“Okay, with Dumanov’s deletion, adding Walker and Berkovic, and the other changes that Aneni recommended, we have 4,492 archives stored onboard—Chen glanced around the table at the assembled group—including ours.”
Lily and Aubrey sat on one side of the table with Dylan and Evan. Chen, Adee, and Yin sat opposite them. The group had spent the last hour reviewing recent events to ensure that they were all working from the same set of facts.
The original plan had called for spending the next two weeks testing the drive system, running emergency drills with the crew (which comprised twelve semi-autonomous synthetic humanoids, or “synths” as they were often called), and stress-testing Aneni—the ship’s master AI.
Once launched, Kutanga would be the first interstellar ship in history, and one of just a handful operated entirely by a synthetic crew. Unfortunately, the events of the past three days had caused the group to rethink their plans and forced them to consider an immediate launch. Doing so would prevent them from completing the thorough and rigorous test plan they had developed.
“So, once we load Papa, that will leave us with room for seven more,” Aubrey said.
“I still haven’t said yes,” Evan replied.
“Oh, come on, Dad,” Lily said. “Don’t be silly…you’re coming with us. Why wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t like you assuming that I will just go along for the ride. If I am being honest, this whole thing has left a sour taste in my mouth.”
Lily placed her hand on top of her father’s. “I know and I’m sorry. We thought we could get you off Earth quietly, just like last time. Unfortunately, someone tipped off the GSSA.”
“Who do you think it was?” Evan asked.
“We don’t know—it could have been Aubrey’s executive assistant, Evelyn Wu. We know from Bruce’s last report that Evelyn was an Overwatch agent.”
“And it’s possible that the GSSA had other agents at other facilities that we don’t know about,” Aubrey added. “It doesn’t really matter though, because we’ve always known this would be our last shot at this.”
“Really? What’s stopping you from bringing me back again?”
“Technically, nothing,” Chen replied. “But it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any of us to return to Earth.”
“Why? Can’t you just create new identities, sneak back, and start all over again?”
“Trust us, Dad, we can’t,” Lily said. “They won’t stop looking for us until we’re dead, or so far beyond their reach that they could never catch us.”
“That’s right, Papa,” Aubrey added. “Changing identities might buy us a little time but we can’t go back to our old lives—we’d have to start over. That means no family, no money, no education, work, or financial history…nothing that could connect us back to who we were.”
“Why not just stay here? Or live on Mars? Didn’t you say they have different laws and aren’t likely to turn us over to the GFN?”
“That’s true to a point, Evan,” Adee replied, “but that won’t stop the GFN from hunting us down. We would not be the first fugitives who tried to hide out on Mars, nor would we be the first caught and returned to Earth for trial.”
“So, what’s the plan, then?” Evan asked. “You’ve already said that Kutanga isn’t designed to transport people, so where do we go from here?”
Adee looked back and forth uncomfortably between Lily and Aubrey—he clearly did not want to answer Evan’s question.
“It can’t carry lots of people,” he finally said. “But it can carry some.”
Lily tried to speak, but Yin cut her off. “Their plan was to terminate themselves once Kutanga is safely away. Isn’t that right, Adee?”
Adee had briefed Yin on the group’s plan a few hours before, and she was not happy with the details he had shared.
“Yes, that was the plan…before everything went sideways.”
“Is that true, Lily,” Evan asked with obvious shock and horror on his face, “were you going to kill yourselves?”
“It’s hard to explain, Dad, you haven’t lived like we have. But what’s important is that we won’t be dead—everything that makes us who we are is stored safely on board Kutanga. Aneni will restore us once we get to Gaia, and we’ll all just pick up where we left off. In fact, none of us will even remember having had this conversation if we don’t update our archives before the ship leaves.”
“I don’t understand,” Evan said.
“It’s simple, really,” Chen replied, “an engramic archive captures our thoughts, feelings, and memories at a specific moment in time. After restoration, we only remember our lives up to the moment of the archive; we have no memory of any events that occurred afterwards.”
“But none of that matters,” Yin interjected, “because nobody is terminating anybody. Right, Adee?”
“That’s correct, we’ve decided that it’s best that we stay with Kutanga a little longer than we originally planned.”
“So, when are you leaving?” Evan asked.
“Soon,” Adee replied, “the GFN Peacekeepers will be here in little more than an hour.”
“But I didn’t think Kutanga would be ready for at least another six hours?”
“Well, the gravity pulse drive won’t be ready to make the first jump for another six hours, but she can leave on thrusters right now. She won’t get very far, but that’s what we’ve got to decide next.”
“That’s right,” Yin said. “I’ve completed my tactical analysis and—”
“Just a second, please,” Adee cut her off. “We need to know if you are coming with us, Evan.”
“Do I have a choice?” Evan asked.
“Sure you do,” Adee said.
“What happens if I choose to stay here?”
“Then they will probably capture and kill you.”
“Why would they kill me? None of this is my fault. I didn’t ask you to restore me.”
“No, you didn’t. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t matter.”
“That’s not an option,” Lily said. “Look, Dad, you can’t go back to Earth. As an illegal clone, you have no rights and they can do anything they want to you. They’ll probably just terminate you on sight. If you get really lucky, you’ll spend the rest of your life slaving away on one of the penal asteroids in the Belt.”
Evan thought for a moment; neither outcome appealed to him. “So, then I don’t really have a choice, do I? You’ve already made it for me…I either go with you or stay here and die. What kind of a choice is that?”
“There is another option,” Chen said.
“Oh, what’s that?” Evan asked.
“We could create an updated archive for you—one that includes everything you’ve learned over the past three days—and add that to Aneni’s data store.”
“Which was the plan all along, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Papa,” Aubrey said. “That was the plan for all of us.”
“Then what the hell was the purpose of bringing me back in the first place? Why not just add my original archive to Kutanga and be done with it? Why did you put me through all of this?”
“To put it most simply,” Lily said, “I hoped to avoid a repeat of Hades One. And I was afraid that too much time has passed since you…died.”
“That’s right, Papa,” Aubrey interjected. “We needed to know that you could survive the restoration process after so many years.”
Evan’s eyebrows raised slightly, and a concerned look spread across his face. “I get it now! Oh, God, I’m so stupid. You didn’t bring me back to help solve the mutation problem—that was never your plan. You needed to test your ability to restore yourselves after the thirty-year trip to Gaia. You don’t love me…I’m just a fucking lab rat!”
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