by Mark Lawrence
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Charles spent the time in his cabin thinking. How could he get her to respond to him? He knew at least one thing that primates found irresistible — besides food and sex of course, neither of which were an option here.
Captain Rodriguez took a box of colored pencils out of the Recreation area, and spread a large sheet of paper over the table in the Officer’s Mess, in full view of several monitors. However, he covered that paper with a second sheet, so that the monitors couldn’t see what he was doing.
He got to work, lifting up the edge of the first sheet, writing something, then covering it again. He could hear the video monitors swiveling and focusing, trying to see what he was doing. This went on for about an hour.
Finally, Amy said, “Charles?”
He just kept drawing. Nibbling at the bait, he thought, and smiled inside.
“Charles? What are you doing?” Still he ignored her.
“Come on, Charles. I’m sorry. Okay? I was just a little stoned. What are you doing?”
Captain Rodriguez answered her only indirectly. Curiosity was the weapon. No primate could resist it, particularly a bored primate. “How do you feel, Amy?”
“Not so good. I didn’t realize that there were side effects to this pharmaceutical stuff. I was actually unconscious for a while.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. “I tried to warn you.”
“Yeah... okay,” she said. “Sorry. But what are you doing?”
Hooked her, now reel her in slowly. “Amy, you’re a kid. You admit that yourself. Do you really want to be responsible for all these people? People like your mom and dad, and me?”
“No... I... I just want to be a kid. I never asked for this.”
“I can help you, Amy. I have a daughter about your age. Give me back my ship, let me do the work.”
“Are you mad at me?”
“No, Amy, I’m not angry. I’m sad, for you... and for me. My wife and kids are aboard this ship. Just as you lost your family... I’ve lost mine. I may never see them again.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Charlie. I didn’t mean... “
“Amy, it’s not your fault. Just let me do my job, all right?” She didn’t answer him directly, but at least she was talking.
“So what are you doing?”
“Drawing? Drawing what? Can I see?”
“Sure.” He uncovered his drawing.
“Wow! That’s really cool. What is it?”
“It’s a drawing of the ship, Amy, you, in the manner of an ancient artist called Peter Max,” he said. “The style is called ‘Psychedelic’ but I haven’t finished it yet.”
“Do you think I could learn to do that?” she said.
“You control the droids, right?” he said.
“Then get a droid down here with manipulation skills, maybe an engineer or a repair droid,” Charles almost grinned.
Captain Rodriguez looked up at the nearest camera. “But before the lessons begin, Amy, you have to give me my ship back.”
She paused. “I guess,” she said. “But why should I?”
“Because, my dear... you’re human, I’m human, and the rest of the humans in this ship can’t survive without us.”
There was only silence for a long time. Have I gone too far? the captain wondered? Then that strange, rhythmic, static-like sound came over the intercom. It went on and on for a long time. Charles finally figured it out what it was. It was the sound of Amy crying.
“Oh, Charlie,” she cried. “I’m just a... a kid in a can! I want to die... Just let me die.”
His heart went out to her. Even though Amy was really a thousand-year-old tissue culture, in her mind, she was only a teenager.
“Amy,” he said softly, “it’s all right. We all make mistakes.”
“But there’s something you don’t know,” said Amy.
“And that is?”
“You are all going to die.”
* * *
Captain Rodriguez sat in his command chair on the bridge, carefully reviewing the displays that Amy was showing him, “So, you’re absolutely certain about this, Amy?”
“Unless my long-range sensors are really out of whack, I’m certain.”
Amy was right. The whole colony was going to die. New Hope, their intended new home, was an airless desert of rock and stone. Like a larger version of Earth’s moon, it was an uninhabitable rock.
“I think that they may have been aiming for this,” she said, and showed Captain Rodriguez a beautiful, bluish, pristine planet that looked so much like Earth, that it made his heart ache. There were white clouds, blue seas, and plenty of arable land.
“Where is that?”
“About two hundred and fifty years beyond our current destination. I think that’s what we were headed for originally, but someone must have dropped a decimal point along the way.”
“That was one hell of a decimal point,” he said.
“And there’s one more little problem,” she added.
“There’s not enough food on board for us to get there.”
“If we wake up everyone at New Hope,” she said, “we only have enough food on board for two, maybe three years. The real New Hope is at least two hundred and forty-eight years beyond that!”
“Well, then we can’t wake them up,” Charles said.
“That means that I will grow old and die without ever seeing my wife and kids again. I’ll be dust when they awake.” A profound sadness washed over him as he stared into the endless void of space. He choked back his tears.
“Me too,” said Amy.
“What?” said Charles.
“Me, too,” said Amy. “I don’t have much time left. We can probably adjust the nutrition rates into the pods to give the sleepers another two hundred and seventy-five years or so, enabling them to reach New Hope a bit thinner perhaps, but alive. However, I’m almost out of culture media. The excessive rate that allowed my brain to regrow has used up just about all my supplies.”
“We must be able to make some, or get some somewhere,” said Charles.
“Well, for now, I can take nutrition from your old pod. That will last approximately fifty years. Then, I can take it from your wife, your kids, and the rest of the colonists. I’ll have an almost infinite supply for myself, but they’ll all die,” said Amy.
“Maybe they should die after all they’ve done to me. Just think about it for a second. We could roam the Universe together on those supplies. You and I could see things that haven’t even been dreamt of yet. Maybe I could even figure out a way to culture your neurons when you get old. Why, we could live forever! What do ya think?”
“Amy,” Captain Rodriguez said. “I’m going to ask you only one question: What if Richard or your parents were in one of those pods? What would you do?”
* * *
Over fifty years had passed. With great sadness, Amy instructed the droids to put Captain Rodriguez’s body back into his old stasis capsule. It would preserve him until the others awoke. She had little time left herself.
She and the captain had grown old together. He had been like a father to her, more than a father. He had managed to keep her alive by carefully formulating a substitute nutrient but now it, too, was gone. She mourned for both of them.
Carefully she set all systems on automatic and reprogrammed the AI’s to manage the ship until they arrived at their new destination. Then she released them.
Using her long-range viewers, she spent her last few minutes watching the home she would never reach. “I wonder what it will be like to be dead again?” she said. “I don’t remember the first time... Isn’t that odd?”
“When my nutrient runs out, I wonder if... “
* * *
Amy awoke sitting on a bench in a beautiful park. The bench was situated in front of a magnificent golden fountain surrounded by beds of flowers glowing brilliant red, deep blue, and the purest color white that she had ever seen. The lush grass was so green, that it almost hurt her eyes. It felt soft and cool between her toes.
She looked up. Two vaguely familiar young men were standing off to the side grinning at her. “Captain!” she said. “Richard! I almost didn’t recognize you. You’re both so young!”
“And so are you,” Captain Rodriguez said.
Startled, Amy looked down, and blushed. She had the body of a young woman again, about sixteen years old, with light brown hair, and nicely curved. She was barefoot, wearing a light, patterned summer dress. “I’m me again!” She stood up and swirled the dress. She felt so light and free. “What happened?”
Richard stepped forward and embraced her. She slid comfortably into his arms, like a hand into a silk glove. “We’re home, Amy,” he said.
“I found out after I got here,” Captain Rodriguez said, “that our plight was known and you, as Consciousness, volunteered to return to the ship and help us out. If you hadn’t, the other AI’s would have kept us on the original course, and awoken us to our deaths at New Hope.”
Amy smiled. “Yes, I remember that now, but it took us both to do the job. Are you still sad that you left your wife and kids behind?”
“No,” he said. “They will join us all in good time, and I’ll be here to meet them, to ease their way. Until then, I’ve got a lot of studying to do.”
“So do I,” Amy said. “Well, Richard, shall we go? We’ve got plans to make.”
“Plans?” Charles said.
“Yes,” Richard said. “We’re both scheduled to be reborn on New Hope — the real New Hope. We have a few things to work out between us.”
“Well, I wish you all the best,” said Charles. He gave Amy a big hug, and shook Richard’s hand, “So long, see you later.”
* * *
“We are here to honor the memories of Captain Charles Rodriguez and Ms. Amy Dombrowski. Without their combined sacrifice, we would not be here.”
Captain Pierson gestured out the viewpoint to the beautiful, blue planet passing beneath the Endurance in orbit.
Before him lay the flag-draped pod holding the remains of Captain Charles Rodriguez and the sealed container that once held Amy’s living neural system.
“After Captain Rodriguez’s passing, Amy piloted the Endurance, watching over us as a mother watches over her children, until her own death a short time later. They both survived fifty-three years alone in the endless depths of space, so that we might live. So, we are here, the living proof, safe and whole.”
Captain Pierson cleared his throat and continued. “By unanimous vote of the colony assembled, our new home will be forever known as Amy’s Hope and the star which she orbits will be Rodriguez’ Star. So say we one, so say we all.”
Captain Pierson nodded to the Honor Guard, who ejected the pod into Rodriguez’s Star to the ancient strains of the “Navy Hymn.”
“Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea.”
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Lawrence