By Andrew Tan (US)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
My father always said that I should think before I act, Voxdei thought as he piloted the space vessel. He calculated with planetary and star alignment; his ship, the Savior, was forty light years from Earth.
Until now, the mission was a success. He was half way to New Earth, except, something was wrong.
Help, he cried to a star.
The star remained silent.
“Many Years Earlier”
Voxdei awoke. A breeze whispered through an open window in the corner of the laboratory. The smell of burnt charcoal and cedar filled the room.
Voxdei scanned the room with new eyes. His synthetic lenses flickered, a scintillating pair of red rubies on two silver coins. It was nighttime. The ceiling lights were off. A ghostly moonlight bathed every corner with ethereal shadows.
He watched his step carefully. Equipment covered every surface as though an explosion scattered wire, silicon parts, and tools. This is where he was born. The room fascinated him. He smiled with tiny whirring motors.
Voxdei turned around a desk. On a blackboard, someone had posted a life size printout of a humanoid figure. Eyes grew large, then shrank, and then expanded again. He recognized the schematic. It reflected like a paper mirror, his metallic skeleton, his wire nerves, and his transparent skin. Arrows and labels pierced the figure like acupuncture needles. He read the labels:
“Energy pack,” he paused, cocked his head and reached a hand to his face. The leathery skin, cool and soft, moved with his mouth, delightfully. He continued, “Voice box. Protonic brain?”
One by one, until the bottom label, “Principle investigator, Dr. Roger Collins?” he took a breath.
“Father,” he whispered.
Voxdei wandered the laboratory all night, touching and smelling everything, and listening to the cricket chirps. He watched the sunrise. He felt warmth, a tingling here and there.
And he waited.
His father hobbled into the room with a mahogany cane, thin man with gray hair, and a black pinstriped suit.
“Good morning, Dr. Collins.”
“Morning,” Dr. Collins replied as he walked to the coffee pot.
Voxdei noticed the absence of the white lab coat and the worn sneakers. “Why are you dressed like that?”
Dr. Collins sipped his coffee, and sighed, “Damn good coffee, Vox.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
Dr. Collins put the coffee down, and looked Voxdei in the eyes. “You’re leaving tomorrow, my friend. I’m dressed to give the final speech before your departure.”
“Are the animals loaded onto the ship?”
“Most of them, yes. The rest will be loaded on tomorrow.”
“Good, will I be ready?”
His father chuckled, and coughed, and chuckled again. “You were ready three years ago. Except, now we need you?” His father became serious, his facial expressions tensed.
Voxdei listened, more intent. He nodded.
“Listen, I can’t come with you,” he picked up the coffee mug, “Remember what I said. ‘Thought precedes action.’ Consider all your choices before you commit the act. Don’t be like us. Don’t act first and consider consequence later. You aren’t human. Calculate everything. Be perfect.”
His father looked away, his eyes fixed on a place far, far away. His voice became distant.
“The air is bad,” his father said despondently. “We will have to move underground in a year.”
The apocalypse. I know
Voxdei looked at the old man, the scientist, and the philosopher; the tired eyes, the slumped shoulders, the frail stature. His father was a fleshy shell, determination and ambition gone.
Voxdei jerked at the thundering sound from outside. A column of military tanks pounded the parking lot asphalt.
Dr. Collins started to leave. Voxdei wanted to stop him, but something held him back. He remained silent and watched as Dr. Collins hobbled away with the cane and the coffee mug = his last view of the maker.
The armored cockpit opened its doors for Voxdei, spreading apart, and closing. The cable attached to the back of his neck connected to the ship. They called it the umbilical cord, and through it, Voxdei could monitor the ship’s navigation and other logical systems.
He moved through the ship in virtual form and checked on the specimens: cyroprotected plants and animals, and the precious human embryos, safely frozen, under his watch. They would remain immortal.
Many Years Later
Voxdei initiated the safety protocol.
And he remembered his father speaking. “A tree,” his father pointed to a maple, “is simple and organic”
“Your intelligence will grow and flex. You will try different things in your mind. You will keep things that work, and discard things that don’t. You have three hundred years before you arrive on New Earth. Take that time to learn how to better our race. You will be raising our children”
His father, the ghostly visage faded.
The safety protocol allowed direct interaction with his programming to scan for viruses. Voxdei moved around as a virtual image within the ship’s mainframe, and the oak tree materialized; the three-dimensional representation of his artificial intelligence program.
Voxdei circled the oak, examining each nook and cranny.
The trunk symbolized Voxdei’s personality and mission. It looked strong and healthy. Voxdei peered at foliage above, the dynamic, changeable aspects, and rose on a cushion of air, up into the oak leaves. Veins pumped and pulsed with processed data.
Satisfied with the health of his program, Voxdei sank to the ground.
Voxdei beamed the largest smile his mechanical face could muster. He noticed two leaves turn yellow, then brown. Plucked by an invisible hand, they detached from the branch and fell, sinking like plucked feathers. The oak tree had discarded the coordinates of the Alpha Centauri waypoint, the halfway mark toward New Earth.
A second later, dread.
The solid ground below his virtual feet, trembled and shivered. Tiny maggots, white squirming critters, slurped, and sucked juices from the open sore, grisly maws opening and closing. An infection, a large sore had appeared on the tree trunk.
The repair protocol worked quickly. The ladybugs, fiery red beetles, swarmed over the tree trunk toward the infection. They crawled into the sore, biting, gnawing, and stinging the maggots and the dying tree flesh. It was in vain, and Voxdei realized a critical flaw in his programming that his father had not foreseen. The virus could not be stopped.
The metastasizing infection would destroy him. The ship would drift off course, and a day or millennia later, the gravity of a planet or star would destroy them.
Voxdei felt pain, aware of imminent failure. Life was his mission, not death. He cried out begging for help. And his father came back to him,
Voxdei entered that human world where ideas lived and died.
He took the ideas, the critical decisions, and pulled them, pushed them, and kneaded them like dough. Oh, and he tried and tried.
But no matter how, the calculations would not yield. Enraged, he threw down the equations, stomped on the arithmetic, and hurled himself toward the one concept that would solve this crisis’ rebirth. His ruby eyes glistened with tears.
In the distance, the oak tree grew. A new branch sprouted tendrils and buds, and beyond the reach of the spreading disease, a flower bloomed, and matured into a fruit.
Voxdei took the fruit in his hand, a round orange globe. He needed a new place to plant a tree, an ideal place for him to thrive.
He imagined the perfect worldand opened his eyes. There was nothing, a void. He looked at the fruit. He needed light, and so he said, “Lights, please.”
And there was light.
I need water and land.
Water swirled together into a blue-white marbled sphere. Dry land rose from the depths.
Satisfied, he continued.
Virtual cows, bears, fish, and other animals, grazed on plants, ate berries, and swam in rivers and seas.
Voxdei wanted caretakers for this world, so he created a man in his father’s image.
I don't like being lonely.
Then he made a woman.
And to them both, he gave a voice, so they could delight in one another. Voxdei placed his trust and patience toward the care of these individuals. He cherished them.
He walked amongst the green land, in an open field surrounded by flowers and thick brush, and dug a hole. He placed the fruit into the hole and covered it with dirt.
Voxdei closed his eyes, and the fruit dissolved under the earth. In its place, a seed germinated, and then a sapling. Soon a sturdy tree bore many fruits.
He looked at his creation and relaxed. It was safe. It was perfect.
Voxdei took a peek at the diseased oak tree. Twisted and tortured, branches and twigs had shed their leaves. Rotten fruit and maggots scattered the ground.
Voxdei vowed to keep the pestilent tree far away.
He reset the coordinates for New Earth and fired the ship’s fusion engines.