Day 4: June 4, 2106
The weather turned nasty last night. Huge storms rolled in from the west. I know there are endless forests to the horizon broken only by now-abandoned agricultural preserves. The wind began to tug and play, but swiftly the rain came, forcing me back into Gyges.
My ship holds rations for over a year, of course, since that was to be the duration of my stay in the vicinity of 61 Cygni. Still I wonder what I will do when my year is up. Those fields out there, the agricultural preserves, are empty. The automatic agricultural machinery is not working. Why should it? The earth is empty.
I asked Gyges to scan all bands again, but of course there is still no human radio traffic in the solar system. This electromagnetic silence is stranger than the empty corridors of Chicago's warren. Gyges tells me, though, that there is more high-speed data traffic than there was a few days ago. The network is coming alive. She can sense laser, microwave, even fiberoptic traffic, but much of the technology has changed since she was built. Since she and I left for the stars.
She cannot enter. She has tried to make herself known to Worldnet, to Geneva Node, to Central Processing. They do not hear. Her technology is too old, obsolete. Her AI is too limited. She is a ghost in the world, invisible.
Like myself. Except for my tenuous contact through Homer I too am a ghost, wandering the empty corridors, the silent world.
On the surface next to my ship I listened to the wind, to birds, to the cry of the coyote.
There were certainly no coyotes near Chicago when I left! I remember them only from my childhood in Idaho. The wind rose and soon drowned out their howling.
I came inside and listened again to the tapes Gyges made for me; again I heard Peter's name. I still don't understand this.
On Gyges' external video the storm lashed. Lightning flashes illuminated the glistening side of the dome. I see Gyges reflected there momentarily. I could use her sensors to learn a great deal about this planet, but what is the point? I was born here. It is already known.
I'd spent ten years training for the 61 Cygni mission, even before such a voyage was a remote dream. I'd worked through college and graduate school in astrophysics (MIT) by the time I was twenty-two. Then I went to Intercorp's NASA division and suggested a ramscoop mission. With both the new cryofield technology and the axion ramscoop it was an obvious thing to do. Almost before I knew it they were packing me into the field.
I don't know what to feel now. The mission I trained for failed. I have leaped over 100 years into my own future, and find it more empty and solitary than Gyges would ever have been orbiting another star. Then at least I would have known I would be returning to a world full of people, ready to welcome me as a hero.
We knew more real time than subjective time would pass, of course. The Lorentz-FitzGerald equations told us that long ago. But we couldn't predict how efficient the Gyges scoop would be, how close we would come to light speed, so we couldn't say how much time would pass. And since I was in the cryofield anyway, it didn't matter. We thought.
But too much time has passed, that is certain. Yet I am not sure, given the opportunity, that I would have wanted to live in Peter's world.
The storm still raged this morning as I made my way back into the city. I was soaked in the short time it took me to reach the dome. Inside the silence as I descended the frozen escalator was sudden, almost a physical blow.
Once more I walked the aisles. I began to think I should bury these people, put them away in the earth. There weren't many, just six in all; they would be light and not difficult to carry. Perhaps tomorrow.
The dust in unused corridors still mounded in those strange dune shapes, still rose and fell behind me. The rooms opened one into another. The walls were, as I had learned, configurable, though not without mechanical help. This warren no doubt changed from day to day when it was occupied. I counted seventeen levels down before I could go no farther.
On level fifteen I found a cabinet containing some Mindlink XV3-2044 caps. I carried one back to the terminal and showed it to Local Node AI (the figure, still faceless, is disconcerting to look at). Local Node seemed pleased and sent me to Central Processing.
CP didn't bother with a figure, and still offered only text and graphic communication. But it told me to try on the Mindlink, so I did.
I don't think I can describe the pain. It was in my head, of course, but it was much larger than that, too, as if my head had grown, had expanded exponentially, and now included everything in this room, the terminal, the console, the halls and doorways, the life support tents with their mummified bodies, the dome on the surface, everything. Images crashed onto me: empty streets littered with printout, bathrooms, strange machinery, vehicles settling, data icons and storage crystals, lines growing like superheated bacterial colonies, making connections with intense flashes of painful light, smells of burning wood, onions, decayed meat, dried kelp, salt, and worse, smells of things that were not smells at all, but sounds like brass or air-conditioning, telephones and shrill cries of pain.
I tore the cap off my head. Elapsed time was less than two seconds. It had seemed like a day.
Central Processing asked me to wait. What else could I do? My head was pounding, my ears ached, I could barely see through the haze of darkness behind my eyes. I waited.
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All text © 1986 Rob Swiggart. "Portal : A Dataspace Retrieval" is available courtesy of the Author's Guild Backprint Programme. ISBN: 0595197841All programming and software © 2002 Salim Fadhley. Released under the GPL. Code available on request.
Updated: Sun Apr 14 2002
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