ORIGINAL FICTION: "And We Were Grey"

Republibot 2.0

And we were grey 

            I sat in the rosy sunset with the love of my life. My lukewarm tea sat forgotten on the table as I gazed at her for the millionth and last time. She was grey, and the lines on her face reflected the years we had spent together, the laughter and the pain of our lives on this dying planet.

            "The tea is very tasty, love."

I stirred from my reverie as she stirred the liquid with her little finger. "Thank you. I wanted something special for tonight." I began to list the herbs that I had grown and the processes used until I saw the familiar twinkle in her eye.

            "I’m lecturing again, aren’t I?"

            "I know that you love what you do. Your passion is showing."

I embraced her and from my trembling grip on her frail body I realized that indeed, my terror was showing as well.

The sleepless red night lasted forever, and that wasn’t long enough. Before dawn, they came for me, and I picked up my bags and followed. They had parked the suborbital on my lawn, and I’m afraid my displeasure showed. Inwardly, I marveled that they had sent such hardware after me. I could’ve just as easily taken the beanstalk to orbit.

"Was that real grass?" The senior officer sounded awestruck. I assumed she was senior. Her shoulder carried more decoration than her partner’s. As we lifted off, I groaned inwardly. There, in my precious Bermuda, these-- these children-- carved huge gouges in my lawn!Yes, you junior league vandal, that was real grass!  I couldn't answer.  I just sputtered.

The senior officer chose the better part of valor and the ride to the transfer station sped by silently. The officers helped me out into the lower gravity of the spaceport and saluted. I squinted at them and realized just how green my escort was. I returned the salute in true civilian fashion, turned and called up my itinerary. A guide arrow appeared and I followed it toward the high speed docking platforms. I had skip-walked about twenty meters when two more green officer types materialized beside me.

"This way, sir", Tweedledee intoned. Tweedledum just motioned in the direction that my guide arrow was already indicating. I rolled my eyes and allowed them to usher me to the Velocitor lounge. Neither of them thought it appropriate to carry my luggage. We sat (or what passed for sitting here) for five minutes when I realized, to my horror, that the Tweedles were to be my escort all the way to Uranus Wheel. With these flowers of human evolution as company, the journey out would seem positively endless. I wanted to cry.

After a few hundred years of years of waiting, my guide arrow started to pulse. I got up, picked up my bags a little too quickly, prayed that their inertia wouldn’t take me with them and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to probably die of embarrassment as my massive carry-on pulled me into orbit. Tweedledee grabbed me by the thigh and efficiently brought me in for a landing. Tweedledum exchanged a look with Tweedledee that spoke volumes, and grabbed my luggage. Tweedledee steered me by my arm, firmly, but with a surprising amount of care, keeping my feet in contact with the deck.

On the bright side, aside from looking like a complete moron, someone else was finally carrying my bags.

We boarded the shuttle for the trans-system express, which was two lies for the price of one. The "express" trudged between Earth and Titan Station at about .7 g, constant. It did not go across the system; last time I checked, there were planets in the system beyond Saturn. And although .7 was nothing to sneeze at, I read that there were in-system commercial super-expresses that boosted at 1.3 g, constant. There were service transports that went even faster, but anything above 1.3 would be pretty uncomfortable for normal passengers. The Tweedles here probably wouldn’t even notice that kind of acceleration, but I would have. I started to laugh silently. It didn’t matter how fast we got to Uranus Wheel, as I had nothing but time.

I reflected quietly in my seat as Dum secured my luggage. The ubiquitous buzzers and beepers signaled departure, and we were on our way. The shuttle was full of interesting people. Unfortunately, I didn’t like people much. There were fidgety elves, uncomfortable butterfly baroques, and some other gene-mods that I couldn’t name. When mankind’s children went to the stars and didn’t find any intelligent alien life, they grew themselves into delights and grotesqueries that dwarfed the bug-eyed monsters of our race's fancy. Our prodigals baroqued their genes to adapt to the conditions in other systems and when their children came back, we hardly recognized ourselves in our "grandchildren".

And we were surprised. And shocked. And stupid.

We should have known better

I knew better and I was going on a suicide mission to pick flowers. Knowing better and doing better are apparently two separate processes.

Sighing inwardly, I directed my internal agent to access some reading material. As with most waiting rooms, and make no mistake about it, the shuttle was yet another waiting room, the reading database had not been updated in quite a while. The selection menu was by degrees appalling and ancient. I selected a periodical about the coming apocalypse, paged through the ads and started reading about "The Day the Stars Came Out".

"Excuse me, sir? Are you asleep?"

I opened my eyes, pausing my agent and browser. "No, just reading. Did you know we are all going to die in the Great Collapse?"

"Yes sir." The officer I called Dum blinked his large froggish eyes with all the keen intellect one could expect from a junior officer who was not intelligent enough to get out of babysitting duty. I refrained from taxing his belief system, as I would be needing entertainment later when I ran out of outdated magazines. I silently stared at him, mentally commanding him to explain the interruption. I waited. I cleared my throat. I telekinetically threw daggers at his moon-shaped face. Too bad there weren't any real daggers to go with the telekinesis. I closed my eyes and prepared to return to my magazine article.

"Sir?"

"What!?!"

"I have some mission briefing materials you might want to look over."

My agent whispered in my ear: Receiving secure documents. Please acknowledge. I silently sent the recognition code key, and whistled silently. The code was using my DNA sequences as the signature. There is a major software upgrade for me in this file. Should I install it now?

I nodded.

I will be offline for several minutes. Would you like me to leave the doc browser on?

A slight nod, again, and I was alone in my head, with a document so classified that only I was physically able to read it. I closed my eyes and let the text and images wash over me. And with every sentence, the terrifying surf surged.A humorless laugh rattled in my throat. I was already dead. I had been dead for an eternity, but God had seen fit to let me be born anyway. I hope He got as good a laugh out of this as I did.

***The shuttle was scooped up by the Trans-System. The .7g acceleration figure that they put in all the ads for the Trans-System Express was more of an average than a constant. I'm not a physicist, a flight engineer or a pilot. I'm a botanist. I don't know much about the Trans-System except what I've read. It seems to work alright, in that it ferries small craft across the system in a giant cometary orbit. I have to assume part of the advertised .7g was radial acceleration. If it accelerated constantly at about a gee, it wouldn't be too awfully long before relativity made the T-S Express impractical. Even I knew that.

The secure briefing I received had turned Dum and Dee into my jailers. I now knew that I was not coming back from the Neptune Wheel. The days passed, and I became by turns numb and angry. The VIPs told me that I was helping to revive the dead Earth, the cradle of mankind, the frozen wasteland. Humans stupidly interfered in natural climatological shifts, trying to stabilize the Earth's temperature, and ended up ushering in an ice age. The human race managed to escape, mostly. There may have been yeti-baroqued Earthlings, but most of us went to Mars, and then other colonies throughout the stars. It was nearly too late, but rather than risk terraforming--- and then terra-flopping--- as a general rule, we adapted ourselves to our new surroundings. Our grandparents would've been horrified at the grotesque shapes we assumed. but we all had human DNA at our base. We were all human, after our own fashion.

I must except the grand poohbahs who sentenced me to this suicide mission. They couldn't possibly be human, although they certainly appeared so when they landed on my tiny little research station on Singa island six months ago. I was pleased to have visitors from the Uranus Wheel Project--- who wouldn’t be? The Wheel was our crowning achievement as a civilization. We had formed an anti-entropy device to turn back time and restore mankind’s cradle to its former glory. And representatives of the Wheel were knocking on my door! They needed a botanist to travel back in time and collect samples for cloning Earth’s extinct flora. How could I refuse? It sounded so simple: The mighty Uranus Wheel would fling me back in time, I’d collect the needed samples, fly to Luna, put myself and the samples in stasis and wait to be recovered in my own time. Overcoming the oppressive weight in my chest that surfaced when I thought of stasis, I accepted the offer. I am deathly afraid of stasis (and yes, I appreciate the irony), and the especially long sleep that this would entail scared me to the point of sheer panic.

But I took the mission anyway.

And the panic was rising again in my throat as the Uranus Wheel came into view. Imagine the mass and angular momentum of the entire planet Uranus, flattened into a disk, spinning at a velocity that bent space and time. Looking directly at the Wheel invited madness, as light, gravity and time misbehaved around the edges. Our shuttle detached itself from the express and after several hours of mounting panic,  headed into the center: the hub of the monstrous wheel.

            I was ushered into a lab where I was stripped bare, poked, prodded, probed and declared fit. I fear that it was merely a formality; I did not feel fit-- I was rather ill.  They ushered me from the lab to another white room where I was disinfected and prepared for the journey by pumping me full of medications that would've fetched a princely sum on the open market. They neglected to inject any happy juice, I suppose that it was not deemed mission critical for me to not be in a sheer, blind panic when I was cast into history.  I thought that perhaps if my hands fluttered a bit more, or if I fainted cold away, they might give me something for the anxiety of being shot out of the universe's biggest cannon. After trying both, I wondered out loud if it was worse that God hated me or that the Wheel Project was indifferent.

"Oh, they're not indifferent."   a voice answered from behind me.  "They'd be much happier if you were doped right up to your ancient gills.  How old are you, anyway?"

            I looked at the man who'd just walked through the door of the briefing room.  He was a bit taller than I, lanky... a pilot, no doubt.  "I don't see how that's any of your..."

            "Ah, forget it.  I already know; I was just making conversation"  He slumped into another chair in this, my sixth waiting room in this misbegotten adventure.

            The room was awkwardly silent, until he started snoring. Then it became merely awkward.

            A wall came to life. "Greetings!" it chimed.  The wall was too cheerful for my stale panic. I wanted to vomit, but found that I couldn't. There must've been an anti-nausea serum in that witch's brew they injected me with.  Charts and schematics flew off the wall, accompanied by a ridiculously chipper narration.  There was a slightly interesting bit where a little animated version of me picked Cactaceae and other desert flora.  The Project's wishlist shot over to the wall beside me, where I directed my agent to copy it.  Curiosity started to get the better of me- Earth was frozen.  If the Project Administrators had me picking cactus, they must've been very optimistic about their chances to bring warmth to Mother Snowball.  This revelation started to warm me as well. Perhaps this mission would succeed, and I'd go home to my wife in a few objective hours and ask her about her day while I told her about my month.  I saw her in my mind's eye: even though she didn't understand my work, I think she'd understand the hope that bringing home cactus would indicate.  Oh, God! I love her. Loved her.

            The presentation ground to a cheerful close, noting that they would take my safely discovered body out of stasis as soon as we were away.  The Pilot got up, offered his hand and helped me to my slightly wobbly feet.  "You know why they didn't give you any happy juice?", he whispered conspiratorially. "It's because if you fall into the hands of our esteemed ancestors, they won't be able to use your body to manufacture narcotics...."  My eyes widened in abject horror. He laughed, and I hated him. "Just kidding," he guffawed.  "They're not that smart".  I hoped he'd die horribly.

             He was still laughing when we were strapped into our ship.  The ship was on a track that lead (relatively) downward to the edge of Uranus wheel.  There was a system of tubes and rails that would guide us to the exact exit point on the Wheel; casting us into the correct point in the past. The path we took through the Wheel determined our transrelativistic velocity. There were a couple of points between the hub and the rim where we'd have to use our engines- due to the relativistic mass gain approaching the rim, centripetal force would be canceled out in one or two zones.

            I closed my eyes and prayed fervently.  Funny, I was never religious before today..

            The silence pounded against my eardrums

            And then all of reality screamed in pain as some man, somewhere pushed a merciless button.

 

                If the Wheel was madness to behold, what can I say about actually riding it? Solid steel looked like sheets of candied plastic, plastic appeared to be stone. I heard warning lights and tasted sirens. They were hot like yellow. My heart pounded in my left foot without thinking.  I smelled the Pilot's fear...

            I smelled the Pilot's fear.  It stunk like death.  I felt the heat as we entered Earth's historic atmosphere,  I saw the gauges jump, I heard the warning tones.  My senses returned, embarrassed that they had taken a holiday at such a crucial time. I took a moment to forgive them, and then demanded that they tell me what was going on.

            The ship rocked

            "They aren't supposed to have those!" the Pilot yelled.

            "Who aren't supposed to have what?"

 

            "Aircraft!  High speed, heavily armed aircraft!  Earther's aren't supposed to have them in this timeframe!" 

            "We can outrun them, right?"

            He shot me a quick glance that probably would've been fatal had it lasted longer.  As it was, I heard a loud explosion, saw a crack in the hull and fainted.

            The smell of smoke brought me around again.  I looked at the Pilot... his glassy black eyes stared back at me.  A flash of guilt shot through me, and again, the anti-nausea medication did its job. His gangly arms were splayed over the controls, but his neck was bent in a way that let his lifeless eyes look into mine no matter where in the ship I went.  My sample cases were scattered all over the deck,  I needed to get outside.  I needed to do my job. I don't know how I was going to get to Luna... perhaps I will tell the Wheel Authority to send a rescue mission when I come out of stasis; they said they had my body, right?

            I sprung the hatch and walked out into the balmy moonlight.  I saw some cactus, good.  My mission could still go forward.  It was a mission of hope, right?  I walked toward the cactus, and admired its spiny defenses.  I wish that I had spiny defenses.   

            Suddenly, I saw bouncing lights and heard a dozen dragon's roars.  Huge ape-like things in green woven plant fiber uniforms jumped out of the noisy vehicles and pointed hollow metal tubes at me.  Rough, smelly hands shoved me into the back of a vehicle where more ape-things watched me with piggy little eyes.

            But I suppose you know that.  You were there, weren't you?  I apologize for calling you an ape-thing with piggy eyes, but you do see where I would get that impression.  You are much bigger than I, and hairier. I hadn't realized how much we had changed over the years; how colonizing other planets, like my own Mars, had made us so different from you here in this… Roswell place.  

            Your skin is a different color- you're pink and I'm grey- but underneath, we're both human.  We're both men. 

            Please, Congressman Kennedy- I need to get to the moon, so I can sleep.  So I can find my way home. 

    Can you help me?

 

The End Copyright 2009,2010 Republibot 2.0

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