THIS IS THE LAST EPISODE OF THE Starman: Life on Trappist1 series.
The pulsing light on his InfoTab startles him. He looks at it as though staring will provide an answer. Surprise is not a familiar emotion, even for him and his recent activities.
It was not as though he never got InfoTab alerts. InfoTab pulses indicate communication from GrUnCo: a ReAs reminder, for example – It was just three days away, or, a general welfare memo, when all Units assembled for inoculation. It might be a Function Report request.
He taps the InfoTab, once, to indicate receipt. The face of an unfamiliar female Unit fills the screen. Another surprise.
‘Unit 158? Unit 420 reporting. I’ve been assigned Intern Function for the Crater of Density Index.’
Now Abraham experiences something for which he has no words or meaning. It is beyond surprise. His mind is crammed with messages and information, crossing, collapsing, colliding as he tries to assimilate this new disturbance to his, already jolted, equilibrium.
He becomes aware of his rasping breath, his heart is racing but his skin is cold and drained of colour. He double taps the InfoTab screen. Unit 420 disappears from view and he, from hers. He closes his eyes, counting slowly, backwards, from 10, he draws breath, slowly, steadily. Shock, he thinks, this is it, like a sensory overload.
He gathers his thoughts, feels his pulse slow, his breathing steady. He taps the InfoTab screen again.
‘Unit 420, apologies, materials in the Crater of Density cause malfunctions. Please enter.’ He punches in the security code for the Tabernacle and waits for her arrival.
He knows he has made no intern request nor has he received any notification of her arrival. He gathers the alien Tablet and his own InfoTab and disappears into another chamber of the Tabernacle where he secures them from unauthorised interference. He returns to the Tabernacle command deck just as Unit 420 arrives.
She is tall and lean with hair like the copper glow from a dwarf star moonrise, the second moon, that is. He’s never seen hair that colour. He stares. Abraham is not used to the proximity of female Units having only met a few, before, while in InIt and FormU. To be truthful, he isn’t used to the proximity of any Units, outside the Crater and the Tabernacle, apart from ReAs.
Her eyes are fixed on his, open, as though she has a question or is waiting for an answer. Abraham feels her look mirrors his thoughts. He’s unsure what to say or how to say it. Female Units are no different to male Units, apart from their physical composition. They have no reproductive purpose although some, from Init, are trained for nurturing. PleasureBots are used for harvesting semen; a female’s gamete production is harvested in a regular health check, about once every four weeks. Reproduction occurs in the WombHome laboratories, administered by dedicated receptoBots and supervised, as all things are, by the watchful QuantumBot.
Abraham fidgets. ’So’, he says, scratching his neck and putting his hand in and then out of his pocket, rolling a tiny follicle of lint, absentmindedly, between his thumb and forefinger. He doesn’t finish the sentence as Unit 420 speaks.
’So, Unit 158, what do you do here?,’ Unit 420 asks. Abraham feels sweat tickle the back of his neck and run down his face, even in the comfort chill induced by air filters.
‘M – my name is Abraham,’ he says, realising he hasn’t answered her question. Now he feels his cheeks burn.
She smiles. Abraham squirms, manages a smirk, he can’t meet her eyes that are as green, if not greener than, Aladdin Sane’s, ‘w – what’s yours?,’ he blurts.
’Andromeda’, she replies, self consciously. Now it was her turn to avoid his gaze.
‘I wasn’t sent by QuantumBot and I’m not an intern from FormU,’ she says. It’s Abraham’s turn to look like he’s been given an answer before he asks a question but, ignoring him, she continues, ‘I’m one of the real Diamond Dogs.’
Her eyes never leave Abraham’s who thinks now he understands how mesmerism works. It was something he read in the Tabernacle Chronicles, an addendum or memo attached to a treatise on mind control, propaganda and behavioural pattern manipulation.
‘We gathered you knew the Aladdin Sane and the Diamond Dogs you met last week were ImageBots. We regret the deception but it was necessary, in the interest of self preservation and survival.’
Abraham listens, intently, while sizing her, up, down and three-dimensionally, too. Unless she is a grade of imageBot far beyond any he’s experienced before, he’s convinced she’s the real thing but, at the same time, like no female Unit he’s ever encountered. He doesn’t respond to her revelation, though, as now he’s unsure if he can trust himself.
His feelings, already a confusing assault of daily discoveries, are in overdrive. Her presence and proximity is already clouding and crowding his perception. He can smell her where she stands and with the slightest movement, that cool, lavender scent, envelops him. He steals looks at her profile, almond skin, her gently curving cheekbones and her nose, tiny with the slightest upturn that all combine to accentuate her eyes, so green and bright. Is this beauty? He shuts his eyes and turns away.
‘Good’, he hears himself saying, ‘Andromeda, eh? I’ve never heard this name before. Right, to work, the Tabernacle Index is an inventory. You must begin in the craft’s aft.’
He looks at her and realises she’s smiling, a smile with the power of the dwarf star, he thinks, then he sees she’s laughing, her slender fingers hiding her smirking mouth.
Flustered, he feels, what? Thinking. Craft’s aft, I get it. Then he’s laughing, too and loudly, inhibitions dispersed. They both laugh and smiling, laugh again. Then he feels himself relax. He stops laughing but still smiling, he tells her to make detailed images of every component, in every dimension, so they can be reconstructed later, if needed.
With a last, deep and lingering look into those green eyes that say to him, he hopes, we have a new understanding that he, he admits to himself, must yet work out, then he withdraws to the chamber where he has hidden his infoTab and the Tabernacle Tablet.
Away from her, he blows his breath out like air escaping an inflatable. Does he accept what she says at face value or is this some sinister ploy, to penetrate his defences and measure his disAssembly? And orchestrated by whom, he wonders and to what end?
The insectBots place themselves at strategic points in the Tabernacle control deck, one in the illumination panel directly above the central control module, the other, over the hatch that led to the chamber where Unit 158 went. Its attempt to follow him failed, damaging a tarsus but, apart from impeding its balance slightly, did little else as it was a hexapod.
They are programmed to track the Units in the Tabernacle, gaining access when the female Unit 420 enters. Their observations are observed, in detail, from a secure chamber where QuantumBot is located, along with the GrUnCo servers, but not by bots, quantum or otherwise. Human eyes watch them but not from human bodies. But the only sign of ‘life’ is the stream of lights that erupt occasionally and sidle along the wall by psychImpulse, through fibre optic cables, directly to QuantumBot.
These eyes belong to the few survivors of the old Earth, the self style architects, savants and Lords of the New Order but, in the aftermath of the tabernacle’s grand tour and nearly catastrophic arrival on Trappist1, cryonic perversions, existing in a horrifying stew of plasma, alive like a breathing omelette. QuantumBot, programmed to respond to their psychImpulses, never responds or questions.
Andromeda studies him. He feels as though she’s looking inside him, even right through him. Then she reaches across to him and, with a feather-like touch, grips his lower arm. He feels like he’s melting and his mind is mush, like a marshmallow dessert.
Yet, 'twas not her beauty alone that won me Oh no! 'Twas the the truth in her eye ever dawning
Abraham shudders, shakes himself, he hopes, surreptitiously.
‘I watched the ImageBot performance and I thought it pathetic. I argued for full disclosure, leave no questions unanswered,’ she tells him.
He sits down on the edge of the Tabernacle control console, never taking his eyes off her. He makes a decision, blinks his eyes, slowly. She continues.
‘The only problem is, we have more questions than we have answers, but we do have you.’
‘Me?’, Abraham asks, ‘how do you have me?’
‘Let me start at our beginning. First, there are five of us. I know, I know, Aladdin Sane and the six Diamond Dogs makes seven but that was just a romantic ruse as in The Magnificent Seven, The Seven Samurai?’
Abraham’s blank look tells her all she needs to know. ’Never mind,’ she says, ‘the five of us were all that survived the crash of The Tabernacle, as sperm and unfertilised gametes, that is. Our parents, the ’N.O.T.’ were enslaved technicians in the service of the self ordained master puppeteers who financed the whole Tabernacle project. It was the culmination of millennia of exploitation and appropriation, designed to take their plan, for a world of their own design, to a new world and start again. They called this project, N.O.W.’
’N.O.W.?’, Abraham asks.
‘New Order World,’ she answers, without the slightest hint of irony.
Abraham can’t contain himself. His smirk becomes a giggle until, with a hiss like the doors of the truckBot, his suppressed chuckle turns in to a loud guffaw that says ridicule and disbelief.
She looks at him, frowning.
‘C’mon,’ he says, gasping between laughs, ’N.O.T. And N.O.W.? Not Now?’, he looks at her, mouth agape, eyes wide open, hands flat apart, before him.
Still that frowning, quizzical look.
He realises then she doesn’t understand and at the same time begins to think they might be both in the same boat. They just got on at different ports.
’How do you know all this?’ he asks.
’This world is not as old as you might think it is,’ she begins.
Abraham realises that’s a thought that has never occurred to him.
‘What? What do you mean?,’ he hears himself asking, knowing now he is being played or that’s what he wants to believe to keep control of his own mind. Or is this love?, he wonders, thinking, why does he think that?
All that sweating, racing heart , shortness of breath, fear of falling, but was that not fear, anxiety?
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Inspirations have I none
Just to touch the flaming dove
All I have is my love of love
And love is not loving
Really, Starman, he thinks, is that helpful? But sexual urges he has felt and gratified with a PleasureBot. It is a functional duty for all male Units. But this, this confusion? It’s natural, he tells himself, feeling delight at that acknowledgement, too. Natural, no, it’s natural to be suspicious, too. That’s a survival instinct.
Cassandra carries on talking, oblivious to his meandering mind, ‘QuantumBot began the fertilisation process while the Tabernacle was in motion except the NOTs had rogue receptoBots on board that were programmed to see we were among the chosen. The first wave, of which you were one, were fed raw data, even while you were being fertilised. They were playing odds that were stacked against them but you, were the first wave, were the building blocks of their New Order. Some of them were separated from the rest after WombHome. They are the Facilitators.’
Abraham feels like his head is exploding, like a giant jackhammer is pounding on his head. He feels himself moving before he’s aware of it. Then the whole Tabernacle rocks violently and he sees himself tossed against the ceiling before he hurtles across the control deck, head first. He sees Cassandra tumble as she’s projected in the opposite direction. Then all the air and the light is sucked out of the chamber.
Soul Love lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC, TINTORETTO MUSIC