The feeds from Earth had collapsed, from an unscalable wall of information down to fragments. The fragments weren’t pretty, either. “Come on, man,” Doug said. “Don’t keep looking at that, it’ll torture you.”
“I know, but I can’t stop. It’s just … ” Rand said as he minimized his interface. Doug was right, even outside their tower he couldn’t let his remote connection go. After the microfarmers struggling to feed everyone and the life support techs struggling with oxygen and CO2 balances, their jobs had all become the most important in the colony. The network and connection to the Heimdallr arrays were the only link to Earth, and everyone in the place was trying to get at them for updates. Administrator Cheung had their backs and told them to ignore the individual requests. They answered with a blanket “the administrator will provide an update to everyone soon.” It wasn’t exactly having a calming effect on the other colonists. Rand understood why they held most of it back. If most people saw what Allie, Doug, and him had been watching they’d probably lose their will to live. Releasing general reports of the situation on earth slowly kept the emotional devastation more controlled.
Doug and Rand themselves were both on the first break they’d had for awhile, leaving Allie in control of the tower for awhile. People were staggering around the promenade that connected the colony’s command center modules to the habitation modules and then the deeper science labs. It served as both a meeting place, a lounge, and a crucial bridge to the different parts of the Europan colony. Its expansive windows peeked just under the frozen surface of Europa’s oceans. Anyone who sat in the promenade’s furniture could see into the clear expanse of water. Rand knew there were single-celled critters out there, the first true “Alien” life humanity had discovered. He almost wished he could see them and reassure himself about the resilience of life after watching so much death. “Think you’ll sleep?” Doug said. “Allie said she’s got it for the next six hours, so it’s okay if you want to.”
“And what?” Rand said. “Dream about the Ehvow killing everyone I’ve ever known, destroying our cities, coming for us next? I got maybe three hours in two days ago and it was all fire and those screaming Thornseeds in my head. That’s just from watching the video. I can’t imagine if you saw the real thing.”
“You can either dream them or start hallucinating them from sleep deprivation,” Doug said. They both took a sip of their icy drinks. “I really wish this was something besides water.”
“Get used to it,” Rand said. “I think it’s going to be quite awhile before Administrator Cheung lifts that lockdown on the alcohol.”
“It’s bullshit,” Doug said, downing the rest of his water and sitting the cup in one of the receptacles for the cleaning drones.
“I want a drink, sure,” Rand said. “But could you stop? I don’t know if I could. So many of these people have lost everyone. They’d drink themselves to death given the chance, or at least to alcohol poisoning.”
“It’s no good having them jittery and on edge either, though,” Doug said. “Perhaps running out of all the alcohol and having none left would be the most depressing thing of all, though. I guess knowing it exists, even locked down in the supply vault, is some kind of comfort.”
“Please, Doug,” Rand said. “We have chemical engineers, biologists, and micro-farmers in this colony. If we’re still alive three months from now and they haven’t figured out to make some kind of hooch in secret I’m going to be thoroughly disappointed.”
“Humanity always finds a way,” Doug said. “Didn’t you hear the speech from the illustrious Martian colony administrator earlier today?”
“Oh god, don’t remind me,” Rand said. “Putting himself out there like he’s the boss of all of us since he spoke up first.”
“Do you think that stuff he talked about was all a bluff or real?” Doug asked.
“It’s real,” Rand said, letting himself get lost in the water. “They’ve been sending small-scale encrypted data packages back and forth between us and Mars all day.”
“Really? Some of it I understand, like the rationing part,” Doug said. “They never took those final steps to making us self-sufficient, after all. Damn ‘austerity measures.’ But experimental body modification? GMOing the microfarms even more than they already are to upscale food production? Then there’s the weird tirade about abolishing intellectual property, voiding all the license agreements on all the tech and data we can get our hands on, everyone’s work now being in the public domain. It started out like your typical motivational rally the troops kind of thing and then turned into a political manifesto.”
“Listen, Doug,” Rand said, his eyes following a few of the life support techs and botanists walking by. They were all spending most of their time down in the microfarms. If the plants and yeasts died out, it was game over. “Maybe it was abrupt and high-concept, but I understand where Mars was coming from. The one thing we have a lot of here and there on Mars are the people who could make that happen. Engineers, researchers, and technicians. All of them engaged in some sort of project related directly or indirectly to surviving environments that are very much not Earth. We’ve got to science our way out of this shit or we’re dead. What was it he said? ‘Our governments, our companies on Earth left a gap, and we have to close it.’ I already picked up a lot of message traffic about some cobalt crystal lung enhancement they’re going to be injecting into all us to make us store oxygen better and take pressure off the life support systems. It’s supposed to be an IEI proprietary technology, but Nguyen and our own Administrator Cheung are past caring about that. Allie was actually talking about how it excited her earlier. That’s only the beginning. I saw mention of stuff for hearts and eyes. I’m sure even more will come. The botanists, farmers, and exobiologists are having a huge debate about releasing GMO strands of seaweed out there for harvest. It would make the food problem much less scary and they’ve already spent the last five years engineering a genetic variant that can take the conditions.”
“Out there out there?” Doug asked, pointing at the aquatic vista before them.
“Yep, that out there,” Rand said. “It’s a big ethics problem because it might make the critters out there native to Europa extinct, but ethics is not exactly the strongest place to argue from right now.”
“I guess I never went in for all that post-human garbage,” Doug said. “People have been talking about post-humanity in some form or another for over 100 years, and I guess we’re finally here. I was hoping to just retire and die an ignorant old man on Earth.”
“Sorry about that, by the way,” Rand said. “I didn’t say anything before because I know you were …”
“Forget it,” Doug said. “I’m here forever. We’re all here forever.” He got up and walked across the promenade, putting his hand against the promenade window. Rand’s eyes grew heavy as he watched Doug stand there. “At least it’s a hell of a view.”
Rand raised his water to Doug from his slouched position. “To a hell of a view,” Rand said. “And the fact that we’re never running out of water, either.”
“Rand, I’m going to bed,” Doug said, after a snorting chuckle. “Being a little further along in the years than you, I’m not physically capable of continuing on like this. Sit here, stare at water and stress out if you want, but I’ll see you later.”
“Sure, whatever,” Rand said. Doug waved goodbye to him and disappeared. A few more people passed in front of Rand, and he found himself nodding off. Half-dreams began to flood his half-conscious mind, not of Earth being torn to pieces but of delicious multi-colored seaweed monsters swimming in the oceanic world outside the colony.
ESA/Hubble & NASA