The First Mother - Chapter 2

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"I'm sorry, what?" Heather asked and I could immediately tell that we we're all in the same perplexed boat.

"Are you serious?" I asked not sure how to feel about all of it.

I'd had working guesses about what they might have wanted from me when Caitlyn walked through my cell door. Safe to say this didn't make the list.

"Why us?" I asked in desperate need of some answers. "What are were going to be doing exactly?"

"We've been vetting this planet since it was discovered. At this distance, our long distance scans are ineffective. We attempted sending probes through to gather that information but we are not able to get anything back."

"Wait hold on, that doesn't make any sense" Robert objected. "You already sent probes? There aren't enough years in human history for you to have done that."

"I understand your skepticism, Mr. Harvey but I assure you it has been done." She responded.

"How?"

"All will be made clear before your trip - should you accept - but for now I need you to trust me"

I could see the skepticism written on his face but Robert let her continue.

He was right of course. I didn't know the exact number but it would take atleast a million years for any craft we had to make that trip. And what? they'd done it in 9 years?

She paused, scanning our faces.

"This is the mission. Reach Gaia, test the conditions and survivability, if Gaia is indeed everything we hope it is, light the beacon. It's all very simple really".

"Let's say somehow we're able to get to this Gaia planet and light your beacon. It would still take several millions of years for that information to get here" Robert objected once more.

"I really do appreciate your critical thinking Mr. Harvey. That's part of the reason we brought you on board" She sighed. She tried to play the understanding role but it was still plain as day that she was getting over his interruptions.

"The beacon works with entangled particles. I assume you are familiar with the term" Caitlyn explained. "One of the pair will remain here on earth strictly monitored."

He nodded his head making sense of it. I too kind of understood. Of course I was sure there was a lot more to be considered but that was above our pay grade.

"We do that and we're free to go?" Heather asked suspiciously.

"Well not exactly" Caitlyn replied "We plan to begin colonization efforts as soon as we're sure what the planet holds. At that point, the six of you will be the leading experts on the planet. We will require you to provide valuable counsel during that time. But you will be workers of the U.S government and you will be free citizens on Gaia."

I instantly recognized how amazing an opportunity this was even if I didn't fully trust it yet. Life doesn't give you anything without a catch.

"Why us?" I asked.

"There are still too many unknowns." She said without missing a beat. The whole thing almost felt rehearsed. "I could try to list all the things that could kill you but we'd be here all day - and that is before you even made it anywhere near Gaia. We can't send our astronauts with the limited information and number of unknowns."

"And on the planet? Are there things that could kill us there? " I asked once again looking the beautiful gift horse in its mouth.

"Most likely. But atleast, you won't starve. You will be leaving with 10 years worth of food and provisions for a mission that can be completed in 2. It is a routine search and rescue op" She replied.

The group seemed to be pondering this but no one said a word.

"What is wrong with you people? I know men and women who would do this for nothing in return" Will says. "How can you not jump at the opportunity to be the first to step foot on a new planet. In a new galaxy!"

"I don't trust you suits and I don't trust this" Robert told Will.

"Then say no" Will replied. I could tell he was serious. There was nothing he'd have wanted more than to not have to deal with us.

"I'm in" I said which prompted Caitlyn to smile. There was no decision to be made here. There was nothing left for me on earth.

She placed a hand on her case, it makes a familiar beep and opened. She pulled out a tablet and handed it to me.

"Any other takers?" She asked seemingly confident that she had won us over.

"You're going to kill us if we don't accept, won't you?" John asked. I realised I hadn't heard from the loud mouth in a while.

She laughed a pretty rich lady laugh, "Don't be ridiculous. But rehabilitation does fail"

"Noted" John said "Fuck it, give it here"

And so she did. One by one, every last one of us in the room accepted the terms.

"I'm glad you see the reason in this. I know how you feel about us out there. But I assure you, you have my word that there is nothing to fear".

The relationship between the zones was a real issue. The enmity from low to high and the indifference from high to low. With all the recent bombings and riots, it told me that the situation was only worsening.

That said, when Caitlyn said those words, I desperately wanted to believe her.

"Well, what now?" John asked when we had all finished signing.

Will stood and nodded to Caitlyn as he left the room.

"Now the fun part" She said finally with a smile.

=^..^=

We were led down the corridor, through a door and greeted by the lobby of the building. I wasn't sure if it had been the same path I'd taken earlier but it has the same marble floor.

There were people, lots of them. Guards, suits, children. In the 8 months since it happened, I hadn't really seen anyone except the guards so this was the first wake up call that I'd made it out alive.

"Are you excited to see the spaceships kids?" A woman accompanying a group of children asked with a big smile. She used that voice you usually used when talking to children... or dogs.

"Yes!' the children chorused.

They were all very clean. All wearing what I assumed to be school uniforms. A plain grey and white outfit with a solid high neck and pants. The girls wore dresses in the same colours. I wondered if they even knew that their planet was dying and that they had no future. Their parents had squandered it.

"If you're good, one day you parents will take you on a trip to Mars! " The woman said cheerfully. "Are you going to be good?"

"Yes!" They chorus.

I remembered when I was that age. I attended a public school in the middle zone and dreamed of flying far far away. It's funny how things work out.

"Keep moving" One of the guards said alerting me that I'd stopped. The kids walked past me and I kept moving.

The sun was blinding when we finally left the building. I didn't know what exactly the time was but I knew atleast that it was early morning. The facility was even more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

There were other large buildings just like the one we'd just exited and even more people out there than in. People of all ages and races.

In the distance I spotted some teens playing hover tag. I assumed they were part of the Mars program. We didn't send just anyone to Mars anymore. When they launched the first programs, not all the astronauts that were sent could successfully acclimatize to the change in gravity.

These kids were being trained in highly specialized programmes and their bodies prepared to inherit the red planet.

"No fucking way, the 2042 Exigen L-Spec?" Heather's voice snapped me out of my mind as she ran to the large fancy SUV that's just rolled up.

Before long she was all over the car, fawning over it.

"Step away from the vehicle!" One guard commanded as both raise their guns.

Caitlyn walked over to the guard and gently pushed the gun down.

"Stand down, there's no need for that. These people aren't criminals" She turned to the rest of us "Not anymore".

The guards obey and reassumed their positions.

"Please, this way" She said as she walked towards the car. We followed.

She walked over to the driver's door and as soon as she got within range, the car chimed, "Primary user identification confirmed, Caitlyn Alcove". Of course I recognized the voice. Everyone did. It was Alexa. Amazon's AI that was now a part of everyone's lives from when you were working, shopping and even when you were taking a dump. Alexa was always there.

The driver's door made an artificial sound as it raised vertically. Caitlyn stepped in and said something I couldn't pick up.

The passenger door mimicked the first and the back doors slid open to reveal a limo style lounge seat.

Heather of course was the first in and she was immediately sprawled over a section of the chairs. "I could get used to this" she said relaxing.

I couldn't help but feel like a cow being fattened up for slaughter. I said nothing however as I got in and neither does anyone else.

When all the doors are closed, Alexa chimed again "Set destination"

"Home" Caitlyn said simply.

I didn't even know when the entirely silent vehicle started moving until the world started to pass me by. I took one final glance at the beautiful facility retreating behind me. That turned out to be unnecessary because I would be here a lot over the coming months.

The journey 'home' was eye opening. The magnificent houses, the exquisite cars parked outside those houses. The elegant people driving those cars. It felt like a different planet.

I glanced over at Robert who I was sure was feeling justified over his actions two years ago.

We eventually come across a CNN broadcast in the sky. If I'd had my phone, I could have tuned in to the free broadcast and gotten audio playback.

I briefly considered asking Alexa to play audio but decided against it. Atleast I could see the headlines.

"Over 35 million Americans estimated living illegally in Canada"

"North-South Korea merger falls apart after shooting"

"Third bombing in 4 months leaves 17 dead"

'Everything is going to shit' I thought to myself as the broadcast faded into the distance.

=^..^=

Thankfully, not long after that, we're at our destination. It was surprising how fast you could travel when the roads were clear. That's not a luxury most people have anymore. The low zones are so jam-packed they don't even have cars outside of designated federal roadways.

We exited the car and walked up to a door where Caitlyn was waiting for us.

"Welcome to your new home. I hope you don't mind living together. You will be for the duration of your training" she informed us.

No one said a word. We were all still standing in awe of our 'new home'. Even John who lived in the high zone was entranced. I guess even among the rich, there were levels.

It was a large and exquisite building, and as criminals, you could understand why we wouldn't have been expecting this.

"Primary user Identification confirmed, Caitlyn Alcove" The familiar voice comes from the door as it clicks open.

I don't know what I had been expecting but the interior was very minimalist. The entire decor was either white, grey or black. There was a long white couch that spanned the living room but broke apart at two points to provide entry. A coffee table in the middle added the final touch making it a very simple but tasteful space.

"There are three rooms downstairs and four upstairs. They're all the same so take your pick" Caitlyn started and we all turned to her "Mr. Ness will be staying here with you"

'I was sure he wasn't very happy about that' I thought to myself. If I was being honest, I didn't think he liked us very much.

"I hope we can all work together and get to know ourselves better." He spoke. "You will be my crew mates after all"

"You're coming with us?" I asked surprised.

He nodded. "Of course, you didn't think we'd leave a multi billion dollar vessel and the fate of humanity in just your hands, did you?"

"There's going to be a full briefing tomorrow." Caitlyn said "Don't worry about that. This mission doesn't have a lot of time so after today, you probably won't have any free time. I suggest you enjoy your final day. Get settled in"

"Can we leave the house?" Heather asked.

"After you're fitted with trackers tomorrow, yes. Stay put today" She answered.

"Trackers?" Heather asked again.

"Nanites. You won't even know they're there. You should be careful however, you stray too far, and they're programmed to explode."

After giving us some time to let that sink in, she continued "You shouldn't worry. Unless you're thinking about escaping, you really have nothing to worry about."

=^..^=

"Hello" I heard her again as I stepped into the room. She really was everywhere.

I don't reply. I am used to dealing with the invasive Alexa on my phone and computer but talking to your house is a different experience. I heard talking houses had been available for quite some time. But with the power shortages, I was sure they were among the first excesses to go.

"You are now in setup mode" Alexa prompted "What would you like me to call you?"

"Uh Daniel's fine I suppose." I pause "Actually scratch that, Dany".

That's what mum called me. I wondered where she was. If she missed me. If I'd ever see her again.

"Acknowledged. What would you like to call me?"

"Leave as default"

"Acknowledged. You can change any of my default home settings on your computer. Would you like a smart home tutorial?"

"No"

"Would you like to change your privacy settings?"

"Yes"

"Would you like to turn off microphone?"

"Yes"

"Sorry, this option is currently disabled by primary user. Would you like to turn off camera?"

So much for not being a criminal.

"Yes?"

"Camera turned off. Please note, if I detect an emergency, I am programmed to immediately restart visual recording. Would you like to hear our terms and conditions?"

"No"

"Do you agree to our terms and conditions?"

"Yes"

There was another chime. "Welcome to Amazon Smart Home"

I realized I'd just been standing there right at the door the entire time. I took my first step scanning the room.

I was mostly empty except for the large bed, the table which doubled as a computer and the large wardrobe which I recognized from the news. Apparently, It featured a 3D printer, clothes are bought off the computer and the clothes are printed instantly.

I sat on the bed not believing the day I'd had. 12 hours ago, I sat in a rehabilitation cell. And now here I was preparing to sail the stars.

After sitting for a few minutes, I felt the need for a good shower. Something more thorough than the rubbish I'd had to suffer through for the past eight months.

After playing "warmer, cooler" with Alexa for nearly 30 minutes, I exited the bathroom feeling refreshed. I had a towel around my waist. I walk up to the large wardrobe.

"Show mirror" I instructed.

The large wardrobe revealed a mirror which was basically just a screen and a high resolution camera. God forbid we use anything as pedestrian as an actual mirror right?

Being in here, it was easy to forget all about the shitty world outside. Would I want the world to change if this was my life?

I had always been small but I feel tinier standing there naked. My soft features mocked me. "Don't worry hunny, I was a late bloomer too" I remembered mum saying, not seeing the error in comparing the two of us.

Looking at myself in the mirror, it was so strange how much I looked like my mother. Like a woman.

'What is wrong with me?' I thought to myself. Maybe it was time to try one of those "Get Buff Quick" treatments. Was there anything I could do about my height? I'd have to check.

The only part of me that was remotely masculine was my flat chest. I brought the towel up to my chest and instantly hated myself. I returned it to my waist before deciding to get dressed.

I slid the wardrobe door apart and this caused the 'mirror' to automatically close.

"You currently have zero outfits." Alexa said. I could clearly see that. "Would you like to buy some?"

"You have.. ten thousand dollars in your account"

I slid the wardrobe doors back close and happily headed for the table.

The tabletop was a screen that could be raised to a 45° angle.

"Secondary user identification confirmed. Dany" Alexa said.

"Open Fashion" I was excited to see what options I had available to me.

"Opening"

The 'Welcome, Dany' on the table is replaced by 'Pick a category. Male, Female, Unisex'

I touched 'Female' out of curiosity.

'Shop by Product' appeared on the screen followed by 'Accessories, Blouses and Purses, Blouses and Shirts, Coats and Jackets, Dresses...'

I touched the 'Go Back' button and then 'Male'.

It took me a while to decide what I wanted to wear but when I did, I selected purchase and just like that, it was done.

The sudden humming of the wardrobe alerted me that the jeans, white tee, sweater and slides had begun printing.

"17 minutes, 31 seconds until printing is complete. What item would you like to print first?"

"Briefs" I made a mental note to do this before a bath next time.

=^..^=

=^..^=

=^..^=

7 Months later.

The six of us sat together on the porch outside the house late at night. Yes, even Will. Actually it had been his idea to lie under the stars for our last night.

None of us spoke but I was sure we all felt the same. A mixture of excitement and dread.

Training had concluded 10 days ago. We had all been thought all the essential skills needed for the mission as well as other general skills like building and farming.

Even though we'd have the on board computer for any information we'd need, they felt it was important that we had most of that information stored in case of emergencies.

Individually, they'd taken us on courses that prepared us for the roles we'd be playing on the mission.

I was to be the pilot. Well assistant pilot. Will would be the main pilot. I would be providing auxiliary and support functions. But still, I'd had to go through the entire course to make sure I was prepared in case anything happened to him.

Over the last seven months, I had learned the ins and outs of the pathfinder. Not as much as Heather our engineer but still. In truth, we were all really only there for human judgment. The on-board computer could handle most processes required for interstellar travel.

John was our doctor of course and Cillian trained in combat and protection in the event that we encountered hostiles.

In the last ten days, we had been dragged from press conference to courtesy visits. 2 days ago, we even met the president.

Now though, the real work was about to begin. Tomorrow we were being transported to Mars where the pathfinder already awaited us and from there we would begin our journey to Jupiter.

A partial orbit of Jupiter would help us generate the speed we needed to make it the rest of the way to the wormhole.

Sometime around month four, Caitlyn had finally told us the full story - or atleast what I thought to be the full story.

9 years ago, a stable wormhole had appeared a ways off from Jupiter and on the other side of it Gaia, A planet that suited our needs perfectly.

The thing is stable wormholes don't just occur by themselves. Someone put it there. God? Didn't matter. All that mattered was that humanity finally had a lifeline.

We'd immediately started developing crafts that could successfully make it though in one piece. The Pathfinders were the latest model.

They'd managed to send probes through but had quickly realized that this was a door that only opened one way. I had cried that day. The realization that I was leaving earth behind permanently. Leaving my mother and brother behind.

But what could I do? What could any of us do? There wasn't a choice. So we pressed on.

We'd wondered why they were using us instead of their own people? This was why. What would happen when a human passed through a wormhole? That's what we were there to find out.

Of course their scientists had assured us that we'd be safe. The stasis capsules would keep us safe as long as the Pathfinder held together through the wormhole.

They were "optimistic". As I drank the last drops of my beer, I wondered:

'Death today or a chance to stare down the universe and walk through its butt hole?'

=^..^=

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Hello, thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I know there's no tg yet but I'm taking it slow and just focusing on world building now.

I promise I have a wild ride planned for our hero and I hope you'll stick around for it.

Please let me know what you think so far. Share your thoughts. I'm listening.



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