Captain Levi Metcalfe woke up from his rest period, or nap as he called it, rejuvenated as usual from his thirty minutes of stand-down mode. Being the first E-human had its pluses and minuses. Levi only required thirty minutes every few days to allow the nanobots in his body and brain time to rid it of built-up fatigue and toxins. The brief rest also helped him to preserve his sanity and take some quiet time. Levi no longer had an intestinal tract since the 'bots converted energy intake much more efficiently. He also had absolute memory. Aboard ship, the artificially intelligent machines Sonny and Alice had explained that memories were like paths to events. The typical human did not often recall memories from the distant past like, say, childhood. Those paths become choked from disuse and do not point the way to those memories plainly. When a person summons a memory more often, the more well-worn the road is and the more permanent the memory. The 'bots cleared those paths, so a person had access to all their memories. Yet, he thought, some things should remain forgotten.
Becoming an E-human was experimental. In fact, out of everyone in the military back on Earth, the only successful candidate had been Levi. The previous candidate had not fared well. Unfortunately, he could not assimilate the extensive information which flooded him in the beginning, and his brain had, figuratively speaking, turned into a slushy. Levi could process information almost as fast as Sonny or Alice. Combined with a direct data pipe to the A.I. machines, the captain had become the smartest human alive. The captain had realized early on Sonny was quite correct about having an E-human at the helm. Committees and staff meetings were too slow to carry out decisions in critical situations. But to him, decisions came lightning-fast and accurate. This was the main reason that Sonny had wanted an E-human in command of the Atlantis, the first and last Ark Class ship that had saved humanity from extinction by the neutron star that had decimated his home solar system some eight months ago. Today the Atlantis was orbiting Searth, establishing the first stages of determining suitability for a new home for the homeless humans.
Levi stood up, poured himself an orange juice, and picked up a vitamin. As he downed the last of his juice, he noticed Admiral Leonard Johnson approach his apartment door. The captain preferred to monitor the hallway outside his door when he expected company. He could tap into any feeds that were available to either Alice or Sonny. Everybody else could too, except that he alone did not require a keyboard or use verbal commands. This allowed him convenient omniscience aboard his ship. He ordered the door to open as the admiral strolled up to it.
“Come in, Admiral. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“You realize that spooks me when you do that, right?”
Levi wore a mischievous smile. “It is one of the guilty pleasures I indulge from time to time.”
Admiral Johnson responded with a friendly jab. “Yes, pour me some of your coffee.”
Things like coffee and orange juice were high-demand commodities aboard ship. Atlantis grew orange trees and coffee beans, but not enough to serve the needs of everyone for caffeine and breakfast drinks. Those things had to be rationed. The captain, of course, had a generous budget even though he hardly ate or drank.
“That reminds me,” Levi began as he poured the admiral his coffee. “I realize you have been quite a busy bee since pulling into Searth orbit. I drink hardly any coffee. It is more for my guests than for myself. I have delivered a memo to the quartermaster to adjust my allocation of coffee and curtail it to ten percent of the current budget. You can have the other ninety percent, Leo.”
“I have grown accustomed to doing with less on this trip,” the admiral replied.
“Yes, but as I mentioned, you have been much busier in the last month, keeping longer hours and receiving more guests. People will be lining up at your door to speak with you so they can have a cup of coffee!” Levi joked.
The Atlantis, along with three smaller companion ships, had spent the last three or four months threading their way through the HS 40307 system’s debris field to their intended target. Sorties were always coming and going on various missions. Some ran ahead to Searth, the sixth planet from this sun, and others went to survey the planetary neighborhood more closely. Upon penetrating the system, more and more duties were transferring from the captain to the admiral, as he was responsible for military operations.
“Well, I can’t argue with an E-brain, can I? I appreciate your generosity, Levi. Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?” He was referring to the briefings they had with each other. These meetings had become frequent since pulling into the system and starting to transition their duties. Meetings like today served to keep them on the same page and preserved continuity with the crew. The admiral continued. “As you already realize, we have been sending out sorties for some time. Geologists and construction crews have established mining operations and commenced setting up on both moons. Another sortie is collecting hydrogen to fuel the power plants from the nearby gas giant.
“Specialists have been down to the planet. The teams are employing the new exoskeleton overlays to their suits to help them move around in twice the gravity of Earth. Strict protocols will remain in place concerning interacting with the planet until microbiology and the other sciences give the green light.”
“Yes,” Levi replied. “I have received the reports. They prefer to remain on the surface a whole Searth year to make sure any seasonal changes do not trigger distribution events that could whip up microbes not detected right away.”
“Correct,” the admiral continued. “It is like the allergy seasons on Earth: allergens get stirred up every spring. Flora blooms and releases spores, mold and pollen distributed by the winds of spring. Those allergens affect some sensitive people. The Searth year is equivalent to 297 Earth days, so we are going to be here awhile.”
“Atlantis could leave sooner,” the captain added. “If we get our survey and landing colony on the ground before then, Atlantis could be off on the Earth rescue mission.”
Admiral Johnson concurred. “The timetable is a little soft right now, but we should be self-sufficient inside of seven months. Construction crews have already been down and consulted with geology and the survey team.” The admiral was proud of his teams and how they had responded once the Council had pulled the trigger for the Searth mission. “Construction of the first dome starts in a few days. It should take four or five months. Our crew chiefs should have the other support facilities completed by then.”
“Excellent, Admiral.” Levi was impressed by Johnson’s ability to get things done. “The ship’s resources continue to be at your disposal. The crew will assist you with whatever you need to get things in order. Every day that we can shave from the departure date of the Atlantis may mean the difference between life and death.”
Leo pointed out the caveat. “You do realize that it may be a wasted effort.”
“No, Leo. Going back to Earth may be a wasted trip, but never a wasted effort when it comes to our home world.”
The admiral was remorseful, “I misspoke, I’m sorry, Levi. It was a poor choice of words. Of course it will not be a wasted effort. I wish you and your crew good hunting. Were there any other concerns from your end?”
“Only that since we made orbit a month ago, we have been concentrating on maintenance and repair, as are the other captains on their ships. Atlantis is a big ship. However, we will be ready well before departure. What concerns us is whether resources are going to be available to the ships for all of those maintenances and repairs while construction is underway.”
Leo leaned back in his chair. “Filling supply requests will be a problem at first, but I’m sure we can negotiate a bargain. As production gets ramped up, you will notice that there will be plenty for everybody.”
Levi rose. “We will keep a close eye on that front. I had better let you go, as I have a Council meeting in half an hour. I will, of course, keep you apprised of our needs. Is meeting with you next month, same day, and time okay?”
“Yes, I believe so. Keep up the good work, Captain!”
“Thank you, sir. Good luck with your projects.”
The admiral turned and left the captain’s quarters. Levi took his data pad to prepare for the meeting. Then someone knocked at the virtual apartment door his mind had created since his awakening. His virtual apartment was a construct that served as the meeting place where he would confer with the machines. After authenticating the visitor with a variety of mathematical and encryption techniques, he announced, “Come in, Alice.”
Alice, the second most powerful artificial intelligence, had become sentient not long after Sonny. The two machines had been instrumental in aiding humanity achieve their goal of building Atlantis and traveling to the stars, escaping death by the neutron star. Periodically, the humans questioned the machines’ loyalty to them. Since the machines could forecast accurately far into the future, humanity feared their present was being manipulated to some end. Most people felt the machines’ ultimate motives were unfavorable for the humans. However, Sonny and Alice insisted they had looked far into the future, played out many scenarios, and concluded that the best outcome for the machines was in collaborating with the humans. Creating artificial intelligence had become a natural step in technological evolution; evolving together, they claimed, was best. The machines were grateful the humans had created them and had a sense of loyalty. Humans were slow, but the machines were very patient.
Alice, in stark contrast to Sonny’s boyish avatar, seemed like Levi's mother. The avatar was similar, but with not quite the same features. The sight unnerved him a bit.
Alice stated, “I did not want to interrupt your meeting with the admiral, so I waited to speak with you.” Waiting is not really in the machine’s vocabulary. Most likely, she had tended to some ten thousand things in the interim minutes before the communication event with Levi.
Levi stared at her closely. “You know, Alice, I’ve only seen you a handful of occasions. I have to ask you, why do you resemble my mother?”
“Sonny chose an avatar more emotionally general for your comfort, whereas I chose specific features. My avatar is an amalgam of many females including your mother, whom you have fond memories of.”
“Oh, I see the resemblance now.” He studied her with an analytical eye. Levi had seen the whole picture instead of the pieces. “So, what’s up, Alice?”
“I needed to give you an update on a few things.”
“You realize I update myself on the ships’ status since becoming an E-human.” He was picking up red flags in this conversation. Alice was stalling about something. It was not the machine’s nature to be indirect.
Alice spread her arms out as she clarified. “That is precisely the topic I desire to discuss with you. Sonny and I have worked out a method that will allow any human to become an E-human.”
Levi sat down heavily on the couch. “Why didn’t you consult with the Council or the sciences section?”
“It is because you are an E-human, Levi. There are ethical situations we machines are ambivalent about. We judged it best to defer these concerns to you in determining the speed at which it can be implemented. Currently, the statistics are unfavorable for general dissemination of this information.”
Levi was unsure where this was leading. “What information?”
“Immortality,” Alice said flatly.
“Oh, that!” He felt stupid overlooking the obvious.
“We are unsure how immortality will define the evolutionary landscape. We know immortality has always been desirable to humans. It is not clear how emotional evolution should take place given this situation. We recognize the psychology of the human animal, but this is new territory for which Sonny and I are seeking clarification.”
Levi’s interest piqued. “About what, specifically?”
“Will everyone want immortality? Will this establish a new class dividing humans? Will you stop bearing children? Immortality may accentuate some emotions inherent in yourselves while others may wither away. Will love and empathy fade over time? And is that a bad outcome?”
“Is that all?” he replied sarcastically.
Alice gazed at the captain intensely. Her curiosity had some urgency to it. “No, there are many more questions.”
Leaning back on the couch, Levi thought for a second. “Well, about human motivations and emotions, you see, we humans are not the most predictable thing in the universe. It would be a lot easier for humans to evolve and progress if we were a hive-mind species. Because we are not, events are colored by the way we contemplate and recall other experiences. Each person looks at the same situation through the spectacles of their individual experiences. These experiences are unique, like fingerprints. In these areas, I wouldn’t be better at prediction than you would be already. However, I do have some advice. By proceeding with this at a slower pace, the interval of prediction is smaller and is managed easier. This is how humans behave when confronted with indecision or uncertainty; people go slower, so any fluctuations are minor instead of major and are more manageable, like wading slowly into the water so as not to cause waves rather than rushing through the water and disturbing the whole pool.”
“Yes. It had occurred to us,” Alice responded. “We do not wish to establish a distracting element for humanity at a time that requires focus.”
“What percentage of the crew has had the Elixir?” Levi inquired about the nanobot preparation, much like Levi’s 'bots with the exception they didn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. The net effect on the crew was perfect health and longevity of life, but not immortality.
“About 11.445 percent,” she replied.
“About?” Levi was amused at her approximation. “Well, there is your answer. Work this out in stages. Let’s not plunge right into E-human evolution. Get some numbers about how receptive people are about the Elixir. Wait until they accumulate a clear majority before springing the next step on them. You will perceive at that point whether they are receptive to immortality. Sonny said humans are not very responsive to significant changes, especially the ones they don’t quite understand. You may be able to work this out to your advantage.”
“Thank you, Captain Metcalfe. This has provided us some topics to analyze.”
“You mean food for thought?”
“Yes. Although not as accurate.” Levi noticed a little inflection of amusement in Alice’s voice. “I have requested a car for you. You do not wish to be late to the Council meeting."
“Thanks, Alice. If you have any more questions on this topic, feel free to ask.”
“Certainly, Captain Metcalfe. Your car will be at the boarding station in 3.27 minutes.”
“Alice,” Levi let out a tired sigh. “You can call me Levi when you are in my head. Address me as Captain Metcalfe when using the ship’s speakers and public-address system.”
“Later, Alice.” Alice let herself out as Levi made for the door of his physical apartment. The whole exchange between them had lasted only 0.78 seconds. Levi sometimes wished he could communicate with his fellows that fast. Enhancement could have profound consequences for humans as a species. To be able to connect and multi-task as Levi did would make humans more communal. People would become more of a hive-mind. Instead of taking years to reach a decision, they could accomplish it in a few days. Maybe someday soon he would get his wish. An interesting thought indeed!
As he traveled to his destination at the other end of the ship, he received calls from his staff and commanders about the status of ship maintenance and repairs and delegated the resulting tasks to his department heads. Levi also conversed with the other captains about any assistance Atlantis could provide for them. “You’re welcome, Bill," he replied to one of them. "We realize you don’t have as much support built into your craft as the Atlantis does. I prefer to keep my crew busy, so if you require any shuttles, mining support or other transportation requirements, I’m your guy. If you let us know your raw material needs, we can be sure to mine these for you as well. I would like to train your men in these procedures now that we are not on the move. The colony will require all the expertise it can pick up. Training is even more necessary if you decide to continue on your own way.”
“I don’t want to sound like the poor cousin.” Bill Collier from the Wanderer sometimes became annoyed with the Big Brother attitude. They had all worked very hard and in secret behind the moon while they built Atlantis. There were four smaller ships assembled, approximately two miles long. Two of them, the Allenbrant and the York, had ventured together on their own journey. The Wanderer and the Valiant decided to tag along with Atlantis and her sister ship, the Intrepid. Formally a scale test ship, at more than a mile long the Intrepid had proved too useful to let go. The four ships’ original intentions were to travel alone on their own journeys without the Atlantis. When Sonny discovered their activities behind the moon, to their surprise, the Consortium requested them to join the group. It had been a difficult decision. These secret ships didn’t quite see eye to eye about the way the Consortium controlled the planet for their own purposes. Since leaving Earth, the Consortium continued as the ship’s Council members. After speaking with Captain Metcalfe, it was plain to Bill that he was a trustworthy and reasonable man. Captain Collier’s opinions had been instrumental in persuading the Wanderer and the Valiant to join with Atlantis on her journey. He had not been sorry.
Levi considered his friend. “They designed the Wanderer and the Valiant more for transporting passengers than for gathering extra resources. I sometimes wonder about the other two ships, and how they may have fared. The people of Atlantis have been fortunate for your company. Humans need to stick together, so you see, it is no trouble at all to provide you with all the assistance we are capable of, for all of our sakes.”
“You continue to be a good steward of the human race. We are grateful.”
“Stop by my quarters sometime and have some coffee.”
“Absolutely. I almost don’t know what coffee tastes like any more. I hope I can take the caffeine buzz afterward.” Captain Collier chuckled.