Preview of Fallback: Arrival

Since I haven’t posted much lately, I decided that I’d rather put up some incomplete chapters than have folks assume I’m dead.  This is a particularly breeding-centric piece which I started as a comic book storyboard years ago, then decided a while back to convert to a form I’m actually experienced at producing. I kinda want to do a comic version of this in DAZ3D some day, but that’d be when I get around to learning the ins and outs.

Fallback: Arrival

By Haramiru ( )
January 20, 2337
Lights flickered on in the halls of the colony ship Agamemnon for the first time in 108 years. Huge atmospheric compressors activated as well, preparing for the long process of cycling out the argon gas which had filled the ship’s idle spaces for its long period of automated dormancy. Robots powered up and began to scuttle around, wiping off dust from their optic sensors and linking back into the central network.  A few had failed to reactivate, but the system had been correctly scaled such that these losses were inconsequential. A few minutes later, the ship’s retro thrusters ignited, beginning the months-long process of braking so that it could make a long, lazy spiral into the alien solar system and the Earth-like planet within.
A little over a century earlier, the Agamemnon and her sister ships had launched, with to plant the first of Earth’s interstellar colonies. The ship was designed to land with 1,800 people, and reach a population size of 12 million within the first five years if conditions permitted. But at the moment, there was only one live crew member.
Industrial noises filled the ship’s corridors as droids unsealed shipping containers and began to rearrange the colony ship’s interior. In the middle of it all, a single cryogenic stasis tube began whirring to life in the medical bay. Slush drained out of the capsule and into storage tanks below, continuing until the tube’s occupant was only coated in a thin layer of fluid. The med bay and its immediate vicinity were the only rooms with a breathable atmosphere at this point – the ship’s life support system wouldn’t begin replacing the fire-safe and non-oxidizing argon/co2 atmosphere until later, when the rest of the crew was revived. The ship presently didn’t have full confidence that would happen.
The capsule hissed open, and for the first time in a century, its occupant drew air into her lungs. She coughed reflexively, draining fluid from her lungs. She was Kara Reagan – chief medical officer.  Her task was to oversee the development of the colonists’ new bodies within the ship’s dozens of artificial wombs, their ‘birth’ into accelerated growth incubators, and finally download of their minds into freshly hatched clone bodies. The mass required for a suspended animation system was high, and many questioned whether it made sense to bother with even one person in stasis when machines could’ve handled the rebirth process without human interaction.
None of this was at the forefront of Kara’s mind right now, though.  She drew a deep, gasping breath of air and raised her hand, touching her chest.  She wore a thin gray sports bra, darkened nearly to black by the slippery cryo fluid. The medical bay’s cold air reacted with her nipples, and she shivered uncontrollably as her body fought off the hypothermia which lingered after her extended dormancy.
Kara’s tongue parted her lips as she moistened them reflexively in a futile effort to get the taste of cryo fluid out of her mouth. “Status?”, she croaked.
The computer’s voice recited a litany of the main system statuses – life support, propulsion, navigation – all things which she’d been trained to deal with, but not extensively.  All of the ship’s main systems checked out fine, the computer told her, but the mission status was critical.  The ship engineer, whose job was to oversee the ship’s launch, then download his consciousness before his body was euthanized, had sabotaged the mission as soon as the ship passed the point of no return.
“Computer, what did he do?” Kara demanded.
“Engineer Martinez destroyed the gestation pods before submitting to his scheduled euthanasia.”
Kara’s eyes went wide as she screamed out, “What the fuck?”  She sat up from the pod, trailing streamers of grayish fluid from her body. She reached for a nearby towel, her cleavage shining in the ship’s illumination.
“Can the Parthenogenesis system be repaired?” Kara inquired.
“Negative. Engineer Martinez also destroyed all supplies to repair the pods. Evaluation is proceeding presently on whether or not repair is feasible.”
“Shit,” Kara swore. “What the hell was he thinking?”
She rolled out of the stasis pod, swaying drunkenly as she used her muscles for the first time in a century. The first few steps were faltering and uneasy, but it wasn’t long before she was walking at a steady pace. “Computer, do you have any record of why Andy did this?”
“Yes”, the computer replied. “Engineer Martinez stated that his motivation was religious.  His belief is that the human soul cannot be downloaded, and that no souls can come from machines.”
Kara raised her eyebrow and inquired, “Then why did he sign up for this colony ship?  We didn’t need him, dammit!”
“Engineer Martinez stated that he does believe the human mind can be downloaded, just not the soul.  And he believes that the colony’s fallback plan will produce a colony in accordance with his religion’s tenets.”
Kara furrowed her eyebrows as she replied, “Fallback?  Yeah, we all die!  That’s not going to help us any.”
The computer simply replied with, “The system has not concluded that the mission is infeasible.”
Kara shook her head and began to stagger for the door. “I’m going to look at what he did and see if I can do anything.”
Kara dragged herself into the hallway, feeling like she’d just gotten over a serious flu. She remembered the last time she saw Martinez; he was happy and jovial as he sealed her into the cryo tube. Somehow during the six months he was active and supervising their out-system boost, he’d become a religious extremist and sabotaged the mission as a result. She could see why Earth hadn’t sent a second ship with repair parts – the Agamemnon had reflected a huge investment in drive technology, and it had already been under acceleration for some time. If the ship felt it could complete the mission, there was no need to send another. If it considered the mission a failure, the ship would just go dormant again and wait for replacement supplies to arrive in another century – unless of course drive tech had become considerably faster. The colonists’ minds and genomes waiting in the ship’s seed stores wouldn’t know the difference.
Kara had managed to make it to the med bay, and her balance was beginning to return. But when the door slid open, her mouth gaped in horror and her hands white-knuckled on either side of the doorframe.
“Oh no. Andy, you fucking IDIOT!” she screamed as she saw the scene in front of her. The honeycomb like lattice of artificial wombs built into the wall was broken, the machines shattered with glass everywhere. Nutrient tubes had been sliced to ribbons, and scorch marks showed where Andy had taken a cutting torch to the electronic management systems used to regrow the colonists from the zygotes they’d been reduced to. Andy himself was sitting in a chair nearby.
The flight engineer’s body was desiccated by dehydration, but had been otherwise well preserved from decay by the argon atmosphere it had rested in for the past 108 years. He was sprawled in a chair, an electrode still attached to his temple and leading to the colony’s data bank. A long-blackened bloody cut on Andy’s palm showed where he’d gotten the blood to write a message on the wall which said, “No souls from machines”
Kara stomped forward and couldn’t help but slap the corpse’s face, which caused his head to snap off at the neck and roll along the floor. “Damn you, Andy – you just killed us all!”
The computer’s voice spoke up and said, “Although my drones I could construct a single replacement womb with around a 50 percent probability of success, Engineer Martinez poured industrial solvent into all of the onboard stores of synthetic amniotic fluid. It is not possible, given on-board stores, to start the Parthenogenesis project. However, he left the accelerated growth incubators untouched.”
Kara felt dizzy – she located a second chair in the room and plopped down, staring daggers at Andy’s now-headless corpse.
A few seconds of that and Kara started to feel uncomfortable. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself against the chill she now felt in the air. “Computer, what are our next options?”
There was a pause as the ship’s computer analyzed Kara’s physiological responses.  “The first fallback plan is to shut down and park the ship in orbit, and wait for another ship to be launched from Earth. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee another ship will be sent.”
Kara raised her eyebrow. “Why’s that?” she asked.
“A broadcast from Earth fifty years after we launched, stated that they were under attack by an alien species known as the Solrani. There have been no further communications. Broadcasting our status and location back to a potentially occupied planet is not an option.”
Kara sat down, surprise evident on her face. “We could be the last free humans,” she said wonderingly.
“Entirely possible. We have no idea if the other colony ships were successful or not. The other colonies’ transmitters all have the range to reach Earth, but we were the only colony ship dispatched in this direction.  Neither we nor the other colonies have the range to reach each other, as Earth was meant to serve as the central communications hub until the mission is well underway. Thus, we are alone.”
Kara set her jaw resolutely, then paused.  “Computer, what was the fallback plan which Andy wanted us to use?” she asked.
The computer paused for a moment. “The Parthenogenesis system is an artificial womb, in which genetically engineered zygotes grow into human babies. They are then imprinted with the Syncorded neural snapshot of the original colonists during the accelerated growth phase. Although intended for use with an artificial womb, these zygotes can still be implanted into your womb.”
Kara spluttered. “Wait, you mean – me? Computer, that’s ridiculous! Only a few religious cultures still use biological gestation now!”
She sunk into a chair, dazed, resting both her hands over her face.  “Fuck that noise,” she reiterated. “There are 1,800 colonists that need to be born!”
The computer was silent for a few minutes. “Medical officer Reagan, I’m afraid your only other option is to be euthanized to conserve resources. This ship does not maintain adequate cryo resources to sustain you while another ship arrives from Earth – assuming that Earth is even capable of sending one.”
Kara closed her eyes and brought her head back up slowly.  Her eyes were shut, and she slowly opened them as she said, “So – either I somehow miraculously go through 1,800 nine-month biological pregnancies, or you’ll euthanize me?”
“I’ve had a century to develop a plan, Medical officer Reagan. I’ve altered the nano-aug system meant for the artificial wombs, to function in your body. Your pregnancies will last three days each, with priority on birthing female colonists who are highly compatible with the nano-aug system. Their bodies will will reach adult status in 18 days, at which point they in turn will be impregnated. The population growth rate will be factorial, and I anticipate that the colony will be ready for the final wave of children, the male colonists, in under three months.  Assuming that the population growth rate matches my optimal model, you will have only been pregnant 18 times before this is over.”
Kara suddenly felt naked. Her hand unconsciously went to her belly as she said, “That’s still barbaric!”
The computer was silent for a few seconds before it said, “If you have further discussion, please feel free to speak. Otherwise, I will leave you to make your decision. You have an hour before I begin to restore the argon atmosphere, which will have the unfortunate effect of rendering you unable to breathe.”
Kara stayed in the chair for a couple of minutes, then wandered back to the cryo room. One of the walls had a large viewscreen, through which she could see the planet she’d traveled across the stars to reach.  She put her hand to the glass, as if she could reach through to touch the planet. “108 years. 108 years of sleep, and then I die here – never even getting to set foot on the planet. And no one will ever know.”
The computer helpfully chirped up with, “You may take the time to compose a letter, if you wish. If I’m still functional when I next encounter humans, I’ll pass it on to them.”
Kara thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. “Fuck it. Computer, cancel the shutdown. I didn’t spend 108 years in flight just to die here.”

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