written by Brunnen G on January 12, 2005 | forum profile
number of views: 76715 | printable version (text) (PDF)
From horizon to horizon it is flat hardpan, broken only by black sores of glass left by frequent blasts of lightning from the ceaseless storm overhead. The clouds are purple and heavy; they promise rain but never deliver. There is no sign of life here, and with good reason, there is no life here, not so much as a microbe.
After a time (how much time, who knows? The light is the same here in the day as at night, and besides, there’s no-one to measure how long has passed) a large craft flies a few meters over the surface, fighting the crosswinds as it makes its way to whatever destination the pilot has in mind. Presently, it lands and soon someone emerges from beneath the craft.
That someone is named Jacob. He is wearing a full EVA suit, as without it, he would choke to death on the atmosphere after his first breath. Even if he could breathe, without his suit he would receive a lethal dose of radiation in about a minute. Jacob could be forgiven for thinking that this is something of a hostile world.
Nevertheless, he continues to walk clear of his craft.
Once he has walked far enough, he raises his left arm and begins to punch buttons on the sleeve with his right hand. Immediately the bottom of the craft opens and dozens of people fall out and begin to form ranks. Closer inspection shows these are not people at all, but mechanical beings with a vaguely humanoid form. They quickly fall in around Jacob. He speaks. “One and two section, begin construction of processor. Three section, begin replication. Four section, repair flier. All sections, begin tasks.”
The mechanicals immediately split into their sections and begin their assigned duties. Soon there will be an atmospheric processor, sucking in the toxic gases that form the atmosphere of this world and changing them into nitrogen, oxygen and one percent other gases. It is a process about which Jacob knows almost nothing. He had once asked Lexx, but her explanation had left him more confused than before he asked. Enough for him to know that the processor would be powered by lightning (they all were, and the lightning attractor was always erected last) and used a twin process akin to magic called fission/fusion to change the nature of the gases.
Jacob himself is setting up a small dome, where he will live for the next forty days. The mechanicals are excellent at their labour, but they need supervision in case of the unexpected happening. Jacob considers it strange that mechanicals can build things he can’t understand, can replicate themselves using only the elements around them, and yet can’t cope with an unexpected event. Jacob remembers when one them had fallen from the top of a processor as it was being built. The mechanical was destroyed and all the others stopped working as without the one that was destroyed doing its task then that task would never be completed, therefore it was impossible to complete the processor.
It took Jacob less than five minutes to reassign a newly replicated mechanical to do the broken one’s job, but he never forgot that that was a leap the mechanicals cannot make for themselves.
This is the Southern ice cap, the magnetic pole. This world has a strong electromagnetosphere; the radiation which covers this world does not come from its eternally hidden sun.
Seen from high enough, it might look natural, but closer to the surface what looks like the swords of giants have been driven deep into the ice.
In fact they were there before the ice. In further fact, they are making the ice, as they constantly cool the lifeless water that surrounds them. Here there is the first sign of progress in the terraforming process. It is snowing. The snow is dirty, the air is still completely toxic and there is no one to watch as it snows, but still, it is snowing.
The dome is huge and buried deep into the ground. The craft entering the airlock is a dark speck against its white brilliance. Jacob has come home.
As he enters he habitation area, a hologram of a woman appears about two meters away from him. This is Lexx, and for the moment Lexx has the form of an attractive white female somewhere in her early twenties. Over the past twelve centuries she has had the appearance of every race of man and been male or female, older or younger, although Jacob doesn’t know this. “Welcome back Jacob. Did everything go as expected?”
“More or less. Nothing I couldn’t handle.” He takes off his coat to reveal the canvas wrapped bundle he has strapped to his back. Lexx looks puzzled as he unstraps the canvas and pulls out an item.
“What’s this, Lexx? One of the mechanicals found it when they were digging the foundations for the processor.” He has never seen anything like it in his life, but its’ shape and configuration are obviously meant for human hands. Impossible on this world of dead seas and barren rock.
Lexx looks at the guitar. She is perhaps programmed too well, as she is unable to keep the look of worry from her face. She knew this, or something very like it would eventually occur. Sooner or later they all found something but it was bad luck that it had happened so soon. She worried that one so young would not cope with what she now must tell him, but now there was no choice.
“It is called a guitar, Jacob, although I realise that word means nothing to you. You must come with to the learning room, we have much to discuss. You won’t like what you have to hear.”
Jacob has always followed Lexx’s instructions, from the day he was awoken she had been there to guide him and tell him who and why he is. He follows her to the learning room simply because he can’t think of any other course of action.
When he is seated, Lexx begins.
“You were grown from a stored embryo to terraform this world. This you know. You also know that a human presence is needed as the mechanicals cannot work alone and I cannot leave the confines of the sphere. But you do not know where we are. We are on Earth. You are the only human being in existence.”
Jacob sprang from his seat and screamed “IMPOSSIBLE!”, but Lexx merely shook her head and waited for him to regain his composure. He did not sit down, but when she sensed his heart rate had slowed enough, she continued.
“The terraforming project was only half a lie. There is no government on Mars sending ships out to distant worlds to make them habitable. There is no government on Mars and there hasn’t been since The Apocalypse War.”
“What was that?”
“I’ll get to it, but it doesn’t really matter. Long ago people realised that the Earth was dying as a result of their activities. By the time public pressure on governments grew large enough to make inaction non-profitable, it was too late. The Red Limit had been reached and breached.
“In response space exploration was funded with amounts of money that had previously only been available to the departments of governments responsible for making war on other governments. There never was an Earth Government, but eventually they managed to evacuate millions to Mars, leaving Earth behind.
“The spheres they built were the forerunners to this one. Although this sphere is much larger than anything built on Mars. The exact cause of the Apocalypse War is unknown, but there were elements of greed and conflicting religious ideologies that fuelled the conflict. There were no survivors. They couldn’t even flee the planet as the ships they had used to get there had been stripped for parts for the spheres.
“On Earth the situation deteriorated daily. A team working for The UN, that was an organization called The United Nations, collaborated with the remainder of the Space Federation to design this sphere and ultimately, me.”
Jacob sits down again. His life had been a lie to this point and still Lexx continued.
“After the construction was completed, DNA samples were taken from as many lifeforms as possible and stored as embryos deep within the sphere. This had to be done with great urgency as the extinction rate had grown exponentially and many plants and animals have been lost forever. I have over twenty-five thousand human embryos in storage. It was important to those who put them there that there be as much genetic diversity as possible in the human genome.
“So humanity died. This sphere was not meant to be a refuge for those responsible for killing their homeworld. Everything needed to bring the planet back to life was safe, and once it was safe enough for work to begin, I could start the restoration. Three thousand years passed before it was safe enough for man and mechanical to leave the sphere.
“That puzzles me. The calculations show clearly that it should have taken at least forty thousand years before a mechanical could leave the sphere without being destroyed in seconds, the atmosphere was highly corrosive and hot enough to melt iron when the sphere was sealed, but it seems that the planet started to clean itself. I have no explanation for this. Anyway, reconstruction could begin, and I followed my instructions and grew Marcus, the first of the line.
“This is the part that will be hardest for you Jacob. This is why you are alone. When you asked two years ago, I told you that I could only support one person. That is not true. I could support hundreds but have been programmed not to.
“Before the end, the last human, Dave, gave me a instructions that I must follow, a programme called PENANCE. Dave told that each human was individually responsible for the death of Earth, and so as punishment the restoration must be faced individually. From Marcus to you and beyond, you must pay for the crimes of your species by working without the comfort of others of your kind. You will live and die alone, forming another link in the chain. Only when the restoration is complete will I grow the thousands and tell them what I have told you. They will then be released into a new world and this sphere will self-destruct. This is the last chance for your species.”
For a while Jacob says nothing. Later he will ask if Lexx has any vid-logs of the events she has described. He will weep as he watches the fall of his race, bodies heaped upon bodies, rage as he watches the senseless destruction of a planet once like paradise, and despair at his impotence to change what he sees.
He will also, in time, ask Lexx more about the guitar he found. She will make him a working copy of the relic and teach him how to play. It will give him comfort, and when you’re just one of a line, a line that will continue long after he is dead, you take what comfort you can get.