Interruption

He came across a disaster. Dead ants were spread everywhere. Most were smashed into small, curled bodies. Some were obliterated. Ant parts were everywhere.

He couldn’t imagine what’d happened. Down on his hands and knees, he ignored the traffic in the street beside him and mourned their losses, watching as the bodies were collected and carried away. After the final body was gone, he went to rise when he saw the ants come out and face him. All were still for several moments. When he felt an appropriate amount of time had passed, he bowed his head and said, “I’m sorry.”

The ants retreated to resume their lives, and he went on his way.

Vaughn

To recap. The Beagle is a colonizing starship that arrived at a new world, Feynman. Juancho Ferrado is a bureaucrat who lives and works on the Beagle who was selected as part of the Coronado landing party. Shortly after the Coronado’s successful descent to the surface of Feynman, the Beagle inexplicably exploded. All personnel onboard were assumed to be killed. That left the Coronado’s crew as the only survivors. Four years later, only Juancho remains when Roger Lancey startles Juancho with his sudden appearance on the Coronado.

Then Lancey disappeared. 

Now, the tale continues. Don’t worry, it’s certified completely organic and vegan, GMO-free, non-fat, and with no added sugar.

###

“Hi, Vaughn.”

Opening his eyes wide, Vaughn Parks looked around Captain Mayhew’s office. Vaughn had once been a heartbreaker, a man with a slender, athletic build that prompted thoughts of grace, and green eyes that glistened like wet emerald jewels. Pronouncing, “I’ve seen enough of life, and now I want to experience death,” he’d chosen to age and die once they’d reached Feynman. “Captain.”

“How do you feel?”

“I feel like I was dead, and now I’m apparently alive again. I feel like warmed-over leftovers, something you may not know, Captain.”

Captain Mayhew chuckled. “I’m older than I look.”

“Probably.”

“I know what leftovers are. I like leftovers.” Captain Mayhew smiled at private memories.

Vaughn saw that and changed vectors. “Virtual stimulation via artificial intelligence?”

“What?”

“I’ve been brought back by virtual simulation via artificial intelligence?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“We need your opinion.”

“On?”

“I’m about to impart that.”

“Sorry. I seem to think very fast.” Vaughn gazed up at the ceiling. “It’ really interesting, like I’m experiencing time on a different level.”

“Perhaps you can follow up on that when we’re done here.”

“Oh.” Vauhn swiveled his look to the Captain and grinned. “Yes, you brought me here for a reason, didn’t you? What sort of emergency has invoked the virtual regeneration? This is the first time I’ve been back, right?” Face crinkling with humor, Vaughn continued, “Never mind, I’m catching up with my records. Unless you’ve manipulated my records, this is my first time back since I died, just two years ago.”

His expression changed. “Just two years? We’ve been on Feynman for two and a half years, and now there’s a problem that you think I can help you with?”

“Correct.”

“Well, fill me in, then.”

“It’s Juancho.”

“Juancho.” Recognition flushed Vaughn’s green eyes. “The ship’s artificial intelligence?”

“Yes. You should have access to Juancho’s logs.”

Looking inward, and mildly squinting, Vaughn said, “I do.”

“Go ahead and read them.”

“I have.”

“Already?”

“They’re digital, I’m digital…there’s a certain digital sympatico taking place.”

“Oh.” Captain Mayhew looked interested. “That’s fascinating.”

“But something to pursue after this.”

“Yes, if you’re interested, and willing to stick around.”

“Well, we’ll see. So I’ve read the document….”

“Yes, you’ve read the document.”

“What do you think?”

“Of it? I don’t understand that question.”

“Well, Juancho appears to be fantasizing about the Beagle exploding, and essentially, being the last human on Feynman and living on the Coronado.”

“Yes.”

“Is there reason for us to be concerned?”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s A.I. Do you think Juancho will act on it?”

“Oh his fantasy?”

“Exactly.”

Leaning back, Vaughn crossed his legs and stroked his mustache. “I don’t know.”

Mayhew exhaled. “That’s not thrilling to hear.”

“Sorry.”

She stared at Vaughn. “This doesn’t concern me?”

“I’m still thinking about it.”

“What about the part where he pretends one of the crew members is looking for you, and doesn’t know where you went.”

“I thought that was interesting.” Vaughn grinned. “I wanted to know where I went.”

“Does any of this worry you, though?”

Slicking down half of his mustache with one finger, Vaughn uncrossed his legs, and replied, “No. It’s just simple fantasy. My take is that Juancho is a powerful A.I. system. He brought the Beagle across the galaxy to Feynman. That required tremendous resources. Now, I suspect, he’s bored.”

“Bored.”

“Yes.”

“That’s what some of the engineers suggested.”

“They’re probably right, I think. Let me ask you this.” Straightening his frame, Vaughn said, “Have you asked Juancho about it?”

“We tried to. We’ve sent people in, but he plays games with them. He will only permit certain people in, in the first place. For example, he wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Yes, yes, I read that. He said you were disturbing his muse.”

“Yes, exactly. That’s why we’re worried.”

“But, other than this fantasy, he’s functioning normally, and nothing has gone wrong.”

“Yes, but we’re worried. You can see why.”

“Sure, sure, I can.” Rubbing two stubby fingers together and looking at them, Vaughn inhaled.  “What do you want me to do? Want me to talk to him?”

“Do you think that’ll help?”

Vaughn shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll hurt. Hang on a moment. I’ll be right back.”

Mayhew’s brown eyes widened. “You’re going to do it now?”

“Why not? You have a reason why I shouldn’t? I’m here, he’s there…let’s get it on.”

“Okay. Great. Do it, then.”

“Okay.” Eyes becoming lost in a nest of wrinkles, Vaughn smiled, flashing straight, white teeth. “I’ll be right back.”

Coming tomorrow: the conclusion.

Dual Storms Dream

Howling winds hurled gray sheets of rain across the landscape. Thinking of the dream, I remember endless, gloomy gray. No lights were ever seen. The wind shrieked and howled. There were waves and waterspouts, and there was rain.

We’d been striving to prepare for the heavy, increasing storms, but their cycles sped up, and the storms were more sudden and violent. Many people and places were surprised by the storms’ viciousness and frequency. Others tried taking them in, because, what else could they do?

But a strange disease began sweeping the settlements. Virulent, contagious and deadly, symptoms appeared with little warning. The population quivered with anxiety. Civil cooperation vanished. An era of selfish fighting for survival erupted.

I came into the dream seeing others and racing from them, ensuring I avoided others because I didn’t want to die from the disease. I’d already lost friends and family. My desperation to avoid others drove me to leap off cliffs into crashing waves. Constantly on guard, continually traveling, hoarding food, I felt exhausted.

Then, during a relatively calmer, quiet period, one man called across to me. He was a hundred yards away. I didn’t want him to get closer. I believe he said, “They have a cure.”

Although dubious, I was interested. I didn’t know who they were. The storms lessened. During a period of trudging between buildings in search of food, I saw posters. The posters claimed there was a cure, and gave directions.

I was leery of a trap but made my way in a general manner toward the location of the cure. I saw others. We kept our distance from one another but called across, sharing information, trying to address, who can vet this, and how can it be vetted? More people closed in on the center where they supposedly had a cure. Suspicions kept me back.

The storms finally abated more. Weak sunshine washed the wet land. More people were encouraged to go for the cure.

And I, tired of solitary fight to survive, joined them.

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