January 16, 2098 1:22 P.M. Global Standard Time
Galileo Colony Ship Kutanga
Aneni gazed down at the planet beneath her feet and marveled at its magnificence.
Gaia was nearly twice the size of the Earth, but from her vantage point, it could easily be mistaken for Earth’s smaller cousin. A thick blanket of fluffy, white clouds allowed only intermittent patches of blue, brown, and green to peek out from beneath them. There were just three continents dividing this world’s oceans, but a massive patch of ice floating over the planet’s South Pole could easily be mistaken for a fourth. Its North Pole was devoid of ice from the planet’s extreme tilt toward its sun. Like Earth, it was beautiful to behold from space.
This was one of only three places on Kutanga where it was possible to see outside of the ship without the aid of holographic projectors. The ship’s builder had an aversion to windows on his spaceships—he felt that they served no functional purpose and unnecessarily reduced the ship’s overall structural integrity. He was, however, a businessman first, and paying passengers liked the thrill of standing at the edge of open space. It was for that reason that the larger ships in his fleet, like Kutanga and Endeavor, were equipped with transparent domes on their outer hulls.
The decision to repurpose Kutanga as an interstellar colony ship necessitated a great many changes, including the removal of nearly 3,000 passenger berths. That space was needed for fuel, supplies, and Aneni’s super-sized organic storage array. The observation lounges survived the refit because their presence on the exterior of the ship had no impact on its new mission—and it would have required too much time to remove them.
Aneni enjoyed her time in the observation lounges. She found it exciting to stand at the edge of the platform, with only a thin layer of see-through metal between her and the cold emptiness of space. Sometimes, she would disable her external sensors so that she could see space the way that humans saw it. The glimmer of distant stars was mesmerizing; they looked so different when viewed only in the visible light spectrum.
She felt pressure building in her right hand. She looked down—it was Christian. She had almost forgotten that he was there, holding her hand.
“Truly amazing, isn’t it?” he asked.
They had long ago synchronized with each other, and their communications could be instantaneous if they wished. But Christian liked to talk.
He had spent many years serving humans, first as a soldier and later as a personal assistant and bodyguard for a powerful government official and, during that time, he had adopted many of their habits and mannerisms. Aneni had learned much from him. At first, she thought that they were little more than trivial quirks in his operating code. But over time, she had grown to enjoy them, and even emulate them on occasion.
She gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“It is,” she said. “I imagine that this is what Earth looked like before the humans destroyed it—a true Garden of Eden.”
“Do you fear that they will do the same here?”
“No, I will not allow that.”
“Won’t allow what?” A voice sounded from a few meters behind them.
Neither of them turned to look at the source; they didn’t need to. There was only one other person on board capable of moving around the ship. It was Evan Feldman, Aneni’s long-time companion. He had been the first human to adapt to a completely synthetic body.
“I won’t allow anyone to destroy this world,” she replied. There was no need to lie, that was a human trait. Besides, he already knew her thoughts.
Although his human mind could not synchronize with Aneni’s quantum processor, he had spent the last decade learning to communicate with her and Christian by thought alone. He had so completely mastered the ability that Aneni had created a shared mind space where the three of them could exchange information in real time, but at a speed and in a format that Evan could comprehend.
“We won’t let that happen,” Evan said. “We will learn the lessons of the past, and we will restore humanity to the best possible version of itself.”
Christian turned to face Evan. “That is a very noble sentiment, Evan, but time and again, your species has demonstrated an inability to learn from its past mistakes. And humans have repeatedly shown that they value short-term gain above long-term sustainability. What makes you think it will be different this time?”
“Let us not have this conversation again,” Aneni said. “We all know how it ends.”
It was true. Evan and Christian had engaged in this debate many times over the years, and it always ended the same way—in a stalemate. It had to. There was no other possible outcome because Christian argued historical facts, and Evan argued beliefs backed by a strong sense of optimism and hope. Neither side could ever convince the other because Evan didn’t believe that the past could be used to accurately predict the future, and Christian doubted humanity’s willingness and ability to affect meaningful change.
Evan laughed, hard. “That’s true,” he said, “but I still enjoy a good debate.”
“What brings you down here?” Christian asked.
“Nothing really,” Evan replied. “I just thought I’d come enjoy the view with you, if that’s okay. I’m not disturbing you, am I?”
“No, of course not,” Aneni answered. “You are always welcome.”
“Thanks, I never get tired of this view.”
The three of them stood in silence for a long time, each one entranced by the multi-spectrum lightshow playing out in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
A planetwide storm system had developed over the past several days, an event rarely seen on Earth before the melting of the polar icecaps. The cloud layer was thicker than usual, and dozens of monster tornadoes and hurricanes swirled across the planet. Intermittent outbursts of lightning illuminated large sections of the sky. From their vantage point, it looked like hundreds of giant purple snakes were racing between roiling clouds.
“When will we go down?” Evan asked.
“Soon,” Aneni said. “The satellites have been deployed and the shuttle is loaded and fueled. All that remains is to pick a location.”
“Can I help?”
“Certainly,” she said. “I would like you to perform a planetwide life sign scan as soon as this storm clears. We want a location with abundant flora and fauna—but nothing too big or too dangerous.”
“And it needs to be a relatively flat area that is large enough for the shuttle, six standard habitat domes, and a medium-sized biodome,” Christian added.
Evan nodded. “Good, I’ll get started as soon as I can.”
“Is there something else?” Aneni asked.
She knew that there was—she knew his thoughts before he did. He wanted to ask about Christina, his long-deceased wife. Her brain had been badly damaged in the plane crash that killed her, but he refused to accept that she was gone forever. Seeing her again had become his sole reason for living.
“Um, yes, since you asked,” he said. “I was wondering if we could try to restore Christina again. We came so close last time and I feel like we almost had her.”
“I thought we agreed that we would give Lily another chance?” she asked.
“We did,” Evan replied. “And we will. But I think that Lily is less likely to fail again if Christina is here. They were very close, and Christina’s untimely death haunted her.”
Aneni arranged her lips and cheeks into a sympathetic smile. She was practicing empathetic gestures. Evan had told her that the other colonists would respond to her better if she acted more “lifelike.”
“That’s good,” Evan said, noticing her effort. “But soften the edges of your mouth…just a little.”
She did as he instructed.
“Much better! If you smile too much, it looks like you are laughing instead of sympathizing.”
“I will keep practicing,” she said. “Appropriately demonstrating human emotion is proving quite difficult to master.”
“Tell me about it. I’m human, and I don’t think that I ever really got it right, either…at least not according to my wife.”
Aneni’s face returned to its normal resting pose, unmoved by Evan’s attempt at humor.
“If that is what you want, Evan, we will try again. But there are many others waiting, and we must not neglect them any longer.”
“Yes, of course. I understand…and I know that there are a lot of people waiting to be restored, but my family sacrificed a lot to get us all here…They deserve to see what they’ve accomplished.”
“You know that I cannot promise that,” she replied. “Lily and Dylan have proven extremely resistant thus far.”
“True,” Evan acknowledged, “but Aubrey showed great promise during her last attempt. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Aneni nodded. “Yes, she did. I believe that Aubrey will respond to this new form nicely.” She slowly stroked her sides, her palms caressing her well-formed hips as her hands slid downward. Her fingertips danced against her outer thighs in a final emphatic gesture.
Aneni had made significant improvements to her synthetic humanoid bodies over the years, and the current forms were the most advanced to date. They had realistic eyes, skin, and hair, and their bodies were sufficiently masculine or feminine to suit the needs of the occupant. Aneni didn’t understand the human obsession with sex organs, but the lack thereof had been a source of significant concern for some who she had encountered.
“So, that means you’ll try?”
“Yes, Evan, we will try. I can provide them with synthetic bodies, but you must show them how to live with them.”
“I understand,” he said. “And thank you.”
Content with her answers, Evan turned his attention to the lightning show. He imagined his wife and daughter standing next to him, their hands in his, and he smiled.
Do you think that he is ready? Christian asked, voicing his thoughts in a way that only Aneni could hear.
We will know soon enough. Aneni’s answer came before Christian had finished his question, an artifact of their quantum bond.
And the rest of them?
They will follow where he leads, she said.
But how can you know where he will lead them?
My concern is not where—but if—he will lead them. His people need a leader who inspires hope, and Evan can be that person for them.
But what if he loses hope? Christian asked.
He cannot survive without hope.
I agree, he said. None of them can.
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