By Abbey Peterson
Evelyn trudged along the grimy sidewalk. The biting winter wind caused her features to bunch and squeeze; her eyes watered against the sting. If a passing stranger might have met her gaze, they would have seen empty chasms behind the blue orbs. She was dead to the world, because she knew the world was nearly dead.
Decaying leaves and filthy slush squelched beneath her heavy footfalls. As she walked, she looked around her – at the edge of the park’s treeline along the sidewalk, at the rolling layers of gray clouds, at the slanting raindrops in the glare of a streetlamp, at dozens of bundled figures moving through the city. She listened, too; she heard the roar of the traffic, of the music leaking from a dingy bar, of the mixing voices and laughter and shouts of conversations. All of it, the overbearing presence of people. Humans. An endangered species on a doomed planet.
It made her entire being ache and tremble.
Evelyn was traveling home from an appointment with the head psychologist at the New Eden Project headquarters. The meeting had gone better than she expected. Her involvement with the Project was minimal, but what little contribution she’d made felt infinitely important. At least it did now, near the end, when she really understood the grave reality. The Earth was dying. Ecological disaster had passed the point of no return. But Dr. Stauss had convinced her – and the Board responsible for approving genetic donors – that she had something valuable yet to give. Perhaps it was just his method of helping her find meaning and purpose in these last days, and it was allowed because volunteers with security clearance were scarce. But perhaps he truly meant what he’d said in his proposal dialogues, and perhaps her emotionality truly did demonstrate a human trait worth preserving.
She was grateful either way, because it did help – helped to know she was making some kind of difference. Someday, countless years from now. Somewhere, out between the stars. Knowing part of her would become part of the future. Whatever humanity became, it would be decided upon the lone ark, carrying hers and so many others’ donated eggs and sperm to breed generations out in the great expanse of empty, journeying to their new world.
What would it be like? she wondered. What would they be like? So far removed from what Earth was, what its people were? Would they be better?
When Evelyn arrived home at her crowded urban apartment building, she hardly paused indoors. She rode the elevator leaning heavily against the metal wall, clicking her fingernails against its cool surface, watching the lights of each floor flash and disappear between the gap in the doors. Once in her unit, she lingered only to set down her bag and turn up the heat to 80. She then went back downstairs and out back to the building’s small common yard. It was empty, as it was beginning to rain harder. She removed her shoes and coat, discarding them haphazardly across the paved court. She then walked barefoot out to the middle of the grass, feeling each blade’s wet slip against her skin, and lay down in the mud, facing heavenward, limbs spread and wanting. Squinting against the falling drops, she stared upward at the sky and the few gnarled tree branches and the sharp edges of city buildings. She reveled in the sting of the frigid air whistling across her face, the soft fallen leaves tickling her skin, the gentle earth cradling her body. Gripped that earth in fists as though to embrace it in return, to show her affection, her apology. Breathed in the scent of dirt and gasoline and her neighbors’ cooking dinner. And pondered what her daughter might have been like one day.
It was pure tactile wonderment. It squished between her fingers. It made her hands moist, slippery… ‘dirty‘, a word she never had reason to use. The brownness of it was littered with green matter, red matter, orange matter… Such a cacophony of colours in this pliable wad. She bent to her toes, dug her digits deeper down into the surface, squeezed them into a fist. She lifted one hand, taking a chunk of the substance with it. A sound she barely recognized came from her, unbidden: a giggle.
The droning of the morning shift alarm tore EV3 from her vision. It wasn’t a dream. She was awake, had been awake the entire time, in the process of cleaning her teeth. But she had been consumed by the illusion. It was like a memory she had never created – a vivid one.
In a slight daze, she rinsed her mouth and then donned her uniform jumpsuit. Routine smudged out her mental disquiet. In the image reflector, she scanned the jumpsuit surface for any notable imperfections. She found none. Her short hair was bent upward in random places from sleep. Inconsequential. Satisfied, she left her dormitory pod.
The ringway was already filled with her fellow crew leaving their dormitory pods and reporting to their various assigned duty sectors aboard The Serpent. EV3 fell into step with the moving flock. Crewmates acknowledged one another only with met glances and small inclinations of the head. The sounds of their quiet march reverberated in the long ringway corridor, their herd the lifeblood flowing through the veins of the Serpent-World. Outside the World’s walls, for generations there had been only silence and the cold vacuum.
As she walked the habitual commute, EV3 looked down at her feet, considering them on an unusual level she never had before. She watched as the cloth and rubber deck-clinger boots swung over the smooth metal surface of the floor. She was thinking again of the vision, of reaching down towards that… substance. She combed through her brain data, through her memories, through all her knowledge. Somewhere she knew the word for that substance, she was certain. Yet it eluded her.
The flock neared EV3’s duty sector. She veered away from the rest towards the entrance to the Evolution Vats Sector. The door’s seals hissed and its panels slid open for her, splitting the emblazoned ‘SECTOR 7’ in half. Inside, the vast space opened up into rows and rows of the artificial wombs and the living DNA banks, endless tanks and tubes and monitors. The reproductive organs of the World. When the doors closed behind her, the sounds of steps and brushing clothing died and left only the hums, beats, and gurgles of the Vats.
Her duty post – a giant workstation full of screens and the array of controls – was located near the front of the sector. She sat down and began her routine data checks and accessed the machine statuses. The closing report of her shift predecessor, EV2, verified everything was routine.
EV3 was 27 year-cycles in age. For years her main responsibility had been monitoring the meticulous scanning and correction of the genetic information for each embryo. The computer system continually scanned for fatal mistranslations, and dangerous duplications or deletions during the creation of each embryo were avoided through its exhaustive checks and balances. EV3’s duties had just now begun to increase in importance: the next generation of The Serpent had now been conceived and was gestating, each future crew fetus growing inside its own machine’s pregnancy. All were perfect, different combinations of predetermined genetic samples from the enormous reproductive banks aboard The Serpent. These thousands of samples had been gifted to the ark by the First Generation, from the original World.
When EV3 was 30 cycles in age her replacement would be born, at the development equivalent of 5 cycles. Every crewman had an assigned duty they were trained on from 10 cycles in age until they took over for their Live Parents’ generation at 20 cycles, when the Parents would be 45 cycles in age.
Not all the Vats were in use. There were 247 currently operating, housing replacements for each of the current crewman’s positions. The number of replacements required was calculated by the number of readings of individual living vital signs active on the Serpent-World. Early death was an extremely rare occurrence. Inherited illnesses were nonexistent; the DNA from the First Generation’s donated reproductive samples had all been carefully chosen to avoid those genes. Brief malfunctions of the physical body were easily remedied. And only a few accidents had occurred over the hundreds of years the Serpent-World had journeyed through the void. At the event of any death, another crewmate reported the fatality and the required replacement number was updated to include the number of expired crewmen. EV3 had received no such reports during her lifetime.
EV3 checked all of the wombs’ stats and fetuses’ health. All readings came back with satisfactory results. When her initial scans showed no problems, EV3 accessed data on Vat number 47. Her own replacement’s womb. On the screen, she brought up the live feed of the inside of the Vat. The tiny fetus floated in the viscous liquids. Miniscule wires and tubes connected it with the mother machine. Without knowing specifically why, EV3 stared at the minute form for a long duration.
I will be its Live Mother one day, she mused. The thought caused a tingling clench in her stomach. Mother.
She would teach this specific child of the next Generation how to perform the duties she was entrusted with: the monitoring and operation of the Evolution Vats. She would take care of this child’s physical safety, teach it how to eat, how to speak, how to walk, how to read and write, how to use technologic interfaces. There was a limit to the efficiency of downloaded data, and what kind that could be pre-loaded into a child. All children were born with all the hard data they would need – the key acquired knowledge that could be downloaded from previous Generations, mapped appropriately to their neurons. The Live Parents’ jobs were to coach the child on how to apply this knowledge. When EV3 reached 45 cycles in age and her replacement took over her duties, she would perform her last living duty: providing matter for the World.
Again, EV3 thought of her waking ‘vision’. The word that defined that mysterious substance still evaded her. It must lay buried in the droves of unused data pushed far into her inactive mind, with inapplicable knowledge and irrelevant memories.
She began the ongoing process of preparing the Vats for the next stage of the pregnancies: the introduction of data to the unborn children. The data uploading process would not begin for another 7 complete shift cycles. The brain development of the fetuses must reach a certain stage before the data input would be successful. Before that time, EV3 would perform her most crucial duty: the maintenance and updating of the Evolutionary data. This was the day these preparations were to begin.
She commenced initial scans.
At mid-shift meal in the domed mess hall, EV3 sought out a particular crewmate, designated AD4m. One of the crew population born “male” – as signified by the m at the end of his title – he habitually sat towards the outside of the arrangement of tables, near the outer wall. There were no windows, not here nor anywhere on The Serpent; the void of space is overwhelmingly empty nothingness. EV3 located AD4m and sat down parallel from his seat. Prolonged eye contact and an upturn of the corners of his mouth was his acknowledgment. She returned the gestures.
“I have a query,” EV3 stated before consuming a mouthful of her carbohydrates block.
“Proceed,” AD4m replied.
“What is the term for…” Here EV3 paused. Without its name, she did not know how to describe the thing which she wished to ask about. There were no references available. In her mind she faltered and stumbled over a description many times. She stared down at the nutrients tray, contemplating, pushing about a piece of protein with her eating utensil. AD4m sensed her lagging and he looked back up from his nutrients.
“For the… floor, when it is moist and malleable?” she finally finished, pressing her utensil down onto the beige protein block to make it mashed and flat, pushing its mass between the prongs. AD4M’s features curled inward with obvious confusion. “And colourful,” she added, reminded by the plainness of the protein substance.
“What are you referring to?” he asked, observing her molded protein. “The floor is never that way.” As if to prove it, he looked down at the surface on which their feet were planted and to which the tables and benches were attached for during times when there may be no gravity. He kicked his heel down, and the action clunked with its usual noise. “It is the same when it becomes wet.”
“Cancel, then,” EV3 surrendered quietly. She knew no other way to ask her question. A different pull in the pit of her abdomen jarred her briefly. The corners of AD4m’s mouth twitched up again as she met his gaze. The action made her normal complacency return, and they completed their consumption in comfortable silence.
It was near the end of her duty shift that the data scans discovered an anomaly.
<<GENERATIONAL DATA DISCREPANCY FOUND>>
<<PROCEED WITH EXHAUSTIVE VERIFICATION OF DATA>>
There were millions of data files, terabytes upon terabytes of information that was provided to the Generation’s children during the upload process before birth. This data was EV3’s priority charge. It even outranked the fetuses themselves. Without the data, the children were useless.
EV3 sat completely still, fingers posed above the interface, unsure of what to do. Her pulse was elevated, her respiration had quickened and become slightly labored. She felt strange. No part of her training, no instructions in her personnel files, nor her accumulated knowledge had effectively prepared her for this particular problem on this scale. Following logical proceedings, she ordered the system to re-scan its data files and repeat its automated check.
The same anomaly presented itself again. This time, she brought up the diagnostic report to see which files produced the discrepancy. The list read “MISSION PROGRESS REPORTS”, “SERPENT’ STATUS REPORTS”, and “EVOLUTIONARY STATUS REPORTS”. In each of these categories were gigabytes of apparently missing materials. “REFER TO ARCHIVAL DATA FOR CROSS-REFERENCE” appeared as a footnote in the error message.
Her breathing loosened, and her muscles relaxed a tension she did not recognize they’d had. Relieved to be provided with specific instructions, EV3 immediately stood and left her duty station. It was entirely possible to communicate with the Archival Data Sector from her duty station, but for motivations she could not fully analyze, she wished to interact directly with the crewman currently on duty there… Possibly due to her symptoms of physical stress at being faced with a problem she seemed inadequately prepared for. She felt the presence of another crewman could alleviate the arousal in her nervous system. So she navigated through the Serpent World’s many corridors until she arrived at the Archival Data Sector, near the heart of the World.
Here was where hundreds of year-cycles of Generations’ data and collected reports were housed for referencing by the crew and for cross-referencing with other data. AD4m sat motionless at his duty station, reading from a screen. He noticed her entrance and blinked in quick succession as she approached. The action seemed to represent his surprise at her physical arrival.
“My systems encountered an anomaly in the Generational Data,” she explained. “I must refer to the Archives.”
“Categories?” AD4m replied, swiveling back to his screens. She listed for him the categories her system had reported. He accessed the file groups and the expansive list began scrolling across the main screen.
“There is a large amount of data here,” he said. Dark eyes scanned the readings as they flashed by, comprehended the readouts as they appeared. “No discrepancies in this system. Specific inquiries?”
“No,” she answered. “The anomaly report included no specific file names. Only categories. Too many corrupted bytes to list.” AD4m looked contemplative.
“Attempt to re-synchronize the Archival Data from those categories with the EV data banks. I will grant your interface access to the AD system for the rest of this shift.” As he answered EV3, his mouth did the slight upturn at the corners before he faced his screens again, immediately reabsorbed in his duties. For a moment, EV3 observed curiously how fluid his small movements were, so incongruous with their surroundings of jolting mechanisms and sharp-angled machines. And yet, his speech was always minimal, so close to the verbiage of the language of their computer systems.
When AD4m did not turn towards her again from his screens, EV3 left.
Walking along one of the open bridges between ringways, EV3 passed a crewmate bearing the label CO1m. A communications sector crewman. But he was also now obviously one of the Lost.
The Lost were those whose light had gone dim. They were still entirely functional, both in body and in brain, healthy and living. They ate and slept and performed their duties, usually even more obsessively than most. Routine was their entire purpose.
You are not so different, EV3 thought as she gazed at the CO1m’s vacant countenance, but for your monotone speech, and its rarity. She recalled the subtle variations in AD4m’s voice that had struck her interest, of the suspicion with which she was regarded when talking of strange substances with no name. Where had he learned these patterns of behavior? Was it his Live Father, was it the generational data, or was it inherent to his genetics? Why did the Lost possess no such traits? Why did it cause her sympathetic nervous system to alert in the presence of such crewmates?
EV3 decided to act abruptly, jerking herself out of her stride and stepping in front of tall CO1m. He showed no alarm, no reaction but to halt and simply lower his gaze to her.
“How did you become Lost?” she whispered. It seemed an inappropriate query. She had never heard of any crewmate asking the question or discussing the topic.
“I do not understand.” His monotone was stiff. EV3 sensed no discomfort from him, no emotion at all. This only heightened her own, raising her pulse yet again for now the third time in one day cycle, unusual for outside of exercise routines. It was odd to EV3, but it urged her further.
“How did you come to be in the state of being that you are… Did you change?” EV3 tried again. Her stare flicked between each of his eyes, looking for something, looking for the light she saw in AD4m’s eyes. The Lost officer paused, staring back blankly.
“When I realized that everything was unnecessary except for my basic functions and my duties, I freed myself.” No reaction, no inflection. ‘Freed’. Was this freedom? Was CO1m… content? …Was she?
The questions only bred more questions. EV3 attempted to gather more information from questioning the Lost officer further, but with no success. He showed no impatience or discomfort, but eventually informed her that his duties were more important and more urgent than her queries and marched away with uniform, purposeful steps.
Back at her duty station, EV3 brought up the access portal to the Archival Data. The re-synchronization between data banks provided no solution to the error. So EV3 dutifully began to manually go through the potentially corrupted data.
In her search through the first category, “MISSION PROGRESS REPORTS”, the most recently created report said, “Unsatisfactory Progress: Distance Covered: 0 lightyears; Archived Accomplishments: 0.” And nothing more. Under the second category, “SERPENT STATUS REPORTS”, the most recent report was an error log, which stated, “Multiple system crashes detected in Navigation, Propulsion, and Life Support Sector(s). Ship damage detected.” There was no data on the corrections of the problems. But if there were existing problems, World would not be alive, EV3 thought. They certainly would all have perished.
What disturbed EV3 the most about the possibility of damage to the Serpent-World was not the potential danger to herself or the other crew; they were replaceable. She and the other EV crew knew this most intimately. A crucial part of their duties in the upkeep of the Evolution Vat’s data banks and programming were the precautionary preparations for the event in which there were no crew to operate the EV systems… Including a disaster which annihilated the entire crew. In case of extinction, emergency programs would commence and ensure that a new Generation would be born in a shortened time period. During that time, the rest of The Serpent‘s automated systems (tended to meticulously by the crew whilst alive) would keep the World living.
EV3 suddenly wondered whether an emergency replacement crew or those of expired previous generation crew would all be Lost. Had crewmates like CO1m had Live Parents? Was that the missing variable?
In response to the anomalies, EV3 sent messages to the sectors mentioned in the error report, requesting a verification of their statuses. There was no reply. EV3 was confused; their shifts were organized to be certain there were crew present at all duty stations, at all times. Responding communication should have been immediate.
Finding no other viable solution, EV3 again left her duty station. Following the map of the Serpent World in her mind, she traveled first to the Navigation Sector. Her footfalls on the decks echoed in the metal corridors. Sections of the plastic paneling along the walls were missing, having been damaged and never replaced due to lack of importance. Cosmetic repairs had no priority. The corridor seemed almost abandoned; it had collected dust, and the automatic lighting hesitated before illuminating EV3’s passing. The echoes the exposed metal-and-piping voids in the wall panels created were skipping and staccato.
Upon arriving in the corridor just before the sector, however, EV3 came to a halt, complete disorientation and shock overcoming her. Her chest felt compressed, and her sclera burned as she was unable to close her lids against the sight before her. A sudden sense of cold moved down her body from the roots of her hair through her veins and into the beds of her fingernails. She could do nothing but stare, clenching her teeth together.
The hallway was crumpled. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all jagged, broken, and crushed as they came together in a smashed knot. The inside of the sector could not even be seen through the… The wreckage. Another word with a newly found meaning.
EV3 stood and observed the scene for a long pause, unable to comprehend it. A bizarre and bright light shone through some of the cracks in the World’s skin. It oscillated, growing brighter and dimmer. The hue was yellow, and it felt warm where it streamed in. What had happened to this part of the World? Was it dead?
Eventually, EV3 turned and exited through the airlock, feeling her skin prickling with a mild sweat. Her steps on her route back towards the Archival Data Sector were abnormally fast, her boots loud with her awkward gait.
AD4m appeared even more confused by her presence this time. But his even gaze was also comforting.
“I have another inquiry,” she stated as soon as she entered, before the doors had even slid closed. AD4m simply bowed his head once. “What would cause the World to die?”
“If we failed in our duties,” AD4m replied, assured and immediate.
“Other causes?” EV3 pushed.
“Our duties are what keep the World alive,” AD4m offered, speaking as though reciting. “So long as we perform those duties correctly and routinely.”
“And what is our Mission?”
“To reach the New Eden.”
“What is the New Eden?”
“A larger, safer World, in which we can live and grow,” AD4m replied in the same memorized fashion. “It is the original mission of The Serpent World, given to us by the First Generation, from our original World.”
“How will we find the new World?” EV3 was speaking at a rapid pace. Her words beginning to blur together slightly, her tongue unable to keep up with the speed of her thoughts which blurred together even more than her words. AD4m’s expression was becoming more animated with apparent alarm, his cheeks twitching upwards towards his eyes.
“The Serpent World travels through the Void, towards the New Eden. When we arrive, the World’s systems will tell us so.” AD4m’s tone was still even, routine, but he was staring insistently at EV3’s face, gaze moving over her face as she felt it contort with the rise of energy firing across her nerves.
“The Navigation Sector would be the first to realize we have arrived at the destination.” At last giving voice to his obvious puzzlement, AD4m added, “You have knowledge of all this, Ee-Vee-Three.” In his voice there was the subtle shifting in tone, the emotion behind words she so rarely found in other crewmen. She knew it was why she had sought him out in particular.
“I do,” she confirmed. “They are the teachings passed to us through the Generations and data. I could not forget.”
“Then why so many inquiries?”
“I found another anomaly,” she said. “But not in data. In the World.” AD4m stared at her blankly, ignorant of her meaning. “Have you ever been to the Navigational Sector?”
“No. I have never had reason.”
“I do not think anyone has been there in many cycles. Accompany me.” AD4m’s features were more furrowed than before. “You can observe it directly.”
“Unnecessary,” AD4m protested. “I have access to the security systems, and the live viewer feeds.” He turned away to the interface and entered commands to display the Navigational Sector’s viewer feed. An error announced the inoperable status of the viewer. <<ERROR: DAMAGE TO SECURITY VIEWER DETECTED>> AD4m’s brow pressed into itself. The clench in EV3’s abdomen returned, stronger this time.
“Accompany me,” she urged again, pushing her voice harder from her throat. AD4m did not reply, did not move from his seat. Without thinking, EV3 reached out and took hold of his arm. They both flinched, and EV3 let go with an abrupt retreat. They had never touched. Physical contact was generally unnecessary. But when he still made no effort to follow her, she repeated the clutch, slower this time, holding eye contact. When he flinched again, she did not let go. Gently, she pulled. He resolutely obeyed, tense muscles relaxing underneath her grip.
Together they traversed the long ringways that circled the World’s heart. When they reached the most forward ring, they descended down into the core cylinder of The Serpent, into the neck before the head of the World.
The lift doors slid away to reveal the twisted scenery. AD4m inhaled sharply upon observing the anomaly in the World.
“Is it dead?” EV3 asked. AD4m’s head moved slowly back and forth. “Where are the N crew? What happened to the Navigational Sector?” Her inquiries spun out of her mouth in quick succession. They were not directed towards her companion, but towards the wrinkled edges of the World. She could feel each of her heartbeats at the back of her jaw, in the tips of her fingers. EV3’s voice wavered with her next words: “The report of ship damage and errors from this sector was created during the previous Generation.”
AD4m turned abruptly towards her from his stunned viewing of the site, the leaking starlight causing his shocked eyes to be comprised of multiple hues and glinting with refracted brightness.
EV3 did not continue speaking, unable to form a cohesive explanation of her process of logic. She thought of embryo number 47, who would inherit all of her knowledge and the knowledge of her predecessors. She thought of the small role she was meant to play in its living existence. She thought of her duties in the EV sector, how they ensured a new Generation or replacement crew could successfully be gestated and born fully functional and equipped with all required brain data. She thought of how no reports of deaths or arrival had ever been received. She tried to think of her Live Mother, but could not recall any data.
She thought of her ‘vision’.
There were no more words. Together, they returned to the AD sector, both looking around at their World in silence, curious of any other anomalies they may never have noticed.
AD1m was now on shift in Sector 21. But AD4m requested access to the AD systems, and AD1m did not object. AD4m allowed EV3 to observe as he delved through the systems to the last reports of the previous Generation’s Navigational crew. The majority of it was corrupted. Hidden within the destroyed coding, there was one phrase, written in the log of N1m: <<NEW EDEN LOCATED. INBOUND TRAJECTORY.>>
When they found the last reports of the ship status, bypassing the warnings of corrupted data, one word made EV3’s inner abdomen feel as though gravity had ceased:
<<.[.] … IMPACT.[.]>>
They were here.
Connections were made so suddenly within EV3’s mind she could not process them consciously. But she knew. For the second time, EV3 forcibly grabbed AD4m’s hand, pulling him. He objected with a senseless noise. She explained nothing and said nothing, a stimulating sensation she knew little of but ate up with a fervor built up within her.
All through the ringways and corridors she pulled the reluctant AD4m, who spewed verbal objections as they ran clumsily. He brought up the dangers, the uncertainty, the risks. EV3 ignored him. They were here!
When they reached the broken hallway, the snapped neck of the World, she approached the smashed doorway with bold, long strides. Grabbing a large piece of the severed metal framing, she jammed it between the warped panels and pushed against it with her body pressed to her elbows. As she widened the angle, a hot, blinding light came pouring through. It felt like the UV lamps in her dormitory. Starlight. She pushed harder, throwing her entire mass into the leverage. The broken doors gave, one collapsing to the floor, opening up a human-sized hole to the destroyed Navigation Sector, the beaten-in head of the World, its roof completely melted away. Through it shined the foreign starlight, strikes of green where strange tendrils undulated through broken parts and cracks. With the light came a breath of crisp air, and on it rode a smell. Pungent, unknown, and thick in EV3’s nostrils.
“Is that the World’s blood?” AD4m asked with a shaking voice, staring at the ruined floor of the N sector, the alien substance covering the metal where it sat exposed. He refused to venture closer. But EV3 did not, running out towards its waiting slippery essence, towards the glaring beams of light and rampage of colours. Her face ached as it split in half at the mouth, lips stretching over teeth, that strange lilting sound coming from her again: the giggle.
“No!” she shouted, her voice reaching a ringing pitch with her sudden glee. “It’s mud!” And she threw herself down into it. Her knees hit the mud with a soft, moist sound. She sucked in the unique smell until her head spun. She thrust her fingers down into its substance, desperate to feel what she had only imagined before. Simultaneously, as she was feeling the mud with her hands, she realized she was feeling. All the reactions, all the sensations, all the arousals in her nervous system – emotion.
Beneath her eager squeezing fists, a tiny young seedling was uprooted and torn. A small beetle, crushed between her knuckles, was the first here to die by human hands. EV3 looked down at her stained, sticky palm, and a decidedly negative feeling of – dismay? ran a shiver across her nerves. So much destruction in such small actions. She raised her head to warn AD4m, but he was already wide-eyed and wrist-deep in the soil, digging and smashing and squashing, thrilled by the ability and the novelty. She didn’t have the explanation to tell him why to stop.
The entirety of The Serpent had been disturbed by the commotion caused by two crewmen rushing through the ringways, the halls of dormitory pods, through the mess hall, to each duty sector, loudly and hurriedly speaking about arrival at New Eden. Some dismissed their claims or shied away from them, afraid and disbelieving of the frantic pair covered in a strange brown substance. But others confusedly agreed to go to the Navigational Sector and see it for themselves. With each interaction, EV3 felt an inexplicable need to tell them “Be cautious! Be…gentle!” The ancient word went unheard under the fervor of newness, discovery, and fulfillment of their mission.
In the quiet of the abandoned World, AD4m and EV3 returned to Sector 7 and EV3 approached her duty station. EV1 had already left for the N Sector. The station was idly listing data streams, unaware of the excitements without any reports on the completed mission submitted yet.
EV3 entered her access codes and opened the Evolutionary Data command prompt. With trembling hands, she typed in one of many memorized emergency codes. This was not the emergency specified for the code. The computer cut the data stream and its display showed only a recognition of her commands, and then an offer:
<<EMERGENCY COMMAND RECOGNIZED>>
<<EMERGENCY PROTOCOL INITATED>>
<<! QUERY: DO YOU WISH TO ERASE ALL EVOLUTIONARY BRAIN DATA?
GENERATION(S) WILL BE BORN WITHOUT PRELOADED DATA
KNOWLEDGE AND BEHAVIOR WILL BE INDIVIDUALLY DETERMINED>>
EV3 took in a single, deep, shuddering breath, and pressed execute.
<<EMERGENCY COMMAND RECOGNIZED>>
<<EMERGENCY PROTOCOL INITATED>>
<<EXECUTING EVOLUTIONARY BRAIN DATA ERASE>>
<<EMBRYONIC DATA UPLOAD CANCELED: NO DATA TO UPLOAD>>
EV3 turned and strode between the rows of wombs until she reached Vat 47. AD4m followed without question and stopped at her side. His silence was prudent, and his proximity innately supportive. Through the transparent wall, she watched as the fetus floated serenely. One tiny limb kicked out from its curled body as she placed a hand against the warm Vat.
“My true duty,” EV3 said shakily, “is to be its – her – live… Her real mother.”
“You will be,” AD4m replied, as though stating the obvious.
“Yes. We will all be… parents.” She pressed her forehead to the womb, its hum tickling her skull with vibrations. “I will teach you,” she said quieter, speaking only to her daughter. “Of mud, and emotion, and ‘gentle’. You will never be Lost.
We are home.”
About the author: Abbey Peterson is a current senior at Central Washington University in the Professional and Creative Writing program. She is a lifelong writer, artist, and lover of speculative fiction and all things sci-fi. She is also a founding member of Seattle area artist’s collective, Off the Wall.
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