Saturday, June 21, 2014

An American on Rhea---Part One



 (Author's note: Drawing a big blank, so here is something I've been playing with for quite a while. Not sure if there will be a part two.)


It was my fourth wife, Anna, who was into guided hypnotic memory regression that said the first thing a baby feels when he or she is born is pain. About half-way through our standard five-year marriage contract she joined a pseudo-scientific cult that said it could regress a person all the way to birth and make them understand all the troubles and issues they faced growing up. I knew Anna was the impressionable type when I married her but she willingly signed my rock solid prenup and her talent at entertaining my business associates more than paid for itself so I ignored her strange but harmless spiritualism.

Anna’s first session took her all the way back to her birth. In tearful words she described to me the memory of her birth as a shocking, all encompassing pain that seemed to last an eternity. Her description made it sound like some damned soul being condemned to old fashioned Hell but Anna quickly corrected me saying my comparison was based on ancient superstition and modern ignorance. 

Anna said her life councilor explained that the pain had two main purposes, the first to wash away the memories of her previous life, and the second, to signify that her soul had rejoined the greater universe. The councilor also explained that all her suffering afterwards was to force her to become a better person. The way I understood it was that her spiritual group believed life was nothing but a cosmic catch-22, that to ascend to the next level of existence a being had deal with the pain associated with living without succumbing to all the usual human sins and weaknesses. It was all tired mumbo jumbo for me, but for the cool and hip crowd it was all the rage in the late 2020’s.

For the rest of our marriage Anna tried to get me to join saying it would allow us to enter a true union of souls. I’ll give her credit, she was a devout follower until our marriage contract expired and we went our separate ways. I must admit I did get a laugh when I learned my cosmically-inclined ex-wife who took pride in being in tune with the universe moved back to boring old Texas to be close to her folks. Even funnier was when I learned she had married an ultra-fundamentalist Christian leader who became one of the two United States senators from the newly created state of Panhandle after Texas broke up into four different states.

I didn’t dwell for long on Anna’s new found lifestyle, I was diagnosed with cancer that same year. It wasn’t the easily treated variety either; I had full blown Type Two Susskind’s cancer born out of all the neat toxic chemicals and genetically modified foods that civilization had come to believe it could not live without. I was lucky though, being a billionaire I could afford to buy my way into the one of the new biological suspension centers for the terminally ill.

Once my cancer was confirmed instead of dying a very painful death just two months later like the average and much poorer citizen my body was forced into an artificial coma, pumped full of high-tech preservatives, and then dropped into a vat containing a substance that looked like amber. It cost me nearly all my money but it was a proven technology, sort of anyway. And if everything had gone as planned once the research boys and girls found a cure for my mutant cancer, they said about seventy-years, I would be re-animated and reunited with my remaining wealth which had been placed in a carefully managed trust fund waiting for me.

So on a hot and humid November morning I walked into the building housing the Portland, Oregon branch of Forever Care, signed the final papers, was hooked up to an IV and closed my eyes for what I thought would be a relatively short disconnect from the world of the living.

That is where long lost ex-wife’s description of birth came into play. As the Forever Care people said there would be no dreams while I rested in their expensive goo waiting for my cancer to be defeated. My first recollection on returning to the living was just as Anna described. A searing pain that I could feel down to the atoms that made up my body. What she didn’t explain was how weird things would get once the pain subsided and I was forced to deal with living in the future.

****

The shuttle touched down on the landing pad with a noticeable thud. A second later the nearly empty cabin I was sitting in became pitch black. I tried to keep still and quiet but I guess I was fidgeting a little too much, which betrayed my nervousness.

From behind me, I heard the nearest passage say something in what passes as the lingua franca. “It’s just the crew taking the fusion reactor offline and switching over to land-based power.” Standard procedure really,” was what I heard after the tiny translator in my ear converted it into what was now essentially a dead language. 

I quickly remembered the guy, named Sarga Marsh, was from one of the asteroid colonies, hollowed out chunks of floating rock sometimes tens of kilometers long, filled with an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere and spun to create artificial gravity. A tube of spun diamond running down the central axis filled with glowing ionized plasma of hydrogen to provide sunlight for plants and animals. My twenty-first century mind was still in awe of the concept but for everyone else living a little over thirty-three hundred years from the time I was placed in suspension, it’s ancient technology. In fact, what are to me marvels of engineering are to the people of this age third world countries if not banana republics.

The sudden return of cabin lighting was the cue for me and the few other passengers to gather up their belongings and make our way to the shuttle’s platform. I tried not to think at how similar it looked to people disembarking off some passenger plane from my century. “Are you really from the old calendar twenty-first century?” I heard Sarga ask from behind as I carefully thought out my every move trying to deal with Rhea’s much lower gravity.

“Yeah,” I said and waited for the translator hanging around my neck like a pendant to respond back. “Early twenty-first, before the Corporate War, I was in suspension for a little over ten Earth years before that started.”

“That’s fascinating,” he said back as we both followed the others out. “I’m from the Republic of Ida, my people can trace their ancestry back to refugees who fled Earth after the Corporate Powers were defeated.”

I said nothing, I’m sure the Mr. Marsh would love to hear that I sat in on the very first presentation by Davis Mining and Deep Ventures Aerospace as they recruited investors for the initial unmanned attempts at harvesting vital strategic minerals from asteroids. Since my resurrection, I had learned that the new consortium formed by Davis and Deep Ventures went on to be one of the most tyrannical corporations involved in the Corporate Wars. Despite that war being long in the past, certain technological advances since then have kept it in what amounted to living memory.

Which sort of made me a war criminal, or at the very minimum, guilty by association since many of the men and women I personally knew or had business relationships with back then were now held up alongside people like Hitler and Stalin. In fact, it was one of the reasons I was about to set foot on the moon of Rhea. There were simply few places in the solar system where I would be welcome for even the short time it would take for me to catch a starship to one of the interstellar colonies where I could blend in with all the others struggling to survive on a new planet. Even on Rhea, I was only welcome because of the information I could provide them.

Sarga continued to follow behind and kept quiet until we stepped out of the shuttle’s door and into the extended passageway that connected it to the main arrival terminal. I actually walked a couple of meters before casually glancing overhead to catch a glimpse of Saturn through the clear material that made up the connecting walkway. “Oh my God,” I whispered struck by the majesty of seeing the ringed planet. My amazement was not without consequence, the sudden stop of my slow, careful steps in the one-quarter gravity of the moon did not cancel my inertia and I found myself colliding with the person in front of me sending us both skidding to the ground. Only the friction of the floor surface eventually stopped us. Sarga then made a production out of helping me stand up again, as for the person who I hit, she collected her belonging while saying a few words the translator refused to convert to English.

“This your first time off Earth?” Sarga asked in what amounted to puzzled astonishment. From the time the Earth government booted me off the planet to our short stop at Ida and now to Rhea, I rarely ventured out of my cabin which was nestled in the outer spinning ring of the interplanetary ship that brought me to my temporary refuge in orbit around Saturn. It was during one of my brief visits to the passenger lounge that I met Sarga and some of my other fellow travelers.   

“Not sure what you know about ancient Earth history,” I said feeling strange uttering those words, "but space flight was still a pretty novel way of traveling in my time. I could have easily done a suborbital flight or even afforded a ticket to one of the space station hotels but I never got into that type of adventurism. For civilians like me, that was pretty much it, even the national governments didn’t venture much beyond lunar orbit. So the idea of walking, or at least stumbling and fall down, on one of the moons of Saturn is overwhelming. ”

“Incredible,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be restricted to such a small section of the solar system. Even Belters families like mine regularly do an Earth fly-by cruise for vacation. I’ve even been to the Pluto habitat twice on business.” 

From what little I understood of typical human behavior in this age, Sarga was a normal enough person. Compared to the rich and beautiful people from the twenty-first century I use to hang out with, Sarga was rather stout with the hair on his head cut into an elaborate pattern. From observing the other male Belters during the voyage to Rhea his appearance seemed typical. On the other hand, Belter females seemed to go to great pains to look like some ghost or ghoul. Not only were they a great deal taller than their male counterparts, but along with painting their bodies white apparently prided themselves on removing every single follicle of hair from their head and face. As far as clothes went, both genders dressed in similar elaborate outfits that reminded me of something a seventieth-century French king might wear to a state dinner. I on the other hand, was wearing what looked to be a sweatshirt and sweatpants, far from my usual, very formal business attire.

At least everyone I took time to talk with remained a recognizable human being to me. However, Sarga was starting to be a little overly clingy, almost to the point of being annoying. Back in my time with a couple of billion dollars easily at my disposal, my bodyguard detail would have long since tossed the guy into the nearest body of water. However, I was literally lost in time, considered a war criminal by most, so that meant I needed any friend I could get. “Excuse my terrible manners,” I sort of interrupted, “but I should have asked what brings you to this far flung part of the solar system?”

This question clearly delighted Sarga, “I’m here to meet my business companion. We sell and trade cultural products with the Rheans.”

“Cultural products,” I asked thinking strictly along twenty-first century ideas for some stupid reason.

“We mainly deal in sub-sentient recorded human personalities. We have a vast collection of early Belter and Mars colonists but over the years, I have acquired a few prized examples such as the crew of the Odyssey entering the Alpha Centauri B system and discovering the world that came to be known as Terra Nova. The first planet outside the solar system to be heavily terraformed and then colonized.”

I had an involuntary shutter at the mention of recorded personalities. It was the fully sentient type, all kids during the Corporate War that lead the charge to have me unceremoniously exiled off the planet to me cast out among the stars. As Sarga and I strolled into the main terminal, I let him carry on about the other recorded minds he had to sell. For me I still couldn’t wrap my mind about the very basis of personhood that now existed on Earth.

After the Corporate War the world government that was established quickly set out to document the atrocities done by the tyrants that overthrew the various weak and ineffective national governments. One method was the new process at that time of interfacing the human mind with a computer connected to a fifty-petabyte recording crystal. It didn’t take long before someone realized that such a process actually captured the consciousness of that person. Since the Earth Unity Collective was all about the rights of the common individual these disembodied personalities were eventually recognized as sentient and give full rights.

Since then, whenever the Collective feels the need to resurrect one of the thousands of people in suspended animation, as I was, the non-corporeal bloc starts to scream blood murder to make sure they are not some war criminal. To be fair, if the history I read was correct, a few of the middle managements types who didn’t rate a seat on the shuttles headed to the brand new asteroid settlements after the war did finagle a way into suspension under assumed identities. It was all quite convoluted for me but I didn’t have time to think about it.

As Sarga and I stood in line to be formally processed for admittance to Rhea, three people approached, clearly natives since their skin carried a noticeable yellow tint and the pupils of their eyes were a bright blue.

“Citizen Thomas Blake, I presume,” the Rhean man wearing what appeared to be a uniform said, “I am chief of spaceport security Trin Drock. Let me introduce Prone Cullton, First Prime of Rhea and Professor Anni Missor, Lead Professor of Ancient History at Ambat University. We are here to take you into custody for crimes against humanity.”

Being from the Belt, which still carried a taint from the long ago Corporate War, my new friend Sarga quickly quite suddenly forgot who I was and did his best to ignore me. It didn't matter, I let Drock place the thing restriction collar around my neck and begin to lead me away. I was far more interested in the stunning beauty of Professor Anni Missor, and the smile she kept sending my way.

4 comments:

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Good stuff, dude! I vote you continue the story.

Pixel Peeper said...

Yeah, what Susan said!

Marja said...

I am usually not into science fiction but loved every word of it and your amazing fantasy how people look and travel on an interplanetary ship. Would love to see what happen next on Rhea

Beach Bum said...

Susan: You know I have several of these stories segments floating around on my blog and the majority of them have died on the vine. I keep telling myself to look them over and try to finish them up but sometimes I just lose the basic idea for the story. On this one I wanted to explore the idea of an American shoot way into the future. Now, I had to adjust things a little like making him rich and initially living ten to twelve years in our future.

Pixel: I kind of like what started, but it will be a couple of weeks at least. My wife has this huge summer honey-do-list and I'm going to be busy with it. In someways I can't wait for winter.

Marja: This has been on my hard drive for a very long time. What got me going again was a quote by Ray Bradbury I found. It goes like this: "Find out what your hero or heroine wants and follow him or her all day."

My character Thomas Blake in the 21st century was one of the major players, rich and powerful. I've cast him over three-thousand years in the future and made him a war criminal in some respects. I think he wants to find a place where he can fit in and regain something of his past glory.