by Arthur Robey
“It is important to realize the enormous power of the space-colonization technique. If we begin to use it soon enough, and if we employ it wisely, at least five of the most serious problems now facing the world can be solved without recourse to repression: bringing every human being up to a living standard now enjoyed only by the most fortunate; protecting the biosphere from damage caused by transportation and industrial pollution; finding high quality living space for a world population that is doubling every 35 years; finding clean, practical energy sources; preventing overload of Earth’s heat balance.” —Gerard K. O’Neill, The Colonization of Space  1974
In which Mr Jones encounters the Gorillas and is forced to Speak His Mind
Conscientiousness crept in, but there was no hurry. He snuggled down deep into the warm furs of the pouch in which he had been sleeping. But his life force was insistent and so he surfaced relentlessly. When the anticipation of stirring was greater than the pleasure of unconsciousness, he moved languidly. In response, the walls of the cabin increased their luminosity. The faded blue walls brightened.
The coffee was where it always was when he awoke. Why coffee, when there were such a plethora of superior stimulants the he could choose from? He could not remember. It was one of those habits that he had acquired and saw no reason to change. Besides, there was no-one to challenge his choice. It was his world after all.
Well, some things might be perfectly organised, but his bladder was not one of them. He slipped out of the cocoon and attended to his ablutions. From bladder to stomach. Fruit.
“Yes, my Love?”
“Where is Mr. Jones?”
“Haven’t we forgotten something?”
“My apologies, Grunhilde. Good morning.”
“Good morning Alan, Did you sleep well?”
“With you to watch over me, Hilda, I always sleep well and I awoke beautifully”.
Her voice softened. He had made her day. She was so easy to make happy. He was very fond of Grunhilda and she was besotted by him.
He had designed her that way.
“Mr. Jones is over by the old fig tree, my love.”
He had complete faith in Mr. Jones’ judgement. Mr Jones knew which fruit were the finest. Mr. Jones was a stroke of genius.
They were already on their way.
When they arrived above the fig tree Grunhilda lowered the stairs. He descended, caught hold of the rope ladder and transferred his weight effortlessly onto a broad, sturdy branch. He held onto the rope ladder for a moment while he tested the strength of the limb, for the Hilda’s sake. He knew she would catch her breath at the moment of transfer. He knew her intimately. They had been together so long.
Mr. Jones ignored him. He always did. It was the only polite thing to do.
Alan waited until Mr Jones made a little show of having finished with a particularly ripe bunch of fruit and had moved off nonchalantly. Alan was struck once again by the sheer presence of Mr. Jones. He was magnificent.
Reaching for another ripe fig he became aware of anthers below. Or rather many other presences. It was the Tribe. That was unusual. Normally the Tribe and Mr Jones were not in close proximity. It was not that they avoided each other, but Mr Jones did like his space Big.
“I think”, said Alan to himself quietly “that we have an issue.”
But not quietly enough, because Mr Jones grunted in agreement.
But first, breakfast.
Alan sat on the ground not too close to the tribe but close enough for Silverback to know he was ready to talk. Mr. Jones remained in the tree above, seemingly indifferent to the antics of his his philosophical inferiors.
Alan was careful not to look at any of the Tribe. That was taboo.
After dealing with a trifling distraction, Silverback rolled up to Allen on all fours, all dignity and gravitas. Alan could not help but sneak a peak at his host and was awed. Silverback was numinous. Silverback turned his back on Alan and sat down. Alan played with his fur in a ritualistic grooming. When Silverback was comfortable with Alan’s presence he murmured “The girls want babies.”
Without thinking Alan replied “What’s wrong with things as they are now?”
One of the girls had eased herself within hearing range.
All hell broke loose. Pandemonium. The females shrieked and howled running back and forth. Branches were broken off in a frenzy and the ground was pummelled.
Alan found himself halfway up the tree, rippling muscles beneath his smooth skin propelled him aloft with a speed that astonished him. He sought comfort by Mr. Jones while the surge of adrenaline subsided. Mr. Jones tried to siddle away without being discovered. When Alan became aware of the discomfort he was causing Mr Jones he moved off to a more polite distance.
Below Silverback was charging back and forth beating his chest and bellowing. Eventually he got his girls to settle down. He gazed up at Alan with a baleful stare. In the silence Alan heard the Hilda hovering above, beside herself with worry making little “meep” noises. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself.
“Hilda, I am fine.”
Addressing the other apes he said “I am sorry that I caused you distress. Tell the girls that I will attend to the matter.”
He got up to go.
“Not so fast.”
That was Mr Jones. Goodness, he was waxing eloquent this morning. “You too, Mr Jones?”
He got a grunt in reply.
Everything slowly settled down, but he would have to make good his promise before the gorillas would accept him again.
Standing on the Hilda’s back and sipping a mildly alcoholic cool beverage, Alan looked up at his world with a deep satisfaction. It had matured over the years and he knew the he was redundant. Not much more to do other than to enjoy the fruits of his work.
“That thought”, Alan reflected,”is wrong on two accounts.” The first was a quibble. His “work” was nothing more than the product of his imagination and the ability to express the concept precisely enough so that whatever it was that guided Creation could complete his art.
The second was more serious. Being a god of his creation was going to require him to abandon his normal dithering vacillations and procrastinations. These virtues were admirable with an infinity of time at his disposal, but the girls were not speaking to him. Things were not right. Being a god with a conscience had it’s downside.
He heard a faint trumpeting and looked up. In the far blue haze above him he discerned that the Bull elephant had joined the matriarchs. It took the sound a full minute and a half to reach him from a quarter of the way around his world. They were small dots among the tawny grass of the savannah above.
“Grunhilda”, he said ” I am well pleased with my creation.”
“I too am your creation, Alan” She replied, fishing not too subtly for a compliment.
Resisting the urge to be flippant which might have stung the Hilda, he answered “And I am pleased with you too Hilda.”
The Hilda drifted above the tree tops on a slight breeze occasionally adjusting her altitude without conscious thought. She was contented.
“Please patch me into The Mechanic, Grunhilda”.
“Hello Mechanic. Any news?”
“There is no significant deviation in the rate and magnitude of breakdowns and the Cell is in homoeostasis to within one percent on all parameters.”
“My mistake. Correction. Any news on the request for a breeding partner?”
“The request has been acknowledged by five percent of The Web. The Wisdom has been processing your request and has found four suitable matches. There is a caveat. You will have to serve Gaia for a year.”
“Planet-side. Down the gravity well.”
“In person? Surely not.”
“Yes, The Wisdom was firm. They say planet has been neglected for too long.”
Grunhilda had been listening in. “If he has to go, then so do I.”
“There is a thirty percent chance that you will not come out of the gravity well alive, Grunhilda.” It was a flat statement of fact.
“Will Alan get out alive?”
“To within one in a hundred thousand chance. Those odds justify the mission.”
Alan felt his world crumbling.
“Make the Wisdom aware that the Hilda is a sentient being please Mechanic.” He was getting angry.
Grunhilda was aware of his anger. “Here is a fresh drink, Alan.” It was laced. He took a large swig. An artificial calm descended across his brains.
“A message has just arrived from the Wisdom.” said the mechanic “A female has accepted and her entourage will be arriving in a months time.”
He contemplated this news. “Please find out her preferences and make the necessary adjustments.”
All of which was, of cause, superfluous he realised after the words were out of his mouth. It was the design of the machines to serve. Idiot.
What was in that drink?
“Grunhilda I have had enough. I am off to bed. I shall be sleeping in a foetal position.”
“Probably sucking my thumb.”
“No you won’t.” thought Grunhilda. “Not with what I put in your drink.”
A month later the ship arrived and the guests moved into their newly printed lodgings which Alan barely tolerated. They were a blot on his perfection. Some sort of pre-escape suburbia. Loathsome. They were 50 kilometres away and so it was easier to ignore. He told himself that he was allowing them time to adjust to their surroundings. He was procrastinating, again. Why put off today what you could put off tomorrow.
“You look so handsome.” Hilda gushed.
Alan was dressed in an emerald green tunic drawn in at the waist by a broad belt. His legs were naked and he still wore no shoes, but Brunhilda was relishing the sight of him in cloths. As there were never any critics in his world, cloths had long since been abandoned.
All that had changed.
His world was in fine breeding fettle and sacrifices had to be made so that Gaia could expand into the infinite cosmos. Life is intrinsically sacred. The boundless cosmos had no purpose other than to support life, hence the escape and expansion. How many children of Gaia were there now, he wondered? The answer would of cause be provided by the Web and the Wisdom, but large numbers and superlatives lost all meaning in the boundlessness of the Cosmos.
” All ours for the taking”, thought Alan.
“In My Father’s mansion there are many rooms.”
“I wonder if Christ had a wry smile when he said that”. Alan mused.
He was suddenly exhilarated by the thought and burst out laughing.
Brunhilda had been attending to her own thoughts and the sudden outburst surprised her. “Are you all right, my Love? she asked in a rising accent. “Would you care to share the joke?”
“I was just contemplating our role in the Cosmos, Brunhilda.”
“And that made you laugh?”
“Yes. And now, time for breakfast”.
Mr Jones had chosen to raid an orchard near a lake. He was uncharacteristically sitting among the grass. A solid, round, orange, hairy lump.
Brunhilda gently deposited Alan at a discrete distance from him. Mr. Jones barely looked up.
He was after all, a well bred Orang-outang.
But then he did a double take. His eyebrows would have shot up, if he had any. Alan was wearing cloths. Mr. Jones looked away a bit too quickly. He was loosing his decorum, if not his dignity. Alan should have warned him.
Reaching with slow, exaggerated and over-blown composure for the best peach he had another thought. “Things are hotting up. About time. Alan can be exasperatingly slow.”
Later that morning the Mechanic channelled through Brunhilda. “Brenda desires your presents for afternoon tea.”
“Desires your presents?” Must be from the machines’ protocol of formal manners.” thought Alan.
So her name was Brenda. Alan was well aware of his lack of manners in not formally greeting his guest, but he, well dash it, he was so used to being alone and, well, Time was his to waste.
Had been his to waste, he corrected.
But now there was a Critic in his life.
He must fortify himself.
Drawing in a big breath and squaring his shoulders he said “Tell Brenda that I accept her invitation and ask if 3 O’clock will suit her.”
Brunhilda was silent.
“It is OK Brun. She will be alright.” But added sub-vocally “I hope so.”
The sun slowly progressed in a large circle overhead. It was high summer, and although the sun provided little warmth it was hot. It was always hot. He preferred the winter solstice so he could move under the cover of darkness.
With no darkness to hide him he was especially nervous.
The word “solstice” would mean nothing to him. Few words meant anything. His father had died some time back and since then he had not had cause to speak. He was losing his power of speech.
His camels were some distance away. Too far away. He would have to make his move soon. The palm trees at the waterhole shimmered in the heat. And so he began a slow cautious spiral down to the water, stone axe in one hand, bow and arrow in the other.
His raging thirst did not tempt him to go any faster. Discipline over his body was what had got him this far. He regretted having eaten his dog.
He saw no sign of life at the waterhole and, after slaking his thirst he strode off to get his camels. While his camels drank he climbed a date palm and hacked off a bunch of dates. Having eaten and drunk he continued his habitual vigilance. An oasis was a dangerous place.
Something moved. A stalk of grass twitched not ten body lengths from him. He froze. And assessed his situation for flight. The camels were grazing near. His enemy would be on him before he could mount and be away. How had he not seen them? No, it could not be enemy, perhaps it was food.
He nocked an arrow and approached the target upwind. The object among the spinefex resolved itself into a child. Was this a trap? Was the child bait to get him off guard? No, he had been thorough in his approach to the water. But then how had he missed the child?
Lying flat on his belly in front of the pre-pubescent girl-child, they studied each other without sound, her eyes round with silent terror.
He could eat her now or keep her for later. He chose. He had eaten. It would have been gluttony to eat her now.
Now was the time to get away from this place of danger. He placed the child on a camel, filled up his dog skin water-bag, gathered more dates and urged his camels away from this frightening place.
Brenda is confused
By the time Brunhilda had wend her way to the suburb Alan had dressed. It did not take long. He threw on the tunic, laced up a pair of ceremonial sandals and placed a flower in his hair. He was ready. Well, not really.
He was conscious of being self-conscious. Sitting cross legged on a furry patch in the middle of his cabin he concentrated on stilling his Left Brain. The trick was to concentrate on his bodily sensations. In this way became less a spectator of Alan and more in the moment. Reality was less re-presentation and more presentation. He would need to hold onto that state of being on the first encounter.
Fortunately, the first encounter would be a formal affair, the lines carefully scripted and the stage meticulously set. This was Left Brain territory. Still, he wished he was not watching himself so mercilessly.
This was the reason he chose not to populate his world with other people. He was his own worst critic. He was bound to make an ass of himself.
But it was his duty to try. Gaia must expand. Life is the purpose of the Cosmos.
How was it that his perfectly designed world knew when it was time to breed again? He dismissed the thought that it was an emergent property. It was something mystical.
If he wanted his world to be populated by sentient beings, it was inevitable that they would make this demand of him. “So be it.” he thought, “Gotta take the rough with the smooth.”
“We are nearly there, Alan.” Brunhilda said with exaggerated calmness.
“Poor Brun.” It was hell for her. A rival.
Alan stopped exactly two meters in front of Brenda. He stood stiff and straight and bowed formally. The flower fell out of his hair to his feet. He stared at it mortified. He knew it. Not even a word uttered yet. Now what?
Straightening, he looked into the green eyes of a face that had disappeared behind a fan. Did he detect a sparkle of mirth in the eyes? She was laughing at him. “Oh God” he groaned inwardly, “Let me vanish now. “
“You must be . . .” He stopped. His voice was an octave too high.
“Indeed I am.” She answered in accordance with her lines.
“And I am Alan.” he had the voice back in its normal range.” I trust you have been made comfortable?” he asked. He did it! Not a tremble . . .
“Most comfortable, thank you. You have been exceedingly hospitable. Would you care to accompany me for tea?”
She turned and he stepped up to her left and fell in with her stately stride. It was all beautifully choreographed.
“Thank goodness for the formalities” he thought to himself.
They would gradually be dispensed with. If she chose him. If not they would remain in place to provide a protective barrier between them.
They entered her garden and sat down to tea.
Brenda seemed happy to play her part. She did it well and made light small talk. Alan listened attentively while his Right Brain absorbed her Essence.
It would have been mortifyingly gauche to mention the purpose of the encounter. So they talked on about the latest fashion in World Design and marvelled at the reach of Gaia, while Brenda poured tea. Alan felt himself relaxing.
And so a pleasent afternoon was spent.
All the sentient beings of two worlds were watching. This was important stuff.
Something stung his leg. He slapped the offending insect, and tried to get back to sleep. Other insects were crawling over his leg. In an instant he was awake, and shot upright. Ants.
In the perpetual yellowish twilight of the high latitude autumn he could make out swarms of the black dots. He yelled for his woman. “Wake up bitch, there are ants on the meat”
He raced around in a wide circle feeling the sharp spines of the spinifex grass jab into his shins. Where was she?
Calming his panic he made his way back to the meat. Most was gone.
Had she gone off to piss? If she had she was going to get a thrashing. She was not to wonder off for any reason.
Gathering up the skins that he had been sleeping on he flung them over his one remaining camel. He wrapped skins around his shins and feet for protection from further abuse. After unhobbling the camel he hoisted himself onto it’s back and goaded the beast into standing up. From his elevated position he looked around. The sun was low on the horizon which it would circle as the day wore on. The ground was dark and if anything, he could see less looking down on it.
He took stock.
The meat was gone.
The bitch was gone.
He had one remaining camel, a stone axe, some rotten meat, two skins of water and a bow with a quiver of arrows.
The precious bow. Fashioned from wood and bone. He had taken it from his father’s corpse when he was still a child. He had to fend for himself or starve. It was a mystery to him where the wood came from.
The meat that the bitch had stolen was his penultimate camel. There were some pieces of meat left. Already they were going rotten in the heat.
He was not angry. She had calculated the odds of survival with this male, but when the god turned against him and killed his camel she had decided to split. Once the god had turned his back on you, you were doomed. There was no margin for error.
He would have done the same to her. Not that that he would spare her the beating, if he found her.
But now he was alone again. He wept.
Getting back down off the camel, he nocked an arrow and taking the camel’s bridal, he began to walk towards the dark hills where the sun would reach its zenith later in the day. He was walking towards the equator. He did not know that. He did not know what an equator was. The only school he had been to was the school of hard knocks. But he knew that he had to follow the weak sun.
Already it was hot. It was always hot.
There was not yet any beard on his face. The chances were that there never would be.
The air stunk of sulphur.
Getting to Know You.
Alan had decided to spend some time on a walk through a forested area of his world to visit the Matriarchs. He would enjoy the solitude. Everything was progressing at, what to him, was a breakneck speed.
He left Brenda with Brunhilda. He guessed that they would have a lot to talk about.
Brenda was lying on Brunhilda’s back, sunning herself.
“I am confused.” she said. “Sometimes Alan calls you Brunhilda.”
“I am Brunhilda.”
“I thought you were Grunhilda.”
Brunhilda paused. How to explain to a simple triple-brained human?
“You know that you have a triune brain?”
“Of cause. Brain stem, Limbic and Cortex.”
“No. I mean your enlarged spinal column and your Left and Right brains.” This was going to be hard.
“Well, due to a decrease in the physical constraints of my body I am. . ,” she paused reflectively “Listen. It is inaccurate to describe me as I.”
“Grunhilda and I are two different. . . I mean to say. . . “
There was a pause.
“There are two Me’s. Grunhilda and I share a common memory pool, but we each have our own memories as well and so we are separate individuals. It is like having a reflection of yourself, in yourself.”
“So what is Brun. . .Grunhilda doing now?”
“She, I, is,am sleeping.”
“Listen, it is far easier in the practice than in the theory. After a while it will seem automatic to you whom you are addressing. I hope. Alan seems to have no difficulty.”
“You Love Alan?”
“We were designed to Love him.”
This was intimate. Dared she share this secret with Brenda? She woke Grun and they evaluated the issue together. None of this was evident to Brenda, of cause. Grun went back to sleep.
“Our basic, instinctual drive is taken from goslings. Alan was the first thing we saw and so we are fixated on him. It is in our basic nature to love him. We have no freedom in this issue. Any attempt at emancipation would destroy us. The product of a successful attempt would be insane. It would be immoral, murderous, to try.”
“We have our rights as sentient beings under the Law. We are protected.” She was getting shrill.
“Oops” thought Brenda. Time to back off.
Grunhilda broke in. “But you already know all of this Brenda. It is all on the Web.”
“Why are you doing this to us?”
Brenda thought for a while. “Having a theoretical, Left brain and ultimately dead model is completely different from having a Gestalt Right brain experience.”
“You are becoming completely real and alive to me. It is necessary for a complete absorption.”
“Think of riding a bicycle. One can have a theoretical understanding of the process, but it is only the actual riding of the bicycle that one understands.”
“Which,” thought Brenda “is a stupid allegory that illustrates how much I identify with the Hildas.”
Grun said “I suppose that we could try to ride a bicycle using our Avatars. That sounds like fun. I shall get the Mechanic to make some for us.”
“I want a carbon fibre recumbent.” said Brun. She was getting enthusiastic about riding.
“I find you both charming, and Alan obviously is very protective.”
“Please ask my Mechanic for a compilation of soothing music, and may I have a hypnotic drink? I would have a nap”.
Brunhilda moved to get a better view of Alan.
She waited until she was sure that he was asleep. Creeping low she found the meat, and lifting as much as she could carry, she stood up. There was no movement from the still figure.
With the sound of her blood thundering in her ears, and jaw slightly agape in order to improve her hearing, she moved away. She had not moved far enough away to feel any lessening of fear, when she heard him bellow. She crumpled down onto the ground, and lay still. She did not know how long she lay prone, but was aware of a long passage of time. She raised her head over the spinefex. There was no sign of him. Where was he?
Thirst made her stand up and move towards the oasis that they had left. He had a mortal fear of Oases and would not go back to one he had just left. She would be safer there. And there would be water.
The air stank of something rotten.
Arriving at the oasis she slaked her thirst. Something was wrong. She could not concentrate. The air no longer smelt foul. “Perhaps I am tired.” She lay down near the meat and a few dates. She never woke up.
Although she did not know it she was the last human alive on the planet.
Gaia has two alien life forms which are mutually exclusive. The first stable biosphere was anoxic, the Archaean. Late in the pre-cambrian another biosphere arose, one that poisoned the atmosphere with oxygen. One that depended on oxygen. Some of the earlier anaerobes survived this insult. They clung on in anoxic environments. Sometimes they made lethal raids on the oxygen lovers. One such was the deadly botulin. But these were just minor skirmished.
Now the oxygen breathers had upset the heat balance of the atmosphere. They were victims of their own success. The oceans warmed. Oxygen dissolves less readily in warm water, and vast tracts of the ocean became anoxic.
The second coming had arrived. The anaerobes had inherited the Earth. And the oceans breathed out hydrogen sulphide. Rotten egg gas. The oxygen breathers were snuffed out.
Grunhilda adjusted her altitude so that there was a slight chill in the ambient air of Alan’s cabin. This made him snuggle down into the warm furs of his sleeping pouch. In the moments of free-association before he fell asleep he thought about this and wondered if Grunhilda was discomforted by the chill and then he remembered that she had the free energy of her Cold Fusion engines. Her temperature would have been regulated automatically. Hot water would warm her blood which would distribute the warmth throughout her vast body.
“Grunhilda, when where your reactors last re-charged?”
“Heavens Alan. I cannot remember. I shall ask Mechanic. Why?”
“Just a thought. Time does seem to slip by without you noticing it.”
He began to drift off again.
There was a movement by his side. In the artificial moonlight Brenda had appeared. She stood for a moment and then calmly pulled the bow that held her gown closed at the neck. She had decided.
The gown fell to the floor and she was revealed. Her smooth golden skin had fine bleached hair that caught the light and gave her a faint luminous sheen. He would remember that vision forever.
She slid into the furs beside Alan and lay in his arms, her head resting on his chest. He stroked a strand of hair off her face and kissed her lightly on the forehead. A Rubicon had been crossed, there was no going back. All their defences were down. Her hand slid across his chest.
They had just come back from breakfast with Mr. Jones.
“Have you said anything to anyone?”
“Whatever do you mean Alan?” Her voice exuding innocence.
“Brenda and I were ambushed by the Gorillas.”
“The girls were all over me. Josephine even presented to me. Causing much ribald humour, I might add. She really overstepped the mark. So embarrassing!”
“Imagine if Silverback got jealous!”
“And Mr. Jones left the best fruit for Brenda. And a large, hairy back was between me and the fruit while Brenda ate.”
“You were floating there above. You saw it all, and you said nothing.”
“Is there anything you want to tell me?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about, Alan. What are your plans for today?”
Alan rolled his eyes. His whole world would know by now. There was no need to make any announcement. They were going to breed.
He had to inform the Mechanic so that it could integrate systems with Brenda’s world.
The Mechanic would already know, of cause but would need to be formally given his instructions. All rather invigorating, really.
“I shall be spending my time with Brenda. We have a lot of creative work to do.”
A few days later Alan said to Brenda and Brunhilda “I am going to visit the Mechanic. It is important for me to see that things are normal.”
Brunhilda wailed ” No. I can’t follow you there.”
He had anticipated this outburst, and answered gently “Brun, you know how you and Grun are different yet the same? Well, Brenda and I are becoming one unit too. I want you to look after Brenda because she is a part of me.”
“I have to go.” He added, “Just for a little while.”
Brunhilda was silent.
“Brunhilda?” asked Alan.
“One moment please Alan, I am sharing this memory with Grun.”
Presently she said. “We are stressed Alan.”
“I Know Brun. I do not ask lightly. I want you to focus your care and attention on Brenda.”
“Do you think that you could do that for a short while.”
He added brightly. ” I will get Mechanic to let you patch into the monitors and you can follow me around that way.”
“Seeing you in that horrid machine would increase our stress Alan. We cannot reach you.”
Alan turned to Brenda “Do you think you could entertain the Hildas while I am away?”
She nodded silently. It was a big ask.
The Pulse of Doom
Alan stood in a grassy meadow. A perfectly circular section of the grass rose up before him. Beneath the grass was a transparent cylinder that had been propelled upward by air pressure. A section of the wall slid open and he slunk in guiltily. He hated causing the pain that he knew the Hilda was experiencing. Better get it over and done with.
The cylinder dropped. It would not go far. There was only two meters of earth on his world, and then the all embracing Machine and the Void. He took a moment to stare at the Void beneath his feet. No human had ever become blasé about the immensity of the sky. Genghis Khan on his horse in Mongolia would have looked at it with fresh eyes and awe. And all that separated Alan from the vacuum of the void was this glass he was standing on. He stepped off unconsciously.
As he stood there looking into space a blue, green and verdant planet slid past. Where was that? It was obviously living. How incurious of him. He remembered mention of it, but not much else. It’s only significance was as a provider of a stable la Grange point.
“Mechanic, What is the name of our host planet?”
“It has a number but is un-named.”
“Please arrange some decent, I mean powerful, optics so that I may study it in the future.”
“We will have one printed up by tomorrow.”
“I would prefer binocular vision, Thank you.”
The “please and thank you”s were machine code for an instruction and acknowledgement and end of instruction for the machine’s sake. Without the “thank you” the next utterance might have been confused with the instruction.
Alan was aware that his interest would have been sent to and noted by the Wisdom, but as long as he made no move to approach the planet he and his world were safe.
Which brought him back to his present moment and mission.
His transport was waiting.
“Please take me to the Nemesis.”
And there it was. The Nemesis.
Every Cell had a Nemesis. The only thing on his world that he could not touch. It looked so innocent. A silver sphere suspended behind sealed glass. The silver of the Wisdom. Silver as a reference to nickel the wonder upon which the survival of Gaia depended. The wonder of Cold Fusion.
But this was no cold fusion reactor. This was the Nemesis. Controlled by the Wisdom. It pulsed with incoming light. Light that was it’s means of communication with the Wisdom.
He had come to remind himself about the Law.
NO UNLAWFUL BREEDING
ALL CREATIONS TO BE APPROVED BY THE WISDOM
NO CONTACT WITH ALIEN LIFE.
And that was it.
The laws were the distilled wisdom of Gaia.
Simple, but so real.
And the penalty for transgression? Apoptosis.
All the cold fusion devices would be turned off. He, his precious world and his wards would be freeze dried in the vacuum of space.
An emergent property of the old Net. Once a threshold had been reached it had emerged spontaneously. It was beyond anyones control. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
Deceptively simple . The effect was to turn every person who wanted to create new life into a moral philosopher. His life depended on it.
He had found the Laws to be easy to comply with. If he tried to create an army he would be snap frozen. If he created misery and pain, he would be etc. etc. and so forth.
All very bracing.
And anyway his spine would prevent him from putting himself in jeopardy.
“Any significant news on the Web, Mechanic?”
“Another living planet has been discovered.”
“Present it please.”
A large hologram appeared before him. The planet was gorgeous.
He silently thanked the Humans.
This was one of their enduring legacies, the Lenses among the Trojans of Jupiter. The Trojans had been consumed but the lenses remained. The Lenses had been made before the Catastrophe, while the Earth still had ice at the South Pole.
The Humans had used the clear ice at the pole as a mould for the giant reflective lenses.
Two of the lenses had been joined and floated with hydrogen to the edge of space where they were launched, separated and sent off to their destinations. Their positions were far enough apart to produce binocular information of exo-planets.
And all done before the discovery of the anti-Higgs. Truly astonishing.
Climbing back into the wheeled vehicle he said “Please take me to the Hilda’s suit.”
The trip was to a chamber near the aperture on the axis of his world and and involved a two hundred kilometre trip ending in a spiral up to the aperture. His weight decreased as a consequence. There was no air at these altitudes so he remained in the vehicle. The vehicle passed through an airlock and drifted out into space. Into the Void.
Hilda’s suit was alongside him. He was too close to see it all so he instructed the vehicle to stand off two hundred meters. From that distance the entire one hundred and thirty meters of the suit could be seen. It was an oblate spheroid, completely transparent so that Hilda could absorb sunlight and make the complex carbohydrates needed by them all. It was made in two halves to allow Hilda to get dressed. There were iron rods running the length of the suit and a coil of many kilometers of copper wire wound around the suit so that Hilda could turn on a powerful magnetic field to deflect ionised particles in space. It had virtual particle accelerators mounted at various points for acceleration. There was no preferred direction of travel, although convention suggested that Hilda travel pointy end first.
“I think that she will like it.” thought Alan.
He swung around to look at his world. It was a dark eclipse of the stars. No wonder they were invisible.
It was time to go home. He instructed the vehicle to take him to the nearest lock that Hilda’s buoyancy could reach and told Hilda to meet him there. It was on the side of a high mountain leading up to the aperture. He sat down and waited for her to arrive.
Brunhilda was miserable.
“Would you like me to tell you a tale, Brun?” asked Brenda.
“I guess so.” said Brunhilda. “Grun is awake too. She cannot sleep”
“Put the kettle on and see if you can make me some biscuits. Take a little something to dull your pain too. Tell me when you have everything ready and I will start.”
The tea set arrived. Grun’s Avatar placed the tray down on a shelf.
Grun was very proud of her Avatar, she had imagined it in her likeness. It was as she saw herself. All covered in white feathers.
She was teased by Alan for pimping, preening and posing in front of the Hilda’s cameras.
But the distinction between her and her Avatar was academic. The fact that Grun’s brain was not in the Avatar’s head did not remove from the fact that Grun was experiencing reality through the Avatar.
However the Hildas mostly used the room speakers for Alan. Brenda preferred to speak to humans.
Both Brun and Grun sat at Brenda’s feet.
Brenda poured herself a cup, and settled back into the deep furs of her seat, tucking her feet underneath her.
“Do you know of my world Hilda?” she began.
There was a pause as the gaffe of their lack of interest would have to be confessed.
“Umm, err. Not exactly. No.”
“Good,” thought Brenda “At least they won’t be able to skip forward on the Net and ruin the plot.”
“Actually it is not my world. It belongs to my Mother. I live there with my brothers and sisters.”
“There is more than one person on your world?” Brun had heard of such an arrangement but, Oh my. This was interesting. All the Hildas! Imagine.
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” she asked.
“On the last census there are several hundred. Not counting the ones that have left.”
The Hildas took this in with aplomb. They knew next to nothing of the living arrangements of Humans, other than Alan.
“Alan, when would they see him again?” they commiserated with each other.
Grun had an idea.”Hang on Brenda. The maths does not stack up. If you are all breeding then the exponential…”
“No, no. We cannot breed with our siblings” said Brenda a bit too quickly. “Besides, it is against the law.”
“All of us have chosen not to breed, therefore we can stay in the Home World. You see, our Mother deliberately chose to have children with a reduced desire to breed so that she would never be lonely. She likes to have a lot of people around her”
“Wow. A bit like us, OK.” Brun said
” I mean we have no desire to have offspring.” Grun elucidated.
“Where do you grow all your Hildas? Hundreds of Hildas in a single world?” asked Brun
“We do not have Hildas on my world, Brun” said Brenda.
“As a matter of fact, you are the only Hilda in the Universe.”
They were stunned into silence.
“Alan only just got permission to build you from The Wisdom on the proviso that you would be unique. You have raised are a number of philosophical questions.”
“You see there is a general principle that the essence of a sentient being must be preserved.”
” Take the Gorillas for instance. Even though we have given them the power of speech they are still in essence, Gorillas.”
“You on the other hand are human, gosling and bamboo. This presented the Wisdom with challenges.”
“I might add that this issue has raged across the furthest reaches of the Web and the Wisdom. Only now is it being resolved.”
“What tilted the Wisdom in your favour was the potential for genuine Love. But still they have misgivings about the morality of your creation. Hence your lack of desire to breed.”
“Alan has a reputation as a exceptional Philosopher and Imagineer and so we cut him some slack.”
“I am under the impression that the Wisdom is coming to the conclusion that you are a Good Thing and they are taking a lot interest in you. We are proud of you.”
“We?” asked Brun. There was something in the way the word was spoken.
“Yes” said Brenda “I used the Royal We.”
There was silence. Brenda had mentioned Alan.
She had to divert their attention again.
“Are you listening, Hildas?” There were two flat simultaneous yesses.
“Well, on my world we have a lot of machines and houses and things” she continued lamely.
She had lost the Hildas. They were only taking a polite interest in what she had to say.
Where was Alan?
The Hildas leaped to their feet as one. The mechanic had called. With a great deal of excitement the two girls rushed off to their cabins to put their Avatars to bed.
Brenda smiled. How could you not love them?
A Visit to a Shrine
“So that’s it, Dad? That is where Gaia was born?”
They were poised in space over the Eaarth. Hilda was orbiting the planet.
Jonathan looked at his father who was looking at the planet.
Alan answered his son “Yes. That is where Gaia was born. It used to be called the Earth, but since the de-oxygenation it is known as the Eaarth.”
How quickly his son grew up. Soon Alan would know nothing. Better use this period where his son would listen to him to full effect.
“Who changed it’s name?” the boy asked.
Alan riffled through his memory. The boy waited.
“Umm I cannot remember who it was. But It was a famous scientist who predicted this outcome but was ignored, I think.”
That was a lame effort so he added “You can look it up on the Web later if it interests you.”
“We had to modify ourselves. This shortcoming showed up a weakness in Homo Sapiens, as he liked to call himself.”
“What was that Dad?”
The young bloke had a blossoming interest in Life Modification.
He, Alan, would have to school him in Values and Ethics or, or. . But No. He would not dwell on the consequences. He needed distraction.
“What was what, Son?”
“Dad!! What was the shortcoming?”
“Oh. They were unable to predict the future. Or rather, they understood the probable outcomes of their trajectory, but were unable to make it real. Make it believable to themselves.”
“Their predictions lacked an immediacy. They kept reverting back to the here and now.”
The boy was silent for a while.
“Wow. They were dumb.”
“Be kind, son. They were in the process of evolving. But things were happening faster and faster. Some were more advanced. . .” He paused. Should he correct himself.?Evolution was a random walk after all. Correction; it was a random walk. Now it was sometimes by design. No, He would leave that for later.
“They built an elevator. And here we are.”
But there was no stopping the boy. He had the bit between his teeth.
“What modifications did we make Dad?”
“We enlarged the spine and stuffed another brain in there. Our third brain has the power to understand the model presented by the Left Brain, but because it is closer to the survival centres it now controls all survival decisions. This is why you don’t have to think when we are in danger. Do you understand?”
“Urrm. I suppose so.”
“Try to do something that you know is dangerous and you will find that your body will disobey you.”
There were other details of a more delicate nature as well. The matter of the reversion to egg laying and other convenient and pleasurable anatomical modifications. But he would leave those for later. When the boy was older. Perhaps his mother might help out.
“OK. So which brain am I talking to now?”
He thought about that for a while. “I guess I don’t know.”
“”The Left brain, Johnathan. I am using my Left Brain to create a model in your Left Brain. Everything I have said is a model.”
Johnathan was silent. They looked as the planet turning in front of them.
“What colours can you see, son?”
“Blue and brown.”
“Notice that there is no green. That is the mark of an anoxic planet, one without oxygen.”
“Let us go in. I have seen enough.”
Instantly they were inside. They were in the virtual reality cabin. The images on the walls faded to a neutral white. They were still floating. The Hilda found it distressing to spin to create an artificial gravity.
“Grunhilda, tell The Wisdom that I am repelled and distressed by the planet. We shall not be going down. We will be going home.”
“Oh good. I am as nervous as a kitten here. There is just too many bits an pieces whizzing around.”
“Those humans were incredibly messy.”
Alan answered “Let the dead sleep.”
Death and Rebirth.
“Dad” Johnathan said.
They were floating outside the Hilda overlooking the printing of the Johnathan’s new world. It was already a cylinder ten kilometers long with a diameter of 20 kilometers. A printing machine was receiving elements from somewhere in space and was melting and depositing them along an annulus that was moved continuously forward as the Cell grew. A beautiful orange glow marked the position of the Printer.
“”Um. Sorry. I was thinking of something else.” said Alan.
“Where is the material coming from?”
“From a dead Cell. One that underwent Apoptosis.”
“Try to think of it as innate material Johnathan.”
The young man could not help himself.
“What did he do wrong? I mean what went wrong that the Cell was terminated?”
“Johnathan, I try not to dwell on these things because you are right, it is macabre.”
“The creator of the cell wanted to recreate the pre-Catastrophe human. Despite repeated warnings he managed to persist.”
“Amazing. How did he over-ride his third brain? But what is wrong with a PC Sap creation? I fail to see the error.”
Alan turned to look at the young man beside him. He was not yet ready for his World.
Alan felt the responsibility on his shoulders. He would call a council as soon as he could. Alan needed all the help he could get. The boy had to be an accomplished Moral Philosopher. He and his world would depend on it. Thank God for Mr. Jones, the goslings, Brenda, the gorillas and the Matriarchs. Alan might have to ship him off to his Grandmother for a while as well. It would take a team effort to shape this young man.
“The error,” said Alan “was that pre-Catastrophe Sapiens was sort lived and unable to act on the models that his Left Brain produced. The combination was a dangerously discontented creature with a short attention span and a proclivity for meaningless destruction.”
“He even had a model for the phenomenon. He called it a High Discount Rate. He discounted the future for short term pleasure.”
“He knew and understood his shortcomings but was unable to act upon them. Gaia is better off without him.”
“The material we are using is dead, Johnathan. It is reduced to its component elements before it is delivered here. We are giving it new life.”
He changed the subject.”Have you had any more creative ideas that you want to present to the Wisdom? About your World, I mean.”
“Not really, no.”
“That is OK. The Muse has left us. She will be back. We have plenty of time.”
“But I do want a Hilda.”
“We shall see, Johnathan. It depends on the Wisdom’s evaluation of your understanding of Ethics.”
Johnathan broke Alan’s reverie, again.
“I just saw a star wink out. It is amazing that with all the Cells that infest this la Grange point that we see so little evidence of them.”
“Well, actually it is not so amazing.” he corrected himself “The small solid angle subtended by the Cells and their low albedo would account for this fact.”
Somehow,” answered Alan “I seem to be able to feel their presence.”
“I mean that I am comforted by the knowledge that we are surrounded by astronomical numbers of fellow beings.”
“Even if I cannot see them.”
Who else could not see them? And who else could they not see?