Titan, Saturn VI, Sol System—date indeterminate
“Where do babies come from?” Gail said. She slid the point of the knife along the belly of the fish on the cutting board. Muffy and Gunna danced at her feet, occasionally placing their paws on the cabinets and mewing for their supper. The red rays of sunset shone through the louvres into the center of the kitchen.
[You just want me to talk about sex. I told you that I wasn’t going to do that until you kids are older. There’s plenty of time for that.]
“We just want to hear a story. It’s been too long and you know how much everyone likes them. Tamika, especially’s, been asking over and over lately.” She didn’t look up from her work, of course. The children have always assumed that I was everywhere in the house, so they’ve never fixated on a spot that was “me”, so to speak.
[I’ll tell you what. Roll that last filet in the soymeal and put the pan in the oven. I’ll watch supper while you collect the rest of them. You can all eat at once tonight and I’ll tell you a bedtime story while you do.]
Gail ran out the door, trailing cats. I switched my point of view to the outside and followed her as she ran toward the pond where the fishers were feeding meal to the catfish. I could see Justin and Brice bringing the sheep over the next hill toward the barn for the night. Tamika and Katie were taking their turn in the fields, culling the small, weak bean plants and hoeing the blue grass away from the edges of the plot. It took her a while to collect all two dozen of the children, but that gave me a chance to collect my thoughts.
They were a pretty rowdy bunch tonight. There was more than a little pushing and shoving as they set the long table and teased each other over their accomplishments during the last shift. The day was about done now, and they’d be settling down for 190 hours of sleep. Even with the thick atmosphere, the temperature still dropped from 60 to -30 by dawn, and when I made the children, the other fauna, and the plants, I figured that it would be more energetically economical to let everything sleep through until morning. So far, it’s worked fine, although it turned out that the cats slept through two-thirds of the daytime, too. (That really didn’t matter, of course, they were more decorative than anything else. As far as I could tell, there hadn’t been a rat in Sol System for a couple billion years.)
I looked them over as they sat down. The oldest were just hitting ten or so now, with Tamika, the baby, at about five. Good kids, each and every one of them, although Justin had been showing some signs of becoming pretty aggressive as time went on. I’m going to have to watch him like a hawk—this Cain and Abel sort of stuff’d be way too Genesis for me. No sense humanity making the same mistake twice. The slightly larger eyes, which saw further into the red, gave them a bit of an anime look, which I still found a bit disconcering, even after all of these years.
[Ok, kids. If you’d like, I’ll tell a story tonight while you eat.]
Tamika squealed, “Tell the one about the big cat that chased the dog up a tree, that’s my favorite!”
Eddie and Margot chimed in, “No, no, do the one about the guy who knocked down the Messerschmidt with dynamite.”
[I figured that I’d tell you about where you came from. It’s about time, don’t you think?]
The ones that were paying strict attention nodded, the rest chewing their fish and beans and following their siblings’ lead.
[Once upon a time, people lived on Earth—that’s where most of my stories take place, remember. There were two kinds of people there, ones with bodies like you, and others without, like me. We once all had bodies, but over time, the bodies would wear out, and we’d move our minds and souls into places like the farmhouse here, or machines like when I go into the planter to put down soybeans. We lived like this for a long, long time. We went everywhere in the Solar System, explored the Kuiper Belt and were everywhere on Earth, even at the bottom of the sea.]
“Did you all get along?” Justin chimed in. Yes, I definitely was going to have to watch him.
[Not always. Sometimes we fought—it seems that fighting is hard-wired into us, for some reason. Once there was no longer anything material to fight about, when all of humanity’s needs were taken care of, we still fought over ideas. It wasn’t often, but when it happened, it was fierce, sometimes, just like in the Iliad or Saving Private Ryan.
Eventually, however, things wear out. Our sun, which had shone reliably for five billion years ran out of hydrogen and began burning helium instead. When that happened, it started to grow. As it did, Earth got hotter, even though it was moving outward naturally. The animals and plants began dying. We tried to save as many as we could, but even the seas were evaporating and getting smaller century by century.
Finally, we were faced with a choice. We had enough power and energy to do one of two things. We could move the Earth far enough out into the solar system to survive until the sun ran out of helium or we could move humanity completely out of the system. This argument raged for tens of thousands of years, until a red dwarf star flew within three light years of the system. This was going to be our last chance, so we had to decide what to do.
So we did what humanity always did when faced with a stressful situation. We had a war about it. Trillions of people died in it--our last in this solar system--I fervently hope. Some of the people who died were even older than I. I still cry sometimes at night thinking of the waste.
In the end, my side lost. Humanity was going to leave Earth behind and move to a new star, one that would live as long as the galaxy itself. I thought about it for a long time, and realized that I simply could not bring myself to go along with them. There was something that could still be done here.
So, I asked for a small part of the resources available to create a cache to leave here on Titan. I’d stay behind when the rest left and if it was possible, keep a claim on the solar system for mankind. We build nanomachines that could last for gigayears in ice-cold methane and ethane, and left them waiting. My consciousness was installed in the building and we set an alarm clock, of sorts, to start things going if the sun expanded enough to raise the temperature on Titan to above the freezing point of water.
Two hundred years ago, that happened. The tailored bacteria were released and began splitting the orange nitrogen oxides into nitrates and free oxygen. When the oxygen content rose high enough, I woke up and took over. When I first saw the valley, it was all rock and ice. The sky was still completely orange and overcast—you couldn’t see either the sun or the yellow egg of Saturn sitting above the horizon in the east.
Eventually, I adjusted the settings on the machines that would produce you children along with all of the farm animals and plants. The rockworms made fertile soil, I turned the grass loose and now, as far as we can see, there’s a carpet. We’ve got a lovely garden here, and eventually, the whole world will be ours.]
A couple of the younger children looked very worried, “Won’t the sun get bigger and come and eat us, too?”
[It’s about as big as it’s going to get. Eventually, it’ll start to pulsate and drive off its outer layers. However, that will be a long, long time from now. By then, I’m sure I’ll think of something. That’ll be twice as long as humanity lived on earth from now. Now, my precious bundles, it’s time for you go clean the table and get to bed. There’s plenty of work for all of you, come sunup.]
They dawdle a bit, but they’re good kids. Once they’re asleep, I begin closing down the power in a lot of the areas. It’ll be eight days before sunrise. I switch my point of view to the telescope on the roof and look at the western horizon. Sliding above the photosphere of the sun, Earth shines back at me. Through the ‘scope’s lenses I can see the glow of the surface. There are no visible continents, the crust has melted.
The stars are coming out now. Even without enhancements, I would be able to see thirty thousand stars in the sky, ten times what was visible when I went to sleep. When the Andromeda Galaxy went through us the first time, it tossed the sun into a more elliptical orbit, and we’re a lot closer to the center of the galaxy right now. If it turns out that we’re going to be too close to the center, I’ve got to figure out a way to protect us against the added radiation. Last spring, (fourteen years ago) I could see the two lobes of radiation coming from the quasar at the Galactic Center. The two-galaxy merger must have dropped one hell of a lot of gas into it to create beams that shine that bright.
There’s not really much to do at night now but think. I remember the first time that I noticed the stars, so very long ago in another farmyard. I remember my friends, both before and after the change and miss them. The children are wonderful, but it’s hard to relate to beings that are eight orders of magnitude younger than you are.
It’s impossible to pick out the star where the others went. Even when their star was closest to the system, you couldn’t see it with the naked eye. There’s not even any way to tell how long I was asleep. The isotope that we were using to time the project wasn’t accurate beyond four billion years. The pulsars that were present when they left would have spun down by now, so there’s no way to tell from them.
I knew that this job would be hard, but that it would be worth it. I’ve been thinking lately that I may grow myself a new body in a couple centuries or so. It’d be fun, I think, to milk cows again, even to shovel the unavoidable manure. Oh. Wait. I wonder if I could design cows that don’t produce any manure. That’s something to think about a little later, perhaps. For now, I think that a little Mozart might be in order….