A science fiction story told in a series of interrelated fragments.
“How did you get into my room?”
That’s what I get for becoming old…the faculties start to give in to age, and you find yourself having surprises when you least expect them. Of course there was no one else in my room–Security would not allow it–so this must be a projection from elsewhere. I didn’t think such powerful equipment existed anymore outside my own facilities. I hadn’t been keeping close enough tabs on the world in the last century or two, and now I find unwanted visitors apparently still able to piece together a holo-projector.
I ignored the figure in the shiny white uniform of fitted tunic and calf-boots. A gold pin on the left breast was also on the left upper-arm: a twisted double-helix. The unwelcome guest’s face was impassive, lightly-tanned with piercing blue eyes and medium length blond hair under the white helmet. I remembered seeing just his type in the records from the Twentieth—back then, the uniform would have been black, but the message he represented was essentially the same, though as befit the times, it was more universal in scope.
“Ernst-Karl Hallbach, you stand accused of Crimes Against The Purity Laws, and as a Traitor To The Genome. You must come with me to be tried by a jury of your Peers.”
They must be slipping, or lost some of their files if they thought I had any equals in their world. There was only one other my age—Jakob Sommers—and they couldn’t get to him. Mars was a long, long way off when you had no high-tech to get you there. My pod was the last one in the launch bay, and I had it almost loaded with the last of the gene-coders and matrices. There wasn’t a single species left on Earth that we couldn’t duplicate now, given the time and resources. Jakob and I had done our best, but the Earth was running out of both, thanks to the Genetic Authority and their repressive policies.
I suppose the GA was my fault, in a way…the original group formed as a reaction against my early experiments in genetic reconstruction. Since the earliest days of radio men had searched the skies for other intelligences to communicate with…by 2100A.D. the few spikes we’d received had been mistakes or natural phenomena, and people were giving up on the idea of non-human intelligence, especially once the dolphins refused to give up their obscure ‘leaping-time’ philosophy. No human could follow it—then one day, all the dolphins vanished. Even the ones in isolated aquaria. All the higher Cetaceae were gone—dolphins of every catalogued species, and their whale-brethren. Man, were the sharks pissed off after that day!
Oh yeah…the GA goons; they got started because of my Neanderthals. See, the ancient Genome Project, which had first recorded the homo-sapiens genetic code back in the early Twenty-First, then went on to do the same with homo-neanderthalensis, mankind’s closest evolutionary kin. No one knew why they vanished, but it was found that about ten percent of human DNA was actually from Neanderthals, so it was assumed we’d killed them or mated them into extinction. By the time I finished university in 2103 with a couple degrees in Engineering and Genetics, it looked like we too were goners.
So I had my Idea—what if the good old Neanderthals had been better stewards of the Earth than we turned out to be? Shouldn’t they have another chance? I had the time, the money, and most importantly, the nanobots to try out my theory. For nearly a century my family had been building the tiny atom-sized industrial robots, and I found the way to combine their basic building and reproductive skills with biology. DNA was just another program for them to execute, and at the rate they worked, changes could be effected in a few species-specific-generations to existing organisms, or in less time if we started from scratch. So yeah, my Neanderthals.
Was it my fault that they turned out, with their bigger brains, to have greater sensory acuity and aptitude? Sleep-tutored from their second year, they weren’t genetically inclined to mysticism and were a co-operative species. Within two decades, they were becoming resented for their academic prowess and drive…hence the GA’s first protests against gene-construction. Such protests would eventually lead to laws, and those in turn to bans.
Before that happened, my company began releasing nanobots into the wild in an effort to save the species most endangered by our out-of-control climate. The basic instruction for these ‘bots was save the species, but stay as close to the original genome as possible to maintain ecological balance. Some strides were made in slowing or halting the loss of some species, so I also authorized the release of nanobots to work on chemical pollution. CO2 levels began to drop, but the only ice left was in central Antarctica and Greenland…and the Neanderthals weren’t happy. So when they gave me their plan, I set our ‘bots to work on it…and that’s why the Moon is now a closed-system populated by Neanderthals. They call me ‘Father’.
“Ernst-Karl Hallbach, you stand accused of Crimes Against The Purity Laws, and as a Traitor To The Genome. You must come with me to be tried by a jury of your Peers.
I ignored the holo…it would repeat it’s message three times, then vanish. No humans could reach me at the top of Sky-Hook, not since the last ships had left for Mars and the Moon. I was 22,000 miles above the surface at the end of the tether, which allowed cargoes to reach orbit by train rather than rocket power. Hard vacuum surrounded my suite of rooms, and the last train had come up a year ago. Within the hour, I would be gone as well, on my way to join Jakob on Mars, where he had taken over the terra-forming project in 2300. Next week would be our 500th anniversary, thanks to the nanobots in our systems.
The first nanos to be injected into a human being had been hailed as miraculous. They were limited in what they could do—mainly eliminate diseased tissue…my Neanderthals and I had refined them time after time until they acted as an autonomous medical service…with reasonable care, a person had an unknown life expectancy, theoretically limitless, but then the Genetic Authority banned further human research, citing the preference for a Life as Nature Intended. When they tried to eliminate all robo-genetic enhancements, I’d had enough. Humanity had no clue that they owed their continued existence to Two-Sapphire, my oldest Neanderthal friend.
The fragile environment was starting to recover, but the growing tide of GA technophobia was impacting that gain, and their continued lack of birth control could not go on forever. I chose the health of the biosphere over that of homo-sapiens. Two-Sapphire and his male-mate Green-Fawn pointed out that the Mars Project promised a bright future for Man, and that it was only the Earth-bound who supported the GA’s ever-growing draconian measures. They persuaded me to let them tailor the next nanobots which would be released on Earth, saying it would eventually result in a balanced eco-system that included Man. I listened, and agreed; in a few centuries the numbers of people would be down to what the world could support easily, with no suffering, provided it had enough time to take hold before the GA got wind of it.
I glared at the motionless white figure in the middle of my living room. The one thing I was actually guilty of—they didn’t charge me with! My friends’ design would gradually reduce the birth rate through genetic manipulation, then it would be held steady for optimum eco-balance…could I help it if I was an unrepentant product of my youth in 2100? With disaster looming, and people finally starting to band together to save what they could of Earth, the winds of social change had been a hurricane for nearly fifty years. Before 2050, scientists put the figure of truly gay individuals at about ten percent of the population…everyone else looked down upon them and heinous crimes had been committed against them in the Twentieth…but by my secondary school years in the 2090’s, population control was being praised, and the best way to curb the birth rate was to profess a gay lifestyle. Same-sex living arrangements got benefits from government and the financial sectors, and to have a child before age forty was seen as a disgrace, and to wish for more than one was cause for social isolation. The human gene which caused homosexuality was found, and many parents opted for that modification if it wasn’t already in the family gene-code.
I didn’t know if my Neanderthal friends knew I’d tossed a modified gay gene into their nanobots…it was dormant in 90% of the general population, undetectable until puberty, then it was activated in 50% of those carrying it, rendering them physically impotent with members of the opposite sex. Any attempt to remove it once activated resulted in sterility. Mankind would control its numbers either through Two-Sapphire’s gentle planning, or through my cosmic joke.
I took a last look at the Earth below through the huge vidscreen, watching the scattered clouds drifting over steely waters and ever-so-slowly diminishing brown deserts. The spreading greens of new forest and savannah was spreading from the poles toward the equator, and in another two- or three-thousand years, the animal populations would rebound to fill those spaces vacated by the lessening numbers of men. It would be Paradise, in time.
“Ernst-Karl Hallbach, you stand accused of Crimes Against The Purity Laws, and as a Traitor To The Genome. You will come with me to be tried by a jury of your Peers.”
What the hell? That wasn’t the same phrase…and I jerked in shock when I felt firm fingers grasp my arm. I realized this was no hologram when its merciless grip remained unmoving when I reacted in surprise. I felt momentary pain as my arm broke in two places, and my vision began to fade out….
Jakob…I’m sorry, my love…you must go on alone.
*****Blackness absolute, no sense of the passage of time or thought.*****
Soft sheets were my first sensation, then warmth, then cool water trickled between my lips. Finally, a touch from a rough hirsute hand, then sound. A guttural yet bassily musical voice I’d known most of my adult life.
“Father, you must awaken. Time is short.” A pale pinkish light back-lit the large figure looming over me…then it snapped into focus, revealing the golden-red mop of hair atop heavy brow-ridges. The stubby nose and large jaws were those of my dearest friend Two-Sapphire, dressed in only a pair of blue-green shorts. He wasn’t overly hairy for one of his kind, about the same as a normal human, but the muscle and protective flesh made him far more imposing than any clothes could have.
“How did I get to the Moon? The fake holo…” The one thing nanos couldn’t do was restore memories they hadn’t observed. I shifted in the bed, and my dizziness cleared under mechanical internal aid. The gravity was too strong for it to be lunar. Mars then, if the pinkish light was any clue.
I saw my friend raise one huge hand and cover his eyes as a snort came from his wide mouth. He was laughing at me. “No, Father. You are on Deimos Light, and you are expected at your party with Jakob in one hour. If you dress, I will explain.”
I dressed in a new tunic and shorts as Two-Sapphire explained the events of the past week. I felt different, more energetic, and when I saw my reflection in a mirror, I stopped and stared. The face looking back was mine, and yet it wasn’t—hadn’t been mine since I passed my first century. My hair was thick and lustrous red, my eyes their old twinkling green…and I didn’t have even the memory of an ache in my entire body. My muscles rippled under toned and taut skin.
“When you were attacked, several things happened at once, as we had planned. The robot from the Genetic Authority shut down and was disassembled as a source of material to repair you; your Security bots loaded you into the pod and launched you into space—and the programming of your own nanobots put you into hibernation while you were injured.” The Neanderthal held up a hand to forestall my questions.
“You came to the Moon, where we injected you with new nanobots, then I joined you in a high-speed course for Mars…we arrived three days ago, and Jakob is waiting to welcome you to your new home. I have given Jakob the same treatment you received, we call them ‘star-bots’ because their purpose is to take my people to the stars.”
The door opened, and my breath caught in my throat as the most handsome man on three worlds entered. His long black hair and grey eyes set in a long face was set gracefully atop a well-proportioned body dressed in red. His tunic and shorts were more form-fitting than mine, but then Jakob knew that was the way I liked to see him. Thanks to Two-Sapphire’s treatments, he looked just as he did the day I first met him, and his arms felt just as good when he swept me into them for a gentle kiss.
“Welcome home, my love…we have a party to go to, then I’m going to make love to you until dawn…two days from now!”
I chuckled at his enthusiasm. “Optimistic, aren’t you?”
“Nope, Two assures me it’s fact. Less food, sleep, but we have more energy reserves. Enhanced bio filters against disease or radiation and more rapid healing, but enough physical damage can still kill us. It just takes a hell of a lot more to do it.”
“But what’s it all for, Jake? We were tough enough with our old ‘bots.”
Jakob looked at Two-Sapphire, and raised an eyebrow. “You haven’t told him yet?”
“Alas, no. Your arrival precluded it. You were not expected.”
I got dizzy despite my robotic aides as my lover swung me in a circle, pressing kisses to my cheeks before steadying me against his chest.
“They want their dads to go with them to the stars, E!”
I saw our friend cover his eyes again, and asked him what was funny now. Neanderthal humor could be deep or superficially crazy, no one had been able to classify it completely.
“We want our parents to go with us…it will be a grand adventure. But you don’t have to give us an answer today. Take a few centuries to discuss it…the ship will be finished in about a thousand years.”
Tales of Three Worlds will be posted every other week
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