Year 1, Day 2, Hour 18
Colony Site One, Gaia
Aneni stood motionless near the center of the clearing, like a statue overlooking a park.
“What is she doing?” Lily asked.
“Waiting,” Christian said.
“Waiting for what?”
A few seconds later, a thunderous roar ripped through the air high above them. Lily looked up, adjusting the magnification level of her optical sensors until she could see the source—it was one of Kutanga’s large transport shuttles.
“Supplies,” Evan said.
Dylan slowly shook his head. “That’s a lot of supplies; that thing is huge!”
“Where will it land?” Aubrey asked.
Christian pointed at the cleared area between the habitat domes and the biodome. “There.”
“Really?” Dylan asked. “It looks too big.”
“It will fit,” Christian replied. “Come, Aneni wants us to join her.”
Aneni remained still, saying nothing as the group approached.
Christian pointed at a strip of ground just behind her. “Stand there.”
The colonists tried to follow the shuttle’s descent from orbit but lost it after it began a series of descending turns through the clouds.
“Where’s the shuttle?” Aubrey asked after several minutes of waiting for it to reappear. “I lost it.”
“Behind you,” Evan answered.
Aubrey, Dylan, and Lily all turned around simultaneously.
The shuttle was hovering just a few meters above the tallest of the trees, drifting slowly toward the clearing—the whine of its powerful engines reduced to a faint whisper by its advanced noise-cancelling technology. The T-shaped craft was huge, nearly a hundred meters long and sixty meters wide at the front—its widest point. The front of the vehicle looked like a tube that had been flattened on the top and bottom. Its body was a similarly flattened, forty-meter-wide tube that fanned out slightly at the rear of the craft—like the horn end of a trumpet.
“Acoustic wave nullification,” Aneni said, answering Aubrey’s next question before she asked it. “I do not wish to disturb the wildlife unnecessarily.”
The shuttle floated slowly over the clearing, suspended by a combination of electromagnetic force and eight columns of powerful thrust coming from its downward-facing engines. The noise from the thrusters increased as the craft descended, and the air hummed with electricity as the craft’s EM field generators fought against Gaia’s powerful gravitational pull. Although the surrounding grass and trees were severely buffeted by the jet blast coming from the shuttle’s engines, the air where the colonists stood was surprisingly calm.
“It’s like being in the eye of a hurricane,” Lily said.
Evan grinned. “That’s why we’re standing here.”
The shuttle hung in the air thirty meters above them. They watched in silence as its four landing skids deployed and the craft floated slowly to the ground.
Aneni turned and took six long steps away from the craft. “This way, please.”
The engines shut off and the shuttle settled onto its landing gear. The bottom of the hull was still some ten meters above their heads. The air suddenly stilled, and the singing of birds and clicking of insects resumed along the tree line.
The craft had landed with its nose just a few meters away from the greenhouse, and its tail angled toward the forest just enough to miss the science lab at the opposite end of the clearing. A series of metallic bangs rang out as a thirty-meter-long section of the hull began descending toward the ground, its weight supported by eight hydraulic lifts; there was one at each corner and two more along either side. Another vehicle occupied the bulk of the platform, its four wings neatly folded against its sides.
“Holy crap,” Chen said. “Is that a GDF-227?”
Christian nodded, a thin smile spreading across his face. “GDF-227-T.”
“What the hell is a GDF-227-T?” Dylan asked.
“It’s a state-of-the-art air assault craft built by NorthRay for the Global Defense Force,” Chen said. “The T means it’s the troop transport version.”
Dylan glared at Aneni. “What the hell do we need one of those for here?”
“Flying is far more efficient when traveling long distances,” she said.
“Okay, I get that,” he said. “But why a military-spec plane instead of a regular old hoverjet?”
“That was my decision,” Lily replied. “Military grade equipment is sturdier and more reliable than the civilian stuff we had available to us. Plus,” she continued, “we had no idea what we’d find once we got here.”
“But why bring it down now?” Aubrey asked. “Are we going somewhere?”
Aneni took another step back as the outer edge of the platform passed just thirty centimeters in front of her face. Everyone else did the same.
“Yes,” Aneni said. “Not today, but soon.”
Chen stepped up onto the platform as it settled onto the soft ground. “So where are we going?” he asked. “And can I please fly this baby?”
“Where is a research outpost we established roughly 300 kilometers from here.” She paused as Chen made his way to the rear of the hoverjet. “And yes, you can fly it, if you wish.”
Chen’s lips stretched into a wide grin. “How do we get it off this thing?”
His answer came in the form of a loud bang at the rear of the shuttle. Two large sections of hull, located just beneath the main engines, slid out and to either side, exposing another ten-meter-tall by twenty-meter-wide section of the shuttle’s cargo hold.
The combat jet began moving toward the rear of the shuttle, pulled along by an operator-less, six-wheeled tug attached to its front landing gear.
Chen ducked as the rear wing assembly passed over his head.
The top of the aircraft cleared the rear of the shuttle by several meters, thanks to the now fully open cargo bay doors. The aircraft’s black, metal skin glistened in the light of Gaia’s twin suns as it was pulled clear of the transport’s shadow.
“God, that’s a beautiful machine,” Chen said, his eyes aglow with excitement.
Not only was Doctor Chen Hao one of the most brilliant geneticists of his time, but he was also a highly skilled pilot who served in the Chinese Air Force during the last world war. He had gone to school to become a physician, but the war in the Middle East had started just two months after he earned his degree. He was drafted shortly thereafter, and the air force needed pilots more than it needed doctors. After the war ended, he maintained his proficiency by flying himself around in his own hoverjet. It was a completely different design from the GDF-227-T, but that didn’t matter to Chen—if it had wings, he could fly it.
Once the jet was clear of the shuttle, a ramp at the back of the jet lowered onto the grass, exposing its cavernous interior. Three combat synths exited the jet, each one carrying a two-meter-long tube. They quickly made their way to the medical lab.
“Yes,” Aneni replied before Lily could finish her question.
“Why are there three containers? I only asked for Adee and Bruce.”
“Yin Li is the third person,” Aneni replied. “Her presence will improve Adee’s performance and significantly increase the likelihood that he will achieve balance.”
Lily folded her arms across her chest. “You should have asked me.”
“Would it have made a difference?”
Lily thought about that for a moment. “No, but—”
“Then what would be the point of asking you?”
Lily’s arms fell heavily to her sides. “It’s called courtesy, for one. And because I’m in charge of this mission, for another!”
“Very well, as you wish.”
“Good,” Lily said. “Now let’s go wake these people up.”
“I should also tell you that, at Evan’s request, I will be restoring Christina as well.”
Lily’s eyebrows twisted in a look of angry confusion. “Christina? As in my mother?” She turned toward Evan, locking eyes with him. “What are you doing? You know that’s not possible...there was too much damage!”
“You’re wrong,” Evan said calmly. “Aneni has found a way. We were going to restore her yesterday, but I decided to wait until you had some time to settle in.”
Aubrey inserted herself between her mother and Evan. “Are you being serious? This isn’t some kind of a twisted joke, right?”
“It’s not a joke, Princess,” Evan replied. “Aneni found a way to reconstruct the damaged engrams.”
“Then why isn’t she already here?” Lily asked. “Why hasn’t she been living with you all these years?”
Evan winced almost imperceptibly, but Aubrey noticed. “This isn’t the first time you’ve tried with her, is it?” she asked.
He shook his head slowly. “No, it’s not.”
“How many times?” Lily asked.
“This will be the third attempt,” Aneni answered. “As Yin’s presence provides comfort for Adee, so too will yours for Christina.”
“But her memories...her personality...how could you possibly fix her?” Lily asked.
“The technology has advanced considerably since your last attempt,” Aneni answered.
“I know, but...” Lily paused, gently placing her hand on Aubrey’s shoulder. “…we tried everything. There just wasn’t enough of her left.”
“That’s right,” Aubrey added. “Nearly twenty percent of her brain tissue was missing, and the rest was badly damaged. The few intact engrams we managed to pull from her were nowhere near enough to do a reconstruction.”
“I suggest that you meet her first,” Aneni said. “I will explain how it was done afterwards.”
“Trust us,” Evan said, “it’s really her.”
Aneni started walking in the direction of the habitat domes. The colonists turned to follow, but Christian remained behind, turning his attention to the rest of the cargo containers waiting to be unloaded from the jet.
“Then why did she fail?” Lily asked.
Aneni kept walking, casting Lily a sideways glance. “The same reason that you did.”
Lily stopped so suddenly that Dylan, who was just a half-step behind, bumped into her. “Sorry,” he said.
“It takes time to adjust to these bodies,” Evan interjected, keeping pace with Aneni. “And failing is just part of the process, remember?”
“Are you okay?” Dylan asked his wife.
“Yes, I remember,” Lily said, ignoring Dylan’s question. “But I also remember something else you said.”
Evan stopped and turned back toward her. “And what was that?”
“We were on Ceres, trying to decide when to wipe our clones.” She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “I guess you wouldn’t remember since that was the other you. But you said, and I quote: ‘Failure is a normal part of progress, but the time comes when you have to accept that it’s just not going to work’, end quote.”
“That sounds like something I’d say, and I agree with you. But that time hasn’t come yet, at least not where your mother is concerned. We’re going to give it one more try, and that’s all there is to it.”
Evan turned away and resumed walking to the domes, his rapid pace sending a clear message that the conversation was over. Chen matched Evan’s hurried pace, eager to avoid being drawn into the discussion.
“Are you okay, Mom?” Aubrey asked, she too had stopped walking.
“Yeah, I guess. But I promise you that this is not going to end well. And—” Tears welled up in Lily’s eyes.
Aubrey quickly covered the short distance between them and threw her arms around her mother. “I know. I’m not sure I can handle it either.” She wiped the tears from Lily’s cheeks. “But we have to try...for Evan. We owe him that much.”
Dylan wrapped his arms around his wife and daughter, pulling them close. “It will be okay; we’ll get through it together.”
Lily took a step back, wiping the rest of the tears from her face with the backs of her hands. “I’ll try. But it’s going to take a lot to convince me that she’s real. There’s no way that they recovered everything that made her who she was. There’s just no way.”
Dylan shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Babe. Aneni has done some pretty amazing things. I mean, we never could have imagined coming back like this, but these bodies are frickin’ amazing.”
“How?” he asked.
“Because our minds are intact. Creating a synthetic body is one thing but repairing a severely damaged brain is something else entirely.”
Aubrey grabbed her mother’s hand, clasping it in hers. “Can we at least give her a chance, please?”
Lily nodded. “I said I’ll try.”
“Well then,” Dylan said, “let’s go meet the new arrivals, shall we?”
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