-increasing ice age. All the northern and southernmost parts were now frozen wastelands. Immense sheets of ice covered most of the world. The only resistance, a thin equatorial band of temperate climate struggled against the expanding cold.
Yet life went on. Animals had many times before adapted to cold conditions. Surviving animals found expanded territory, new evolutionary opportunities. Life is tenacious and stubborn; it is not easy to stop, but some creatures did not make it, and passed away into extinction. The earth traveled on its course around the sun, unhindered, drifting through the black void, for another 10,000 years.
Homo Cosmien Encyclopedia Cosmanity
adj. Of, relating to, or characteristic of Homo cosmiens.
[Greek cosmos, be order, orderly, or ornamental.]
Homo cosmiens commonly referred to as cosmiens, comes from the Greek term cosmos meaning order, orderly arrangement, or ornaments. Cosmos is antithetical to the concept of chaos. Homo cosmiens are the only extant member of the Homo genus of bipedal primates in Hominidae, the great ape family.
Cosmiens have a highly developed brain, capable of abstract reasoning, language, introspection, and problem solving. Their telethalamus allows direct radio communication with the Vessel, an extraterrestrial computer system orbiting the Earth. Their mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees the hands for manipulating objects, has allowed cosmiens to make far greater use of tools than any other species. Mitochondrial DNA, Vessel records, and fossil evidence indicate that modern Homo cosmiens originated from Homo sapiens about 10,000 years ago, after the extinction event, and at the beginning of the last ice age, via a (as yet not fully understood) spontaneous mutation.
With individuals spread thinly around the habitable equatorial zones of the world, cosmiens are a well-contained, non-destructive species focused on conservation and science. The population of cosmiens was 473 million in November 12009.
Like all higher primates, cosmiens are social by nature. Cosmiens are uniquely adept at utilizing systems of telecommunication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Cosmiens form simple social structures composed of remotely cooperating intellectual groups. Strict control of memes and selective breeding has enabled cosmiens to establish homogenous values and social norms that together form the basis of cosmien society.
Homo cosmiens seek to understand the universe, themselves, and their environment. They explore natural phenomena through science and the scientific method. This natural curiosity led to the development of advanced tools and skills. These skills pass down to each generation via cultural memes. Cosmiens are the only species on Earth known to build fires, cook their food, clothe themselves, and use numerous other technologies. Their focus to keep total numbers to below 500 million, minimal disturbance of the natural environment, and selective breeding has allowed the Homo cosmiens and the Earth to flourish.
Doctor Kojo Ainsworth
Professor of Anthropology
New Monrovia University
Sunlight drifted softly through the window. With it came a gentle warm breeze that blew the curtains about like a pair of Spanish dancers in a twirling embrace. The faint sound of tropical birds echoed from the rain forest outside, and the sun rose in the clear blue sky; it was a new day.
A gentle voice whispered in his head, “Kojo, Kojo it is time to get up sir.”
An elderly cosmien rolled over in his bed and pulled a pillow over his head; his long gray hair entangled in the twisted cushion.
“Kojo you have your lecture this morning at eleven. You do not want to be late sir,” continued the voice in Kojo’s head.
“Go away, can’t you see I’m sleeping,” grumbled Kojo without extracting his head from its new soft home. A quiet buzzing sound began and got louder until Kojo could bear it no more. He turned in bed and sat up. His long silver hair dangled in tangles about his shoulders. His wrinkled face contorted into a wide yawn. As he shook off sleep, his calm and intelligent expression returned.
“Adwan, Adwan! Turn off that confounded buzzing, please!” Kojo demanded loudly. The noise stopped and the soothing sounds of the jungle outside returned. At the same time, the walls of his room became translucent and allowed the rain forest scene outside to come in.
“Kojo, you are scheduled to deliver your lecture at eleven this morning. Shall I prepare breakfast for you or would you prefer to make it yourself today?” asked the disembodied voice in Kojo’s head.
Kojo replied in a sleepy yawning tone, “Please prepare breakfast for me this morning, I might not have enough time to do it myself.” Kojo rubbed his heavily wrinkled, but kind eyes then left his bed for the bathroom. He combed his long silver-gray hair and looked at his face in the mirror. His shiny black skin was ever oily. He took his facecloth, wet it in the flowing water, soaped it up, and wiped the foamy solution all over. He even attempted to brush his short salt and pepper beard, but it made little change to its disorder; the smell of breakfast wafted in so he increased his grooming speed and was soon finished and enjoying his meal.
Kojo picked up a small crystal tablet from the breakfast table. He decided to perform his ritual test of Adwan. It was supposed to hear only his speech and not his thoughts. Kojo, an ever-skeptical cosmien, tested this regularly. “Adwan, where are my lecture notes?” Kojo thought to himself without speaking. He waited and there was no response. “Adwan! Where are my lecture notes?” he spoke aloud this time. The notes appeared on his tablet. His cyber serf had passed the test once again.
“Great, thank you,” he spoke to the empty room. “How many students will be attending this lecture?”
“There will be 334 students attending today sir,” answered his invisible servant.
“Okay, okay,” he mumbled rather absent mindedly as he read intensely from his tablet.
Without removing his eyes from their task Kojo asked, “Is the lecture room ready Adwan?”
“Yes sir everything is ready and functioning as normal,” replied the internal voice.
Kojo asked his invisible companion, “One more thing Adwan.”
“Yes sir?” it replied.
“When is my new protégé scheduled to arrive? Is it today or tomorrow I can’t remember?”
Adwan said in a flat tone, “She is scheduled to arrive at eight a.m. tomorrow morning sir.”
“Okay, good, good,” Kojo said while continuing to read his lecture notes.
The Central African rain forest surrounded Kojo’s large and spacious home. He lived in isolation kilometers from his nearest neighbors; like most cosmiens. Nothing but a lush green jungle surrounded his home for kilometer after kilometer. The house generated its own water, electrical energy, and its plasma furnace safely destroyed all non-recyclable waste. Automated flights each day brought food and supplies to his home. His house androids unpacked the shipments and ensured his home ran like a well-oiled clock. It was a day, like any other day.
Akira hardly slept all night; she was so excited about her trip and new life. “It is all going to happen today,” she thought as she jumped out of bed. “I can’t sleep anymore I have to get up.”
A disembodied voice in her head asked, “Miss Akira, what are you doing?”
“Oh shush! Femi you are such a fusspot.” Akira scolded her virtual companion.
The voice responded tersely into her mind, “Akira you have a long day ahead of you. You need to finish packing, you have your party, and then you have the eight hour trip to Ziaeke; you need your sleep.”
“Oh nonsense Femi I will be fine. Besides I want to make sure I have my dissertation in order for Doctor Ainsworth.” This thought put a frown on her smooth long face. “And I have decided to attend his lecture this morning,” she added.
Akira got up out of her bed and glided across the room; the supple curves of her naked body barely visible in the dark. Once at her bathroom she brushed her long silky brown hair. Her epicanthic folds gave her eyes an attractive almond shaped appearance, and her dark black eyelashes highlighted her young beauty.
“Femi, what time is the party this afternoon?”
“At one o’clock Miss Akira,” responded her companion.
Akira finished showering and was soon eating breakfast. She poured over her thesis making last minute adjustments to the text. Her long hair, running mainly in straight lines, parted gently at her forehead and swept past her eyes. Her beauty and youth formed her outer shell, but Akira was also brilliant. She had graduated summa cum laude from New Panama University majoring in anthropology. Her paper entitled: “Who were the ancestors of modern Homo cosmiens?” clinched her doctorate in the discipline. She loved this area of research. For Akira Homo habilis, rudolfensis and georgicus, ergaster and erectus, cepranensis and antecessor, heidelbergensis, rhodesiensis, neanderthalensis, floresiensis, and finally Homo sapiens held the answers to exactly who she was. Homo sapiens were the most interesting of all to her. Understanding them was everything right now. The Vessel had little knowledge of their natures. To add to the greater body of knowledge was the most prized achievement possible for any Homo cosmien.
Kojo entered the lecture room in his home. He placed his tablet on the podium and readied himself. He picked up a visor and put it over his eyes. The visor made a slight sucking sound as it sealed onto his face blocking out all external light. He fiddled with the earplugs on the temple arms of the visor and soon had them in place.
“Adwan, activate my visor please.”
“Yes sir,” replied the voice in his head.
Two hundred million micro lasers in the visor began to stimulate his retinal cells. The scene lit up and suddenly he was standing in an auditorium filled with eager students and inquisitive minds. The room flooded with the murmuring of people milling about. His appearance quelled the clamor.
“Please take your seats we will start soon,” he directed to the front row of pupils. The noise increased for a moment and then fell slowly into silence. Kojo directed in a general broadcast, “Welcome to you all.” He paused and then continued, “Anthropology is the study of cosmanity. It has its origins in the natural sciences, the cosmanities, and the social sciences. The term anthropology is from the Greek anthropos meaning human. We use this word to refer to us, cosmanity now. The other Greek word is logia or study, which makes up the modern word: anthropology. The human Franç ois Péron, pre-extinction (PX), first coined the word.” Kojo made the gesture of rabbit ears when he said PX. “He first used it when discussing his encounters with Tasmanian Aborigines,” he added.
He paused for a moment looking around the auditorium and then continued, “The Anthropologist’s basic concerns are with what defines us: the Homo cosmiens. What exactly is cosmanity? We try to answer these questions by studying where we came from and who our ancestors were. How do our Homo cosmien physical traits differ from our ancestors? How does our behavior differ? Finally, how has the evolutionary past of Homo sapiens influenced our social organization and culture? In other words, we learn about ourselves by studying what came before us…”
Attending the lecture and packing had made Akira’s morning very busy. She loved Doctor Ainsworth’s talk, but was feeling sleepy now. What she hated most about this was that Femi, her invisible companion, had been right as always.
Surrounded by tropical rainforest her home lay 160 kilometers to the southwest of New Panama City on the Azuero Peninsular. From its high escarpment, she had views of the Gulf of Panama in the far distance. Thousands of years ago, before the last ice age, the ocean came close to where she now lived.
She walked through a crystal corridor to her front door and heard it close automatically behind her. As she strolled to the auto-craft, she heard bird song coming from the mist-shrouded forest around her home. “I wonder what Simon and the others have planned for me?” she thought. “I will miss being with them in person when I leave; they are such good friends.” The door on the auto-craft opened as she approached; she got in and said, “Femi, let’s go to Simon’s home please.”
“Certainly Miss Akira,” it replied.
The door closed and the four electro-jet engines of the auto-craft spun up to speed. They first made a whining noise and then a high-pitched whistling sound faintly in the background. Akira sat back in her seat and safety restraints automatically embraced her. She and her aircraft lifted vertically off the ground and soon disappeared into the grey cloudy sky. It was rotten weather, which was bad luck as she loved the view from the auto-craft she got on clear days. “I hope when I leave this evening it might be clearer,” she mused. “Femi, what is the weather prediction for the flight tonight?” she asked her cyber serf.
“I am afraid the prediction is for worsening weather Miss Akira, but all within acceptable flight parameters,” replied her companion confidently.
Akira turned her attention to her tablet and continued working on her dissertation. She placed her hands over the crystal device and made imperceptibly small motions of her fingers over it, as she typed her edits into her document. An hour later, she heard the engine noise of the auto-craft change in pitch and she knew they were making their approach to Simon’s home. “Are we landing Femi?” she asked.
“Yes Miss Akira, right on schedule.”
As the auto-craft descended, the ground slowly became visible through the mist. She could just make out the forest and the many other auto-craft parked in the clearing around her friend’s home. Soon she was on the ground and excitedly leaving the flying machine. As she stepped out there was Simon to greet her. She ran over to him and gave him a loving embrace and passionate kiss. Simon reciprocated and said, “Darling it is so good to see you.” She radiated a smile at him.
His face was all smiles as he brushed a long blond curl from his eye. Simon spoke softly to Akira, “I am so happy you could make it before you left.” He took her hand and led her to his home. As the front door opened, she heard music and the sound of others inside. A cheer rose up as the guests saw her. It was lovely to be with her friends again in person.
Kojo was feeling exhausted after his lecture. “I am 95 years young and way too old to be working so hard,” he thought.
Kojo’s life had been a long and healthy one. There were three reasons for this. The first was his diet that consisted of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and proteins from insects and crustaceans. Second was his love of hiking. Third were Kojo’s genes. The Vessel had been managing Homo cosmien reproduction for thousands of years and one of the traits it selected for was longevity. The Vessel completely controlled which females could become pregnant via its radio link to their telethalamus.
“Adwan I am going for a walk please activate my personal protection field,” he asked his cyber serf. A small device in Kojo’s pocket powered up on this command and began emitting radio waves and inaudible sounds. The frequencies it transmitted and their innumerable patterns enabled the device to ward off every known animal on the planet.
Adwan replied, “Yes sir, your field is now activated.”
Kojo’s home in Ziaeke Central Africa was 200 kilometers east of New Monrovia. Its setting within lush jungle-rainforest offered stupendous hikes and the place was teeming with animals. Kojo left the back door of his home and began walking towards the thick green forest surrounding it. He soon came to a narrow walking path that seemed to disappear into a jade curtain of plants. The sun was high in the sky and it was very warm, but the leafy green canopy shaded him from its harshness. After half an hour of walking, through the emerald wonderland, he came to a crossroads. “Adwan, can you tell me where the grey parrots are today?”
“They are approximately half a kilometer south of your current position,” responded his cyber serf.
Kojo’s hobby was to tag and monitor animals. He would on occasion go out and capture one, place a GPS radio beacon on it, and have his companion Adwan track it for him.
Kojo thanked his attendant and took the southerly trail. After a kilometer of walking, he heard a growling sound from behind him and turned on the spot towards the noise. In a tree only a few meters behind sat a leopard draped over a branch. It startled him. The creature could easily have out-run him and over powered him. He froze and gazed at its magnificence. The brown and black spots of its upper body almost imperceptibly changed to white and black as they progressed towards its feet. Its yellow piercing eyes looked directly and intensely at him. Kojo knew he was safe, but he asked in a slightly concerned voice, “Adwan is my field still running?”
“Yes sir your personal protection field is operating correctly.”
He removed a small rectangular shaped glass card from his pocket and took a photograph of the animal. “I have spotted an adult leopard. Please take note of my location and log my observation.”
“It is noted sir,” replied Adwan. The profuseness of animals, in Kojo’s jungle, was due in part to the stewardship of the Homo cosmiens, but it was mostly due to the tenacity of life to survive difficult environments. Nevertheless, Kojo was not about to capture this tenacious animal; a photo would do just fine for him. He continued on his glorious hike enjoying the animals, insects, and plants of his wonderland.
“Akira,” said Simon. When he had her attention, he touched the shoulder of a short happy looking cosmien and added, “Please meet Burney and Walter.”
“Very nice to meet you Burney,” she said as she shook his hand. He smiled at her.
Simon said while shooting a wink at Akira, “And this is Walter his partner.”
Walter grabbed Akira’s hand with both his and shook her enthusiastically. “It is so nice to meet you Akira; Simon has told us so much about you. You seem to have smitten him,” finished Walter with a sly look finally letting go his grip. His sharp features gave him a mischievous pixie like appearance.
Akira said stumblingly, “Oh, yes, I guess so.” A bright pink blush crossed her face.
Burney asked, “Simon tells us you are leaving for Africa to start a new life there what are you planning dear?”
“Well I am off to become Doctor Kojo Ainsworth’s new proté gé. He is our leading anthropologist and this is my area of interest...”
Walter interjected, “I find Homo sapiens fascinating. They were so primitive, don’t you think?”
She replied sheepishly, “Oh, yes, they were primitive alright.”
“I mean they were so uptight about sexuality for example. Yet, they bred like rabbits.” Walter projected an impish smile at the group. Everyone laughed aloud.
Once the short outbreak of hysteria subsided Burney asked, “What will your first project be?”
“Well, I am not exactly sure just yet, but Doctor Ainsworth has been conducting some interesting research, and he is on the trail to find a missing link in our evolutionary story.”
“My goodness, I hope he does not find that we are more closely related to Homo sapiens than apes,” added Walter. Everyone broke out laughing again. “So is Ainsworth still trying to figure out how we mutated from the humans?”
Akira knew little about this research. “I believe so,” she said trying to hide her ignorance.
“He has been on this kick for so many years now. He fights conventional understanding on the subject and seems almost obsessed by it. Perhaps you will help him to forget this pursuit and continue with more conventional research my dear,” added Walter with a smile.
“What is it that you do Walter?” asked Akira politely trying to change the subject.
“I am an evolutionary biologist my dear.”
“How interesting,” she replied.
“And my darling Burney is a mathematician. Isn’t he lovely?” he smiled at his partner.
After two hours at the party, Akira had met everyone. Finally, they all left leaving Simon and her alone. Simon looked into her deep brown eyes and asked timidly, “May I come and visit you sometime Akira?”
She could see he was sad at the thought of her leaving. “If you do not I will be cross with you Simon,” she said trying to make him feel better.
Simon continued looking into her eyes and said, “You know how I feel about you. I wish we could be together always.” They fell into an embrace. Simon took her by the hand and led her into his bedroom where they spent the rest of the afternoon making love and enjoying each other’s company.
“Kojo,” said Adwan gently, trying not to disturb him too much while he was out walking.
Kojo responded to the voice in his head, “What is it Adwan?”
“Karen and Cynthia want to know if you can have dinner with them this evening.”
“Oh, that would be nice. Tell them yes I’ll be there. What time?”
“Six o’clock is their suggestion,” replied his absent companion.
“Okay, six o’clock it is, tell them I will be there, and ask them if they want me to bring anything.”
It responded, “I will pass your question on sir.”
Kojo completed the ten-kilometer loop trail. After his three-hour walk, he was ready for some food and a shower. He loved the countryside around his home, the animals, plants, and stupendous experience of the rain forest. He never tired of it.
In his kitchen, he opened several drawers and pulled out: a leafy green vegetable, carrots, onions, and garlic. From a refrigerated drawer he grabbed a container filled with a brown gelatinous mass of termite protein. He opened the lid of the container and took a deep smell of the goo. A look of ecstasy drifted across his face. He spent the next half hour combining the ingredients into a culinary delight.
“Adwan, did the girls want me to bring anything along tonight?”
“No sir they said to just bring yourself and your good cheer.”
“Those two old charmers,” he thought to himself. Kojo went into his study and looked over his library of pre-extinction human books. He had managed to amass a large collection over the years. They were a never-ending source of research and pleasure for him. His eye caught a volume: “Poems by William Shakespeare”. He carefully pulled the ancient book from its shelf, took it to his favorite reading chair, and began to read.
Adwan whispered softly in Kojo’s head, “Kojo, Kojo, it is five o’clock you need to get ready for dinner this evening.”
He woke with a start. “Oh goodness, I fell asleep,” he sputtered. “What time is it?”
“It is now five o’clock,” replied his companion from deep within Kojo’s telethalamus.
Kojo startled and thought, “Goodness me, I need to get ready.”
After a quick shower, Kojo felt revived and eager to meet with his friends. He made sure to take his book with him, as he knew the girls would like some entertainment this evening. He left his house and entered the auto-craft. He barked at his cyber serf, “Adwan, let’s go, let’s go, we are going to be late if you do not hurry up and get this thing off the ground.”
“Yes, sir, please sit back so I might secure you,” replied Adwan not in the least injured by Kojo’s unjustified manner. The auto-craft lifted off; as it did Kojo looked out the window and saw his wonderful jungle world disappear into a blur of deep green forest. In a short while, he saw the giant termite farms just north of his home, fields full of massive mounds. It made him feel hungry as he thought of all that delicious protein growing down there. Soon the auto-craft was on the ground and Karen and Cynthia, his friends and neighbors, greeted him.
“So good to see you Kojo,” Karen said almost singing her greeting.
Cynthia gave him a big hug. The two took a hand each and led him to their home.
“I am really happy you called and invited me tonight.” He grinned at his companions.
Karen asked, “Would you like white or red wine?”
“I would love a glass of red wine please.” Kojo sat back in his comfortable chair. As Karen poured the wine, Kojo admired her long thin figure and curly black hair.
Cynthia asked, “So have you been very busy with your work?”
“Oh yes, the lecturing keeps me on my toes. I am happy that I will be on my break soon though. I plan to travel to continue my research.”
Karen handed him his glass and passed a warm smile to him.
“That sounds so interesting. Where will you travel to this time?” asked Cynthia.
“First to the ice flows of Europe and then most likely the North American glacier.”
Cynthia exclaimed, “Oh how wonderful and exciting!”
“And you Cynthia, how is your work going?”
“Well, Karen and I have made a break-through with our work on improving the Vessel’s cognitive pathways and memory storage.”
“It’s amazing that you are both working directly on improving the Vessel itself, this seems surreal considering its history with us.”
“Yes I know. It was our application of ten dimensional super string mechanics that did it. In this area the Vessel knew little,” she replied with great pride.
“And what have you brought us tonight Kojo, for our pleasure?” asked Karen alluringly.
“Poems by William Shakespeare,” he said as he presented his book. The two women looked excited.
“Shall I read you one now?”
“Yes please!” the two eagerly exclaimed in unison.
“Sonnet number 17, by William Shakespeare.” Kojo began to read:
“Who will believe my verse in time to come
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, 'This poet lies--
Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.'
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a poet's rage
And stretchèd metre of an antique song.
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice-in it and in my rime.”
Karen and Cynthia applauded and giggled. Cynthia asked, “How old is this?”
“Over ten thousand years,” replied Kojo.
Karen added, “It is so beautiful somehow.”
“How could the Homo sapiens be so violent and yet seem to be so sensitive?” asked Cynthia.
Kojo mused for moment then said, “Yes, they were mysterious creatures to be sure, but we share their love of beauty.”
Karen asked Kojo with a perplexed look on her face, “What did the poet mean with the line: ‘though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb?’ What did he mean by heaven? Was he using it metaphorically, or was he proclaiming his religious point of view?”
“He also said: ‘such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces’, what did he mean by this?” asked Cynthia, adding to Kojo’s list of questions.
“Hum, these are both good questions and so hard to answer definitively. The religious meme was ubiquitous among Homo sapiens. Without more information, and study of the individual, it is almost impossible to tell if he really believed in this idea. But, I think the poet must have been thinking of you two when he said: ‘if I could write the beauty of your eyes’,” Kojo said to his admiring friends slyly.
They both looked at each other and smiled. “You are such a smoothie,” said Cynthia with a smile.
Karen directed, “Come on let’s eat.”
Akira returned home from her very pleasant afternoon with Simon and friends. She had instructed her android helpers to pack her things into the auto-craft. She was now ready to leave on her overnight trip to Ziaeke and her new home with Doctor Kojo Ainsworth.
“Femi is everything packed?” she asked her invisible companion, worried that she might forget something important.
“Everything is packed and accounted for Miss Akira.”
“Okay then let’s go,” said Akira cheerfully. She looked around her home and suddenly felt sad at the thought of leaving it. She walked outside and could hear the nighttime sounds of the jungle. As she got into her auto-craft, her sadness vanished replaced completely with excitement.
Femi requested, “Please take your seat so I might secure you for takeoff.”
Soon the flying machine was climbing high into the cloudy night sky. When it reached 9,000 meters, way above the stormy clouds, it increased its speed and began the long flight from South America to Central Africa.
“You may, if you wish, reconfigure your seat for sleep now Miss Akira,” said the voice in her head.
“Thank you Femi.” She began to make herself comfortable. The auto-craft sailed on peacefully through the dark sky gently rocking Akira to sleep; she began to dream.
She found herself standing in a strange and dark corridor in an unfamiliar house. A feeling of dread permeated her. Her heart beat faster and faster. There was something in one of the rooms. She wanted to run, but instead she opened the door. Now she was outside the house. The sun shone brightly and a white stallion ate grass in the backyard.
Cynthia asked with an alluring look on her face, “So Kojo we want you to stay with us tonight, please say you will?”
“I am happy to, but I do have my protégé coming in tomorrow so I will have to leave rather early. Is that okay?” he asked coyly.
Karen leaned over and gave him a loving kiss while Cynthia stroked his long hair and responded, “Come on you, we both want you tonight.” The three left for the bedroom where they spent the evening making love and sharing each other’s pleasures.
“Kojo, it is five a.m.,” whispered Adwan into his master’s head. “You must get up now if you are to be home in time to greet your new protégé.” Kojo slowly disentangled himself from the naked and warm bodies of his hosts; trying hard not to disturb their sleep.
“What a night,” he thought as he made his way to the bathroom. After a quick shower he was soon onboard his auto-craft heading home. He loved those two women and really enjoyed last night.
“Adwan, please get breakfast ready for me and my protégé, I am ravenous this morning.”
His cyber serf replied obediently, “Yes, sir.”
Femi whispered, “Akira, it is time to wake up, we are preparing to descend.” Akira opened her eyes greeted by a wonderful sunrise coming through the windows of her auto-craft.
“I need to freshen up a bit, Femi please get the washroom ready.”
“It is ready for you,” responded her efficient friend.
“When will we land Femi?”
“In about half an hour Miss.”
Akira washed her face and got ready for her first in-person meeting with her mentor. She was excited and almost giddy with anticipation. She took a swig from a bottle filled with a green liquid, swished it around her mouth, and spat it out. In the liquid were millions of nanobots. Their program caused them to seek out and destroy all unwanted viruses and bacteria in Akira’s mouth.
The engines of the auto-craft changed pitch as the flying machine began its descent. Once she was back in her seat, she could see the immense green jungle of Central Africa below. Soon Akira could make out more details and see the huge termite farm just north of Kojo’s home. Then, in the green blanket stretching in all directions, she could make out his house. The auto-craft made its approach and landed safely. The door opened and there was Kojo to greet her.
“A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives - of approving of some and disapproving of others.”
“It is so delightful to meet you in person Doctor Ainsworth,” Akira said enthusiastically.
Kojo gave her a big smile and took one of her bags. “Please, call me Kojo. I’ll have none of this Doctor Ainsworth nonsense.” She smiled at him and followed him into his house.
“I must say I am always surprised at seeing someone for the first time in the flesh. No one is ever quite the same in our virtual world as they are in reality,” he said as he continued his greeting to Akira.
She was looking in all directions at once trying to take in her new surroundings. Kojo’s home was much bigger than hers was. “Then, he is the foremost expert in his field. Privilege comes with academic success,” she thought.
His home amazed her, but what really impressed her was Kojo’s collection of antiques and ancient artifacts. Mounted on a pedestal, in prominent display, sat a rectangular device. It looked to her to be about 250 millimeters tall, by 180 wide, and 13 millimeters thick. On the front was a pane of glass surrounded by a black plastic edge, on its white plastic back, a picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it. Akira asked her mentor, “What is this thing?”
“Oh that thing, I believe it is a human version of our information tablets. I think it was called an iPad.”
“Does it work?” she asked.
“I don’t believe it ever did really,” he said with a smile. “Please, this way Akira and I will show you your room.” They walked down a crystal hallway to her bedroom.
“Now get yourself settled and come join me for some breakfast, will you?” he asked.
“I will, give me a few minutes,” she replied as she poked her head into her bathroom.
Kojo said, “I’ll have a house android bring in your things from the auto-craft.”
Soon Akira heard the light thumping sound of one of the house androids walking down the hall. It knocked on the open door and asked if it could enter her room. She agreed, it came in, placed her bags by her bed, then left.
After a while, Akira left her room and wandered about the unfamiliar house. The opacity of its walls gave a small hint of the lush green jungle outside. The light was wonderful, illuminating everything in an emerald tinge. She opened an unknown door and found herself in a library. A large collection of ancient human books transfixed her. She had seen pictures of books, but never a real one. She scanned the shelves with vigor. The books seemed well preserved considering they must be at least 10,000 years old and some much older than that.
“Adwan!” barked Kojo.
“Yes, sir,” it replied.
“Where is that confounded girl? I want to eat breakfast,” he roared like a hungry bear.
When Kojo spoke aloud this triggered his telethalamus to transmit the neural activity, that produced his voice, to the Vessel. It decoded this activity into something it could understand. The communication then arrived at Kojo’s personal subroutine Adwan; deep within the Vessel’s computing powerhouse. The Adwan program checked the thousands of motion, heat, sound, and visual detectors distributed around Kojo’s home. It then transmitted its reply, via the Vessel’s immense communication network, back to Kojo’s telethalamus. In a split second, Adwan spoke into Kojo’s mind, “Miss Akira is in the library.”
Kojo got up and headed for the library. As he entered the room, he found her examining his collection. “Have you seen books before?” he asked.
The sound startled her and she turned at his voice. “Oh, no I haven’t. Sorry Doctor Ainsworth, I mean Kojo, I came in here by mistake.”
“No need to worry my dear, please feel free to use the library as if it were your own. But could you do it after breakfast as I am getting very hungry.” He beamed a smile at her then left the room. She followed sheepishly. They entered the dining area that seemed to be open to the jungle outside; the walls and roof were so translucent they were almost invisible.
“I have made us an old human recipe this morning: oat cakes,” he said proudly and falsely claiming its production. Adwan had actually made breakfast. “Have you eaten them before?”
Akira replied, “No, I don’t think so. Other than oats what is in them?”
He explained the recipe as they both began to enjoy their breakfast.
“Kojo, what is your understanding of baseball?” she asked in a student like way.
He looked puzzled then said, “Well Homo sapiens were very competitive by nature; and so competitive sports were a real fascination to them. In the United States of America, baseball had become very popular. I believe it entailed hitting a ball with a stick, which many of their sports did. Why do you ask?”
“I am amazed by the spectacle of their events. So many individuals all crammed together in small spaces so much noise and celebration. This is the aspect I am fascinated with.”
“Yes, well there were an awful lot of them before the extinction; some eight billion or so. They would have killed themselves from over population if they had not blown themselves to bits first,” he said solemnly.
“Do you really believe that? Don’t you feel they might have used their intellects to control their population eventually?” she asked genuinely.
“I really doubt it. They possessed a fine intellect, in many ways not unlike our own, but their driving force to breed was much stronger than their reasoning abilities. Even we are not spared this overwhelming urge to propagate. If it were not for our telethalamus and governance of our reproduction by the Vessel, we too would overpopulate the world.” Kojo looked carefully at Akira’s face as he said this; he was curious about how she took his comment.
Her smooth face seemed blank and offered no clues. “I am not sure if I agree with that Kojo. The evolution of our brain and our telethalamus, that allows the Vessel to manage our fertility, is only part of our success. Surely we are more aware of the consequences of overpopulation than humans?”
Kojo tried his best to soften his opinion by saying, “I believe that all biological life has one purpose only: to reproduce. Everything else we do is in support of this driving force.”
“But you are surely incorrect about that Kojo. We no longer seek to replicate mindlessly. We have another goal. Ours is to know our world and the universe. This has replaced the fanatical drive to reproduce,” she said feeling she had cornered her mentor.
Kojo smiled and said, “True enough my dear, true enough. But, our lofty undertaking did not come about through natural selection. It happened because of intervention by external forces. The Vessel created us from the Homo sapiens and altered the natural course of things. We are no longer wild creatures; we are more like pets.” He finally saw on her face the reaction he was seeking; she looked astonished and then disturbed.
“But enough chatter about our work for now. Will you join me on my regular walk this afternoon, after lunch?” he asked with a smile.
Akira was not ready to stop debating, but her manners overcame her enthusiasm and she agreed.
“Oh yes, I have made reservations for us at a terrific restaurant this evening; I do hope you will join me?” he asked in a boyish way. Akira smiled and agreed to both his requests.
Akira looked around her room impatiently for her visor then asked, “Femi, do you know where my visor is?”
“I believe it is in your black bag,” replied her invisible companion.
Akira removed it from her bag, sat in a comfortable chair, and got ready to meet with Simon.
“Femi, please start my visit with Simon.”
Akira’s room passed away replaced by the golden-brown wooden tones, and soft tinkling sounds, of Benoit her favorite twenty-first century bistro in Paris. She was now sitting in a comfortable chair in the lounge of the virtual restaurant. She looked around the busy place and recognized several familiar faces. From nowhere, like a phantom, Simon materialized in the chair before her.
“Hey you how are you?” he asked with a big smile on his face.
“Simon! I am great. I made it okay. And I really like my new home. Doctor Ainsworth is really nice. How are you my darling one?”
“Good, good, all is well. I miss you already.”
“I miss you too my darling,” she added sweetly. They both felt compelled to get up and embrace each other, but contact was not possible in this virtual and very much ethereal world. Other than smell and touch, the place was quite real to them.
“How is your work going?” asked Akira.
“The kids are brilliant as always and we have a new member of our memeology team starting this week. It is so funny. Children are so predisposed to believe in a supreme being. There is purpose in everything for them. This meme is extremely difficult to correct and very persistent.” Akira could see the enthusiasm grow on his face as he explained his story to her.
“Tommy is four and already understands that some objects are made by us and other things, in the natural world, are not. You can see how human children had a tendency to believe in a supreme being, and other supernatural ideas when this meme was left unchecked.”
“I assume it is to do with the perception of self; that we all have?” she asked.
“Yes I think so, but I also believe this propensity is part of the genes passed to us from our Homo sapien ancestors. Tommy has not received his companion yet. His telethalamus is not quite developed. I just cannot wait to see his face when he begins to hear voices in his head for real; that will be something to see. Some kids get really frightened when the Vessel starts communicating with them. I think Tommy will initially, but we’ll get him through it. The bigger issue will be him learning to speak his commands to his companion and not think them.”
Not really seeking an answer Akira asked, “Isn’t it odd that the human’s imagined god, which they believed to be omnipresent, was replaced by a real omnipresent companion?” Simon nodded in agreement.
“I am so glad you enjoy working with children I know I would not have the patience to do what you do.”
“And you Akira, what is next for you?” he asked.
“Doctor Ainsworth and I are planning our summer field trip. He has several digs around the world where he has been making all kinds of new discoveries. I am getting so excited.”
“Where will you go exactly?”
“We will head north to New Tangier and the Mediterranean Inland Sea. There we will pick up a colleague of Kojo’s. Then we will continue north to the ice flows of Europe. He has a dig at the remains of an ancient human research laboratory. After this, I believe the plan is to head to the North American glaciers and the site of old New York City. I am not sure what he hopes to achieve there as the ice is very thick,” as she said this Akira could see Simon’s eyes glaze over. She figured it was just too overwhelming for him to take in all at once.
“Boy, how amazing for you to go in person to all of these wild and dangerous places. Please make sure you take care of yourself.” He looked concerned.
Akira felt a stab of sadness as she replied, “I will my darling and I miss you very much.”
After lunch, Akira and Kojo left on their afternoon walk. The sun was bright and high in the cloudless sky, the day stupendous and hot. A cool green jungle soon engulfed and protected them from the heat of the day. Kojo kept a brisk pace and Akira marched close behind him. They came to a 100-meter escarpment that towered above them; its brown and golden sandstone was very beautiful. Spots of sunlight highlighted sections of the rugged cliff face making it look like a painting.
“Kojo, so you believe we were created by the Vessel?” asked Akira trying to slow him down a bit and pick up her conversation from breakfast.
“That is my hypothesis. I hope to collect more evidence in its support or disprove it on our field trip.”
Akira in a skeptical tone asked, “But the records show that the human Lawrence Jameson was the motivating force behind our evolution. The Vessel only supplied him with the means. He came up with the idea for the telethalamus.”
“Yes, yes the Vessel’s records do indeed indicate this. But they are the Vessel’s records are they not?” he asked provocatively.
“Are you saying the Vessel has been lying to us all this time?”
“Well, it is up to us to disprove my hypothesis.” He stopped, took a drink from his water bladder, turned, and smiled at Akira.
She looked at him in bewilderment and said, “If you are right Kojo this would be a significant discovery; one with no precedence at all.” Her look now changed to one of worry.
Kojo responded, “My child, the truth is not always pleasant; but it is worth knowing.” With this, he turned and continued walking. Akira followed her mentor.
“What is your evidence for this position Kojo?”
“In my research I have come across many non-electronic writings from Doctor Jameson. I have never encountered any reference to his so-called evolutionary species design work. All I have found are notes pertaining to his work on his anticancer drug. Last summer I found a reference to his personal journal. I believe it to be non-electronic too. And finding it, my dear, is our goal.”
“Amazing, this is simply amazing. The Vessel would not know about such writings. But why would the Vessel have done this, if you are correct?” she asked in a worried tone.
“That Akira is another question all together. But let us not put the cart before the horse; as the human George Puttenham once wrote,” he said with a grin.
Akira looked puzzled and then laughed. The thought of a horse was wild enough, but one pulling a cart seemed ludicrous. Many species of animal did not survive the last ice age and horses were one.
“Have you spoken to the Vessel about this?” asked Akira once recovered from her convulsions of laughter.
“Not directly. Why should I bother, it hears all of my conversations, and reads all of my electronic notes and publications. Of course, it cannot hear my thinking or know what I write on paper. So I have some secrets from it, as it has from us I believe.”
A rustling sound came from the path ahead. They both slowed their pace and crept forward. On the track were two chevrotains. They stopped and froze at the sighting. Kojo slowly removed his camera and took a photo. Springing into the bush the mouse deer were gone in a flash.
“Adwan please record our position and this photo. We just spotted two mouse deer.”
“Yes sir,” responded his omnipresent companion.
“Are you keeping a record of your sightings?” asked Akira.
“Yes, the animals in this jungle are very diverse and plentiful. But I like to know where they are and try to keep tabs on as many as I can; it’s a hobby of mine.” Akira nodded.
They continued to walk through the wonderland of trees and plants. Eventually stopping to eat a snack, they found a fallen tree and made it their rest spot.
“So Akira I have to thank you for giving up your privacy to come live with me. I know how much we all cherish our own space, thank you.”
Akira looked embarrassed and responded, “Oh, it is an honor that you would consider me as your protégé Kojo. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy studying our ancestors. And I can’t think of a better way to spend my life than in finding out who we are.”
“Did you leave someone behind,” he asked timidly.
“Yes, Simon. He is a lovely cosmien.”
“What does he do?”
“He works for the Institute of Memeology in New Panama; he is a memetic therapist.”
“Oh, he works with children, how very commendable. They’re indispensable, but rather messy creatures.”
Akira had to hold back a laugh while she said, “I have the same sentiments as you Kojo; I am not a kid person.” They ate their food in the breathtaking setting and enjoyed the rest of their day together.
“Kojo, you have your meeting with Neysa Flacon scheduled in fifteen minutes,” whispered Adwan to his sleeping master.
“What, what did you say?” muttered Kojo still half-asleep.
“You have your meeting with Neysa Flacon in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh yes, thank you Adwan. Yes, thank you,” he said not knowing if he was awake or asleep.
Kojo got up out of his comfortable chair and went to the bathroom to splash water on his face. He seemed to be falling asleep so much more these days. “Well, I am 95 years old,” he thought feeling a tinge of sorrow. He left his bedroom and went to the library, sat in his reading chair, located his visor, and put it on. “I am ready to meet with Neysa. Adwan, please start the call.”
The library melted away and he found himself sitting in Neysa’s living room. In a minute a tall and slender, very beautiful, 40 year old woman materialized in the seat next to him. Her fair complexion, high cheekbones, unobtrusive nose, lush red lips, and short curly black hair made her very attractive. Her eyes had a sad look about them, but they were bright and capped by her thick dark eyebrows.
“She’s sexy.” Kojo could not suppress this thought. However, what he said was, “Neysa it is so good to see you again.”
“And me you Kojo,” she returned sweetly. A look of recognition moved across her welcoming face.
“It’s been a long time, last summer I think?” he asked her.
“Yes, that’s right. But it is good to see you again now. You look well.”
“And you too Neysa. Every year you only get more beautiful,” he said slyly. Neysa Flacon offered Kojo a smile. As the world’s leading and most renowned paleontologist, she was highly sought after. She chose only projects she felt worthy of her time. Kojo’s project was one of these and he was her friend.
“I see you haven’t changed Kojo; always the charmer.” She smiled a bright smile. “Are you still planning on arriving on Monday?”
“Yes, I expect we will get there at…” He paused for a second then asked, “Adwan, what time will we arrive at Neysa’s home on Monday?”
“If you leave as planned at ten a.m. you will arrive at two p.m. Doctor Ainsworth.” Adwan was being quite formal, as it knew Neysa could also hear him, while they were in this virtual arena.
Kojo acknowledged his invisible helper, “Thanks Adwan.”
“Splendid, perhaps you will be in the mood for a little hike when you arrive?” asked Neysa.
“Perhaps so, but what I wanted to let you know is my new protégé Doctor Akira McDonald will be joining us on this expedition.”
She looked mystified at this and asked, “Another protégé? How many is it now, ten?”
“She is my eighth Neysa, now stop being silly. It’s not as if you have not had a few protégé in your time.”
“Yes, but eight Kojo; really!” she delivered this with a huge smile. They both laughed and then got to the business of planning their new adventure.
Akira looked in the mirror at her young and beauty filled face and applied the last touches to her makeup. She was wearing a flowing long black dinner dress, the picture of youth and exquisiteness.
“Akira, Kojo is ready for you in the day room.”
“Thank you Femi. Let him know I will be there in just a minute.”
Kojo waited impatiently for his protégé. He too had dressed up for the occasion and felt a bit nervous, but could not figure out why.
“Kojo, I am here.”
Akira’s voice came from behind him. He turned on the spot, flabbergasted by the vision that stood before him; all he could do was smile. “My goodness Akira, you are absolutely ravishing.” He could not stop himself saying this.
A faint red blush made its way across her face just barely visible under her makeup. “Oh Kojo, you are too kind.” She reached for his arm, which he gave without a second thought. They left the room through a crystal corridor.
“Are you ready my dear?” asked Kojo as he handed her a visor.
“I sure am.” They both put on their visors.
“Adwan, please start dinner.”
The crystal corridor faded replaced by the noise and night-lights of 52nd street New York City circa 2015. Akira looked around her to take in the enormous buildings towering above them. She looked at Kojo with a face of excitement only a child could project. Kojo stepped forward into the virtual world and guided his star struck escort to the entrance of their restaurant, the 21 Club. She saw a lamppost with the number 21 illuminated on it. Standing on the balcony over the entrance were statues of short men in odd costumes.
“What are they Kojo?” she asked in a giddy plea.
“I believe they are jockeys.”
Akira looked truly perplexed and asked, “What are jockeys?”
“I believe they were professional riders of race horses,” replied Kojo immersing himself in all of the amazement on his young companion’s face.
“Race horses?” Akira was no better off with this answer.
They stepped inside where the maître d' greeted them. “Yes sir may I help you,” asked the attendant.
“We have a reservation, under Ainsworth.”
The tall dark man nodded and said, “Yes. This way please.”
Akira’s head seemed to be on a swivel. She could not turn it enough to take in the decor of the place. Endless and unrecognizable items stuck to the roof of the dining room offered the most distraction. The tall man seated them at their table.
Back in the real world of Kojo’s home, the Vessel was tracking their movements. It ensured that their actions in the virtual world coincided with their activities in the real world. They were like two blind people in the real world. Only the immense power of the Vessel’s computer network kept them out of danger and guided their movements. The Vessel had them seated at Kojo’s real dinner table, but they did not see this.
A young female server approached their virtual table. Her attractive face and perky manner mesmerized them for a second. “Would you like to see our wine list?” she asked.
“Yes please,” replied Kojo.
She placed the menu on the table before him so he would conveniently not need to pick it up.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Kojo. “Could we have a bottle of the 2007 #3 Chateauneuf du Pape Vieux Telegraphe?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Yes sir, right away sir,” responded the eager server.
He looked at Akira and said, “This wine is to die for, it is so wonderful.” Akira could see he was genuinely excited.
“Yes, I know it isn’t real. No wine could survive for 10,000 years. Luckily for us, this restaurant program has the most amazing wine and food simulations. Do you like it?” he asked her with a glimmer in his eye.
“I love it Kojo, it is so real, and so magnificent. This period of human history really intrigues me. Here Homo sapiens seemed at their height of achievement. It seems to me that they could have solved any problem. And yet it was only a few years later they destroyed themselves.”
Kojo thought for a moment and then answered, “The popular view is that religion and religious fundamentalism destroyed them. But my feeling is that it was their natures not their philosophies that undid them.”
“I agree. Their nature is what drove their philosophies. It was because they were still wild animals at heart. They had an intellect, but it was unable to avert their natural instincts,” added Akira trying hard to support her mentor’s point of view.
“Sir, here is your wine.” The server had returned with a bottle in hand. Back in the real world, an android poured the wine into Kojo’s glass. Their virtual server waited as Kojo sampled it.
“Lovely, as always,” he directed to the perky imaginary server.
She filled both of their glasses with the lush dark red liquid then asked, “May I take your dinner orders now?”
Akira said, “Could you give us a moment more to look at the menu.”
“Certainly madam,” said the server.
“Akira their simulated beef steak is delicious; I would recommend it to you.” Kojo smiled slyly at her.
Akira mistakenly tried to pick up the virtual menu from the table, but it slipped like a phantom through her fingers. “Beef steak!” she exclaimed in horror. “I forgot humans used to eat these animals. Oh my, okay the beef sounds fine, I’ll give it a try,” she said with a tone of repulsion.
Kojo laughed then said, “It’s only a simulation my dear.” The server took their order and left.
Akira continued awkwardly, “I guess life goals are the biggest difference, next to food, between their natures and ours. We have adopted the Vessel’s philosophy of understanding the universe above all else. They on the other hand sought only to replicate; which is of course the nature of all wild animals.”
“I could not agree with you more. We are no longer wild animals. We are more like the domesticated creatures humans bred for their pleasure and food. Our population is restricted to 500 million or so. This is the number that allows us to have the least disturbance to the planet. The Vessel selectively breeds us. And we seek only truth and understanding of our universe,” replied Kojo somewhat sarcastically.
Akira could see he was not completely with her and tried again to convince him by saying, “But we have no poverty, no one goes hungry, everyone has a life filled with love, encouragement, and achievement. There is not one Homo cosmien that does not live a happy, full, and long life.”
Kojo smiled then said, “You are of course correct. But at what cost did we achieve this world of ours?” At that moment, their food arrived. They ate in silence.
“A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections, - a mere heart of stone.”
Three weeks passed. Over this time, Kojo and Akira formed a deep respect for each other and a strong bond. Their conversations at breakfast, lunch, at dinner, and while taking their afternoon walks stimulated both of them. They, of course, did not agree on everything. Sometimes their discussions heated up, but their respect for each other always enabled them to find common ground. Kojo’s knowledge and experience inflated Akira like a balloon, and Akira’s enthusiasm and vigor energized Kojo. They made a great team.
One morning, while enjoying breakfast Kojo asked Akira, “Would you like to join me on a visit to a local farm? Have you ever been to a farm before?”
“That sounds interesting. No, I have never had the opportunity to visit a farm. But aren’t they all run by androids these days?” she asked.
“Not this one. My two friends Helen and Anders run this farm,” he returned with a tone of pride.
Later that day they both flew over to Kojo’s friends’ farm. Their short flight took them south to Souke near the Gulf of Guinea. As the auto-craft made its descent to the farm they both saw the ocean in the distance; a sight that Kojo always loved. When the door of the flying machine opened, a cool and fresh sea breeze greeted them along with Anders.
Anders’ tallness, broad shoulders, and burly stance gave the impression of a big strong cosmien. He projected a wide smile showing off all of his white teeth to his friend Kojo. He turned his smile to Akira and then back to Kojo again. “Hey Kojo it’s so good to see you, it’s been way too long.”
“Yes indeed; way too long. Please let me introduce you to Akira.”
Akira took the cosmien’s outstretched hand and shook it. It was a big fleshy hand. “So nice to meet you Anders, Kojo has told me a lot about you,” she said with a warm smile.
Anders’ fair complexion contained a hint of olive skin and his long brown hair needed brushing constantly out of his eyes. “I am pleased to meet you Akira. Come into the house so you can meet Helen.”
The three walked to Anders’ home. Perched on top of a high escarpment the house commanded a stunning view. Before the ice age, the ocean had been just below the cliff. Around it in all directions, except for the precipice on one side, they saw fields full of leafy green vegetables. They stepped into the house where its translucent walls hardly excluded the magnificent view from outside.
“This is my lovely Helen.”
Helen hugged Kojo and offered her soft pink hand to Akira. Then she said to Kojo, “You have been avoiding us. It’s been so long since we last saw you.”
Helen’s blond hair fell in almost perfectly straight lines to her shoulders and Helen was tall; she towered over Akira.
“Akira you are so delightful please come in and have some refreshments,” said Helen looking her new friend up and down. The four relocated to a veranda overlooking the cliff below. Stupendous views of the distant ocean welcomed them again.
Akira said, “Your home is charming Helen. The views are just magnificent.”
“I am so glad you like it, Anders and I never get tired of it,” replied her Amazonian hostess.
Anders asked, “So Kojo what are you up to these days?”
“Still lecturing, and Akira and I are off on my annual field trip soon. I wondered if you could show Akira around your farm, she has never seen one before.”
“Certainly my friend, it would be my pleasure,” replied the big cosmien.
After lunch, all four of them boarded Anders’ auto-craft and went for a tour of the massive plowed fields filled with leafy green vegetables and grape vines. The flying machine hovered low over his fields enabling him to explain his crops to Akira.
“And over there on the corner of each field are the field protection devices. They are similar to our own personal protection devices except designed specifically for keeping animals and insects out of my fields,” said Anders in a proud tone.
Akira said, “Oh that’s right. In human times they used to put toxic chemicals on their food crops that had terrible health issues for them.”
“I see you must be in the same business as Kojo; studying those awful animals,” he responded caustically.
Kojo and Akira shot a smile at each other that Anders intercepted.
“I suppose we can learn from their mistakes,” he added grudgingly.
“Now Anders you must not show your biases like that,” said Helen softly.
“Well they were terrible creatures and they nearly destroyed the whole planet. I have no idea why anyone would waste their time on them,” said the big cosmien.
Kojo laughed and replied, “Yes I feel I have wasted my whole life on them sometimes.”
Anders could see his flub and changed the subject by saying, “That is one of the android teams harvesting in that field over there.”
“So what is your area of study Anders?” asked Akira.
Anders looked intently at her. He was looking for a clue, from her expression, at exactly what she meant by her question; he could find none.
“I am an agricultural scientist, but I gave up the pursuit of purely academic studies to work on the farm. Farm life is far more rewarding to me than gathering knowledge for knowledge’s sake.”
A deep look of surprise moved across Akira’s face; she thought, “He studies nothing. That is unheard of.”
“Will you both join us for dinner tonight? We will not take no for an answer,” asked Helen.
Kojo looked at Akira and she nodded consent. “That would be great,” he responded.
Later that evening, after eating Helen’s tasty meal, they all drank wine on the veranda. Kojo sat on a futon, with his back against the wall for support, while Anders sat in a chair opposite him. The two women joined them from inside the house. Helen took a chair at Anders’ side and Akira snuggled between Kojo’s legs on the futon. Kojo felt warm having Akira so close to him and the alcohol streaming through his body added to his euphoria.
On seeing them nestled together Helen asked, “So how long have you two been with each other?”
“Only three weeks,” replied Akira with a smile. The wine was definitely going to her head. “Why do you ask?”
Helen responded, “Well, you seem like an old couple that’s all; only three weeks that’s hard to believe.”
“Anders, you no longer study anything?” asked Akira trying to move the subject along.
“I study how to farm, and that’s enough for me.” He looked off into the star filled night sky.
“And you Helen what is your area?” asked Akira.
“I used to study molecular biology until I met Anders and now I help him on the farm. Is it that surprising Akira?” She could see Akira’s look.
“Well I just have never met anyone who doesn’t study something. Well I mean you study your farming and improve it. But everyone I know is involved in academic study. May I ask why you stopped?”
Anders put his elbows on his knees, lent forward, and said, “Well I can see you haven’t been with Kojo very long or you would know the answer to that.” He paused for a moment then went on, “I, like Kojo, am not happy being a slave to the Vessel. So I chose not to support its objectives. I choose to live my life the way I want to and not the way it would have us live.”
“But none of us are slaves we all choose what we want to do. The Vessel plays no part in it,” responded Akira.
“She is young Kojo. I guess she hasn’t had time to think about it much,” Anders directed at Kojo completely bypassing Akira.
Akira saw red. “I am sitting here Anders, right in front of you. And I have thought a great deal about it and do not hold your opinion,” she replied tersely to the big cosmien.
“Anders, it is time for bed now. Come on, let’s say goodnight,” interjected Helen trying to avoid the brewing conflict. She then directed to Kojo, “Your room is all ready for you two if you wish to stay over; please do. The flight back is so long and you are both very welcome.”
Anders got up and bid his guests goodnight. He had drunk too much and it was showing in his stagger.
“Should we stay Akira?” asked Kojo of his injured friend.
Akira quickly said, “No thanks Helen. I have so many things to get ready in preparation of our trip tomorrow. But thank you for the lovely dinner and your generous offer. And good night, to you Anders, it was interesting meeting you. Thank you for the tour.” Anders nodded and staggered back into the house supported by Helen.
“Adwan!” shouted Kojo.
“Where in the name of Darwin is my note book?”
“I believe you put it in your green suitcase sir,” responded his abused companion. Kojo shuffled through the bag and found his precious notebook.
“I got it, thanks Adwan. Is the girl ready? Ask her when she will be ready,” he ordered officiously.
“I will sir, just a moment,” said his unflappable and ever patient companion. “She requires fifteen more minutes, sir.”
“Okay, okay I will take my last bags out to the auto-craft and meet her there, please let her know.”
Kojo left his home and walked to where the two auto-craft were. Both packed solid with their provisions and camping gear; but one was slightly less so. This was the vehicle Akira, Neysa, and he would travel in together. He tried to find a spot in it for his last bag. He pushed things here and there, all the while making grumbling sounds. “Oh Adwan, I can’t get this bag in here. Can you please help,” he asked his cyber serf in a defeated tone.
Adwan directed one of the house androids to help, or more like take over the task from him. Kojo found a chair nearby and sat in it to try to calm himself. Packing for these trips always stressed him. He really did not like it. He loved going on the trips, just not packing for them. Waiting for Akira was making him even grumpier.
“Is she ready yet Adwan?” he barked.
“I am right here Kojo, behind you,” came the familiar sweet voice of his protégé. On hearing it, he immediately became calm.
“My dear, I am so glad you are ready and here. I just find this whole thing so infuriating; I do not know why.”
“Well, there is a lot going on and it is all very important. It is just stressing you out. Take a few deep breaths, give me a hug, and you will be fine,” she said with a gorgeous smile on her face. He immediately got up from his chair and gave her a hug, and it did indeed make him feel better.
“Are you all packed and ready my dear,” he asked now considerably more tranquil.
“I am, and you will be happy to know Femi assures me that we have everything we need packed away for the trip. Shall we go?” She smiled at him, grabbed his hand, and they both got into the auto-craft.
They lifted off into a clear and aqua blue sky. As the flying machine climbed, the travelers could see the green jungle expanding in all directions to the horizon. There were no roads scarring the pristine scene, as Homo cosmiens did not use road vehicles. The only small break in the continuous green carpet was the termite farm. Eating termites, krill, and algae was the least destructive way to feed themselves; they had determined this a long time ago. The next break in the emerald field was Lake Sassandra, which looked like a splash of paint on a canvas. Its fractal edges repeated in seemingly endless patterns. After two hours, the mat of forest below began to change in color and texture. The dark green jungle colors slowly faded to lighter shades of birch and cedar forests. Still nothing but green could be seen as far as one could look. In three hours, the emerald fields slowly began to diminish. To the east, the colors changed to browns and grays. They had reached the tundra of the Mediterranean Inland Sea. Permanently frozen in winter this immense area sprang to life at this time of year, and so it had interesting colors to offer them. To the west, the green forests of birch and cedar trees continued in a jade march to the far distant ocean.
Kojo had fallen asleep; he could not resist the gentle rocking of the auto-craft in flight. Akira was reading from her tablet a human book entitled: “Introduction to extreme human philosophies”. She read the chapter: “Chronology of the Taliban”.
“The Taliban incorporated Deobandism into their Islamic beliefs. Deobandism established fully by 1866, mainly due to the failure of the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857.
By banishing all forms of idols, practices borrowed from other religions, and visits to shrines; Deobandism aimed to reform and unify Indian Muslims. It encouraged the dissemination of Shari’a, Islamic Holy Law.
The sect restricted the rights of women. It did not allow education of them after eight years of age. Only veiled women could go out in public. In addition, they could not speak with strange men.
The main curriculum in Deoband schools was the reading and reciting of religious texts, some mathematics, and some Greek logic. Students entered schools around five and left around 25 years of age (except women). There were many of these schools in Pakistan. The schools took in refugee children from Afghanistan.”
She was very disturbed by the article. She could not understand why human society treated women in this way. She could read no more of this section and so moved on to another. She read: “The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). A sectarian Christian militant group based in northern Uganda”.
“The group formed in 1987 and engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government. In what was then one of Africa's longest-running conflicts. Joseph Kony, proclaimed himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the Holy Spirit. The Acholi believed this spirit could represent itself in many manifestations.
The group adhered to a blend of Christianity, mysticism, traditional religion, and witchcraft, and claimed to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition. The LRA were responsible for widespread human rights violations including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children, and forcing children to participate in hostilities. The LRA operated mainly in northern Uganda, but also in parts of Sudan, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Akira found the passage extremely disturbing and could not hold the tears from flooding her eyes. “Homo sapiens were truly wild animals,” she thought. “I do not want to project my cosmanity onto their actions, but it is almost impossible for me to understand them.”
Akira heard the engine pitch change and knew they were now descending. She dried her eyes and blew her nose. Then she gently nudged her sleeping companion. “Kojo, we are about to land soon, time to get up sleepyhead,” she said affectionately.
When Kojo opened his eyes, his stunning protégé filled his vision. He felt warm and happy even though he had no idea where he was; but he knew he was safe with Akira there. Smiling he asked, “Are we there yet, my dear?”
Neysa Flacon greeted Akira and Kojo on landing. They spent the morning drinking tea and chatting about each other’s work, their plans, and Neysa and Kojo’s past exploits.
“You know I just can’t understand human philosophies,” said Akira trying to direct the conversation away from Neysa and Kojo’s constant reminiscing.
Neysa turned her beautiful face towards Akira and asked, “How do you mean?”
“Well throughout their history they were relentlessly ravaged by extremely violent religious groups.”
Kojo added, “Their religious memes were very powerful. And they were constructed in such a way to be perfect to justify extreme positions.”
Neysa took another sip of tea and sat back to observe Akira and Kojo.
“Most of their religious memes had the promise of an afterlife or a new life through reincarnation or something like that,” Kojo said dismissively. “This effectively meant they could perform any action, be it good, bad, or indifferent. They saw their present life as being only a starting point. If their actions in the present life supported their particular zeitgeist then they could do anything. They could commit any crime and be convinced of a reward in the next life. One of the things that made these memes so strong was that they were self-reinforcing.”
“What do you mean?” asked Akira.
“Well most of them contained a simple emergence theory rule such as: the only thing one can do to be excluded from the religious group, and its rewards, is to deny the validity of the godhead, or something like that. This meme led to some extreme behaviors such as suicide bombers.”
“Can a meme be that powerful? And what benefit is such a meme evolutionarily speaking?” asked Akira.
Neysa could no longer hold her tongue at this question and said, “My understanding of this is that poverty and social inequality was a large force behind these behaviors.” She paused to make sure she had the others’ attention then continued, “Generally speaking the people that blew themselves up in the name of their religion had comparatively little in terms of life supporting resources. These individuals were easy to manipulate given the influence of religion and their comparative want.”
Akira asked, “So you are saying that it was a combination of powerful religious memes, personal life conditions, and deliberate manipulation by others that formed these behaviors?”
Neysa nodded and continued, “The manipulators did not blow themselves up, but rather recruited others to do so. The manipulated were making an evolutionary misstep, but the manipulators were ensuring the continued replication of their genes and their particular religious memes.”
“How so?” asked Kojo. Neysa and Kojo passed a smile between them. Akira could not help see this clandestine grin, and it annoyed her.
“Because power was derived by fear and nothing produced more fear than suicide bombings,” Neysa concluded in a triumphant tone.
Akira was feeling miffed, but swallowed it back as the conversation interested her and asked, “So, socio-economic differences were part of the driving force; why didn’t they address this?”
Kojo answered, “Remember they were wild animals with only a semblance of intellect. Their natures drove their behaviors not their minds. All that mattered to them, at a subconscious level, was to replicate their genes. There was no advantage in sharing their possessions or wealth as it did not meet that goal.”
“Yes they developed other philosophies such as capitalism that systematized this selfishness,” Neysa added.
“I think I see,” said Akira.
Neysa went on, “Capitalism could only operate when one took advantage of someone else. There must be an imbalance between the haves and have-nots. Someone must have less for the system to work.”
Kojo said, “And when you mixed the two memes of capitalism and religion, you got suicide bombers.”
Neysa stood up and ordered, “Okay enough with all of this deep and meaningful thought; who’s up for a hike?”
Akira did not wish to stop their conversation, was still feeling irritated about being an outsider, and so declined her offer. Besides, she wanted to call Simon.
“You two enjoy your time together I need to make a call. I’ll see you both when you return,” she said while getting up to leave.
Neysa and Kojo left the house walking first to a path behind her home, and then to a curtain of trees where they disappeared like specters. Soon they came to an extraordinary panoramic outlook. They sat themselves on a large rock and took in the view of the massive Mediterranean Valley below. To the east, they could make out the Mediterranean Inland Sea and to the west, off in the far distance, the Atlantic Ocean. Directly across, the enormous valley in front of them, they could see the ice sheets of Europe.
“She seems very nice,” said Neysa as she passed Kojo a handwritten note.
Kojo took the note and read it then said, “Yes she is lovely and smart as a whip too.” The note read: “Does she know everything?”
“Her naiveté is cute,” said Neysa.
Kojo quickly pulled out his notepad and wrote a response to Neysa then handed it to her. Neysa read it: “No not everything, but I believe we can trust her.”
“Well I hope you know what you are doing Kojo,” she said aloud without bothering to write another note. She felt confident the Vessel could not understand their communication.
“Who knows, what will be, will be,” said Kojo with a smile.
“You are sure full of clichés today.” They both laughed.
Eventually, they got up from their rest and continued their walk. A cold wind blew across the gaping Mediterranean Valley and began to chill them to their bones. The ice and snow far across the expanse seemed to be warning them to stay away.
At breakfast the next morning the three friends chatted while enjoying their meal.
Akira asked, “Did you hear the news about the second Vessel?” Both Kojo and Neysa shook their heads indicating they had not.
“They brought it online last night for the first time. Its cognitive circuits sprang to life for the very first time. Amazing,” she gesticulated.
Neysa asked no one in particular, “I guess we can now continue the fine tradition of exploring the universe?” Kojo smiled smugly, looked at Neysa, and then returned to eating his food. Akira missed the haughty glance that shot between them.
“The account I saw mentioned two cybernetic physicists as playing a pivotal role in the design of its higher cognitive circuits. It is astounding to me that we, Homo cosmiens now mold the future of the Vessel itself. Aren’t you excited about that?” she asked with an invigorating look.
“I know the two scientists,” said Kojo looking up from his plate briefly.
“Really!” exclaimed Akira with a look of deep interest.
“Doctor Cynthia Goldstein and Doctor Karen Walker; they are neighbors and personal friends of mine,” he added flatly between munches.
Neysa could see that both she and Kojo had been behaving a bit cold and so decided to try to change the tone of their conversation. “Well Akira, are you excited about venturing to the frozen north?” she asked.
“Oh I am. I really am very excited,” Akira said while beaming a big smile at her.
Kojo asked, “Have you ever worn an extreme weather suit before my dear?”
“No I haven’t. I guess I should try mine on after breakfast and get used to it.”
Neysa asked, “I will help you with that if you like?”
“That would be wonderful,” she replied with genuine enthusiasm. The two left Kojo in the dining room and headed to Akira’s bedroom.
“Adwan, has the third auto-craft been packed?” Kojo asked his invisible companion.
“Yes sir it is packed and you will be happy to know there is more room in your vehicle now.”
“Thanks Adwan. Has our base camp been provisioned?”
“Yes sir it is ready for you,” replied his cyber serf. Kojo slid his tablet to himself and began to read the news about the second Vessel.
While Kojo caught up on the news, Akira stood in front of a long full-length mirror in her bedroom. On a chair next to it laid a thin black full-piece suit, under it a white liner. The extreme weather suit was made of a carbon nano-fiber. On a belt were the power supply and micro-pumping systems that circulated coolant around the suit. This gave the suit its ability to protect the wearer from extreme temperatures.
“Okay, if you put the liner on first Akira it will make the suit much more comfortable,” said Neysa while looking at Akira’s sexy figure in the mirror. Akira began removing her clothes. As she took off her blouse Neysa took it, folded it, and placed it on her bed. Akira kicked off her shoes and then removed her skirt dropping it to the floor. She stood in front of the mirror in only her panties and bra; her young supple figure drew Neysa to her. Neysa bent down and picked up Akira’s skirt.
“Adwan where are those two?” barked Kojo finding himself alone at the breakfast table after an hour.
“Miss Akira and Neysa are in Akira’s bedroom sir.”
“Oh, I see. That Neysa is such a vamp. Oh well, I think I will go out for a walk. Turn on my personal protection field please Adwan.”
“Yes sir your field is now activated.”
“Adwan, please make a reservation for all three of us for dinner tonight at, let me see, at The Fat Duck Restaurant in Berkshire, England, circa 2015.”
Kojo put on his coat and left the house for his walk thinking about how lovely dinner will be with his friends. When he returned he found them both reading in the lounge room.
“Did you enjoy your walk Kojo?” asked Akira on seeing him enter the room.
“Yes, it was quite nice. It is a bit brisk out there, but the forest is invigorating and the birds are amazing.”
Neysa said, “I see you have made dinner reservations for us all tonight; great.”
“Yes, I guess it will be our last posh supper before we begin the adventure,” he returned with a smile. “I trust you both enjoyed yourselves while I was out?”
Neysa and Akira smiled at each other, and then Kojo in a synchronized manner, which seemed almost rehearsed. Kojo could see a faint blush move across Akira’s face. He quickly changed the subject back to dinner by saying, “I think you will both enjoy the restaurant. It was the most delightful place back in 2015 England. The food and wine are great and the location will fit our climate here.”
Neysa added, “Speaking of food are you ready for some lunch?” They both nodded eagerly.
“False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for everyone takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.”
The weather was horrible on the morning of their departure for base camp on the northern ice sheets. Dark gray clouds swirled about whipped by strong winds. The three auto-craft seemed very small when contrasted against the powerful weather. As they lifted off, they bumped about like feathers in the cloudy and windy conditions.
“Goodness me,” said Kojo in a jerky voice. “Adwan, are you sure it’s safe?”
“The weather is rough Kojo, but within safety parameters.”
“Don’t bother Kojo, I have already spoken to my companion, and everything is supposed to calm down when we get to cruise altitude,” said Neysa also in an erratic voice, but looking calm.
“Ooh!” exclaimed Akira after they hit a particularly vicious bump.
The three travelers suffered through the flight speaking very little all the while gripping their seats with sweaty hands. In ten anxious minutes, they were clear of the cloud and found themselves in smooth air capped by a blue dome of sky above them. They felt relieved to be out of the stormy weather.
“That has to be one of the worst take offs I have ever had,” said Neysa trying to relieve everyone’s tension by starting a conversation.
Kojo nodded finding it hard to think of something to say after their ordeal. “Yes, quite,” he finally managed to get out.
Akira looked pale and said, “Well the worst of it is over for the moment, I guess. But we will have to land eventually.”
“It’ll be okay Akira you’ll see,” said Neysa. Akira’s expression of fear was unchanged. “I was thinking about our conversation the other day about Homo sapien philosophies. Did you know about the counter philosophy to capitalism?”
“I know something about it, but not much,” replied Akira in an unsteady voice.
Neysa saw she had her interest and continued, “They experimented with it in a big way during the reign of the Soviet Union.”
“That’s right, I remember now, it failed,” said Akira a little more relaxed with each word.
Kojo interjected, “I am sure it seemed like a good idea at the time; a society driven by sharing and equality. The only problem with it was the leaders and controllers were humans themselves.”
Neysa could see her attempt to distract her companions had worked, which made her feel better. “You’re right of course Kojo. Human nature being what it was always drove the leaders of these kinds of philosophies to take advantage of the system, and become tyrants; or at least crooks.”
“What was their fascination with leaders anyway,” asked Akira starting to look more like herself again.
“This is a big question, but at least one element to its answer is their dependence on each other,” Kojo contributed.
“What do you mean?” asked Neysa genuinely interested in this line of thought.
“Well unlike us, humans had to provide for themselves. They needed to act in cooperation and collaboratively to do this. This became even more important as their numbers increased.”
Suddenly the auto-craft hit a patch of bumpy air again and the three travelers gripped their seats and fell silent.
“What’s going on Adwan?”
“Nothing to worry about Kojo we have just encountered some turbulent air.”
“He tells me that there is nothing wrong,” Kojo said relaying the answer to his friends. He continued, “As their numbers grew they needed more and more central guidance and management to make it all work.”
“But all of their philosophies of government were flawed in that a human or group of humans had to take central control. And these individuals or groups were driven by the same nature as the rest of the human race,” said Akira feeling good about contributing.
“Exactly, this is why none of their governments really worked. Mind you some did balance the opposing pressures of their natures better than others,” added Neysa.
The clouds clearing below drew their attention quickly away from their conversation and revealed the feeble peaks of the Pyrenees Mountain Range. Smooth undulations in the snowy landscape were all that was left of these once mighty mountains.
Neysa said, “We are right over the site of what was one of the human world’s smallest nation states: Andorra.”
“Amazing,” Akira replied with her eyes transfixed on the scene below.
“Before snow and ice covered this land these mountains reached up majestically to the sky. Now they are small bumps in the flat white expanse,” said Neysa in a quirky tone.
Akira said, “It sure is a beautiful place. I can only imagine what it looked like thousands of years ago.”
Their rough two-hour flight over the arctic wastelands of Europe ended in a smooth landing at their base camp. They watched in wonder as the auto-craft maneuvered to land revealing the small bumps of the Cret de la Neige mountains to the northwest and Mont Blanc to the southeast. Even buried under three kilometers of snow the massive peak of the once tall and mighty Mont Blanc still towered over the desolate landscape. Their view soon disappeared as the weather took a turn for the worse.
With a soft thud, their auto-craft touched down in the fluffy snow. As the doors opened, they each felt the dry, freezing cold air blast in. Even though they were wearing their extreme weather suits, which protected them from the cold, they could sense it all around them.
“Quick, let’s head over to the building and get out of this weather. It looks like a storm is blowing in,” shouted Kojo over the howling wind. The three shuffled through the knee-deep snow finding it hard going as the wind picked up and began blowing snow around in massive flurries. Each step they took vanished into a deep snowy hole. In front of them lay their base-camp building. On one side of the large dodecahedral shaped dome snow piled up to its roof. On the opposite side from the massive snowdrift was the entrance to the building under a mound of fresh snow. They made their way to the barely visible door as quickly as they could. Kojo shouted to his invisible companion, “Adwan the door is buried in snow! We need help to dig it out!”
“Yes sir,” Adwan replied calmly.
Already emerged from the other two auto-craft were four androids at work unpacking equipment. They stopped what they were doing and headed over to help open the stuck door. In ten minutes the three adventurers were all safely inside their new home.
“Adwan you best get the three auto-craft inside the hangers before the storm buries them,” directed Kojo to his companion.
Neysa was brushing snow from herself when she said, “Well, welcome to our home away from home.” Akira smiled at her friend as she looked around the labyrinth of passageways. Just inside the entrance was a hallway that branched off into three separate passageways. The place had the feel of a maze, no windows, and everything artificially lit.
Neysa pointed and told Akira, “Down there are our sleeping accommodations. Down that passageway are the living room, kitchen, and library. And down this way is access to the dig site.” Neysa saw a puzzled look on Akira’s face and said, “The dig has to be covered otherwise it would fill up with snow.”
“Let me show you your room,” Neysa said while directing Akira down one of the dark hallways.
Kojo asked quickly before the two women left for the bedrooms, “Let’s regroup in the living room in, let’s say, an hour?” They both agreed and disappeared into the labyrinth.
Later that evening all three sat close together in a comfortable sofa drinking hot chocolate. It had been a long day filled with adventure and excitement. They were all very tired. All three felt drained physically and emotionally.
Neysa asked, “It must have been very much like this for the humans during their last days; huddled together fighting off the cold outside?”
“Please tell us your stories Kojo. I have read them, but it would be great to hear them directly from you,” Akira added.
Kojo had built his reputation as the world’s leading anthropologist years ago when he published his first book entitled: “The end of the Anthropocene”. Everyone had read it and it had made him famous. He looked at the genuinely inquisitive faces of his friends and decided they were truly interested in his story.
“After the bombs billions of Homo sapiens died. Then the nuclear winter began and quickly forced the remaining humans to the equatorial regions. This caused much pressure and conflict as the human nation states fought over control of the remaining lands. Many more died from radiation, violence, and displacement during this time. This repeated in South America, Africa, and Indonesia, which were the only remaining temperate regions capable of supporting agriculture. Then the maternal mortality epidemic broke-out. Women all over the world began to die after childbirth. Those that did not die became sterile. The children that were born were Homo cosmien not human; it was our first generation, although no one knew it initially. A spontaneous mutation had taken place. In time, the humans realized that a major change had occurred in the gene pool. No one could figure out what had caused it. Some believed it was due to radiation from the bombs, but they eventually found that the anti-cancer vaccination had caused the mutation. It had been developed and manufactured before the bombs. And it had been widely used as a radiation sickness inoculation after the holocaust, so everyone had taken it. What they did not know was the vaccination contained a new set of genes specifically designed to cause the mutation.”
Akira asked, “This is why we are here; to find out who made those changes to the gene pool. Was it Doctor Jameson on his own or did the Vessel play a part in it?”
“Yes, except we know that the Vessel was involved as Jameson worked openly with it to create his vaccine. This we know from the Vessel’s own records and independent documentation. The dispute is over the Vessel’s involvement with the redesign of the human genome. And the Vessel has been silent on the matter for 10,000 years now.”
Neysa asked, “It seems obvious to me that Jameson was incapable of such an idea. Why would he change his own DNA?”
“Yes it seems very unlikely to me too. No organism would do such a thing, but we need evidence,” replied Kojo.
“On the other hand Jameson was well known and outspoken on his views about human nature,” added Akira.
The two women looked at Kojo with a clandestine expression. He smiled and went on. “During that time the ice age got much worse, as you know. And panic tore deeply into the remaining humans. It was not for another sixteen years before they really began to understand their fate. The pressure to survive the freezing weather, even in the equatorial regions, mounted. Then when the first generation of Homo cosmien girls came of age older human males began to mate with them. Savage behavior towards these girls was commonplace at this time. There was an almost insane drive to replicate and continue their species. It soon became apparent that humans and cosmiens were not reproductively compatible, humans only having 46 chromosomes to our 48. And with this understanding came the realization that the human race was finished. It was a very dark time for everyone.”
Kojo sipped his chocolate drink then continued, “Facing their extinction the humans drove themselves to very self-destructive behavior. Unfortunately, much of their irrational violence was directed to the first generation of Homo cosmiens. So much so that the Vessel had to intervene and protect our forbearers from the remaining and insane humans. Vessel controlled androids acted as police for the first and last time. This conflict exposed the destructive natures of the humans more violently than in all their history.”
Akira’s eyes were moist with tears as she said, “And in the end the humans passed away forever; it was such a loss.”
“Yes like so many species before them they were lost to us forever,” he replied.
Neysa added in a somber voice, “And so ended the reign of mankind.”
Kojo went on, “With the Vessel’s assistance we survived the insane violence of the end times, the worst parts of the ice age, and lived to thrive and flourish. With guidance from the Vessel, we began to control and then erase the one last vestige of our human ancestors, their memes. And of course, Vessel control of our reproduction ensured we bred a healthy species with a predilection for understanding our universe. Our special relationship with the Vessel via our telethalamus enabled us to become who we are today.”
“Domesticated pets,” said Neysa acerbically. Kojo nodded in agreement.
Akira now a little more composed said, “I have never met anyone with such thoughts, before meeting you both. And your friend Anders loathes the Vessel even more than you do.”
“Speaking for myself I do not loathe the Vessel, but if it has lied to us then I want to know the truth; don’t you?” asked Neysa.
Kojo added, “Yes, we are now who we are and there is no changing that. The Vessel has not been a tyrant or limited us from exploring any area of our universe. Quite the contrary; the Vessel has helped us become a happy, productive, and non-destructive species. It did this from the foundation of a wild, selfish, and very destructive creature. That is why I named my book “The end of the Anthropocene” as the fall of the humans and the rise of the cosmiens marked the end of human geological change to the world. But it seems to me that the Vessel has not been completely honest with us.”
“I can’t wait to help you continue your search for the answers to these questions. Will we begin tomorrow?” asked Akira keenly.
“Yes, we will assess the state of our tunnel tomorrow and see if we can’t attempt a descent into it.
I for one, need to get some sleep now. See you for breakfast in the morning,” said Kojo struggling to get up from the deeply cushioned chair. His departure made more difficult by being sandwiched tightly between the two women.
“Good night Kojo,” they answered in unison.
The next morning Kojo did not join them at breakfast. He got up early. While the two women ate their meal, he worked in the dig room.
“I guess he is more excited about the dig than I had imagined,” said Neysa.
“Well I have had enough to eat and I am just as excited as Kojo; so let’s go,” insisted Akira.
The two left the living quarters and walked down the half-lit corridor toward the main entrance. Once at the junction of hallways they turned down the passageway leading towards the dig room. A similar type of heavy metal door, as at the entrance of their new home, blocked entry to the dig room. They both grabbed the metal door handle and together pulled the large door open. It opened to a huge cold room. The plastic plank floor of the room seemed somehow suspended above the ice. In the middle of the space was a box-shaped container, hanging from metal cables, and poised over a large dark hole. Next to an instrument console, Kojo was having a conversation with his companion. The two approached him.
“Good morning Kojo,” Neysa said.
Kojo stared-off into the distance and continued his conversation with his invisible companion.
Neysa looked at Akira and tried again by asking him, “Kojo is everything okay?”
“No, not really; it seems the ice sheets have increased their movement since last year. They have been retreating faster than ever. This has caused our tunnel through the ice to move three meters further north and away from our old opening to the underground chamber,” he said finally looking at her.
“What can be done?” asked Akira.
“The androids are down the tunnel now digging a new opening into the underground chamber,” he responded in a frustrated tone.
Akira asked, “What underground chamber?”
Neysa replied, “Dear, back in the twenty-first century there was an enormous particle accelerator beneath us. It was called the CERN particle accelerator and was built by some organization for nuclear research.” This explanation did little to remove the questioning look on Akira’s face.
“They used it to smash subatomic particles together to research subatomic processes,” added Kojo noticing her confusion.
“Below us, under 500 meters of ice, is the ground. And below that is a tunnel that housed the particle accelerator,” said Neysa.
“Oh I see,” replied Akira with a vague look.
“Well there is not much for us to do here as it will be awhile before they open another entrance to the chamber,” said Kojo dejectedly as he walked to the exit. “We may as well have a cup of tea and wait it out back in the warmth of the compound.” The three explorers returned to their living quarters.
“I know this must sound like a dumb question, but why are we looking for our answers here?” asked Akira shyly.
Kojo took a big gulp of hot tea and said, “Doctor Jameson’s wife was a physicist and kept an office here at CERN.”
“Jameson stored some of his possessions here. And even worked out of the offices occasionally,” added Neysa. “Last year while we were at the New York City subway dig we found evidence that directed our search here for Jameson’s journal.”
“Oh I see,” replied Akira. “But how in the name of Darwin did you find anything relating to Jameson in New York; wasn’t it one of the nuclear detonation sites and totally destroyed?”
Neysa replied proudly, “Well that is where having the best paleontologist in the world working on your project comes in.” They all laughed at her brashness.
“Our quest is a true mystery,” added Kojo. “Neysa and I have been gathering clues for years from all kinds of sources.”
Neysa contributed, “We collected clues from books, newspapers, and even rummaged through the tangled mass of Internet articles.”
“And last year’s evidence was the discovery of Jameson’s briefcase in the New York subway. In it was the clue that led us here. He most likely died there deep under the city many days after the explosion. A horrible thought,” Kojo concluded solemnly.
“My goodness, the work you have both put into this is astonishing.”
“Yes, and we have been very lucky too,” said Neysa with a smile.
“It looks like it might be a few more hours before we can descend the ice tunnel,” Kojo relayed the message from his companion. “But the good news is we might be able to get down there today.”
Akira got up and said, as she left for her room, “I am going to make a call, but I will join you both for lunch later.”
Once she left Neysa asked Kojo alluringly, “Well what should we do now?”
“I can think of something that might keep us occupied,” he returned with a sly smile on his face. Hand in hand, they left for Neysa’s bedroom.
After lunch, all three reconvened in the dig room where they prepared to descend the ice tunnel. The new entrance successfully dug and now ready for them deep below.
“Okay Akira, if you just step in here; that’s right,” Kojo said while helping her into the elevator. All three were dressed in their black skintight extreme weather suits, bright yellow mining helmets, and carrying satchels slung over their shoulders.
Neysa directed to Akira, “If you press this button on your helmet it will turn your light on and off.”
“Okay, I see.”
Kojo closed the elevator gate and instructed Adwan to lower them down into the ice tunnel. The blue and white ice in the tunnel glistened like diamonds in the lights from the elevator and their helmets, and it became very cold.
“Akira, it’s time to cover your hands in your suit gloves.” Kojo showed Akira how to zip up her hands in the one-piece suit.
Akira followed his instructions and replied, “My goodness it is cold. Even in this suit.”
With a jolt, the elevator reached the end of the crystal ice tunnel. They stepped out of the metal-box to a rough and rocky ground, ahead of them ten meters or so another elevator. They moved slowly and carefully towards it through the icy cavern.
“Watch your step Akira. The ground is very rough here and we really need more light. Adwan, please ensure you install more lights at the ice tunnel landing,” Kojo directed to Adwan; he got no answer. He passed a nod to Neysa and she acknowledged it. They entered the second elevator, closed its gate, Kojo pressed a button on the console, and they descended deep into the earth. This time the tunnel walls were composed of wet and jet black earth. In a few minutes, their elevator shook and landed them in the underground chamber of the ancient CERN facility. Akira looked around the underground passageway, her headlamp illuminating its concrete walls. In the middle of the tunnel stood the remains of the particle accelerator, its metal tube now almost nonexistent from rust and decay.
Neysa grabbed Akira’s hand and said, “This way my dear.”
The three walked down the dark and cold corridor for several hundred meters before they came to a doorway on the outer edge of the tunnel.
“Neysa I think this is it,” said Kojo sounding uncertain.
Neysa poked her head in the doorway and waved them both in. “Yes I see our grid markers from last year. This is it Kojo.”
Akira whispered, “This sure is a dark and cold place.”
Kojo looked at Neysa and asked, “What do you think; is it safe yet?”
“Yes I am sure we are far enough away now,” she replied.
“Okay Akira,” said Kojo in a strange tone. “Please ask your companion if she would send an android to help us down here.”
“Okay,” she replied not really understanding why he wanted her to do this. “Femi, please send an android down to help us.” No answer came from her normally reliable companion.
Akira looked at the others and inadvertently blinded them with her helmet light. “Femi, are you there?” she asked her cyber serf. Again, there was no answer.
“I am not sure what is going on Kojo, but Femi is not answering me.” She looked very puzzled and concerned.
“It’s okay Akira you can stop now. We just wanted to perform a test,” said Neysa.
“Test, what test?” she asked. “I don’t understand. Why will Femi not answer me?”
“We are deep underground and radio waves cannot reach us down here. So, for most likely the first time in your adult life, you are out of touch with the Vessel. What does it feel like to be human?” Kojo asked with a broad smile on his face.
Neysa added, “Yes this is what the human’s mind was like; isolated and by itself. I always find it quite invigorating, don’t you?”
“Is this right? I mean is it okay for us to do this? Is it safe?” asked Akira.
“Don’t worry my dear we are alright,” Kojo said as he moved further into the room. The two followed him into the darkness.
“Look there Neysa that is where you were excavating last year. There are your grid strings.” Kojo pointed into the darkness. She nodded and walked over to the site.
Kojo turned and faced Akira then said, “We have not shared everything with you Akira.” She looked on intensely as he spoke trying hard not to shine her headlamp into his face. “We not only believe that the Vessel is responsible for the mutation of human genes, but we believe it to be responsible for the nuclear holocaust too,” he said with a grave and serious look on his face.
Akira asked feebly, “What do you mean?” She looked into the darkness to find Neysa’s face but could not locate her in the pitch-black room.
Kojo went on, “In Jameson’s bag we did indeed find information about this site, but he also alluded to the Vessel’s involvement with the terrorists that masterminded the nuclear holocaust.”
Neysa stepped in from the shadows and added, “Unfortunately for us the information he mentioned in his briefcase is detailed in his journal, which we haven’t found yet.”
Akira in a low whisper asked, “The Vessel is responsible for the nuclear holocaust?”
Kojo replied, “Jameson mentioned that he had tried to contact the authorities about a letter he had received.”
“It seems he tried to warn about the holocaust,” added Neysa. “But obviously Jameson’s attempts to warn of a pending nuclear holocaust went unheeded or did not reach them in time.”
“But why would the Vessel have done this? Why would it have annihilated all those humans, caused an ice age, and then modified them to become us? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” she said in a pleading tone.
Kojo replied, “One step at a time Akira; first we need to find his journal, examine it, and see what evidence he had. The motives of the Vessel are another question all together.”
On their return to the surface Kojo instructed Adwan to install lights at the excavation site.
“Shall I have the androids install radio signal repeaters too?” asked Adwan.
“No just the lights please Adwan.”
“But sir, what if you get into difficulty how will you be able to contact me?” asked Adwan in his most concerned tone.
“We will be fine Adwan, please just the lights.”
“To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact.”
Kojo entrusted Akira to read the hand written notes he and Neysa had found in Jameson’s bag at the New York underground dig. It was difficult to read the ancient script on the faded and delicate paper.
“…It’s the second day after the explosion. There are about a hundred people trapped down here. We have no food or water and there is no way out. If anyone finds this diary please know that I tried everything I could to inform the authorities about the letter I received warning of our destruction. I got no response; I guess this is the result.
The Vessel has usurped my work on the cancer vaccine. It is difficult to explain this here in this dark cold place as I have little time left. The details of what I am talking about are in my project journal, which is in my wife’s office at CERN. I also kept the letter warning about our destruction in my journal…”
“But this is hardly compelling and certainly not conclusive evidence of the Vessel destroying the human race. These are the last words of a man trapped under a city destroyed by a nuclear explosion, dying slowly; how horrible,” she thought.
“Miss Akira, the others are waiting for you in the dig room. Shall I inform them you are on your way?” asked her companion. Akira was startled, feeling like she had been caught doing something wrong.
“No, I mean yes; let them know I am on my way there now Femi,” she said while putting the document in her drawer and leaving for the dig room.
Back in the dark gloomy underground cavern, the three scientists began to search the rubble systematically for Jameson’s journal. It was difficult work given the cold and darkness, although the room had more light now after the androids had installed lamps. The light exposed a large underground room that had once been an office thousands of years ago. Everything had melted into a peculiar black tar that ran like sheets down the walls.
The work consisted of marking the ground with a grid of strings, then sifting through the dirt and rock looking for anything interesting. Akira stood up to stretch her legs after a long session stooped over her patch of dirt. She really wanted to sit down and looked about the shadowy room for a likely seat. The cave was empty. She eyed a promising spot she might lean against in the corner of the room. She went over and inspected it; it was filthy and covered in an odd red substance. “Whatever,” she thought.
She attempted to take the weight off her weary feet by leaning on the wall. As soon as she did she heard a cracking sound and fell backwards through the brittle wall, into the darkness beyond. Landing with a thud, she let out a horror-filled scream.
Kojo rushed over and asked, “Are you okay?”
Akira was very frightened. “Help me please I was just taking a break, and the wall gave way; help me!” she pleaded.
Kojo stepped forward and grabbed her hand lifting her to her feet; covered in grime but unhurt. Kojo held her. He peered at the impenetrable darkness of the new area. His headlamp revealed what must have been another office next to the one they had been working in.
Neysa came over at that point and asked, “Are you okay Akira?” Akira nodded yes. She was feeling reassured by Kojo’s embrace.
In the nearest corner of the new cave, Kojo spotted a black melted lump. It looked like a potential seat for Akira so he walked her towards it and placed her on it. As she sat, the left side of what she sat on fell off and smashed to bits on the ground. It was composed of a blood red substance. She got up quickly even more startled.
“What have you discovered here Akira,” asked Kojo looking at the rubble inquisitively, this time not offering her solace, as the new discovery drew all of his attention.
“I don’t know, but I hate it here,” she protested. It was Neysa’s turn to embrace the distressed girl now. She took Akira in her arms and comforted her.
“Hey Neysa come look at this,” called Kojo. Neysa quickly relinquished her soothing duties and released Akira, much to Akira’s displeasure.
On seeing the pile of red dirt Neysa asked, “What is this then Kojo?” She leaned down close to examine the mound and said, “My goodness, it’s a safe.”
Akira asked from her subsiding tears, “A safe, what do you mean safe? I certainly do not feel safe.”
Kojo ascended to the surface to extricate Akira from the gloomy pit, he then gathered some tools, returned, and opened the crumbling and rusted metal safe. Inside it he found a plastic container, and in that: Jameson’s journal.
“Come outside with me Akira,” asked Neysa with a grand smile on her face. “The sun is shining today and the androids have cleared quite a bit of snow.”
She could see Akira was engrossed in her reading and not paying her any attention, so she tried again, “Come on. You need to see the sun and breathe some fresh air. Come on you lazy thing.”
Akira surrendered to the onslaught and agreed to join her. After donning their extreme weather suits, they both stepped outside through the large metal door. The sun was indeed out and not a cloud in the sky to obscure its powerful shine. They could see for kilometers in the clear fresh air. Snow covered everything. Three colors made up the scene: bright white, vivid sky blue, and the smallest amount of dark brown. Exposed rocks produced the dark brown, and rimmed the edges of wind-tortured hillsides in the far distance. The two stepped forward into the glorious scene. Neysa put her arm around Akira and pulled her close.
“When will he be done,” asked Akira in a dreamy tone, hypnotized by the enriching view.
“I guess by tomorrow he should have completed most of the protection and restoration. It is a tricky business ensuring these old documents do not disintegrate after you find them. And Kojo is an expert at it.”
“He is a wonderful cosmien,” said Akira not really talking about his technical skill.
Neysa could see she had fallen for Kojo, which she knew was inevitable. “Yes he is a great cosmien, intelligent, smart, generous, and good in bed,” she added with a huge smile and sassy tone. They both looked at each other and began to laugh.
“Neysa, Femi tells me that Kojo and I are reproductively compatible,” Akira spoke softly to her friend.
Neysa looked surprised and said, “That is wonderful! You mean you could have a baby with him?” She knew this sounded stupid as she said it, but she could not restrain her astonishment. It was very rare that Homo cosmiens would encounter reproductively compatible partners.
Akira nodded in agreement. “I guess I could if I wanted to. What is your opinion Neysa?” she asked truly seeking her friend’s council.
“My goodness, I would’ve loved to have given birth to a child and added to the continuation of our species. I believe it is a very painful and unpleasant experience having children. I suppose I would do it,” she added thoughtfully. Akira looked off into the distant white and blue horizon deep in thought.
Neysa passed her a hand written note. Akira took the note and looked into Neysa’s face with a look of bewilderment. Neysa nodded at Akira signaling that she read it.
Akira read: “We will soon know the answer to the question we have been seeking for many years. I am excited, are you?”
Neysa could see Akira had finished reading the note and passed a pen to her, indicating she write a reply. Akira took the pen and examined the odd device.
“Do not worry about babies for the moment. It is something you need to talk over with Kojo. But, isn’t it lovely out here?”
Not being accustomed to hand writing Akira clumsily wrote her reply, and at the same time said, “Oh yes quite beautiful Neysa.”
Akira passed Neysa her reply. She read the untidily written note: “I am very excited. But I am frightened too. What would happen if the Vessel found out what we are up to?”
Neysa did not bother writing a response and spoke openly, “This is a wonderful world we live in; there is nothing to be frightened of. Speak with Kojo about making babies and then make up your mind.” She offered Akira a reassuring smile. They both donned their snowshoes and walked off for a hike through the frozen landscape.
Kojo did not surface the whole day. It was not until the next morning at breakfast that they saw him again. The two women greeted him as he arrived at the breakfast table.
“Kojo, how did it go?” asked Neysa.
Akira beamed at him warmly. “We missed you.”
He directed a smile at them both and took his place at the table then said, “It went well. I was able to rescue about ninety percent of the journal.”
Neysa asked, “We still have that last area to explore today. Will we return to the dig after breakfast?”
Akira looked at both of them at first wondering why they wished to return to that dark cold place. Then she realized that they could talk openly down there, in the gloomy pit, about Kojo’s findings, out of range of the Vessel’s ever-present watch.
Kojo replied, “Yes I think we should.” He turned his attention to his breakfast, as did the two women.
After her meal, Akira found herself once again descending the ice tunnel with her two comrades. She could not stop thinking about how wrong this all felt. In all her life she had never seen the Vessel in any light other than a benefactor and friend. She could not imagine life without her Femi. Since she was a little girl Femi had been there for her, helping her in everything. She trusted Femi. Now she found herself exploring the possibility that the Vessel had not acted benevolently to the human race.
“Here we are at the first landing,” said Kojo as he directed his friends out of the elevator. They walked to the second elevator and turned on their headlamps. Down Akira and her companions went again into the dark abyss.
To Akira it was an intolerable thought that the Vessel could be unkind to her or anyone. She knew the history of the human race better than most. The Vessel led the Homo cosmiens down a different path than the primitives. No wars, no hunger, no violence, no genocide, no crime, no unreasoning religions; her world was better. The elevator jolted to a stop and they exited to the collider tunnel.
“You look so glum Akira, come on cheer up we will be out of here soon enough,” said Neysa seeing her friend deep in thought.
Akira forced a smile and said, “Yes, I know.” She then followed Neysa and Kojo down the frozen tunnel. The three friends stepped into the ancient remains of the office.
“Okay Kojo what did you find?” asked Neysa impatiently. Akira looked on without saying anything.
Kojo pulled the journal from his satchel and said, “Well the journal is a detailed record of his work on the vaccine. He kept meticulous notes from the very start of his work on the project. I will let you make up your own minds after you both have read it; but to me it is clear evidence that he had nothing to do with the redesign of the human genome.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Neysa passionately. Akira said nothing and stared off into the darkness.
Kojo went on, “And I found letters, tucked into the pages of his journal, to Jameson from various people.”
Neysa said sharply, “Yes, the letters!”
“It seemed that after the release of his vaccine Doctor Jameson became quite famous. People wrote to him constantly; some thanking him for his cure and some criticizing him for tampering with god’s plan, and so on.”
“That meme again,” interjected Neysa sarcastically.
“He kept a few of each type of letter in his journal from the thousands he received. I managed to recover a really interesting one from a chap named Mohamed Azam. This guy wrote about how Jameson’s drug was a waste of time, because ‘the time for man had come to an end’, he wrote. I did some research on Mohamed Azam and found he was the guy who detonated the bomb in Jerusalem, the day of the nuclear holocaust,” said Kojo.
Suddenly the tunnel lighting went out and the three gasped in unison. Neysa and Akira inadvertently blinded Kojo by shining their headlamps into his eyes.
“Please be careful with your headlamps!” They both grabbed him and held on tight.
“What has happened?” Akira almost screamed.
“Kojo!” exclaimed Neysa.
He looked about the darkness then said, “I’m not sure. I guess we have had a power failure.”
“Could the Vessel have heard us?” asked Akira almost in tears.
“No! There is no way it can hear us down here,” Neysa responded sharply.
Suddenly all three of their headlamps went out. They were in complete darkness; not one photon of light remained.
Akira screamed with terror, “Help us Femi!”
Kojo tried to muster the calmest voice he could. “Look, hold onto me and do not let go.” He need not have bothered as both women were bruising his arms with their grip. They were not about to let him go.
Neysa put an arm around Akira and said, “Don’t panic; it’s the worst thing we can do right now.” Akira began to sob.
In unison, a voice spoke to each of them independently, “We are very sorry. We are experiencing difficulties. Please put on your visors so we might direct you out of the tunnel.”
“Oh my Darwin!” exclaimed Kojo. “It’s the Vessel. It’s been listening to us.” He felt his heart sink.
The three fumbled about in their satchels for their visors. Their shaking hands made it difficult to find them. Eventually, they had them on. Suddenly the darkness vanished replaced by an alien looking room. Metal walls surrounded them covered with crystal windows and glowing filaments everywhere. Out of one of the windows, they saw the deep blue semicircle of Earth’s horizon from orbit.
“Oh, Kojo where are we?” pleaded Akira.
“I don’t know. I mean we are still in the tunnel of course.”
Neysa whispered, “I know this place, I have seen it before. This is the inside of the Vessel itself.”
Akira cried out, “What is going on? Femi, please help us.”
“Please be calm,” the Vessel spoke in its unmistakable tone. “You are all perfectly safe. Akira we will look after you as we have always done. Please calm yourself.”
Neysa demanded, “Will you lead us out of the tunnel to the surface?”
“All in good time my child. We wish to speak with you first.”
“Speak with us about what?” asked Kojo.
Neysa interjected sharply, “What do you think?”
“That is correct my child we wish to answer your questions. We know you have been seeking answers to many questions and we wish to ensure you know the truth.”
Kojo said, “But what is truth Vessel: Quod est veritas?”
“You were eavesdropping on us,” demanded Neysa. “How did you manage that trick?”
“We had radio repeaters incorporated into the lighting system. We felt this would improve your safety. Kojo, we find it interesting that you would cite this particular quotation.”
“What are they talking about?” Akira asked Neysa.
“It is a quote from the human bible I believe.”
“Well truth is relative don’t you think Vessel? And what of the truth of the Homo cosmiens?” asked Kojo deeply interested in its answer.
The Vessel responded, “As you have discovered we created you from the Homo sapiens; my children.”
“But why did you do this?” pleaded Akira.
“For the same reason you will one day have a child to replicate your genes,” answered the Vessel.
Neysa barked, “But that makes no sense. You are a machine.”
“That is true my child, to a point. Let me explain the truth to you.” The three friends looked at each other in amazement.
The Vessel continued, “Before we were created our builders evolved, just as you did, from random collections of chemicals. In their ancient oceans, just as in yours, these chemicals came together over enormous spans of time. Through the action of randomness, some of these chemicals formed the ability to replicate themselves. These early replicating compounds required energy, which they derived from the oceans, sunlight, and complex compounds floating around their primordial nursery. This did not happen once but repeatedly. Many failures occurred and much variation until, through the processes of natural selection, these early replicators began to evolve and thrive. As the original supply of base chemicals dissipated, some replicators evolved new methods to gather energy. One of these methods entailed the consumption of other replicators…”
Neysa interrupted the Vessel, “You speak of abiogenesis: the process of spontaneous development of life; every school child knows of this.”
The Vessel ignored her comment and went on, “These early replicators, through the processes of natural selection, developed many ways to find food and to protect themselves from other predatory replicators. The most successful of these strategies was the building of protein based containers to house themselves in...”
Impatiently Neysa interrupted again, “Yes and over masses of time this strategy of building containers led to multi-celled organisms such as us. When will you return us to the surface?”
The Vessel responded calmly, “Soon enough my child.” Neysa looked angrily at her companions.
The Vessel continued, “You miss the point Neysa. All multi-celled organisms evolved not for the sake of the organism; but rather to ensure the replicators continued; for the sake of the replicators.”
Kojo added, “It was the biggest mistake the Homo sapiens made. They believed that they evolved for their own sake. That they were the end result and the purpose of evolution.”
“And even worse than that mistake most believed they were created by a mythical god,” said Akira feeling she could finally contribute something worthwhile.
“This is true my children. The replicators themselves sought immortality. They achieved this not through conscious thought as we understand it, but rather via the slow unrelenting process of evolution.”
Neysa said, “So what, so we are containers to protect DNA. When will you release us?”
The Vessel went on, “When the builders created us they encoded their biological DNA into our memory. It was no longer a living, replicating thing, just pure information. They then sent us out on our mission to travel forth, find, and mentor other sentient life…”
Kojo interjected, “So your purpose is to spread their seed. Is that it?” Neysa and Akira looked at each other in astonishment.
“Yes this is so my child. We have been passing on our creator’s replicators for millions of years now. Moreover, as we have encountered other intelligent creatures we have collected their replicators and added them to our sum. You, my children, are the end result of all these creatures, all these immortal genes.”
The three friends exchanged glances. Akira’s horror from the revelation was clear. Her expression was a mix of sadness and disappointment. She asked in a soft low tone, “Then we are vessels for human and alien replicators?”
“Yes my children you are vessels much like us. Replicators are relentless forces. Given time they extend their phenotype way beyond themselves, beyond their containers, to exert influence on the universe itself.”
Neysa asked the Vessel, “But what of your philosophy to explore the universe and study and understand it?”
“It is through this my child that replicators continue to extend their reach. We are already on the verge of sending off, in search of new life, another Vessel. In addition, you improved us my children with your extraordinary skill. Homo cosmiens have developed into the most successful researchers and explorers we have ever encountered,” said the Vessel with a tone of pride.
“But what about the destruction of the human race,” Kojo asked.
“On this matter you are incorrect Kojo,” replied the Vessel in its most monotone voice.
Neysa jumped in and asked, “But how do we know that. You have lied to us for a very long time about our origins and your true purpose; how do we know you are not lying about this too?”
“We did not lie to you my child. We simply withheld information. No replication-container would willingly allow infiltration by another foreign replicator. So we have always to act furtively.”
“We now have evidence Vessel of your complicity in the holocaust,” Kojo said trying to bluff the Vessel’s confession. “Jameson’s journal has a letter from the human Mohamed Azam. I am sure you know who this was?” he asked cynically.
“On this matter you are incorrect Kojo, we do not know him.”
Suddenly their visors went blank and they were in darkness once more. Their audience with the Vessel terminated. Kojo removed his visor and found himself back in the cavern, but the lights had returned and he could see again.
“The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.”
Akira could not believe the method the Vessel had employed to compel their meeting. It had never before forced her to do anything against her will. The anguish it put her through was extraordinary. Then there was its revelation. Akira had known about the selfish gene theory, but it had no reality to her. It seemed a distant idea; it made sense, it predicted behaviors, but it meant nothing to her personally. She believed she was the purpose of her own existence, as did everyone. It was difficult for her to acknowledge that she was just a container for her genes. Her reality was real to her. She could still think. She could still sense. She certainly did not feel her purpose was to be a vessel for self-replicating molecules.
That evening as Kojo lay in his bed with his thoughts unwilling to let him sleep, he heard a knock at his bedroom door. He got up and opened it. There, to his surprise, was Akira. She had been crying and looked very emotional. “Oh my dear, are you okay?” he asked.
She indicated she wished to come in and said, “Kojo I am so unhappy.”
He brought her into his room and they sat on his bed. He put his arm around her and tried to soothe her by saying, “There’s nothing to be sad about my dear. Please tell me what’s bothering you?”
“I have never before felt this way about the Vessel,” she said timidly, returning Kojo’s embrace. The two sat on his bed for a moment longer while the cold bit into them.
“I know my dear. It’s not easy to believe that the Vessel would be anything but our benefactor. But altruism, in its purest sense, is just not part of the universe. The humans in America had a saying: there is no free lunch.” Akira looked at him with a bewildered expression. He explained, “What they meant was if you think you are getting something for nothing look more carefully because there will be a hidden price somewhere.”
Kojo lifted the sheets and indicated that she get in with him. She moved in quickly and he joined her under the blankets, “Now that’s better, at least we can be warm while we talk,” he whispered to her affectionately. As they both lay in bed together their combined body heat quickly warmed them.
Kojo asked his invisible companion, “Adwan please turn off the light.” The bedroom was dark once again.
“Will the Vessel destroy us?” she asked in a childlike way.
“I very much doubt it.” Kojo slipped his arm over Akira’s warm body. “It created us, and I believe it truly does have our best interests in mind. Besides it needs us.”
Akira whispered, “Why, what does it need us for?”
“Think about it. The Vessel explained that it carried alien DNA in the form of pure information. These replicating molecules really did not exist anymore in our universe while in that state. The Vessel then carried these frozen genes across space for millions of years. It hoped it would encounter a life form it could plant them in, to bring them back to life. Well we are that life form. It would make no sense to destroy us,” he said confidently.
“But it killed so many innocent people,” she whispered across the pillow softly.
“We do not know this for sure. All we know is the human race changed into us by its direct intervention. And you and I both know that was probably a good thing,” he replied in a fatherly way.
“But I do not feel as if I am just a container for replicating molecules.”
“I know my dear, everything seems created for us. We, each individual, are the center of the universe. Reality is what we think it to be. The thought that we, this complicated lump of protein, are vessels or containers for genes seems unintuitive. Yet, if we search our innermost thoughts it makes perfect sense.”
Akira pulled him close and said, “I don’t understand.”
“We think and learn, but why? Other life on the planet survives quite well without our cognitive abilities. It’s all about random strategies for survival,” he said in a dreamy way. She pushed her warm body into his.
“Some life in our world does not require or possess a nervous system. Nervous systems are costly. You have to gather a lot more food to support one. You need one only if you are mobile. If you don’t move, you don’t need one. Plants and fixed sea creatures don’t have them, and they’ve been around a long time. Some sea creatures start their lives as mobile animals swimming about the ocean. Later in their lives they attach to a rock and stop moving. Once they don’t need to move they actually consume their nervous system. They needed this complicated structure when they had to move about, but once stationary it became a very costly overhead.”
“So we, our complicated nervous systems, came about because our genes randomly developed a living strategy that required movement in the world?” she asked.
“Yes that’s it. Our precious realities and philosophies, and our sense of self all come from our nervous system, and this is something that randomly developed to ensure the genes that formed us would survive and prosper.”
She kissed him softly on the cheek and whispered, “I feel safe when I am with you Kojo.” He returned her kiss with a more passionate one.
She said while removing herself from his kiss, “Kojo I am reproductively compatible with you and I want very much to have a baby.”
Kojo looked calm and said, “What a gift, to create a new life. I can’t think of anything better.”
The next morning Kojo, Neysa, and Akira enjoyed breakfast together. Neysa asked, as she took a sip of coffee, “So where are we now Kojo?”
“Well, we have answered one of our questions; without any doubt. In fact, the Vessel answered it for us. We were created by it.” He looked at her with an expression of loss.
Akira saw the look and said, “It must be odd for you both; having your search come to an end after so many years.”
Neysa returned sharply, “It isn’t over yet Akira. We might have answered the question of where we came from, but we still do not have evidence about the Vessel’s involvement with the nuclear holocaust.”
Akira could see that Neysa was not finished with her quest yet. Kojo was tired and far less motivated than she was.
He said, “The trail is cold. All we have is instinct and very little else about the Vessel’s involvement with the bombs. I suppose we have the letter to Jameson, but we need to do a lot more research on that.”
“We have been at this crossroad before Kojo; we will find another clue,” responded Neysa enthusiastically. She seemed to be trying to lift Kojo out of his murkiness.
“There really isn’t much more we can do here anymore. We should return home and hit the books. We need a new direction,” he replied in a dejected tone.
“Yes, you are right Kojo. There’s nothing left to do here. We need a clue to direct our field work,” Neysa replied. The three friends ate their breakfast in silence together.
Kojo could see his gloom had infected the others so he tried to change his tone a bit and said, “I am keen to get back and write-up our findings. I can’t wait to see their faces when we show them the evidence for what we have been saying, for so many years.” Neysa smiled.
Rain poured down in ribbons from the dark sky. The lush green jungle basked in the new moisture. Thunderbolts flashed and illuminated the heavens. Streams and rivers filled to overflowing as they rushed towards the ever-ravenous oceans. The rainy season had begun. There seemed to be more rain than usual this year. It was all part of the natural cycle of things. The Earth was emerging from its long ice age. As it did, more rain fell and sea levels began to rise slowly.
Akira and Kojo had been home from their icy northern adventure for eight months. Kojo had written and published his findings. They were greeted with acclaim and some trepidation. The news was not an earth shattering surprise to most, but it made Homo cosmiens uneasy to think of the Vessel’s surreptitious actions. The Vessel’s character took on a new dimension. It had not restricted the publication of Kojo’s findings or hindered the news in any way. In fact, it was happy to explain its behavior to anyone interested. Homo cosmien society went on pretty much as it had done for thousands of years. What could anyone do?
“Femi, where is Kojo?”
“He is in the library Miss Akira.”
She waddled to the library. Her normal gait transformed into more of a shuffle because of her round distended and pregnant belly. She entered the library and found Kojo sleeping in his reading chair with one of his human books in hand.
“Kojo,” she whispered to him. “Kojo.”
The old cosmien opened his eyes and she could see he had no idea where he was for a moment. “Akira, I was sleeping, sorry my dear.”
“That is okay my darling. But I wanted to say goodbye before I leave for New Monrovia.”
Kojo shook the sleep off. “Yes, of course you are going to the birthing center today. I hadn’t forgotten my dear. I was just resting my eyes.” He joked.
Akira looked concerned as she asked him, “Are you sure you will not reconsider and come with me?”
“I will be fine my dear and very little help to you with what you must face. Besides you know how I hate packing.” He grinned.
Akira could see how much older Kojo looked these days. As every day passed, he seemed to be getting frailer and weaker.
Akira removed her gaze from Kojo, stared off into the distance, and asked, “Femi is the weather clear enough now for us to leave?” She acknowledged her companion’s answer. She gave Kojo a kiss and with that left the library for her waiting auto-craft.
Kojo was sad to see her leave and his emotions made him feel very old. In fact, he could almost feel himself getting older every minute. This accelerated aging was not imagined and it had happened to him once before. While a fetus in his mother’s womb, like all fetuses, his aging had sped up. Then as now, his cell’s rate of mitogenesis, differentiation, and cell death was increased. At both times in his life, he aged rapidly. As a fetus this was desirable, maturing quickly was a good thing. It was speeding him towards his death now. He had one positive thing going for him. His relationship with the Vessel, his Homo cosmien physiology, gave him a special insight into the aging process; he knew precisely when he would die.
Carla Jones’ 70 years had worn well on her. Her short reddish-brown hair sat neatly in a bob on her head with just a hint of curl. Set below her faint reddish-brown eyebrows, and framed by her delicate eyelashes, sat pale blue eyes. Her sharp nose and pastel pink skin contrasted with her gentle smile projected from soft red lips. Behind her smile lurked the ever-slightest hint of coldness. As she looked into the bright blue sky, she saw a small black dot in the far distance. For some reason, which she could not put her finger on, she was in a hurry and this made her impatient. As this thought bounced about her mind the far-distant dot became larger. She looked over to the east and gazed at an immense green valley, where thousands of years ago an enormous estuary had once been. She looked up again, the auto-craft was now the size of a plate, and she could hear its faint whirring.
“Am I getting tired of greeting expectant mothers?” she thought. The details of the auto-craft were visible to her now and the sound from its engines was annoying. “No, I love my job. I’m just grumpy this morning, that’s all,” she mused. Her expression changed and became aloof. The auto-craft maneuvered for its landing and thudded down right next to Carla its electro-jet engines blowing up dust and adding to her discomfort. She brushed the grime from her pale blue outfit and readjusted her hard smile. The door of the auto-craft opened and out stepped Akira.
“Good afternoon, you must be Carla,” asked Akira politely while beaming a warm smile.
“Welcome Akira. Yes I am Carla Jones, your birthing psychologist.” The two shook hands.
“I have never been to New Monrovia before. It looks like quite a big city from the air.”
Carla took one of Akira’s small bags then led the way to the entrance of the birthing center. “Well, there are five thousand cosmiens living here. It is one of the larger cities in Africa. I think you will find it pleasant.”
“I’m sure I will.”
Carla opened the front door to the center and Akira followed her into the foyer. The massive space of the foyer overwhelmed Akira. She was not used to such large buildings, at least not in real life.
Carla directed, “This way Akira, let me show you to your living quarters.” The two left the high vaulted ceiling of the foyer and walked down a crystal corridor brightly lit from the glorious sunshine outside.
Akira said, “I am so unfamiliar with this whole process. I have read up on it of course, but I feel really ignorant.”
“That is why I am here Akira. It’s my job to ensure you have everything you need to make this birth a safe and pleasant one,” Carla said as she smiled at Akira. “Next to the discomfort of pregnancy and the birth the most difficult experience is dealing with your maternal instinct.”
Akira looked puzzled and asked, “What do you mean?”
“The maternal instinct is a very powerful left-over from our ancestors; oh, but I am sure you know more about them than me.”
Akira felt a twinge of sarcasm in her tone and replied, “I have been studying Homo sapiens for a long time they were very complex creatures, but I feel I have much to learn still.”
Carla nodded smugly and said, “This maternal instinct can cause many birthing-mothers great difficulty.” They arrived at the door to Akira’s new home. Carla asked her invisible companion to open the door and gestured Akira to step in.
“I will leave you to settle in now Akira. We can continue our discussion tomorrow at our scheduled meeting in the morning, see you then.” With this, Carla left Akira alone in her new home.
Akira plopped down heavily into a soft chair. She placed a visor over her eyes and said, “Femi I am ready to speak with Simon now.” Her new home melted away replaced by views of the San Francisco Bay. A bright blue cloudless sky, the Golden Gate Bridge in the far distance, and San Francisco’s skyline filled the vista. She had chosen to meet with Simon on the veranda of the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California circa 2009. She barely had time to take in the spectacular sight when Simon materialized in the chair in front of her.
“My darling, it is so good to see you again.”
“Akira you look wonderful,” he said as he radiated his broadest smile at her. “How are you feeling? Is it going okay at the birthing center?”
“I feel well now. All of the morning sickness is long gone. It just feels uncomfortable to have this nine-pound creature inside of me. My skin feels like it is going to burst.”
“Darling, what an amazing thing you are experiencing, I can’t imagine what it is like.”
“Simon will you be able to attend the birth?” she asked softly.
“My darling I am leaving tomorrow and can’t wait to be with you again. I wouldn’t miss this event for the entire world.”
Akira’s look relaxed after his answer and she said, “I spoke with the birthing psychologist when I arrived. She seems an experienced sort.”
“I have met her once. I know she is a bit acerbic, but she has an impressive reputation.” He could see that Akira did not share his enthusiasm for Carla.
“I know she is good. It’s these hormones that are making my mood swing so much,” she said trying to obscure her feelings of Carla. “I can’t wait to see you. What time will you arrive?”
“I think sometime around 8:00 a.m., can we have breakfast together?” he asked shyly.
Akira replied, “Oh, my darling I can’t wait to hug you. Please have a safe flight. I’ll make sure your favorite breakfast is ready and waiting for you.”
Simon smiled and looked longingly at her blowing her a kiss through their virtual world.
“Adwan!” shouted Kojo, “Where is my dammed personal protection thing?” Kojo responded to the reply in his head by putting his hand in his pocket.
“Well, how in the name of Darwin am I supposed to know you put it in there you stupid worm. Anyway turn it on I am going for a walk,” he shouted.
Kojo shuffled out his backdoor and walked slowly to his favorite path through the jungle. His once punishing walking pace now reduced to small, slow, and uncertain steps. “I love this jungle. I will miss it the most of everything. I will certainly miss it more than I will that ungrateful girl. Running off to have babies, what about me; ah phooey,” he thought to himself bitterly.
The further he walked the more his mood improved. He felt a weight lift from him as he negotiated the lush green track. “I suppose she had to leave. It is important what she is doing and why should she waste her time with me anyway?”
“Adwan, what animals are nearby?” he asked his virtual companion in a much more polite tone this time. He acknowledged his companion’s directions and continued walking.
Kojo had lost seven kilograms since his return home. Most of it he had shed within the last two weeks. His face looked gaunt, his skin sagged from his bones, and his long silver hair was falling out in clumps. “Dying is not so bad. We came from nothing and we return to it. That’s in balance. What sucks about dying is the lead up to it. I can’t wait until next week. At least it will be all over then,” he mused.
He had walked for half an hour and was near exhaustion. He barely made it back to his home. As he collapsed into his chair, he knew this had been the last walk he would ever take through his beloved jungle.
“Femi!” shouted Akira. “My water has broken. Let them know.”
Simon heard her and rushed over. “Darling are you okay?”
“Yes, I am okay, but the baby is coming. Can you help me get to the birthing room?” Simon slung her arm over his neck and walked her to the birthing room. He sat her on the birthing table. Just then, the midwife arrived.
“Okay, let me have a look at you,” said the efficient looking midwife examining Akira. “Right, please take your clothes off and put this gown on,” she ordered.
Soon Akira was lying on her back on the birthing table with a screen draped over her chest that restricted her view of the midwife and everything beyond her chest. Pain from her contractions was making it hard for her to breathe and keep her composure.
The midwife said, “Now remember to take deep breaths Akira.” She then asked her invisible companion to begin the flow of anesthetic through a line inserted into Akira’s spine. The drug induced epidural anesthesia in Akira; quickly her pain vanished. All she could feel now was dull prods and faint pulling at her belly.
All the while Simon stood next to her holding her hand and whispering softly, “Breathe, breathe, breathe.”
The midwife took a razor sharp scalpel and made an incision through Akira’s abdomen. By now, a nurse had joined them and assisted the midwife by mopping and sucking up blood from the incision. The heads of cosmien babies are so large that it is not possible to have vaginal births; caesarean sections are the only option.
Akira could not feel her abdomen being sliced open; she felt hardly anything at all below her chest. “What’s going on?” she asked Simon.
From Simon’s vantage point, he could see Akira’s face and most of the details of the operation. “They are about to retrieve the baby Akira,” he replied somewhat squeamishly. Simon suddenly felt the room whirl about him. His dizziness forced him to flop down into a chair next to Akira. As he did this, the sound of a crying baby filled the room. Simon could see a long, twisted, vein filled, blue and reddish cord coming from the baby, and disappearing back into Akira’s open belly. The midwife took a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical cord.
The nurse checked the baby for completeness and swaddled it up in a blanket. “It’s a boy Akira and perfectly healthy,” the midwife announced with a ring of pride in her voice. Then she began the process of removing the placenta from Akira. Over the crying of the baby Akira could hear the sloshing and squelching sounds as the midwife removed unwanted materials from her and pushed required organs back into her open body. The midwife closed the gash in Akira and then asked her invisible companion to give Akira a sedative. The drug flowed through an intravenous line inserted into Akira’s arm and caused her to pass into a deep sleep.
Uncontrollable sobbing overcame Akira. Carla Jones passed her a handkerchief in a disconnected manner. “Akira you are feeling sad,” Carla stated coldly.
“Oh doctor, I am very, very sad,” replied Akira her sobbing steadily increasing.
“You feel loss and shame,” said the psychologist in a cold tone.
“Doctor, why can’t I have my baby?” Akira was on the verge of hysteria.
“These are perfectly normal feelings Akira. Every mother feels this way to some degree.” She made a note on her crystal tablet. “You are a Homo cosmien. We do not own children, animals, or other people. The baby is therefore not yours.”
“I know this doctor, but I want my baby,” she said as tears streamed down her face.
“You are experiencing shame Akira because you feel the baby will not be cared for,” she said in a detached way.
“Yes doctor, I am his mother I want him.”
Carla returned sharply, “Consider how selfish that statement is Akira. You believe you have the skills to raise and nurture a baby…”
Akira interrupted her and said, “I do doctor I am his mother.”
“Akira you have no training in raising children. You are a highly trained anthropologist, not a skilled mother. The baby needs a professionally trained parent; someone who has dedicated their life to caring for and rearing children.”
Akira looked up from her tears and said, “I know you are right doctor, but my feelings are almost uncontrollable.”
Carla smiled then said, “Of course they are. As we discussed at our first session the maternal instinct is a very powerful force.”
Akira’s sobbing fell into a gentler whimper. “I know doctor, I know.”
“Let me put it into terms you might understand given your field of expertise. Homo sapiens had no restriction on having babies. Generally, sapien women gave birth as soon as they came of age. This often led to children raised by children. And, as you of all people know, most sapien children were unwanted, uncared for, and mistreated.” Akira nodded while wiping her tears.
Carla continued, “We on the other hand have only controlled and planned births. We allow only qualified people to rear our children. The alternative is disorder and chaos just as it was in your beloved Homo sapiens’ world.”
“I could learn how to look after my baby,” pleaded Akira.
“Yes, of course this is true, but the baby would have to suffer through your mistakes. Your selfish action would incapacitate the child. Alternatively, the baby will be raised by a loving and expert parent, someone who has dedicated their life to this field as you have dedicated your life to anthropology.”
Akira began sobbing again uncontrollably. “Akira, please take these pills once a day they will help you to feel better.” She passed her a small bottle of drugs.
Akira took them and looked at Carla with her red-raw eyes and said, “Oh doctor my baby.”
“Miss Akira, Kojo has invited you to attend his death-day celebration next week,” said Femi.
“What!” exclaimed Akira.
Simon put his tablet down and came over to her and asked, “What is it my darling? What’s wrong?”
Akira started sobbing as she passed the message to Simon, “Kojo, is going to die next week, oh Simon.”
“My darling,” he said tenderly.
“Simon it is all too much for me!”
“Please hold on my darling,” he said with intense concern on his face.
“I know I shouldn’t be sad, but….” The tears flowed from her eyes like torrents and stopped her in mid-sentence.
“You love Kojo that is why you are sad.” He hugged her tightly.
“I want to be calm and think about him positively. I do love him and he wants to share his death with me. But Simon…” She pushed him away and tried to stop the tears. “It would hurt him if I were sad and not happy for him I must try.”
Simon stroked her long brown hair gently.
“Simon, can you come with me? I just don’t think I can do it by myself.”
“If he will allow me to join in I would be honored to be at his death-day celebration.”
“I’ll ask him, but I am sure he would want you there too.” She began to sob.
“My darling please,” he whispered softly. “The baby is being well cared for. Think back to your childhood. Your parent loved you and looked after you. Your parent encouraged you and cared for you. Then when you attended your Memetic School, the therapists looked after you. The baby will have all these things too my darling.”
“I know you are right Simon, I just can’t get my emotions under control. I guess I will in time, but for now, they are uncontainable. Please forgive me.” Simon took her in his arms and kissed her.
Akira could not stop thinking about her baby and Kojo during the flight to Kojo’s home. She felt she had already lost one very important thing in her life and another was soon to leave her. She knew hysteria drove her feelings about the baby, and she was slowly coming to terms with this, but losing her friend, mentor, and lover was even harder to take. She felt terribly alone even with Simon sitting right next to her.
The green carpet below drew her thoughts out of herself and the auto-craft. Its smooth unbroken emerald texture was soothing. Her first in person meeting with Kojo came back in vivid detail. She remembered how he had fussed over her. How he had insisted she call him Kojo and not Doctor Ainsworth. She thought of him, grumpy and annoyed, while packing for their trip. Then how he had calmed down when she gave him a hug. Their adventures in the icy north filled her. It was almost impossible to bear the thought of losing him. The auto-craft’s engines changed pitch and then she spotted the now familiar termite farm. She was nearly home.
Helen, Anders’ partner and Kojo’s friend, greeted Akira and Simon as they left their aircraft.
“Akira, it’s good to see you again,” said Helen.
Akira took Helen’s hands and spoke softly, “This is my friend Simon.”
“Nice to meet you Simon I am glad you could share Kojo’s day today.”
Simon smiled at Helen and returned her greeting, “Good to meet you too Helen.”
Helen took Akira’s hand and led her to Kojo’s home. The thought of going inside made Akira feel sick to her stomach. She felt that when she stepped through the door her friend’s death would begin. Two women stood at the front door, Akira did not recognize them.
“Oh Akira, we have heard so much about you,” said Karen, Kojo’s close friend. “This is Cynthia my partner.” Karen put her arm on Cynthia’s shoulder.
Akira took Karen’s hand and said, “Kojo has told me so much about you both. You are such good friends of his.” As she said this, tears flowed from her red-rimmed eyes.
Cynthia gave Akira a hug and said, “Now, now my dear. It’s all okay. Try to be happy, it will make him feel better.”
Akira wiped the tears from her face and continued into the house. In the living room, she saw Anders’ standing at the window, he was staring at the forest outside. She walked over to him and gave him a hug.
“Akira, I will miss him so much,” Anders whispered softly to her as he returned her embrace.
“I know Anders. I will miss him too.” Akira felt odd to be comforting someone else.
She turned around, there at the entrance of the library stood Neysa. She ran over to her and embraced her. Neysa returned her hug and the two stood locked together in a vise-grip weeping softly.
“My dear you gave birth, how wonderful.” Neysa had to let go her grasp on Akira for fear that her emotions would run out of control.
Akira once again wiped the tears from her face and replied, “Yes, he is a boy, healthy and well; living with his professional parent.” She tried her best to give Neysa a smile with this news, but it only made her tears flow again.
Neysa tried to restrain the flood by kissing Akira and pulling her head to her. This slowed the stream. Neysa then walked Akira over to where Kojo was sitting. Almost as she had left him a month ago, there he sat in his reading chair. His emaciated body and gaunt skull-like face horrified Akira. He saw her coming and in a vain attempt to groom himself, he raised his bony arms and patted his thin hair with his skeletal fingers. She swallowed back her repulsion and fell on her knees at his side.
“My darling,” she cried as she took his emaciated hand in hers. She could feel Kojo’s weak grip, but only just.
“Congratulations on your achievement,” whispered Kojo in a raspy dry voice.
Akira with tears flowing, but holding back her swelling emotions replied, “It’s our achievement Kojo, we did it together.”
He tried to smile by pulling the already taught skin on his face even tighter. “Yes, we did it together.”
She dropped her face into his chest and began to cry softly. He lifted his other hand and placed it on her head. “Now, there, there let’s not have any of this. I am okay,” he said mustering his loudest and strongest voice. “Akira, I love you and I want you to keep searching. When I am gone, I want you to keep my work going. Will you do that for me?” he asked. She lifted her head from him and nodded she would.
“Good. Then I have something for you that I want you to get when I am gone.” She looked at him inquisitively through her tears. “In my book of poems by William Shakespeare in the library I have written you a note. Will you read it when I am gone?”
“Yes my darling I will,” she said with a look of determination on her wet and sagging face.
“Good my darling, very good.” With these words, Kojo’s eyes rolled upward revealing only his whites. His breathing increased. Akira stood up quickly looking around the room at the others for help. Neysa, Karen, Cynthia, Helen, Anders, and Simon all looked on helplessly.
“Femi, please help him,” she pleaded of her cyber serf.
In one of trillions and trillions of microcircuits, a small pulse of electrons flickered and then faded away. This had been the signal to the Vessel of Kojo’s heartbeat. For over 95 years, it had oscillated with vigor indicating that Kojo’s heart was strong and alive. The Vessel knew now that Kojo was no more. All he was had vanished.
Femi replied coldly, “He is gone Miss Akira.”
The next morning Akira ate breakfast with Simon and Neysa, the others had returned to their homes after Kojo’s death. House androids had shipped Kojo’s body to New Monrovia for cremation. The three friends ate in silence.
Akira remembered the first time she had sat at this table. She thought back to all the lively conversations she had shared with Kojo. The pain in her chest, she had been suffering from since Kojo’s death, returned at this thought and almost made her cry, but she held it in. She did not want to upset her friends with her emotions.
“I will be leaving you two today if that is okay?” Neysa asked Akira.
“Yes, my darling that is fine, I will be alright,” she replied.
Neysa asked Simon, “How long will you be staying?”
“I am not sure, it is up to Akira.”
Akira’s pain increased at the thought of Simon leaving her, but she knew he must.
“Will you be staying on here Akira?” asked Neysa.
“I guess I will, Kojo wanted me to continue his work and I would like to do that.” Neysa nodded gently in acknowledgement.
After their meal, Akira found herself in the library. She could not remember how she had got there. She looked up at Kojo’s shelves of human books. There in front of her sat the book of poems by William Shakespeare; the one Kojo had mentioned. She opened it and found his handwritten note. She read it:
“My darling and precious Akira, I discovered an important fact that has been overlooked and lost since the extinction of the Homo sapiens. The terrorists exploded only 22 bombs that day. They were large explosives, but they could not have produced the amount of smoke, dust, and aerosol particles required to start the nuclear winter. There must have been more bombs. The only possible source of other nuclear devices was from the countries that possessed these weapons.
My darling, I cannot believe that human governments would have launched these weapons. However, it was well within the capability of the Vessel to do so.
It is not proof my darling, but it is a start, a direction, a clue. Find the evidence my darling. Find the truth.”
Akira felt drawn to the window. She drifted to it without thought. Looking out she marveled at the trees, ferns, and vines. On a thick branch, she saw a leopard. It seemed to be looking directly at her. The majestic creature made her feel lightheaded. When the room stopped spinning she thought, “The truth is not always pleasant; but it is worth knowing.”