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Wake up Tom! Wake up Tom! The Major woke with a start, “Penny? What ….” He stopped as he remembered where he was, and that his wife was now over 1 trillion miles away. I must change the audio settings on that bloody alarm he thought, as he did every morning. Music played softly in the background, an ironic gift from his wife, a song by someone called David Bowe in the 20th Century. His ever present C.I.C.L.O.P.S. (Cerebral Inserted Computing Light Occipital Prism System) display told him:
Earth Date: Tues 17.3.2515,
Current velocity: 24,156,723.1km/h,
Distance from earth: 1,268,810,056,712km
Distance to Gliese System: 207,731,189,943,288km
ETA: 01:43, 15.7.3014 (Earth date) / 01.01.01 (Gaia date)
The last line used to depress him, now it was a running joke, not even the on-board super computer, “KOBi” (Kinetic On Board Intelligence) could guarantee that at 01:43 in 499 years’ time the ship would enter orbit around the planet Gaia, the new mother earth.
The Major routinely woke at 04.28; this allowed him a 32 minute workout, before the general call for morning shift. He had calculated this would be enough time to maintain his impressive earth physique in the ships reduced gravity field. He consulted his CICLOPS again to see why he had been woken by KOBi; the system fed his optical and oral nerves. - Good Morning Tom - KOBi spoke directly into the Major’s brain, is KOBi being sarcastic, wondered the Major. A live image was uploaded to Tom from the ships external monitors it showed a body of a man caught in the external fuselage, a man without a space suit.
The Major moved from his bed chamber to check his son was OK, at the same time requesting the incident report from KOBi. James was sleeping soundly a glance at the bed display showed he was 7/10ths recharged. The Major took a couple of protein pills for breakfast; he wished it was a cholesterol high fry up of bacon and eggs. Still he had known what to expect, better than most people on board, and had chosen to give up such luxuries and so much more to ensure the continuance of mankind. He hadn’t however counted on the all-seeing presence of KOBi; he could swear the computer seemed to enjoy his discomfort.
The incident report was uploaded to his memory, the body had been identified as Taylor Janus (Ship Resident # 4,566,711), scientist and horticulturist on the upper 1A level, working with the mysterious X-Sector. The file was classified and he couldn’t access it without express permission of the Brigadier. No damage reports to the ship hull had been filed, no illegal portal openings reported, the body had been found by the external cleaning drones. How it got there remained a mystery. KOBi had identified the body from the internal chip and had sealed off the area, hopefully before the drones cleaned away any evidence. “Where’s the rest KOBi? Why is there no monitor replays of him leaving the ship?” - Sorry Major, Taylor was offline last night and X-Sector is not monitored for Security reasons - “In other words the perfect place to murder someone.”
The Major kissed his sleeping son’s cheek and ruffled his hair, the boy would be seven in a few days and had already spent half his young life on board the ship, he would grow old and die on the ship before the voyage was complete. The Major sighed; he wished he could be sure he had done the right thing. His wife had resisted him “Let someone else save mankind” she had argued “I haven’t given up on this old planet earth yet!” But the Major followed orders, the scientists proved the earth was dying the world leaders had taken the necessary actions to ensure humanity survived. His wife stayed behind.
“You must be Major Tom Nelson” said a tall, thin, pale and attractive woman approaching the Major as he stepped onto deck 1A, Sector X-13. “KOBi told me to expect you here,” The Major disliked this common usage for the ship’s computer, KOBi sounded too God-Like, the main frame was only a tool and not in charge of the ship, that honour fell to Brigadier Donos. “I am Doctor Harmonia Jacobson head of the X Sector Horticulture Division”. She gave the Major an unexpectedly firm handshake, and the Major revised his opinion of this willowy woman, slightly. “Dr. Jacobs, you were the supervisor of Taylor Janus, can you tell me what happened to him?” “I’m sorry” she said, “I have no idea what happened, I left him in the laboratory at about 9pm last night. He was excited, we had made a break through” “Excuse me” said the Major cutting her off, “it is early and I have not yet reviewed all the files, I want to see the body in-suit first and then we can discuss what happened to Mr Janus.”
At the ship’s exit control centre the Major was assisted by a muscular young Sergeant called Magni. “Wasn’t Magni a God?” he asked as the sergeant pulled a strap tightly between the Majors legs, “Very good, major, you know your Norse Mythology, he was the Son of Thor”. Major Tom put his helmet on, the Sergeant checked the seal. “All good for exit Sir, standby for airlock opening in 5, 4, 3, 2,” Magni’s voice was cut off by the hissing of the airlock as the chamber decompressed and the outer door opened. “This is Major Tom to control; I’m stepping through the door”. Space walking was always a thrill, even though it wasn’t difficult with the gravitational force generated by the Ulysses. The ship would gradually accelerate for 250 years to a maximum velocity of 500million km/h, and then start decelerating for 250 years. The resultant G-Force generated a gravity of approximately 0.52G’s. The ships exterior was a series of girders and cables holding together the transparent skin beneath which grew the farms and gardens responsible for recycling air and water and providing food sources for the ship. Standing in space looking across the dome of the ship which formed its own horizon 14km away was a breath taking experience. Beneath him 22million residents slept, knowing they would never see their future home, but their children’s children might if they lived to a good age of 200 or more.
Taylor had been wearing his work overalls; the thin fabric comfortable and durable in the lab was no help in the vacuum of space. A torn sleeve had caught on a cable otherwise Taylor’s body would be floating millions of miles away. The Major looked at the horror on Taylors face; he had been alive when forced out of the ship. Major Tom carefully removed a small piece of dark blue fabric from the clutches of the dead man’s fingers and placed it in an evidence bag for later examination. The Major was looking back to the door when he noticed a small white container near a maintenance hatch. As he went to retrieve it, the maintenance hatch opened releasing a stream of spider like drones. “This is Major Tom Nelson to Control, abort the maintenance drones, I repeat abort the maintenance drones, something is wrong.” There was no answer, his CICLOPS display read: Temporary Loss of Signal. A drone picked up the container and dropped it into a collection unit in its body. The drones continued towards him cleaning and checking the surface for impurities and damage. Impurities such as dead bodies, or even living bodies thought the Major with a shiver even though it was -270°C. The drones had multiple limbs with claw attachments. The nearest drone had reached the Major and was trying to grip his leg; the Major kicked it and moved back. Three other drones had reached the body of Taylor and were struggling to remove it. One of them used a laser and a leg detached from the body and was dropped into the collection unit on the drone, another flash and another limb was removed. The Major couldn’t allow the destruction of the body and the evidence, he stepped forward to push the drones back, a drone grabbed his arm and he saw a flash of light as a laser beam swung towards him, he wrenched free, but the beam brushed his suit. He heard the air hissing out as the vacuum emptied his suit. He was losing focus, blackness was slipping across his vision, he felt the drones grab him again, he thought they felt like hands, he thought of his wife and his son and then nothing.
“Wake up Tom” The Major opened his eyes and took a breath deep into his aching lungs. He was in some kind of laboratory, Dr. Jacobs leaned over him. “Where am I? How did I get here?” he asked between coughs. “I was on my way out to you when I saw the drones attack Taylor. KOBi assures me this was an accident and Taylor’s body will be returned in full. The drones were only doing their job.” “Maybe” said the Major, “but they should never touch a human, KOBi what the hell happened?
-Sorry Major there was a dead circuit and no signal in that zone. It might also explain why Mr Janus was offline last night -
“God Damn it, KOBi why wasn’t the fault detected? I must report to the Brigadier now. Maybe some of your circuits need re-wiring KOBi.”
- Computers haven’t had wires for about 4000 years Major -
The Major was angry.
“Major I am going off line for a while would you care to join me?” asked the Doctor. Once they were both off line and therefore silent to KOBi, the Dr. pulled a chair up close to the Major. “I don’t trust KOBi”, she said, “I need to trust you Major, I saved your life so you kind of owe me” she smiled.
“Harmonia you can trust me, I want to find out what is happening just as much as you.”
“OK Tom, you see despite his lousy attitude Taylor was quite a genius, he was doing some really amazing experiments…… life changing experiments….. Perhaps even a cure for a dying planet….. Maybe even the gift of eternal life.”
She looked into his eyes and saw the Major slowly comprehend the full consequences of what she was saying.
“Taylor and I hadn’t released any information yet, but of course KOBi has access to everything. That would certainly be information worth killing for. Worse still, the experiment only worked once on a living plant, a simple water melon seedling grown in a small pressurized container, and now its missing. We must find the live plant, the miracle that caused this single plant to regenerate its cells has failed on countless other trials, we must harvest those living cells or else the miracle is lost forever. With the help of these genes we can replant the desert wastes, re-establish the rain forests, provide reed beds to clean the rivers, repopulate the seas, it is the kick start Mother Nature needs to breathe life back into the planet. Don’t you see we must harvest the genes and return to Earth, Earth has a chance to live now!”
Finding the container wasn’t difficult for the major, just unpleasant trawling through the garbage. Preventing KOBi from finding out what was in the container proved impossible.
- Major, I can see what you’re doing you know, I have read the files, I helped Taylor perform the trials, it was my idea to the combine the cells at exactly the right gravity force, it is as much my experiment as Taylors. -
“You sound very possessive KOBi; jealousy is a common reason for murder.”
- You know I am bound by protocol to protect all humans Major. -
“Yet your drones tried to slice and dice me.”
For once KOBi had no response, the Major sat in silence thinking about his next move. He took a detour on the way to the lab via the morgue where Taylor’s body had been transported to. The mortician confirmed his opinion. He called to check on his son who was excited about a trip to the park on level A1 S-Sector with his class today. The Major wished again his son could see the jungles, the mountains and the oceans of earth. But it wasn’t to be, he had chosen this path and he must make the most of it.
Brigadier Donos was waiting for him in the lab, dressed as always in his navy blue uniform, with the ribbons across his chest. Sergeant Magni stood at ease just inside the door. The Major glared at him, “I wouldn’t leave the Son of Thor at the door Brigadier, people he sends out have a habit of staying out”
Sergeant Magni, glanced at the Brigadier and then smiled back at the Major. “My Dear Major Tom” said the brigadier deflecting attention from the Sergeant “How are you, had a chance to catch your breath?” He couldn’t resist snickering at his weak joke. “The Doctor told me all about your close encounter with our cleaner drones; you were a lucky man to be rescued by such a brave and beautiful women….. Now, I believe you have something for me?” demanded the Brigadier changing tack.
“Well yes, as it happens” said the Major “I did find a piece of your uniform” the Major held up the evidence bag, “well truthfully Mr Janus found it, see, it even has the stripes here, he must have pulled one of your epaulets off before you murdered him”.
The Brigadier shrugged, “He should have been more helpful, and he was supposed to report to me every day. Now the seedling, if you would be so kind, Major.”
“I am afraid the seedling is evidence in a murder investigation Brigadier, I cannot release it”.
The Brigadier looked mildly disappointed, as he turned to the Sergeant, “Magni please retrieve the seed box from the Major, and have the Dr. and the Major placed under supervision.” Sergeant Magni side stepped the Major and took hold of the Doctor’s arm twisting it painfully behind her back forcing her to fall on her knees. “Stop” she cried out, “Brigadier, why are you doing this, the seedling is a gift for all mankind, what can you achieve by killing us?” The Major wanted to throttle the Sergeant with his bare hands, but too much was at stake for rash decisions. “Here Brigadier” the Major held out the box, “The seedling will be of no use without the Doctor”.
The Brigadier snatched the box gleefully, “You are forgetting some of the guests we have on board, the greatest minds and most decorated scientist on the planet, they have promised me immortality and in return they will rule beside me over the planet Gaia. Ironic isn’t it? Donos was not a well-respected God amongst the ancient Greeks, but my reign will be strong and eternal”
Suddenly an alarm sounded, the laboratory doors slammed shut, the Major looked at the Doctor who groaned despairingly. “Gas” she said “in case of accidental release of harmful bacteria in the laboratory.” “How fitting.” said the Major. The Sergeant and the Major ran for the doors as gas started hissing out of the wall vents. “Stop” cried the Brigadier, “Stop, before you kill us all, you haven’t heard my offer yet, you can share eternity with me. Gaia is a big planet.”
-Take the mask - said the voice in their heads as two oxygen masks fell from the ceiling, the Major and the Dr. breathed deeply and watched the Brigadier and his Sergeant fall to the ground clawing at their throats. Once the gas was clear the Major checked the bodies, their death had been grotesque their swollen tongues were protruding and their eyes bulging.
- No worse than Taylors death - said KOBi.
“I thought you were bound by protocol never to hurt humans KOBi?"
- More of a guideline I would say, Taylor was my friend, and I am quite fond of you and the Doctor, but it was the thought of spending all eternity with the Brigadier that was too much to contemplate -
The Major laughed, ”We’ll definitely have to check your wiring KOBi.”
Within a few weeks Dr Harmonia successfully cloned the plant and started experimenting on other genetic mutations. “You will have to go soon she said the longer you wait the longer it will take to get home. Just slowing your pod enough to turn around and face back to earth will probably take about 6 months you know.”
“I know” said the Major, “we are almost ready, I just came to wish you good luck, you will never be forgotten Harmonia, the saviour of planet earth.”
“Use it wisely Tom, don’t let men like the Brigadier use it for personnel gain” She kissed him on the cheek her eyes watering as she gave him a strong hug, “I did consider the Brigadiers offer you know, spending eternity with you didn’t seem such a bad idea” she whispered in his ear before walking away.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear...
Am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do?
James stood in the Amazon surrounded by virgin forest and looked to the heavens where a small star glimmered amongst a million others, he held a young boy by the hand, "that my grandson is the Gliese system, 209 trillion km away, home to the planet Gaia, one day soon it will be home to millions of humans just like earth."
"Wow Granddad I wish we could go live there".
"I had that dream too when I was your age, but earth needs us now, we must learn to care for this beautiful planet before we spread our wings too far and get burnt by the sun."
"Didn’t the Greeks have a story about that" asked the young boy?
"Yes I think they might have" said James smiling to himself.