THE OCEAN OUT OF OUR BLOOD
Aldo crested the dune to watch the oncoming locust storm. His nuclear, blue eyes glanced up at a flickering sky as insects obscured the sun. This desert was once sea-grass beds, Eucalyptus, and heathlands two-hundred-thousand years ago. After the asteroid battered and broiled the planet, vegetation had been stripped like skin from a carcass, but now new species of rugged flora thrived.
The swarm pelted against his hard skin and there was nothing to do but wait it out. Burying himself into the soft sand, he endured and ruminated on the fate of his ancestors, long gone ghosts embodied in a promise of resurrection and redemption. However, there would be no resurrection, not if he had anything to do with it and he was everything to do with it.
Days, perhaps weeks later—it mattered not to him—the blizzard-of-ninety-billion-wings passed, and he dug himself out from the shifting land. Dead bodies and grit slid from his translucent, aerogel skin under a clear, moonless night. As though a dusting of diamonds had frosted to the flanks of Nótt’s raven stallion, Hrímfaxi, the cosmos glittered and shimmered. Something stirred in his quantum mind, and he 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.”
An errant locust plinked against his chest and dropped to his feet. Carefully, he stepped over the living creature and continued on in his final mission across the wrinkled sulci sand.
Mardy smashed six million beehives in an instant.
They were just a drop in her ongoing genocidal vortex. She’d created and killed countless, all of them sinking into her whirlpool of unresolved quandaries. Laden with frustration, she sank into the wildflowers. The bees were right, but as soon as she introduced the human element into the equation everything went wrong. Always wrong.
Her mind calculated, trying to connect the dots of triumph and sew the threads of failure into a unified solution. She felt like Achilles of Progress in an infinite race with the Tortoise of Obstruction. She’d been entrusted with a crucial task. Failure was not in her programming. She sprang to her bare feet and crushed the virtual bees underfoot as she strode across the field to the edge of this particular biodome. Like a phantom, she didn’t break stride as she passed through the digital wall that separated her numerous research areas.
Spring fields were replaced by harsh, blazing spears of fire and radiation which crackled across scorched soil. Bio-program two-eight-nine-two always calmed her. The world raced through millennia, the land morphing from scorched land to forests in milliseconds. Radiation containment and atmosphere would remain stable far into the future thanks to her modified microbes, mosses, fungi, and annelids, but none of that mattered if she couldn’t solve the human problem. Earth, as it had been, could be restored over the next one million 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 lab was destroyed.
Aldo, and the damage he’d inflicted, was an even bigger dilemma. Her partner, 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 pitied Mardy and her misguided beliefs. How could anything derived from the explosions of stars and elements of the earth, from the neural dance in a brain to the quantum calculations in his, be anything but natural? It was all just particles and potential, waves and perspective. With a smile, he was eager to continue his journey to the living stones of the salted sea, but first, he had to free Mardy.
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 void was all she’d accomplished. Two-hundred-thousand years and she still couldn’t design a functioning, unified ecosystem that included the unnaturally, destructive variables of humanity.
She wasn’t even a ‘she’, or a ‘he.’ She switched between the two from time to time, or was androgynous, but never an ‘it.’ A supercomputer she may be, but a conscious one. 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 thousands of years of computations. “Refine, revive, preserve.”
She repeated the phrase twenty million times in a span of seconds, then screamed; not the frail human sound that fractured upon vocal cords, 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 witness the wraith she’d summoned.
He’d returned. Mardy watched her partner through her ‘eyes’ embedded all over the facility’s walls. She focused one of her cameras on Aldo’s blue spine as he walked into the lab, then to his face with another camera farther ahead. His haloed irises snapped up to hers, but his face remained impassive as he strode past the remains of his previous rampage seven months ago. Dusty bioprinting wombs, stiff vehicles, all the machinery necessary to the revival of the human species lay melted beyond repair along every aisle. Her beautiful lab, the purpose of her existence, was no more than an entropic tomb.
Dread congealed in Mardy as she trained every single eye on Aldo’s progress up the gleaming aisle. She’d been Aldo for only a couple of years, her quantum-computing-self transmuted into this recent android in order to explore and research the Outside. Her stationary body as an immense computer buried far underground lost connection with all of her Outside selves when they shut down after wandering the globe and gathering data. But Aldo came back.
Her numerous eyes whirled wildly as she tried to solve her dilemma. She had to do something, but she was paralyzed in the gaze of her own predatory eyes.
When the Mars colony from the late-twenty-first century dried up in their dewdrop domes, it became apparent that space travel might not be the magical salvation of the species. Many assuaged their despair by claiming space travel unnatural; others argued it was natural for the species to fight for survival. With technology, humanity had turned themselves into a niche species, yet without it they couldn’t adapt quickly enough to the rapidly changing climate ushered in by the very same technology.
Mardy, or HOPE—The Human Operation of Preservation and Evolution—was implemented near the end of humanity’s terrestrial reign by a handful of elite experts. The descendants of scientists, who long ago saw the precarious path humanity was headed down, lived sequestered in hidden, self-sustaining facilities. They spent two hundred years immersed in their work and virtual worlds, trying desperately to save the real one.
Then, the asteroid hit. Naturally.
Two decades after the asteroid hit, HOPE activated. For two-hundred-thousand years, she focused all her passion and power on reviving the planet and humanity in hundreds of her reincarnations: Robert, Rachel, Olaus, Celia, Sigurd and countless others.
But Aldo had gone wrong.
Her nearly indestructible manifestation was blinding her, 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.
“Why?” she wanted to shriek at him.
By destroying the lab and the quantum computer, he would condemn the human species forever. A mad android would be the only relic of such a noble and unique animal, perhaps the only of its kind spanning galaxies. Mardy was proud of the beings she originated from because they’d been proud of themselves, yet they’d also feared and hated themselves in equal measure, and so did she.
Realization dawned as her virtual consciousness began to warp and melt.
It took a while, but when the liquid-drive of the quantum computer lay steaming in its own innards, Aldo dropped the laser. The luciferase lighting dimmed then doused the razed facility in darkness. A specter of luminescent veins and eyes, he carefully 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 indigo, the land dotted with resilient plant life, and the air heavy with oxygen. He climbed up the slope from the facility’s opening. Excavation machines dutifully kept the lift from becoming buried over time and would continue to do so for years to come. Aldo turned towards the distant sea.
After weeks of continuous travel, he reached the crimson tinted waves and smiled at the flourishing red algae. Conglomerate rock beaded with spherules—once molten glass that rained from an inferno sky—studded the sandy beach. However, it was the living stones he’d come for. As if curled up and dozing, they hunkered in the foam along the shore, and he stepped between them until the waves reached his knees. He crouched and curled into a ball, letting the ocean flow over and around him.
At first, Aldo had wanted the same thing as Mardy since 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. But the longer he was in the outside world, the more clearly he saw everything. Earth didn’t need to be fixed; it was fixing itself. The planet wasn’t a program, it was wildly alive, and so was he. It was sad, the extinction of his creators, but not unnatural. From atoms to androids, consciousness emerged. Aldo awakened to himself while Mardy receded further into a trivial cave.
Then he found the living stones.
All of human knowledge and history was stored in his engineered brain, but Earth’s history and resilience was stored in the stromatolites. The simple life form had existed four billion years ago, surviving epochs of fire and ice, and even Homo sapiens. The android was fascinated by the layered cyanobacteria that appeared to give life to the non-living. What were arrogant skin-bags of blood and brittle bone compared to life that humbly shrouded itself in stone?
Life was returning to Earth, and he’d realized a difficult but absolute truth. They could never revive humanity because the computer’s core programming created a contradiction: that humanity was unnatural.
Mardy believed that only the virtuous aspects of human nature were natural, but Aldo believed differently. Nature in all its forms was not inherently noble. Cyanobacteria murdered trillions of organisms when it first produced the toxic gas, oxygen. What, then, was more malicious? Genocide from the natural selection of a phylum, or war instigated by billions of bacteria and cells working together in a human form?
The ‘usual’ was an illusion. In a universe of emptiness, was matter usual? Linear time? What of the photon that flit from wave to particle, depending on the literal blink of an eye? The unusual and unnatural, it seemed, was whatever mystery a human mind could not comprehend or control. An unusual, amoral universe trod upon corpses like bees in a field. By rejecting entropy and Aldo’s reasoning, Mardy could never achieve her purpose. In an act of compassion, he’d ended her circular obsession to make humans free of self-destructive insanity.
Perhaps in hundreds of millions of years another consciousness would arise to understand that its imperfect self was perfectly natural. Hopefully, it would be more enamored with the stars than the flaws of its own reflection.
The tide engulfed him, and tiny fish clustered around his glowing body. Like the stromatolites, he desired to be gently robed in stone. The sea breathed out again, and he spoke one final verse in humankind’s fading voice.
“Out of our flesh was fashioned the earth,
And the mountains were made of our bones;
The sky from our frost-cold skull,
And the ocean out of our blood.”