Thousands of years after leaving earth the human colonies explore their old planet, sending a legion of androids to penetrate the mysterious atmosphere.
Echoes | Head
They arrived in a swarm across the early morning sky. As the sun placed its gentle touch across the horizon, scattering the subtle greys and pinks of dawn, ten thousand silver forms swept down. Their speed, and reflective skins spread a burst of burnished colour across the leafy canopy of the forest-strewn planet.
They fanned out, their humanoid form perfectly adapted to the planet of the ancestors, the few lucky humans who had abandoned the planet as it crumbled under the weight of a 20 billion population, the destruction of all habitat, and the brutal extraction of minerals, deep into the mantle. The planetary colonies had been sent out, once interstellar travel had become possible. The freak discovery of a missing element, a recombining mineral that could both burn and regenerate, allowed humanity to plot its escape to the stars.
Over ten thousand years had passed since then. In the year 4015 news reached the colonies near Barnards Star and Wolf 359, that no life existed on earth. All humans had either left, or died of asphyxiation. It became a husk, a large ball of inert rock, and joined the aimless existence of the smaller meteors that hurled around the solar system.
By the year 6000 earth had become a myth, a cautionary tale for bedtime stories. The human species, with its occasional dependent animals, had scattered across the galaxy, found life in various forms, and adapted to a wide span of atmospheres. The one condition they all shared, across thousands of parsecs of space, was the need to live in sealed domes, designed for small tribes and city states, towns, villages and nations. The domes required sustainable living, disciplined lifestyle, and many yearned to hear the stories of old earth, of the freedoms and the flora, the fractal chaos of life. The leaders, elected, as ever by tiny minorities of people, tried hard to keep such stories at bay, to explain the consequences of freedoms exercised too freely, of flora that had been defoliated to such an extent that it was destroyed by the very people that yearned for its company. Humanity now lived in the giant sealed containers, with polished surfaces, grid designed structures, carefully positioned ornaments of nature. The domes kept all forms of life, human, organic and android, clean and ordered.
And so, the colonies expanded outwards. Naturally enough and for different reasons, both scientists and the romantically inclined turned their attention to the old planet; the desire to explore their origins, to study its geology again, to measure the theories of decay and adaptation became too strong to resist. Sophisticated androids, human shaped explorer droids were sent out to explore the relic of the human race. They did not require a ship, for each legion of 1000 droids would combine into a single craft, only separating when they closed in on their target.
“Expo 40 to Base.” The android slowed its propulsion unit and began to glide, using the upper winds of old Earth to save energy.
“I hear you.” The android base was located on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, and had nestled safely within its temporary dome, so that Captain Shaman and his Chief Pilot Ester could be protected by distance from any danger on the earth. The base used the energy of the sun to relay the messages from the explorer droids to the next relay station, all the way across the galaxy to the command centre on Osirus, just within the realm of Barnard’s Star.
“Flying low over the northern sectors. Cannot see the ground yet.”
“Explain Expo 40.”
“Just a vast plain of green.” The droid boosted its jets. The other droids had spread out across the surface of the earth.
“Switch to visuals.” The droid blinked, activating the link. Everything would be recorded anyway, so this seemed wasteful.
“Oh, that green, it’s a canopy.” the excited tone of the Captain sputtered into the communication chip in the silver head of Expo 40.
“So this is a forest. They’re leaves. So many different shapes and sizes, colours.”
“Or a jungle.” Expo 40 mentally flicked through the database in its fusion harnessed memory, locating the sections on the Amazon rainforest, and the great forests of Europe in the early years of human civilization.
“Looks like the planet has found a way of surviving without us.” Chief Pilot Ester looked across at the Captain, as they flicked through streaming video from the eyes of the thousands of explorer droids.
“Yeah, and its the same all over.” The Captain checked the images, each one the same, as every droid flew over a dense surface of green foliage.
“It’s like an epidermis.” The pilot leaned into the screen. “protecting the bones and the organs of the planet.
“What, like flesh?! That’s a bit fanciful.” The captain’s dismissive tone was designed to annoy his younger, cleverer, but more junior companion.
“Well, let’s see.” Pilot Ester switched her screen to Expo 40 whose signal was the strongest of the explorers.
“I’m going to penetrate the canopy. The others should hold back until all is safe.” Expo 40 acted on his preprogrammed mission plan.
The silver form drifted down, six propulsion jets firing cautiously, allowing the android to level off and stand on the canopy, to test the leaves. He switched off the foot thrusters and placed a foot carefully down, resting onto the green.
“The substrate is going brown.” He reported back. “I think the heat of my feet is decomposing the organic matter.”
“Yeah, I’d call that burning.” The captain smiled conspiratorially at his pilot.
“This canopy is soft in places, but more solid in others. Branches, if my scanners are correct. I’m going to go in further.”
Expo 40 then made his first, and only mistake, He turned off the other thrusters, and suddenly plummeted through the greenery. The images he sent back during in his long fall were fast sequences of trunks and leaves, as the android clattered down, crashing into thick branches. He tried to cushion his fall, but the thrusters shot with flames and set fire to the trees, still he crashed downwards trying to slow his hurling descent until, just before hitting the ground he slammed into a a final, obtruding branch, and severed his neck.
“Mayday, mayday.” Expo 40’s head rolled across the gnarled floor of the forest, nestling finally amongst a crop of grasses that strained for sight of the sun through the occasional gaps in the fronds above.
“This world is not habitable. I am being attacked.”
“What’s happening?” The captain shouted at the screen, seeing an upside down world, full of static interrupted by the android’s jerking tone.
Expo 40s synthetic cables, now exposed to the forest air waved gently in. “Attacked…” His damaged transmitter shut down, halfway through the sentence.
“Ok, let’s pull them all out.” The Captain leaned over and issued the command to the thousands of other androids.
“What a disaster, all this way, for nothing.” The Chief Pilot prepared the station for departure.
On earth, the swarm of androids lifted back into the sky, combining into a series of larger shapes, to create the thrust required to escape the earth’s atmosphere.
And below them, the broken body of Expo 40 remained, his head, finishing its sentence, “it’s a slow attack. I calculate that in 300 earth years, the compound of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen will have destroyed all my synthetic parts.
The android, seeing the earth upside down, continued to record the events around it while suffering the slow attack of natural decay. In the years that followed it saw the sunrises, and sunsets, the rains of spring and the flowers of summer, the rhythm of the seasons that brought the deer and the birds, the old ones who died, the young ones who were born, and Expo 40 came to understand that even though his own, synthetic life would end, his constituent parts would at least be claimed into the mineral store of this old earth, renewed now without the interference of humanity.
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Elise Wells (for the end credits to podcast links for iTunes and Stitcher), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
More next week…
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