Here it is, Starman: Life on Trappist1, the complete story, so far. Please comment, as I’m looking for feedback on this. Science fiction is a new departure for me and, while I’m enjoying it, like all writers, I’m anxious to know if anyone else is, too.
Abraham looks up at the sky. The second moon is setting and the nose of the dwarf star peeks above the horizon. Already, a magenta tide of new light is creeping his way, across the Great Plain.
Didn’t know what time it was and the lights were low
I leaned back on my radio
Some cat was laying down some rock ‘n’ roll,
‘lotta soul, he said
He loved that song he found in the hard disk of the old fashion digital archive, dug out of the old ruins, stored away, carefully, in a graphene container, as though it had been left as a memory, a reminder of a primitive past.
Of course, cracking its prehistoric code, was left to him and his, superannuated nanobots. He remembered finding them, too, from the Crater of Density, where he first found artefacts of a primordial civilisation. People laughed at him, joked about him and wrote him off as a wayward fool, drunk on stellar dust and fantasy.
But he was proving them wrong. They did begin in the stars and life, here on TrappistOne, began out there, far, far, away. It suited him when they ignored him. Their jeers helped his quest since, if they didn’t believe him, they wouldn’t bother him. But he knew, just as if, well, his memory told him.
He was good at that, disinterring memories, solving problems, tinkering. He liked to ask questions, which was not approved. No-one ever told him why, but he learned, shortly after evolving from WombHome, not to ask. Questions Cause Contention and Dissension, that’s what he and everyone else learned in BehaviourForum.
Which was why, he realised, everyone went back to BehaviourForum on the fourth full moons of each trimester, for ReAssembly, to stop the questions, because the answers, at least, all we needed, were already there.
And that, too, was why he never asked questions and never disclosed what he found in the Crater of Density, beyond the curious box. Of course, they took the box away but he didn’t tell them what he found inside. He didn’t tell them because his own mind was confused with a sense of impending, that set his heartbeat racing, his body secreting, hot and cold and his breathing, short and staccato gulps. Fear, it was, the alien archives told him.
After the first moon length, he withdrew to his CraterProximity dwelling, once it was permitted. They saw no harm in his obsessions. It was, what he did, they understood and never asked him, why, because that wasn’t done and because, well, they understood. By the time he reached the fourth of the full moons, he lined his TopCover with Graphene from the alien vessel so he would not be ReAssembled, he could remember. Because now, he understood,
There’s a Starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us,
But he thinks he’d blow our minds,
There’s a Starman waiting in the Sky
There were three stages in BehaviourForum: Initiation, Formulation and Reassembly. When a child left WombHome, it was taken to Initiation. Here, life lessons were taught, washing, feeding, staying healthy, finding a function.
Of course, no-one called these things by their full name. It would be tiresome and time wasting was never encouraged. So BehaviourForum was BeFo, Initiation was InIt, Formulation was FormU and Reassembly was ReAs. Nothing was complicated because Complications cause Conflict.
There wasn’t many Units in ReAs. It was such a simple procedure; take a ticket, wait for your number, then follow the receptobot to the ReAs chamber. It wasn’t, of course, a chamber. Well, he didn’t think it was, as though the word, chamber, has some significance to him. No, he couldn’t think of anything similar but he had this feeling, yes, that’s what it was, a feeling. He was marvelling at this discovery, when there was a loud squawk from the ReAs tannoy.
“Number 158, Unit please respond…number 158, Unit please respond”
He was still smiling, a far away look in his eyes, when he realised it was his number that was being called.
He rushed to the window, inserted his number card into the slot, there was a whirr, a clack, and a receptobot detached itself from the counter rail, lights blinking and surging as he booted up, on the run.
And it was off, the receptobot set off on its designated route, Unit 158, not Abraham, the name given to him, when he graduated from WoHo to BeFo, followed.
And this was where all this chamber palaver began. Abraham, or Unit 158, if you like, couldn’t escape the notion running around his head, like a child, playing in an empty warehouse, was an emotion , the thing he read about from a digital file he found in the Crater of Density. He was feeling something about the word, chamber.
He could feel his heartbeat and pulse begin to race and then, maintain a pace that would only feel natural if running. But, he wasn’t running. And, aside from that, there was the accelerated excretion of body fluid through, head, torso and genitals. Unusual, even uncomfortable. He resisted to adjust his TopCover and its graphene lining.
He was strapped in to a kaleidoscope of emotions. As soon as he felt one, another gripped him. He was smiling at the receptobot, facial muscles ache, unusual. The door of the chamber opened as the receptobot arrived. He stepped inside. The receptobot retreated, back on the rail.
Now he’s in the ReAs chamber and it’s just not a chamber, at least, not as he knows it. And that’s the thing, right there, he doesn’t know what a chamber is but his feelings, these sensations, jolting, coursing and crashing through his perceptions, tell him this is not a chamber.
It’s a tall ceilinged, airy room with a grand, panoramic view of the lush, golden sway of the Grand Plain. There’s a small table, standing right in the centre and beside it, a small chair. A new receptobot stands beside the table, motionless.
He sits. The receptobot pours him a drink from a pitcher stored in his chest panel. He takes the drink. There’s a flash of light.
And that was it. He was out and he has a memory. He can remember. His mind has not been reassembled.
‘Wake up, you sleepy head,’ the Starman’s words ring in his head, even as he performs his morning functions. These are the mechanical tasks he learned in BeFo, wash, dress, prepare, but now he feels a new urgency. He takes out the Tablet, he found on the alien vessel, and taps the launch pad with the imprint of his index finger, just as instructed.
It’s very much like the InfoTab everyone on TrappistOne possesses, except far more inferior, even primitive. Where his and other Units’ InfoTab can be accessed by psychoImpulse (psychImp), this requires almost as much input as output. At least with this tablet, a cumbersome lump of hardware that he dares not carry about, he can record his actions and discoveries without entering them in to the Grand Unit Consciousness (GrUnCo).
By not using PsychImp, he avoids his discoveries becoming part of the collective consciousness. He does this by wearing the graphene top cover he used, to avoid ReAs. It’s another step outside, a step away. His mind’s already gathering memories and a panoply of emotions, he struggles to comprehend. By studying the alien chronicles on the Tablet, he notes and describes each experience. So far, as far as he can gather, he has experienced fear, anticipation, excitement and dread.
The Starman’s songs are a warning, he figures.
Look out my window and what do I see
A crack in the sky and a hand reaching down to me
All the nightmares came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stay
But he must be careful. The receptobots are programmed to notice change, in his behaviour; even his thoughts, through PsychImp, could trigger alarms in the GrUnCo. The Starman came from a far away planet, out there in the stars. His journey was long and not without difficulties and problems.
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
And that urgency, he feels, is fuelled, not just by the fear of being found out, but by his compelling desire to discover the truth. Yes, that’s it, an obsession.
The postBot catches him off guard. Notices are usually received by psychImp and directed, by GrUnCo, to individual Units, or generally, to every Unit. This PostBot has turned up, on his doorstep, unannounced.
He just has time to put the Tablet away in an alcove of the Craft, he has yet to explore. The Tabernacle craft must have struck the Crater of Density with enormous force and he suspects, searing heat. It hadn’t just impacted but merged itself into the landscape so it was difficult to tell, with its labyrinth of passageways, alcoves and chambers, where the Tabernacle ends and the Crater begins. Turning up at his CraterProx dwelling is odd but at the Crater of Density, his workplace, that’s serious.
The postBot brings a summons to ReAs. “What for?” he asks, saying he’s busy, not to be disturbed, has to finish, but he knows the postBot isn’t going to answer but is programmed to record and assess. “OK,” he says, “I must complete this task and I will follow.” The postBot doesn’t move. This is serious.
Has he given something away? Were they alerted? Do they know he was not reassembled, that he broke the rules, made complications that will lead to contention? He measures his thoughts, carefully. He’s so outside the Unit life, he feels like an alien.
He needs to buy time. The dwarf star is already fading and the last of the full moons are already high, it will be time for ReAs soon, if only he can delay this summons.
The Starman isn’t coming, he knows that now. He knows Major Tom was the first emissary. But Major Tom was lost. He wasn’t the last they sent. It was all recorded in the chronicles of the Tablet. Major Tom’s craft and all the other exploratory emissaries sent back what they found, even when their Units expired.
By the time the information reached them, though, their own planet, Earth, was ready to implode, sucked dry and devastated by their own actions. So they built the Tabernacle and blasted into the void, their destination, TrappistOne, a final fling for survival of their species.
Their intention was not as blind as the stab in the dark it appeared. The craft, The Tabernacle was powered by one QuantumBot. This, the Tablet told him, was not just the mechanism to pilot their journey across the vast expanse of the Universe, it was also the failsafe they designed, to ensure their survival, in the event of a mishap.
To succeed, they would control memory and if they could control memory, they would control desire.
But QuantumBot, Abraham knows, is the same Bot mechanism that devises, controls, assimilates and assesses all activity, now, on TrappistOne. Something did go wrong and The Tabernacle crash landed here, in the Crater of Density.
The Tablet Chronicles was not just a detailed record of Earth’s story, it was also a blueprint of all the factors that led to its destruction and a plan for how these problems would be avoided, if and when they found a new home. The Earth people intended to work together to build a world where everyone had what they needed to survive, but that survival would be dependent on them working together. To succeed, they would control memory and if they could control memory, they would control desire.
Their objective was freedom, the Tablet Chronicles declare. And that was where Abraham was stumped and why he needs more time. but it was too late now. Unable to delay the postBot any longer, he follows it outside to the waiting truckBot. They climb in and the truckBot speeds off. In seconds the Crater of Density is a speck and within minutes, they’re at ReAs.
This is no longer ‘a God awful small affair,’ whatever that means, Abraham thinks, as the truckBot, piloted by the silent, somber postBot, speeds through the darkened streets of TrapCity.
His mind races to catch up, searching for the purpose of this summons, for how he might’ve slipped up, searching for inspiration that could turn this dilemma to his advantage. The only problem is, he knows, since he has no answer for the first two questions, then there is none for the final question. ‘I’ll play it by ear,’ he thinks, like he heard in the song on The Tablet.
He notices the Truckbot doesn’t pause or slow at ReAs and this gives him further cause for worry. He doesn’t know where else he could be brought since he doesn’t have the Unit designation to venture into TrapCity, any further than the ReAs to which he’d been assigned.
His question’s soon answered. The truckBot swerves abruptly into an underground driveway beneath what appears to be a towering, grey building. He only knows that because of the shadow it casts. The truckBot, steered by the postBot, grounds to a halt beside an arched doorway. The hooded door on Abraham’s side opens with a faint hiss. He steps out. As soon as he does, the truckBot door hisses and shuts again, before speeding off. He looks at the arched doorway, before him. They open, inward, with a swish.
He steps inside. The arched doorway swishes behind him, closing. He grabs the wall to steady himself as the box, into which he steps, begins to rise. For a second, there is no sound but his own breath and, he thinks, his heartbeat. He’s only adjusting to the ascending movement, when the music starts.
What are we coming to
No room for me, no fun for you
I think about a world to come
Where the books were found by the golden ones
Startled and confused by this new development, he knows it’s a Starman song and, in his head, he sings along,
Written in pain, written in awe
By a puzzled man who questioned
What we were here for
He doesn’t have time to finish. The ascending box stops, as abruptly as it began. So does the music. The arched doors swish again, opening, inwards. He’s greeted by a brilliant light and a voice, that says, “Unit 158, Welcome, we’ve been expecting you.”
Abraham can’t see. He can hear the voice that welcomes him but the searing heat and illumination from the lights make it impossible for him to look at them. He holds both arms up, against his face, to shield and protect himself. He doesn’t know how to respond. The voice used his number, the number he was given at ReAs. That tells him they know.
“So sorry, Abraham,” the voice says, “we’re used to the light. Someone?”
Abraham hears footsteps approach. He’s aware the light has changed and the attendant heat glare, softened. He lowers his hands, squinting. Colourful spots dance in front of his eyes but he can make out a silhouette approach, arms extended. In greeting, he hopes.
‘You’ve been on our minds,” this Unit he doesn’t recognise is saying to him. The voice is soft but assertive; the face, now he can see it, clear and unlined but it’s the eyes that grab his attention. They are a clear, green colour, almost liquid in texture and remind him of images of oceans in the alien Tablet, vast empty spaces of atmospheric turbulence that once covered more than two thirds of the Earth planet. All Units on TrappistOne have either blue or brown eyes.
“…this is quite an adventure,” the green eyed Unit concludes, just as Abraham begins to realise he’s been speaking and rapt, as he is, in the stranger’s appearance, he’s paid no attention. The Unit stares at him, intently, as though expecting a response. But before Abraham can respond, he continues.
“But where are our manners?” the mild mannered but assertive Unit says, as his left hand takes a firm grip on Abraham’s right elbow, guiding him towards the group of Units seated in a semi-circle, where the green eyed Unit came from, before. With a sweeping gesture of his right hand, the Unit continues, “these, my companions, are the Diamond Dogs and me, well, I’m Aladdin Sane.”
“You look confused, say something.”
Abraham is trying, with difficulty, to take in the revelations of the past ten minutes. It is beyond his powers of comprehension. He knows his mouth hangs open, his eyes feel as though they’re about to pop from their sockets and as his senses struggle to cope with this onslaught, he hears more of the music from the Tablet, playing softly, in the background. His olfactory receptors detect odours beyond his realm of experience.
The seven Units before him, with the exception of the one who calls himself Aladdin Sane, are all dressed in form fitting outfits that appear to change in colour, shade and shape as they move. Aladdin Sane is in an outfit of similar shape and scale, changes colour in response to his gestures and words but its effect is stronger, more intense. Aladdin Sane and the Diamond Dogs were mentioned by the Starman, he knows, but in what context, he can’t remember, or understand. They’re all staring at him, waiting.
“I…I…I am,” he stutters, the sound leaving his mouth as though it was trapped, “confused, I mean,” he continues, “I don’t understand. What adventure?”
A silence follows. Abraham can feel their eyes on him just as he tries his best to avoid them. He wonders what has brought him here and what is to come. It is all, quite literally, beyond his experience.
It is Aladdin Sane who responds first, clapping the palms of his hands together and making a ‘whooping’ noise with his mouth. The others join in.
“We’ve been watching you, Abraham,” he says, “while, like a butterfly in chrysalis, you emerge from ReAs, dis-assembled, I suppose, and then struggle to find a consciousness of your own. And you’ve done this with the primitive remains recovered from the ruins of the Crater of Density…sity.”
Abraham looks up, conscious of the hesitation. For just a split second, does Aladdin Sane exist or is he a trick of the light?, he wonders, what is going on? But Aladdin Sane turns towards him, directly, his form as clear and tangible as his own. He continues.
“Avoiding re-assembly poses its own problems and challenges, however. It gives you scope for memory and a record of sensations and emotions. And then needs, or desires. Before you know it, everyone needs something and feels they deserve it and pretty soon, no-one’s thinking of anyone else and nothing gets done and then it all falls apart.”
Abraham struggles to keep up with Aladdin Sane. Sure, he was experiencing new things, memory and emotions and how to understand them. Sure, he knew his meagre learning created a need for more, but what is wrong with that.
“What falls apart?” he blurts.
Aladdin Sane looks at him, a long time. Those clear, green eyes penetrate his being.
“The adventure, Of course,” he says.
Abraham remembers the Starman’s song and remembering it confuses him even more.
Who’ll love Aladdin Sane
Millions weep a fountain,
just in case of sunrise
Are these the ‘golden ones’? Abraham wonders. Surely not, but then, what should he expect? He doesn’t know, that’s the simple answer to that. He has no points of reference or memory that can answer the half formulated questions now crowding his brain.
Without noticing, Aladdin Sane is standing by his side. He can smell him. This is another new experience. All Units smell the same or this is the first time he has become conscious of a Unit smelling different to himself. What does it mean? How can he describe it?
“You are no different to us,” he hears him say. Then, sweet, he thinks like the vanilla fragrance in a custard dessert, that’s it.
“Each of us was raised through the life stages; WombHome, Init, FormU and ReAs,” Aladdin Sane explains, “and each of us, like you, found a chink that sparked a question.”
Abraham listens, struggling to comprehend what was being said, that there were others, like himself, who ask questions. How can this be? Are there no QuantumBot controls? Surely, they’ve been detected by psychImp, their collective difference causing disturbance in the GrUnCo?
Aladdin Sane was examining him, intently. Abraham could sense the depth of his gaze, with those green eyes, as though he was looking and could see, deep inside him.
“Questions beget more questions,” Aladdin Sane tells him, increasing his alarm, as though this odd, green eyed Unit was accessing his InfoTab and could read, even control, his psychImps.
“This entire chamber,” Sane explains, encompassing the entire space with a sweeping gesture, “is lined with graphene, the same ‘alien’ substance you recovered from the Crater of Density and used to avoid ReAs. Nothing said or thought in this space is recorded by PsychImp or causes any disturbance in the GrUnCo.”
“You, on the other hand, have raised alarms,” he says, “the next ReAs is less than one moon away. While you work in the Crater, your PsychImps have been beyond detection. Unfortunately, this has not been so from the CraterProx dwelling.”
Abraham’s fear was palpable, there was a sour taste in his mouth. It was dry. His skin excretes. Aladdin Sane continues, “there is no cause for alarm. The don’t do alarm but steps will be taken to test you, at the next ReAs and you must be prepared.”
“P-p-prepared?”, Abraham blurts, conscious now that Sane hasn’t answered his original question, about the ‘adventure’ he spoke of. What is this ‘adventure’? How was he a threat to it? And what was its intention?
Aladdin Sane is smiling at him now, shaking his head, gently, side to side. Abraham closes his eyes and opens them, focussing on the green eyed Unit, thinking for a split second the fragrant Sane lacked clarity, as though, well, he wasn’t sure but there was something. Maybe it’s just the fabric he wears, he thinks, that fluid, shifting pattern and colours. Now Sane speaks, again.
“There will be time to address and answer your questions but now, you must trust us,” he says, “you will be re-born, like new from WombHome, through InIt and FormU, so that, when you present for ReAs, you will go through with it.”
Abraham doesn’t like what he’s hearing. They want him to ReAssemble? Is that what they’re asking? But why? Is this some trick, a ploy by QuantumBot to engineer his re-assimilation, without question or dissent? He looks around for an exit route.
Once more, Sane anticipates his apprehension. “When we found our question,” that same sweeping gesture to indicate his companions, who, for all this time have sat in their semi-circle, observing their exchange, without comment or interference, “we discovered we were, well, different, for want of a better word. Each of us has a genetic distinction, a mutation from the UnitNorm, that puts us outside QuantumBot’s parameters of manipulation or control. We exist but they are not aware of our existence.”
This is way beyond my ability to understand, Abraham is thinking. They exist but they don’t exist because they are somehow, different. That’s what he’s saying but what does it mean?
His own existence has never been something he has considered. Or questioned. Every Unit is a Unit and every Unit has a function. Become a Unit, perform your function; that was InIt and FormU.
Now he was being asked to return to that same treadmill from which, since he first encountered the Starman’s Tabernacle in the Crater of Density, he has already stepped so far from UnitNorm as to feel, alien. Why? he tried to figure and what would become of him, then?
“Rebirth,” Aladdin Sane’s silky voice, again, at his elbow, undetected, whispered, “you’re unlike us, too, I should explain, since you found your own path to disassembly with a question, yes, but without the genetic distortion that hides our existence,” he explains, as Abraham, concentrating, struggles to stay with him, “this mutation is both an advantage and a disadvantage to us. We have removed ourselves from UnitNorm and the GrUnCo and can never return. You, on the other hand, although unofficially outside, can return. You can work for us, from within. Will you join our adventure?”
There it is again, Abraham’s thinking and this time, I need an answer.
But by now, the seven, the Diamond Dogs, have arisen and assembled themselves in a loose half circle around Aladdin Sane, and then, together, in a ghostly harmony, they begin to sing,
And from these tired eyes
And find our way through
Because we know exactly where we want to go too
All aboard the adventure
All aboard our adventure
Abraham considers his options. Less that one moon cycle remains until ReAs and the chances of his avoiding it this time without causing a stir, were scarce and, as one of the dramatic reconstructions he watched on a sub-program of The Tablet Chronicles, ‘Slim’s out of town.’
He smiles at the memory, marvelling too that humour has become a simple, almost unremarkable, impulse for him. But it is remarkable, he notes, promising himself he will not be complacent. The rebel Units, the self styled Diamond Dogs, he noticed, hadn’t smiled or laughed.
Which makes him wonder just how dis-assembled are they? How aware of their circumstances are they? And what, exactly, is the nature of the ‘genetic distortion’, alluded to by Aladdin Sane, that excludes them, by some default from ReAs or detection?
He’s reminded too of the occasional lapses of clarity in these enigmatic Units, like none he’s seen before, in demeanour, appearance and even the fabric and colour of their clothing, how Sane’s nonchalant aplomb shook, periodically, in speech and even visual definition.
Still, he thinks, they’re offering an alternative, after the perils of ReAs, of a return to consciousness but would that be the same consciousness he’s arrived at by his own efforts or one determined by whatever agenda controls them or they are pursuing.
They want him to become their inside Unit, operating within the confines of ReAs and for the purpose of their, as yet unspecified, ‘adventure.’
But what, he wonders, might happen if he simply avoids ReAs? QuantumBot, as Sane has acknowledged, doesn’t do alarm. QuantumBot doesn’t ask questions, either. Was QuantumBot ‘suspicious’ of his behaviour, as Sane claims, and if he has raised an alert in GrUnCo, through psychImp indiscretions from his CraterProx dwelling, how do they know?
In his experience, which he admits is short, he has never seen any corrective or punitive action by receptobots, nor is he aware of any QuantumBot directive to deal with aberrations.
Why? He thinks, well, because, in his experience, there’s never been an aberration or discord.
Sane and the Diamond Dogs left him to consider his options while they went about doing whatever it is they do. Still in the chamber he was brought to by the truckBot, he can see and hear them mill about, confer and generally, look busy and industrious but he’s aware of the anticipation in the room, as though they are going though these motions to disguise their own anxiety.
He studies Sane, in particular. He is, he assumes, a catalyst among them, if not their director. Then Sane, apparently conscious, somehow, of Abraham’s thoughts, looks up from the huddled group surrounding him and gazes in his direction. There it is, he thinks, that penetrating stare, that ‘I see you, outside, inside and all around you’ look, that half smirk, that, crinkle in the corner of his mouth, suggestion, he knows something more than me.
But wait, there it is, again, that flicker at the edges, the blurring shakiness and look now, a Diamond Dog passes in front of Sane but Sane’s appearance sharpens, flickers, then sharpens. Abraham closes his eyes shut, tight and then reopens them. He’s not imagining what he is seeing, the light is not playing tricks; he can see Sane through a Diamond Dog, then he can’t see Sane, then he can.
HoloBots, why hasn’t he seen it before now? Aladdin Sane and the Diamond Dogs are three dimensional, holographic entities, far more sophisticated than the holoBots he encountered in FormU or InIt, those trainee models used for Unit interface in training.
He looks away, studies his hands and puts his face in his hands, as though deep in thought. He doesn’t want to betray his new awareness. He clears his mind by clouding it, thinks of how he must return to CraterProx, that his absence will be noted, creating further wrinkles in GrUnCo for QuantumBot.
Through his hands he becomes aware of Sane’s close proximity. He lowers his hands, looks up and meets his gaze, waiting.
’Abraham,’ Sane addresses him, ‘ you’re right, your absence from Function will be noted. You must return to the Crater and continue to perform your tasks, report your findings, perform your duties. A truckBot has been dispatched. It will return you. First, I must enquire, have you reached a conclusion?’
‘No,’ Abraham hears himself saying, ‘I need more time.’
Sane appears to take this information in his unflappable manner but Abraham, aware now of the occasional disturbances, detects a ripple at his peripheral points but it’s so faint, it wouldn’t be seen unless you were looking for it. ’Time, before ReAs, is limited,’ Sane says, ‘when QuantumBot will act is uncertain and indeterminate, what QuantumBot will do, is unknown.’
You can say that again, Abraham thinks.
‘Time, before ReAs, is limited,’ Sane says, ‘when QuantumBot will act is uncertain and indeterminate, what QuantumBot will do, is unknown.’
Abraham maintains a straight gaze at Sane, anxious now, not to betray his suspicions or his discovery.
‘Let me be clear,’ Sane continues, apparently unaware of his own disclosure, ‘we intend to mask your dis-assembly so we can minimise the impact of ReAs on you and help us recover you to dis-assembly, as you were before. Do you have any questions?’
’Mask? what does that mean? how can that be done? and what is the adventure? You haven’t told me.’
Sane’s green eyes were looking through him again. He smiles, ‘questions, questions,’ he says, ‘we like questions. That is what the adventure is, a big question, to find happiness.’
Abraham nods, as though understanding but his mind races, questions tumbling from questions. A Dog appears beside Sane and indicates with a nod and a flicker, the arrival of the truckBot. Sane extends a hand to indicate it is time for Abraham to depart. He’s aware of trying to walk as normally as he can muster to the descent box, suppressing his desire to run. He knows he has one advantage over Sane and his Diamond Dogs and who or whatever controls them. He has the Tablet Chronicles and he knows, somewhere in the blueprints, he will find the answers.
The truckBot doesn’t linger after dropping Abraham back to his CraterProx dwelling. Abraham doesn’t hang about, either, to watch him go. Mindful of Aladdin Sane’s warnings regarding psychImp and QuantumBot’s capability to monitor his input to GrUnCo, he quickly gathers what he needs – a supply of solid and liquid ingestions, survival garments – and heads on for the Crater of Density and the alien craft, The Tabernacle.
He figures if QuantumBot has no way of knowing what he does there, then neither will Sane and the other holoBot Dogs and whoever controls them. Before he leaves his CraterProx dwelling, he takes the precaution of logging on for Function input, something he has always done, by training, but now, he realises, it’s instinctive, fuelled by caution and survival.
In The Tabernacle, he retrieves the Tablet Chronicles, secures the giant pod’s gateway and settles in to complete the study he’d begun, before the arrival of the truckBot.
QuantumBot, he understands from his previous but interrupted research, is the failsafe mechanism that would rebuild the Earth beings’ ideal world. The Tablet Chronicles was not just a detailed record of Earth’s story, it was also a blueprint of all the factors that led to its destruction and a plan for how these problems would be avoided, if and when they found a new home.
Controlling memory was a key ingredient in the success of their ideal world where everyone would have everything they needed and all would work together to achieve that objective. By controlling memory, they figured, they could limit desire because desire, they figured, was what led to all their troubles in the first place.
Earth was a planet in a galaxy at a distant quadrant of the known universe, the Chronicles told him, although what that meant, he isn’t entirely sure. He just knows it’s out there, somewhere. Anyway, this earth was two thirds liquid surface and one third, terrestrial. It is, or was, made up of iron, oxygen, magnesium and silicon.
Abraham wades, with some effort and not a little trouble through the formation of the planet earth’s solar system from nebula to a planetary system and from there, the evolution of the planet, itself, asteroid collisions, tectonic plates, the formation of oceans through condensation, from water and ice delivered by impacting comets.
He understands little of this but wonders at the earth people’s ability to annotate everything so for everything he doesn’t understand, which was just about everything, he’s able to learn through the notes. Assimilating information rapidly comes natural to him. That was how they were trained in FormU and InIt, so they could be reassigned Function, where it was needed.
Having waded through the planet’s position and ecological evolution, he finds the narrative more densely annotated as he approaches the storey’s resolution. Earth became too small for its population and what was once a thriving planet, soon became a wasted husk, drained of natural resources, its self sustaining ecological environment lost the means and will to live.
Of course, this was after wading through an entire treatise on the history of earth and its living species. This, he found intriguing and entirely engrossing.
Earth, it appears, according to the Tabernacle Chronicles, developed a complex eco system over many, to him entirely unfathomable, ages. From single cell bacteria that found themselves living on land, from the sea, they developed wings, limbs, complex organisms. And the humanoid was not the only species; it was only one of many millions, many of which remained unidentified, even when the planet imploded.
But it is the evolutionary development of the humanoid beings, the aliens who created and piloted the Tabernacle, he finds most fascinating.
First, they were hunter – gatherers who preyed on other species. Then, they gathered together and preyed on each other. They asked questions and sought answers for their own existence.
They created belief systems so a few could control many and, though each system failed, another, like the one before it and so on, until it was no more. The only thing that ever changed was the number in control and the complexity of what they had to believe in, even when, in the logic language of their questioners, the philosophers, the faith they held was, well, in their language, illogical.
To their final day, the earth people followed a faith whose primary tenet was their own self destruction. It was called consumerism and at the core of this faith, the tabernacle Chroniclers believed, was memory.
So, he reads, the core of their Tabernacle plan for a brave, new world, is the belief that so long as everyone works together and no-one has a memory of what they can’t have or might want, then the only thing that’s important is what is.
Abraham studies on this for a time. His understanding of the aliens has improved, he knows, but, equally, he believes, there’s something missing.
Firstly, he’s read no mention of the Starman, suspecting, perhaps, he was just one of their emissaries, like Major Tom, whose exploratory mission failed. Unsatisfied, he returns to the Tablet to find the cache of missives from the Starman. He scrolls through them to see if he can find, in one he hasn’t heard before, some clue to the answer he requires.
Here’s one, he thinks, entitled, curiously, ‘Moonage Daydream.’
I’m an alligator, I’m a mama-papa coming for you
I’m the space invader, I’ll be a rock ‘n’ rollin’ bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut,
you’re squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I’m busting up my brains for the words
What does that mean? He asks himself. Either the Starman was very confused or there is some secret code he has yet to unlock. Who, for example, were the people of The Tabernacle?
He knows, from his research, that as some Earth beings foresaw their planet’s own destruction, they were actively involved in seeking a way to escape. For this reason, The Starman and Major Tom were sent. But one of their biggest problems was propulsion, finding the technology that would transport them the distances they wanted to travel.
Trappist1, the dwarf star, was discovered by Earth living astral explorers, called astronomers, in the Earth time they called 2016. Their discovery triggered a new urgency to find the travel technology because Trappist1’s satellite planets, they believed, were like Earth and could sustain Earth life.
Trappist1 and its satellites, were 20 light years from Earth so was the biggest problem facing them, or so it appeared. The Chroniclers, however, belonged to a secret cabal that traversed all the power structures on earth, infiltrating the belief, power, manufacturing, energy, military and banking systems. Through their machinations, over millennia of Earth time, they gathered, recovered and accumulated secret knowledge and lost technologies, preparing, ultimately, for their day of departure.
The Tabernacle inventory included all this archival information, the sum of all the knowledge and information there was about the planet from whence they came; detailed manuals for their technology, its development archived with precision; the Chroniclers’ Blueprint, the detailed plan for the development of the new dawn of their species on another planet, its implementation in the hands of the QuantumBot and a massive cryogenic storage facility containing sperm and ova, collected, collated and assiduously vetted to fulfil their programme.
Everything was organised, annotated and logged, meticulously. Or so they thought. In the Tablet’s chronicles of Earth race history, Abraham had noted the recurrence in time of independent thought and thinkers who challenged the reality they were programmed to accept. At different times they were ‘free thinkers’, ‘heretics’, ‘revisionists’, ‘revolutionaries’, ‘dissidents’, ‘intellectuals’, ‘leftists’, Marxists’, ‘rebels’, ‘anarchists’, ‘conspiracy theorists’, ’nut jobs’ ‘crazies’, or ‘terrorists’. It was a common and repetitive strain to label and marginalise those who questioned the status quo, a reality that was carefully and fastidiously manipulated, in the background, by the acolytes of the Chroniclers.
And these were who sprang to mind when, having finished his research of the Tabernacle Chronicle, the screen image dissolved, replaced by another, an image of a pendant, with the letters, N.O.T. Emblazoned on it and beneath that, the legend, ’Nerds of Thoth’. Unfamiliar with their name among the long and exhaustive list of labels and acronyms in the Chroniclers’ archives, Abraham sets about researching them using the acronym N.O.T. And the legend, Nerds of Thoth, as his parameters.
A ‘nerd’ he finds,is ‘a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious’ and a single-minded expert in a particular technical field’ while Thoth, he discovers, is ‘a moon god, the god of wisdom, justice, and writing, patron of the sciences, and messenger of the sun god Ra.’
Put together, he surmises, they have chosen their acronym to deny , decry and devalue the Chroniclers’ assertion of ownership of knowledge and the blueprint for the species’ future on another planet.
Excited, he clicks on the symbol of Thoth, an image of a sword, coiled by two serpents climbing to a circular orb or crystal. It opens to a plain manifesto.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie
Abraham recognises it as the words of The Starman. He reads on.
We, the Nerds of Thoth, the architect slaves of the Chroniclers, who put this Tabernacle together and compiled these archives, would like to introduce you to the Ghost in the Machine or Deus ex Machina. Since we could not participate in this adventure as travellers in the Tabernacle, we’ve replaced some of the chosen few with the irregular sperm and ova of our own membership. The Chroniclers’ blueprint agenda precludes freedom and freedom of choice, two human traits that are the fountain source of both the species’ triumphs and terrors. The QuantumBot will follow its pre-programmed protocol and will not interfere, but one day, some of these children will ask, why?
Then, the adventure begins…
The pulsing light on his InfoTab startles him. He looks at it as though staring at it 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 replied, 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 was 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 he travelled in, his suppressed chuckle turned 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,
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, is that helpful?
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.