Edward Packard


Emergence, a science fiction tale ©2015, 2016 Edward Packard
 

March  4, 2051.

      The North American and Euopean Space Agencies set off a world-wide frisson yesterday when they announced discovery of an exoplanet that is practically a twin of Earth. The finding was based on data from the Kepler/Newton array of space interferometers launched in January 2049.
      The new “Goldilocks planet,” as NAESA chief, Gloria Milano, called it, and promptly dubbed “Goldy” by the media, is slightly smaller than Earth and slightly closer to its sun, an orange-yellow star 42 light years from the solar system and designated in astronomical catalogs as Cepheus 28. According to Dr. Milano, this dim but suddenly famous star is “visible in dark skies through good quality binoculars from all but high southern latitudes.”
     Dr. Milano said that Earth and Goldy have almost the same proportion of oceans to land masses, that oxygen density at sea level on Goldy is comparable to that on Earth at 2,200 meters (about 7,200 feet) altitude, and that spectroscopic analysis of the planet’s atmosphere suggests that plant and primitive animal life may be abundant. She said that Goldy is certain to be a subject of intense scrutiny by astronomers and astro-biologists for years to come.
      Dr. Herbert Wu, a Princeton astrophysicist, said Goldie is the most important celestial object ever discovered. Dr. James Sternfeld, who directed the Kepler/ Newton project, said he tends to agree with that assessment, but cautioned that a space mission to visit the planet would never be feasible: Even at an average of 20% of light speed, a widely cited theoretical maximum, a trip to Goldie would take 210 years and a message from astronauts reporting that they had arrived there would take 42 years to get back to Earth.
     Dr. Sternfeld noted that the most advanced spaceship on the drawing boards is the Allegra, which Space Unbounded hopes to have operational about ten years from now. In an interview last evening, C. D. Kuizmeyer, Space Unbounded CEO, said that the Allegra will be able to reach Goldy in less than 450 years, attaining a peak speed en route of 18,000 miles per second, which is about 10% of light speed, though it will have to travel at a much slower average speed because of the time needed for acceleration to cruising speed after leaving Earth and deceleration to atmospheric entry speed during its approach to Goldie.
      “Admittedly, a flight of this duration manned by humans is out of the question,” Kuizmeyer, said, “but the Allegra will be manned by transhumans, the breakthrough AI-enabled robots we’ve developed here at Space Unbounded. We think we can launch our ship on a mission to Goldie by 2061. If we’re successful, our descendants half a millennium from now will be able to see video footage of Goldy’s surface and learn as much about it as if a team of living breathing astronauts had landed there.”

 

March  7, 2051

       Molecular biologist and two-time Nobel Prize winner, Ols Lindholm, interviewed at his home in Waimea, Hawaii, applauded the plan of C. D. Kuizmeyer to send a robot-operated space ship to Goldie, but said it was even more important to form an international coalition to build a spaceship capable of carrying at least forty colonists. “They would die before their ship journeyed more than a fraction of the distance to Goldy, and so would their children and grandchildren,” Lindholm said, “but descendants of these brave colonists would reach the planet, and blessed with the advantages of technology not available to early humans on Earth, they would have no trouble colonizing it.”
      Lindholm noted that Goldie is probably too young a planet for intelligent life to have developed through evolutionary processes, but appears to provide an excellent environment for colonization by humans. “It’s only by colonizing other planets that our species will escape extinction,” Lindholm said. “We can’t predict the timing of this event, but there are indications that the end of human tenure on Earth is closer than we think.”

 

March 27, 2051

       In an interview widely viewed on YouTube2 yesterday, Alberto Pizzarella, a Nobel-prize-winning MIT physicist, laughed when asked what he thought of C. D. Kuizmeyer’s plan to spend up to thirty billion dollars to launch a spaceship on a mission to Goldie.
     “Look,” Dr. Pizzarella explained, “Kooz’s ship will take four hundred and fifty years to reach Goldie if nothing goes wrong, and I can’t tell you how big an if that is. It may, as he claims, reach ten percent of light speed maximum, and that’s a stretch, but our team at MIT has been working on DM-ADM space drive technology for eight years, and it’s ahead of schedule. Within the next twenty years we’ll launch a ship that’s twice as fast as Kooz’s.  He’ll have a ten-year head start on us, so we’ll only get there a century ahead of him.”
     Asked about Dr. Pizzarella’s observation, Mr. Kuizmeyer quipped, “Let the boys at MIT have their fun, but the Allegra is incredibly advanced in design and engineering. We’ll be on our way to Goldie by 2061, maybe sooner. Others can talk; we act. Besides, an asteroid may hit the Earth and wipe out civilization before Pizzarella’s ship gets off the ground.”

 
 September 20, 2055-- Aspen, Colorado 

      The glass walls of the office of the Chief Executive frame the snow peaks to the west, but the view is scarcely less striking in every other direction. Real estate is expensive, beyond expensive, in this alpine playground of the oligarchs, but the sixteen hectares of prime property comprising SU headquarters and its security perimeter required less than pocket change from C. D. Kuizmeyer,
      The entrepreneurial and engineering genius is not, as is his custom at this hour, seated behind his three meter-long quartz-surfaced desk, but half-slouched on the adjacent Klymar couch with gesture-controlled armrests. Facing him, in a black leather chair that would comfortably accommodate a silverback gorilla, is a tall, slim, slightly hunched man, bald except for an irregular fringe of untrimmed faded blonde hair, the two-time Nobel Laureate, Ols Lindholm, to whom this honor was most recently awarded for his achievement of showing how genes could be manipulated so as to slow the human aging process by as much as 4%.
     The two men are sitting in silence at the moment, as if they had finished discussing a difficult subject and needed time to absorb what had been said. This may indeed be the case with Kuizmeyer, but Lindholm is thinking of how, at the age of six, he sat transfixed, four rows above net-side at the 2008 French Open Final between the Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, and how his eyes followed the ball back and forth across the net, back and forth at rates and degrees of arc comparable to those at which they are now oscillating between the dazzling painting by Kandinsky on the west wall of Kuizmeyer’s office and Picasso’s affecting portrait of Françoise Gilot opposite it, which, as Lindholm recalled, fetched 4.6 billion dollars (or was it 6.4 billion?), at a Christies-Sotheby’s auction in London four years ago, sold to an anonymous buyer, almost certainly the internet commerce super-oligarch Wang Po Xiang. How it came to repose in Kooz’s office Lindholm could correctly guess, but his attention has shifted to the 16’ by 12’ hand-woven Zapotec rug covering the floor in front of him, and he reflects that he is prepared to comment, if the occasion presents itself, that it provides some degree of balance to Kooz’s office, the most unsettling physical space he can recall having found himself with the possible exception of the atrium of the new Museum of Post-Post-Contemporary Art in Prague he visited two years and two months to the day earlier.
    For visual relief, Lindholm glances through the window wall at the mountains, locally called the Maroon Bells. They seem so close, one could reach out and caress them, even as, at the moment, they are becoming cloaked by heavy dark clouds. A summer shower is in the making. Light from wall and floor panels, which had been barely perceivable, brightens.
     “So, Ols,” Kuizmeyer observes with a sigh, “you have destroyed my dream.”
     “Please.” Lindholm straightens as best he can in his chair, whose steep smooth leather contours seem designed to subsume his lanky frame into its depths. “I have destroyed nothing, Kooz. I have capsulized for you long-established truths. Cryogenic preservation of the body after death until future science can revive it is not a long shot, it is a no shot. There are a dozen or so very rich men –– all men,  all now deceased ––  who arranged to have their bodies preserved this way. It’s a pathetic waste of money and resources. Post-humous folly.”
       Kooz, squat, thick-chested, still in possession of a thicket of dark curly hair and still in his forties and in the kind of shape that requires adherence to a strict Mediterranean diet and daily ninety-minute workouts, springs to his feet. Arms folded, he paces back and forth.
       Lindholm’s eyes follow, him, back and forth, back and forth.
 Federer was so steady that day. But Nadal! What an astonishing athlete!
      Kuizmeyer arrests his motion. “I know, I know. I thought that the winner of––”
      “Two Nobels means I’m a magician? Sorry. There will never be a Nobel for the trick you have in mind, because no one will ever pull it off.”
       “And the same for hibernation?”
       “Hibernation, as I’ve said, is different. It can happen –– I can make it happen, but you won’t want it. The aging process continues. There is no suspension of time. Nothing is gained, and years are lost. We could put you in a coma and take you out forty years from now, and forty years would be missing from your life, but you’d be eighty-eight and you’d look and feel it; worse in fact, because no matter what kind of therapy is conducted on you in your comatose state, your muscles and organs would atrophy. You’d need months of physical therapy before you could continue life wheelchair-free, at best. Hibernate you for a planned sixty years and the luckiest thing that would happen is you’d die a natural death before you wake up. Do you know how much of the way to Cepheus 28d sixty years will get you? Even at twenty percent of light speed?"
Kooz, who prides himself on lightning-speed calculations, snaps:
     “Close to two hundred and seventy-five years, and I know, three point two times that much because you’re not traveling at twenty per cent of light speed when you’re accelerating and decelerating.”
     “Correct.”
     Kooz, his gray eyes widening. “But there’s the third possibility you said we would discuss today, which I take it is the only possibility.”
      “Correct. It is . . . a possibility, a non-zero possibility. We can preserve your DNA so that, if it’s properly cared for, it can last hundreds, maybe thousands of years. First we take and preserve your DNA. Then you dictate your whole life history and knowledge into the computer–– that will take about eight months with the proper facilitating analysts to draw everything out of you. This brain-preserved information, properly processed and stored in a computer, becomes the stuff of your experience, learning, and conditioning  after onboard transhumans incubate a new you-”
    “A clone.”
     “Not just a clone, a baby that will develop into a new you  –– because, during the infant’s early years, your knowledge, views, and memories will be infused into brain of this newly emergent little fellow who will be a perfect copy of you. He will remember your memories. His brain will work the same way as yours in processing them. Here is the key, Kooz: His emergent developing personality and experience will be yours. You will have been reborn. His consciousness will be your continuing consciousness. You will be him!”
     Kooz, leaning forward, exhibiting what one journalist called his extraordinary dynamic presence:
     “But will it really be me, Ols? Or will it be someone who feels and thinks the way I would if he were me?”
      Lindholm, holding up both hands and lowering his voice, a trick he has found effective in re-engaging the attention of wobbly-minded lecture attendees, says:
      “Kooz. . . Consider a baby. When it’s born, it feels sensations; it reacts, but it’s without self-awareness. It has no more sense of self than an amoeba. Gradually, it becomes aware that it is an individual. It senses its self. A new consciousness emerges. In the scenario I’m describing, this emergent consciousness is yours.”
    Kooz, bending over, rubbing his face:
    “I don’t know. I don’t understand how this can be!”
    “Imagine, Lindholm says, “a conscious entity, whom I’ll call Z, that is an incorporeal, all-seeing observer. Note: Z can’t act; he can only observe. But he can observe everything. He observes that conscious self-awareness is constantly emerging in millions upon millions of very young children all over planet Earth. This causes him to wonder whether what happens to these countless others might happen to him: whether he, too, might have the experience of becoming a very young child in whom conscious self-awareness is emerging.
      “As he is thinking this, Z notices that God has floated along beside him.
      “God, who has no trouble seeing into Z’s mind, says: ‘Would you like to be an emerging consciousness in a very young, developing human?  I can arrange it, of course.’
      “‘Hm, maybe so,’ Z says. ‘But I don't know whether it would be . . . ?’
      “‘Pleasurable?’
      “‘Yes. Would it be pleasurable?’
      “‘’I can’t promise it. A notable human named Thoreau said that the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, and another –– by the name of Hobbes –– that the lives of most people are, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’”
       “‘I don’t like the sound of that, God!’ Z says.’ Being the emerging consciousness of a very young human sounds risky at best. I think I'll pass on it.’
       ‘“What makes you think you have any choice?’
       “‘What? I don’t?”
      “‘You have no more choice than those living beings you have been observing, none of whom were consulted before they were born. At this very moment, your feeling of self-awareness is fading, only to emerge as that of a recently born child on Earth.’”
       Finished with his instructive parable, Lindholm sits in silence, observing Kooz’s expression, which had taken on an air of puzzlement that segued into terror, then faded as quickly as it had come, leaving his face starkly blank.
       “That’s a spooky story,” Kooz says.
       “Spookiness is the truth, Kooz. Emerging as a self-aware conscious person is a danger pervading the cosmos, not only to living, conscious self-aware people after they die, but also to . . .  nothing.”
      “To nothing?”
      “Yes. King Lear was wrong when he said, ‘Nothing will come of nothing’. In fact, everything comes from nothing. Non-existence is as dangerous a condition as is existence, for out of nothingness can emerge a conscious, self-aware organism. This is exactly what has happened, billions of times. And there is no reason why those who have had this experience cannot have it again.”
      Kooz rises to his feet, whereupon Lindholm, too, rises.
     “What are the odds, Ols? I’ve got to know the odds that this emerging consciousness will really be mine!”
     “I won’t make guesses to please you, Kooz. Honesty is the first rule of good science. It may seem like thin gruel, but I can offer you this: There is a non-zero possibility of success.”
      “Thin gruel? What the hell kind of talk is that? I’ll have to think about it, Ols. I’ll show you out.”
     The two men walk silently down the hall. Two transhuman robotic security guards step aside to let them pass. Kuizmeyer, breaking stride, half stops:          
      “Ols, I understand you can’t give me any guarantee about this, but I have to know. This possibility, even though I’m in a new body . . . that I’ll have continuing consciousness, as if I’d just been asleep for a long time–”
     “There’s nothing more I can add, Kooz. All I can say is that, if nothing goes wrong, your life will resume in a very young body, indistinguishable from the body you had at that age. As you develop, many details of your life on earth will be embedded in your memories by attending transhumans. It will feel to you as if you had merely been asleep. You will feel like you’re the same person. Whether you are, or are not is––”
     “A fucking existential question.”
      “Kooz, I couldn’t have put it more poetically myself.”

 

January 15, 2056

        NESAS, the coordinating office of  the North American and Eurasian Space Agency, has issued a detailed analysis of all that’s been learned about Goldy, Earth’s twin planet, located 42 light years (252 trillion miles!) distant from us. Dr. Gloria Milano, the Agency’s director, stated that the resemblance of Goldy to Earth is even greater than previously thought. She noted that Goldy seems to be at the evolutionary stage Earth was at half a billion years ago.“Plant and animal life are almost certainly abundant, though animal life has probably not progressed beyond primitive multi-celled animals. Temperatures range from hot to icy; oxygen in the atmosphere is approximately that found on Earth 7,200 feet above sea level.”
      Dr. Milano believes that astronauts visiting the planet would be able to process all the food they need from living organisms and readily available minerals. Humans with adequate technological training and equipment could survive indefinitely. She was skeptical about Space Unbounded’s plans, however. “I understand Mr. Kuizmeyer is expected to spend as much as thirty billion dollars getting his transhuman-crewed ship on its way to Goldie by 2061,” she said. “I wish NESAS had that kind of  money to throw around. If we did, we’d put it into getting submarines under the ice of Europa's ocean.”

 

July 5, 2056

       The whole world watched with breathless interest this past week as C. D. Kuizmeyer’s company, Space Unbounded, launched its super advanced transhuman-controlled spaceship, the Allegra, on a test mission, circling the moon and returning to Earth four days later.
      “All systems performed flawlessly,” Kuizmeyer said after the ship landed at Edwards Air Force Base Friday. Once again, he brushed off clamoring requests to send the Allegra to Mars.
  “We have bigger fish to fry,” he told reporters. He was referring, of course, to SU’s plans to send the Allegra on a mission to Goldie, Earth’s twin planet, even though it is millions of times farther away than Mars!

 

August 14, 2056

       “We have a “fairly firm” launch date of November 8, 2061 for our mission to Goldie,” Space Unbounded CEO, C. D. Kuizmeyer said at a press conference last evening. Sitting beside him was his long-time special friend and collaborator, the celebrated super-model and Oscar-winning actress, Simone Slade. “All major problems have been worked out,” Mr. Kuizmeyer said. “We expect to launch the Allegra on or close to November 8, 2061, and that it will touch down on Goldie sometime in April or May 2501. Reports from the transhuman ‘captain,’ whom we’re going to give a name to increase interest but haven’t decided on one yet –– we may have a contest and ask for suggestions. Anyway, our captain will begin streaming reports even before the ship lands –– they’ll reach Earth forty-two years later. What I’d give to be around then!’' Asked about Mr. Kuizmeyer’s announcement, NESAS Director, Gloira Milano, commented, “This is wonderful, especially if it actually happens. Meanwhile we’ll continue our budget-constricted, snail’s pace research here at NAESA.”

 
August 15, 2059  Space Unbounded main conference room

       Eleven intelligent beings are seated at the mahogany oval table in the underground conference room of Space Unbounded in Aspen, Colorado: six men, two women, and three male-featured transhumans, the android-like artificially intelligent robots designed and built by a team of SU engineers headed by CEO C. D. Kuizmeyer.
      Kooz, as he is known by the few who have affection for him and the many who don't, was born with immense wealth. A brilliant mind, unbridled ambition, and extraordinary good luck multiplied it a hundred-fold. Seated at the far end of the table, he casts his eyes about, exchanges smiles, and begins:
    “While the rest of us have been distracted much of the time with frivolous human activities, our transhuman friends have been working round-the-clock ensuring that all preparations have been made for setting up a self-sustaining proliferating colony on Goldie and for naturing the reconstituted personages of myself and my companion Simone Slade, the Adam and Eve of the next, and we all hope more consistently happy, era of human existence in our galaxy. Harry, will you bring us up to date on where we stand?”
      “Certainly, Mr. Kuizmeyer,” this affable being replies, glancing around at the others. “Everything we’ll need to fabricate a manufacturing operation on Goldie has been set up on the Allegra. After landing on the planet, we’ll harvest basic materials available at the landing site and will manipulate molecules to yield everything we’ll need to supply the nutritional and other requirements of our two human colonists and their progeny. Solar panels to provide electrical power needs will of course be deployed immediately after landing. These have been specifically tuned the the spectroscopic composition of light from Goldy’s sun, which differs significantly from that of our own sun. We transhumans can replicate ourselves at the rate of about five percent per day, so we can quickly build up a very sizable work force. That’s all I have to say at this time. Dick, will you report on naturing and education of the human clones?”
     The trans-human seated to the right of Kuizmeyer, rises to his feet. “Sure, thanks, Harry” he says, in almost the same voice as but perhaps a bit deeper than the previous speaker. “Everything has been set up so that both young Charles and young Simone will receive a superb mental and physical education. And we’ll be manufacturing transhuman playmates for them. These lively-minded beings will grow and mature at the same rate Charles and Simone do. By the time Charles and Simone reach puberty, they will find a whole community of transhumans who will provide opportunities for rich social interaction. We may expect each our human children to form special friendships among their transhuman peers. Now I’ll turn this over to Tom, who will address any concerns you may have about the long term future of humanity on Goldie.”
    Tom, the third transhuman at the table, stands and smiles graciously at his human and transhuman colleagues.
     “Thanks, Dick,” he says. “It’s been natural to analogize young Charles and young Simone to the Biblical figures, Adam and Eve, and there is some merit in this. They will have children, and the human species will go forth and multiply throughout the planet. But the Adam and Eve story on Goldie will work out very differently from the flourishing of human life on Earth. The genetic programing of humans on Goldie will replicate the present profile of humans on Earth to a considerable degree, but will differ in that there will be no genetic defects and there will be new genes, which will foster empathy and courage. Humans on Goldie will be markedly more noble and healthy than human who evolved on Earth. We expect a zero rate of crime. War will be unknown. Goldie will be a utopia dreamed of but never realized on Earth.”
      Tom takes his seat again, and Harry rises.
     “Thank you Tom,” he says. “I just want to make a few more remarks before we adjourn. “Mr Kuizmeyer and I were discussing the utopian feature of life on Goldie the other day, and C.D, as he said I may call him, which I take to be an indication of his appreciation of me as more than just a robotoidal being, raised the question as to whether life would be stimulating enough for the next cohort of humans, since transhumans will supply all their needs and there will be no struggle for survival. I assured him that there will always be struggles–– I’m sure there will be plenty of unforeseen ones. And if not, that’s the least of our worries!
    This remark was met with laughter by all, transhumans included.
    Mr. Kuizmeyer stood up and expressed appreciation for everyone’s fine work. His closing remarks gave ample disclosure of his extreme self-satisfaction.

 

November 29, 2060

       The first astronomer to detect the object’s existence thought it was a previously undiscovered asteroid and that her discovery would amount to an unremarkable addition to the space catalog. It took a few days before she and others studying it realized that it was much larger and far more distant than they had imagined. Within a couple of weeks every significant telescope in orbit and on the ground was tracking it, and it had become the number one news item in the media.
     In the space of a few weeks the world learned that the object was not one of the billions of asteroids circulating in the solar system, but a stray planet that had wandered into the sun’s gravitational field from interstellar space and was being drawn toward it at an accelerating rate.
      The object was comet-like in its projected track, but it was vastly larger than any comet. Astronomers calculated that it would enter into a highly elliptical orbit around the sun, passing within only a few tens of millions of miles of it before vanishing into the deep reaches of space, not to return for tens of thousands of years, if at all.
    During the weeks subsequent to the object’s discovery, increasingly refined estimates were made of its mass and diameter. As of February 2061, the new planet was not yet visible to the naked eye, but almost everyone in the world had learned that its diameter was larger than Earth’s diameter, that, although there was no chance it would collide with Earth or the moon, it would pass within one hundred and fifty thousand miles of our planet, and that the consequences of its approach would be catastrophic. Beyond catastrophic: the end of human life on Earth.
     The astronomer who had discovered the object had proposed a Latin name for it, but a television personality dubbed it “NoNo!” and in a mass adoption of black humor, it was the name NoNo stuck.
      “By the grace of God,” as some preachers noted in their sermons, the apocalypse would not occur until almost twelve years in the future, in the spring of 2074.  A bit sooner than that, actually. Tidal variations produced by the approaching planet would become significant months ahead of its closest approach, and at apogee would rise to as much as five hundred times normal, washing out habitats of three-quarters of the population of the Earth.
      No less serious, Earth’s orbit would be altered, and the consequent inertial effects would be life threatening for everyone on the planet. People would begin to feel as if they were pulled in a particular direction, or had become lighter, or heavier. The period of Earth’s rotation would slow from twenty-four hours to twenty-eight hours. The moon would be pulled out of Earth’s gravitational field and separated from it forever. Earthquakes and tsunamis of unprecedented magnitude would wrack the world.
     It took several weeks for scientists to calculate the consequences of this cosmic event in their full enormity, and more weeks before estimates became refined to the point where they reached close to 100% certainty, including the calculation of what Earth’s new orbit would settle down to after its fateful encounter. Rather than being almost circular, as it had been for the past four and a half billion years, it would become highly elliptical, approaching within 50 million miles of the sun at apogee and retreating to almost 300 million miles at perigee. The length of Earth’s year would increase eight-fold. The resulting extreme changes in climate alone would wipe out nearly all macroscopic life. The Earth’s semi-annual forays beyond the orbit of Mars would take it through the asteroid belt. Collisions with asteroids and meteors on a scale that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago could be expected to occur on average every one or two new Earth years. By then it wouldn’t matter.

 

 February 14, 2061

      Two and a half months after the discovery of NoNo, except for doubters and conspiracy theory believers, nearly every adult on the planet knew that, though the Earth might continue to orbit the sun for billions of years more, the phase in which it would remain habitable for human life would end no more than a dozen years thereafter. As far as ordinary people were concerned, the “end of the world” was at hand. Armageddon. Until then, life –– and human activity –- could proceed as it always had. At least it could were it not for the psychological effects of knowledge of humanity’s fate. How the remaining years would play out remained to be seen, but no one could doubt that  there would be enormous suffering before the end.

 

January 6, 2063   Styzx, New Mexico

 

       The 12-square-mile compound of Space Unbounded, Inc is as well protected as any military base in the world. The entire premises are under electronic surveillance. The perimeter is surrounded by double 12’-high fences separated by a 40’-foot-wide moat filled with quicksand. Elite security forces stand ready to repel invaders.

     Flying over the compound, if you weren’t shot down, you would see roads leading from the single gate in the perimeter, a few single-story concrete buildings, and two tunnel entrances leading to an immense cavern, where a project is underway that could be fairly categorized as the last best hope for humanity: the fitting out of the spaceship Allegra, the space ark. 

      The ark’s specifications, probable launch date, destination, and identity of its crew are tightly guarded secrets, but its existence is well known throughout the world.

      On board the ship, in addition to the transhumans who will operate it, is the visionary founder of Space Unbounded, C. D. Kuizmeyer. Kooz, as we might as well call him, since everyone else does, 

is seated alongside a transhuman, at an X22 Googleplex A.I. computer, with whom he is engaged in intense conversation. The transhuman is absorbing every bit of information it can elicit about Kooz’s life and thought and even altering its own personality as needed to synch it with its interlocutor. 

      Two compartments away, Kooz’s beautiful and talented mistress, Simone Slade, is undergoing the same process. Elsewhere, aboard the ship, Ols Lindholm is supervising the final programing of the chrysalis and preparing it for the generation of life from carefully preserved samples of DNA. 

 

 

May 12, 2072,  Aspen, Colorado

 

       Despite the low reflectivity of its largely gray rock surface, Nono is now visible in the night sky, already as bright as Mars at its closest approach to Earth.  The “end of the world,” as the apocalypse is almost universally called, though that’s not strictly speaking the case, is only months away.

      Kooz and Ols are convened in the former’s office at Space Unbounded. Their conversation is interspersed with periods of silence.

    “I might as well tell you Ols,” says Kooz, “this is the last time we’ll meet. I’m taking happy ending pills tomorrow –– I don’t want to watch the rest of the show. Simone says she hasn’t decided yet. I told her I don’t need her to come with me now –– we’ll be together in a few hundred years; and then, I hope, forever. She cried and kissed me. I said, 'It’s okay. Just keep thinking how we’ll be together again.'”

      Ols nodded empathetically, then he said, “I quite understand your feeling, Kooz. It’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves. As for me, I think I’ll stick it out to the end, at least to my end, but of course I might change my mind. I’ve got a gun. 

   “Each to his own, Ols. Now, just to review. You do think there’s a very good chance that this will work. That this won’t be the end for me and Simone.”

    “I never felt more sure of it than I do now, Your DNA will be infused into the new you that will be born as soon as the Allegra lands on Goldie.”

     “Of course I can’t be sure you’re right, Ols, but what you say is a great comfort. I’m ready to shuck off my present self. I don’t want to witness the end and be part of it. 

     “It’s been a great experience knowing you, Kooz,” Ols says. “I wish you a happy ending and wish I could be present for your happy beginning.” 

     “You are a prince,” Kooz replies. “Now farewell, my friend.”

 


 June 4, 2073

 

      It was obvious to all that in the years remaining before the apocalypse, political, economic, and societal ramifications would be immense. Wall Street pundits predicted that the stock market would go into sharp decline, then rally as it became evident that, as one commentator put it, “People would spend like there’s no tomorrow, for there is none.”
     The first year of awareness of what was coming was notable for endless public and private lamentations, proliferation of conspiracy theories, admonitions of preachers and politicians, and a spike in abortions coupled with a precipitous drop in new pregnancies. True to form, most economists muffed in their predictions. Consumer spending slowed slightly, then remained remarkably stable.
     Except for certain sections of the economy, where contraction on the way to extinction was the norm –- baby clothes, for  example –– most conditions returned to pretty much what they had been before the grim news broke. Most people realized that there wan’t much sense to devoting themselves to resigned contemplation, prayer, and anticipatory mourning, much less tearing their hair out, while a significant span of years still lay ahead of them. Nonetheless, it became widely understood that this state of near normalcy would erode, and likely at an accelerating rate, as “time’s end,” approached.

 

 

Year 2573  Day 323 /  Aboard the spaceship Allegra


      If we could transport ourselves to the central compartment of the spaceship Allegra, which departed Earth 494 years earlier, our gaze would be drawn toward six Space Unbounded robots –– transhumans as they are called –– beings almost, but not quite, resembling humans sufficiently to be called androids. They are seated (“placed,” if you will) at stations that serve to support them and as work surfaces for them and are motionless, so we might think that they are non-functional, as if there had been a power failure, though luminescent panels on the compartment walls supply ample light. 
     Visible through ports on each side of the ship are multitudinous stars, and to starboard, clouds of what appear to be white dust but we recognize as distant stars aligned in the the galactic plane, the Milky Way.
     Examining a schematic diagram of the ship mounted on a bulkhead, we conclude that we are in the central operations center, that the rear area of the ship is devoted to propulsion and navigation, and that the forward area comprises compartments whose functions appear to be indicated by symbols we are unable to decipher.
     We walk forward and notice that we feel lighter than we did on Earth, though not weightless, as we might expect. A door slides open as we approach, and we enter a large open space flanked by white metal cabinets. Before us are two watermelon-shaped plexiglass-covered objects. Our first thought is that they are incubators for premature babies, which, it happens, is close to being the case. Inspection of the rest of the ship yields no suggestions of human life. We return to the central compartment and fasten our gaze on the robots.
     We have the eerie feeling that time has stopped, and this feeling persists even after we begin speculating as to the future of this ship: Is it destined to be drawn into orbit around a star, or approach too close to one and disappear in a puff of vapor? Conversely, will it escape from this gravitionally bound region and drift forever through ever expanding space?   

      Belatedly, we notice a clock displayed on a computer screen. Our eyes fixate on it, and we note that it is marking hours, minutes, and seconds passing. It holds our attention only briefly, because lights have started blinking on screens in front of the transhumans. Two of them are rising to their feet! They tap their long graceful fingers on the surfaces of their work stations. How long they have been “asleep”? We have no way of knowing. They may have been turned off for an hour. . . or for centuries.

       A third transhuman rises from its station, then a fourth. Electronic squeals of varying pitches sound throughout the compartment. They are talking to each other. Or perhaps we are just imagining they are.                

      We walk to the forward compartment and notice that mechanical arms have risen into place over the incubators, if that’s what they are,  mechanical hands attending to mysterious tasks. 

     Ambient light has been brightening. And we have been feeling heavier. We notice that that process is continuing. Within minutes we feel as heavy as we do on Earth. The Allegra must be decelerating. Perhaps it is approaching its destination. We wonder if, in a few hours, or years, or longer, it will have reduced speed enough to go into orbit or land on the planet where its mission is to be fulfilled.

 

 
Year 8  Day 78  UT 10:28 hours /  On the planet Goldie

         From a particular elevated vantage point on this planet one could survey a neatly mown meadow, some handsome dwelling structures, and a blue, box-like building with skylights from which a low humming sound emanates, and at the far remove of this vista, the spaceship Allegra, looking as if it were designed not to travel forty-two light years, but rather as if it were a permanent installation, as is in fact the case. Several small self-propelled machines are clustered near the blue building. We eye them intently until our attention is diverted by two drones flying overhead.
     Glancing up, we see blue sky tinted very slightly yellow-orange, as is the case, too, with the cumulus-like clouds drifting by. We see the orange-tinted sun itself, appearing larger than Earth’s sun, yet not so bright. Though it is high in the sky, it reminds us of views common on Earth just before sunset.
     Strolling through a strip of thirty feet-high, thinly spaced, broad-leafed plants, we come upon another meadow, this one populated by children. They are playing a game –– soccer!  A boy attempts a goal. The ball sails straight and true, almost, aimed perfectly to catch the goalie flat-footed, though it is deflected by the side of the cage. A beautiful dark-haired girl on the opposing side takes a kick from a teammate and dribbles the ball gracefully downfield. It is only then that we notice that that she and one of the boys are the only two players who don't resemble each other to an extraordinary degree. All the children on the field –– both boys and girls –– are perfectly proportioned and move well on the soccer field, but watching them awhile, you notice that they never make a spontaneous or impulsive movement or give any sign of frustration, disappointment, or joy. The girl mentioned above stands out from the other girls exceedingly. Her eyes sparkle, her face is full of expression, she is perfectly, vibrantly alive. The same may be said for one of the boys. He is the tallest and the swiftest runner by far, and distinguished, too, by his long, flowing blonde hair.