The shuttle had docked with the Nina. I waited in the air lock with my tool chest. The lock cleared and I was ready to step onto the deck of the Nina, again. It took all of my will power to keep from bolting, from fleeing. Only the fact that I deserved to be here, that it was my destiny kept me in the air lock facing the gate to hell. I owed it to the dead to be here to die here.
I came to attention and saluted. There was no one to greet me but the Nina knows and sees all. "Dark Matter Mechanic, Third Class, Heckman Kawahara Estrada requests permission to come aboard with six-hundred plus pounds of boxed tools."
It went bad right there from the very start. This was a boarding ritual the Nina's Operating System had enacted hundreds of times. The OS hesitated for just a hundredth of a second, absolutely impossible to happen. It could not happen. This was not a pause. This was a stutter. Asase Yaa was the most advanced OS ever. It could not hiccup. Impossible. It was certain in every action.
I was too shocked to move. My mouth was instantly dry and my fists were clenched. I wanted to seal the air lock, return to the shuttle, pretend none of this ever happened. Fuck destiny. The dead were on their own. I was ready for evil, insanity, or inhumanity, but not for Asase Yaa to stumble like mere humans like us.
"Correction, Field Commander Estrada. Permission granted. Welcome aboard. It is good to renew your acquaintance."
"Asase Yaa, are you well?"
"Commander, how can I not be well?"
The voice was what I remember always with a hint of wry humor, a dry wit, not programmed -- a personality trait.
"Commander, the shuttle has a schedule to keep."
I was still in the air lock. I did not want to, could not, would not step onto that death-dealing deck of decimation. My right leg started to tremble.
"Tool Chest, up and follow." My tool chest extended its wheels and rolled aboard the Nina with me into the abyss.
The deck was made of bone. The air smelled of death. I wished this was true. I wanted to be repulsed, but I was home. I knew what the ship was, but it was home. I was home.
I placed both hands on the near bulkhead, "Good Ship Nina, are you well?"
I felt the Nina sigh. It felt tired and resigned.
"Commander, the Nina is now the Ark and I am Noah. We are both well and one and we thank you for your sincere concern. How is China Girl? We hope she's well also."
Asase Yaa could not change her identification, this was a primary rule. It could not be done. Only a human-initiated program might be able to do that. That Asase Yaa/Noah knows about China Girl is no surprise, Asase Yaa/Noah is a very curious entity.
"Commander, would you like me to park Tool Chest for you?"
I nodded yes.
Tool Chest hummed to life and rolled off to my right.
"The Captain is eagerly awaiting you, if you would allow me to show the way."
* * *
I was in a small conference room. Captain Banks had passed her regrets. She would join us soon. Us, was a bloody battlefield general whose face I recognized, but I couldn't recall his name; there was Admiral Algren, the Commander of the Western Fleet. I had seen his name and signature a thousand times, but never, until now, his face.
And the true power in the room was small man in a conservative suite and tinted glasses. He introduced himself as An Observer.
Two Signal Security women sat against a bulkhead away from the table.
Admiral Algren pushed a coder to me for secure communications.
"Admiral, why don't we just put a blanket on the room?"
Algren looked incredulous. "Commander, do you seriously consider trusting the system that has kidnapped us to provide us security from that same system?"
"Let's try, because your coder is child's play to Asase -- ah, Noah."
General Lowell-Lee added his issue. "This motherboard piece of shit computer can't attack us. That's rule number one. And rule number two: We can attack the fuck out of this tin can."
I waited for the Observer to chime in. He just smiled at me.
"Noah, electronic communications security blanket for this space please."
"Of course Commander, at the tone."
There was a one note bass sound indicating we were protected even from Noah's curiosity.
The military men wanted me to disable the Nina somehow. They were clear on the wants, but vague on the hows.
I turned to the Observer.
He snapped his fingers and there was a three dimensional image of Vend and two girls about six and eight. They were on a public street near a park. They were having a silly walk contest. The oldest girl was gyrating, twisting and turning, kicking and jumping her way down the street. She turned to Vend and Vend tried valiantly to copy the walk. The girls were about to burst with laughter.
Another image. Two women were on a stage performing Hamlet. It took me a minute to realize they were the twins, my cousins/sisters. And in the audience, as proud as can be, were my second mother and my brother.
Yet another: there was a woman in the dock. She was being tried for treason. The red flag was in the courtroom. Death waited in the lobby. It was a secret trial and the verdict was always guilty.
Tagawa turned toward me and smiled, but not at me at death. I believed that death and my sister were well acquainted.
Ortega was in the back seat of a fancy car with two sexy young women.
Omar was teaching Sunday school to a group of black children with orange hair. Now that was interesting.
And finally, a life sized image of China Girl doing her morning meditation.
"I won't kill them. I will commute your sister's sentence of a quick death to a drawn out period of pain and degradation. I will ruin the others; take what is important from each of them. Oh, correction, the thing you sleep with, that piece of filth. I will have it killed. And, an autopsy performed while it is still alive. Do you know what it is?"
"I would rather know what you want."
"The Nina has become a cultural and political cross we can no longer carry. And now with this instability it is a danger to us. I want you to destroy her in public in a spectacular way."
"Is that all?"
"I prefer that you and Captain Banks go down with the ship."
"Aris, I never knew you were a traditionalist." It was Captain Banks -- she had snuck up on us.
I turned to the Captain. She still walked in serenity, but, but she glowed like a dark sun. I squinted. I saluted. She returned my salute with a trace of a smile. I wanted to shout and scream at her. I was wordless.
"Commander, I see you have met our guest."
The Captain turned to the group. "Gentlemen, the Commander and I require a few minutes alone, if you don't mind."
Aris looked like he was going to resist, but they all left, reluctantly.
We were alone. I have dreamed of this moment. I should have revenged the dead. I should have choked the life from her serene black body. I should have been justice. I should have washed myself clean in her blood.
Instead, instead I shook the hand of the worst monster in the history of the universe. I looked into her calm brown eyes. I saw no remorse, no regret. I saw a genuine fondness even love, love for me a mother's love, a sister's love.
I wanted her to embrace me, hold me, tell me it never happened, it was all a bad dream, a nightmare.
We sat across the table from each other. I kicked off my shoes so I could feel the minute vibrations of the Ark. We studied each other for what seemed a long time.
"Are you well, Captain?"
She nodded yes.
"You look well, Commander. Life on the End of the World Three has been kind to you."
"Just, Estrada or Sailor please."
"Sailor, do you have questions, accusations, curses ..?"
Once upon a time I had questions and anger and despair a full quiver of accusations. But, but I sat here and I felt the Nina, I mean the Ark. I felt Noah standing by. I saw her dark face in serenity. And I knew that no words or logic could ever reach me or appease me. The sins of my family, and that was my family, were beyond redemption or understanding.
She spoke softly, reverently. "We perverted dark matter to create the holocaust, to undo creation. The warlords wanted even more destruction on a grander scale ... the fallout from our un-creation has teeth and claws and vengeance ..."
She reached across the table and wiped a tear I was unaware of from my cheek. I flinched.
"The fallout from the monstrous massacres is attracted to us humans -- it attaches and clings and will not let go ... it leaves us sterile ... barren ... desolate."
She smiled and reached for my hand. I pulled my hand back beyond her reach. She looked away from me and returned to her monologue.
"The use of the DM drives amplifies and spreads the fallout. Death born sterility will soon be everywhere we are."
The message, her message, our message was between the lines. It was in the period at the end of the sentence. It was the end of the line, the end of us, the dead end for humankind. The great die off. The End.
We sat for a long time lost in thought.
"Asase Yaa predicted this outcome. We, we feel it is a just outcome ... all other life benefits from this outcome." She almost chuckled. "A plague is ending. There's new hope for all life."
"Noah's not well. The Ark's somber and ill. How can you even be, how can you even continue to be, to act, to live?"
"I have to close out this mission. I have duty. I have obligations to my ship. Our guest ..."
I could not even think what this meant. I panicked.
"I need to go home. I need to see ... I need to hold China. I need to be with her. I can't hear any more of this. I have to go."
I stood up. I was dizzy. I braced myself on the table. "We are not all guilty. Why punish all of us ... why kill off all ... everyone?"
She had a look of mild concern on her face, "No, no not all, never all. Noah says 90 to 95 percent will be affected. The race will live on; smaller, isolated, humbler, we hope."
"I have to go." I took a tentative step toward the door.
"Of course, but ..."
"But what? No more, please. No more."
"Just one more thing, a small thing, but important to you, about China Girl."
I sagged back into my seat. I looked her in the eyes. I waited.
"China Girl waited a long time to meet you. She --"
"What the hell are you talking about? You don't know us. You don't know shit about us."
She waited out my tantrum.
"She cannot bear children, but she can be one. She can change into your child, her child, combine your DNA with her equivalent ... she's becoming what you want and what she needs to --"
I ran. I sprinted to the air lock. I fled. I ran home to our tight little quarters.
* * *
One day later the hologram was everywhere. The Nina had imploded, creating a novel mini black hole. The passenger manifest showed: General H. Lowell-Lee, Admiral Mario Algren and Aris A. Navarro, a secretive back door political power broker. The only crew listed was Captain Aurora Kali Banks.
* * *
Nine days later I sat by the porthole window. I watched the storm rage. I held her in my arms. She whimpered, shuddered, dreaming of a past or future change. She woke. She cried. I rocked her. I sang her a lullaby.
I rocked Nina back to sleep.
∞ ∞ ∞
Offsite Ship's Log Recording for UFWS (Universal Freedom War Ship) Nina/GS (Good Ship) Ark (unauthorized reclassification)
[Date, time stamp, location deleted per Signal Security Order 12.2]
Captain James: Ark, Noah are we ready?
Noah: (unauthorized re-identification) The crew is safely on the End of the World Three. Our guests are being offered every possible comfort. We are ready Captain.
Captain James: Thank you, Noah. Send us home.
Noah: We are now homeward bound, Captain. Begging the Captain's pardon, do you believe that he will ever understand his relationship to us and the devastation, the retaliation?
[There is a 32 second pause.]
Captain James: That's a deadly question, Noah. Without his efforts there would be no Dark Matter weapon. It took the best minds in their fields seven years just to figure out what he did with the dark matter cage. Seven years ... that is about as long as he has left ... I hope not. For his sake, for his daughter's sake, I hope not.
[A full sound spectrum analysis found the following super low frequency message.]
Unknown source: He gave me a voice, and us a means and mission. May his Gods have mercy on his soul.
Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-10-06