This story is set in a time when extraterrestrial colonies are being established. It is the story of a race between the destruction of earthbound mankind and the development of self-replicating extraterrestrial colonies.
Less than one month after the initial publication of this work, I found it chilling to read of Stephen Hawking publicly expressing these very concerns.
Herein I set forth an image for the future of humanity that could become a hope for some, but I see two things needed for any of this to happen.
First, we need to develop community-scale environments that are capable of high levels of local sustainability. By this I mean capable of continuously recycling most of their atmosphere and water. This would also include producing their own food and energy.
Besides reducing environmental pollution, these communities would provide safe havens in the event of extreme environmental and economic disasters. Communities such as these were developed in my novel “Arland.”
We also need to develop a culture compatible with this lifestyle. The elimination of internal combustion transportation, the development of small villages, and a high level of inter-dependencies among the residents would be a radical departure from our current way of life.
A related requirement would be the acceptance of such communities as near-sovereign reservations. The countless regulations and taxes applied to mainstream communities would simply not be relevant, and would impede their development in the first place.
This novel is part three of a trilogy that includes “Expatriates of Babylon” and “Arland,” in that order.
Unlike pure space fantasies similar to the Star Wars© series, this work offers threads of factual science. To be sure, some of these threads are stretched beyond what reality may allow. But here, science-oriented readers are challenged to either disprove or to consider radical theories introduced as a part of the plot.
1 – A Game of His Own
“Today is the day we find out what our future occupations will be,” droned the charming lifelike instructor in the holographic image. “You have all worked very hard with your studies, and we are proud of every one of you.
“As you now advance into adulthood your paths will diverge into specialties based on your individual preferences and abilities. I am sure you will all excel in these fields, even as you have performed wonderfully in the studies through which you have been guided.
“From this point, more individualized curriculum will prepare you for your chosen paths. For some, this additional instruction will last a few months; for the more complicated careers, the instruction will take awhile longer. But you will all have the privilege of leading meaningful lives in contributing your exceptional talents to the benefit of humanity.
“There are a few of us here who have been a little less consistent in performing our assignments. Your unique minds will be favored with special guidance to optimize your fulfillment and success in life, and to insure that you too become excited about the futures in store for you.”
Although barely eighteen, Wade was fed up with life – as was much of the human race. He lived in a generation where important decisions were made for him. Since preschool days, instruction, test results, and occasional interviews with institutional personnel, had determined his scholastic path. Now they would determine his lifetime occupation.
It was also true that the internet had given him access to any subject of interest to him, and that the monitoring of these these interests had been factored into this lifetime decision. But he still felt cheated. It was his life and should be his decision. When he allowed himself a philosophical moment, he pictured himself as a plant whose nourishment depended upon his roots remaining where they were so they could receive regular water and nourishment.
His desire for adventure had been partially fulfilled by video games. Vicarious fulfillment through sophisticated avatars gave some relief, but knowing that such games were entirely safe, they had become boring. He continued to wonder what real danger and real pain would be like. He had never seen a real explosion – or even seen a real gun – and he wondered what the flashes on his screen would actually sound like.
A few years earlier he had begun to deduce that his choice and performance in games was yet another means by which his abilities and responses were being analyzed. As he became convinced that the cunning intelligentsia who provided his computer recreation were using it to monitor his intellect and personality, he began to realize that this very intimate snooping could actually become an avenue by which he could choose his own future.
That was when he began to conceive a game of his own. He decided that he did not want to be a “brain cow” and become one of their resources. He would attempt to conceal the level of his intelligence so he could flow among the more average of the population, and manipulate his position among the less wary of society. So he intentionally began to make “mistakes” that would get his avatar killed or severely handicapped so he would return to lower levels of the programs. He also reigned in his personality pattern of boldly taking charge and anticipating the next looming challenge. This he coordinated with intentional “failures,” so it would appear he was becoming naturally cautious in response to mistakes. He would react more slowly to developing situations. His new game was to analyze and to manipulate his handlers.
He had a small advantage in his realization that pride was the Achilles tendon of brilliant people. The game masters, smugly confident that their true objectives would rarely be discerned, would need to be managed with care. The “mistakes” he would make would have to be consistent with the types of mistakes he had made in the past. Also, he would need to make some other slight changes in his life so that the inevitable cross-correlation of data would obscure the fact that he was intentionally manipulating his game performance.
As he began to consider the methods and opportunities of this game of his own, he realized the broader potential it had for actually gaining control of his “real” life – if life in this cage that society had created could be considered real at all. While performing the more routine obligations of life that did not reveal his actual thinking, he would ponder the type of life and career he would actually prefer. He would create his own life avatar, and manipulate his responses in the games he played. He would also modify his performances and responses related to his career assignments to suit his chosen image. While planning all this, He created a few diagnostic responses so he could discern the degree to which his intended actions would be noticed.
Although previously he had excelled in mathematics and physics, the potential of actually being truly creative in these areas was limited to an elite few on the very cutting edge of science. The rest in these intellectually demanding disciplines were relegated to developing applications of technologies, that would support the work of this elite.
As he began to learn more about life sciences, he recognized a vast opportunity for exploration within this realm of inner space. Although already having been explored for centuries, life sciences still held depths of secrets yet to be plumbed. He felt that there may be at least some remaining expressions of invention and creativity in these areas.
He settled upon the in-between field of bionics, where math and physics met biology. In this narrow field, systems, software, and devices were developed that emulated abilities found in nature. He was realistic enough to see that opportunities simply did not currently exist for him in this field, so as a stepping stone towards it, he targeted botanical research.
Upon this decision He began to voraciously consume materials available online to make himself as qualified as possible. By specializing in sophisticated instrumentation and analytical tools, he hoped to enter at the leading edge of this discipline. This was a risky move because if he could not pull it off, he would likely be categorized as a farmer – a comfortable yet common and mundane occupation. Wade was in danger of receiving exactly what he had earned.
But now it was payday. He was about to be assigned to a career whether he wanted it or not, and the final two or three years of his education would bind him forever to this choice that they had made for him.
2 – The Cultural Environment
Wade's young mind was ravenous for truth, and this had drawn him in to wondering why everything in society seemed so predictable and under control. He knew that his own inner thoughts were not under control, and he knew full well that he wasn't the only one. But almost all communication took place on screens. This allowed people to present whatever face they wanted to about themselves, and somewhere every word and scene was being recorded. There was an intuitive dread of expressing anything that might be contrary to what people had been instructed to think and feel. There were words that no one dared to utter, and problems that no one dared to mention.
When he turned to history for answers, the story of any country or empire contained far more of the standard geopolitical commentary than historic facts. He was able to glean a few more details by searching histories of art pieces, architecture, and various period technologies. He would then zero in on backdrops incidental to the context of the subjects. The best mining came from examining opposing views – when such were allowed.
There were cases where his web searches happened upon troves of forbidden information, and within hours he was unable to return to the website. He knew that this was not how life should be.
The social life fostered shallow and uncommitted relationships. This was facilitated by a hedonistic night life that favored the more transitory levels of relationship.
Marriage had long since ceased to be the norm in society, and the benefits of sterility were a routine part of scholastic and cultural indoctrination. This theme was increasingly repeated as children approached puberty.
As students approached the age where they could volunteer for sterility, the benefits included opportunity for sexual experience a year earlier than it would be allowed for those who retained their potency. This ironically (and intentionally) made those with less control of their sexuality, less likely to reproduce.
Another lifetime benefit of voluntary sterility would be the guarantee of a stable income. This would appeal to those with less confidence in their skills, and in their abilities to adapt to changing situations. These two enticements amounted to a breeding program that would slow population growth among those less disciplined and less confident in their abilities – the lesser performers.
By this time children were essentially wards of the state, and only lip service was given to the role of parents in their lives. There was little reward or satisfaction in parenting, and their allowed involvement was essentially symbolic – overwhelmed by the influence of the school and daycare systems. All adults were expected to work. The state was the de facto parent – apparently for adults as well as for children.
Education and entertainment constantly portrayed religious experience as a psychological weakness that were both opposed to rationality and detrimental to humanity. Historically, vicious wars had been fought over religious beliefs. As a result, any religious doctrine that allowed violence against another for any reason, was banned. For the sake of harmony however, there was symbolic allowance for peaceful religions. And indeed, religious experiences and beliefs continued to arise – seemingly out of nowhere.
By blunting loyalties to both family and religion, the primary triggers of moral objections were mollified. Governments were thereby less likely to be threatened by conviction-based conflicts. The welfare of the state was then promoted to fill the vacuum left by the suppression of these other two institutions.
As the global culture was developing, other causes of war were addressed and mitigated as much as possible. Conflicts motivated by survival needs were managed through technologies that met those needs, but ongoing access to these technologies had to be purchased by individuals through productivity. In other words, people were forced to earn what they needed to survive.
Behavior deemed criminal resulted in relocation to areas of reduced provision and reduced opportunity to damage others. This “reduced provision” translated into longer working hours to achieve survival itself.
Actual prosperity took the form of increasing levels of comfort and convenience, and in some cases, additional space. The increments of improvement became smaller and increasingly difficult to achieve as they inched upwards. Such increases became available through longer hours, better performance, and additional public service.
This made it possible for individuals to find levels where their ambitions were balanced by the levels of effort they were willing and capable of exerting. It was thus understood that wealth was available to any who were willing to pay the price, and this in turn reduced complaints due to jealousy or the perception of unfairness.
This social order all depended upon the existence of a vague government that arranged and manipulated it all. This Society of Benefactors (SOB) was distant and impersonal enough to be considered untouchable. The extent of the gap between this global government and the populations of the world was unknown, and the path from one to the other did not exist. The news media they controlled offered few details.
Unlike and unknown to the world they controlled, this Society of Benefactors, was fraught with factions and infighting, but with no referee. The SOB was roughly divided into three areas of administration: Asia, Mideast-Europe-Africa (MEA), and the Amers. The primary conflict was between Asia and MEA. The Amers, lacking the ambition to take on either one, were neutral, but covert envoys from both belligerents actively wooed their favor.
3 – Game Over
The holographic instructor continued: “Within a few minutes your individual career categories will begin to appear on your tablets – along with the classrooms to which you will report. Upon receiving this information you are individually dismissed to the refreshment lounge for approximately thirty minutes. There you may relax and exchange congratulations and farewells among your fellow students.”
The instructor disappeared and the nearly fifty students began to chat with each other as the individual assignments began to appear.
Wade noticed that there were whoops of joy in response to the first of these revelations, but the responses – though pleasant – became more subdued by the time about half of the class had departed. Eventually the responses began to sound more like relief than pleasure, and finally they got down to occasional groans. This did not bode well for his own results, as he continued to wait among the final few.
A smallish man of about forty in immaculate formal attire stepped into the room. “Wade? Come with me. The rest of you will continue to wait here until your careers are revealed, whereupon you will proceed directly to your assigned classrooms.”
Dr Kyle was identified only by a name plate on his breast pocket, and did not offer so much as a handshake by way of introduction. When just the two of them were seated in a small spartan conference room a couple of doors away from the classroom, Dr. Kyle spared no words.
“Until a few years ago you were at the top of your class, and headed for a prestigious career as an aerospace engineer. What happened?”
Wade was caught totally off guard by this blatant confrontation. He found himself intimidated by the complete lack of empathy and encouragement that until this point had oozed from all whom he had encountered within the educational system. “I..I guess I'm uh probably not all that good... after all.”
“Parrot poop! You've been under achieving. Why?”
Wade was under attack, and he began to intentionally adjust his position in the unpadded chair as a pretext for delay, while rapidly evaluating possible responses – short of confessing to the accusation at hand he had few choices.
“I had kind of cheated a little – before.”
“I had this friend who helped...”
“I don't quite remember his name. It was a few year ago...”
“Liar!” Silence. It was Wade's turn to speak, but there was nothing he could possibly say. He sat there staring at the table for what seemed like an eternity, rather than making eye-contact with this intense enforcer of reality. Kyle was diabolically patient as he continued to await Wade's response, but finally:
“There is a farmer who needs an assistant. The studies you've been feeding yourself lately have qualified you for this position, so you will need no further education. If you do what he tells you, and if you perform at the level you are capable of, you may eventually work yourself up to the position of farmer.
“I have posted the location of a retail suite in a nearby connected village on your tablet. You will report there at 8:00 am day after tomorrow with a backpack containing your tablet, such personal items as will fit, and an eagerness to perform. All else you will need will be provided at your future home.
“I am giving you opportunity and motive, and can offer you little more – other than any special tools or equipment you may feel you need.”
Wade stirred and looked up from the table at this point. Had he actually just been given the opportunity to request something? “Are you offering me the opportunity to request tools or equipment – right now?”
“Have you also a hearing problem?”
“I'd like a portable mass spectrometer so I can analyze and monitor the elements within the plant nutrients. I would like the library of analytical procedures for monitoring plant health and diagnosing weaknesses. I would like the equipment for performing these procedures. I would like a high-resolution screen one and one half by three fourths of a meter, so I can simultaneously work with multiple screens, plus the computer resources to manage them. I would like to begin with 48 remote sensors for monitoring temperature, humidity, and soil conditions, but will doubtless need more in the future.”
“That's an outrageous list – and far more than any farmer would even know how to use, but I've been told to provide what you would request so I am constrained to see what I can do. There will also be an ongoing budget for additional essential tools and materials that you can clearly justify on a piece-by-piece basis.
“8:00 am day after tomorrow then. Another gentleman will be on hand to conduct you to your assignment. You are dismissed.” Whereupon the austere Dr. Kyle arose, turned away from Wade and began a phone call. As Wade left the room, he could not see the smirk on Dr. Kyle's face.
Other than while awaiting Wade's responses, this highly efficient “Kyle machine” had not wasted five seconds of time or a single syllable of speech. As Wade stumbled along a garden pathway, stunned by the disaster he had made of his young life, he could not understand why he was smiling – until he realized: Adventure at last! He had succeeded in breaking something – even if it was his own life, and he was excited. He had felt real emotions about a real situation. He had broken the game!
4 – Infrastructure and Economy
Much of the world's economy had been modularized into efficient self-contained infrastructures that relied little upon the outside world. Such units had proven more resilient during periods of global economic and political disruptions.
Most of these villages – especially in arid or cold climates – were built into the earth. They were completely enclosed and continually recycled their atmospheres and water. Sunlight was collected by external banks of computer-controlled mirrors called “heliostats.” These reflected the energy into the communities through specialized skylights. Additional heliostats were used for the local production of electrical power, and for various thermal processes.
By intermingling hydroponic food production, residential, and commercial suites within these environments there was a greater amount of individual space available, and the need of motorized transportation for hauling produce and supplies was nearly eliminated. The impression of space was further enhanced by the use of floor-to-ceiling high-resolution screens in private homes and in public spaces. These provided real-time scenes of vacation and natural wonder spots throughout the globe, and views from space as well. They were also capable of providing entertainment programming and standard computer functions from portable keyboards.
This efficient living concept was actually a spin-off from space colony development, and many had in turn become laboratories where various aspects of extraterrestrial living were being refined.
These enclosed villages typically served populations of a few hundred, but their size could run from around fifty to thousands. Their compact size and enclosed nature gave this combination of residential and commercial space a micro-mall feel. They were usually arranged in interconnected groups of villages, to provide a fabric of convenience and protection. There were also large industrial rooms adjacent to these sites where various levels of manufacturing and utility management would take place. Other than the maintenance of energy equipment or other emergency repairs, there was little reason to leave these warrens.
Still, there remained large numbers of less fortunate people more exposed to the elements, and far more dependent upon the whims of nature. Life was more difficult and less predictable for them. Most were clustered in small villages next to patches of arable land – for protection and the sharing of resources. Some of these communities had a category of domestic animal they referred to as “livestock.” These were animals that could survive on natural wild plants, but sometimes required square kilometers of land enclosed by thin wire fences to do so.
Among these “externals” there was a category of community whose land was not productive enough (or managed well enough) for survival. These depended upon the production of commodities they could market in the more comfortable communities built into the earth. Many of these externals also harbored packs of scavengers who would forage wide areas for natural foods, and almost any resource of value. Although synergistically involved with their respective communities, these packs were otherwise dangerous, unpredictable, and feared.
The greater land requirements and spacing of the external communities required some level of motorized transportation – especially the pack communities. These would have small fleets of two and four-wheeled vehicles with off-road capabilities, powered by a mix of Stirling, electric, and internal combustion engines.
5 – Game 2, Level 1
The retail suite Wade reported to was sponsored by an external community. It featured specialty produce unsuitable for high-density indoor gardening. Some of these were pungent aromatic herbs, and plants that required pollination by swarms of wild insects. There was also a variety of hand-crafted items from one-of-a-kind jewelry to whimsical artistic renditions of everyday items – a sort of retro art nouveau.
Wade found himself delighted with the sights, smells, and whimsy of this place. In the patterns of the life he had known he had never experienced such things.
“May I help you?” said a young and pleasant voice.
Wade turned to see a lovely young lady in a colorful mildly seductive dress. It was beyond colorful, in that it had tasteful strands of tiny beads entwined and crisscrossing into flame-like patterns. He quickly raised his eyes to meet a pair that had just caught him checking out her figure, and he was not entirely innocent. “Sorry – honestly, your dress – um, I'm here to report to some farmer.
She smiled, amused by his awkwardness, and offered a hand. “I'm Bely”
“Sly?” called Bely. A man with a neatly cropped gray beard looked up from a nearby display.
“'I'm some farmer,' but normally I go by 'Sly.' So you're Wade.” Wade nodded.
Sly briefly evaluated Wade's tall skinny frame. “Doesn't look like you've got any muscles, but we can fix that. Dunno what you did to get assigned to an external community, but I hope you're good for something. I was told you had some Brains. That's OK as long as they don't interfere with your work.”
Shortly after noon, Sly and Wade were on their way. Bely would get a ride home with friends several hours later. Wade had only been outside on a few occasions during a class on heliostats and energy production, but other than that he had no idea what to expect. On this occasion he was shocked by the heat and brightness of the New Mexico sun. They approached a large dusty vehicle parked on a charging platform, and soon were enjoying an air conditioned environment.
After about thirty minutes of high-speed travel, they left the highway for a rough unpaved road that meandered through a shallow canyon. After leveling off for about a kilometer on a low barren mesa, it descended once again, but this time into a shallow valley, bordered on one side by an ancient lava flow. A few minutes of travel through the valley's faded greenery brought a cluster of dusty buildings into view.
Wade was directly taken to the far side of the village, where he was shown to a large wooden structure with a rough concrete floor. A row of dirty windows opposite the door looked out onto a field with stunted patches of some crop. There were also a couple of other views available through narrow cracks in the bat-and-board siding.
“It's even got air conditioning,” quipped Sly, when he noticed Wade's frown. “You'll have time to get her sealed up before it starts getting cold.”
On the plus side, the building's space was generous – about six by twelve meters. On the side with the windows, a workbench extended the entire length, ending next to large double doors that were wide enough to pass a vehicle. It had possibilities as a live-in shop. The current village shop was much larger, and closer to the road.
“We'll need to rig some sort of a mattress for you on the workbench until you can figure out something else,” continued Sly. Leave your backpack here and I'll show you around a little.
If Wade had exercised the best moments of his considerable creativity, he could not have imagined a worse nightmare.
Many houses had their own sanitation and limited kitchen capabilities, but there were community facilities for people who did not. The only structure in the village with which Wade was vaguely familiar was the thirty-meter low-profile dome they called a “central.” This was the community kitchen and living room around which the social life of the village revolved.
Wade was in the central a little before the evening meal when he became aware of a distant rumbling. As he looked around, no one else seemed even to be aware of it – even as the sound grew to envelope the central. The noise then morphed into boisterous conversation as two dozen wild men and women ranging from teenagers to their forties poured into the central. Bely was among them, laughing as she was carried by a brawny ruffian, who deftly set her on her feet with the ease and grace of a dancer.
“The pack has returned,” explained Sly.
“What's a pack?” asked Wade.
“You're looking at it. They run errands for the community.”
“What kind of errands?”
“Everything. We don't have all we need here, so they locate sources of food, employment, and whatever else of they can get their hands on.”
“You mean they sometimes steal?”
“Wouldn't you if you didn't have enough to live on?”
“What's this?” asked a large wild-looking man of about thirty nodding towards Wade.
“I have no idea,” responded Sly. “He was assigned to help me with the farming, and just arrived this afternoon.”
“If his name's Wade, we picked up a crate for him when we picked up Bely. I hope there's something valuable in it.”
Wade's nightmare continued to descend. He was basically ignored during the meal and was too ignorant to offer any conversation of interest to anyone. Any questions he asked only brought astonishment at his ignorance. He soon learned that the best he could do was to shut his mouth and eavesdrop to gain as much knowledge as he could. Knowledge was power, and right now he had neither.
After dinner there were refreshments, and movies available on a couple different screens, but the main event was the circle of comfortable couches and chairs, around which various members of the pack shared the adventures, dangers, and acquisitions of the day. Wade was fascinated by these stories – and this was just one day in the lives of these people. This was adventure. He would keep his mouth shut unless spoken to, and he managed the rest of the evening without making a fool of himself.
Jade was a tall athletic young lady with a Danish father and a Jewish mother. She was almost Wade's height, but outweighed him by a couple of kilograms of smooth efficient muscle. She had been thrown into this community about a year earlier, and had rarely discussed any details with anyone. After a few months, her cunning and energy had earned her a place in the pack. Wade's bewilderment and despair brought back memories of her own culture shock.
Later in the evening she took him outside to show him the “rolling stock” used by the pack. It was a mixture of two and four-wheeled vehicles powered by a variety of engine types. The internal combustion engines (which Wade had never seen before) were the noisy ones that provided the rumbling he had heard. The power-to-weight ratio of these vehicles gave them the advantage when pursuit was involved – whether they were chasing or being chased. The electrics were good for stealth, and high rates of acceleration for short distances. The Stirlings provided long-range efficient dependability. Stirling engines were powered by heat exchangers that alternately heated and cooled the air driving the pistons. Most of the four-wheelers were Stirling-powered, and were almost as quiet as the electrics.
Eventually he was shown a cart bearing his crate, a thin mattress and some bedding, and he began to struggle with the broken pathways and patches of dirt between there and his shop. He was tired, but he was eager to open the crate and see what Dr. Kyle had promised him.
When he flipped on the light switch nothing happened. By the light of his tablet he examined the solar electric system and noted it had simply been switched off – probably for months. When he turned on the power he found there was barely enough charge left to power the lighting. Examining his equipment would have to wait until after sunrise the next day, so he dusted off a portion of the work bench and set up his bed. As he lay there for awhile he contemplated the irony that his dreams of adventures and his worst nightmares were one and the same.
After breakfast the next morning Sly took him to the near-barren field beyond his shop and gave him an assignment. “Obviously this field is going to need a little more water than it's been getting, so we'll install a sprinkler system. Our pack has located a significant stash of piping in an abandoned village that was flooded out two years ago; hopefully this will be enough.
“The marked out area is two hundred meters long by one hundred meters wide – roughly five acres. We'll need nineteen ditches a half meter deep, running across it at ten meter intervals – beginning five meters in from one end.”
The uneven field was marked out from the natural grade of the valley, and there had been no attempt at leveling it. There were variations in elevation that appeared to exceed two meters.
“Sprinklers aren't going to be very efficient with all these high and low spots,” said Wade.
“You've got some digging to worry about. You'll find a pick and shovel and a twenty-five meter tape in the wheelbarrow. Any healthy adult should be able to dig fifteen meters by noon.”
“I've never used a pick and shovel before.”
“It's easy: The metal ends go in the dirt.” Whereupon Sly turned his back and walked off.
Wade measured five meters in from one end, drove a stake, and then went to the other side to mark a corresponding position. He then walked between, marking portions of the line with gouges from the pick, and small accumulations of pebbles. He found the actual digging of the trench to be a lot harder than he expected, but he disciplined himself to keep at it for about thirty minutes – until he began to consider that by then the solar electric panels would be receiving enough power for his new equipment. His two meters of ditch was an adequate start, and he knew that he could come up with a far more efficient garden plan that would require much less effort, water, and space.
The outdoors, the physical exercise, and the excitement of his new equipment had given Wade an appetite, and when he went to the central for lunch, and to share his ideas with Sly, Sly was waiting for him.
“What are you doing here?” asked Sly.
“I've been working hard, and it's time for lunch.”
“You haven't been working hard, because there's no ditch.”
“Let me show you what I've got.”
“You've got nothing, so you'll get nothing. We've got no time or food for freeloaders, so get the hell outta here.”
“But I'm starving.”
A couple of the guys from the pack stepped up and awaited a word from Sly. “No need to hurt him boys, just get him outta here. He ain't going to work, so he ain't gonna eat.”
Wade heard snickers behind him as he was physically escorted a distance of about twenty meters away from the central, and he nearly lost his balance as he was given a final rough shove in the direction of his shop.
It had been many years since Wade had cried, but he simply had nothing left. He wanted to die, and he began to add up all the reasons why he should. He felt he had no alternative. These people were as hostile and unyielding as the arid land they fought for their survival.
He then began to focus upon blame, which soon became hatred for Dr. Kyle, Sly, and the Society Of Benefactors. He laid down on his bed, but his eyes wouldn't close, so he finally got around to some introspection.
Kyle was right about him underachieving, and even about the fact that it had been intentional. But Kyle had no business knowing that, and Wade had been so careful. Even so, Wade had to face the fact that Kyle was right, and that there was at least some trace of justice in the sentence he had been given.
Sly had no idea how hard Wade had worked that morning, but his work did not speak Sly's language. Sly had a responsibility to protect the marginal resources of the community, and Sly didn't understand that the potential for improvement visualized by Wade even existed.
As Wade began to allow some of these thoughts, he began to recall that he had never seen either blame or hatred solve a problem. If he was going to survive at all, he would have to divest his soul of crippling blame, hatred, and self pity. So now what?
This was game two, and Wade resolved to play it – only this time life, death, penalties, and rewards were all very real. He began to consider what had made him so effective in games a couple of years before: Decisiveness, boldness, calculated risks, and long hours of intense involvement. He would need to relearn these skills. It took him awhile to accept the fact that the games the SOB had guided him into playing had been preparing him for just this type of situation.
The day was hot, and getting more so. He took a shirt and formed it so he could get it to stay on his head, and he stepped out into the blazing sun. Another meter, and then another – five, ten. He was beginning to develop a rhythm, and finally achieved fifteen meters. Sixteen, then eighteen. It was time for dinner, but Wade was nauseous and no longer felt like eating. Besides, it was getting cooler, so he kept on. His shovel fulls were smaller, and were taking more time to move. Twenty meters – he could hear conversations and laughter drifting from the central – then twenty one. One more. He stumbled – enough. His limbs felt numb and awkward, and his skin felt like it was on fire. As he entered his shop he noticed something on the bench. Someone had brought him a plate of food.
He ate slowly in solitude, while hearing the distant congenial sounds of the after-dinner activities in the central. He did not even engage his computer. The dust clinging to his sweat of the day had left him filthy, but he was too tired to shower. It was still early, but he stripped to his underwear and laid down on a blanket on his mattress. His sunburn was intense, and was irritated by anything covering his arms. In spite of the pain, he was almost immediately asleep.
It was still dark when he was awakened by the chill. There was slightly less pain from the sunburn, but he could barely move his sore limbs. A hot shower helped, and he returned to slip under his sheets, and again was promptly asleep. It was an hour before sunrise when he awakened again, but light enough to get around, so he resolved to achieve what he could before the day got hot. By breakfast he had advanced an additional four meters. By this time some of the blisters on his hands were broken and bleeding.
Sly was just outside the door of the central and nodded as Wade approached. Wade nodded in return, but quickly averted his eyes and stepped past him without offering a word or allowing time for one. He ate breakfast alone, avoided eye contact, and used as few words as possible.
At one point he became aware of a shadow from something large standing behind him, and a rough voice asked: “Why are you here?”
“Because I love it so much.” The top of his head was promptly swatted by the back of a huge hand.
“Leave him alone Orc,” said Sly. “He probably won't last long anyway.” Wade straightened back up and continued eating without taking his eyes off of his food or the table. But again, he ate slowly, taking time to eavesdrop on nearby conversations while pretending to be completely disengaged. Today only a small contingent of two-wheelers from the pack would ride out. They would be entering the disputed turf of another pack to check out a resource, and could wind up needing the advantage of speed and off-road capabilities if they were discovered. They would also be carrying weapons.
After two more hours of work Wade stepped into his shop for a brief sip of water, and found Jade sitting cross-legged on his bench. She was holding a sweat-stained cowboy hat. “A little gift for you,” she said.
“Tell whoever sent it thank you.”
“Tell him yourself. They decided not to bury it with him.”
“What happened to him?”
“I'll offer only this: He was the reason you got this job. He also left you his gloves and an almost full bottle of sunburn ointment.”
“I'm filthy,” said Wade, suddenly aware of his dust-crusted sweat.
“You sure are, but I didn't come here to give you a hug, just a little compassion – a weakness of mine.”
“I think you're an angel,” said Wade. “You're the only part of landscape that doesn't seem to hate me. How did you wind up here?”
“I think it's because I played games with their games.”
“Me too – interesting. This has got to be more than a coincidence. We must be dangerous people or something, and don't know it yet. Is this some kind of a prison camp?”
“This is the freest place I've ever seen, but there is also no protection.”
“Maybe wherever we're from is the real prison,” suggested Wade.
6 – The Livewood Program
Mankind does not leave survival up to chance – if it can be avoided. The SOB had therefore become increasingly focused upon populating extra-terrestrial environments. The reason for this was to protect the human species from extinction in the event of a terrestrial catastrophe. In addition to humankind, there would be multiple copies of a DNA bank, from which millions of species of plant, animal, and microbes could be reestablished.
There had been a scientific station on Mars for some time, but this was continually supported by Earth, and remained dependent upon this support. Part of the research there had been dedicated to developing technologies to help communities survive indefinitely, and then to spawn additional colonies.
There were few further questions that could be answered in the Martian environment. It was time to literally do or die in colonies beyond the reach of routine Earth support. This would test both the life support systems and the psychological effects of almost total disconnect from Earth.
This incredibly massive investment in lives and equipment would gamble the fate of almost eight thousand souls in a cluster of interconnected villages that could be individually sealed off if survival required it. It had been determined that a minimum population of at least five thousand would be needed to balance the sense of isolation from all they had known. The proximity of multiple interconnected villages would provide additional support and enhance survivability in the event of a local catastrophe.
This visionary joint undertaking had prolonged the peaceful coexistence of the divergent earth-bound factions, as they cooperated on this challenging project.
On the surface, all professed to be driven by the urgency of the survivability of mankind, but the lavish budgets and involvements of the factions were in fact, not so nobly motivated. It was no secret that the faction that colonized space would become the ultimate ruler of the solar system.
A never-before-seen scale of spacecraft was being assembled to transport and support this group of colonies – and hopefully to spawn others once the survivability of this first group was demonstrated.
The Livewood was being assembled in space in a geostationary orbit, over 22,000 miles above the Earth. At this altitude it would remain in a fixed position in the sky, relative to positions on Earth. This would simplify communication and logistics. There were also far fewer objects orbiting the earth at this distance, reducing the likelihood of damage from space trash. Finally, when it came time to launch the craft, it would have less than 8% of the earth's gravity to overcome. Otherwise, the Livewood would be unable to launch itself.
By this time there were several colonies set up on Mars and the Earth's moon for temporary occupancy and training, plus a limited number of mining operations involving asteroids. In order to achieve this new mission, the scale of the Livewood staggered the imagination.
The design goal was to move up to eight thousand refugees, along with all they would need to establish permanent survival on targeted objects.
In theory the Livewood colonies would be states of a sovereign nation, but the faction it favored on earth would gain a powerful ally. Therefore measures were taken to insure its neutrality. First of all, the actual work was being carried out in Amers. Secondly, sovereignty was being developed and tested at the Space Facility (SpaFac) – as a part of the overall program.
In exchange for exclusive economic benefits, the USA agreed to donate a massive reservation of nearly five thousand square kilometers in New Mexico. This would be set aside as an international Space Facility. On the south it bordered Mexico, and then it stretched northward to engulf an existing missile test range.
As a sovereign state, SpaFac citizenship was available to those selected to be a part of the initial exodus, and also to committed ground support personnel. This citizenship required the renunciation of all other loyalties, and relocation to SpaFac. As a further demonstration of loyalty to SpaFac and to the Livewood mission, citizens would simulate departure from the earth by never again being allowed to leave SpaFac, except as envoys on specific business.
All this did not preclude an endless stream of visitors and technical talent from all over the globe who were granted various levels of temporary and residential visas.
As an other-worldly state, the government of SpaFac was not under the control of the SOB. Certainly there was influence in that the information of the world remained at their fingertips, and much of the curriculum remained unchanged.
The political and social sciences however were radically different in that they were not designed to maintain control of a fermenting globe from the offices of an elite few. This government was designed to unify and coordinate humanity for the purpose of developing a future. The leadership would be known, and have a deeply vested interest in the favor of all. It would be accessible and accountable.
Another feature would be that overpopulation would never again be an issue. Once extraterrestrial colonies were capable of establishing additional colonies in unsettled places, they could expand their territory at will.
Wade had long been intrigued by the Livewood program, and even as a child he had fantasized being a part of it. He may once have had a chance before he began to play games with the system, but now he was an outcast, far from the sophisticated scientific environments that gave the project its life.
7 – A Little Respect
Within a week and a half the intensity of his physical discomfort and overworked muscles had begun to subside, as the resilience of his youthful body responded to the challenge. By the end of two weeks he was aware of a definite improvement in his stamina. He was pleased with how he felt, and could sense that he was beginning to gain weight in new-found muscle.
He still considered it absurd that they would attempt to grow things on such an uneven field, and there was no way he could level the entire five acres by himself. But as he dug ditches through the higher portions he would dig them deeper and wider than specified and shovel all the dirt into the wheelbarrow. He would then move this earth to the lowest portions of the field. This left no option but to refill those ditch segments with dirt from the surrounding higher area. Not very effective but at this point this work was his life, and he would bend rules when he could to make the best of it.
With his daily ditch quota now easily achieved by his rapidly increasing strength, he began taking time to explore and take walks into the rugged surrounding terrain. He located a spot on the other side of the field out of sight from the village, where he would develop an eighth of an acre of his own. He didn't ask permission, he just did it. If somebody didn't like it let them come and tell him so.
Rather than try to bring everything to the same level on this patch, he made a few low terraces that followed the terrain. He would grow the same crops Sly would specify for the main field at the same time He would demonstrate a three-to-one increase in average productivity due to no more than leveling the land and the addition of a thin layer of mulch. Once established, he would give it no more per-acre care than he would give to the main field.
As he considered the precariousness of their food supply he did some research into local wild edibles, and found that there were significant quantities available. These could serve in emergencies if necessary, and he made it a point to routinely enjoy them as he strolled through the nearby native landscape.
As the months passed, the superiority of his techniques became too obvious to ignore – as were the improvements in his strength and health. Within a few months he was given complete control of the hundred by two-hundred meter field behind his shop. He could now do things his way, and he wanted to reshaped the entire field into three level terraces.
This would require equipment, and there was none, so he approached the village technosmith shop (the “tshop”). At the very least, he needed a wagon that could haul a couple hundred kilograms of earth at a time, to replace the deteriorating wheelbarrow.
As he stepped into the tshop Sly was welding on a vehicle and Orc was standing by. For a few minutes Wade stood there fascinated by the equipment and the process in which Sly and Orc were engaged, until he was finally noticed by Orc.
“What are you doing here?”
“Learning,” said Wade. “Mind if I keep watching?”
Orc's response was to turn around and ignore him. Wade began to wander around the shop examining the tools and equipment. He figured out some of them but was puzzled by others. He soon understood the drill press and the lathe, but the milling machine needed a little explaining. Before he would ask questions he would consult his most trusted friend. The internet never laughed at him for being ignorant.
Another section of the tshop contained woodworking equipment. Wade had begun meeting the electronic needs of the village, but the tshop would soon become another playground.
When the work was completed on the vehicle (a two-wheeler which they called a motorcycle), Orc started it up and drove it out of the tshop.
Sly and Wade soon found components in the salvage yard that could make a wagon bed a meter wide by two meters long. The front wheel assembly of a cannibalized motorcycle was welded onto the extended tongue of a single-axle wagon, to provide a third wheel and steering. At least Sly seemed to accept him by now – and he even let him try his hand at welding and other skills as the project developed.
The wagon proved helpful, but would often get stuck when fully loaded. When Wade asked about putting a motor on it Sly just laughed. “I was only trying to help, but I shore didn't mean to spoil you. We could dig up a small motor or two, but you'll have to figure the rest out for yourself.”
All Wade really needed was an impulse to help get past the rough places. He initially considered a weight that could be driven forward and bounced against a stiff spring, but then considered using the weight as a forward-swinging pendulum instead. By swinging back and forth horizontally over an arc of of a hundred and eighty degrees (and bouncing off springs at each extreme), he could develop powerful surges of centrifugal force. This way the motor and assembly could be bolted on without requiring linkage and gearing to drive the wheels.
When he did spreadsheet calculations and plots he found that the centrifugal force and the reaction forces required to produce them would cancel each other out for a net forward thrust of zero.
In examining the plots however, he saw that the point where the angle was limited to ninety degrees (forty five degrees either side of the center line), the reaction impulse would just equal the centrifugal force. By applying the impulse at this angle, the remaining ninety degrees of forward arc would all be net forward motion.
Wade was soon able to develop a mechanism that swung much smaller weights in opposite directions, so they would canceled out the vibrations. These he was able to run at a much higher frequency.
The day he drove his wagon to lunch to show it off brought whoops of laughter. “Well,” quipped Sly. “It looks like you finally tamed that horse.”
After making a few attempts at explaining how you could drive something with nothing turning the wheels he gave up and finally just started telling people it was magic – a magic motion machine, or an “M3,” as he began to call it. Wade knew he was on to something big, and chose to keep all work related to this project off of his computer – except for a few pages of spreadsheet calculations with deceptive labels.
The new gardens
In reworking the field Wade stripped out much of the original piping, and rerouted it to optimize water distribution and economy on the entire five acres. By immediately replacing harvested crops with well developed seedlings, planting things more densely, and automated watering, he was now at five times the per-acre productivity of the original planting. As a result of his highly productive gardens, life in the village was becoming easier for everyone, and by now he was provided with additional help.
During this time, as he became less reclusive. He was paying close attention to the mannerisms and social nuances of the village culture, and would never again make a fool of himself. His tall frame had gained over twenty kilograms of well-toned muscle and confidence, and had earned respect as an important part of the village.
There was a strip of uneven land near the far end of Wade's shop, on which he prepared an additional eighth-acre of terraces. Here he began to experiment with different types of plants, and even some decorative varieties. Initially, this garden required more hands-on care, so he implemented a moisture-sensing watering system, and automated data-logging of various conditions of temperature, humidity, and chemical conditions in the soil.
Using the information and software resources at his disposal, he also toyed with genetics, customized nutrients, and other experiments.
There was something wholesome and fulfilling in the nurture of living things that never argued, and responded well to his care.
A new adventure
One afternoon as Wade approached the central for the evening meal, five of the pack were standing on the path. As he began to pass, Orc stepped directly in front of him, and without a word, gave him a powerful shove that landed him on his butt. There were amused snickers at his look of surprise and anger.
Wade got up, narrowed his eyes, and cautiously approached his smirking tormentor. Wade knew better by this time than to address such a situation with words. He decided that he would rather risk having Orc beat the crap out of him than to live a life where such situations would become routine. This, and the onset of adrenaline added to his confidence in his new-found power and balance. Something very primal and unsophisticated was arising in Wade, and he was enjoying a feeling of recklessness.
Wade had never had to fight, and he knew nothing about it other than what he had seen in movies and video games. He was on his own. He would have to be creative in real-time, using the muscles and coordination within the inventory of what he knew he had. He had learned how to not make a fool of himself socially, and now he resolved to not make a fool of himself physically.
He approached Orc as though he were about to complain, and then suddenly gave him a violent shove. He then viciously kicked Orc's feet sideways as he stumbled backwards. This sent his tormentor sprawling, and Wade quickly stepped within kicking range to continue the work as needed.
To Wade's amazement, everyone – including Orc – began laughing. As Orc stood up he offered his hand, and an invitation:
“You'll do. You'll ride with us tomorrow – wear something warm.”
8 – The pack animals
This invitation was indeed an honor. They would be revisiting the site of the abandoned community where they had previously salvaged the piping for irrigating their field. This site was about seventy kilometers north of the village and on the other side of the highway. Wade's interest was in salvaging heliostat hardware and control components. He had hopes of developing a small section of the highly efficient subterranean gardens similar to those that fed the mainstream communities. He and Jade would ride with a truck designed for limited off-road use.
“Not good,” said driver as they left the main road eastward to follow the abandoned road entering the area.
“I agree,” said Jade.
“What are you guys talking about?” asked Wade.
“We just passed a pack tag,” explained Jade. “A pack tag is a small arrangement of rocks by which a pack claims turf – this wasn't there the last time we visited. In fact, theirs has replaced our own tag.”
About this time the lead vehicle pulled up and the pack assembled on foot to discuss the prospects. “We haven't seen anyone yet,” said Bront, the pack leader. “So we can guard the road while Wade and Jade are taken to within a couple hundred meters of the site. From there they will walk on in and be given one hour to loosen any possible salvage. Driver, if any group shows up from some direction we don't know about, beat it back here immediately. We can always replace people, but the truck is too valuable to lose.”
At this last statement Wade turned towards Jade in astonishment. Jade just shrugged and said “That's how it works. At least we're wearing camouflage in case we need to hide.”
After crossing the river that had overflowed to drown out the village a couple of years before, the truck stopped at the crest of a short steep hill that dropped down to the ruins. The camouflaged backpacks they carried were empty except for a few salvaging tools, to make them convenient to carry small items of greater value. Once they got larger items loose and stashed into a couple of piles, if no threats had shown, then a few more of the pack would join them with the truck to quickly load and depart.
The tools they carried included a one-meter pry bar, adjustable wrenches and other small hand tools, plus a variety of cutting tools. Wade even had a small laser torch that could focus a hundred watts of power to cut small sections of the toughest materials. (He had labeled it as a “tubing cutter” to sneak it in among the equipment initially provided by Kyle.)
The site proved promising. The heliostats at the base of the hill behind the village had been salvaged, but there remained a number of them that appeared to be intact farther up the hill. They had only been working for about fifteen minutes when they heard the truck's horn honk, and then watched in dismay as it wheeled around and sped off. About thirty seconds later, four silent vehicles shot past on the road just below them in pursuit of the truck.
From their position on the hillside they could see a track leading to a new make-shift wooden bridge crossing another part of the stream about three hundred meters north of where they had crossed it. This would be where the other pack had gained access.
Wade and Jade quickly agreed on what would likely happen next. The pursuit would soon have followed the truck back to the safety of the pack, and a counter-pursuit would send them scurrying back in their direction. They would have to work fast.
They ran to the place where the pickup had parked and rolled large rocks into the road just over crest of the hill on the village side. A vehicle traveling at any significant speed would have no opportunity to stop in time to avoid the destruction of an axle against the rocks. Their next objective was the bridge – they must find some way to render it inoperable before the rest of the enemy village could be contacted and mobilize to enter the fray. They had no way of knowing how close the other village might be.
When they got to the bridge they found that it only spanned about fifty feet, but it was fairly solid. The only thing they could do on this short notice would be to build a fire under one end of it and run. But they were almost out of time.
Even as they began to break branches loose from dead brush and collect fragments of drift left stranded on the sides of the river bed, they heard a horrific crash as the hapless lead vehicle encountered the rocks and flipped end-over onto its back. The second vehicle crashed into it, after a frantic display of tail lights alerting the two vehicles behind it. The third was almost able to stop in time, but not quite. The fourth managed to stop unscathed.
The pursuit behind these four cars was not a serious one, but only done in hopes that the silent vehicles would get far enough away that the two motorcycles leading the pursuit could pick up Wade and Jade. But Wade and Jade in their moment of brilliance had cut off their own escape.
They worked feverishly collecting whatever combustibles they could easily grab. They managed to duck out of sight just in time, as the fourth vehicle got past the wreckage and rumbled across the bridge. They then stuffed what debris they had found snugly up under one end of the bridge. They added a few handfuls of twigs, and lit it off with the laser torch – hoping that the fire would grow fast enough to cut off the expected reinforcements.
Even as Wade and Jade faded into the brush, they began to hear a roar from the other side of the stream. Help was on the way for the battered vehicles, and their own pack would be forced to abandon them in retreat. Their only hope would be to travel the river bed the half kilometer to the road they had used on the way in, and hope they could get there in time for a ride. They didn't, and they were stranded.
Their only consolation was that by then enough fire had erupted from the bridge that the reinforcements drew to a halt before crossing it. During their minute of indecision the fire continued to grow, finally deciding for them. If they did cross they would be unable to return, and not knowing the strength of force on the other side, they were happy enough to have an excuse to remain where they were. It was enough that the reinforcements swarmed across on foot to assist the hapless vehicles, while some of them remained behind to fight the fire. The battle that day was won by the cowardice on both sides, that successfully prevented engagement.
If Wade and Jade were caught they would certainly be killed – or worse – in this unforgiving culture of external communities. So they crept through the low brush towards the road – sometimes on their hands and knees. As an act of defiance and a notice of survival to any who may return to search for them, they rearranged the pack tag to that of their own pack.
Shortly after they had done this, and had retreated into the brush, they caught a flicker of movement above the road. The surviving vehicle was driving slowly and silently obviously searching for some sign of them, and they didn't have long to wait. Wade and Jade had the satisfaction of hearing a shout when the vehicle discovered the pack tag, and they had to laugh – quietly of course. After pausing long enough to modify the tag, the vehicle moved silently back the way it had come.
“Shall we go fix the tag again – the way it's supposed to be?” suggested Jade.
“I didn't want to stress you by suggesting that,” said Wade. “but I had no idea that I had a twin sister. As long as we're being idiots, we can fix the tag again and then go back to where we can spy on the damage we caused. Then we can do a better job of burning the bridge when they leave.”
They sat there for a long moment just looking at each other as if seeing each other for the very first time. Jade then shook her head in wonder. “Wow. Honey, where have you been?”
Wade and Jade settled into the brush between the damaged bridge and the wreckage – the last place the unsuspecting pack would expect to find them. At least one warrior was being carried on a makeshift stretcher to a vehicle in the reinforcement force stalled behind the bridge. He wasn't moving.
A few larger pieces of wood were found and a temporary patch was made to the bridge, while Silent vehicle #3 – still functional – was being rigged to tow the inoperable vehicle #2 back to their village. The badly damaged #1 had been simply rolled off to the side – presumably for later salvage.
By late afternoon a few stragglers from the search returned to the scene from the brush between the highway and the river and south of the road – the only place they had expected to find them. When there had been no activity for awhile Wade first salvaged the control pack from the totaled vehicle – yet another insult, while Jade removed the blanket covering the worn out upholstery. They then used the materials the village had collected for the patch on the bridge to contribute to their fire, lit off the bridge in grand and final style, and fled down the east side of the river. This would be the least likely path of escape, and the most difficult to access by vehicle.
They understood that they could easily go three or four days without food if necessary, but water was not an option, so they had to follow the river. There was a point about eighty kilometers downstream where the river came within five kilometers of the entrance to their village. Once into this entrance road they would be assured of rescue within a matter of hours. Even food was not a serious issue, since by now Wade was experienced in collecting wild edibles.
The fury of the damaged and insulted village was palpable as Wade and Jade watched a large number of vehicles and people on foot combing square kilometers of brush on the highway side of the river, in a determined effort to find them. They spent a chilly night cuddled for warmth in the stolen blanket on a hillside a half kilometer from the river, and they enjoyed the entertainment provided by the search far into the night. All-in-all, it appeared that this pack was slightly smaller than their own. They had no fire that night of course, but then, they had enjoyed a couple of great fires during the daytime.
Three and a half days later they made it home to a hero's welcome in time for the mid-day meal. They could have made it earlier but they were having fun, and had no real reason to hurry. They weren't expected home any time soon – if ever.
It was understood that Wade had an important function in the village, so his role in the pack was largely honorary and intermittent. Still, Bront felt it important that he receive at least a little training in street-level combat. Wade enjoyed their wild and spontaneous company. He was comfortable in this dangerous environment, and these warriors of the road soon became his most trusted friends. It was especially valuable that their constant travel and exploration exposed him to a broad range of terrain, cultures, and potential resources.
Less than a month later Jade had a well dressed visitor in a very expensive vehicle. She left the village with him fifteen minutes later, never to return.
With the routine care and maintenance of the the local agriculture shifting to those whom he was training, Wade began to focus upon the higher efficiency forms of gardening that had become the mainstay of the sub-surface communities.
He began with small hydroponic systems powered by artificial lighting within a hermetically partitioned-off section of his shop. Now, with the ability to control nutrients, temperature, humidity, and atmospheric composition, he could grow virtually any variety of plants he chose.
When he shared his findings with Sly, he suggested that if they would build an enclosed garden into the earth that was half-again the diameter of their central, it could meet over half of the village food needs, for a fraction of the water – and still leave three fourths of the field for existing crops.
The next step
Consistent with his earlier dream of a career in bionics, he began to take a closer look at the energy systems common to both plants and animals. His motivation for this had nothing to do with food production, but to seek more compact forms of energy storage for powering the pack's fleet.
As he began to examine the complex biological sequences involved in the transfer of energy from a variety of sources into the building of cells and mechanical energy, he developed computer models by which he would evaluate a wide range of elements and compounds. The advantage he had over living things was that he was not constrained to the range of temperatures suitable for life-based systems.
It was understood that computer equipment supplied by the state was designed to hold no secrets. The global pace of research and development was accelerated by the instant and global availability of all scientific findings. This “open source” policy brought the creativity of all humanity to bear upon the world's most important problems.
One day online he was contacted by a scientist who identified himself only as “Leky.” Leky seemed very interested in his work, and helped Wade identify the categories of compounds most likely to serve his needs. Leky generally only engaged in chat mode, and remained vague whenever Wade tried to learn any more about him. Once in awhile Leky would post a message, but for some reason it was always impossible to send a message in return.
9 – The Call
Wade had been at the village for almost two years and had achieve remarkable success in making their food supply both abundant, and low maintenance. Part of it had been due to hydroponics, but he had also been phasing their diet into other types of plants and genetically modified hybrids that increased productivity and nutritional value. Having established these technologies and trained local personnel in their ongoing development, Wade was free to pursue his more cherished fantasy – the Livewood program.
While engaged in the physical aspects of the work he began to contemplate the type of plants and growing techniques that would would best serve space travel. Hydroponics was certainly a candidate, but the massive amounts of growing material required would render them impractical. Also, the occasional periods of weightlessness, would surely redistribute the garden beds themselves to everywhere they weren't needed.
He decided that if somehow plants could be gently held in place by their stems in an otherwise rigid surface, perhaps a fog beneath them could provide the roots with the moisture they needed. The problem was that when you produced steam, it condensed as distilled water, leaving all the minerals behind.
Leky again came to his rescue by suggesting that the fog be produced through an ultrasonic process (rather than thermal) this would allow the water droplets to maintain their dissolved nutrients. A soft organic gel would gently support the plants in holes through a rigid lid enclosing the fog. Wade now was able to demonstrate a garden technique that weighed little more than the plants themselves, plus their lightweight container.
Wade then revisited his energy storage research. To this point, his electrical batteries were of course charged through electrical processes, but it occurred to him that thermal process could also be used to restore certain compounds to their more active electrical states. He developed a system whereby the charging of electrical storage was augmented by the external addition of heat energy during the charging process.
Even more exciting was the potential of using electrical energy for creating compounds that could release more heat energy per kilogram than any found in nature. The compound for heat was formed by electrically separating tightly bound molecules into their base elements. The controlled remixing of these elements produced far more energy for their weight than the fuels they were using. By this method they could be endlessly recharged by solar electric power, instead of refining and consuming additional fuel.
A test version of the electrically charged thermal battery astonished his friends when it was applied to a two-wheeled Stirling-powered vehicle, and gave the local pack a significant advantage in terms of range and speed.
His next challenge was to develop a means by which electrical energy could also be derived from this same storage medium as that which was used for thermal storage. Shortly after he had announced and begun research on this project he received a brief and puzzling message from his mysterious mentor, Leky: “Prepare to travel for an extended period. You have one week from this morning.”
No amount of research, hacking, or questioning could reveal anything else about Leky, and Leky did not respond to messages or volunteer any more information. Unsure whether or not he was being pranked or if the communication was for real, Wade took the precaution of completing the training of local residents in all aspects of the garden technology. He even made out a mock will, bequeathing various possessions to his friends. Speculation on what all this could mean became a community hobby.
As they were finishing breakfast a week later, a large luxurious vehicle quietly appeared in the parking area and a well dressed man stood in the doorway. “Wade?” The eyes of the community immediately identified Wade to the stranger. “The clothes you are wearing will be all you will need.”
“May I bring my backpack?”
“If you must. Have someone fetch it for you.” The stranger waited impatiently as someone left to retrieve his backpack, while tearful embraces and extemporaneous speeches adapted to the moment.
“Where are you taking him?” someone asked.
“I am not at liberty to say.”
Once they were on the highway Wade himself asked: “Where are you taking me?”
After an hour and a half of otherwise wordless travel Wade began to notice increasing numbers of above-ground structures and vehicles. As they rounded a gentle bend they were facing a large gate with an opening ten meters high by twenty five meters wide. The sign above the gate said “Welcome to SpaFac.”
The tightly guarded gates opened in synchrony with their progress as they slowly continued without pausing, closing instantly behind them like water behind a boat. They drove down into a tunnel, and then level for another fifteen minutes. This portion of the journey ended in a large cul de sac surrounded with rich jungle foliage.
As they stepped out of the vehicle, Wade was stunned. They were standing in a sunlit dome over two kilometers in diameter, and at least five hundred meters high. The driver nodded to another gentleman standing by, who promptly drove off with the vehicle they had just left.
“This way” said the driver, as he led the way up two stories of escalator to what may once have been ground level. Here they and a few others boarded a gondola that carried them another four hundred meters over a busy patchwork of parks, and gardens, interspersed with pathways and low buildings. They finally entered a cavern in the third floor of a five story central building about two hundred meters in diameter. The terminal in the center managed similar conveyances branching out into five additional directions.
Rising to the roof of the building Wade found himself in a very pleasant “outdoor” cafe with a nearby refreshment stand and a crowd of excited young people enjoying the gardens, food, and furniture.
“Help yourself to the refreshments, relax, and enjoy your stay,” said the driver. “At this point you are free to discuss anything with anyone.” He then left.
By this time Wade knew better than to even attempt a question. Besides, a huge screen above a stage facing the dining area bore the image of a large clock counting down in seconds. About twenty-five minutes remained, so he would soon have his answers.
The refreshments were abundant and of top quality, but Wade chose moderation. He wandered within earshot of a half-dozen people and began to eavesdrop. He had learned patience and wisdom in the harsh wild life of the past two years, and would wait for conversation to come to him.
This group had apparently formed out of total strangers all asking the same questions, but at least getting to know each other. One of them freely made predictions about what was going on, but as it later turned out, “Bak” was only pretending to make predictions. He in fact had inside information. Bak was a little taller than Wade and at least twenty kilograms heavier.
They had all arrived that day, and even as they spoke additional disoriented people continued to enter the area.
“Where did you come from,” asked one who had noticed Wade as he approached.
“I'm not entirely sure, but I've been in a remote external community at least an hour and a half north of here.” This sparked immediate interest – since most of the group had never left the security of their enclosed environments until today.
“An external community? You were an external?”
“I'd never been outside before I was brought here. What was it like?”
“Difficult, but real.”
“Was it dangerous,” asked a young lady?
“Very – that's what made it real.”
“You're lucky you didn't meet any of those packs.”
This statement intrigued Wade, so he feigned ignorance. “What are packs?”
“There are cannibals out there, that ride on powerful two wheeled vehicles and kill people.”
Wade was getting too much attention, and sensed that every question he answered would raise a couple more.
A few more people were joining the group by now. “Anyone else here live outside?” asked Wade, seeking to divert attention. As his eyes examined the group one of them nodded slightly, but didn't speak up. He too had learned wisdom. So Wade turned to one he knew wanted attention. “Bak, tell us what you know about packs and external communities” As soon as Bak began to lecture, Wade picked up his plate and beverage and stepped out of the group. He was soon joined by Lute, the other one who had lived outside.
“What crime did you commit to get sent outside?” asked Wade.
“I used my brain too much.”
“Sounds familiar,” replied Wade. “The system doesn't like originality.”
“That might be the reason we're all here – they'd like us to get off of their planet.”
Answers at last
Soon there were about two hundred of them, and as the clock on the screen entered the final minute of its countdown, people in comfortable informal uniforms bearing the SpaFac logo began to appear among them. Finally their questions would be answered.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to SpaFac,” said the face on the screen, which had suddenly become holographic.
“It is our mission to protect the human race from extinction in the face of cataclysmic events that will sooner or later destroy our planet. This is to be achieved by colonizing additional bodies within our solar system.
“You have all expressed an interest in the Livewood program, and have all tentatively qualified. Congratulations. Competition for your privilege has been extreme, and thousands of promising candidates continue to hope that some of you will change your minds, and they await opportunities to replace you.
“Once in space, there will be complicated and unexpected challenges that will endanger your very lives. Among other qualifications, you have all demonstrated exceptional abilities to adapt quickly and rationally to difficult situations. It naturally follows that as potential breeding stock for extraterrestrial humanity, your qualifications have included a thorough screening for congenital defects, and IQ's within the top two percent.
“Inasmuch as this program will require a lifetime commitment it is entirely voluntary. So you are here to embark upon a week of immersion into the technology, culture, living conditions and simulated experiences you may encounter. During this period you will also explore the technologies and roles you personally desire (and for which you qualify) within the Livewood's needs.
“At the end of this week you will have a lifetime decision to make: Livewood yes, or Livewood no. The no's will be returned to your homes of origin to live out your days within the embrace of our mother planet and the SOB. The yes's will begin a period of further training, as you phase into productive work in your respective roles.
“If you feel we have made a mistake in selecting you in the first place, please raise your hand, so we can promptly return you to your former culture with compensation for the waste of your time – anyone?”
No hands were raised. “Good.”
“Within a few months, we will begin moving some of you to the Livewood ship itself – never again to set foot on Earth.
“You will find your rooms in the outer perimeter of the floor immediately beneath us. There will temporarily be two pieces of equipment in the large central area surrounded by your rooms. One will scan your finger prints and iris patterns, and take a blood sample. The other will 3D map your bodies for health records and clothing size.
“Now shake hands with the nearest uniformed assistant, and you will be given a specialized tablet. Upon entering your name and personal ID your assigned room number will appear. Proceed to your room where you will remove every fragment of your clothing and personal belongings and leave them in a pile on your bed. These will be collected and stored for you as you report for scanning.
“Once scanned, you may return to your rooms to explore the options available on the screens at your desks, as you await the delivery of your uniforms. When dressed, you may either continue your studies or return to this level to mingle with other candidates and await dinner at 18:00”
The total room size was about fifteen square meters, and it was a complete living and working environment with all features built in. Besides the bed (with hardware that would allow a second bunk if necessary), and an extremely compact toilet/shower/vanity space, there was a comfortable swivel office chair surrounded by 270 degrees of desk. 120 degrees of this desk was backed by a curved screen about eighty cm high.
In addition to this desk, there was a multipurpose counter top in another part of the room. This live-in work space was a highly refined version of Wade's village shop.
There was a kitchen facility just inside the door. This had cooking and dining service for two stored in a flat cupboard where each piece and cooking implement had its individual position. When the doors were latched, the individual pieces could be pressure washed and rinsed in place.
The appliance lacking was a refrigerator. This space and power-hungry luxury of modern living would no longer exist in the space-based cultures. The pantry contained only things that could be stored at room temperature in refillable containers, and it appeared to be restockable from the outside. All perishable foods would be consumed within hours of harvesting.
The thing that surprised Wade the most was the extensive garden space protruding a half meter out from three fourths of an entire wall. It was a series of covered bins with holes in the lids for individual plants, and it looked very similar to his vapor-fed root design! Wade now realized that he had not in fact invented this – Leky had merely given him key clues that enabled him to reinvent it, and allowed him to believe it was his own idea! And I thought I liked this Leky person, mused Wade.
With all the above features plus generous storage space, this very adequate room size seemed in fact a little crowded.
As they were standing in line for the scanner and extremely self conscious, Wade heard a recently familiar voice: “Hey external,” said Bak, “Where did you get those muscles?”
“Tooth fairy. Mind your own business.”
“Hey, we're all in this together.”
“I don't do 'together,'” said Wade.
“I could kick your ass if it would help you agree.”
“With what? You obviously pissed off the tooth fairy.”
“We can arrange to find out.”
“You're a fool!” interrupted Lute. “You obviously don't belong here.”
Large sections of the central floor were in fact elevators that could quickly exchange the room's features with various types of equipment and mock-ups. These would allow them to experience scenes, sensations, and challenges relating to their futures. As it turned out, the entire ceiling was one huge screen, that could provide localized lighting as needed, or display any desired images. This was broken occasionally by projectors for holographic images. The default ceiling portrayed star-studded space when not displaying other sky scenes scenes.
The entire week was an exposure to the reality of what the candidates might be facing. In view of the fact that they had hundreds of times as many people seeking entry into the program as there were spaces, they had no fear of deterring as many as possible at this point. Beyond this, there would be no communication with the outside world.
During this period it was sometimes difficult to tell what and who were real. One of their more sadistic tricks was to sometimes replace what had been a holographic image with an actual piece of equipment, or vice versa. There were no visual clues as to whether or not it was day or night, other than access to twenty four hour clocks.
At one point after a day's activities, a disaster scenario was simulated: They were suddenly crowded into various personal rooms in mixed gender groups of six – nobody in this exercise wound up in their own room. Suddenly the power went off, and the only lighting was the computer screen on the desk.
To their further claustrophobic horror, they discovered that they were locked in. A message on the screen warned them that they would all be eliminated if anyone among them attempted to break out. The evening meal time came and went with no call to dinner, and no further communication from the outside. There was no relief until the door was unlocked in the morning. They spent a miserable night cramped together with enough bedding and food for only one. It was discovered during that time that the larder could have been restocked from the outside, had their captors so chosen.
One afternoon as Wade approached his room he was blocked by three solid looking men, and they began a move to surround him as he approached. Rather than allow them time to develop the situation, Wade took immediate action, and found himself promptly bruised and humiliated – by the wall behind them. “I hate holographs,” muttered Wade.
Each day they were assigned to “pod-groups” of thirty, and sub-groups of six. The people in these groups were remixed each morning, and sometimes again for the afternoon sessions as well. They would be given various problems and situations to solve as a group, and once in awhile an actor or actress would be planted into the group to be the problem – or at least make it worse. Nobody knew who to trust. Sometimes they would be given problems that had no known solutions, or that could not be solved without the sacrifice of one or more of their people.
10 – The Decision
At 10:00AM on day seven, the students were confined to their rooms to contemplate their individual decisions, and then to register them before 11:00AM. The confinement period would last until 11:30. Any non-decision by 11:00AM was an automatic “no.”
Beginning at 11:00AM the “no's” were quietly ushered out of SpaFac, without having the opportunity to mingle with the “yes's,” and for the next half hour the “yes's” began receiving generalized descriptions of their roles in the Livewood program – and also directions to their next assignments.
A few minutes after Wade posted his “yes” decision, a very unexpected face appeared on his screen. Even more unexpected was the fact that it was smiling. “Congratulations,” said Dr. Kyle. “I was hoping you would make it.” Wade was speechless. “Believe it or not,” continued Kyle, “we've been in touch on a few occasions over the past two years. If it had occurred to you to transpose the two pairs of letters in my screen name, you might have suspected it.
“I..I feel like a fool.” said Wade.
“You were an exceptionally clever fool,” said Kyle. “Besides challenging health and intellectual requirements, Livewood needs creative out-of-the-box problem solvers like yourself. There will be unexpected challenges that will threaten our very existence. Welcome aboard.”
“You mean you're coming with us?” asked Wade. The screen was now blank.
A little before noon they were instructed to report to the cafe deck to mingle, enjoy their meal, and receive further instructions.
During the week, no one had been allowed to see actual daylight, but now they were free to chat under relaxed conditions, and to begin to identify the almost thirty who, for either discovered health issues or by choice, had not made the cut. After awhile the screen began counting down from thirty minutes – and finally: