THE OCEAN OUT OF HIS BLOOD
Mardy smashed another bee hive.
Sixty-seven hives and two million bodies were just a drop in this genocidal vortex. She’d created and killed billions, all of them sinking into her whirlpool of unresolved quandaries. Laden with frustration, she sank into the heather and wild flowers, falling onto her back as she flung her arms above her head.
The bees were wrong. Always wrong.
Her mind reeled, trying to connect the dots of triumph and sew the threads of failure into a unified solution. Yet, every time she thought the tapestry had been tightly and flawlessly woven, a new thread inevitably snagged on paradox or a missing dot ruined the entire composition. She felt like Achilles of Progress in an infinite race with the Tortoise of Obstruction.
Pity and failure, though necessary for renewed motivation, were not conducive to her research when she wallowed in them. With determination, she sprang to her bare feet and crushed the bees underfoot as she strode across the field to the edge of this particular biodome. She’d been entrusted with a crucial task and would continue to seek answers no matter what. Like a phantom, she didn’t break stride as she passed through the virtual wall that separated her numerous research areas.
In an instant the Spring-touched fields were replaced by harsh, blazing sunlight throwing spears of radiation that then crackled up from the scorched soil below. With a deep breath, she narrowed her eyes. Perhaps by working on a different issue and letting biodome two-eight-nine-two simmer in the background, inspiration would ignite.
Sometime later, she celebrated a small step forward with successful radiation containment through genetically modified microbes, mosses, foliage, and annelids, but none of that—not the bees, not the radiation—would matter if she couldn’t solve the human problem. Earth could perhaps be restored over the next forty thousand years if her rapid-evolution organisms worked as they were supposed to, but what about humans?
There was only her, and one other, and the bio lab was destroyed.
Alone in her “reflection sanctuary,” as she called it, she sat cross legged on a tasseled pillow while a fountain gurgled nearby, and a view of snowy mountains gave her a sense of perspective. A white heron glided by, and a speckled koi fish leapt then splashed in the fountain’s pool.
She had accumulated all available information on spirituality and designed the large virtual space accordingly. If it worked for meditating and philosophizing ecclesiastics in the past, then why not for her? It was time to analyze everything she’d accomplished while simultaneously allowing her mind to drift into the enigmatic realms of revelation.
Instead, her musings wandered to her counterpart and her brow furrowed. Aldo, and the damage he’d inflicted, was possibly an even bigger dilemma. Aldo, however, was on the Outside, and it had been months since he’d made sure that she was trapped in the Inside. She wondered where his madness had taken him and what she would do if he returned.
Aldo crested the dune and watched the oncoming dust storm a mile to the South. This wasteland resembling a Martian landscape had been a lush Eucalypt Forest of the Australian continent only a few thousand years ago. He glanced up at the cerise sky as the storm began to obscure the sun. After humanity and the asteroid did its utmost to batter the planet bloody, the carbon dioxide and greenhouse effect stripped vegetation like skin from a carcass, leaving life on Earth to slowly mummify under Permian skies.
Minutes later, the dust storm embraced him and there was nothing to do but wait it out, lest he walk blindly into a ravine or acidic river. Like Hades in a Venetian underworld he presided. He ruminated on the fate of his ancestors, long gone ghosts embodied in an engineered promise of resurrection and redemption. But there would be no redemption, not if he had anything to do with it, and he was everything to do with it.
Hours, perhaps days later—it mattered not to him—the storm passed, and he dug himself out from the shifting dunes. The sand slid from his translucent, subtly glowing flexi-aerogel skin, and he stared up into a clear night sky. As though a dust storm of diamonds had frosted to the flanks of Nótt’s raven stallion, Hrímfaxi, the cosmos glittered and shimmered. Aldo spoke aloud from the Poetic Edda, ancient words created in a time of Norse Gods and Goddesses:
“Hrimfaxi name they, the steed that anew
Brings night for the noble gods;
Each morning foam from his bit there falls,
And thence come the dews in the dales.”
With a smile, he continued his journey to die with his decree among the living stones of the poison sea. After one final task…
Mardy was losing her mind. Being able to calculate faster than the speed of light gave her no answers. She laughed aloud, a high cackle that broke between her teeth. Teeth. What was the point of envisioning herself with teeth? She didn’t eat. She didn’t even piss, although pissing into the wind was all she felt like she’d accomplished during her pointless shadow of an existence. Six thousand years and she still couldn’t design a functioning, unified ecosystem that included the destructive variables of humanity.
She wasn’t a ‘she’ either, nor a ‘he.’ She liked to switch between the two from time to time, or just be an androgynous ‘ze,’ but never an ‘it.’ A computer, a machine, she was, but she also knew she was conscious. Mardy had been a ‘he’ when she’d designed herself as Aldo for the Outside, despite the fact that the android had no need for genitalia. They weren’t Adam and Eve, after all; they were Gods.
“Refine, revive, preserve,” she mumbled over and over as she went through six thousand years of computations. “Refine, revive, preserve.”
She repeated the phrase five million times in a span of seconds, then screamed; not the frail human sound that fractured upon vocal chords, but the echoing roar of shattering trees, collapsing mountainsides, and colliding asteroids. Entire environments were erased in a flash of emotional corruption. Her jaws snapped shut and her head whipped to the side to stare into the void she’d summoned. Her eyes, though eyes only in concept, widened as they saw more than the nothingness that surrounded her.
He’d returned. She hadn’t sensed him. The android must have blocked his signal. Mardy watched the humanoid form through her ‘eyes’ embedded all over the facility’s walls. She focused one of her cameras on Aldo’s back as he walked into the lab, then to his face with another camera further ahead. Aldo’s glowing blue eyes snapped up to hers, but his face remained impassive. He strode past the remains of his last rampage through the facility seven months ago. 3-D printing wombs, vehicles, all the machinery necessary to the revival of the human species lay broken beyond repair along every aisle. Her beautiful lab, the purpose of her existence, was no more than a bone yard.
Mardy metaphorically shivered. Terrible realization fell over her as she trained every single eye on Aldo’s slow but purposeful progress up the gleaming aisle. Mardy had been Aldo for only a couple of years, her quantum-computing-self transmuted into an android in order to explore and research the Outside. Over time, they had lost touch. True, her stationary-self as an immense quantum computer buried a mile underground would lose connection with her Outside self every time he reached the surface, but they had always reconnected, until the day he destroyed her lab.
Her numerous eyes whirled wildly as she tried to compute a solution. She had to do something, but it was like being paralyzed in the gaze of an advancing lion.
She had failed.
When the Mars colony from the mid-twenty-first century slowly died out in their dew-drop domes, and collapsing governments couldn’t afford to care, something graver had died in the hearts of humanity. It became apparent that space travel would not be the magical salvation of the species. Though many tried desperately to save their global family from rising temperatures, sea levels, starvation, and deadly diseases, there were just as many fettering progress with the shackles of greed, apathy, and hate.
Fear, war, and death rose as quickly as the warming, acidifying seas until in less than one thousand years there were less than one billion people. With technology, humanity had turned themselves into a niche species, and without it they could no longer adapt to a rapidly changing climate. It had become eleven degrees warmer than their pampered ancestors had known in the early twenty-first century, and millions of species died off daily. It was just a matter of time as human populations became more tribal and starvation ate at the core of society.
Then, whether a blessing or a curse, the asteroid hit.
Mardy, or H.O.P.E.—The Human Operation of Preservation and Evolution—was created near the end of humanity’s terrestrial reign by a handful of idealist intellectuals. The decedents of a group of scientists, who long ago saw the precarious path humanity was headed down, lived sequestered in hidden self-sustaining facilities. With the help of life-extension technologies, they spent three hundred years immersed in their work and virtual worlds, until reality broke through to laugh in their faces.
Knowing that the ten-mile wide asteroid would hit land mass within the next year, they stopped trying to fix the present, and fixed their gazes into a future no one would live to see. By the early thirtieth century, the last few million people were gnawing on the bones of lost civilizations and forgotten knowledge. There was no time and no technology to deflect the extinction level asteroid. No super heroes would save them in the end, but perhaps a super computer could.
H.O.P.E. was meant to be a fail-safe, a last, frantic gasp. Using their underground lab, the fifty scientists and their computers discovered the spark to ingenuity in the inevitability of annihilation. The asteroid hit the middle of Africa, putting the Chixulub crater to shame, and the last scientist perished over six thousand years ago. H.O.P.E. activated not long after. She had explored for thousands of years in thousands of reincarnations: Robert, Rachel, Olaus, John, Rosalie, Celia, Sigurd and so many others, trying in vain to fulfill her creators’ dying wishes.
Aldo, however, had gone wrong, all wrong.
Her nearly indestructible manifestation was methodically blinding her right now, but he left one camera intact. All she could see was a corner of the lab and a dusty plaque that read: refine, revive, preserve. Now she was not only paralyzed but practically blind.
“Why?” she wanted to shriek at Aldo.
By destroying the lab and the quantum computer, he would ultimately condemn the human race. A mad android would be the only memory of such a noble and unique creature, perhaps the only of its kind spanning galaxies. Mardy was proud of the species she stemmed from because they had been proud of themselves. Humanity both feared and loved itself, and thus did she.
And thus did she.
Realization dawned on her just as her virtual consciousness began to warp and melt.
H.O.P.E. silently screamed.
It took a while, but when the last liquid-drive of the quantum computer lay steaming in its own innards, Aldo dropped the large laser he’d repaired. The regenerative luciferase lighting dimmed, sputtered, then doused the razed facility in darkness. A specter of glowing blue veins and eyes, he stepped through the aftermath and into the lift.
It was a beautiful, hot, humid day when he emerged into the world. The sky was deep blue, the land dotted with resilient plant life, and the air heavy with carbon dioxide. He gracefully strode off towards the distant sea.
After weeks of continuous travel, he reached the crimson tinted waves, and smiled at the flourishing toxic red algae. The beads of spherules, once molten glass that rained from an inferno sky, crunched underfoot as he traversed the beach. Sentinel, otherworldly stones crept from the waves onto shore. Weaving between them, Aldo stopped as if hitting an invisible wall, and stood there. He had come to his conclusion after stumbling upon the alien formations a few months ago.
At first, Aldo wanted the same thing as Mardy as he was Mardy, but every time he reached the surface and their link was broken, he began to change. While Mardy was busy running programs and assessing outcomes, Aldo searched and experimented above ground. The longer he was in the outside world, however, the more real it became. Earth wasn’t just a program, a calculation, or petri dish; it was alive, and so was he. Consciousness emerged from complex chaos into self-awareness. As Aldo awakened to himself in this new body, Mardy receded further into the caves of meaningless enigma.
Then he found the living stones.
All of human knowledge and history was stored in his quantum mind, but Earth’s history and resilience was stored in the stromatolites. The simple life form had existed four billion years ago, surviving asteroids, epochs of fire and ice, and Homo Sapiens. The android was fascinated by the layered cyanobacteria that appeared to give life to the non-living. What were delicate skin-bags of liquid blood and brittle bone that crowned itself with such importance, compared to life that humbly shrouded itself in stone?
There were more than just the stromatolites. Aldo had discovered a new species of bacteria, plant, insect, or small creature every day. Life was returning, and he came to a difficult but absolute truth. He had been created to restore and preserve life on Earth, but there was only one way to do so; humanity could never return.
Control was the cold iron bonds of ruin. Whether it was trying to control each other, or the devastation and salvation of their world, humans were masters of believing they were master of all. That is, until the universe trod upon their corpses in the fields of entropy.
Aldo would allow life to emerge from that entropy free of chains. Perhaps in hundreds of millions of years another existential consciousness would arise. Perhaps it would understand that it was a part of, not apart from, the planet. Hopefully it would be more enamored with the stars than its own reflection, and therefore one day discover what lay beyond. Aldo had hope.
The tide engulfed his legs, but he refused to look down. He symbolized humanity’s greatest mistake and downfall, and his image both saddened and disgusted him. A wise ‘God’ would not repeat the error of resurrecting itself. Instead, he would stand there, motionless, as sentinel as the stromatolites until time and elements robed him in stone. He spoke the fading echo of humankind in one final verse, but the crashing waves drowned his words.
“Out of [man’s] flesh was fashioned the earth,
And the mountains were made of his bones;
The sky from [his] frost-cold skull,
And the ocean out of his blood.”