By: Adam Stump
After breaking free of the gravity of the third planet from Sol, the disk streaks across the sky. It passes Mars and then a belt of space rock, vaporizing and scattering any material in its path. Itself as large as a flattened planet, it passes Jupiter and its moons. It continues on, into an icy barrier, which melts into new comets without names as the radiant heat streams out of the ship.
Inside, he presses against the hand molds. The screen fills with charactersletters and words: The ship leaves the solar system, entering interstellar space at just below the speed of light. The destinationAlpha Centauri. What the ship will find there, unknown.
A smile creeps across the android's face as she pulls her head back from his. He is writing her own future. He is writing the ship's future. He is writing the culture's future. Her electronic synapses remember the genetic seeds contained in the myriad vaults in the bowels of the ship. They are untold stories, waiting for a new planet with a young sun to grow them into maturityinto fruition. The author is now the navigator who will take the seed to the waiting system.
He writes a new propulsion system into existence while fleshing out the corridors of the ship. New ribs and membranes grow, glistening with the mucous of the living ship. It grows and transforms into the characters he puts on the screen. One with the controls, his fingers press frenetically against the indentations before him as his eyes dart left and right across the screen. With each breath, his respiration tightens. His throat constricts and sweat begins to drip from him. He races with the speed of stars, typing more code into the machine. He works with the urgency of a dying civilization resting upon him.
He presses his eyes closed against the pressure at his temples. His fingers squeeze into the molds on the console as he gasps. The star "Alpha Centauri" flashes on the screen. The ship flies at 299 million meters per second. It doesn't groan, hesitate, or falter. It continues on, force field destroying any tiny rocks, ice, or debris before they connect with the hull. Beyond hunger, thirst, or desire, the journey takes place outside the passage of time. The android breathes a sigh of relief and her fingers pull away from his temples. He has written their destination and finalized their journey. Content that she has found the right navigator to ensure the precious cargo reaches its destination, she steps backward as his shoulders slump in exhaustion.
"What is this?" He raises his hands from the pads on the sides of the console. He yawns not from sleepiness, but from the boredom of writing the destination without detail. There is no flowery prose. There is no verbosity. It is done. Everything that he has written is technical. Descriptions of protons and neutrons. Chains of amino acid coding fill the script that he prepared for the giant, living machine. It is sterile, devoid of human emotion. Missing flesh. He has broken the boundary of the solar system. He has entered interstellar spacenot without destination, but with destination. Yet, he feels hollow, empty. He glares at the robot and extends his own fingers onto her temples, cheeks, and throat. She opens her mouth. He attempts to press his fingers into her temples.
I'm sorry. She's in his head again. You cannot go back. You cannot merge that way again. You can only go forward. You must evolve.
He grits his teeth and clenches his fist. This cannot be. He storms across the room and marches directly to the door. He presses his fist against it. He slams his palm against it. "Open! Open!" It does not.
The android returns to the dark alcove from which she came.
"No!" He runs to her. "No!" He caresses her face, paws at her. She remains silent, cold. No light shines in her eyes. She doesn't move. She doesn't shudder. He returns to his chair. He presses his hands into the molds. They do not respond. He closes his eyes and concentrates harder than he's ever concentrated before. The screen returns to alien script. Foreign gray, green, and yellow symbols dance across the screen.
"You have to do what I say! I'm the writer! I'm the author! I'm telling you what to do!"
The screen flashes the same symbols. The ship continues on its course. The android stays in her alcove. He slams his fist against the console. It blinks, then goes dark. He pushes the chair back and into the nothingness behind him. The room and hallway disappear. In front of him, he sees a screena star. The alien characters now make sense to him. He sees that the star can support life. He reads eons-worth of data in seconds, downloaded directly to his mind. Somehow, he knows all of this. He gasps as he steps back, into the woman in the alcove. No longer is she metal. She's flesh. She gasps as her head tilts back. Her head has no hair. Her eyes are chocolate brown, in contrast to his sky blue. Her flesh is the darkest brown, against his pale peach. She wears no clothes but needs none. Her skin glistens with the dew of the ship. She steps out of her alcove even as he proceeds to step into it.
Their lips meet. She gasps and her head tilts back as her eyes flash amber. He pulls her close as she folds her fleshy, snakelike fingers into his hair. He's sinewy and taught while she becomes softer with each embrace. The two moves backward into her alcove as a membrane fold across them.
As the disk enters the Alpha Centauri system, the man and woman emerge from their cocoon. Her belly is no longer soft, but round and firm. A dark brown line traces its way down her midsection. He steps forward, naked, but unashamed. The disk sets down on an unnamed planet orbiting in the habitable zone. The ship responds to their thoughts and pulls back its skin, revealing an opening and a ramp that extends down toward the surface. The man and the woman step out and walk down the ramp on bare feet. Their features are slightly compressed as the gravity and air pressure of the planet is greater than that of earth. Their eyes glow yellow as they set foot on their new homeunknown to earth or the alien culture. Seeds are deposited, which will grow into trees and animals and bacteria and viruses.
The man and the woman dig their toes into the brown soil, even as she grabs her stomach and groans in pain. He looks left and right, then back to the ramp into the ship. It lifts and she moans again. She crouches onto knees and palms and screams in pain, even as the first child is born onto the untouched soil of the new planeta child unlike any other, mingling blood and electronic impulse. Her eyes glow yellow even as she rises with her child and begins to walk toward a distant mountain range. His eyes burn with the golden glow of the sun as he stands on the planet. He opens his mouth and speaks words in an alien tongue as blades of grass begin to sprout from the dirt around his feet. He sees it is good, and smiles.
The monitor beeps rhythmically every few seconds. A green line plods across the gray screen with a sharp peak rising up with every beep. Cables and cords come down from the monitor and attach to a keypad strapped to a pole. There are hoses and bags of fluid hanging off the pole as well. Beside the pole with the hoses and bags, there is a chair. In the chair sits a woman with mousey brown hair and a white uniform. On her chest is a plastic badge that reads "Grace Fallow, RN." She looks down at a tattered paperback romance book on her lap. Her legs crossed; she bounces the upper foot distractedly. The only sound besides the beeping of the monitor is her jaws softly chewing gum.
Directly in front of her is a hospital bed with metal railings. The cables and cords from the keypad machine snake their way through the rungs of the railings and attach all over a man lying in the bed. His arms are strapped into restraints and his neck has a large foam roll wrapped around it. His face is swollen, and multiple electrodes and leads are connected around his head. A tube comes out of his nose and attaches to a pump on the wall that dumps thick mucus into a clear plastic bucket.
The room is quiet and sterile. A few medical charts with abbreviations, Rx's, dosages, and undecipherable vital numbers hang on the wall. There are no pictures, there is no television. No windows or walls are visible, just a cream-colored curtain that slides on metal hooks along a round track attached to the ceiling, leaving just enough room for the bed and medical accoutrements. There is no humanity in the room, only clinical necessity. This room exists solely to keep a human body alive. There is no nourishment for the mind or the soul in this room.
The silence is suddenly broken by the curtain being torn to the side. A man in a crumpled brown suit runs into the room. His tie has a small soy sauce stain on it from the egg roll he has just eaten. His hair is a sandy gray and his nose is a bit large and red from too many martini lunches. He hasn't shaved in three days and his eyes are glassy.
The nurse in the chair casually looks up at the frantic man. He is waving papers and a fountain pen in the air. At the top of the papers "Power of Attorney" is printed in bold letters. There are paragraphs of legalese and on the bottom, the signatures of John Ormond and Jack Isherwood appear scribbled in black ink.
"It has been three days!" Jack shouts.
"Sir," the nurse speaks between chews of gum, "you must keep your voice down in here." She stands up and places her hand on a railing of the bed.
"You have got to wake that man up! The doctors told me that he would be able to wake up!"
"I'm very sorry about your friend. He just- "
"'friend,' nothing!" Jack cuts her off with a laughing scowl. "This man is a cash cow! Don't you know that this is John Ormond, the famous novelist? He's the greatest writer our publishing house has! He emailed me three days ago to tell me that he had just finished the last novel in his Interstellar series and we were supposed to meet for lunch, then WHAM! He's hit by a car. Talk about fate! I don't know where the manuscript is. He's got to wake up and tell me so that we can get it printed. Call a doctor and get him in here to wake him up. I demand it!" With this last utterance, he waves the power of attorney papers in the nurse's face.
"Again, sir, I'm very sorry. That's simply not possible. His brain- "
"His brain is beautiful! He's the best living Sci-Fi author in the world! Millions of readers are waiting to see the final story that this beautiful brain cranked out!"
"Please! Let me finish, sir. His brain swelled in the night and he seized. Shortly after that, all brain wave functioning stopped. Your friend's mind is gone. The machines are keeping him alive. If you're the power of attorney, I'll go get the doctor so you can sign the forms to have him removed from life support."
The nurse squeezes past Jack and through the curtain. He stands at the foot of the bed, listening to the senseless beeps of the machines. The papers slowly waft out of his limp hands even as the fountain pen clatters to the floor. It cracks, and a small puddle of black India ink oozes onto the vinyl tiles at his feet.