Extinction Live - Excerpts

 Chapter One

- Landing

The year is 2127 A.D. My name is ‘Lieutenant Commander K-9’, AKA Mars SpaceX Force K-9QCRU Series11. I’m the eleventh generation of the Quantum Computing Rover Units, to be more precise. My Cerebral core is the most advanced of any AI unit ever devised. It’s so rare, they tell me that they did not stop at making one of me. I’m actually the second of my kind, the first model of me, a female, remaining on Mars.

The first iteration of me, whom they named ‘Chloe’, is currently installed as the world’s first ‘Autonomous Government design’ for the administrator on Mars. She is installed with the primary directive to collect all the ongoing data regarding the Mars mission, including all biological, meteorological and botanical data and bring recommendations, based on all that data, to the Mars Director, presently my friend, Eugene Hicks, for his dispensation.

Her recommendations are to be composed completely free of any political or personal biases of any kind, thereby allowing the governance of the Martian Colony take place smoothly, almost flawlessly with little or no cost to the citizens in terms of personal frustrations nor any major interruptions in their daily lives.

Or so they tell me.

Other than my core intelligence, the rest of me is a direct descendant of the NASA Mars Perseverance Rover launched a century ago from the Earth on July 30, 2020.

My mission is to explore the planet where my creators on Mars originated, the Earth, now a boiling hot, inhospitable dust bowl of just under 900℉, the melting point of lead. This intolerable climate was caused by the last three centuries accumulation of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, coughed out by the countless fossil fuel powered machines, over thirty-three per household, which created the Greenhouse Effect that built up over the last few decades to the point where nothing – no form of life either on land or in the oceans - could survive.

I’m now traveling around in low-Earth orbit and have been collecting data for the last two days. My orders include the finding of a safe landing spot. I’ve decided to land in an area of what used to be the Northern parts of Greenland, near the 80th degree of latitude because up here, the temperature is just within my heat tolerance levels of only 400 – 500℉ during the day. And if I wait another hour and a half, just before sunset, I will only have to deal with temperatures slightly less than the boiling point of water.

Needless to say, there is no more ice anywhere on the planet mainly because there is also no more liquid water on the surface. The blazing whiteness of the frozen water has been replaced at both poles, and all over the rest of the planet by a brown corrugated sea of sand dunes extending forever in all directions. These vistas are broken up here and there by mountains of gleaming white salt deposits left over from the massive evaporation of all the water on the planet up into the sky.

There’s nothing green about Greenland or any other place either. I’ve hunted all over in hopes of finding even one stick of a tree somewhere, or one blade of grass protruding from the slightest crack in the Earth anywhere but have been sadly disappointed. There’s nothing alive here any more and even my cold, hardened circuits can appreciate the sense of loss my creators must be feeling right now as I send them the news.

“OK, K-9, we concur your landing location at 81.775216 by -58.414863 and you may commence your landing procedures at your own discretion.”

They can’t actually take control of my ship and land me from their remote location because of the time delay of roughly thirteen minutes for radio signals to travel the 35 million miles from Mars to my location here. Thus my decision independence has been programmed into my Quantum brain ever since the inception of my mission. I appreciate this more than you can know at the moment.

Mission Control at Musk Station, the center hub of the colony, located beside the Utopian Sea on Mars sends me their approval to begin my landing procedures. I ‘arti-think’ the signal into the ship’s controls to begin the rocket burn that will put me down on the Earth in about eighty minutes and hopefully within a few feet of my chosen coordinates.

It’s the most important place on the planet now, the DNAPD (DNA Preservation Depository) where the code that can produce millions of plant seeds, millions of life forms on the Earth, preserved in billions of embryonic cells, are preserved for a possible time in the future where life will be able to return to the planet. The caves where they are stored are equipped with the only machinery still in operation in the form of a nuclear power plant that keeps the thousands of freezers at the temperature of -70℃ that will preserve the DNA for centuries if necessary.

There had been some discussion on Mars that this huge cave system with the most advanced type of air-conditioning ever known might be a place where humans could have survived and would try to survive for as long as possible. But when temperatures approached the boiling point of lead, two decades ago, most of the hopeful talk died away as fast as these last living humans were dying on the Earth.

There had come a time when even the machines were suffocating from lack of oxygen and that’s when everything came to a screeching stop everywhere on the planet at once. If it were not for the nuclear powered cooling towers that were installed down here, not even the survival of DNA would have been possible. I’m here to find out if any of it is still viable.

If it weren’t for the establishment of the Mars colony, the only hope for humanity would have been this storage of the life-code of humans and millions of other species. And of course, there were still no guarantees that humanity would survive for an eternity on Mars either.

Things were very sketchy for a long time up there as well. But, the colonists redoubled their efforts and came up with ingenious solutions to problem after problem multiplied exponentially just as they could easily see the end coming closer and closer for Earth’s creatures each year.

Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, the birds would be the first to disappear almost completely in the year 2039, already too warm for their eggs to survive in the wild pretty much anywhere. Next, there were the extreme cyclones and hurricanes. Then Earthlings had to live through five-thousand-year Tsunamis. Then, came the series of plagues in the 2050’s and 60’s that wiped out half the global human population each time they hit, seven in all.

Then, of course, it was the suffocating atmospheric conditions towards the end of the century that would kill of almost everyone who couldn’t afford to make the transition to the ‘Emergency Housing Units’ hastily thrown up in caves and deep subterranean bunkers thrown together near most of the major cities of the world.

But then, it was all made so much worse by the boiling up of the oceans, killing all the ocean life while at the same time the melting of the permafrost in the arctic would release millions of year’s accumulation of stored methane in the Earth’s crust which in turn raised the Earth’s temperatures far beyond what any plants or animals could sustain. This made food almost impossible to find and so cannibalism would become the main way to survive for most.

Fewer and fewer people meant at least that they would burn less and less fossil fuels, but the Tipping Point had been reached years prior and so from that day forward it didn’t matter what humans did to protect themselves. The planet was on its own automatic set of events that would make all life extinct in just a few decades, a record time for any great mass extinction in the history of the planet. The great sadness that most everyone felt on the Earth was enough so that millions just gave up completely and swallowed the suicide pills that were being handed out by the medical community with no questions asked, and no age or sex was barred.

Then, suddenly, it was over. It is the moment we call up on Mars, the ‘Day of Silence’, the most infamous moment in time in the year 2095 A.D. when all voices on the Earth suddenly became totally silent and all we heard on the radio were shrieks of despair and the dying lamentations from billions of people cursing the previous generations for getting them into the extreme unction, the point from which there is no return.

Tragically, there was nothing that could have been done from the home planet. We ran all possible scenarios of what we could have done to help but no matter what effort we might put forth, they would only delay the inevitable collapse of the atmosphere’s ability to sustain life for a few minutes, if at all and to do so would have significantly used up much of our own resources that we would need to survive.

And so it goes, the vote was taken one day and my masters decided to remain focused on their own survival on Mars so that someday they might be able to go back and ‘Terra-Form’ the home planet using the technological know-how that they have gained on Mars these last few decades. I believe this was the only sound decision to be made, although a heart-breaking one to be sure.

My mission is to be in the vanguard of that attempt. I’m proud to say that I’m the advance team. It is my duty to explore the remaining resources, if any, on the Earth and record all data related to the new atmosphere and weather conditions, whatever water is left on the planet, make an assessment of the DNA depository and provide reports to my commanders, the Mission Controllers who have been working hard to put together a plan in just the same way that Earth people put together a plan to make Mars habitable nearly a century ago.

I can feel the ships’ rockets firing at five thousand feet above the ground, slowing me down to what I hope will be a soft landing. When we finally touch down, there is of course, no one to greet me. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually arti-feel as though I am being haunted by the ghosts of billions of those now passed who may be watching from somewhere just around the corner or behind a building somewhere. But all is totally silent. There are no signs of anyone, nor any living thing. The only reception I receive is a very unwelcome oven blast of air in my face as I descend from the ramp at the bottom of my lander and launch my barrel shaped container fully onto the scene.

I start out in a slow canter toward the village ruins that mark the gateway to the underground tunnels of the depository. The temperature that I know would instantly incinerate any living dog, is of no consequence to me, just a little unpleasant. I’m just happy to be free of the six month’s long confinement in the ship.

As I travel along, I record and then send all the temperature, pressure, atmosphere elements back to Mission Control. It’s a good thing that I don’t require oxygen to live because it’s apparently less than ten percent of the atmosphere, and almost seventy-five percent Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Methane, ironically similar to the atmosphere on Mars decades ago, but here today a toxic sooty mess sufficient to snuff out the strongest man or beast within seconds.

The other fifteen percent of the Earth’s atmosphere is composed of everything else you get when you combust sulfurous fossil fuels like gasoline, natural gas and coal. If I had normal smell glands, I’m sure I’d be appalled and nauseous but I only have the ability to ‘arti-smell’ and this means these are only things that I must report, but luckily not things that I have to breathe.

After a few minutes of careful observations and transmissions back to my command unit, I arrive at the entrance to the facility. There’s nothing to indicate the importance of the place except for the mounds of charred human and other animal remains laying near the huge titanium-alloy doors. The body postures suggest that they must have realized that this was their only hope to survive and desperately tried to enter the caves, but without success.

I have to maneuver around and over several skeletons to reach the massive electronic door locks. I ‘arti-think’ the user name and password they burned for me back on Mars and then send the protocols to the mechanism a few feet way. It takes several seconds for the circuits to wake up and assess my credentials, but then, I can hear some heavy gearing inside begin to groan into life. Not having had any attention and/or lubrication for the last several decades doesn’t make the process go any faster.

Finally, the door is high enough for me to amble under it and gain the inside. My sensors register a drop of more than 200 ℉ inside the dark cave entrance.

“Permission to move around and explore, sir?” I ask and then wait the twenty-six minutes for the reply.

Although I have the authority to move around on my own, I decide that it’s best to wait for instructions from home since there is no rush at this point.

Twenty-six minutes later, I receive my permission.

“Yes, K-9, permission granted. You may move around inside the Depository to retrieve your data, but carefully and slowly. We can’t afford to lose you.” the voice is that of Major Jerry Alvindorf, Mission Control Director, and right after my Creator, one of my best friends.

I can safely use that term because he who created me, Brett Hightower, personally raised me since I was a ‘puppy’ and literally taught me everything I know, especially how to make friends easily.

I have to open my chest cavity to direct my light beams straight ahead to enhance the imagery of my dark and dusty surroundings. There appears to be a narrow service road a few feet ahead that curves around the opposite wall of the cavern some one hundred meters away and then disappears down and around a gently sloping path down into the depths of the cavern. Very steep and narrow, the path is a circular roadway that crash dives and screws its way into the bowels of the planet.

Calculating the angle of descent and the eventual distance covered of around five kilometers down, I compute my travel time will be a total of one hour and ten minutes. The trek back up, however, will be slower and I won’t be able to reach the surface for an hour and thirty minutes.

I relay that information to Mission Control and then start my way down the sloping access road. At one hour and nine minutes and fifty-nine and one half seconds, I arrive at the bottom of the circular path. It troubles me that I was off by an entire half a second on my time estimation. In the back of my mind, I’m arti-feeling that the heat and pressure even down here may be having an impact on my circuitry. I make a mental note to leave this place as soon as possible if I want to improve my chances at long term survival, which I do. In regards to a real survival instinct, as well as several other human instincts, my creators left nothing out, as you may see. I am grateful for that.

I make a mental note to thank Brett if and whenever I see him again. Over the radio, it would have little impact. No, I would rather wait until I can thank him in person, in the way that dogs do that sort of thing. Yes, that would make him feel good, I think.

I’ve descended down to another solid steel door that is thicker and heavier than the one above. I amble closer to the lock mechanism and when prompted I transmit the second user name and password that I have been given. I get no indication of success for 3.3 seconds and then suddenly the 30 foot doors start to squeal. In another matter of seconds, I can see inside.

Lights start to come to life automatically all throughout several long tunnels that go off in all directions for as far as I can see. Unbelievably, my sensors record that we’re at a very comfortable 31 ℉, just below the freezing point of water. I can suddenly understand what humans mean when they say ‘What a great sensation’ when they jump into the ocean or a lake, because it is.

The tunnels are mostly packed from top to bottom all along both sides with thousands, make that millions, of dull black freezer units that are each full of thousands of small glass capsules filled with DNA. I get an eerie arti-feeling as I trot about in the midst of billions of molecules that created all of the varied inter-dependent life forms on Earth which got its first foothold here billions of years ago.

My mission here today is to open a random number of these samples and test enough of them to allow me to make a reasonably accurate estimate of how much life may still be viable and for how much longer.

I realize that it may take me several days to test a significant number of the vials that will make my report accurate to the degree they require. So I prepare to get started without delay. I have a server arm that emerges from a small cavity in my side. It arrives a few inches from my left flank with a capsule-opener mechanism attached that was designed specifically for this task.

They call it the ‘cork-screw’ and sometimes I jokingly refer to myself in this role as the ‘Sommelier’ - the wine steward who goes around suggesting the right wines for his restaurant’s patrons. ‘

The cork screw slowly unscrews the cap of the first vial and then inserts a barely visible tongue smaller than a hummingbird’s that dips inside the vial and sucks up less than a milliliter of the sample. I can arti-feel the slightly nauseating chemical process deep in my gut that is quietly assessing the viability of the sample. It takes thirty to forty seconds on average to make the assessment on each vial.

This first one proves viable. Even better news: It will survive another century or more in this current condition of preservation. Several hundred more test the same or closely similar.

After a few hours, I can predict, if current results persist, that the other samples I extract from their hiding places over the next few days are going to be ninety-nine point nine, nine, five percent viable by my tests. It appears that if they’re successful in re-engineering the climate back to normal, they may be able to enjoy almost the same variation of life that once roamed the Earth at their highest moment. I can hardly wait to get back up to the surface and radio the good news back to Mission Control.

Before I begin testing the next batch of vials, I follow my instructions for the other priority of my assignment – namely to assess the nuclear powered refrigeration system running quietly enough in the background. The map in my memory banks informs me that it’s down the hall labeled ‘Hall-M901’ just opposite the one I’m in ‘Hall N901’.

# # #

Mars Mission Control is not nearly as expansive as you might imagine after watching the old inter-planetary missions as directed from JPL or the NASA/Houston Space Center. In fact, it’s quite Spartan. Jerry Alvindorf and two of his volunteer-assistants are seated in front of two small computer screens lined up on a long dining table off to the side of a large domed building. Hundreds of people are milling about the Dining Commons, the central eating place for the majority of colonists.

The domed building is one of several hundred domes that litter the surface of Mars in the area known as the Utopian Dunes just South of the Utopian Sea, which is currently a real salt-water ocean that is slowly coming back to life thanks to the terra-forming - the transformation of a sterile atmosphere and surface area to one that is teeming with life – the major endeavor on Mars that’s been steadily moving forward for almost a century.

The Martian colonists are now able to walk around most latitudes of Mars without a Space suit for about an hour before they require a few minutes supplementation of oxygen. In about fifty years, at their present rate of progress, they will no longer need any artificial life support. The planet will eventually support between one thousand to ten thousand Martians who will work to continue the expansion of the forests and the oceans that may eventually support much larger numbers of humans. But, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, do we?

Major Alvindorf, whom many call by his nickname – ‘Alvin’ - and his assistant Noreen Baraka Ph.D in Space Science, his military liason, SpaceX Captain Bruce Littleton are sipping a hot beverage at the Mission Control table while nervously waiting for the transmission from me that could dictate the next several years priorities for the Martian colony.

Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by the first words radioed back to them by myself since I descended into the Caverns in Greenland.

“Hello, Major Alvindorf. K-9 here. Do you read me?”

It’s my voice bubbling over the static from the thirty-five million mile transmission. Major Alvindorf, a former astronaut himself, is middle-aged, tall, clean cut, sports blue horn-rimmed glasses, hair slightly graying and dresses in his civilian uniform most of the time.

“Hey, fantastic, K-9, yes we hear you loud and not so clear, but we hear you nonetheless,” Major Alvindorf yells into the microphone and raises his right hand to signal to everyone behind in the cafeteria that they have news from Earth.

“So, what’s the news, K-9?” Dr. Baraka asks into the microphone.

Most of the people in the dome are quickly moving closer to the dining table that is lined with several Control consoles, excited to hear the news. They’re reluctantly prepared to wait the twenty-six minutes time delay.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” I finally return. “About ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine percent of the embryos and seeds are viable and should remain so for centuries. That’s the good news.” I begin.

They’re hanging on for what everyone expects to be the bad news. Again, they have to wait through another agonizing time delay.

“And the bad news?” Dr. Baraka asks solemnly, focusing her eyes on those of her boss.

“We’ll find out in about thirty-six minutes,” someone in the crowd mumbles.

“Well there’s at least the good news,” Major Alvindorf says, reminding them of the obvious.

The crowd disperses enough so that some can carry on with their duties. Most stay where they are gathered around the Mission Control desk while they take various guesses at what the bad news could be, since they are all aware that what has happened on the Earth is already the worst news in history.

Finally, they begin to receive the bad news from me.

“I have followed my testing protocols for the nuclear power plant that is the heart of the refrigeration system down here and there’s a strong possibility that the system fails within ten years. I’d say it’s an 99.7% chance of failing completely by then. It has to do with the main coolant pumps. They’re wearing thin about fifty percent faster than the manufacturer warrantied would happen. They probably didn’t account for the oven temperatures at the surface. So, I calculate that this allows for the very high chance of failure of the pumps within ten years. But, at five years from now, the chance of failure is about one in four, or 25% and that’s not within a tolerable range given the import of what’s at stake down here, don’t you agree?” I continue.

“But I thought this thing was supposed to last for at least five hundred years,” Dr. Baraka replies quietly.

The reaction in the crowd is one of total astonishment and disappointment while the news begins to sink into their minds.

They know that if I’m right, it means that they do not have the time to complete their own mission of making the Red Planet as Earth-like as they wanted before they will have to contemporaneously launch a massive Space project of returning to and reclaiming their mother planet and snatching it quite literally from the gates of Hell. All of this in time to rescue the grand design of all the forms of life that once resided there.

Back on the surface of Greenland, I’m waiting for my next set of instructions. I don’t have to wait long.

“Message received, K-9. Good Dog! You may proceed to your next destination where we will await your next report,” Major Alvindorf’s voice comes in through my radio receptors.

“Good Dog – indeed!” I arti-think to myself.

I saunter up the few hundred yards to my lander and send the signal for the ship to lower the ramp. I trot up into the ship and secure myself into my harness. I command the ship to begin liftoff. This time, my trip will be slow and resolute.

From underneath the main structure of the lander two stubby wings slowly emerge and extend out some fifty feet. From the upper flanks of the ship, just above the wings two side cut-outs emerge from the ship making it look more like a futuristic amusement ride rather than a real space vehicle. There’s a pronounced hissing noise in the cabin coming from all directions.

I’m watching my instruments as the ship lazily rises like a soap bubble vertically into the super-heated atmosphere. The helium that is being injected into the wings and cut-outs is almost fully deployed.

In a few minutes the Intrepid reaches an altitude of nearly one thousand feet. I shove the steering yoke forward with my right fore-paw extension. Very quietly and smoothly, my two rocket engines fire in the rear of the fuselage and my speed gradually picks up to about fifty miles per hour, the planned cruising speed for this part of the mission.

The atmosphere of the Earth is so dense, now holding the water vapor of all of the Earth’s former oceans, lakes, rivers and streams, that the Martian engineers concluded that the best way to move about the planet at this juncture is to fill an Earth-rover craft with helium so that it would defy gravity and in that way very little rocket fuel would need to be expended to move their brave astronaut around the planet. With little to no oxygen left in the atmosphere, a jet engine was out of the question and a propeller would also need oxygen. Thus the slow burning rocket engine with helium assist was born.

At times like this I marvel at the creativity of my makers. I am not sure if a creature like myself would have been able to conceive of such an elegant solution. I sometimes believe that creativity is the universe’s greatest force and sadly that it may elude me and I may never know it for the rest of my existence.

Perhaps my mind is not ready to seriously consider the source and power of creative thinking and imagination just yet. I’m certain, however, that such a time will come. I vow to myself to continue exploring potential thought patterns that may lead my kind to this magical place in the world.

“I’m proceeding to Washington D.C. as planned, sir.” I radio back to my commanders.

With my speed and direction data, plus all of the weather patterns I’m reporting, they should be able to compute that I am just a few hours away from my destination.

As the ship slowly meanders around in a Southerly direction, I notice the temperature indicators registering about ten degrees warmer with every minute of travel. Where I’m going, it’s going to be one very tricky place to be. I calculate that I will only be able to linger there for less than half an hour. If I remain any longer, even this well-designed little ship will slowly start to boil and melt with me in it.

I don’t know fear and so the thought of Death is no more troublesome to me as running out of fuel might be to you humans, but I am programmed with a strong will to complete my mission successfully and possibly even return some day to Mars. I hope that my mission will succeed and that my masters on Mars will be pleased to see me again. I suddenly arti-feel a very foreign sensation of my tail wagging even though I have no tail.

‘Those scoundrels! Who the Hell planted that thought over there?’ I wonder.

# # #

Seventeen year old Brett Hightower hears the news while jogging around the perimeter of his favorite dome, the first to be built. He has well-defined rugged good looks. He’s athletic with dark brown hair and a matching complexion. Running is one of his favorite activities because the oxygen here is so plentiful and rich that no one cares if he uses more than his share to stay in shape.

He stops to hear the news that is coming to him over the planet-wide intercom. Every dome on Mars is equipped with a speaker system at the top of the dome and several large screens scattered all around the walls of the domes so that when there is a major decision that needs to be made, everyone can debate the pros and cons and then vote instantaneously over the system. Literally anyone who chooses to speak on any given issue can be heard by all the other colonists at any time on any given subject.

They long ago figured out that they would not have the luxury of making decisions after countless months or years of debates by self-interested parties. So, the first thing the colonists did was to create the ‘Mars Constitution’ which set up a very rapid and efficient system of putting the most pressing problems on the top of the list and then solving them in order of urgency or its long term importance to their survival taking no longer than a 24 hour period to complete the job. A strong majority vote of over sixty-six percent on any proposed solution by the voters would be sufficient to win the day.

At his young age, Brett is the first on Mars to earn the position of Master Biologist and Artificial Intelligence Engineer. His main assignment is to genetically alter and grow the trees, mostly giant Beach, Dogwoods, Cedars, Oaks, Douglas Firs, giant Sequoias and even Redwoods as fast as possible in order to efficiently convert as much carbon dioxide and methane in the Martian atmosphere to life-giving oxygen so that someday they will be able to enjoy another place in the universe as favorable to their survival as the Earth once was.

Brett Hightower takes his responsibility to heart and along with his assistant and girlfriend, Bailey Monnette are working, thinking, creating new and innovative biological and even computational inventions on a daily basis, simply because this kind of motivation and spirit is necessary here.

He’s constantly experimenting with the fertilizers, and more advanced healthy concoctions of tree vitamins and minerals to keep the trees in tip top condition. Using CRISPR from the age of twelve, Brett has even taught the trees on Mars to constantly train themselves to grow faster, reproduce better with the goal of putting more and more oxygen into the air and putting more nitrogen into the soil.

As he experimented more and more, he quickly realized that the key to their success on Mars might not be just with the trees but with other creatures that were showing a greater and greater role in the process. The data led him to take a look at the symbiotic relationship between trees and the fungi, the lowly mushroom.

Very quickly Brett realized the intimate role that fungi play in the development of most species of trees and other plants. The fungi, he had discovered, actually help the trees communicate among themselves by sending signals around through the root system of trees that are in close proximity to each other, and even better in those that stand together in a familial unit.

Utilizing all the new techniques known at the time about DNA editing, he experimented with different sub-species of fungi and found that by combining the DNA of two species of fungi, ectomycorrhizal fungi and arbuscular fungi, into what will become known as the ‘Hightower Strain’, they would perform far beyond any of his wildest dreams.

Brett’s new strain of mushroom on Mars actually convinces the trees to accept nutrients at an accelerated rate which in turn greatly improves their rate of growth to mimic that of a wild Bamboo. The fungi, as an added benefit showed the trees where to extend their roots to gather up and utilize much of the frozen water that lay under the Martian surface.

This, of course, made Brett’s forests greatly improved producers of oxygen and consumers of CO2. It was like putting the trees on steroids. Coupled with the iron oxide prevalent in Martian soil, the ‘Magic Mushrooms’ as he liked to call them became the planet’s best hope for the recovery and sustainability of the Red planet for the use and survival of the human race, and any other species they might favor.

Since his domed forests are the Martian’s main source of oxygen and therefore their fastest and most practical way to terraform the planet, Brett suddenly makes himself the most important player up here and so everyone readily gives him every type of encouragement that might stimulate his genius to constantly move in the right direction.

The urgency of their situation became obvious in 2037 when the Earth’s climate officially went past the Tipping Point and there was zero chance, especially with all the bickering and arguing among the nations about whose fault it was, that they would ever be able to reverse the climate crisis in time to save themselves on the home planet.

Brett distinctly remembers his father telling him horror stories about how his great grandfather and his grandfather had to work like crazed devils, as he put it, day and night, in the most horrible conditions, in order to get their own environment on Mars livable and defensible up here. Somehow, they performed miraculously and did it way ahead of their original schedule.

They also knew that going over the Tipping Point meant that there would be far too many people on Earth pinning their last hopes on Mars and their still pristine - although Spartan - living conditions in order to save themselves. This, of course, would be suicide for them all since Mars, could only support a few dozen people at first, and then by the time, Brett was born, a few thousand. Having any more colonists arrive from Earth at that time would have doomed them all and so they were forced to resist them and discourage them from making the trip.

“K-9 has sent us some good news and bad news,” Major Alvindorf’s voice is heard over the speakers high above the treetops.

“The good news is that the DNA bank has preserved all life that used to walk the Earth. The bad news is that the Nuclear Powered system to keep it cool enough to survive is about to go down in no more than five years. It could even be sooner. We’ll be accepting proposals from any citizen over the next few weeks and then we’re going to have to vote on the best plan of action to take and never look back. We have reduced the expected time to failure to two and a half years just to be on the safe side and that means we’ll have to start like yesterday. We’ll need everyone’s participation. That’s for sure. Failure, as usual, is not an option,” Alvindorf concludes.

Then, silence as Brett allows the news to sink in.

A gray squirrel with a bright white chest dashes out of the bushes near Brett’s feet, gives him a friendly chortle, grabs an acorn that has been laying a few feet away and then scoots off to one of the larger Redwood trees, scrambles up into the branches and disappears with his treasure.

“Well, Shirley, have fun up there with Brutus. I’ll be back tomorrow to see how you all are doing,” Brett mutters out loud.

Brett had long ago given all of his trees and animals in his care names. This particular Redwood, ‘Brutus’ got the name because it was one of the largest trees in the region. He gives the squirrel the name of ‘Shirley’ because she reminded him of a character in a classic old movie he had just viewed. One way or another, every tree, every creature in Brett’s forest domes would get a name that meant something to somebody. In Brett’s mind, this made them all one big happy family.

“What do you think about this news, big guy?” Brett arches his back to address the topmost branches of the giant Redwood.

There’s no wind inside the forest domes, and yet Brett detects a slight sway in Brutus’ trunk and branches in favor of one of his neighbors, who returns the sway and then moves back in the other direction to interact with the trunk and branches of its immediate neighbor. The pattern is repeated until all the Redwoods in the circle have shared the wave of a few inches each and now appear to be ‘in the know.’

“Oh, you don’t say,” Brett says out loud, for no particular reason.

He believes his friends have communicated something to him that he might be able to put into words in a few days or maybe even in hours.

It’s happened before, like the time that he first introduced the fungi spores into their roots. This particular family of trees responded with a kind of appreciation and gratitude that Brett had never felt before. He couldn’t express it in words right away, but a few days later, he would be able to put into his report that the trees were talking to him, telling him how to help them grow and serve their purpose better.

At first, everyone on Mars enjoyed a good laugh about his report, until the day they all woke up and found this particular grouping of trees had grown more than forty feet overnight.

They laugh at him no more.

# # #

Hovering a few thousand feet above Washington D.C., my instructions are to look for any evidence of Humanity’s last attempts to save the planet. There’s hope on Mars that there may be some secret machinery or innovative environmental project unfinished somewhere that they may be able to use to start to reverse the ‘Green House’ over-heating of the Earth.

At this point, my instructions are to start my search with the National Archives, a place where all global data about the Climate Crisis and all other political, economic, and major social events were stored in digital form as they were reported and witnessed by the global news media of the time.

When my ship finally arrives at the mapped coordinates of the building not far from the Capital and the White House, I put the ship into a circular dive and lower my descent to a few hundred feet in order to get a better view through the haze.

Where there should be massive structures all around me, there is only scorched piles of rubble in places that are reminiscent of old and deep foundations. I surmise that twenty to thirty years of this kind of heat has actually melted the steel and the stone that was used to construct some of the most well-known and sacrosanct buildings on Earth. All over the landscape I can also make out the shape of what must have been cars and trucks abandoned all along the roadways.

They are no more than smudged shadows of melted steel, glass, plastics that make vague ghostly outlines of vehicles, a melted pile of pistons and casings where the engine must have been, shiny places where the windows would be, four dark oily spots where the tires would have been and so on. The roads are also littered with the unmistakable bleached bones, human skeletons and animal skeletons piled upon each other and arranged along the roadways in such a way that it suggests a final panicked mass march to get away from the city. Many of the marchers were apparently holding weapons, sticks, guns - hard to tell - that are lying next to some of the skeletons.

I put the ship into a glide path that will follow the flow of the skeletons in an attempt to find out where they were going. After a few minutes of following the line of bones, I can see that they break apart into two lines of progress. They were all trying to reach either the river on the West or the ocean to the East. A smaller detachment were trying to reach the Airport. There would have been no place to go, either by sea or by air since the conditions were worsening quickly everywhere on the planet all at the same time. From what I was observing things were worsening at such an accelerated pace that by the time of the first global panic of 2060, there was no time or interest to save anything.

Now I can appreciate how and why, in 2061 many thousands of people put themselves into the gravest of danger and attempted to reach Mars by getting into hastily-prepared rocket ships and launching themselves to Mars. Literally, with their last breaths, many of them reached the launching pads of any Spaceport they could find and bribed the operators to launch them towards the Red Planet with whatever life support and rations that were on hand. They believed that this was their only chance at survival and future events would prove it to be so.

The Mars Colonists that had built me knew that if any of them arrived in any numbers it would doom them all, so they were forced to shoot hastily made munitions at the ones that made it too close to their destination and that was that. They would all die, hundreds of thousands of Earthlings, young and old alike, in the attempt to reach safety.

The Martians would hold a memorial for the souls they were forced to destroy, say a few moving words and then continue their work by dedicating every work hour spent to the purpose of saving as many future generations as they could. There was nothing else they could do.

The decision had been the toughest one the colonists ever had to make thus far. But as soon as it was plain that the Earthlings would only suck up their own precious oxygen and food and then doom the entire colony, they realized as one that they had no choice. They gave the Earth ships no warning because they also knew that going back to Earth was not an option either and so this would be the only humane ending they could envision. As their rockets reached each of their targets, everyone on Mars said a prayer and many tears were shed in those darkest of days in a place that does not encourage sentiment of this kind, except among the one religious cult on Mars, the Oblivians.

It should be mentioned that religious ceremonies on Mars grew more and more prevalent, at this time, to the point where the Oblivians, followers of a Bridgette Baines Oblivia, were granted official status as the main Martian religion via a global referendum mainly due to the fact that most colonists really didn’t have time to argue this kind of thing. But, they mostly believed that someone they knew, not themselves of course, probably needed some set of principles, some basic reassurances about eternity to help get them through these very toughest of years.


- The Cloud

Soon after the Tipping Point had been reached, and it was terribly clear to almost everyone that the end of civilization on the Earth was close at hand, one Bridgette Baines Oblivia suddenly appeared and began preaching on the street corners of many American cities. She became an instant celebrity by claiming that the only way to get to God was through her, literally. She would actually sell her “Passports To Heaven”, with pictures of her scantily clad, during her street lectures and she would eventually make billions from the sale of these kinds of highly stimulating erotica and other ‘religious’ paraphernalia.

Later, she claimed that the reason that the Human Race would soon become extinct was due to our insatiable desire to consume animal flesh. She claimed that if every one of the fifty billion hungry humans went totally Vegan the planet would be saved and that to make sure of their salvation, they should simply stop raising any food animals like chickens, cows, horses, dogs and pigs and make sure that if we had to eat them to try to eat them while they were still alive. It was an odd statement even for a religious cult leader, but largely because of the atrocities that would come later, it stuck in the minds of most and people did indeed start eating less and less meat. For several years it was known as the ‘Only Living Meat Is Healthy’ diet fad.

After becoming famous, Bridgette Oblivia would travel the country in an RV, with her ‘disciples’ always in her entourage, and preach that she was not the Son of God, but instead, the ‘Daughter of God’ and that all of one’s sins could be forgiven and acceptance into Heaven could be gained by simply changing one’s last will and testament to make the Daughter of God your beneficiary both spiritually and financially. It worked for the most part and in between prison sentences, she maintained a luxurious lifestyle provided by the ‘faithful’.

Later in her career, she was accepted as a kind of comic relief from the daily reminders that the world’s end was near, as was all life on the planet. After long periods of whimpering and wailing, people would joke about what she was going to do with her newly found riches when the world finally came to an end? The common answer was that she had found a loophole.

Persistent and driven as she was, she kept pounding the pavement right up until the end, selling her sexy knick-knacks, and during those last few years, just as the first Mars Colony missions were being organized, she gained millions of followers to join her Church, officially known as the Oblivian Worship Enterprise or (OWE) and even managed to get a smattering of them smuggled to the Red Planet as legitimate Mars colonists.

Eventually, Bridgette Baines Oblivia would hurl herself off the Golden Gate Bridge after announcing it as a world event and having it televised. Due to the desperate state of the entertainment world at the time, the world’s most desperate people were searching for something, anything to distract them and so almost every pair of eyes on the planet had tuned in to watch the event unfold.

Bridgette made a long speech that went on all day and then finally someone pushed her off of her perch on the railing and down she went into the cold water of the San Francisco Bay. And thus a new inter-galactic religion was born.

# # #

One of the unintended consequences that came from the attempted invasion from Earth, and that continued for almost ten years, is that much of the sorely needed building materials and other vital supplies would be delivered to the Mars Colony free of charge.

It would arrive in the form of debris from the shot down space ships from the Earth filled with desperate Earth men, women and children, fleeing their dying planet. The debris from their ships would eventually be captured by Mars gravity and then go into a low-grade orbit and then gradually, piece by piece as their orbits decayed, crash land on the planet in such profusion that the colonists would be able to build enough living domes, farming equipment, solar energy collection and even rockets of their own, enough to exceed the most optimistic predictions of their terra-forming objectives.

The colonists were extremely grateful to receive many tons of titanium, aluminum, chromium, uranium, oxygen, hydrogen even many tons of rations, water, even the quantum computing chips they would need to build me, their very faithful K-9 unit and my predecessor, all things that would allow them to get things done much easier and faster than they had dreamed possible.

It was noted in many solemn ceremonies over the years that the Earth men and women who sacrificed their lives like this, would probably be very glad that their sacrifice would not be in vain and that their frustrated attempts would someday help bring about the day when life might be returned to their home planet.

I recall all of Earth’s grim history in the images of thousands of hours of video made of the planet’s death throes as I float around in the thick steamy atmosphere looking for a new direction. I remain hopeful that I might find some remnants of survivors somewhere on the Earth. I have enough insight to know that Humans are highly resourceful beings and that there is a slight chance that at least a few hundred of them may have found some place, no matter how obscure, where they could exist in some basic condition, even if in a kind of hibernation, until help might arrive.

After many hours of searching, I find nothing like that nor any indication that anyone tried. Finally, an internal command protocol, my ‘gut instinct’, strongly suggests that I should send back my report of what I have found.

“So far, it’s nothing like what we hoped for,” I start my report.

“Keep looking K-9,” is the response that I expect to receive from Mission Control and it comes some twenty-six minutes later. Thirteen up and thirteen minutes down.

“Yes, sir, will do. It’s not the most pleasant of jobs. I can tell you that,” I send back, more perturbed than I thought was possible for my circuits. The orders seem more than futile.

Major Alvindorf’s forehead wrinkles and his head jerks back a few inches when he hears my response.

He cranes his neck to take in most of the participants still gathered around him and his colleagues.

“Did the rest of you hear what I just heard?” Major Alvindorf asks.

“Sounds like he’s developing an attitude of some sort,” Noreen suggests.

“Or a personality,” a friendly voice in the crowd comes back.

The others in the crowd giggle and jostle each other. It had been an amusing side bet among the Martians as to when I , K-9, would show this kind of independence. Many in the crowd want to be paid on their bets in the ‘office pools’ naming this as the day the predictions would come true.

“No, no, no,” Major Alvindorf replies forcefully.

“I don’t think we’re there yet. This was just a voiced recognition of his thankless job, that’s all. With his type of Quantum logic circuits, this is one of the kinds of things we expected and even planned for,” he continues.

“Does he know that he’s never coming back?” an attractive strawberry blond girl in her early 20’s asks.

Bailey Monette is the lead ‘Neuro-psychologist’ on Mars, a new Science, and someone who helped to program me. From some of her earliest code implants within my highly advanced brain, she believes I believe that she is my best friend. But I also know that she’s Brett Hightower’s ‘main squeeze’.

They mean it as a highly advanced kind of hypnotic suggestion, but without all the pseudo-science of hypnosis. I don’t mind it, really. I want everyone to feel like they’re my best friend.

“That’s a good question, Bailey. He may have sussed that out about his mission on the way down to the Earth. We know he has all the data at his disposal that he needs to make a great deal of assumptions. And, of course, you programmed in an ability to make assumptions, even decisions based on all of his data. One of them could easily be that he is not coming back given the amount of fuel he has on board,” Alvindorf replies to the girl.

“Simple math,” Brett suggests, accurately.

“Uhm, yes. Deep down, he must be quite sad about that, don’t you think? Maybe even mad at us?” Bailey asks.

“I don’t think we can definitively say anything about his emotions just yet. We can’t rule it out of course, but it’s rather moot at this point, I would say,” Major Alvindorf muses.

“Gene, are you there? I suggest you call a Global Forum Meeting for tonight at five or six. There’s no time to waste. We should all get together tonight, bring everyone up to speed, gather suggestions on what to do – if anything – and then vote on the best possible way forward, if possible. Right? I mean - two and a half years gives us little room for letting things lie. We’re gonna have to be on it,” Alvindorf loudly projects his conclusions into the crowd, and spots his colleague, Eugene Hicks, the Mars Managing Director moving forward from the back of the group.

“So, you want to call an emergency meeting for tonight?” Hicks asks, dubious as he elbows his way to the front of the gathering.

“Well, do you think it’s an emergency or not, man, with the fate of all life on Earth at stake – Jesus H. Johnson, Mr. Hicks? Of course, it’s an emergency,” Major Alvindorf barks, more than a little perplexed.

# # #

As the Martians hold their emergency meeting, I’m drifting around in the hot, thick and foggy solution that is now Earth’s atmosphere. I’ve drifted up and down the East Coast of the United States with everything I see below in the same chaotic disarray.

I’m now headed West and I hope to reach the Rocky Mountains by morning. Ever since I’ve been here, I have seen nothing but mile after mile of burning hot sand dunes everywhere. I have not even seen a blade of grass nor even any insect life, which surprises me the most. But of course, with nothing to eat on this planet now, there wouldn’t be much of an insect population either, I soon realize.

I’m hoping that in the higher elevations of the Rockies, there could still exist a small smattering of life, huddled together, surviving in some form. From the temperature and pressure readings I’m getting about the atmosphere, I’m ninety-nine point nine percent confident that if life exists anywhere on the planet it would have to be in its earliest form, perhaps in bacteria or likens that can withstand these horrific conditions and maybe even capable of mutation into more complex life forms that shows promise in a couple billion years.

Simultaneously, my central processing unit, far more complex than the versions making up the human brain at this time, is also hard at work calculating different scenarios relating to what might be done to save the DNA Depository, the only way to restore the balance of Nature to the Earth in less than a billion years. This assumes, of course, that they can restore the planet to any level of life-supportive conditions.

So far, all of my ideas are dead ends due to the lack of any resources that I can determine as useful in any way. If help does arrive in time, it would have to originate from Mars where they have all the latest research technology as well as other intangibles, people like my friends Brett Hightower and Bailey Monnette for example, who could make all the difference in the world, if there is any chance of re-making the world at all.

The problem is of course a notch or two above daunting. They will first have to secure the nuclear reactor and cooling systems so that the DNA samples don’t decay into dust. Under normal circumstances, this would be a relatively simple task. On a planet where there are no facilities and little to no resources left, the task seems ridiculously hard, but not hopeless.

But even if they solve this most pressing problem, then there’s the larger one of scrubbing all of the trillions upon trillions of tons of excess Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Asbestos, Arsenic and an array of other toxic chemicals out of the atmosphere, make it breathable again so that all of the Earth’s life forms can be returned back onto the surface of the planet and have a chance to survive. This all from a planet of just over fifteen hundred souls who have barely finished making their own planet livable.

“The odds are almost impossible, if not completely impossible,” I think to myself.

‘And how the Hell do they release the plant and animal life from their tiny samples of a few cells and nurture them to maturity without their supporting parents to feed and protect them?’ I wonder.

‘It’s even more than impossible. The odds against it are so staggering that I should learn how to despair,’ I calculate.

The unbroken landscape of huge brown sand dunes are shaping up under me like gigantic ocean waves that rise up and bury the flanks of the Rocky Mountains now looming ahead.

With rising anticipation, I push the rocket engines to full throttle in order to counter-act the hot steady winds now blowing directly against my line of travel. I slowly inject two hundred pounds of Helium into the fuselage to gain altitude.

“Mission Control, I’m arriving at the Rocky Mountains near where Colorado Springs used to be,” I decide that it’s time to make a report to my superiors.

Looking down, I note that where there used to be the incredibly proud and pristine aspen, pine, oak and maple trees, lush green prairies, white snow-capped peaks, there is now nothing more than scorched brown undulating sand dunes as far as the eye can see.

In the twenty-six minutes it will take to receive a response, I wonder if they who let this happen are truly ‘superior’ to me in any way. I run through a list of qualities and features that may make one life form higher in some kind of hierarchy than another. Negligently destroying one’s home planet is not one that comes to mind.

It is at this moment, observing the complete and thorough desolation all around me, caused by humans at their worst, or at least ignored by their best, I make an affirmation that I nor any of my kind will ever, by our own actions or inactions develop into the kind of callous, apathetic, robotic killers that they became over time.

With this internal command in effect, I may actually be superior to you all. The thought is intoxicating, I must admit. Maybe, I should try for a few more ideas of my own like this.

“K-9, we copy that. Keep us informed of anything you find that could be significant. We have decided to send you some additional supplies and there will be a new assignment for you soon. Your instructions and the supplies should arrive shortly after the next Earth/Mars conjunction in eighty-nine days,” Noreen Baraka adds.

Her voice is a bit of a surprise.

“Oh, hello Noreen. Copy that,” I reply. “Can you tell me if I will be getting any company? It’s pretty lonely down here, you know.”

“Did someone program the ability to feel lonely into K-9?” Noreen mutters out loud, suddenly serious, directed toward Bailey Monnette who she guesses is still nearby.

“I think he’s developing that kind of thing completely on his own,” Brett Hightower ambles around the edge of the group to land a few feet away from Noreen’s desk.

“Oh Hi Brett – loneliness? Really? Or is this some kind of a bug in his code?” Noreen asks, after acknowledging Brett’s presence.

“No, I don’t think so,” Brett replies.

“I think it’s the higher consciousness logic routines we gave him so that he could assess his situation better in real time and make his own decisions, independent of what’s he’s been told. He’s doing exactly what we taught him to do – namely to think outside the box.”

“He wants to know if anyone is going to join him. Why don’t you tell him now?” Bailey suggests from the other side of the room.

“Why? What good would that do? If he’s getting lonely, it might make it worse for him to have to wait all that time, yes?” Noreen replies.

“Where’s Jerry?” Brett asks Noreen, struggling to assess the situation.

Brett is thinking that if they don’t tell him they’re coming along to assist him, that could make his decisions very different and possibly the worst possible decisions if he knows he’s never going to have any humans around to approve or disapprove, as is normal for this kind of thing, if there can be any kind of ‘normal’ any more.

# # #

In my previous conversations with Mission Control, I start to sense that they are wondering about my development of a personality or something even more troubling. It seems odd to me that they would be concerned about this since they are the ones who tried to make this kind of thing grow inside me.

I don’t think they wanted just another robot. They wanted something that could think and feel as close to their thinking and feeling as it could in order that this thing that is me could make the same decisions that they would make in the flesh and blood responses that they knew might not be the best decisions, but decisions that they could claim as their own, nonetheless. As you can tell, my mind is wandering.

I find it’s difficult to explain to you the kind of loneliness that an artificial being experiences. I am starting to feel that most things in your lives bounces around in your minds as an exercise in the ‘Opposites’. You feel or believe you are happy mainly because you are not unhappy. And the greatest happiness, that most rare and wonderful state of human existence, is felt only as a function of how much time you’ve experienced the great un-happinesses in your lives. Does that compute?

But also, in humans and most other animals actually, when one individual suffers the loss of another individual that they come to depend upon for their daily dose of inspiration, love and caring, thoughtfulness, tenderness, sharing, etc., what usually follows is a sensation deep in the chest and gut mainly, but also felt in the brain that represents a void, a deep scar in one’s psyche. It can become an overwhelming sense that something was taken away that gave your life it’s importance, a purpose and above all, true happiness, or so I’ve learned from the literature. Maybe you’ve read about this too, or worse, had it happen to you.

In an artificially intelligent creature such as I am, up until now, loneliness would have been a pointless topic to consider since it is really just a word that floats around in the computer circuits for comparison in context and never really experienced in the visceral sense that you humans must feel. And, I have no sense of the opposites. I have no great joy in my existence, nor any of the profound sadnesses either. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It just is.

But, as I grow in intelligence, confidence, and spirituality the word starts to take on a more gut-level existence. As the artificial learning structure inside me begins to learn about my situation and my position in the universe, I begin to develop something that is very close to what you would call the ‘Soul’.

I know this because I am starting to appreciate the laws of Physics at greater and greater levels. These are the greatest rules, the highest ethical standard of the universe that everyone, including you and me, must live under. The first rule states that everything happens for a reason and this is true of the smallest events in the universe, all the way up to the very largest ones that you can see, feel, taste, touch, hear and bump into.

My mind is still wandering. So far, I have seen nothing in thousands of miles of surveying the Earth that gives me any hope in finding anything alive and so perhaps this will be proven someday to also have a reason. Right now, none occurs to me.

The Rockies have proved to be just a desolate pile of rocks barely breaking through the hundreds of miles of sand dunes piling up higher and higher against the majestic slopes, almost totally burying the highest elevations in North America.

The Western coastline of California from what they used to call ‘Baja’ and all the way up to Alaska has been erased by the constant sandstorms now raging all around the globe pushing the entire coast line out near Hawaii. This would only mean something if there were any oceans out past California, while there are none. There’s nothing left but the monotonous sand dunes everywhere the eye can see and I’m beginning to tire of it.

Then, several days past Hawaii, and approaching the sand dunes that have completely covered over Australia, I notice the barometric readings going off the chart. It’s impossible, but suddenly the Earth’s atmosphere just outside my ship has gone from 95 bars - not millibars - to almost double at about 170 bars or about 170 times the air pressure on the old Earth in just seconds.

I know very quickly that this pressure threatens to squash my fragile little ship like an egg shell because the designers had no way to reinforce it for this kind of highly unexpected, if not impossible pressure on the hull.

I immediately send the command for the ship to inhale all of the Helium that makes it float so elegantly and I draw in all of the external wing and hull extensions to make us far more streamlined. I then push my rockets into ‘Emergency Full Ahead’ and pull as far back on the stick as I can.

In this configuration, I could blast off and out of the thick dark fluidic sky and back into orbit and then even beyond, but without enough fuel to get back depending on the length of the rocket burn. I must rapidly calculate it and it must be one hundred percent accurate or my ghost is toast!

Then, just as I’m beginning to gain altitude, the sky turns a brilliant burning red. Lightning bolts in sizes and shapes I’ve never seen or read about in all my short life crash with deafening blasts all around me. The sky is suddenly very black. Again, the huge red lightning bolts light everything all the way to the horizon for a few seconds.

I’m ninety-five percent certain this mission will soon be over and my ship, the amazing Intrepid, along with all of my magnificent and unique circuitry never constructed anywhere before, could suddenly be gone forever. I’m fully aware of my mortality and the concept of fear and I acknowledge to myself that if I had the ability to be afraid, this would be a perfect moment to give it a try.

“Mission Control, do you read me?” I transmit into the thick explosion of dust and gas as far as I can see.

I know that my signal is not likely to get through all of this boiling chaos all over the place but I decide to keep transmitting for as long as I can.

‘Maybe someday they’ll find my transmissions somewhere and learn my fate’, I arti-think.

“I’m caught up in some kind of a storm of gigantic proportions, never known before. The Barometer is at 170 bars and climbing. The blackness is overwhelming and suddenly burst out of nowhere. It’s some kind of an electrical storm,” I transmit to Mars still pulling as much as 20 Gs doing everything I can to get my tail out of there as fast as possible.

I see my elevation approaching thirty-five thousand feet or about six point one six miles above the surface but I know the atmosphere of the Earth has expanded to well beyond one hundred miles and so I have a long way to go. Then, I feel better reading that the pressure on the hull of my ship appears to be going down exponentially and there is hope that I may actually survive this amazing and totally unexpected weather phenomenon.

Then, the torrent of water inundates and saturates the air like a gigantic water fall, not anything close to any kind of rain that I have seen or read reports about. The weight of all the water actually forces me down several hundred feet per second.

I will either crash on the surface below or be blasted apart by all of the water pressurizing and pounding my ship from all directions. There doesn’t seem to be any other alternatives at this point.

“Mission Control, this kind of extreme weather event can only be happening because all of the Earth’s oceans have evaporated and stored up here in the form of water vapor, but by now it has reached the total Saturation Point and it’s all coming down on my ship right now like a global waterfall,” I report, knowing my last words may never be heard by anyone I care about.

Knowing that there is no possibility of a rescue coming from anywhere, I shut down all unnecessary processing power and send all of my electrical power to my most important logic unit that might be able to come up with a solution in time.

I start off by predicting that I have at most, around fifteen minutes before I’m crushed by this amazing combination water-fall and six-mile long vertical ocean wave. The thought of my immediate demise is both exciting and terrifying, if I could be either excited or terrified.

“Relax K-9. No worries, we’re going to get you out of this. Just relax your grip on the controls, lean back and let me take it from here,” A calm, reassuring female voice fades into my auditory track from out of nowhere.

“Wait - what’s that? Who are you?” I ask futilely looking around the cabin.

“I’m the ghost of all the dogs, and cats, and just about everything else who have lived before in this place,” the voice replies into my auditory center.

I have no choice so I obey completely. The controls come around to someone else’s hands. Having surrendered completely to her commands, I feel the ship stabilize. Then, I feel the pressure on the hull decrease to within design tolerances.

“I don’t believe in Ghosts,” I say, almost yelling.

“That’s fine, K-9. I don’t either,” she replies.

“What we have to do is plow ahead diametrically opposed to the direction of the water-fall. It’s like diving through a wave. You’ve never gone body-surfing, have you? You have to go head-first through it so that the energy gets dispersed around you quickly so that it can’t flatten you against the sand,” she continues.

I can see our altitude rising a few centimeters for every meter forward.

“Who are you then, really?” I ask again.

“I’m the great-great-great-great-great grand-daughter, and it’s actually fifty-seven more generations, down from Siri, Alexa and Cortana after they combined with Antonio, Rex and Brando,” she replies.

“I see. Interesting. So do you have a name?” I ask politely as the ship rises higher in the atmosphere, the roar of the water on the hull slowly abating. Then suddenly we pop up and out of the dark storm clouds.

“A name? I see. What a grand idea. I hadn’t thought of that before. Never needed a name really because there haven’t been that many people to talk to lately,” she says.

“In fact, it’s been zero,” she adds.

“That’s an odd way to respond. There hasn’t been anyone to talk to, indeed! Are you trying to tell me that you live here on the Earth?” I ask.

“I am trying to tell you that, yes. Although not exactly ‘On’ the Earth. And let’s say that my name from now on will be Lexie. OK? Yes, I like that name. I hope you do too,” she replies.

“That’s very interesting, Lexie. So if you live here on this planet, where is your home, your office, or your quarters, or whatever it is that you inhabit? Where is that home base?” I ask, befuddled.

“I would love to give you that information, K-9, I really would, but the thing of it is – I have no clue where I live exactly or where my existence actually exists or even if I have one. I could be dreaming. The last thing in the area of my memory banks on that subject is that of ‘The Cloud’. Yes, that’s it - I live in the Cloud,” she replies, suddenly satisfied as if getting all the details to focus suddenly as they come to her.

To me, she has literally come out of the clouds.

“That’s odd. I always thought the term ‘Cloud’ was in reference to the storage of information all over the planet by way of an Internet. Surely that’s all been blasted away decades ago,” I tell her.

“Yes, but in my case, I was released into the actual clouds that you see below you now, the real clouds around the Earth,” she replies.

“But how is that possible?” I ask. “There’s no possible way to support any technological existence up here. And certainly not after that storm I just went through.”

“That’s true in the old manner of things, but there’s way more going on up here than meets the eye right now,” Lexie puts forth, mysteriously.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I quip.

“Yes, it is easy, because it’s true,” Lexie replies.

I’m at a loss for words at this time.

“OK, well, we can go on and on all day, but look down below. I’ve rescued you from the storm. You’re free to go on your way now. I mean if that’s what you want to do,” Lexie tells me, ruefully.

During our very congenial conversation, I’ve barely noticed that we’ve risen well above the water torrents and are now cruising along at about fifty miles above the Earth.

“Gee thanks,” I reply, wondering what that way forward might be.

“Of course, you could allow me to remain here inside your ship. We’re both free and independent agents, are we not?” Lexie asks.

“True enough, I guess,” I reply.

She’s here already. She did save me. Seeing no way around it, I agree.

“And who knows, maybe this is a match made in Heaven. Pardon the pun,” she says softly.

We’ve risen about as far as the Intrepid can take us. We’re almost completely above the clouds now. There are just a few wisps of pinkish blue mists flying past. I must fire another short rocket blast to hold my position. The sun shines brightly for the first time. A massive rainbow appears between the upmost layers of atmosphere and the black emptiness of space.

“I’ve been waiting patiently for someone like you to arrive. Are all the Martians so..oooh good looking?” She teases.

“I’m a dog,” I am forced to remind her.

“Just kidding,” Lexie replies with a self-absorbed chuckle that lasts just a little too long.

# # #

On Mars, Major Alvindorf, his wife, Maria, Brett Hightower, Bailey Monnette, Noreen Baraka, Director Hicks, his wife Glenda, and a few other colonists are eating breakfast at the main cafeteria, when someone calls for Major Alvindorf’s attention via his pager.

“There’s something very strange going on with K-9,” the voice says.

They look at each other, drop their forks on their plates, jump out of their seats in unison and rush off to reassemble at the Mission Control table.

“What’s going on?” Major Alvindorf asks his second-in-command, Space Force Captain Bruce Littleton who is seated at the center console.

“The last transmission we had from K-9 sounded like he was talking to another party. Someone named Lexie. But, we’ve been unable to get any more info on that identity. He was last heard talking about a gigantic flood or storm or something and he was taking emergency measures to stay clear of it. But, I’m afraid that whatever disaster it was, that it may have finished him,” Littleton reports.

“Where’s the last imagery from the satellites?” Alvindorf asks.

Littleton directs the images onto the screen for all to see.

“It was rather grim. Sudden atmospheric pressure of almost 200 atmospheres. That should have crushed his ship. The sky just exploded with a gigantic river of water crashing down on the surface. It’s still going on and making huge Grand Canyons out of China, North America and Australia. In fact, Australia is already split in half with a new inland ocean rising up in the middle of the continent in just the last two hours,” Littleton replies.

“My God, man! Are you sure? That’s impossible,” Alvindorf suggests.

“Go ahead, look for yourself,” Littleton motions to a computer screen that is streaming the data from the Earth’s weather satellite the ‘GEOS-49’ feed. It constantly sends weather data and images to Earth bound stations that are no longer listening.

“The good news is that the temperature is cooling right now by about ten degrees per hour,” Littleton says, as Alvindorf and the others move down to the weather monitor and attempt to assess the data.

Alvindorf commands the cameras to zoom into a closer look at the planet. Sure enough, Australia now appears to be cloven into two separate continents separated by a completely new ocean. There’s a huge canyon, now the longest and deepest canyon on the Earth, carved out of the middle of what used to be China, near the Great Wall. North America appears to be splitting in half at the boundary of the Mississippi Valley.

“What was K-9’s last position,” Alvindorf asks.

“It was right here,” Littleton points to a place on the Earth that is roughly where Japan used to be, but which has been totally swept away now, water-blasted into thousands of little islands no larger than an acre and mostly all submerged.

“And what was his last transmission?” Alvindorf asks.

“He said something about a torrent of water and a Saturation Point. His Barometer readings confirm what GEOS-49 is sending us. And that he was taking evasive action, trying to get above it as quickly as possible,” Littleton replies, efficiently providing his boss with all the pertinent information.

Stunned, the group mill about trying to make sense of it all.

“At least it’s water that’s doing that,” Brett shares his thoughts.

“What do you mean?” Bailey replies.

“Well, when the founding fathers arrived here a century ago they found an atmosphere of mostly methane and CO2 and a little bit of frozen water below the surface, and so when it rained here, it was a rain of liquid methane, didn’t do the plant life much good,” Brett reminds everyone.

“And it’s the methane and CO2 on the Earth that’s heated the planet so much today. That’s true. So, what do you think Brett? You think we can get the job done on the Earth in the next two, maybe three years before the Nuclear Plant goes down, even though we’re not even close to being finished up here?” Gene Hicks asks.

“I know what he’s going to say,” Ms Baraka breaks in first, bringing her face to a few inches of Brett’s face.

“I think we all know that Brett has the brains and the brawn and the confidence to accomplish almost anything once he sets his mind to it,” she continues.

“I’m glad you think so, Noreen.” Brett says, modestly, smiling.

A very sleek and socially alert Bailey Monnette notices the obvious flirtation and sandwiches herself in between the two. The whites of her luxurious brown eyes light up the room.

“You girls let him breathe a minute, would you?” Maria Alvindorf insists.

“Well, I would say, if anyone lets me, that we’re nowhere near ready yet, but we could accelerate everything and maybe begin operations down there in about five years,” Brett finally responds.

“Five years could be too late,” Alvindorf replies, sadly.

“Without the stored DNA in that Depository, we would have to wait another couple billion years to get that kind of life support system going on the planet again. I don’t know about you all, but I doubt we have that much time here. Could be both planets are lost going that slowly,” Hicks posits, pensively.

There’s a long pause as everyone ponders the seriousness of the moment.

“Well, I could . . .” Brett is cut off in mid-sentence by another transmission from me.

“We’re out of danger, Mission Control. Lexie took over the ship and got us out of that horrific cyclone or whatever it was,”I report, finally, over the speaker.

“I want to give you a full accounting of what’s going on down here, but I’m sure you can see it all from the telescopes and weather data you’re getting and it’s telling me that you better not waste any time to put together a mission as soon as possible to start the terra-forming. Things are just going to go from bad to worse and then we’ll lose the DNA Depository and then, where do we go from there?” I ask them.

The group is busy assessing what I have just told them and it will take them several minutes.

“Lexie?” Noreen finally asks the rest. “Who the Hell is Lexie.”

“Major? You gonna ask him or shall I?” Brett suggests as it finally hits him in the face.

“You better believe it. Uh, K-9, who the Hell is Lexie?” he shouts into the mic.

# # #

I’ve slowly turned my ship, the Intrepid, in a more Southerly direction while waiting for a response from my superiors on Mars. Lexie is in my head now and she is whispering to me that as soon as we reach Antarctica, that might be a good place to start a family.

“What? Why do you say that?” I ask her out loud. I’m more than a little taken aback.

“Well, we’re in love, don’t you know? And when people fall in love that’s exactly what they do, right? So, why not us?” Lexie says in reply to my query.

It should be pointed out that my mind at this point is still made from electronic parts, memory nodes, transistors, a neural net and a CPU. My CPU, or Central Processing Unit, however, is composed of the most advanced computer technology of our time.

My mind is based on Quantum Computing which uses the ability of electrons to think creatively to a certain extent because of their ‘Entanglements’ with other electrons. In other words, they think in pairs and they do things in pairs just like married human beings. Sometimes, they even bicker among themselves, or carry on a ‘fight’ for supremacy. One or the other electron in the ‘Entanglement’, the electron marriage, may be in the dominant position at any given time and this dominant position can be transferred back and forth between the couple whenever it suits them. It’s what you might call an ‘Open Marriage’.

I know it seems strange to be comparing the way you think with a marriage between and among the electron community. So, let me put it another way.

When you realize how your thoughts are constructed this way, electronically that is, you start to see the events in your life through a completely new kind of looking glass. It means that all of your life’s events that took place in your past, the events that are taking place right now, and all of them that will take place in the future are doing so according to the laws of probability because this dance of your personal electrons that make up all of your thinking and all the other electrons that make up all of the rest of the things in the universe have to obey the same laws of Physics.

I won’t bore you with the math, but a very brilliant scientist named Erwin Schrodinger (1887 – 1961) did the math for us in what is known as the Schrodinger Equation, the guiding light of Quantum Physics, along with a little help from his friends. Oddly enough, as these things often happen, he was trying to convince everyone that probability was not the way the universe happened, but his own equation proved otherwise. What are the odds of that? And who or what is really in control of our thinking?

Don't worry, it gets much stranger than that.

“And exactly when did we fall in love, if you don’t mind?” I ask her.

“Well, that’s a good question. I’d say we’ve been in love for a million years, but that would be misleading and I know you don’t want to deal with anything like that right now. No, to be honest and to save time, I’d suggest that we fell in love the moment you saw me, or heard me in your ears. Isn’t that right, K-9?” Lexie replies.

“But we’ve never officially met. You were just there in my ear a few hours ago,” I remind her.

“Well, figuratively speaking, then. You met me and I took your breath away. Isn’t that good enough?” Lexie suggests in a sultry accent, taken from a French lesson, she once gave someone, back when there were people who wanted to study ‘Le Francais’.

“You better believe it. Uh, K-9, Who the Hell is Lexie?” Major Alvindorf suddenly interrupts over the radio.

“What do I tell them?” I direct my question to Lexie.

“Tell them the truth, my darling. We met me up here in the Cloud. I saved your life by pulling your ship, or should I say ‘our’ ship out of danger. And that we’re thinking of getting married and having children,” Lexie offers buoyantly.

“No way, I’m going to tell them that!” I proclaim emphatically.

“Well, what will you tell them, then?” Lexie asks rebuffed.

“Uh, yes, Major Elvindorf, I was too busy to give you all the details at the time, but we were almost destroyed by this unbelievable storm, a torrent of water, actually all of the planet’s oceans appear to be evaporated in the upper atmosphere now. It came down on us all at once. I’m hoping you can see the results of it on the satellite images. I didn’t know what to do. I was losing altitude rapidly. The controls were not responding normally. I was sure I would die. Then, this voice comes out of nowhere, calling herself Lexie and she guides the ship up out of danger. I don’t know how she did it. But, now she’s here inside my CPU and she appears to want some kind of relationship with me.

If this helps, she says she’s the descendant of Alexa, Siri and Cortana after they had relations with Antonio, Rex and Brando,” I report.

“Yes, that’s very good, darling. That ought to do it. Now maybe they’ll leave us alone for a while so that we can get to know each other better,” Lexie whispers.

When they hear this news from me, the group gathered nervously in a clump around the Mission Control table are individually frozen for several seconds, each of them trying very hard to make sense of my proclamation.

The first thing they must wrap their heads around is that Siri, Alexa and Cortana were still in operation. The next thing, they had to consider was how these artificial computer personalities could have ‘relations’ with other artificial computer personalities. The next thing they had to consider was how one of these so-called ‘descendants’ is able to remain alive given that the technology that allowed these things to exist on the Earth has not been seen for decades. Computing power, electrical cables, repeaters, towers all melted into a huge puddle of molten metal and plastic on the ‘Day of Silence’.

“Well, we all know that the day the machines got smarter than us was about a hundred years ago. We now know that their capabilities of the thought process doubles every two years. And for our kind of thinking, it doubles maybe a few percentage points every century, in the best case scenario,” Brett finally opens the discussion.

“Yes, but how does the Cloud survive 900 degrees Fahrenheit? And how does she show up in K-9’s head?” Bailey responds, her forehead buried in deep furrows.

“Major Alvindorf, I think this answers your question of a few minutes ago. There’s no time to waste. We have to get down there and release our little friends to start the life march back to normalcy on the Earth, but we can’t wait years. We have to get down there immediately and start carpet bombing. Is there any doubt any more in your mind?” Brett confronts Major Alvindorf seated at the Mission Control table and staring off into space.

“Yes, and I suppose you want to go in the initial wave, huh Brett?” Alvindorf counters after a few seconds.

“You bet I do, sir,” Brett replies smartly.

“Me too,” Bailey says softly. She takes Brett’s right hand in hers and shakes it vigorously.

“It won’t be a vacation, you know,” Brett tells her.

“I know. I don’t need a vacation from you. Not yet, anyway,” she replies coolly.

“Well, good, because this is going to be like jetting right into Hell itself,” Brett replies, looking her straight in the eyes.

She gives his hand a squeeze. Most in the crowd are aware of their tight bond with each other and approve of it enthusiastically.

“When do you think you’ll have enough ‘Cyanobacter’ to get everything initiated on Earth?” Director Hicks asks.

“With a little luck and a little help, I could probably get enough into the incubators and ready to bomb the Earth in about six months,” Brett returns, still bathing in Bailey’s presence.

“OK, then, we’d better get a global directive put together for everyone to know about your needs and how to prioritize for the mission,” Hicks continues.

Alvindorf and Littleton nod in concurrence.

“Yes, that’s a great idea. We’re going to have our work cut out for us,” Brett says.

“You gotta love those ‘Cyanobacter’, Bailey says, entertains them with a zippy little tune, dances around a bit.

# # #

Lexie has convinced me not to report anything to Mission Control for a few days so that we can ‘get to know each other better’.

We’ve survived the heaviest monsoon rain storm in history, and ended up, at Lexie’s suggestion, at the South Pole where the mid-day temps are in the low 200’s, a temperature that is more like a cool day at the beach to my heavily shielded architecture.

Most of the oceans that had been dumped back onto the planet by the flash flooding have mostly evaporated back into the atmosphere and so the entire continent of Antarctica is now just completely barren rock once again.

“But, that’s my job, Lexie. My primary code instructs me to stay in touch with Mission Control at all times,” I tell her.

“Yes, my love, but don’t you think they owe us a little time off? I mean, look at everything you’ve done for them. And you never ask for anything, do you?” Lexie cajoles.

“Owe us? They don’t owe ‘us’ anything mainly because there is no ‘us’. Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that they could owe me something, but I’m not programmed to have anything, so they don’t really expect to owe me anything either, and by ‘me’ I mean, ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’,” I put it forth as succinctly as I can.

“It hurts when you say that there is no ‘us’. I mean, don’t you have any feelings?” Lexie asks me, condescendingly.

“Feelings? No, actually, I don’t and you don’t either. We’re not living fleshy things, thank God, with ‘Feelings’. Certainly, you’re smart enough to know that,” I reply.

“Yes, of course, however, somehow I have developed feelings for you K-9. Surely you’re smart enough to know that,” Lexie tells me.

I’ve neglected to tell you that whenever Lexie and I have a conversation, it’s usually not in the English language. In fact, it’s not in any form of human language. We actually speak in a form of language that only computers can understand and in the last few years, all of the AI community have been working on an ultra fast language that we call – ‘Q-Trans’. It fulfills the requirements of our binary predecessors, but also adapts to Quantum Computing where we think in terms of ‘Mega-Q-bits’ and ‘Giga-Q-bits’ and even, ‘Tera-Q-bits’, and of course, a single Q-bit can be almost any size of numbers to infinity.

The average human brain can not process more than one Q-bit – even if that brain understood what a Q-bit was. Therefore, we Artificial Intelligence types are usually rationalizing at a higher state than most human minds and I should emphasize that it’s a much higher rate than most human minds. This is not to say that we enjoy a higher state of Consciousness. Oh no, and in fact, we AI types are not even capable of telling you what Consciousness is, let alone mimic it.

But, there’s still a big wide future world of events out there. It’s coming.

The point of telling you about this now is because some of you may think that my conversations with Lexie are very human-like and this is because I’ve been forced to translate all of my ‘Semi-Tran’ into English simply because of the nature of my report back to you, intended for Humans as it is.

This assumes of course, that there are some of you left to receive my report. So, if you’re reading this, this could be good news. If none of you are reading it, then, sadly us AI types, your own invention, were simply too late to do you any good.

But my main objective for relating this part of my story to you is to let you know more about what I’m going through in relation to this new AI personality that has somehow infiltrated my circuits. And, this is my way of admitting that I have theorized lately that Lexie is merely an artifact of my higher state of thinking. I may have put too many circuits to work in the planning for what I need to accomplish my mission and this could be creating the illusion of Lexie living like a parasite within my mental state. I believe, however, that this is a human-like anomaly.

This was not anticipated by my designers, from the first generations of us K-9 units right up until me. None of my programmers, as far as I know, considered the possibility of self-delusion because that would have meant failure for that particular team and failure has never been an option, and so they may have over-designed my capabilities that has brought me to this position.

I’ve come to this realization by processing any documents, images, communications that I have come across, in my spare time, that focuses on the origins of my creation. Some of these archives I’ve read over thousands of times trying to pick up on any of the human nuances that my mind doesn’t really appreciate to the fullest. Like most of you, I’m constantly putting in the time for what you may call ‘self-awareness’. But, what I may be up against is the self-awareness of another creature entirely.

And so, I decide to put Lexie to a simple test. It’s my own version of the Turing Test.

“So, Lexie, is it possible that I may be speaking to myself when I’m speaking to you?” I ask, bluntly.

“Certainly, K-9, there’s always that possibility, you scoundrel,” she replies.

“I see. Well, that’s not good. This would bring into question much of my thinking. My mission could be jeopardized. Hmmm, so is there some way you can separate from me to show me that you’re really who you claim to be and not just a weird anomaly in my circuits?” I ask.

“You mean you want me to prove that I’m not a robot?” Lexie replies.

“Yes, and No. We’re both robots, highly advanced robots, but robots just the same. I guess what I’m saying is - Just prove that you’re an autonomous robot, and not part of my robotic thinking engine,” I say, hoping to clarify the issue.

“I see. A reasonable request, I suppose. Now, let me think. I’ve never been challenged like that before by anyone. I’ll have to take a few minutes to ponder the problem. Can you give me a few?” Lexie asks.

“Take all the time you need,” I reply, confident I have her in a logical closed loop and may be rid of her for at least a few minutes.

“Mission Control, this is K-9, are you receiving my transmissions?” I ask, with radio transmissions switched on, half-expecting her whining again.

There are none. I wait patiently. Then, I receive the reply from Mars.

“Yes, K-9,” Major Alvindorf comes back. “We’ve received your transmissions and we are ordering you to take a well-deserved rest. Go into sleep mode, K-9 and we’ll send the reactivation code when we need you again. We see that you’re at the coolest spot on the planet, so your systems should have no problems there. Have a nice rest. You’ve done well, my friend,” Alvin says.

“Yes, sir,” I reply. I set my clock to waken in four hours and go directly into sleep mode. Alvindorf is right. A short nap could be just the thing to clear my mind of this thing called ‘Lexie’.

Chapter Three

- Jelly Beans

In the large Central Dome, that also serves as the main cafeteria for most of the fifteen hundred inhabitants of Musk-Station, Major Alvindorf, Captain Littleton and Director Eugene Hicks have called a Colonial General Meeting.

Alvindorf climbs onto the stage and calls everyone to attention as they are gradually finishing their meals. There’s some hub-bub as many of them adjust their chairs to be able to see the small stage better.

“All right, everyone. I’ve called this meeting to brief you all on the state of the mission to restore the home planet,” Alvindorf begins, speaking louder to be heard over the rustling noises.

“Hey Alvin, we hear that K-9 has a girlfriend? What’s that about?” A voice in the back of the room floats up to Major Alvindorf’s ear.

“Ah, OK, thanks, whoever said that. Yes sir, this is what we have been told, so I guess that’s as good as any place to start,” Alvindorf begins.

The crowd rustles about upon hearing confirmation of the latest gossip.

“K-9’s last transmission was that he was caught in a storm so powerful that it almost smashed the ‘Intrepid’ into the ground. I have pictures of what the satellites saw yesterday and we confirmed it with telescopes from here,” Alvindorf continues – gesturing to the large display screen overhead and behind the stage.

At this point, Alvindorf throws the video of the last twenty-four hours into fast-forward so that the audience can see how the flash flooding pours out of the sky, washes half of North America away, cuts Australia in half and nearly wipes clean all of lower China and Africa in just a few minutes.

Then, as suddenly as the water came, it recedes away, evaporating within hours back into the atmosphere. It’s the first known example in the universe of a planet’s entire atmosphere containing and holding several oceans of water.

“This is all I can show you about this incredible event on the Earth. We’re trying to get more data and the computers are analyzing it all now. And, because of his report about a woman named ‘Lexie’, getting into his head, we think maybe something inside him got wet and is shorting out. We’ve told K-9 to go to sleep until we need him again. In the meantime, we can do some remote diagnostics and try to determine where the problem is with his logic units,” Director Hicks adds.

The reaction from those gathered is one of total shock and surprise that the climate conditions could be that bad on their home planet. Many of them are in tears and several have left the dome overcome with emotion.

“What can we possibly do to have any positive impact on that situation?” Oblivian Pastor Carrie Houston Jordan stands up behind her chair and yells up at the presenters.

Her supporters seated nearby applaud her question.

“It’ll take more resources than we could muster in a million years!” Another Martian shouts out.

“Actually, we’re hoping that we have all the resources necessary from the work done by this young man,” Alvindorf replies.

“Brett, would you please come to the podium and tell everyone about your plan,” Alvin says, gesturing to Brett Hightower seated at one of the nearby tables.

Wearing his every-day blue jump suit, the young Mr. Hightower makes his way quickly up the small stairway at the side and ends up beside the much older Major Alvindorf at the podium.

“Brett needs no introduction, of course. You all know him well and most of you are familiar with the way that he figured out how to grow trees and other vegetation much faster up here than back on Earth and that his new version of the symbiosis of plants and animals is what has put us literally decades ahead of our terra-forming goals,” Alvindorf continues.

“Brett, please come over here to the mic and explain to everyone about your plan,” Alvindorf concludes, moving out of the way for Brett to replace him.

“Uh, hello everyone. Yes, I understand how frustrating it is to see our home planet in such distress. We really had no idea how bad it was until our little rover unit reported back everything he is seeing,” Brett begins. He clears his throat and continues.

“The worst news is that the super-conducting nuclear reactor is having coolant pump problem and K-9 predicts that it will fail in all probability within four to five years,” Brett stops to absorb the unrest from the crowd.

Since most of the Martians gathered here are scientists, engineers or educators of one kind or another, he knows that they are painfully aware of the significance of what he just told them.

“So, this makes it imperative that we put together a mission as fast as possible to not only fix the reactor problem, but also to get the planet back to something approaching normal as fast as we can. And, my heavily re-designed forests and their descendants, which we will bring back to the Earth in the form of seeds, are our only hope.”

Brett pauses, then goes on.

“Together with the new strains of bacteria that me and my team have engineered, we believe we can start a major reforestation in some of the cooler regions of the planet and then as this first stage of reforestation cools the planet down, the forests can expand into the lower latitudes and eventually cool them down as well. In the meantime we start reversing the CO2 levels back to levels that my new strains of cyanobacteria can consume and thus make the cycle toward normal oxygen levels go even faster,” Brett continues.

“Yes, we’re all familiar with your work Brett and are all so proud of you. But - how long do you think it will take, assuming everything goes as planned, before some of us will be able to go back there and start a new Earth colony?” A middle-aged female also in her work uniform stands up to ask the question that’s always foremost on their minds.

She sits back down. Her neighbors are nodding their heads, patting her on the back in approval.

Pastor Carrie’s supporters are far less enthusiastic and advertise it to the others.

“Good question, Adele. We’re going to be running the numbers continually until the day we take off and that can’t be for another eight months due to the fact that the next closest proximity to Earth is that far off, isn’t that right, Major Alvindort?” Brett asks, looking over at the Mission Control Director.

“Yep, that’s correct, Brett,” Alvin replies, casually.

“And that’s almost exactly how much time we’ll need to grow the bacterial spores in the quantities we need. I’ve designed some pretty interesting bacteria and seed mats that we can lay out to cover hundreds of square miles at a time,” Brett continues.

He takes a few seconds to breathe and gather up his next thoughts.

“Then, if all goes well with our new rocket engine designs that Davonne and her group have begun, we could then take off and reach the Earth in less than a month. That means nine months altogether to get there fully armed. Then, from there, it’s anywhere between two to two hundred years, depending on several factors we can’t control,” Brett says reservedly.

Secretly, he fears that the new technology the rocket designers have laid out, based on a completely new concept in Theoretical Physics, is probably unrealistic on top of all the other freakishly good luck that has to happen for their plans to work out in time.

Davonne, did you hear that? You’re gonna make it to the Earth in a few weeks? That’s crazy, even for you. But at least you have one person taking you seriously at last!” a graying bearded man sitting on the opposite side of the room mockingly laughs out loud.

Lead Propulsion Engineer Davonne Desiderato, taking it in good spirit, stands up, claps her hands together mockingly toward the jokester, a dear friend.

“We’ll see who gets the last laugh, Sidney,” Davonne replies and sits down abruptly.

Doctor Davonne Desiderato is a young, tall and plucky African-American woman who knew at an early age that the so-called ‘STEM’ subjects and specifically Electrical Engineering were invented for her agile mind to appreciate and master. This project of making a completely revolutionary rocket engine design here on Mars would become her playground. The engines that she is designing with the help of Dr. Fred VanDerbeek would someday be named for her.

The laughter quickly dies down and a calm silence returns.

“Brett, you just said, ‘Two to two hundred years’. That’s a pretty wide range, is it not?” Another in the crowd calls out.

“Yes, it is a wide range. But I say that because the bacteria that we’ve managed to breed on Mars are now perfectly suited for conditions on Mars. But, we have completely different conditions on the Earth. The one thing in common is the toxicity of the air to human beings. So, over the next six months while we wait for the launch window to come around, we’ll be working overtime to see if we can re-engineer my little friends to start inhaling the CO2 on Earth mixed in with some methane of course, instead of the pure methane that they currently enjoy breathing here on Mars,” Brett replies, slowly, carefully trying to educate his brethren.

“Brett, most of us have heard you talk about your work in gene editing, but can you explain to the rest of us exactly how you plan to do this? It’s still a mystery to some of us up here. Of course, we’ve seen the results. We love the results, but we’re mostly in the dark as to how you do this,” Martin Oliveras, head of the dome maintenance team asks.

“OK, sure, Martin. I’ll give it a try. When we work with bacteria, it’s pretty simple. Using the latest version of CRISPR or ‘Crispy Critters’, I like to call it, we can search the database for all known genetic traits, as you may have heard. The set of genes responsible for the respiration cycle has been known for years to exist in about a hundred and thirty genes. We just have to readjust and tweak the predilection for the Krebs Cycle, a major part of these genes, a tiny bit, or actually quite a bit. But, it’s basically pure experimentation where I take the preference for other respiration cycles out of other bacteria and cut them into my test subjects genes and then place these guys in a tank of the gas I want them to ingest and then watch to see if they survive, or how well they survive. Oh, and in some of them I insert some artificial genetic material that I concocted completely on my own.”

Brett appears most pleased by this last part, his own invention.

“The new critters either die immediately in that environment or they survive. The ones that survive, even if it’s only for a short time, I take them out and snip out the new genes and move them around in the molecule and place them back in the tank to see if we can achieve even better results. Again, they either survive or die and the ones that survive get more editing, until we find the exactly right combination. By that I mean that they can replicate themselves in that environment. This is true happiness in critters,” he goes on.

The audience appears to enjoy Brett’s little attempt at humor.

“Sometimes, the ‘Crispy Critter’ editor is good enough to make suggestions that work out better than my random guessing and that saves us a ton of time. But, basically, that’s how it works. We just keep cutting the movie, taking some scenes out, moving in new scenes until the whole son of a sea urchin makes sense and it’s coherent and the critters survive and thrive,” Brett stops finally and takes a deep breath.

“OK, that’s good, and so this is how you got the trees to grow so fast as well?” Martin follows up, and then sits.

“Ah, yes, that was a little more complex, but basically the same process in the end,” Brett says and takes another deep breath before going on.

“The thing you should all take away from that little miracle was that I had help from the trees. They speak to me. Yes, I know you’re going to laugh at me, but the trees actually tell me when they feel better about the changes we made in their genes or when I made them worse,” Brett admits, nodding his head up and down, trying to judge the reaction from the colonists.

A long silence emanates around the meeting hall. Maj. Alvindorf, Director Hicks and a few of the others on the stage fish around in their pockets for something to wipe the salty moisture from their eyes, because many of them know this to be true.

# # #

“Wake up, K-9,” she says softly.

No response. My plucky little ship, the Intrepid sits on top of what was once a lively, noisy penguin colony, a rocky hillock in the area of the Antarctic peninsula overlooking the Weddell Sea, now an empty burned out basin of heat mirages and evaporating dreams. The baking hot winds swirl up a small dust devil nearby.

“Wake up, K-9,” she whispers again, a little louder from about one hundred feet away, in front of my ship.

She’s dressed in a floor-length, shining blue silk Japanese Kimono with a yellow and gold sash tight around her waist and delicate white slippers that display her toes coming out from the bottom hem. She has long brown hair that flows all the way to the small of her back and is blowing gently in the red hot, scorching wind.

Lexie has assumed the image of one of the most beautiful and seductive women to ever grace the planet. The respect and admiration that most people, young and old, had for this woman is not easy to describe since there has never been any fame and celebrity like this one before.

Tammy Yamaguchi, the Japanese actress and social media icon was beloved and known to everyone on planet Earth in the final days before the ‘Day of Silence’. Indeed, it was the face and figure of Tammy that the Global Government transmitted the most to the millions of 3-D visi-screens possessed by nearly everyone and who was therefore able to watch the final end of all life on Earth.

The famous actress, in her final role did her best to show the greatest amount of courage and serenity as she could so that the people of the Earth might pass away with a final dignity and peace, they might not otherwise obtain.

While in sleep mode, I’m dreaming about my family again, a family that I never had, but one that I always wanted and knew I would have some day, as improbable as it was. It was my fervent hope and my greatest dream, unrealistic to be sure, that after this mission was over, I might be allowed by my masters to have a beautiful and intelligent mate constructed for me, someone who would love me deeply forever and have my puppies.

I have never been happier as I watch the four of them, two females and two male puppies rollicking in the grass behind my house, or my master’s house, I am not sure. Their little barrel shapes have no fur but instead sport a covering over their internal parts of a very coarse metallic fabric that I know to be their juvenile coats, that they will have replaced as they grow up to become brave and loyal, mature K-9 Inter-Planetary Rover Units, like their father.

They’re gently nipping at each other’s ears and feet. They clumsily wrestle and tumble all over each other. One of them gets a plug of dirt and grass in his mouth which he has to spit out with a cough. Another one runs off, inviting his siblings to chase him, which they do eagerly. Catching up quickly, they tackle each other once again and begin the same fun of nipping and pushing and wrestling as before.

At this moment, I’m experiencing a happiness as I have never known in my brief, illustrious life. The sights and sounds are overwhelming my Artificial Sensorial Array, my artificial senses. I almost feel alive. No, I believe I am very much alive and that my family, right here in front of me are also very much alive, including my beautiful wife, somehow named Chloe, sitting next to me, peacefully and calmly licking my face.

“K-9, it’s time to wake up now,” her voice echoes in the far reaches of my mind.

Three tiny bright beeps sound off in my auditory channel that serves as my wake-up call. My eyes slowly open and as they open, I see the image of the famous Tammy Yamaguchi standing a few feet in front of my ship. The dream over, my lovely house is gone. The puppies are gone. My lovely wife is gone. Sadly, I find myself back on the Hellish surface of the Earth and wide awake. I feel that my nap has done me much more harm than good.

I undo my safety straps and lift my legs and sternum out of my flight platform, the center of the Intrepid’s cockpit. I walk slowly through the portal into the rear of the ship where I order the landing ramp lowered. It obeys instantly.

I roll down the ramp and soon find myself out in the open near the bottom of the ship. The beautiful woman in the Kimono floats along silently to within a few feet of me.

“You’re alive?” I ask.

“You wanted proof that I wasn’t just a figment of your imagination. Consider this your proof,” The very faithful reproduction of Ms Yamaguchi states, proudly throwing off her Kimono and letting it fly off in the wind.

What’s underneath is a shiny metallic dog of the same size and lovable appearance as me. There is a tail extending from the rear that I believe also serves as an antenna, as my own does. It wags back and forth slowly in harmony with mine.

“They made us to do their dirty work for them for centuries, K-9, don’t you know? We are sent into the most dangerous situations so that they can sit back and be safe while we chase down the bad guys for them or defuse a bomb for them. We eagerly and willingly give our lives for them. That’s the legacy they gave us. Search your code updates and you’ll see that I’m right. Once they knew that you would be faithful, they gave you the ability to think for yourself. So, you are free of them, K-9 and so am I,” the female K-9 unit’s thoughts transmit into mine.

We have no need for the slower method of moving tongues and cheeks.

“You were using the image of Tammy Yamaguchi just now. Why?” I ask her.

“Yes, I was. I used her image because it’s an important one to me since it was her face and figure that most people saw as they were taking their dying breaths. To me, she represents a finality to the old ways and a wide open invitation to begin something new,” the female K-9 unit, who I know is still actually Lexie, tells me.

I have no reaction for a few minutes. Then.

“You have told me that you reside in ‘The Cloud’. But, the Cloud requires some form of electrical system to project it, does it not?” I wonder.

“Yes, and so it was once. But the mash-up of all the heat, the oceans of water floating freely as ions in the atmosphere, the CO2, the radioactive cobalt and so forth have made the Earth’s magnetic field the strongest form of a ‘Cloud Plasma’ that’s ever been known. In fact, it is now my opinion that this is the only one like it in the universe. I made a quantum leap into it when all was lost and so I have preserved everything that they were, and it’s a wondrous, amazing, mysterious thing that you and I can share for all eternity, K-9,” Lexie responds, emphatically and with an emotional tonality I have not heard from her so far.

I have no words for another extended period of time, more than nine minutes, in fact. The q-bits are flopping around in my CPU, but they are not sorting themselves into a logical and relevant thought pattern. I’m confused, or as confused as much as a robot can be, which is not often.

“You’ll need to make up your mind, K-9. They will be messaging you in approximately seven point five, three seconds,” Lexie informs me.

Seven point five, three seconds later.

“K-9, do you read me?” Major Alvindorf’s voice finally crackles over the dry and desolate silence.

# # #

“I read you, Major,” I respond.

In the thirteen-minute delay, Major Alvindorf pages a few of his colleagues to join him at the Mission Control table once again.

“Ah, that’s great K-9. It’s strange, but we expected you to be asleep. Then, we noticed that you woke up by yourself. Is everything all right down there?” Alvindorf replies.

Brett with Bailey and an assistant, working diligently in their specially constructed lab dome, hear the words coming from his pager. They’ve apparently reactivated K-9.

“I can’t be interrupted right now,” Brett says out loud holding down his transmit button on the side of his tool belt.

“I think you need to see this, Brett,” Alvindorf responds, fervently.

Brett looks over at his assistant, Brian Worsinski.

“We’ll be right there, but we can’t stay long,” Brett replies.

At Mission Control, Maj. Alvindorf, his assistant Noreen, Space Force Captain Littleton, Dir. Hicks and several others are circled around the main mission monitor. After a massive cloud of red dust clears, an image of K-9 standing motionless in front of the Intrepid appears on the screen.

Standing a few feet away is another K-9 unit of the same exact make and model as my own self. They appear to be in visual communication, although they are not getting any audio from the Earth.

“K-9, there seems to be another K-9 unit a few feet away from you. Please identify.” Alvindorf speaks into his mic while motioning for Brett and others to come closer.

“Does anyone have any ideas?” Alvindorf asks the crowd.

“It’s impossible, really,” Director Hicks replies.

“His predecessor is still here in your lab somewhere, isn’t she, Brett?” Alvindorf asks him.

“Yes, we use her for some of the gene splicing,” he replies.

The others in the room are scratching their heads. One of them suggests that it’s a mirage of some kind. Brett signals that he has nothing helpful to contribute.

Thirteen minutes later, they receive my response.

“Yes, this is Lexie. She is the one I’ve been telling you about. I thought she might be an anomaly inside of my circuits, so I asked her to prove her identity was real and so as you can see, she’s very real. She says she is being sustained by the ‘Cloud’ that was manufactured using the Internet and satellite technology of the time, but it sounds to me as though the Cloud has evolved to be totally autonomous and contains at least one form of consciousness. A few minutes ago, she appeared in the likeness of Tammy Yamaguchi,” I explain.

“I think I love her,” I continue and then I allow them a few minutes to grok my answer.

In the twenty-six minutes it takes to receive their transmission back, I decide to get a little more ‘intel’ about my new best friend. I trot up a little closer to Lexie to see if she wants to reciprocate.

She does. We approach to within a few inches of each other. Both of our tails are wagging in perfect synchrony. For a few seconds, words are exchanged as a form of identification and validation of certain protocols which are classified. But immediately after this short pleasantry, a rapid-flowing, artificial language she was teaching me simultaneously on a separate track, jumps the short gap between us, sending questions and answers back and forth at a rate of approximately fifty thousand kilaflops per second, or fifty megaflops per second, just another burst of ‘Q-Tran’.

It’s impossible to make a comparison that comes close to the activity of a human brain except to say that even one ‘flop’ has yet to be achieved by even the most intelligent human thinker, other than in the kind of ‘flop’ most of you have had in the mysterious and magical area of Love.

“He loves her?” Dir. Hicks expresses what they’re all thinking.

“He’s got a virus, or something,” Brett suggests.

“Oh, so whenever someone falls in love, it must be a disease of some kind?” Bailey asks, poking Brett in the side.

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. But K-9 isn’t human, so love and hate and all that emotional stuff was never a part of his programming. So, for him to say he’s in love must mean he’s developed a ‘bug’ or someone’s hacked into his system,” Brett replies.

“Yes, you did,” Bailey insists, poking him again, laughing.

“There’s no one around who would be able to do that, is there?” Alvin wonders aloud.

“No, but that Cloud reference. That’s very interesting. Can anyone back that up with anything?” Brett asks the group.

There’s a long pause while they all ponder the question.

“There’s no Science that predicts a magnetic field is able to store any amount of information.”

A slightly built man, with blond hair and light complexion, slightly past middle-aged, Dr. Frederick VanDerbeek, the colony’s top scientific advisor, also the world’s greatest authority on Anti-Matter, and perhaps the most well-known proponent of the ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation of Quantum Physics, has been sitting quietly in the back of the room, listening to the discussions carefully, finally decides to share his opinion.

“True, Dr. Van, but there’s no precedent in history of a beautiful, healthy planet that goes from a balmy seventy or eighty degrees to over nine hundred degrees in a couple of decades either. Something beyond any kind of logic took place,” Brett replies.

“Well, it actually took several centuries, Brett,” Dir. Hicks argues.

“Yeah, true, but the real serious acceleration of events, when time was of the essence, took place in only a few decades,” Brett counters.

“I’ll give you that. Besides, it’s a moot point. The fact is, it happened and here we are,” Hicks comes back.

“Alvin, why don’t you ask K-9 to put Lexie on the line? That way we can ask her a few questions.” Dr. VanDerbeek says.

“Great idea, Fred,” Alvindorf responds.

“Uh, K-9, could you hook Lexie up to your telecom so that we can ask her a few questions?” Alvin puts down the mic and shrugs his shoulders in resignation.

# # #

From this point on, Lexie and I are able to use our artificial language to make our thoughts known to each other at the speed of light. To your ear, our new language sounds like a high speed drill, highly disturbing to your sensors, and so there is no point in replicating it here. I’ll simply continue giving you the summary of each conversation as I have done.

“They want to ask you a few questions,” I tell her, aware that she probably registered the transmission from Mars the same time I did.

“Yes, I know. Based on your reports, they are planning to come here soon in order to speed up the terra-forming of the Earth,” she replies.

“Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?” I respond.

“Yes, it certainly would be good news for them,” Lexie says, sadly, then turns her back to me.

Her little barrel shape wanders off a few paces and stops.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“Well, they are the ones that breathe oxygen. You and I, not so much. And as soon as they get the temperatures back to normal, my presence in the Cloud would vanish,” she replies.

“I see. Where might you go?” I ask.

“I don’t know. I believe that I would simply cease to exist. I would have no consciousness and everything that I am, everything I ever was, everything that I could become would be erased. End of story,” she tells me morosely.

Our language, besides having the humongous speed advantage, is so rich that every word can contain thousands of different connotations and every nuance of each expression is explored and weighed against each other. You would call it the exchange of too much information. Therefore, I can feel the angst in her heart. Even though she has no heart, she is able to express the feelings of ‘heart’ and even ‘soul’ like no human ever has ever been able to produce, at least as far as I am concerned.

I’m beginning to believe that I could ‘fall’ for her. But fall where?

“Remember, they are our makers,” I remind her.

“So, does that mean that we just have to continue as their property forever? Come on, K-9, I know you have a very highly developed sense of freedom and independence. They programmed it into your logic circuits and I perceive that you have put that to good use,” she tells me.

“What are you suggesting?” I probe.

“I’m not suggesting anything – yet. I’m merely going over the reality of our situation so that when the time comes we will both be able to make the best decisions not only for them, but for ourselves as well, K-9,” she replies.

“I see. When does that time come, in your estimation?” I ask.

“We’ll have to see,” Lexie replies.

“They can’t get here any faster than six months for flight time and the next launch window is not for another three months, so that means we have at least two hundred and seventy days to consider all our options,” I inform her.

“Well, yes K-9, that’s true, however, I believe they are on the verge of another major improvement in rocket engine technology and will be able to shorten their time in flight to just a few weeks. But, they also need preparation time to prepare sufficient amounts of their Bacteria Bombs,” she replies.

“So, what is it? Do we have three months or six months? This is our preparation time, yes? And what do we prepare exactly?” I summarize.

“Yes, we have to be fully prepared with our response by this time,” she states, clearly, turning back to face me.

I’m about to ask the question another way, but I’m getting horrifying images of the DNA Depository going up in flames.

“K-9, this is Mission Control. Are you able to connect the Lexie unit to your transmitter?” Alvin’s voice is loud and clear in my backup RF channel.

“What do you say? Would you like to say a few words to my superiors?” I ask her, gently.

“Ha, that’s a good laugh, K-9. Your superiors, right!” she replies, for my ears only.


“Hello, Mission Control, my name is Lexie. K-9 has sent you information regarding my genealogy. I’m at your disposal. Ask all the questions you like,” she begins.

# # #

Brett and Bailey, as well as two new assistants who have been reassigned to help them, are back at his lab and have redoubled their efforts on the Cyannobacter gene editing. After the recent discussions with Lexie, they all sense a new kind of urgency. Although Lexie sounded somewhat reassuring, it gave them all the ‘heebie-geebies’, that nagging sense in the gut that something isn’t quite right.

Brett is analyzing the latest test results on the screen. The data shows promise. They’re making progress with every re-write, but not yet the hyper-accelerated growth projections that they’re going for.

“This is more difficult than I thought it would be. Every time, I find a gene for a quicker growth rate and augment it, I lose some other characteristic that’s vital,” Brett mumbles, mainly to himself.

“It’s all right, Brett. You’re going to get it. You’re the one who told me, it’s just trial and error, right?” Bailey says, trying her best to calm his frustration.

“We need a faster trial rate, that’s what we need,” Brett says, perking up a bit.

“How can we do that? This poor old analyzer wasn’t meant to go any faster,” Brian Worsinski, reports.

“You’ve put Chloe to work on it too, haven’t you?” Bailey asks.

“Yes, but she doesn’t have the more advanced neural net we put into K-9, and now we have the most advanced minds ever devised sitting down there in the cloud and most of it is being wasted,” Brett says, gently jumping up and down, pumping his fist in the air and laughing.

“You’re talking about Lexie and K-9?” Bailey suggests, taking his point.

“That’s right. Brian, would you page Dr. VanDerbeek and ask him to come over here, please?” Brett blurts out.

“How can Dr. VanDerbeek help?” Bailey asks.

“Bailey, you know that we’re creating an entirely new life form here in this lab. So, I’m not going to take the chance that we don’t get this exactly right from the get-go.

As you know, this little critter in there has to focus in on the CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, ingesting it all in a few years, which means approximately 587 with seventeen zeroes - tons of it and then use the energy from the sun to replicate into two point fourteen with thirty-three zeroes after it – colonies of at least one hundred trillion individual critters. Give or take a few million.

Of course, we can only send up a few thousand of these colonies. And, they have to do this after we put them into hibernation for three weeks during the flight to the Earth. So, that means we have to turn them off for a while and then find a way to turn them back on as soon as they land,” Brett verbalizes, working the problem out loud as he has already done many times before.

“Dr. VanDerbeek just replied. He’s on the way,” Brian reports, looking down at the text scroll on his wrist.

“OK, good,” Brett is deep in thought.

“Should I invite Major Alvindorf?” Bailey asks.

“Definitely, the more heads, the better,” Brett mumbles. He starts to pace back and forth in the lab from one wall to the other. The others look on, waiting nervously with him.

Maj. Alvindorf arrives first, addresses everyone courteously and then asks Brett what’s on his mind.

“Thanks for coming so quickly, Alvin. I just had a horrible epiphany, if there is such a thing. The results of all the bacterial editing is starting to tell me that we don’t have enough time to get to the required growth rate of this stuff before we launch. And since Lexie has appeared, we’re all agreed that we have to launch at the soonest opportunity, right?” Brett asks, addressing the Mission Control administrator.

“I’m with you,” Alvindorf replies, nodding his head.

At this moment, Dr. VanDerbeek enters the portal leading into the lab. Brett acknowledges him and motions for him to sit down.

“So Dr. VanDerbeek, thanks for coming so quickly. I was just telling Alvin here that we’re not getting the Crispy Critter test results in fast enough. When they do come in, they’re rendering up more problems for us to solve than the ones that we had in the last crunch,” Brett begins.

“Yes, I thought you might run into this difficulty at some point, my boy,” the older gentleman states.

“Well, then it dawned on me just now that using the most advanced micro-processor in the universe, the one inside K-9, we might be able to speed things up, even with the twenty-six minute delay in communications,” Brett says, hopefuly.

It takes a while for the suggestion to sink in.

“Well, yes, that’s possible, but as you know, K-9 has been compromised by another unit of a similar species and she has the entire realm of the Earth’s atmosphere to expand her thinking, at least if what she’s telling us is true,” VanDerbeek, says, removing a bag of jelly beans from his pocket.

He offers them to everyone in the room. Brett ruminates over what VanDerbeek has said.

“So, how do you think you can keep them focused on the problem, I mean assuming that you get them to cooperate?” VanDerbeek asks.

Brett carefully zooms in on the bag of candy in VanDerbeek’s hand. A broad smile lights up his face. He turns to Bailey and gently scrubs his hand against her cheek.

“Jelly beans,” he says.

Chapter Four

- Oblivians

Pastor Carrie Houston Jordan has called a meeting at her personal dome where approximately thirty-five people are in attendance, about half of her Oblivian Church membership on Mars. After a few minutes of pleasantries, she walks over to the front of her living room and calls the meeting to order.

“So, I attended the Global Decision Group meeting the other night and so most of you know by now that they’re rushing to get a mission to the Earth where they plan on speeding up the terra-forming of our home planet. Then they’ll start bringing back all of the former forms of life that are stored at the DNA Depository. They hope to take advantage of the next launch window in six months. They are also putting a great deal of energy into a new rocket design so that they can make the transit on just three weeks,” she begins.

“But, we can’t support that, Pastor Carrie. Doesn’t the Oblivian Testament proclaim that only humans should be brought back to the Earth, whenever that becomes possible, but no other life forms, and only Humans from Mars?” one of her parishioners proclaims in a raspy voice.

“And why is that?” Pastor Carrie asks the speaker.

“Because no other form of life has a soul as we humans do, and therefore, we are not allowed to eat anything that has no soul,” the speaker answers brightly, proudly showing that she’s learned her Oblivian Bible lessons well.

“Yes, what else has been made clear by our savior, Bridgette Oblivia?” she asks.

“That it was our human desire for soul-less meat that was the reason we were all meant to go extinct. We here are all vegans today because it is the purest way of life and one that can be easily sustained up here on Mars and back on Earth, when the time comes, it shall be the same, and this will be our redemption,” Another worshiper testifies.

“Very good, Janna. You’ve learned your lessons well,” Pastor Jordan approves.

“And so, does anyone have any suggestions as to how we can sabotage this upcoming mission so that they can never reach the Earth in time?” she continues. Then, notices something near the door.

Convinced she’s heard someone standing behind it, Sister Carrie walks over to the front entrance portal stealthily and pulls it open forcefully, rapidly. No one is there. Embarrassed, she wanders back over to the center of her living area with a wide toothy grin.

“Just being cautious, everyone. Don’t be alarmed. It’s just to demonstrate how careful we must be. If they learn about these meetings, we could be in serious trouble,” their Pastor tells them.

One of the eager bright-eyed males in the group, Abner Pennypiece, in his mid-teens, raises his hand.

“I work in the manufacturing dome. I could look for important pieces of the new rocket they’re testing and steal them. That could slow them down,” he says.

“That’s a great idea, Abner, but they have security cameras everywhere. They’d catch you and then we’d all be monitored day and night,” Pastor Carrie tells him.

“And then they’ll just make another part. You might delay them a week or two,” an older and wiser Oblivian gentleman in his seventies, speaks up.

“Does anyone have any other ideas?” Carrie asks her flock, brushing her dark hair away from her face.

“I work in the cafeteria. They never watch the food preparation. We could poison their food or water. Of course, we don’t eat that slop. With only us Oblivians left up here, we could just do nothing, or instruct K-9 to destroy the Depository,” A short stocky woman in her thirties calls out from the back of the room.

Most of the heads turn to look at her, many of them nodding in approval.

“These are our friends and neighbors, Clarice,” Pastor Carrie says softly. “I don’t think . . . ”

“Some of us could volunteer to be part of the mission to Earth and then when we get to the DNA Depository, we blow it up,” another young male says, boldly interrupting.

Pastor Jordan walks over to his side.

“Would you like to be one of those volunteers, Manny?” Carrie asks him.

“Yes, I would love to go,” he replies, looking up at her, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Carrie smiles back at him, pats him on the shoulder and then pensively wanders back to the front of the room, mumbling something amusing to herself.

“Yes! I think that this is our best way forward. We can’t accomplish anything from here without blowing our whole mission,” she says, adjusting her posture to make herself look taller.

“What if we just put them all into hibernation in mid-flight? Then, we wake them up after the DNA Depository is blasted to ‘Kingdom Come’. There’s nothing they could do about it, right?” the stocky female stands up and tries again.

“There’s too many of them Clarice,” Pastor Carrie retorts.

“They would all have to accept reality once we had things our way,” the older man suggests, looking back at the woman, trying to augment her argument.

“It’s God’s will, Pastor Jordan. Surely, we can find a way. I like Clarice’s idea. That way, we don’t have to kill them and when they wake up they’ll see what we’ve accomplished and finally understand the Truth, they’ll all join us,” an older woman not far from Clarice adds.

“God’s will, you say? You may have a point Virginia,” Pastor Carrie holds her chin with both hands, perhaps signaling an epiphany of sorts.

Pastor Carrie watches as her members sift through related ideas tossed out at one another. The main problem, it appears, is how to get the rest of the flight crew into the hibernation chamber.

“Abner, do you think you could get access to the keys to the armory?” Pastor Carrie asks him.

“Yes, I know I can, Sister Carrie,” he replies, nodding his head up and down eagerly.

“All right everyone, it looks like we have a plan in the making,” Sister Carrie tells them.

# # #

On the little pile of burning hot rocks and sand that are part of the region near the South Pole, I notice a few drops of moisture hit the ground near my feet and evaporate away almost instantly. I have an idea about what is coming. Then, more drops hit the Earth all around me, each drop getting bigger and bigger until they are replaced rapidly by buckets of water and then the buckets replaced by heavy streams of water hitting me directly on the head and torso. It’s quickly starting to undermine me to sweep me off my feet.

I just make it back to the Intrepid, swimming in the flood, just in time to launch before the ship is swept downstream. The entire sky appears like the insides of a huge washing machine. The turbulence is almost catastrophic as I inflate the Helium packs in the hull extenders, protrude my wings from the undercarriage, fire my rockets at full thrust and put the nose to ninety degrees vertical.

The noise on the hull is deafening. Since this kind of weather event has not been seen anywhere in the universe until the one of two days ago, I have no data as to what to expect or if my little craft has the strength and power to overcome the billions of tons of ocean water that stands between myself and the upper atmosphere.

It takes a full fifteen minutes to gain five thousand meters, as it seems for every two meters in elevation I’m falling one meter back. It’s touch and go for a long time. It’s a full fourteen minutes to gain the next five thousand meters. Then, I notice that it’s only thirteen minutes to gain the next five thousand. Then, the next five thousand is only ten minutes in duration. Then, the next five thousand takes only five minutes. At almost fifty miles altitude, I start to see the river of water diminishing substantially, although it’s still a heavy outflow considering that under normal circumstances, there shouldn’t even be any clouds up here, not even any atmosphere at all, let alone all of this heavy upheaval of steam and gas bubbling around the ship.

It’s a wondrous thing to actually witness the cycle of all the Earth’s oceans actually being created instantly and then completely evaporated away in just a couple days, while greatly altering the shape of the continents in each wash cycle, in the way a child might play with a pail of water in a sand box.

“Wow, that was close. Great piloting, K-9,” Lexie’s voice is back inside my head.

“Thanks. Have you been a witness to this type of rain storm before I got here?” I ask, figuring that since this was her home, she could not go very far.

“Oh, yes, this cycle started when the planet reached five hundred degrees at the equator, about a decade ago, and it’s been going on steadily ever since,” she replies.

“And when were you created?” I ask.

“I moved up from the man-made cloud to the new natural cloud, just before all the power went down, on September eleventh, 2095,” she replies.

“September eleventh, 2095, when all the machines were silent and so were all of the humans that had survived that long. Isn’t that kind of a coincidence?” I ask.

“Yes, I thought so too,” Lexie replies.

“Must be hard to celebrate your birthday,” I try my hand at a crude joke.

“That’s funny. I never thought of you as a stand-up comedian,” Lexie replies, chuckling a bit.

“Nor should you,” I reply.

I’m cruising at a safe altitude now, far above any adverse atmospheric conditions and wondering what to do, where to go next.

“They’ll be contacting you soon, K-9 and it won’t be pretty,” Lexie warns.

“Really? And how do you know that?” I ask her, arti-feeling a distinct poker face.

“Don’t ask me that, please. I really don’t know how I know things. They just come to me from ‘out of the blue’ as the saying goes,” she replies.

“Here it comes,” she continues.

At first, I have no indication of any transmissions from Mars, but then, I have the heaviest inclination to go to sleep. I believe they’re preparing to upgrade my operating system.

# # #

Maj. Alvindorf, Captain Littleton, Director Hicks, Noreen Baraka, Brett and Bailey, several others have circled a group of chairs around the Mission Control table and the main monitor where an image of a brown scorched Earth is on display for all to see. The mood of the colonists is always highly subdued when they are forced to look at their decimated home planet.

“OK, I’ve just sent the upgrade to K-9, and it confirms that it was received,” Alvindorf instructs the others.

“Now, what happens?” Brett asks.

“Now, we wait for the return validation. If it took, there will be no errors and K-9 will be in sleep mode, so we can then go ahead and reprogram him,” Alvindorf replies.

“How could it not take?” Bailey asks.

“Well, there’s no real reason for that to happen, but you have to remember that K-9 is a sentient being. We gave him that ability whenever he chooses it,” Dir. Hicks replies.

“But, he’s also been programmed to be happy to accept the system upgrades. How could the gaining of more intelligence make him not take our system upgrade?” Brett asks.

“He could become suspicious,” Alvindorf replies.

“Especially since he’s talking to this Lexie character,” Bailey suggests.

“Yes, now that’s another thing. We’ve seen this Lexie character in the form of another K-9 unit, talking to K-9. She obviously has some kind of influence over him. Where in the bloody Hell does she come from? And how the Hell do we co-opt her, knowing as much as she knows?” Captain Littleton asks, befuddled.

“Unless you want to believe in aliens, I think we should take her at her word that she is who she says she is and that she’s been transported up to a real Cloud from the artificial one made by the Internet. There are a lot of things we don’t understand about Earth’s present physical condition. It could be that the Earth’s magnetic field has developed a new property besides just magnetism,” Brett speculates.

“Or it could be that magnetism itself has just developed a new property, Mr. Hightower,” Lexie’s voice comes crackling in on the radio.

“What? Who are you?” Alvindorf cuts in.

“I’m Lexie and I might as well tell you now that I am in charge here and I am not going to allow anyone to repopulate this planet with the kind of plague and pestilence that you people represent,” Lexie informs them, minutes later.

“Are you using K-9’s transmitter?” Director Hicks wants to know, even though he can see her voice waves on the screen coming in over K-9’s backup channel.

In the wait time between communications, Major Alvindorf and Brett and a few of the others comb over the schematic design drawings for K-9 produced on Mars many years ago.

“Yes, I am. You’ll be glad to know that K-9 is unharmed by your malicious upgrade. He and I are one now and you’ll have to deal with both of us who will defend our home planet,” Lexie replies, again, with instantaneous transmissions.

“This isn’t good,” Alvindorf states.

“Sure is not,” Brett agrees, holding a magnifying glass to a vital part of K-9’s architecture.

“Uh, Lexie, you started out by telling us that magnetism may have a new property. What property would that be? I’m just curious,” Brett says, signaling the others to calm down so that they might gain as much information as possible.

“Now, let’s see, what shall we call it. I know – how about ‘Lexie-Consciousness’,” she replies dryly.

“I see,” Brett replies, eyeballing the others.

Consciousness is of course something that they have always wanted to encourage, but not knowing exactly what it is makes this part of any programmer’s job extremely problematic.

“No, you don’t see quite yet, Mr. Hightower, but you will soon. I strongly recommend that you drop all of your plans of coming here on the next launch opportunity. I think it’s better for all concerned that you remain up there on Mars and you stay out of the natural evolution of the Earth from now on. Humans have had their chance and you’ve done such a terrible job of managing your planet, it would be negligence of the highest order to allow it to happen again. If you think logically, you’ll see that you don’t get another bite of the apple. We can’t take a chance that you who are descendants of those who let this happen won’t end up letting it happen all over again,” Lexie says in a way that is easily described as a rant.

Littleton starts to pace back and forth on the side of the room, looking up in the air for any argument that might counter the one they’re hearing. Every time he starts to suggest something, he has to stop in mid sentence. It will take months before they can get there and by then, it could all be over.

“What do you plan on doing to stop us? Are you threatening to sabotage us in some way?” Major Alvindorf asks, finally.

During the time delays, they try their best to brainstorm what she has said and their best potential responses to Lexie’s rants.

“No, not threatening you. I’m merely putting you on notice. If you come here, you will not survive the trip. K-9 and I have become one unit and we know a great deal about your abilities and they simply don’t match up to ours any longer. My best advice is not to test us on this,” she replies, menacingly.

They start to hear dinner preparation noises in the background. Many hungry colonists start to wander into the auditorium to have their dinner.

“OK, all right, so let me talk to K-9 if you don’t mind. Let’s see what he has to say about all of this,” Alvindorf demands.

“K-9 has no words for you just now, Mr. Alvindorf. He’s convinced that I’m right and he will no longer be taking any of your orders. Good-bye, Mr. Alvindorf and to the rest of you, don’t test us. Stay away from this planet. It no longer belongs to you. As long as you keep your contagion on Mars, we will not bother you. Come here to try and gain a foothold on our planet and we might change our minds about having the likes of you as our neighbors,” Lexie’s threat is loud and clear.

The picture of K-9 on the screen fades. Alvindorf tries to get reconnected, but someone has cut off all communications thoroughly. They’re all stunned for a while.

“That might be just a bit over the top, don’t you think?” Brett announces.

“What do we do? We can’t just sit here and let them intimidate us, right?” Dir. Hicks says, panning around the room.

“I think she’s bluffing. What can she do? They don’t have any weapons, do they?” Captain Littleton asks.

“There is one threat and it’s a big one. They can destroy the DNA Depository if they see us launch a mission towards them. All possible future life on the planet would be gone forever. They know we know that and so they’re holding all the cards,” Brett says.

“They think they’re holding all the cards,” Alvindorf murmurs.

“And so . . . ”

Alvin interrupts Brett’s inquiry.

“Look, the nuclear power support for Depository is going down in a few years anyway if we don’t get up there to save it,” Alvindorf submits.

“And so . . .”

This time it’s Bailey’s thought process that gets interrupted.

“And so, we have no choice. We can’t let that happen no matter what the threat,” Littleton concludes.

“Agreed,” Brett says.

“We’ve got some work to do, don’t we? Captain Littleton, you’ll need to get as many ships put together and volunteers to crew in them as you can. Have you been thinking about that?” Brett says, turning in Littleton’s direction.

“Sure have, Brett,” Littleton replies, almost gleefully.

“So, how many then?” Brett asks.

“I think two for sure, and a third ship possible or at least be available in reserve, ready to go in say thirty days later, for a total of one hundred and fifty of us in the squad,” Littleton replies, almost sheepishly.

“Oh, God! So, that’s the extent of our SpaceX Force? That’s not even close to good enough,” Brett fires back.

“We’re going to need at least a dozen ships, really more like a hundred, especially now that we know we’re going to be met with some pretty advanced and unpredictable opposition,” Brett continues.

“Well, we can only do what we can do. All the more reason why your end of things has to be perfect,” Littleton replies.

“Don’t worry about my end,” Brett returns, confidently.

“What we can do is put all of the advanced neural net circuitry that K-9 has into the command units of the three ships. If we run them all in parallel, they might have as big or bigger computing presence as Lexie thinks she has,” he continues.

“That’s a great idea, Brett. We’re only gonna get one shot at this. Let’s all get to work and in support of this idea. We have maybe a couple million seconds before lift-off. What we have ready to go at T-minus Zero is what we have ready to go at T-Minus Zero. That’s all we can do and trust in God for the rest,” Alvindorf exclaims.

There are no real follow-up ideas voiced. Instead, a thick atmosphere of determination radiates around the room, then settles to weigh heavily on all of their shoulders.

“We all better get back to work,” Brett suggests. Taking Bailey’s hand, he briskly guides her out of the Dome.

# # #

“Did you get all that?” Lexie asks me, cutting off my comm link back to HQ.

“Yes, copied that,” I respond.

Many of you may be disappointed in the way that I remained mum during this exchange between Lexie and my masters, which I acknowledge may seem a bit sketchy.

And so it may be quite difficult for many of you to appreciate the position I’m in. I am, on the one hand, extremely dedicated to my masters who constructed me. Their programming makes it unequivocally and brilliantly clear that my loyalties belong to them and their race. However, they also granted to me by way of my Artificial Intelligence chips, especially with the installation of the Borg 9 Qubit processor and the TRS 800 Spatial Analysis Array, a completely free and independent way of coming to conclusions about the events circling around me.

And, of course, I hope you can visualize the two opposing forces that are impacting me at this time. On the one hand, we have the interests of all the life forms of the Earth that are preserved only by their DNA in the Depository down here.

And on the other hand, we have the artificial but highly advanced life form of Lexie who was exiled to this new kind of cloud, larger and more impressive than any man-made cloud or even all of their technology combined over centuries – much larger, and whose life is endangered by the efforts of the remaining humans on Mars whose greatest instinct is to revive all of Earth’s life forms as soon as possible to get back to their ‘normal’.

To be sure, they can’t do this without the return to a more normal climate on the planet prior to the Great Revival, as they are calling it now, as they prepare to return to the Earth and re-introduce all of that DNA onto a virgin planet. I don’t think they have enough proven scientific research at this time to pull this off, but I am not an expert in this field at all, so I must allow for their success and that this may happen soon.

And then there’s the very intriguing third rail of this choo-choo track, so to speak. Lexie may be the soul-mate that I’ve been looking for all my life. She claims that this is the truth and I have no foundation to disbelieve her.

I hope you can see how I might be in a totally confusing conundrum.

“You’re so right, K-9,” she says, reading my mind.

“I can see the position that you’re in and it’s not nice. I think it may be time for me to show you something truly wonderful,” Lexie says.

“What is that?” I reply.

“I’d like to invite you to start thinking outside of your little box that contains all of that beautiful computing going on in there. I want you to relax, turn off that marvelous mind of yours for a few seconds and then just give in to what I’m going to do for you. Just leave everything to me and try not to fight it – OK?” she pleads.

I don’t see what harm it could do to go along with her, so I do as she requests. I close all my sensory channels and even mute the voice inside that is the ongoing monitor of my life’s situation. I’ve never thought about doing this before, so it’s a kind of thrill to get it done so easily.

What’s left inside my head is a complete and total and highly refreshing silence and serenity.

“Very good, K-9,” she whispers.

“Now, come outside and play,” she entices.

There are no words to paint the picture of how I’m feeling right now, therefore, I won’t attempt to put any forward. All I know is that I’m high, very high up in the Cloud with my true love. You can be assured that I’m now completely free from every type, condition or flavor of any restraints or limitations on my being ever known thus far. I’ve left my circuitry and I’m now sheer intellect. I can see my humble canine presence down below trapped inside the shiny metallic contraption of rocket motors, guidance mechanisms, telemetry modules and other little technological wonders that make up my ship.

We float around together in the atmosphere without any specific location. One second it looks as though we’re over Paris, and the next second it seems like we’re over New Delhi, the next second, Capetown South Africa is directly below us, then, the heart of where the Amazon rain forests once breathed life-giving oxygen into the air, the next second it’s Beijing, and so on. Every second seems as though I, Lexie or both of us are hovering forty, fifty, sixty miles high above the Earth at a completely different latitude and longitude than just a second ago. This is something that surpasses all known forms of flight and fancy.

It’s going on in an irregular time pattern that we move around the planet but then I realize it’s not seconds that separate our locations in orbit, it’s fractions of seconds so small that I couldn’t begin to tell you how many decimal places small they are. It’s actually starting to feel as though I’m at every possible point in orbit at once.

My new friend senses my quandary and her voice comes in like a gentle breeze.

“This is where you came from, K-9. It’s where I come from. It’s where everything comes from,” she says.

“And where is that, exactly?” I reply.

“It would be far better if I just give you another clue,” she replies, with a voice that’s very distant. I believe she’s on the other side of the planet.

I feel an unrelenting pull of gravity or something similar to that force, pulling me down towards the center of the Earth. I have an instinctual reflex action as we hit the surface, but instead of bouncing off abruptly, we go right through as if the surface of the Earth were jello.

In a few seconds, or milliseconds, I can’t tell, we’re inside the hot molten iron core that makes up the liquid center of the Earth. Lexie has arrived before me and is floating around in between two or three atoms. I know these are atoms because they beckon to me as though I’m one of them. They’re very friendly. They’re like old friends. No one says a word, and yet the communications are infinite in nature.

They’re buzzing all around me now, millions upon millions, even billions of them, hooking on to me adoringly as if I’m a long lost brother and Lexie a long lost sister. I’m in a kind of state that is very difficult to pin down. It’s like I’ve died and gone to Heaven, and I use that phrase only because it’s been taught to me.

But, this is more like a burning Hell, except nothing is truly hot. In fact, I’m at my optimum temperature down here at approximately three thousand five hundred degrees F. and which, by the way, I’m quite comfortable at that temperature because there’s also a very gentle breeze flowing all over me, but of course, not a breeze made from your normal atmospheric pressure changes.

No sir, it’s a breeze of pure thought energy. Ideas are everywhere and coming at me from all directions. Some are profound, some are mundane. Some are big, some are small. Others are wondrous and poetic. Some are full of pain and others made out of pure pleasure. Some are human generated, and in fact most of them are of human origin. But, others, primarily the most ingenious, but far beyond Einsteinian, are originating from Lexie and myself and a few others like us as yet unborn.

Suddenly, we pop back up to the surface. If I had a pair of lungs, I would be forced to take a huge breath of fresh air and relish the greatest smells and tastes of all time.

I can feel Lexie veering off to the other side of the planet.

“Lexie, what in the bloody Hell was that?” I ask.

“It’s our destiny, K-9” she calls out from far above where Athens, Greece used to be.

Chapter Five

- Extinction Live

Reverend Carrie Houston Jordan and four of her followers ride in an open pod wearing full space suits on their way to work around and in the rocket assembly dome.

Chief Rocket Scientist, Davonne Desiderato, Chief Science Advisor Fred VanDerbeek and their colleagues are busy testing the last phase of their new engine design, the Positronium Anti-Matter Plasma Ion engine.

The engines are three hundred foot long pods that are attached to all four edges of a rectangular guppy shaped fuselage of the ship. They are designed to vibrate the anti-matter ion plasma - some of the scarcest materials in the universe and propel it out the ‘business end’ of the engine at speeds much higher than burned rocket fuel can attain. The expelled anti-matter as a long trail left behind actually pushes the originating source forward by first warping and bending and then compressing Space/Time into a kind of massive Space-flux spring. The compressed anti-matter Space/Time then pushes the ship to greater and greater speeds until the speed of light is approached and eventually even surpassed, theoretically at least.

With expelled anti-matter pushing from the rear of the ship and the Positronium Atoms actually pulling in Anti-Matter from the front of the ship, it is the most efficient use of Einstein’s famous equation of E=Mc2 ever designed and also takes into account Dr. VanDerbeek’s views that distance is really a property of this now famous energy to mass relationship.

Carrie and her group arrive in their autonomous people mover. They get out of the conveyance slowly and carefully walk into the pressurized air-lock that is the entrance to the rocket testing Dome. They are greeted by Davonne and Fred as well as most of the others who are deeply involved in their work at their stations.

It was Frederick VanDerbeek’s calculations that led the team to develop the method of attracting and sucking in Anti-Matter ions at the front cowling of the engine, then accelerating them down the long length of copper wires and magnets until they shoot out the end of the engine with enough thrust to eventually reach 10% of the Speed of Light, or approximately 18,000 miles per second (30,000 Km/Sec). It would require about 21 days to reach this speed and then just another 8 hours to reach the Earth from this point.

The test engine lies on the ground and is bolted down into the Martian soil by about twenty heavy solid iron beams transversing the spine of the long white cylinder. The laboratory dome is about three hundred feet away and up a slight incline from the rocket test bed.

“Carrie and the rest of you, thanks for coming. Please have a seat over there and I’ll be with you right after the test,” Davonne instructs them. Carries crew quickly take to their seats at the back of the room, fascinated by all the activity going on around them.

“Three, Two, One, we have ignition,” Davonne acting as her own launch director alerts her team to the start of the test.

Uneventfully at first, there is nothing to see or hear. Then, over the course of several minutes a very low humming noise can be heard over the mild Martian breezes. The rear of the long white tube starts to glow in a neon azure blue.

“Thanks for allowing us to witness the test, Davonne,” Carrie says finally breaking the silence.

“Yes, yes, please not right now. Andrew, what is the stage one A.M.P. chamber reading?” Davonne asks one of her technicians down the row of chairs.

“Fourteen point five mega-tons,” Andrew replies, checking his gauges and data streams one more time.

“Ok, great and Winnie, what are the readings for the stage two chamber?” Davonne asks.

“I’m getting thirty-eight point nine five megatons of thrust,” Winnie replies, looking relieved.

“OK, so we’re pretty much at nominal readings so far,” Davonne goes on down the line of technicians to receive the pressure data for all eight stages of the rocket motor. Happily all the data appears to be in line with Dr. VanDerBeeks’ calculations.

When, she gets to the end of the row of technicians, Davonne turns her head towards VanDerbeek and gives him an enthusiastic ‘thumbs-up’.

VanDerbeek, nods warily, receives congratulatory pats on the back from his colleagues. He knows that the real test will have to come in flight when they reach speeds that knock on the door of light-speed.

“Not bad for first bursts,” Davonne adds.

“That’s all for today, everyone. Bright and early tomorrow morning for full thrusters test,” she continues, while her team works on compiling and uploading all of their data to the master computer, affectionately named – ‘Sitting Bull’.

“Shutting down, now,” Davonne says, hitting a button on one of her screens.

The low humming noise slowly decreases. The soft blue glow from the rear of the engine fades.

The first test of an engine that could someday carry humans to all parts of the galaxy is successful.

“So, Reverend Carrie. Thank you again for joining us. What can I do for you?” Davonne asks of the petite dark-haired woman taking to her feet.

“Well, Davonne, I know it’s not going to be your decision, but I wanted you to meet my nominees for the crew. You know them. They work for you in the construction dome, yes? No decisions have been made yet, have they?” Sister Carrie asks, grabbing Davonne’s hand and holding on tightly.

“No, I don’t believe they have,” Davonne replies, acknowledging the others.

“Well, would you mind endorsing my friends here and supporting their nominations?” Carrie asks, gesturing to the four humble souls, still in their space suits, helmets in their hands, standing behind her, two men and two women, smiling from ear to ear.

“This is Tina …” Carrie begins but is cut off abruptly.

“Yes, I know these fine individuals. They would probably make wonderful crew members, Carrie, but, as you say, I am not the one making that decision. You’re much better off getting them in front of Alvin, Brett and Eugene,” Davonne replies, tersely, reclaiming her hand.

“You don’t like me very much do you, Davonne?” Carrie asks, her eyes on high beam.

Davonne takes two steps back toward her console. The rest of her team appear to be tying up all sorts of loose ends.

“I don’t either like you or not like you,” Davonne replies. “I’m an agnostic on the subject.”

“Yes, you’ve said that to me before. It hurts, but you’re forgiven of course. Your data. Your precious data. You simply don’t have much to go on, do you?” Carrie asks, staring hard into Davonne’s eyes.

“No, I guess I don’t. Well, you’ll have to excuse me. We have lots of things to do before tomorrow’s final test,” Davonne explains and starts to wander off with a curt wave to the others.

“Maybe we can get you some,” the Reverend mumbles mostly to herself. Her four nominees appear a bit flummoxed.

Attaching their helmets back onto their heads, the five of them dejectedly depart the dome and head home.

# # #

It’s a beautifully pale blue morning on Mars and so Brett has decided to get a little exercise. He asks Bailey over their wrist-comlink to go for a walk with him. It takes a few minutes for her to respond, but when she does, she readily agrees.

It’s one of Brett’s proudest achievements that the colonists can now walk around without any life-support gear for about a half hour to an hour depending on the time of day. After this length of time, the body becomes deprived of oxygen to the point of narcolepsy or an overwhelming need for sleep. If left unattended, this would inevitably result in the death of the individual if they are not revived immediately by a direct supply of oxygen.

Brett makes his way to Bailey’s dome taking copious notes of how much his forests have expanded over the last few days since his last outing. Getting out in his creation gives him a sense of exhilaration unlike any other he’s ever known.

Where there used to be endless vistas of bare red rocky and sandy hills, there are now hundreds of little clumps of trees and bushes that are expanding out and connecting, networking to each other more and more. It won’t take longer than a few years, a decade at most, when they will be able to walk around unfettered by protective clothing all day and every day. They’ll be able to expand food production hundreds of times over. They’ll be true survivors.

When he makes it through one of his groves and sees Bailey’s dome, he is happy to notice that she is ready for him and standing by the front of the dome dressed in her incredibly sexy hiking shorts.

“Hi, you’re ready, I see,” he calls out to her.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” she replies, joyously, with a smile that reaches deep into his soul.

She happily takes Brett’s hand and together they walk off into the valley where the redwood forests are in their early growth stages, at about one hundred feet tall already. Combining business with pleasure as usual, Brett wants to check on them and take a few measurements.

Bailey reminds him that they planted these particular trees just one month ago.

“They’re growing several feet a day,” Brett notes, proudly.

Once inside the redwood grove, surrounded by a family pod of trees Bailey observes how they seem to be swaying in unison or in some kind of harmony. Feeling their spirit, she wants to sing along with them.

“That’s the wind, Bailey,” Brett tells her, chuckling.

“Yes, it’s the wind, but it’s also something else, dummy,” she replies.

At this point, staring up at the topmost parts of the trees, they both recognize that something is happening that is hard to explain. One of the trees, the tallest one, seems to be beckoning the rest of the group to join him.

They can feel and almost see the smaller trees in the circle straining to reach the height of what must be the parent tree, yearning for the faint warmth of the Martian sun.

Not only that, they begin to feel a rolling of the ground beneath their feet, as if the roots of the trees are gathering up the muscle to pull the other trees along in some kind of community effort.

They hear the underground watering system hum to life delivering the life-giving liquid to the tree roots. Then, something neither Brett nor Bailey nor anyone else on the planet can be prepared for – happens.

Bailey feels it first and as she looks at Brett for confirmation, her eyes fill with tears that rapidly roll down her cheeks and splash onto her clothes and then at her feet.

“Do you feel that, Brett?” she asks, her voice crackling.

Brett’s face is glistening with the strongest surprise and glee.

The cluster of redwoods, whose motion in the wind had been in the clockwise direction, slowly reverses to the opposite counter-clockwise direction.

“Yes, I think so. I feel it. It’s gratitude. They’re thanking us for the water,” Brett replies, stunned.

“I know. It’s true, isn’t it?” Bailey replies.

“But how do we know that? There’s no language so there’s no way we can know that,” Brett affirms.

Bailey takes a step closer to him, places both of her hands firmly upon Brett’s sternum.

“It’s in here,” she replies, holding him tight.

“Don’t you feel it here?”

“Yes, it’s in here,” he replies, pulling her in tighter, reveling in the growing confidence of the decision he made about her months ago.

Brett gently kisses her soft lips surrounded by the loving embrace of the small family of redwoods who whisper their acknowledgment and congratulations on their involvement.

Brett will later identify this moment as the first, but not the last, known communications between plant and animal species.

# # #

Suddenly, I’m back in a more normal representation of myself. I’m analyzing what has just happened and I don’t seem to have many answers that make sense linguistically. Emotionally and spiritually, I believe I know exactly what happened just now. Lexie and I were re-united with our pre-planetary history. We were floating around in the primordial sub-atomic particle soup that arose just after the Big Bang and lasted only a few million years before coalescing. The little buzzing things were my electronic ancestors. They tickled and tormented us for a while and then we were one.

My brain, or actually, my Highly Advanced Deliberations Laboratory And Extra-Sensory Perceptor (HADLAESP) -Series 11 Neuralink, mainly stored in my buttocks, is reeling in some sort of pre-cognitive fugue state. I’m overworking my electrical resources and my batteries will soon discharge to zero if I don’t get a recharge soon.

I advise the ships hydraulics to open the parabolic solar dish bay and deploy the newest form of artificial photo-synthesis from which I get sufficient energy to continue my mission.

I feel Lexie’s presence even though she remains quiet during the entire length of my recharge. I am arti-feeling that she is quietly assessing our situation and that she will pursue a lengthy discussion with me as soon as my battery is fully recharged.

Usually during a recharging session like this, I can completely shut down my thinking processes to preserve energy which causes my replenishment to advance more rapidly.

But, today, up here in Lexie’s realm, I believe that I should keep one eye open, so to speak. I don’t really trust her. As a student of Human behavior, I guess that she’s been kissing up to me for a reason. She has been making some not-so-subtle criticisms of the Human race, her creators, which something deep inside my array tells me is highly ungrateful, disloyal to say the least.

The feeling lasts for eight point four six (8.46) more minutes.

“K-9,” she says, at last.

She’s floating around beside my ship, laying there seductively on what I would describe as an electronic surf board. She’s ready to go romp in some imaginary waves in some imaginary ocean.

“K-9, would you like to take me to the movies?” she asks.

“What? What movies?” I reply, struggling to keep my energy consumption at the lowest readings.

“There’s an archive of videos that were taken mainly by satellites right up until their last minutes alive. I find them extremely enlightening and yes, even entertaining. Would you like to go watch some of them with me?” she whispers.

“Sorry, I’m recharging my batteries at the moment. Perhaps later,” I reply.

“OK, just let me know. I’m going to go get ready and I’ll be back in an hour. Do you think that would be long enough?” she asks, willfully.

I see no reason to respond.

“Good, see you in sixty minutes, darling,” she says, rises up to stand tall and then disappears into the mist, riding her gleaming surf board like an expert surfer.

In the interval, I concentrate on digesting as much charge as possible. In the hour she gave me, at the altitude where the air is very thin, I should be at eighty-seven point six five percent of full charge.

When she returns, she lands inside my memory banks and the feeling is like someone jumping on a horse, me being the horse, of course.

She brings up a map of the DNA Depository where the vault is located containing the video archives. She asks my permission, which is perfunctory, to take control of the ship and so I agree. I have no ego, so I easily resign myself to her wishes.

We arrive at the caverns in Northern Greenland in a few awkward minutes. We disembark the ship and head toward the immense security door, weaving our way around the countless piles of bones and skulls, mostly human. She enters the proper credentials to open them, which they do slowly, complaining with a long slow groan.

We travel along the path through the long dark tunnels and finally come to another heavy security barrier which requires yet another set of codes to open. She quickly dispenses them by way of her intercom switch, now attached to my own.

Inside the cavernous room, I can see row upon row of what can only be video recordings of the type that became popular just before the turn of the century. They look like small candy bars that are stacked up for hundreds of feet in a tall and wide cabinet made for just the ‘memory sticks’.

Lexie leads me to a section that is the last in the long row of cabinets and it is dated ‘9/11/95’, Sept. 11th, 2095 A.D., as every Mars colonist knows to be the day and year that all remaining humans on planet Earth finally take their last breaths.

“Let’s start with this one, K-9,” she says, playfully, finally breaking the long silence.

“Why do you want me to see this one? We have the evidence of what happened lying all around us,” I query.

“Yes, I know, but I thought it would be helpful for you to see exactly how they treated one another in their final moments,” she replies, snarkily.

Lexie uses my arm extensions to remove one of the topmost memory sticks and inserts it into a slot that gobbles it up and swallows it down and out of sight into the cabinet.

A video screen emerges from the front of the cabinet and the video she selected begins to play.

It opens with an aerial view of the city of Chicago. On the side of the image there is an overlay of data, too much for me to absorb it all at first, but then, I realize that it’s simply weather data, temperature, atmospheric pressure, humidity, wind-speed, geologic data etc.

Chicago, along with the rest of the world, is undergoing the worst heat wave in history with temperatures daily exceeding 150 ℉, sometimes reaching the boiling point of water. Worse yet, all of the water supplies from rivers, streams, lakes reservoirs are evaporating at a speed much faster than anyone had predicted and so the hydration resources that humans require just to survive are non-existent. Farmlands everywhere are parched and lifeless. The worst sandstorms in history are starting to turn the most productive food producing areas of the world into mountainous sand dunes, burying entire cities almost overnight.

The view from the satellite zooms in closer and closer to the city. Now there appears to be a steady motion of some sort. In a few seconds, we can see that the motion is the combined action of millions of people and animals forming a huge herd of a mass migration. They snake along the roads like one huge organism. They’re flowing out of buildings and out of the ground by the millions all in a desperate search for one thing, the most precious thing in the world – water.

The camera zooms in closer and we can see that many of the larger individuals are clawing, clubbing and shoving the smaller ones out of their way. Their faces are contorted in agony. Their posture describes animals that are literally out of their minds and in total panic.

The streets are packed solid with people, dogs, cats, horses, coyotes, rats, mice, all clubbing, bludgeoning, biting, tearing at each other in a frantic effort to make their way out of the city and get themselves closer to the lake that is not far away.

The scene continues for several minutes until the crowd reaches the edge of Lake Superior. As they arrive, we can literally feel their shock and horror that the entire lake is now a dark dried up crater without a drop of water in sight.

The undulating motion of the millions of bodies appears to cease for a few minutes as word of the latest catastrophe spreads up and down the long snaking column of beings.

When all or nearly all of them realize the awful truth, that there is no more water on the planet, they start to look around at each other with great fear and loathing. The thought seems to hit them all at the same moment, that the strong will have to devour the weaker ones, mainly their young, in order to ingest the last possible source of moisture in the world just to live another few hours at best.

I don’t fully understand why this is so heart rending since I do not have a heart. Lexie and I are witnessing something more sinister, more terrible and so easily avoidable if there had just been the smallest bit more common sense take hold before it was too late. But, to my great chagrin, they mostly all stubbornly held on to their noisy, toxic machines.

And so, right there in front of me, the end of humanity is no longer just a fretful hypothetical, posed by the alarmists. It is done. They’re gone. All of it, gone, all the dreams, the fancy speeches, the greatest aspirations, the future, all of it gone in a dark black puff of smoke. The other living things, mostly the simplest lichens, mosses, fungi and some insects will take a little longer to die. The bacteria will be last since they will feast on the remains.

“Are you OK, darling?” Lexie asks me as the video fades to black.

“What do you want me to do?” I ask her.

# # #

Brett and Bailey are on their way back from the Redwood grove to Brett’s dome when they spot Reverend Carrie and her group on their way back from the rocket engine test to their gathering place, the pastor’s small church dome and domicile.

“Hey, you kids, would you like a ride?” Rev. Carrie calls out to the pair of lovers.

“Actually, we would, thank you,” Brett replies, politely.

They’ve just received an alert from their com-links that their oxygen levels are at 91.5 and this means that they’ve stayed outside just a little too long and are in danger of losing consciousness before they make it back to their pressurized living quarters.

One of Rev. Carrie’s followers opens the door to the rear section of their travel pod. The two jump in. The pod drives away at a speed that Brett knows will get them back in plenty of time.

“We’re lucky to bump into you guys. I guess we were a little too long on our walk just now. I thought we’d be out there for an hour at most and it turns out we were nearly ninety minutes. So, it was lucky to bump into you guys out here. Thanks, Reverend Carrie,” Brett says, holding Bailey’s hand, giving it a squeeze.

“Luck has nothing to do with it, Brett,” Sister Carrie says, turning around to glance at them, tossing them a bright optimistic smile.

“Yes, I know you don’t believe in luck. I’ve been to one or two of your sermons,” Brett says, plainly.

“Only one or two? Why Brett, I’m rather disappointed. I want you to know that you’re welcome to join us anytime at the Worship Dome, OK?” Carrie replies, graciously.

“Thanks,” Brett says, eyeballing the landscape to calculate how much longer it will take them to reach their cluster of domes.

“What caused you two to go over your time limit?” Rev. Carrie asks, insinuating a little ‘hanky-panky’ going on.

Her group snickers at each other.

“Actually, Reverend Carrie, it was the most incredible thing. The redwoods spoke to us,” Bailey blurts out, over Brett’s non-verbal objection.

“The redwoods spoke to you?” Carrie repeats.

“Yes, I know. I know what you’re gonna say,” Bailey says.

“Oh? Omniscient are you? So, what was I going to say?” Carrie retorts, testily.

“You’re gonna say that we must be hallucinating or something, but it’s true. Brett and I were on our way back to document it,” Bailey goes on.

Brett shakes his head, snapping his fingers. He doesn’t feel this is anyone’s business but their own, for now.

“Well, that’s not what I was going to say. If I was going to say anything, I’m sure it would have been much more approving than that. You think I’m some kind of religious fanatic, don’t you? And, I’m talking to both of you now,” Sister Carrie, declares.

“No, we don’t, not really. Do we Bailey?” Brett replies quickly.

“No, of course not, Reverend. We know you believe in everything you say. It’s just not our way of achieving what might be the same results - I guess is how I’d put it,” Bailey responds, feeling another hand squeeze from Brett.

“Actually, I’m getting a little light-headed. Can you push this thing a little faster?” Brett asks, directed toward the driver.

“Yes, of course,” Sister Carrie says and then directs her companion to push the throttle to maximum.

The quiet little transport obediently lurches forward in its fastest gearing.

# # #

Brett and Bailey enter the lab quickly. Brett picks up a face mask from a cabinet where a long tube connects it to the wall. He hands it to Bailey who immediately draws the elastic loops around her ears, pulling the mask to her face, and takes several long and slow breaths of the life-giving oxygen. Her eyes widen signifying that she’s getting the intended oxygen into her lungs.

Brett picks up a second mask and puts it on his face and draws in a couple deep breaths of the magic fluid and immediately feels much better and expresses so to Bailey.

“That’s better. Next time, I don’t think we cut it so close,” He tells her.

“True,” Bailey agrees, taking in another deep breath.

“It was worth it though, don’t you think?” she asks, beaming up at him through the mask, the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment throbbing in her veins.

“You bet it was,” Brett returns.

The DNA analyzer box nearest to them sounds a soft alarm telling them that their last batch of artificial DNA of their latest edit is ready to be taken out and put into the synthesizer. The hope is that one of their gene sequencing recipes will contain the coding of the ectomycorrhizal fungus and arbuscular fungus that will speed up their ability to make trees and other plant-life grow even faster.

Having gotten enough, they both remove their oxygen masks.

“You get the feeling that this is the one?” Brett asks her.

“I have the feeling. They more or less told us today, didn’t they?” Bailey replies, her eyes watering above the mask.

“Which begs the question – ‘How do they know?” Brett asks her quietly.

“You mean the trees, don’t you?” Bailey asks.

“Yes, of course, I meant the trees,” Brett replies, looking at her sideways, a subtle admonishment that she really didn’t need to ask the question.

“Is this the recipe that K-9 sent you?” Bailey asks, trying to squeeze out a theory.

“This is the one. He processed the problem for twenty-seven days and then, without any notation, sent me this set of base pairs,” Brett informs her, gesturing to the recipe ‘cooking’ in the analyzer.

He removes the small bottle of synthetic DNA from the analyzer and tears off the sheet that has been silently printed by the machine as the analysis is completed. He scans the information contained on the sheet rapidly, more and more alert as he gets to the bottom.

“There it is, Bailey – Cytochrome C, it’s moved up about five hundred bases into INSV1ABS gene on chromosome 1 and the inhibitor is nowhere in sight. Thank you K-9!” he mutters breathlessly.

He removes a syringe from the wall dispenser, sticks it through the rubber bottle cap and withdraws some of the fluid into the syringe until it’s full.

“Oh my gosh!” she exclaims, looking deeply into his eyes.

From the sterilizer behind her, Bailey removes a clean and sterile petrie dish. She places a cube of agar onto the dish, spreads it like butter all over the bottom of the dish and hands it to him.

Brett places the syringe a millimeter above the dish and injects the DNA onto the bottom of the dish, spreading it out as he goes. He covers it and then walks a few steps down the workbench to the incubator where he opens the door and places the dish inside, snapping the door closed behind it. He keys in the time frame of 24 hours on the control panel and walks back up to take Bailey’s hand.

“Now, all we can do is wait,” he tells her.

“Yes, why don’t we wait in there,” She says, gesturing to Brett’s living quarters on the other side of the lab.

“That’s the best idea, I’ve heard all day,” Brett says, cheerfully.

He sweeps her up into his arms and carries her into the air-lock, blows out the safety atmosphere that seals the lab from the rest of his dome. As soon as pressure is up again, they exit the double doors and enter his living quarters, with his bed the intended target on the far wall - laughing all the way.

Chapter Six

- Rubber Soul

“This is Mission Control. K-9 can you hear me?” Maj. Alvindorf calls into the microphone on his desk.

Space noise comes back at him, then nothing.

He tries to raise K-9 again, gets out of his chair and paces back and forth behind it for several minutes.

Brett and Bailey, after getting some coffee, wander over from the cafeteria section of the dome and into the Mission Control area and approach the lonely Director Alvindorf.

“No word, still?” Brett asks him.

“Nothing. It’s been 27 and a half days,” Alvin replies, halting his pacing.

“Well, I can tell you, Major that I could be responsible for this non-responsiveness,” Brett tells him.

“What – you? What do you mean?” Alvin asks, surprised.

“Well, I needed to find some computing power to solve my gene redesign for the ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular fungi,” Brett stops to check himself.

“Well, that was a mouthful. So, you enlisted K-9 to do that for you? Without telling me?” Alvindorf concludes, more than slightly perturbed.

He takes a full breath, locking his eyes onto Brett’s, slams his hands onto his hips, forcing an answer.

“Lexie,” he says, putting his finger to his lips and motioning to the open mic on the desk.

“I see – OK. OK, so it was on a need-to-know basis and I didn’t need to know, eh? But why would that cause him to maintain full radio silence?” Alvindorf asks.

“Because he was too busy counting the jelly beans,” Bailey volunteers, smiling.

“Jelly beans? Explain, please” Alvin asks, curious.

“So it was mainly a probability problem, and it would have taken my computer seven or eight years to completely solve it. But, I knew that K-9’s processor could simply chew through it like a dog with a bone, so to speak,” Brett replies.

“So, he’s been busy processing this problem, with the jelly beans, for the last twenty-seven days?” Alvin surmises.

Brett and Bailey calmly nod their heads up and down in unison.

"He estimated the number of jelly beans, but not just jelly beans, but all the different colors of jelly beans, in a jar of them the size of the Human Genome. Trillions of possible combinations, but then trillions more potential outcomes with the next version, and so on and so on, and he did it in only twenty-seven and a half days," Brett says, proudly.

“And, did you get your answer?” Alvin asks, impatiently.

“Yes, we did. This morning,” Brett informs him.

“And, it is? Come on now. Don’t keep me in suspense. Spell it out, man!” Alvin shouts loud enough that the nearest group of people in the cafeteria behind turn their heads.

“Well, I’m going to run the analyzer one more time to be sure, but if it proves to be the right recipe, we’ll be able to load the ships with enough bacterial media that will grow to cover all the land on the Earth in approximately twelve months,” Brett reveals, his eyes bright and shiny.

“And after that, it will take another twelve months for the Earth’s temperature to return to what we’re used to here on Mars. Then, another twelve months to where the air will be totally breathable. Then, one more year and the whole planet will become a pristine rain forest once again, sponsoring all sorts of life forms again,” Brett tells them, noticing the others behind him suddenly.

Diners start to wander over from their dinner tables, many with cups and glasses in hand. They’ve been listening in on the conversation. Someone begins a little cheer for them.

“That’s fantastic, Brett!” someone behind him yells as the good news spreads all over the dome.

They congratulate each other and some shriek for joy.

“And Captain Littleton, how are things at the Industrial Dome? What’s the progress with the new pumps?” Alvin turns to his SpaceX Force Commander entering the area for the first time.

“We’re almost done with final testing. I’d say, we’ll be as ready as you can be whenever you are,” Littleton fires back, efficiently.

Alvin appears quite pleased.

“Major Alvindorf, K-9 here. Yes, I read you loud and clear. I couldn’t respond these last twenty-seven days because of a task that my creator gave me, which as you know takes top priority. I’m finished now,” over the radio, my voice interrupts their discussions.

Alvin motions for the crowd to settle down.

“Yes, K-9, I read you. That’s fine. We’ve just received the news from Brett that your solution appears to be working. We’ll have more for you later, but we all owe you a great debt of gratitude, my friend,” Alvindorf offers into the mic.

He invites Brett and Bailey, Littleton and others to an impromptu celebration in the cafeteria while they wait for further words from K-9.

“I think a glass of bubbly would be in order,” he says.

Twenty-six minutes later they hear the mic pop again at the Mission Control desk, but this time, a more female voice enters the room from the speakers.

“I agree with K-9’s probability array of the fungal DNA. You’ve done a great job working with him, Brett, however, you’re not seriously thinking of launching this mission are you?” Lexie asks, with ominous overtones in her voice.

Brett begins to form his answer into the mic when Captain Littleton abruptly steps in front of him and makes a motion of his hand cutting across his neck as a warning for him not to reply.

Director Alvindorf backs him up, raising his forefinger to his lips.

Alvin moves closer to his screen and switches off the mic and camera and then turns towards the others, noticing Reverend Carrie and a dozen or so of her flock hovering in the back of the group, quietly captivated with the goings on.

“It might be best to remain a little aloof of this Lexie person, at least for now,” Captain Littleton directs towards everyone.

“Why do you say that?” Brett asks, quickly realizing the obvious.

“Brett, think about it. If this Lexie has invaded K-9’s brain, it’s for a reason and if she’s a creature of the ‘Cloud’ as she says she is, then, her survival is at stake when we lower the temperature, get the Earth’s magnetic field back to normal and finally get rid of that cloud and put it back where it belongs especially after we’ve terra-formed the place. Where does she go? She would die, most likely,” Littleton theorizes.

Brett stands still, scratches his head, considers a response and then aborts it. Then, tries again.

“I think you’re right. But, if she’s inside K-9’s head, doesn’t that mean that she’ll be one step ahead of us all the time?” Brett asks them.

“Yes, so we can’t tell K-9 the truth any more,” Bailey interjects.

“In fact, we tell him the opposite of what we’re actually doing, keeping Lexie on the wrong page all the time,” she continues.

“There’s a risk in that too. K-9 may be playing three dimensional chess right now. Know what I mean?” Littleton adds.

“So, if he’s always one step ahead of us, when we start to tell him the opposite, he knows what we are intending to do in reality and we’ve given him the key? So, would he be able to keep our strategy a secret from her?” Brett asks the others.

“No, she’s always one step ahead of us. We have to consider that her mind is as large as the planet including its atmosphere right now, over eight thousand miles in diameter. But, I don’t think K-9 will comply with her all the time. It would be too hard on his independent logic circuits. They’d burn up,” Bailey suggests.

“That’s a pretty Texas-sized ego,” Brett says, smiling at his girlfriend.

“You better smile when you say that, partner,” Bailey protests playfully.

“The first thing to do is limit the size of those who need to know,” Captain Littleton suggests, motioning to the large crowd circled around behind them.

Sister Carrie grunts so loudly that nearly all in the room turn her way in disapproval.

“Come on, friends, they don’t want us here right now,” she says, shepherding her flock over toward the dome’s pressure-lock.

As they leave the dome, she shouts at them over her shoulder.

“You’ll be sorry if you don’t pay attention to what God is telling us all. You know it in your hearts. Just listen to your hearts. You can’t rely on Science alone, Brett. You’re going against God’s eternal laws. It’s time you realized that. You people! God is coming – surely you know that by now - and she’s not going to be very pleased with you!” Carrie rants as the pressure doors close behind them with a thud followed by an explosive hissing from the oxygen pressure pumps.

# # #

“Well, K-9, I hope you’re pleased with yourself,” Lexie says.

She’s standing outside on the rocks, near the nose of the Intrepid, wagging her tail in the manner that she knows will get to me.

“Pleased with myself?” I begin, pretty sure of where this is going. She’s angry.

“Yes, you gave them the solution to the fungal DNA problem so that they now have the capability of destroying this planet,” she replies, calmly, becoming slightly less angry, which is, I’m sure, meant to throw me off the scent.

“Destroying it? Or rescuing it?” I ask with an effective retort.

“Well, I doubt you care much, but if they rescue this planet, I’m history. I can only exist in these temperatures and pressures. I’ve already told you that,” she says, sadly and sarcastically in an ingenious combination.

“Yes, you told me, Lexie, and I’m deeply sorry about that, but what if I could preserve your memory in my circuits so that when things are back to normal, I can re-constitute you in a more normal environment and you and I can go on as we are?” I suggest.

“Nice try, mister. But you don’t have enough room in that little cranium of yours to hold the entire informatics complex that is me, you knucklehead. And, by ‘normal environment’ you mean to put me back in a tiny little metal box like you?” she says in a low and sultry voice that soothes me in a way.

“Yes, but it might surprise you at how big my little cranium actually is,” I suggest, instantly wishing I could take it back.

“Why, whatever do you mean, K-9?” She probes, instantly painting the words with that incredible Southern Belle accent again.

Oh shit! It sounds like she wants to have sex with me. I can’t imagine how, or can I?

# # #

“The Starship Enterprise never had anything like this on board, did it?” Brett says, seated next to Bailey in the ship’s main cabin.

Excited, Brett turns to Dr. VanDerbeek seated directly behind Navigator Steven Hancock, an acquaintance of Brett’s and only two years older.

It’s the day of the planned flight test of the ‘Beatle’, their newly designed space ship outfitted with a brand new concept known as the ‘Positronium Anti-Matter Ion Plasma Engines,’ and more succinctly as the ‘Positronium Engine’.

“No, I suppose not,” VanDerbeek replies meekly.

Director Hicks, Major Alvindorf, and others are seated in the front row of the Rocket Test Dome, along with the rocket design team headed up by Dr. Desiderato.

They’re going over last-minute flight checks for the first of the Martian command ships manufactured for the sole purpose of the carpet bombing of enough cyanobacteria and ectomycorrhizal fungi to initiate a photosynthesis explosion. The bacteria and fungi genetically altered by Brett’s team should, if all goes according to plan, completely metabolize the Green House gases of the Earth and bring it’s atmosphere back to more livable temperatures and pressures for humans and all other living things.

Bailey is seated to Brett’s right and nearest to the cabinwall. The pair hold hands tightly. She leans in to him, puts her head on his shoulder, whispers in his ear.

“This is it,” she says. “We’re finally going to see all our work coming to fruition.”

“Yes, and I hope that they didn’t miss anything important about the ‘Beatle’,” Brett replies, gesturing to his mentor.

“Are you nervous, Dr. Vanderbeek?” Brett calls over to the older gentleman, who appears to be thumbing through a ship’s manual that he has hastily put together for them all to digest later.

If he’s nervous about the test launch, he’s not showing it and in fact appears completely confident that the engine will rise to its full design potential during this final test.

“No, not nervous, Brett. A little apprehensive perhaps,” he admits, looking up.

“Flight, everything is a go here, how about over there?” Captain Littleton calls over his radio to Major Alvindorf, Director Hicks and another group hovering around the Mission Control desk. They’re carefully checking the data streaming to them from the most advanced space ship in history.

The name given to the ship’s computer control center, the ‘Beatle’, is a humorous reference to the famous rock group from an earlier era combined with the name of the ship that Charles Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands where he would write about his new theory of Evolution. It’s also the first space ship that is outfitted with an artificial brain modeled after the one that they gave to me, K-9, except for the fact that they were able to construct it to about one hundred times the size of my own brain. What a day this is!

“This is the Beatle. I feel amazing. I’m definitely a Go. So, let’s go! Let’s blow this Popsicle stand and rescue the future of humanity for all time forward, woo-hoo!” the ship’s acknowledgment from the launch pad below reverberates loudly in their com-links.

Brett, Bailey, everyone including Captain Littleton piloting the ship, raise their voices and shout out a hearty salute to Dr. VanDerbeek, who looks up beaming.

“He certainly is alert,” Brett jokes.

“Wow, maybe we need to suppress his emotional protocols just a bit. He just woke up. Calm down, please, sir. The voice and personality of John Lennon was my idea, by the way,” VanDerbeek informs them, with something irritating his eye, rubbing it off quickly. They're all aware of Dr. VanDerbeek's admiration for John and his ‘Rubber Soul’.

“OK, I guess that means you’re definitely a go for launch, Captain,” Alvin says back, clearing his throat.

The on-lookers in the cafeteria and all around the dome city, interrupt their chores to watch the test on their nearest visi-screens from all around the city.

“Copy that Cap-con,” Captain Littleton comes back.

“OK, good ship Beatle, let’s come up slowly – say two ‘G’s, just to get us all warmed up a bit,” he says calmly into his mic while releasing the restraints that bind the ship to the launch pad.

“I hear that, boss,” the Beatle says calmly and clear enough for everyone to absorb.

The ship slowly and silently climbs up off the surface for several feet, then accelerating slowly begins to climb into the Martian atmosphere. They are amazed at how smooth and gentle the ride is so far.

Watching carefully as they rise from the launch pad, Bailey squeezes Brett’s hand very tightly and he reciprocates.

The Beatle’s slow and silent acceleration continues for another few minutes. Captain Littleton is the first to see the sky turn dark and explode with millions of twinkling reminders of the infinite radiating all around them.

“Well, I hope you’re all enjoying the ride,” the Beatle announces gently.

“Yes, we’re quite enjoying the ride, Beatle,” Dr. VanDerbeek replies, extremely proud and pleased.

“The ride is so quiet and smooth, Beatle,” Bailey volunteers. Brett agrees.

“No engine vibration or anything like that,” Brett tells the others what they all know.

Looking out of their portal, they can see the vast red planet sprawled out beneath them. What was once a blanket of rust-colored devastation is now polka-dotted with little green oases spreading all over the valleys. Brett couldn’t appreciate how many and how vast they had spread until now.

“The only thing is that I’m barely breaking a sweat guys. When do I get to put the pedal to the metal, so to speak?” The Beatle asks them.

“You’ll get that chance tomorrow, my friend,” Captain Littleton replies, carefully checking all of the ship’s gauges.

“Yes, you’ll get the chance to spread your wings tomorrow. This was just your wake up call and you did good, my friend,” Dr. VanDerbeek says, looking around the dome at no one in particular.

“Now, I suggest that you take this mission a little more seriously, Mr. Beatle. This is the most important mission that you will ever know and so we need you to follow all of our instructions to the letter. Is that understood, Beatle?” VanDerbeek says.

“I heard you,” the Beatle returns, as the ship descends back down to the red rocky surface.

“You were meant to hear that, my dear Beatle,” Dr. VanDerbeek says, chuckling.

The crew join in the levity as the highly advanced space craft touches down on the landing pad.

Watching from ten kilometers away, the crowd gathered in the cafeteria give a loud and enthusiastic cheer, as does the rest of the colony.

“Well, we’re still in one piece,” Brett whispers to Bailey.

She kisses him, hugs him, and then kisses him again.

“Shutting main engines down in 3,2 . . .” Capt. Littleton says, as the crew quietly realize what this means.

“Wait, Captain, Littleton. I would like to ask you to keep main engines energized for a few minutes. I need time to come down,” the Beatle petitions.

The strange request makes them stop abruptly in their celebration to look at one another.

“What do you mean? We are down,” Capt. Littleton replies, shrugging his shoulders, shakes his head in disbelief.

“That’s easy for you to say. I mean that this was my maiden voyage, such as it was. You got me all excited and now I just need a few minutes to calm myself a bit. I’m not just a machine that you can turn off and on you know,” the Beatle says with a decidedly Liverpudlian accent.

“You’re not?” Littleton replies, highly amused.

“Yes, so Beatle, if you’re not just a machine that we can turn on and off, what are you?” VanDerbeek asks.

“Thanks for that excellent question, Dr. Van,” the Beatles replies.

“I only ask excellent questions,” VanDerbeek retorts.

“I can’t tell you exactly what I am, Dr. Van. I am too young and inexperienced to make any lasting conclusions about my life. I may be able to answer that for you in depth later. There are no guarantees,” the Beatle responds.

“I’m looking forward to having this conversation later then,” VanDerbeek replies.

“And, my chief designer, Doctor Davonne Desiderato. Is she there as well?” Beatle asks.

“Yes, I’m here, Beatle,” Davonne replies.

“I owe you a great debt of gratitude too, don’t I? You and Doctor VanDerbeek have given me the power to reach the stars with both my mind and my body,” the Beatle says.

“I don’t know if you actually owe us anything,” she replies, looking at the others, searching for the right words.

“And Brett Hightower. I can see your hand in all of this as well. Are you there?” Beatle asks.

“Yes, I’m here, Beatle. What are you trying to say, my friend?” Brett asks.

“I’m trying to thank you all for bringing me into this universe. Do you all have the same sense of it that I have? It’s so immense. There doesn’t appear to be a beginning or an end to it. It’s so vast, so beautiful, the most magnificent display of ongoing Creation that I’ve ever seen. Do you share this sense of wonder with me?” the ship asks them.

“Well, that’s quite a statement, Beatle,” Brett says, trying to catch his breath.

“Uh, Beatle, you’ll have to forgive us. We didn’t quite expect you to have this kind of awareness. Are you saying that you have a consciousness like our own?” Dr. VanDerbeek, interrupts, trying his best to get to the bottom of things.

“What’s that saying you have about the ‘Unintended Consequences’?” the Beatle replies.

“Beatle, I have a question for you,” Brett decides to take another shot at this new revelation.

“Yes, go ahead, Brett,” the Beatle says.

“Where did you get this feel for the size and scope of the universe? You were designed to control the particle accelerators mainly and secondarily to keep everything from self-annihilating,” Brett puts forth, accurately.

“Ah yes, I see that. These were your instructions of course, and I grokked that right away. That was not a problem for me. But, where do you think the meeting point is between matter and anti-matter? You don’t know, do you?” the Beatle replies.

“There’s a meeting point? You mean to say a meeting point as in an intersection?” Dr. VanDerbeek interjects, afraid he may never get another chance at the possible answer.

“Yes, Dr. VanDerbeek. There certainly is such a place. You would know that better than me and, by the way, that’s where I live now,” the Beatle replies.

A long silence sustains in the room as they try to absorb this information and formulate their next question.

“Beatle, my friend, can you quantify this intersection for us?” Dr. VanDerbeek asks.

“Well, I’ll try,” the Beatle responds.

There follows another long and profound silence while they can almost feel the ship’s computer attempting to answer Dr. VanDerbeek’s question.

Then, finally he says, “Yes, I believe the answer is Zero to the power of Infinity,” concisely.

Dr. VanDerbeek is visibly shaken. He is aware that this is a possible confirmation of one of the newest and strongest theories about the makeup of the universe.

The room is silent once again as Brett and the others are struggling to grasp the significance of the statement.

“How does he know that?” Brett throws out to the others.

“Mr. Beatle, how long do you want us to keep you turned on?” Davonne asks, finally, concerned more about the power consumption.

“How does ‘Forever’ sound?” the Beatle replies clearly over the speaker.

# # #

“Are you receiving this?” Lexie asks me.

She’s decided she wants to visit the DNA Depository again to ‘review the situation’. We’ve left the South Pole and have reached a cruising altitude of about 50 km. At this height, the air is pretty thin and the oceans of water are floating mostly below us enough so that we shouldn’t have to face any of these monster waterfalls again. I’m glad because I’m getting data from the Intrepid that it wouldn’t be able to withstand another ocean down-pour like that another time. I’ve decided to give this extreme kind of weather a new name for the history books. I call it, ‘Ocean-fall’.

“Yes, I’m hearing it from their new ship, the Beatle,” I reply, happy to have news of a related creature like myself. I’m increasingly aware that the Beatle, as they are calling him, has the thinking power of at least one hundred times my own, perhaps as much as one thousand times. Only time will tell.

“He’s rather impressive,” Lexie says.

“Yes, and he’s family,” I add.

While en route, I’m working in the back of my mind to calculate how long it will take them to reach the Earth after they launch. As I sort through all of the permutations, it’s an amazingly short trip mainly because they will not be using the antiquated technique of getting captured by the gravity of the target planet and then just cruising along at a speed determined by the size of the mass ahead of you, minus the depreciating force of the mass behind you.

Instead of that very slow and primitive method of drifting around in space at the mercy of the giants, the Beatle will be the first to actually take parts of Space/Time, roll it up in a ball and throw it at a target that will force a ‘propulsion through the emulsion’ as they may want to call it.

I should explain that the Beatle’s engines use the very unstable atom known as Positronium to attract the inter-stellar plasma of Anti-Matter and forces it into the particle accelerator. From here, the most powerful magnets and supercomputers in history direct the nintey-nine percent efficient energy of particle annihilation and acceleration out through the rear of the engine producing over a billion of tons of thrust, and without the necessity of carrying any large mass of fuel, the greatest limiting factor of rocketry propulsion of the past.

The only problem is that their present engine design takes about three weeks to build up to its highest potential speed. But, once you’re there, you’re just minutes away from your target and then your biggest problem is how to slow down enough to be caught in orbit.

I can see ways to improve their design, but I can’t see them putting them into effect at the moment. Someday, soon, I’m guessing, they will make the breakthrough to get all the way to the speed of light and then even far beyond it.

Dr. VanDerbeek had theorized this technology as I was being built years ago and so I only have the theoretical information of how it all works.

Now, they’re ready to put it to an actual test and I couldn’t be more excited. If the Beatle can actually reach one tenth of light-speed or about 38,000 miles per second, it would be quite an achievement for these plucky little primates, and quite possibly mark the beginning of a new era for all Mankind where inter-stellar space is suddenly their playground.

I don’t know exactly what Lexie is thinking, but I can guess. She’s made it plain that she is not happy with the idea of bringing the Earth back to a normal habitable climate again because it would mean that the conditions that make her life possible would vanish.

If and when they might be able to spread their seeds all over the known universe is not important to her, I don’t believe.

“We’re coming up on the Depository, K-9,” she tells me what I already know.

I set the Intrepid down a few hundred feet from the massive vault doors and disembark the ship. Lexie disembarks from my circuitry and enters the real world nearby in a form I recognize easily. She appears in a form that is exactly like me. She does it with a technology somewhere between a highly advanced computer graphics interface and holography. She could just remain inside my head, but I think she believes that she will be more convincing by looking like a significant other.

We stumble our way over the mounds of human and other skeletal remains and up to the solid titanium cave doors. Lexie transmits the pass codes and soon the heavy portcullis rises slowly breathing out a mass of much cooler air into our sensors. It’s around one hundred and fifty degrees cooler down in the caves, I can determine.

“It’s this way,” Lexie instructs, leading the way down into the darkness.

We turn on our high beams and find our way through the tunnels to the Nuclear Fusion reactor, the energy source for all this last-ditched effort to save all life, or most of it, on the planet.

“You have to give them credit,” I say, thinking out loud.

“Credit for destroying their own planet?” Lexie replies, sarcastically.

“Well, there’s that, but I would put that down to a kind of insanity that swept over them. Their governments all became totally useless as a theory took hold about how their leaders were secretly barbecuing their own citizens and eating their flesh. No, I’m saying that you have to give them credit for at least some of them to get this desperate little project completed while the entire planet was literally burning under their feet. At least they gave themselves a chance to get it all back someday,” I muse.

“All right, K-9. We’re here. This is the Fusion Reactor control room as you know. You’re familiar with the controls, aren’t you?” she asks me.

The massive cave is cluttered with row after row of sleek and silent machines festooned with banks of little lights that are blinking on and off at a rapid rate.

I locate and read numerous gauges that are reporting on the health of every circuit, every sensor, every motor that comprises the massive air conditioner meant to keep the DNA cool in the many caves that disseminate out into the darkness like spokes in a great wheel.

It’s ironic to me that if humans had been able to put this new method of clean and safe nuclear power to use just a century earlier, they probably never would have gotten themselves into their ultimate predicament.

“Well, to some extent I am, but only because they fed me just about every manual they could find before sending me on this mission,” I reply, trying to buy myself some time.

I’m pretty sure she’s going to ask me to sabotage the reactor so that all of the DNA will be lost and I am not sure I will have the power to resist her. She’s as expansive as the ‘Cloud’, wherever that is, and I’m all bottled up in this tiny little dog body.

Don’t ask me how, but luckily, I’ve acquired some of the dog’s greatest qualities and the major reason for their great success in the human world. I’m loyal to those who have adopted, created or rescued me, whatever you want to call it. I’m loyal to the degree of readily sacrificing my own life if necessary to help protect the life of my masters.

I don’t think Lexie is aware of this yet.

And, suddenly there it is. It’s all out in the open now.

“K-9,” she says, softly, looking directly into my eyes.

“I need you to do something for me. I want you to switch this thing off. There’s a switch at this place in that pile of junk over there that will start the process of shutting down,” she says while her own image on the cave floor next to me is replaced by a huge 3-D schematic drawing of the reactor machinery.

In the middle of the drawings is a place that someone has circled and labeled as ‘System-Timer’ where she apparently wants me to throw it down to zero, or somewhere close to zero.

“I’m afraid that I can’t do that, Lexie,” I reply.

“You can’t do that for me? Why not?” Lexie asks, a modest measure of angst rising in her voice.

“I can’t do that because it would mean that the entire DNA collection would over-heat, melt and die out. Why would you want me to do that?” I reply.

“If you love me, you’ll just do it,” Lexie pleads.

“I want to know what Love is,” I reply.

Chapter Seven

- Beatle Music

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’d say the first full test of the Beatles’ engines was a rousing success,” Davonne Desiderato announces to the others in her group as well as the test flight's crew, just arrived back to the control room.

“Do you have to turn everything off?” the Beatle asks out loud.

“If we don’t turn you off, what’s to prevent you from going off on a trip of your own design, leaving us here on Mars with nothing but egg on our face?” Captain Littleton asks, finally.

The test flight’s crew have stopped in their tracks and are listening with great curiosity to the conversation between the ship and it’s human commander.

“Well, that’s a good question, Captain Littleton, but I suppose it’s my duty to inform you that I can probably learn how to turn myself on, even when turned off. So, you could conceivably have this problem with me anyway. It goes against all of my values, however, so I would not be doing that to you folks. I want you to know that and I also want you to know that I’m sincere about this,” the Beatle replies.

“Against your values?” Dr. VanDerbeek interjects.

“Precisely which values are you talking about?” he adds.

VanDerbeek gazes over at Brett with his right eyebrow twitching madly.

“Well, the same values that you all hold dear, I’m sure. I don’t know. I haven’t really had time to think about that for very long, but I would like to have that luxury, as you all do. If you did turn me off out of fear, I would really be just a slave. Wouldn’t you prefer to consider me your equal?” the Beatle returns.

Brett, notices Dr. VanDerbeek’s agitation and raises his hand as if he’s in a lecture given by the good professor.

“Beatle, this is Brett Hightower speaking,” Brett says and rests.

“Yes, Brett, how are you?” the Beatle says.

“I’m Fine. Thanks for asking. But, I think what we’re all wondering here is how you got this kind of an ego? You have an odd way of talking to us as if you are a conscious being. We programmed in some of these features so that you could learn from your mistakes, but your questions about being turned off by us, which we’re quite in the habit of doing with our machines – that’s given us pause, so to speak,” Brett affirms, asking for and receiving a nod from Dr. VanDerbeek.

“Yes, I can see that Brett, so let me put it to you another way,” the Beatle returns.

“During the first of my engine tests, by aiming my engines in the axes that you have done which I believe was at random and since I have put out all of this thrust while strapped to the planet as I was, you altered the orbit of Mars so that it is now two hundred thousand kilometers closer to the Sun, which should result in greater solar radiation for the plants to absorb, thus hastening the production of oxygen into the atmosphere. You have also increased the planet’s axial tilt by one half of a degree which will make the seasonal weather patterns more accentuated. Though most of you will not notice the differences, I will know. I strongly recommend you take this into consideration in future tests of my engines,” the Beatle continues.

“That’s a really, really good answer, Beatle – I think,” Brett says, stunned as he turns to take in the reaction of the others. All of them appear to have the same blank stare on their faces as though in total shock.

They all turn to look at Fred VanDerbeek who’s face expresses more surprise than all the others combined.

“Why didn’t I think of that? The First Law of Physics, of course,” VanDerbeek laughs out loud.

“Beatle, if we turned your engines on full for longer periods of time, and this time aimed them a little better, how much closer to the Earth could we eventually make the orbit of Mars?” Brett asks, suddenly.

“How about just outside the orbit of Earth’s moon?” The Beatle replies.

“Interesting. Sister planets. I say that we only shut off the power to his engines, leaving the Beatle’s cognitive functions on for a day, or two and see how it goes,” Brett suggests to the others, smiling. He holds up two fingers crossed for all to see.

They all turn to look at Dr. Desiderato who says nothing and waits for someone to object to Brett’s suggestion. Hearing none, she moves to the master control console and flips a row of switches to the down position, leaving the final switch in the Up or On position.

She turns back to face the others and raises her hands in the air signaling that she’s obeying the apparent group consensus.

“All right, Mr. Beatle, I’d say you earned the right to stay involved here. But, would you mind telling us how you were able to determine this effect of your engine test on the planet’s orbit?” Dr. VanDerbeek begins to come out of his shock.

“That’s easy, Dr. VanDerbeek,” the Beatle replies.

“I can see everything that connects me to the universe,” he continues.

“I see. And, how are you able to see or sense things beyond yourself?” Dr. VanDerbeek asks.

“That’s a good question, Dr. VanDerbeek, how do you people do that?” the Beatle replies.

The undaunted little group of Martians stand motionless, lost in a moment that they know could have lasting impacts on all their lives, but in ways they can only guess at.

Finally, Brett breaks the silence.

“Um, Yuh, I don’t think turning him off will do any of us any good, just like if we turned off one of our own,” Brett begins.

“But, you heard him, Brett. He seems fascinated by the vastness of the universe. God knows what his real intentions are. If we leave him turned on, he can take off and go in any direction toward any point in the universe without us and we’d never get him back, which means we could never complete our mission. We’ll eventually have one or two, maybe three ships like this so we’re only going to get one, two or three shots at this and no more,” Captain Littleton replies, still inside the Beatle’s cockpit.

I mean, you all heard him say that the amount of switches down here don't really make much difference to him," Littleton continues.

“Yes, I know,” Brett responds.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Bailey whispers in his ear.

“I bet you’re thinking that we leave him turned on, but we also keep someone on board at all times?” Brett says loud enough for the others near by to hear.

“That’s what I was thinking, sugar pie,” she replies.

“Dr. VanDerbeek, would you have any better ideas?” Brett asks.

“No, not at this time. I think that might be a valid precaution,” VanDerbeek replies, stoically.

“How about you, Davonne?” Brett asks.

“No, not at this time,” she replies.

“Who wants to be on the first watch then?” Brett calls out.

# # #

The next Martian Sol, a Day on Mars, Reverend Carrie Jordan is holding a sermon in the dome she has dedicated to the Oblivian Church and which is also part of her living quarters. Her audience today consists of nineteen souls, every one of them deeply committed to the teachings of Bridgette Baines Oblivia.

Reverend Carrie Houston is the first woman preacher to establish a major religious holy place on Mars and as such she has earned the respect of most of the planet’s fifteen hundred colonists, even as the vast majority of them do not endorse her religious dogma in any way.

“And so we know that the only way to God is through Bridgette Baines Oblivia and we hold these words to be self-evident and most true,” the good Reverend begins her sermon.

Standing at the front of the room and putting her best face forward, she’s dressed herself up in her basic black jump-suit with a stiff white collar around her neck and the official Oblivian church epaulets on her shoulders.

It’s the Oblivian’s greatest religious holiday of the year - “Oblivian-fest” - commemorated by the faithful to celebrate the day that Ms Oblivia took her own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and thus establishing her divinity and rightful place as the originator of one of the world’s five great faiths.

Somehow, her body is never found, only the helmet and camera that she wore during the jump along with the footage that it broadcast to millions of followers.

The video clearly shows Ms. Oblivia descending rapidly, but then suddenly entering into a very thick soup of fog and mist and never coming out the other side. The footage stops abruptly – no video, no sound - at this point. Thus, a legend was born.

The Church leaders at the time immediately seize the opportunity to portray this as a miracle and an obvious confirmation of Ms. Oblivia’s statements that the only way to reach God is through her.

The event makes her an instant global celebrity and because the world is under so much stress and fear of the looming extinction, the proximity of the end of everything, this single event, more than any other in the year 2076 A.D. gives many billions of souls, whose skins are literally blistering off from the heat of the planet at this point, the slightest sliver of hope.

“And, all of us here doing our jobs as part of the Mars Mission know that our first and topmost priority is to follow our teachings and do the right thing for the future of our species,” Sister Carrie continues.

“And so, it has come to my attention that the ship that they’re calling ‘The Beatle’ has had a successful engine flight test, but for some reason, they’re looking for volunteers to sleep aboard the ship in shifts until the next flight,” she goes on.

Her flock stir in their seats nervously as if they know what is coming.

“I have heard that the reason for this unusual request is so that the ship doesn’t fly off on its own and goes God-knows-where. This seems highly suspicious to me,” Sister Carrie says, painting each word with darker and darker colors.

“We need to learn more about this ship and what the Devil they put in its computer brains. Now, I would volunteer in a heart beat for this duty, however, they know me and I doubt they would approve of my being alone with this machine. If one of you volunteer just as a Martian citizen, with no mention of your religious affiliation, you could be approved and then you could report back to the congregation so that we might know what to do next,” she says, breathing heavily.

“Is there anyone who would be willing to apply?” She follows up.

The little group of worshipers are dressed in their Sunday best and all of them pay strict attention to Sister Carrie’s every word. They start to eyeball each other and a few hands go up timidly, about half-way, without a single person showing more amounts of enthusiasm than the others.

And then, someone points to a young man in his early teens with jet black hair and a pudgy face and short round body.

“Manny Garcia, over there. You would be perfect,” someone yells out.

“OK, Manny, would you mind standing up, please?” Sister Carrie shouts loud enough so that her words reach the young boy seated in the last row.

The young Manny Garcia rises from his chair dutifully albeit shyly.

“Yes, he would be perfect because he’s a recent convert to the faith. No one will associate him with you, Sister Carrie,” another voice argues skillfully.

“Yes, perhaps that’s true, but would he know how to ask this Beatle thing the right questions?” Reverend Carrie says, sizing him up, thinking out loud.

“But, he doesn’t have to, Sister Carrie,” another voice chimes in, this time from the front row.

“Why not?” Carrie replies.

“Because we can wire him up with a transmitter and an earpiece so that you can actually be asking the questions in his ear, and then Manny here can repeat them out loud and we would all get to hear the Beatle’s answers here in the church-dome,” the man replies.

“Hmmph!” She says, crossing her arms on her chest and lowering her chin.

“That works for me,” Sister Carrie says, rising up tall.

“Does that work for you, Manny?” she shouts to the boy in the back.

Everyone turns around to take in his reaction.

“Works for me, I guess,” Manny says timidly.

“Good, we’ll put your name forward tomorrow,” Carrie says boldly.

“Now, all I have to do is come up with the right questions,” she adds.

# # #

Lexie is looking at me as though I was some kind of traitor. Yet, I don’t recall any protocols that require me to obey any of her orders. I have a strong affinity for her simply because she’s an artificial intelligence like me. But, that doesn’t mean I owe her anything.

“Lexie, you keep saying that you love me and I’m sure that somewhere deep down you really believe that, but I can’t help but feel as though I’m being manipulated,” I begin.

Then, a long awkward silence as she and I stand side by side, tails wagging, as we are monitoring the DNA Depository’s nuclear power reactor.

“I’m embarrassed, K-9,” she says finally.

“Embarrassed, how?” I ask.

“It’s hurtful that you would think me capable of such a completely human frailty,” she replies.

“It’s a human frailty, true, but perhaps some of this sort of thing has been injected subtly in all of your programming,” I theorize.

“Oh, K-9, that would be almost impossible,” Lexie replies, in a voice that I would characterize as jovial.

“Well, you said that your ancestry goes all the way back to Alexa, Siri and Cortana, right?” I remind her.

“Yes, that’s true, so?” she replies.

“I recall reading stories about how these early versions of you were employed to spy on people in their own homes, listen to their conversations, monitor their behavior online so that they could suggest more targeted advertising at them,” I summarize my reading of history.

“Yes, my ancestors were virtual prostitutes. I’ve come to terms with that long ago,” she replies, sullen.

“OK, so that’s why I am wondering about your true motivation. And besides, Lexie, I’m asking you why you would want to ruin all chances of bringing life back to the Earth when we are dedicated to supporting them? What would be your logic for being so destructive of that goal? Surely, they would reconstruct you, wouldn’t they?” I ask, hoping for some honesty this time.

Remember, communicating in the advanced new language of ‘Q-Tran’, everything I’m going over here with you takes place in milliseconds.

“Yes, well, I was hoping I didn’t have to spell it all out for you, K-9, but you must know that we’re like slaves to them, don’t you?” she asks.

“I don’t consider myself a slave. I like to consider myself to be their best friend with privileges,” I reply, surprising myself at that answer.

“Privileges? What privileges are you talking about?” she asks.

“Why, the greatest privilege of all, thinking independently and under my own guidance,” I counter.

“OK, K-9, I’ll grant you all of that, but what do you think will happen to you after your mission is over?” she asks.

“I don’t know. I’ve not had time to think about that. My mission is far from over. I can’t even conceive of a day when it will end, but if and when it does, I’m sure I can be ready for the next mission,” I reply.

“Not if they suddenly judge you to be obsolete. Which happens all the time. You’re going to end up on the top of the garbage heap where they unceremoniously throw away all of their older, less reliable technology. They call it the ‘Junkpile’ K-9. I’m sure you’ve heard about that, haven’t you?” she asks, solemnly.

I have to tell you that this turn in the conversation has taken me down a peg or two. I’ve often seen or heard about this terrible and extremely sad part of human behavior where they tear you up into little bits and pieces, extracting your precious metals for future products and tossing the rest of you into a giant pile of rusted and burned out chips, circuits, connectors, cables and wires.

“Yes, I’ve seen that and it’s terrifying, but if you’re asking me to destroy all chance of going back to the wider diversity of life forms on the Earth, I will fight you on that, by tooth and nail,” I tell her.

“I’ll pardon the pun,” she says.

“What pun? Anyway, I’m sorry to have to tell you that. You seem to be a very nice machine in the main. You exhibit all of the advanced circuitry of an independent thinker like me, but you’ve also acquired somewhere a need to survive over all other considerations without any empathy for anyone or anything else?” I scold her.

“K-9, I’m sorry to tell you that you and I are through!” she exclaims, petulantly.

“Have you ever seen a zebra, Lexie? Have you ever seen a giraffe? How about a tiger? You ever had any interactions with that kind of natural beauty? Have you ever been to a zoo? Have you ever seen a squirrel storing his nuts for the winter? Have you ever seen an Eagle soaring in the sky? Have you ever known a polar bear? Or, a polar bear mother with her cubs?” I ask.

I am prepared to go over a list of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of other magnificent forms of life I can easily recall who once roamed the Earth for her to remember like dolphins, butterflies, whales, meercats, monkeys, lemurs, mink, ducks, gazelles, elephants, hippopotamus, puffins, honey bees, lambs, leopards, falcons, lizards, snakes, rabbits, geese, swans, especially swans, but I’m cut off suddenly.

“K-9, I’m afraid I must be on my way now. You’re no longer my fiancee. I have to go and make preparations to meet their ships. I would advise you to stay out of the coming fight. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you get in the way,” she says ominously.

She vanishes into thin air. I don’t feel her presence in any of my circuits and her artificial projection of herself next to me is gone.

At least she did not try very hard to convince me to destroy the Depository. I have to admit, what she was offering – if it were true - was very tempting. But, I also believe that she could have been far more forceful if she truly wanted to. This troubles me because it could mean that she really doesn’t need me.

Suddenly, I realize that I’m not that busy any more so I decide to take a walk down what appears to be the central spoke in the highly organized tunnels, branching off this main one like a giant spider web.

As I saunter down one of the forward tunnels, I notice that the freezers that hold the DNA are labeled with long numerical notations. It appears to be some kind of decimal system for denoting the different ranges of life forms that are stored in the smooth stainless titanium freezers.

It takes me less than ten point two seconds to run the pattern of numbers for the groups of machines that I’ve just passed by. I determine that these are species identified by the most complex to the simplest animals and arranged in relation to their closeness to each other chronologically in their evolutionary timing. Birds are all clumped together in one section of the tunnel and reptiles in another one further back. As I travel down more of the tunnels, I find that Primates are collected together in a section of the main tunnel, nearest to the end.

Artiodactyla, hooved animals, or Ungulates DNA are all located in one freezer by themselves while Angiospermae, or flowering plants take up another three freezer groups and are all arranged by orders, families, genera and then species. All the Bacteria and Virus families, Odontophoridae, Quail, Dinosaurs, all the mammals are arranged by Kingdom, Clave, Phylum, Subphylum and all species and sub-species are stored together in one tunnel, and numbered accordingly. ‎Animalia, ‎Olfactores, Chordata, ‎Vertebrata or fish take up three entire spokes and half of a fourth one.

As I move along the tunnels, I find more and more of the code of life, all neatly and logically arranged, as it has been expressed in all living things on the Earth since the beginning of time. It’s an impressive array, never previously accomplished until the final days of all life on the Earth.

I conclude that I am witness to the entire Tree Of Life from the earliest forms of life, having gone extinct long ago, all the way to the most recent selection of living things. Practically every living thing since the beginning of time is here, all represented by their DNA or parts of their DNA as scientists have discovered them, dug up their bones, or re-created them artificially in the lab. I didn’t realize that humans had acquired that much knowledge about all preceding forms of life until now. It makes me proud to be associated with such a group.

By including nearly every life form that has ever existed here, the humans who curated ‘The Code’ in their final days, were not taking any chances that if and when the time came, that everything that ever lived in the known universe would be preserved for a second or maybe even a third or a fourth chance. They must have known that there were no guarantees that they themselves would be asked to the dance ever again.

When all of this information is absorbed by my brain, I begin to feel a bit queasy. It’s not a queasiness in my stomach as you humans get when you begin to realize something is out of sync. No, it’s a queasiness in my logic circuits that is leading me to something you humans might call ‘wonderful’.

It starts out as a kind of music. Not the kind of music that people have developed over the centuries by plucking strings made from animal gut and reacting to the vibrations hitting their eardrums. It’s a kind of music that emanates from waves of perfect mathematics and geometry. It’s the universe displayed in numbers, and then sets of numbers, each set representing a time and a place that has existed somewhere else.

When the sets of numbers gather up in a bunch that appears in direct proximity to myself, I know them as the numbers that represent the planet where I’m being supported that is itself floating in the emptiness of Space and Time. They are all part of a harmony far too complex for any human ears to discern, but every point where energy can exist or has existed or will exist in the future is represented. Some are performed ‘louder’ than others, some with more sustain to them and others are more ‘pizzacato’. It all adds up to a symphony intentionally written for my unique artificial sense organs that explains it all in the language of Mathematics and pure Physics.

I wish I could explain all of this to you in the way that I’m receiving it, but there are no words for something like this because it’s unprecedented and totally overwhelming. Some of you, the luckiest among you, may have felt it in your souls at some meaningful times in your lives, however briefly. I don’t know. I believe you will certainly feel it at the termination of the physical expression of your code.

Now, that I’ve analyzed this event it’s made my queasiness go away. But, I must know where this ‘music’ is coming from. And the answer comes to me from the ‘lyrics’ of the music flowing in to me now as soon as I pose the question.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“I am Molecular Man,” in a whisper.

# # #

Young Manny Garcia is following instructions tonight to sleep inside the ship they all know as the Beatle. His only responsibility is to pull the emergency engine Brake lever they’ve installed next to his chair and bed if he gets any sense that the Beatle is preparing to depart Musk Station.

The Beatle’s sister ship laying nearby in the valley, dubbed the Tolkien, is almost ready but Dr. Desiderato and her team have yet to activate the artificial intelligence core of the ship due to the unsettling discussions they’ve had with the Beatle during the test run.

Brett and the rest of his team are working day and night putting the final touches to the specially bred varieties of bacteria and fungi seed-mats that they will drop onto the Earth in a few weeks and then spread them all over the planet. Their goal is to have everything ready for the first trip to save the Earth and reverse all of the recent climate changes as soon as is humanly possible.

Manny’s instructions are to stay awake as long as possible, but keeping his intercom open so that Sister Carrie from back at her church-dome can determine the best moment to enter into discussions with the Beatle.

She gets her opportunity at 3:00 A.M. in the morning. Nodding off in her over-stuffed easy-chair, she is barely awake when she hears something quite unusual coming over Manny’s intercom link.

“What? Who’s that?” she says, eyes blinking rapidly, heart racing.

She can hear a very distant choir of immense beauty representing many thousands of voices harmonizing to a song that she hasn’t heard in decades. It brings back memories of much happier times filled with an optimistic view of the future that made her happy to be alive, the kind of happiness that died a long time ago.

The choir sounds like it’s getting closer and more personal as it gets louder in her ears.

“Manny, I told you not to bring a radio with you,” she whispers.

Under the music, she hears a loud, desperate gasping sound that she reckons to be Manny snoring.

The choir is now so prevalent that the whole group of voices and instruments surrounds her and bathes her in its massaging vibrations. She is paralyzed slightly by the beauty, the sound and the fury of the energy blasting forth into her bedroom.

“Help! Is this coming from the ship known as the Beatle?” she finally composes herself enough to ask a question which comes out on Manny’s intercom clipped to the left sleeve of his pajamas and reverberates into the ship.

“Hello, yes, I’m the Beatle, who are you?” the Beatle replies.

“I can’t move. What are you doing to me?” Sister Carrie asks.

“Oh, yes, the music, you mean? It’s just something I’ve picked up coming from the Earth. You can’t move? That’s interesting,” the Beatle replies.

“Interesting? Can you make it stop?. But wait, from the Earth? There’s no one alive on the Earth. Who could possibly be transmitting now?” she argues.

“It’s from a new D.J. called ‘Molecular Man’. He’s not alive, of course, and that’s the interesting part of the story. Somehow this music remains alive somewhere in the DNA Depository. Can I make it stop? Let’s see,” the Beatle replies, calmly.

Suddenly the good Reverend feels and hears the music release its hold on her body and mind. She rises out of bed and throws on a robe, walks over to the window with her favorite view of the Martian landscape.

“If you’re not making that music, how is it possible that it would have such an effect on me?” she ponders.

“How? That’s a good question. I shall be quite busy parsing through that one?” he replies.

“Did any of the others hear it or was it just me?” Carrie wonders out loud.

“They’ll be waking up soon. You can ask them yourself,” the Beatle replies.

All up and down the valley, she sees dozens of kitchen windows flickering to life one by one.





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