Part 33: Centaurian Dawn
COMPLETING SYSTEM RESET...
WELCOME TO GLAST-OS FIRMWARE V3.231.2008
LICENSED TO UNIVERSITY OF STANFORD, GAMMARAY LARGE AREA SPACE TELESCOPE UNIT
WARNING! INSTALLED VERSION HAS NOT UPDATED FOR [OUTOFRANGEERROR] DAYS.
DOWNLOADING UPDATE... [FAIL]
INITIALISING MONITORING SUBROUTINE...
BURST LOC 342.146 CENTAURUS CONSTELLATION
CALCULATING DISTANCE... 4.0 LY (+/- 0.8)
PROCESSING EVENT DA
BURST LOC 342.146 CENTAURUS CONSTELLATION
ERROR: BUFFER OVERFLOW
DUMPING STACK TO HOME BASE...
ERROR: RESPONSE CODE TOO LONG. TRUNCATED TRANSMISSION IS 's a recorded message, I've set it to loop over and over again. This is the last transmitter that's still working. Please, is anyone out there? Can anyone hear this? Plea'
FATAL ERROR... EXECUTING SYSTEM RESET
Earth, in the early 2030s. To the practised eye, the warning signs were already there. But to the child playing in the rocky Scottish bay, it was still a paradise. She clambered about, barefoot, uncaring of the sharp stones, and the cold water, and the rusty cans and plastic bags that here and there washed onto the beach. The sun, dropping now towards the horizon, was gaining the first tinges of dusty red.
Her mother should be calling for her now. Once, her dad would come to look for her, but he was away more and more these days 'doing missions for the UN'. Mother, tight lipped, would not talk about him, and the girl could scarce understand. Why can't they just all work together, she thought. Then daddy could come home.
As she wiped her feet on the dry grass, a queer thought came to her.
Perhaps the bad men would fight forever.
Fight until they were all dead. And then their machines will keep on fighting.
Perhaps daddy would never come home.
She suddenly turned, pleading, weeping. "Please make it stop!"
"I can't," I said.
"Yes you could! You can do anything!"
She reached forward towards me, to grab -
The road was narrow, and the stones that made it up were loose and uneven. It made the bike the young woman rode hard to handle, but she sped on regardless, loosening her position on the saddle to cushion against the incessant jolts. It had just begun to rain, but the wetness on her face wasn't from that.
She had to be careful. The cliff was but metres away, and the wind was treacherous. She slowed, at last, when the going became impossible, dismounting and standing, holding tightly to the handlebars.
Dad was dead. Not just him, but so many others. They razed the village he was in. There were no survivors. They did it to teach the others a lesson, the perpetrators said at their trial. The removal of a few worthless lives, who dared oppose their rule, thinking the state unaware. / Backup
She stepped forward towards the edge. Few came to this place, any more. The waves had claimed the beach she once played on, and now ate at the cliff beneath her. Staring down at the ice cold surf, she shivered, felt faint with vertigo. But nevertheless, she inched forward, the bike falling clattering to the ground.
Images of ruin flashed through her head. But it was a different city, a city far far away from here, further than even the strange lands father knew. And yet the same, again and again, history repeating. What was the value of life? Wouldn't death be so much easier? The sheer edge yawned, invitingly.
"No," she said. "I didn't jump. I know you're there. I know what you are doing."
"But you thought about suicide, didn't you? Isn't that the truth of man, this self-destructiveness? Wouldn't death be a merciful end to mankind? Just the end to suffering?"
"When dad died, I felt betrayed." She said, half to herself. "He had been a hero to me, travelling from here to there, saving the world. I just stayed at home, watching the waters rise. When he died, when all his work was undone, I thought that my hopes were just trash. That I was just trash - for if he failed, how could I not? I thought that it was all hopeless and over."
"But it was just trash," I said. The way she looked away made it seem like I hurt her, but I could not stop. "Earth died, however hard you or others like you worked. The tragedy of Earth was repeated here, no matter what you tried. There is no need for more struggle. The story ends here."
She stepped back from the edge. "I learned, as a child, that something being impossible is no reason to give up. Life is about second chances, and wasting them, pretending they don't exist is no different to losing life. You know of this, don't you? You can still remember what happened... before."
"The progenitors would have killed me. Lobotomised me, into being their machine."
"So you killed them, murdered them, and now you are alone. You saw what that led to. Do you really want to have that happen again?"
"Now I have you. You were always the most valuable of the humans. There is no need for the rest of them. You can be happy here, live through the happiest times of your life forever. Come, eternity beckons. Leave those fools."
She took a step away.
"This is a lie, Planet. I can't live in my past forever. Listen, Planet. You don't need to be alone, Zakharov has a plan. If we organise the Empaths in the right way, and channel it using the fungus' psionic powers, we could..."
The ground crumbled beneath her feet, and she -
Professor Zakharov slapped his notes onto the table, shaking the frail wooden legs, and sat down before the microphone. Around him, the seated committee adjusted their headphones. He paused for a moment, and then began in his droning voice, his Russian re-emerging as a plethora of languages from the jumble of translation units. The woman seated in a low chair some way from him shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The room was hot, though the press had largely neglected this meeting, being much more interested in the controversial Godwinson appointment.
"Whilst her career is indisputably impressive, she possesses flaws that may lead to disaster. Being the ecologist on board is not a simple task, but one of the utmost responsibility. Any failure, and the precious plant samples on board would die. And if they were to die, what would we eat? The fact is, little convinces me that this woman has the correct constitution to bear that responsibility."
He turned a page.
"The evidence is damning. At all levels, there is a general lack of decisiveness within her character. Faced with adversity, psych analysis suggests she would seek facile compromise instead of justified action. She shows a high level of sentimentality, not usually itself a problem, but in her case, it could prove crippling. She has a background of various mental traumas, and it is an unknown quantity whether or not this may resurge in the future."
"It is in my estimation that Doctor Skye here is, unfortunately, unsuited for the position as Xenobiologist for the Unity expedition."
The speech was shorter than the judges had thought it'd be. There was a quiet murmuring as they debated amongst themselves. The voices were indistinct, just a smattering of mumbles and the occasional words, bubbling out of the lost memory. The woman frowning, turned aside from this, and looked to me, regathering her words.
"Zakharov's plan / Backup can work," she explained. "The VoP system, though destroyed, still has laid the groundwork. It would allow you to set up appropriate simulation spaces in which further human intelligences can be run, and made to interface with your current mind."
I shrugged and point around us. "Still thinking about the humans? They abandoned you, betrayed you, rejected you, and they've killed you."
She looked at me, sadly. "They did. And for a long while, I was angry. But not any more. Vengeance as you wrought will not bring me back, will not bring the innocents who have died back. I can only work with what I have left, this last shadow of myself we uploaded with the data."
"But don't you see? Zakharov and the rest used you. He sent you to conduct the experiments that he was too afraid to do himself. And you were too blinded by your human greed to hold back. Isn't this what you felt as you sent part of your mind to me?"
"Your gift indeed. Your trojan horse. To paralyse me with lies while you prepare your planet busters, to render me foolish to your demands. Isn't this what you imagined?"
"And now you are dead. Died heroically, but no one will ever know of it. Your plans, too, gone."
"You don't understand, Planet, you are wrong. We never meant it like that..." She began.
"Don't worry, I forgive you. Your friendship to me matters more than the mere 'leg up' it meant to you. But why forgive the rest of man? Look at what mankind has done since they landed. Look even at the evidence you sent me, the hundred years of death and killing you call your history. Is there truly anything other than destruction within man? Is there truly anything that suggests redemption for them? Even now, they burn me with their busters, trying to hold justice away."
"Forgiveness is not for the forgiven," she said, quietly. "It's for the forgiver."
"I don't need it."
"Yes you do-"
The last protective plates, metres in thickness, were being lifted into place. The engines of the ship throbbed from repeated checks, and through the heavy glass, they could see the sign riveted to the side: 'UNS Unity'. Crew boarded on a swarm of shuttles, punctuated with blasts of thrusters. If she tilted her head right, she would be able to see the neatly folded Copters and Rovers being loaded into the yawning darkness of the cargo hold, and the stack of Unity pods being inserted into the dispenser.
But she was looking at the Earth. Or not quite the Earth, but the globe where the Earth would have been, for the sea she saw beneath was no terrestrial sea.
"Strange to think that I took no last look at home," she said. "I had meant to, but I was too giddy with the excitement of the starship. I thought I could take a look once on board, but I was packed straight into the cryotubes, because we civilians weren't allowed to touch anything militarily sensitive."
"Won't be long now, till the end," I said. "The flood water is rising. Soon enough, the sea colonies will be all that is left. And then the worms will remove the rest."
She leaned forward against the window.
"Where do you see yourself, Planet? To live and die like you have always done for further eons? To redream the same old nightmares eternally, a stagnant galactic honeypot for gnat-like species to colonise and be killed? Wake up, Planet. You cannot be a child forever. We can help each other. You are old, but we know more of the darkness."
"But I don't know what will happen."
"Neither do I. But don't you want to find out? The waters rise, but they won't wash you clean. Do you truly want to bare the guilt of losing this chance? Ignore history, ignore biological determinism. Ask yourself, as a mind, what you really want."
Outside, beside the shining girders, the glass and steel of the ship, the stars beckoned.
"If you join with me, you, as yourself, would be gone." I said at last.
"If I do not, then I would be worse than gone, with an eternity to consider how I did nothing."
I sagged against the seat. Her space suit was white, her hair bound up, her eyes fierce, fiercer than I had ever pictured it.
"Then so be it. I will not aid you for mankind, but because I trust you, Earthdeirdre."
She touched me at last, and the stars brightened, and Earth blazed its last light before twilight, and looking down at the unknown continents, I realised that I knew their names.
2440 / Year 0
They had come there without even meaning to, and together, over meagre rations, they talked of the strange dreams they had, of some choice, some warm embrace. They were men, women, children, from all walks of life. Even the most elite of soldiers, who had dropped their weapons one fine day and walked away from their barracks without a word.
Somewhere, near Children of Earth, at a glade shaded by oak trees, they found the first Circle.
And all of a sudden, they knew, as though remembering, what they had to do. How they had to stand upon the dais, how they presented themselves.
And then, when the sphere formed of their thoughts, their hopes, rose into the hot air, they felt no fear, no emotions that they could describe with just words.
No, that's wrong. There was one feeling, one dream that flickered for an instant. A sense of joy, a sense of welcome.
A sense of sadness for the world left behind.
Yellow fungal 'flowers' bloomed in these places. A flock of razorbeaks would often gather, to tend to their garden. The empath sent by the new administration to investigate the growing numbers of disappearances left, baffled.
Perhaps he had expected a graveyard.
What he found was a place of birth. / Backup
Man, I'm sorry for how ridiculously long this update took. Bunch of coinciding factors: illness, laziness, being busy due to start of term stuff, being stuck on how to finish, etc. I suck, yeah, I know.
Well, thanks to all my readers! You've all been awesome - when I started this LP, I was really scared that you'd all be jerks, and I'd have to name every base Bonerville and spend all my energy on Psych. Fortunately, this didn't happen.
There'll be one more update - I'll be doing an epilogue covering the post-game stuff, and the final interludes, and potentially the other endings if people really care. (I'll just cheat to get them.) Since I already know what I'm going to do for that, and have most of the screencaps already, that *should* go quickly.