Posted | Written by Patrick Tylee
To my son Moses,
who reminds me that it’s okay to play with things that don’t exist.
Polaris Ab4 (Alruccabah)
I’ve existed for centuries, but never as a child. Yet within me is this childlike awe of things that sometimes seem so insignificant. In my travels across the Orion Arm, I’ve witnessed events to cheer or to abhor, along with the science, nature and the glory of a thousand worlds. But I stand transfixed by this delicate sensation. Here’s this one thing: to see and feel these tiny grains of Earth’s Cooperative Sand as they trickle between my toes.
Balanced back on the heels of my blue silicone feet, I lift up an- other little pile of fine, brown silica on the tops of my toes. The lens of my eyes zoom my field of view down to only a few millimeters, right where the crest of a micro-dune is supported by one or two grains at the bottom edge. If I had lungs, I’d hold my breath. The breeze cooperates so as to prevent any slight disturbance to my silly game. I watch the microscopic grains press together. They strain against each other as the weight of the ones higher up presses down. The miniature slope has settled to a state of perfect equilibrium. I feel anxious, like a real human. I wait for the moment of release when chance brings just one crystal of silica to the brink. There’s nothing but the whirring hum from my moto-vascular servos deep within my chest.
Any moment now…
Instinctively, I blink. The crest heaves as hundreds of grains top- ple over the edge. The avalanche rushes down the slope, to acceler- ate across the vertical centimeter. It jumps into space and away in freefall. The shadow of my big toe swallows the crash of the crystals within my tiny personal cataclysm.
She did that on purpose. She’s always done things like that on purpose. It’s a human trait. I saw it on Earth many times.
“Catch me, Daddy!”
Her symphonic voice goes right through me. I can’t stay mad. She bounds up the dune with a grace and speed as only cyber-
netic legs will do.
“Hello, my darling,” I say. From four meters away she launch-
es herself into the air, straight at me. Oh, this is going to hurt. I can hear her metallic laughter even before she slams into my out- stretched arms. We fall backward together down the windward slope of the dune; tumbling, tumbling, tumbling. This is the best. I hear more laughter and realize it’s my own. Finally, we reach the bottom. Somehow I’ve managed to hold onto her, and all of our appendages are still attached as they’re meant to be. I stand up from my seated landing and hoist her higher to a more comfortable position in my arms. “Oh, my, you’re getting heavier every day! Do you ever stop growing?”
“Now, Daddy,” she scolds, “you know very well my weight hasn’t changed a single bit in ever. I’m exactly the same as when they grew me again.”
True, of course. Except for the new polygold hair, she’s still my perfect little Elmyrah, my…adopted daughter from Earth. Even af- ter five reconstructions, with much of her biological self replaced, she’s so beautiful, so exquisite. I’ll have her forever, my forever child.
“I know,” I say, “but on your planet, daddies say that to their little girls quite often.”
“Carry me back,” she says.
“That’s a long way, Em—”
“Do it,” she whispers, her warm face against my cold cheek.
“Do it or…you know.”
We begin to slog up the face of the dune, indeed remittance for the previous amusement. On the hike to the landing site, she doesn’t say a word, her face, stony. I worry sometimes how she has taken to worrying. Another example of how she’s become more like me. Or more like her, like Wisdom.
Programs aren’t supposed to act like that. They’re designed to help you. Elmyrah has gone through enough already. I see now how I should’ve kept them apart.
Perhaps it was an error in judgment on my part to involve Elmy- rah in certain distasteful errands, so long ago. And having her bodily mass reanimated, along with some much needed improvements, of course. I’m not convinced that she would’ve chosen this path for herself. She’s lost many of her friends to age and time, an unfortu- nate consequence of immortality. The guilt of this impossible situa- tion can have a terrible stranglehold upon a person, even an artificial person like me. My own guilt is burden enough, for the things I’ve done, for the things I’ve failed to do. You can make a lot of mistakes in the course of four hundred years.
I envy Elmyrah when I catch her crying. At least she can. The part of my programming that causes me to learn and discern truth from my surroundings, from the emotions and thoughts of others, also brought to my mind the realities of love and hate, joy and pain. I’d hoped that my inner turmoil would be vented in that one moment when I pressed the Fire button and sent that immeasurable nuclear wrath upon my enemy. We watched their ships melt in my conjured furnace of hell, hanging weightless in the heavens. The churning surface of their home world brought to a boil, dissolving; a cindered mist blowing away in a puff of stellar wind. If it was me that did that.
I was there. But we were all there, the three of us.
There was no satisfactory feeling to the recompense. No feeling. Just…observation. They needed to die, all of them. And now, that’s done.
Well, perhaps my darling Elmyrah can cry enough for both of us.
My weight pressing on the ship’s first step, it groans and creaks loudly, in a pouty kind of way. Elmyrah and I look at each other with matching smirks.
“Are you ever going to have that fixed?” she asks.
“That’s not a problem. That’s a feature!” I give her a gentle, tickly poke in the rib cage before we climb aboard our opulent land-able star-craft, Abandon. I admire how the knurled titanium railing transitions to interior platinum and zebra-wood. Aloe-snail upholstery flows in streams over the bama cushions and piles of pillows in several shades of purple. Not just transportation, this is living in luxury while you have to be on the way to someplace else.
When I took delivery of the new TransWave vessel from the Deneb system, the shipwright’s representative asked what name they should engrave on the cockpit placard. I looked at my First Officer, Gemmeck, who’d accompanied me.
“What do you think, Gemmie? What shall we call her?” He shrugged, to avoid my potential displeasure. “C’mon,” I pressed, “use your imagination. What’s the last word you’d ever want to see next to the word ‘ship’?” We all roared with laughter at his well- timed punch line, and it stuck. Abandon Ship, it shall be.
Elmyrah jumps out of my arms and trots down the aisle to paw through her stowage; likely to pick out a couple of Flight Buddies: cozy, stuffed characters to keep her company during the long trip to Lupus’ KeKouan. If she falls asleep, I’ll busy myself writing in my journal titled, ‘Note to Self’. An ink pen on actual paper is my expensive indulgence, much like my printed photo scrapbook.
Lift thrusters begin to raise their howl against the ground below. Elmyrah leans close to rest her head on my shoulder. I figure she’ll be asleep by the time we climb out of Alruccabah’s pink sky and into the deep blue of space. I’ll just pass the time performing a mental edit of my newest sales pitch that I’ve reserved for the Twin Princ- es of KeKouan. But who can resist? The marble-sized crystals of Obedient Sand are like magic to most, but merely a natural geologic jovian phenomenon. I mean, really, doesn’t everyone have sand that comes alive and responds to your every command? Not yet anyway.
Anomalous, it exists in one star system, Sol. And who has the monopoly on the Obedient Sand of Jupiter? Who has the exclusive rights to the Cooperative Sand of Earth? Yours truly….just forward your nics to—
“Daddy? Tell me the story again about how you saved Earth, how you were made and found me for us to be together forever. And about the Prawl-Tang monster that would’ve destroyed everyone. Tell me the story, please?”
“My perfect girl,” I say, “you don’t want to hear that all over again, do you?” I can feel her head nod with enthusiasm against my shoulder. When she behaves childish this way, it almost seems like acting, pretense. Though, in what do we not pretend? She is no child. I am no father. I know that deep within her lurks a reality. She hides it well.
“How many times is it that I’ve told you the story…hmmm? Ten or twenty, I bet, no?”
“Five hundred, thirty-seven,” she whispers into the furry face of Omni-Pooh, the polyester filled Flight Buddy.
Yes, I’m sure that’s correct. Of course it’s correct. With a brain like hers, mass-optimized and converted into the oxyserum chamber above her pelvis, could she ever be incorrect? I can only imagine how much more intelligent and process capable she is than I will ever be, no matter how many upgrades I get. It’s a good thing I bought all those spares. There should be enough extra me and me parts to last…a lifetime. Well, another millennia anyway, if I don’t get killed too often like in the early days. Oh, yes, speaking of…
“Okay, my daughter, I’ll tell you the story. But nobody was go- ing to destroy us, now, don’t be silly. You know better. They just wanted to harvest the Earth.”
How can I even say that without stammering?
Memories of those awful days push their way from the archive to my visual cortex, a very human thing to happen, it seems. I am the only patron of a haunted theater, watching the most gruesome, gut wrenching history projected inside my head.
Just harvest the Earth…of everyone…of everything…animal, vegetable and mineral. Doesn’t sound so bad if you’re billions of miles away and going fast in the opposite direction, Brothers! But I was there. I should have been long gone, but I stayed behind, want- ing everything to be just so. What if this happened instead? Maybe I will do this and not that. Maybe I will screw everything up.
Boy, did I screw everything up. All I was supposed to do was deliver the message. It shouldn’t have been anything fancy or un- planned. Just go there and deliver The Great Deception to the people of Earth. Heck, I could’ve told them I was Jesus or something and half of them would’ve volunteered to drop dead for Heaven. Well, the transparent skin over bluish-chrome meat was a sure giveaway.
I don’t think Jesus had transparent skin.
I hear her snort a little snore – perfect. Well, I really didn’t want to tell it again anyway. Who am I kidding? I would tell the story twice to a mirror. Here goes number five hundred, thirty-seven.
“In the beginning…wait…not my beginning, and not even the beginning. But you know, as far as the Sand is concerned…it all started one day when the sensors on a lost Prawl-Tang ship detected a high probability of a large concentration of hydrogen on a planet in a star system not too terribly far away.”
Note to Self
They said they were sending me off alone. Of course that wasn’t entirely true. Seemed a bit scary at first. Still, it was good to have someone to talk to. But now, between Elmyrah’s constant need for…everything…and Wisdom. What I wouldn’t give to be alone in my head, just once.
**Reader – What did you think of WISDOM Chapter One? Did anything surprise you about the chapter?
You can find the book WISDOM here on Amazon.