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Project Outreach

By Nyankami Miroro Atandi (Kenya)

 

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Author Notes: I am 39 years of age. Academically, I am a paralegal, having finished a two-year diploma course in 1996. Prior to that, I sat for the Ordinary Level Examinations in 1987. Thereafter, I threw myself into sports and communal activities till 1992, and in 1994 enrolled for the said paralegal course. As regards my marital status, I am still single.

Nyankami Miroro Atandi

 

Regarding the Hubble Space Telescope, "John Bahcall expects that the telescope will not fail to do its part. If we are disappointed, he says, it's not the telescope's fault or our fault. It will be because of a lack of imagination on the part of God." New York Times Magazine.

 

From a tour of duty within the expansive confines of the Becks, Marsalis found Tiara at the landing bay preparing herself to relieve him of his duties for the day for her round of routine scouting mission across the vast terrain of this new frontier. As he maneuvered to park his space cab, hers revved to life. Alighting, he walked over to where she was as she taxied slowly along the runway whereupon they exchanged a few pleasantries before she flew off. As he walked home with the sun gradually receding into the horizon, he could not cease to wonder in awe at how the mesmeric colorful plashes contouring the land in varied plats tangoed in keen steps with this slow motion of the setting sun in gentle rhythms whose resonating tranquility garnished the senses with a vibrant, juxtaposed picturesque that was beautiful as it was breathtaking. The shining orb, making its bow for the day, was sinking into a cherry blend in a sparsely clouded sky as its faint light pierced through across the cracks of the various swirling formations. In diverse forms, it seemed that all in unison held their own quiet as if in silent applause to the encompassing ability furled by the universe in sheer majesty summed in the potential to be. It had been a relatively good day whose mood appeared to ordain a good homecoming, for the others would be waiting for him with the rich aroma of good food inviting and the drinks set close at hand. Despite it being lamentable that they had not joined him for a walk, at the same time he was rather glad they had not; occasionally, one wants to be by himself in order to touch base, he thought; travelling at Mach one hundred, during the seventy-five year long flight to this planet, he appreciated the fact that not for a minute had there been any chance to be alone.

 

As these unskimmed packets of memoirs flittered across the perspective of his mental landscape, was there, for a brief while, brought for its attention that like a concerned parent not wanting to let go, Earth, had nonetheless conceded to their stubborn wish to leave albeit halfheartedly, her manacles of reluctance being shattered by the antonym compacted in the enormous pressures whose exhaust spelt their rocket’s exit velocity that seemed to underscore Man’s resolved will in conjunction with a set mind to push the bounds and limits of space, an exercise at the beginning considered untenable. As such, whenever it rose as a matter of discussion, and it often did, they would ponder on the grandness of the scheme, its actualization and drink a toast to their achievement of this miraculous feat. And not many a time was it that ten persons could live intimately within confined quarters without as much as a whiff of discourtesy.

 

Anyway, that was over now and they could settle down, just the ten of them, at the ready to face the future with honed optimism. Already within the stay of their rather busy few short weeks, the planet had began to seem like home; in the years to come, it would become literally a home much as Earth had been. Home is where you hang your hat, so the famous quip ran, this inasmuch as it wrenched his guts that the mere act of being allowed to get away from the warmth of the former world’s embrace in order to roost elsewhere, was beyond all common sense -it was tantamount to denouncing your own mother, he thought. The weird thing about it was that in fact Pecoz, he recalled, had been convinced that it was one of those endless over-a-cup-of-coffee talks or, worse still, at the cost a loosing a lot of unwarranted material and man-hours, some idle pursuit that would soon run out of steam. Well, had he not been wrong! It had been the talk, he told himself, more than anything else did, which kept them together, having gotten them sanely through the span of space flight. That combined with their mutual love and appreciation of some of the finer points of human nature -endurance, understanding and adaptability.

 

It was immoral, he thought, to be so joyful but on the other hand, but there was reason for it. The voyage had been happy and the charted trajectory, pinpoint. Here he was, but to the pioneering probes, having unlimited access to the untouched potential of an entire planet upon which, in the fullness of time, he would explore and map its terrain to unlock its mysteries, aside propagating himself. And he had all the time there was. Actually, he had all of eternity if he needed it; there was no need for haste.

 

How uplifting it would be to be among the others; there would be laughter amid shots of mature whisky while waiting for a leisurely indulgence over the best of each person’s culinary offers during their respective turns to prepare a meal, and, later, sipping seasoned vintage around a warming fire accompanied by lively debates. Upon reaching a point from which he gained vantage view of the gentle undulations of the valley below, fitted as if with a master’s hand among the scenery, the bungalow caught Marsalis’ eye; exactly the kind of house he had dreamed about for as long as he could muster to remember. And did it not captivatingly jellyroll with the setting! Precisely the kind of house to be built in such a background, except the fact that the robots built it much too large considering the adjoined extensions adjacent to either of its sides and part of the back, to the right. Nonetheless, consoling himself, that was what one had to expect of these mechanized contraptions. By all means very efficient, loyal and obedient to have around with the shortfall being that the programs specifying their working parameters, defined their limitations and, in essence, which limitations described their imperfections vis--vis Man’s fluid sense of judgment that characterized adaptations to the surroundings of respective ambiences. But, from another angle, Man made the android and therefore confined to its range of possibilities, his lick and a promise, it could be said. All the same, as he gazed down upon the house he could not help but muse: how many times had he and his friends planned the kind of house they would build; speculated upon the reliability and meticulousness of the conditions given for this planet preferred from information relayed by the paveway satellite probes, fearful that it might not be in every sense the way it was described -of utmost importance was whether based on it, had the ground-breaking robots structured and constructed the bioexodome, christened Becks, in which all else would be housed, to standards expected? But here, at last, it was; quests come to fruition.

 

A short distance ahead, from the bungalow could be seen light shinning from its windows, and the dark bulk of the outposts built to house the farm animals that had been brought along as life in vitro that would soon be emerging from the incubators. And opening into the horizon, with every extent that the eye could fathom, the level land that in a few more months would be the gardening and grazing fields overlapped with open spaces. Bending, as he tended over the vegetable nurseries, he spotted Siddiq and waved to him as he passed by. Walking down the hill as the planet’s atmosphere written in its kind of wind blew in his face, he yet tried again to cross-match the distinct smell with that of his erstwhile life in order to put a finger to the scent. Old habits die hard.

 

With the wind becoming colder, Marsalis blew into his hands more reflexively rather than for any changes it made. As he approached the house, a short distance away he stood for an instant in the chill admiring with total satisfaction the skill symbolized by the massive and extensive structural woodwork that culminated in the stoutly strong frame of the house. Surely a place built to last the passage of time, he thought, a place of continuity tinged with an eternal sense. And inside, he knew that Pecoz and Skile would be sitting in the divan before the fire engaged in some friendly argument while Kintz, always particular in her affairs, would be preparing the table; Kyce, the quiet one amongst the lot with a glass in his hand, would be leaning on the bookshelf about a metre and a half to the left of the fireplace. Miyanzy would be talking with him and laughing, for she was always jovial. Paradis, in her eyes the twinkle of good humor as she occasionally listened in to the conversations, more than likely would be making a comparative analysis of journal entries of their reported events curled up in a chair while her other room-mate, Rhamy, would be simply waiting, grateful to be alive and among good friends.

 

These, he thought, were pals that he would not change for anything in the new world; full of understanding, so tolerant and gracious that three quarters a century had not dulled the beauty of their friendship. Picking his pace, at the thought of his friends anxiety filled him that saw Marsalis hurry, itching to tell them of his tour, to review with them still again some aspect of their plans. On reaching the door he pressed the aluminum lock as he thrust his weight against the door, swinging it slowly open as a rush of warm air greeted him. He stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him. As he hang his jacket and adjusted the wool cap on his head, he also loudly cleared his throat to let others know that he had returned.

 

From the lounging room wafted only silence. There were no greetings for him, no sound of laughter. Without giving it much thought, he proceeded and approached the room, now whistling. At the entrance to the room not seeing them, he stopped; well, they could be anywhere else, he thought. He walked to the library -still not a soul in sight. Or in the next room. He went into every room, but only razor-sharp silence met him. Panicking, “What in the blighted hell is going on?” he thought aloud, as his legs suddenly grew cold and heavy. When he tried to hurry, the best he could manage was a shuffle and he felt the chill edge of fear crest up in him. Back from where he started, the impact of the sudden realization that there was no one in the room nor the whole house shocked him into immobility that he had to grasp for support the doorjamb on either side of him in the process. Not only that, but the room itself was also different. It was not simply his friends who were gone; the fireplace looked forsaken with the furniture, just enough for two, before it being a small reading table with a pair of fold-up chairs propped adjacent to the fireplace. Gone, as well, were the neat furnishings of the room along with the comfort and feel of home. There were no rugs upon the floor, no draperies for the windows, no books on the shelves -in deed this place was bereft of any shelves.

 

Marsalis tried to call. Initially, inaudibly as the words whorled in his throat, as if not wanting to come out. He took a shot at it again and managed to make it: “Rechur, where are you? Rechur!” Rechur quickly from somewhere in the house, walked to where he was.

“What seems to be the problem, sir?”

“Where have they gone? Where are the others? They should be here,” said Marsalis.

Mechanically in a short arc, Rechur swung its head left and right; “Mister Marsalis, sir, they never were here.”

“Never here, what do you mean? They were here when I left this morning!” Marsalis, eyes open wide, replied, his heart wildly pumping.

 “You fail to understand, sir. There were never any others. All along it has been just you, Tiara, other robots and I. Of course, and the in vitros.”

He let go of the door and staggered a few steps forward. “You…you must be joking!” he said.

 

Suddenly in the back of his mind something seemed to loose balance; machines never have a sense of humor. “We let you have it as long as was necessary. Had it been made any easier, sir, we could have done it gradually, but there is no provision for middle ground,” said Rechur. “The equipment was needed for redeployment elsewhere.”

“But this room! You mean...,” said Marsalis, as his voice faded in a quavering trail.

“That was all part of it, sir. Part of the hologram,” Rechur said, after keeping quiet for a while allegorically as if it paying homage to the sudden realization of his loss and emptiness.

 

Marsalis walked slowly across the room, took a fold-up chair from where it stood, spread it and, with a deep sigh, sat down slowly and heavily. “The hologram?” he asked. “Surely you do remember,” the robot replied.

 

In bursts of memory flashes, it came flooding back to him, at first gradually emerging from the horizon of induced forgetfulness as embers of faint memories rekindled. He had been flown to this place in a suspended and semi-cryogenic state. And being patterned on the premise that no value can disappear without there being replaced by another of equivalent magnitude, from a psychic angle the base reason was that the half frozen state was necessary so as to have his brain cells still functional at the minimum possible energy state and, at the right moment, would only require merely the surge relevant to spur him to life. Any other way would have killed the said cells completely, taking into account that they do not regenerate. Hence in this state of suspended animation, through feelers connected to the hologram processor and attached to his brain it was easy through autosuggestion to induce in him a variety of mental states suitable as the occasion warranted. The only oversight was that in this induced condition, the brain cells owing to having an innate force, mental processes continued unabated in the background, assuming forms of their own to ferment storms below the horizon. In the awakened state, due to seeking avenues of expression, their respective appearances in his consciousness as impulses that he could not comprehend generated in him a paralysis nested in fear of the unknown. He fought against the remembering and the knowledge. He tried to push it back into that dark recess of his mind from whence it came. This was utter madness; no man, no matter how well adjusted, could survive intact, in mind and body, a trip such as he had made. Through time manipulation, this was a reckoning that had been extended into the future as much as possible and extended not alone as a matter of mercy, of mere consideration, but because of a cold, calculated and hard necessity to subject Man’s will, whenever possible, to arbitrary control. Marsalis shook his head, as if to clear away the mists befogging his brain. “We have the incubators all set in their particular locations, sir,” said Rechur. “Sure. Sure,” said Marsalis, mumbling just a little.

 

He stood up unsteadily and rubbed a hand across his eyes. “It is not possible,” he managed to murmur. “It simply cannot be possible. I lived for seventy five years with them. They were just as real as I am. Believe me, they were flesh and blood. They were…” and he held back the need to cry. In mocking emptiness, the room, in ragged stillness, had a quiet sharpness in its bareness, as if it were a welcoming taunt of foreign jest at Man’s quests. In constant synchronization with the hologram generator, “It is possible,” said Rechur, attempting to calm an awakened and necessary tempest. “It is just the way it should be. Everything has gone according to the book. You and her are here still sane, thanks to the hologram. All the in vitros came through better than expected. The equipment is intact and in a matter of a few months the children should be taken of the incubators. Simultaneously, will crops be on the way. The successful emergence of the farm animals will signalize a colony throbbing on its own dependence.”

 

Marsalis reflected back to merrier times. The mirth that would be all over and the room warm with good fellowship and perfect understanding. Aboard the rocket and since she landed, the taste of prime ribs, the steaming soup in exquisite bowls, the mouth-watering roast beef, the crisp green lettuce…drifting off, but stumbling back again upon remembering how the manner the courses were served always whetted his appetite; the retrospect welled in him a painful nostalgia. “Rechur,” he called, to which came the reply “Sir?”

“All these were figments of my imagination, then?” with a tired voice, Marsalis asked.

“I am afraid, yes they were. I am sorry, sir.”

“And you robots?”

“All of us are fine, sir. It was different with us. We are engineered to live and face up to the bare facts of a particular situation.”

“And humans cannot?” Marsalis retorted.

“Sometimes it is better if they can be protected from certain realities.”

“Why now?”

“It is still not fully determined how, but it has been carefully noted that there are those occasions when other subjects elsewhere got memory downloads, sometimes fully, like an unzipped file from some region in their psyche that allowed them to see beyond the holograms. If you must know, progress is being brought up to speed to make the system foolproof. For now, all I can say in your case is that this reality” motioning to the general surrounding as it spread its metal limbs wide, “must be faced now, sir, as attempts are made to make these memory backsteps a thing of the past,” said Rechur.

“I think I will go up to my room and lie down for a while. I presume dinner will be ready by the time am back,” he said as he climbed to the door at the head of the stairs.

 

This space was not his room at all. It was tiny and plain. Delusion, he pondered, not really believing it. But here there was no illusion; the room was cold with an unnerving reality; a reality, he knew, that had been long delayed. In the loneliness of this mean room he came face to face with this hard fact and felt the sick sense of loss. To survive seventy five years under confined and controlled conditions, delusions had to be generated to provide security and purpose from day to day. Simulated human contact and closeness was the answer through holograms on whose background carefully generated responses to wishful spasms were to provide illusory relationships flexible to every mood and need of the human subject.

 

As he lay on his bunk, he started to brood over the quality of measure prescribing standardized human intelligence because the practical human race, in as far as the end did not justify the means, was unpractical to the point of fooling itself to reach destinations, unpractical to the point of fabricating the hologram equipment to specifications which could be deceitfully utilized, upon arrival, in the incubators. And it shuddered him to think that by Man not yielding to acknowledge the fact that if Earth, her cycle of nature was commencing to be unbalanced because of his being unreasonably practical, in tandem the situation increased more and more the likelihood of its being uninhabitable with the dawn of every morning. But not loosing sight of hope he thought no matter how negligible the magnitude of the opportunity it conferred, he could not help but conclude that time had come for Man to review his hitherto relationship to and with Nature, and where called upon, to make the relevant redress before the curtain prematurely fell.

 

Yet throwing caution to the winds, ready was Man to wager that he could survive a prolonged time span in space if he were sufficiently insulated against reality; insulated by apparently projected images of flesh and blood that, in sober fact, existed only as apparitions by virtue of technology. Because no rocket before had ever gone so far on a colonizing mission. And no man had ever existed for even half as long under the influence of hologram technology. With the supposition being that there were few planets where Man might plant a colony under natural conditions, without extensive and complicated installations and precautions, the nearer of these thought to be up to his expectations had been colonized and the reconnoiters had shown that this one too showed certainly promising signs.

 

And the die was cast. Having been chosen for this mission among a host of other potential candidates was honorable to say the least Marsalis told himself with pride, but the pride had a sour taste in his mouth; aware that ignorance of glaring contradictions and absurdities existing in the interpretation of modern physics meant that inversely the odds were correspondingly staked against him. And it was in this regard that he questioned the significance of what he had done. Considering the state in which he had left Earth, could it not be considered foolhardy to suppose that this was another break-through, another triumph for the brain that was busy hammering at the door of all eternity; that the very openness of the universe, should it be deemed as guaranteed license to do elsewhere as he had done on Earth? That the hologram and Man, immortalized through cryogenics, could travel to the very edge of space scattering his seed far and wide through the cold, dark distance hurt to think of.

 

Deciding to slip into something simpler after not getting any sleep, he stood up and walked over to the chest of drawers for a change of clothing. As he was changing, what Rechur had told him kept stealing its way into the centre of his thoughts with increasing persistence the more he tried to brush it aside. Everything was going according to the book, the automaton had said. In sudden realization, he now understood why the house was bigger than he had wanted it; a big building would be needed to house the considerable multitude of babies. The incubators had been set up and the nurseries readied for yet another outreach Earth colony. And colonies were important, he remembered, reaching back into that day, seventy five years before, when he and many others had put down the plans, including the one whereby he could delude himself and thus preserve his sanity.

 

This was because his sanity’s undercurrents acknowledged cognizance of the fact that underlying this journey’s rhetoric was an analogous trait that had assigned to Earth’s properties the term raw material. Ingenious as it was malignant was that although this assignment described an objective natural fact, it concealed the real motive; that through institutionalizing individualism, prefixing anything with ‘raw material’ automatically meant it was up for grabs with minimal, if at all, regard to the tidal consequences. And pegged on this was that with more and more personal benefit accruing of the respective pursuits, the day was not too distant into the future when the human race would require all the room that it could grab in selfish pursuits. And it was the cryogenized immortals who were the key persons in the colonizing programs: going out as pioneering fathers to supervise the beginning of each colony, staying on as long as needed and acting as overseers as the colony was procedurally molded into the colonizer’s image.

 

As he spruced himself up, he turned, by force of habit, to the full-length mirror. And the glass was there! He stood astounded, gaping foolishly at the image of himself. And behind him, in the reflection, he saw the bed and chairs. He quickly shut his eyes for a while and when he reopened them, the bed and chairs had disappeared. The meager dimensions of the cubicle spelt depressive measures that meanly contained just the chest of drawers and, as a sudden realization, the double bunk on which a while ago he had sat. Slowly he sat down on it again, clasping his hands together so they would not shake. It was not true! It could not be! The hologram was gone. And yet it was with him still, lurking in his brain, just around the corner if he would only try. He tried and it was easy. The room changed as he wished it; with the full-length mirror and the beckoning bed, the thick rugs, the gleaming in-built plasma television streaming cable channels and the tasteful interior decor. He tried to make it go away, barely remembering back in some deep, dark recess of his mind that he must make it go. But it would not immediately go away. He tried and tried again, and it was still there, and he felt the will to make it go slipping from his consciousness.

 

“Ahh! Please leave me alone,” he cried in terror, and this terror, like an exorcism, did it. He found that he was panting hard, as if he had just finished a gargantuan task. His hands, wet, were clenched into fists and with teeth gnashing, he felt cold sweat trickling down his ribs. It would be easy, he thought, so easy and so pleasant to slip back to the old security, to the warm, deep friendship, to the lack of pressing purpose. But he must not do it, for here was an assignment to do. Distasteful as it seemed now, as cold, as barren, it still was something he must do. For it was more than just one more colony. Instructions of the assignment dictated that that this was to be regarded as a breakthrough of which it could be proved that Man no longer was tethered by distance nor its function, time. And yet there was this danger to be recognized; it was not something on which one might shut one’s mind. Having been momentarily shaken by the impacts of these sudden catastrophes that cast into aspersion the fact that he had been drilled in all respects that as a good soldier must rely much on the mystiques of obedience to orders and personal devotion to duty, that he could excuse his own behavior by claiming irresponsibility to deeds done, like a gasp did it occur to him that such mystiques are essentially myths that ignore the social significance of whatever is done in their name. As a wave risen this insight, its dip signified that he recognize that mankind must individually as well as collectively be responsible for his actions. Thus, as a way of reconciling with himself, he saw it only befitting that he report his observations in fine detail so that, as a must, back on Earth, they be studied and relating to the inherent menace, appropriate countermeasures accordingly instituted. For the hologram was no more than an avenue to the human mind; an aid to a very curious end -the production of controlled hallucinations operating on the wish-fulfillment level. And the human mind had learned the technique well, so well that there was no longer need of the hologram.

 

It was something he should have realized, he insisted to himself. It had taken the sudden shock of silence and emptiness, where he had expected laughter and warm greeting, to penetrate the haze of delusion in which he had walked for years. And even now this cultured mental state lurked, ready to ambush him at every unwary turn. How long would it be before the ability would start to wear off? What might be done to wipe it away completely? How does one unlearn a thing coached through countless generations; that through the encouragement of fostering querying for purposes of absorbing information further as opposed to that which is truly critical of the learning process taking place, science had come to acquire a characteristic that saw to it that its principles were used to excuse social irresponsibility? And its dangerousness lay in the fact that owing to constant tempering, reflexively, like there was no necessity of a conscious thought, as an absolute command, man could slip into it simply as a convenient involuntary retreat from reality that taxed his need and ability to reason correctly, which in most times led to the need to find compromises rendering temporary balms before settling in for a lie.

 

He tied his shoes and finished buttoning his shirt. Then, with a resolute tread, he opened the door and walked out on the landing. A hum of talk floating up the stairway stopped him in his tracks. Fear washed over him again. Then the fear evaporated. Gladness burst within him and he took a quick step forward. At the top of the stairs, he halted and reached out for the handrails. Alarm bells were ringing in his brain and the gladness fell away. There was nothing left but sorrow, a terrible, awful grieving. He could see one corner of the room below and he could see that it was carpeted. He could see the drapes and other household furnishings. With a moan, he turned and fled to his room. He slammed shut the door and stood with his back against it. But the room was despondently empty.

 

He felt that now more than ever, some sort of emergency measure must be set up to protect him against the wish and urge; a contingency plan of sorts be devised to rescue him, should he slip back into delusion. Although, he thought, it would be so fine to walk out of the room and down the stairs and find the others waiting for him, with the drinks all ready and the talk well started… “Stop it!” he screamed. Wipe it from his mind that was what he must do. He must not even think of it. He must work so hard that he would have no time to think, become so tired from work that he would retire into the bunk and going to sleep being no sooner that his head had touched the pillow with no chance at all to dream. He ran through his mind all that must be done, noting down anything that needed further thought and action. He planned everything ahead. This gave him a measure of being in control.

 

A shout came up the stairway. “Marsalis, hurry up! What is wrong with you?” It will go away, he thought. It has to. And even as he thought about it, a part of him longed in sudden agony to open up the door and go down the stairs and know once again the former security and friendship that he had come to be used to.



 

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