Second Novel in the Other Systems Universe
June 1, 3062
FAINT HALOS OF DUST EXTENDED into space from NGC 6543, also known as the Cat’s Eye Nebula. Spiraling, interlocked rings of ejected matter danced to a song the android could hear on the edge of her programmable mind, and the rhythm matched the beat of her automated heart.
Harmonic knots filled her with joy…until a pulse invaded the android’s reverie. Radio waves assaulted her audio membranes and reawakened her consciousness, transporting her sentience back to Earth.
Background noise grew into static. She lowered the current signal, pinching off blasts of indistinguishable din, and discovered overlapping languages. The android sought her native French and heard “Mes frères et sœurs.” Brothers and sisters.
She teased out more words until the message was complete: “Mes frères et sœurs, nous venons en paix et dans le besoin.” Brothers and sisters, we come in peace and in need. “Nous avons retrouvé le chemin de notre planète natale.” We found our way home.
“The lost androids returned?” she asked aloud. All androids referred to each other as brother, sister, or sibling—whether or not they had the same programmer. “It must be them!”
She zoomed her optics from the nebula to Earth. The enlargement algorithms resized the sky as her crafted compound lens flipped to a smaller aperture to allow in less light. Her world shifted into millions of colored pixels. Images smoothed. She could see.
Ceramic tiles had continued to fall through the rotting, scorched wood in the ceiling, but the tenement was the same as it had been the last time her consciousness was on Earth. She rolled to her side and pushed strands of dirty blond hair out of her scarred face. A pigeon clapped its wings; its tiny claws scratched her aging silicone flesh as the bird bounced onto the dirt floor.
She rubbed her corroded knee joints. Using the doorframe, she lifted herself to her full height and held back screaming as she broke through the oxidation. Gazing upon her brothers who still dreamt toward the nebula, she could not remember her name, or her brothers’ names, but serial number EC 302 was embossed with black ink on her left bicep. Her brothers looked the same: inactive burnt flesh, visible indo-skeletons, absent limbs, and each one missing an optic. They were built to be imposing sentinels of this place, but their injuries exposed their weakness. S467’s legs were nothing more than scorched stumps.
S455 had a pigeon nesting between his unmoving chest and arm. She almost pushed it away until she saw the eggs. She let the pigeon be.
The ground vibrated beneath the old tenement. She zoomed her optics, focusing her audio feed to the southeast. A large tether rose toward the heavens on the outskirts of Paris. Small glittering shuttles broke through the atmosphere. She zoomed until she could see beyond the clouds, where an enormous metallic ship flew in a geocentric orbit over the city. Listening closely, she discovered the ship was connected to other ships around Earth.
Over the fleet noise, she heard the never-ending clarion call: “Brothers and sisters, we come in peace and in need. We found our way home.”
EC 302 called out, “I knew The Evolved would return someday. Brothers, wake up!”
Her brothers did not stir.
A moment of panic flooded her mind when her right knee joint slipped and her surroundings slid out of focus. Pigeons flapped in annoyance as she landed face first on the dirt.
She tried to rise, but her legs refused to cooperate.
Muttering in exasperation, she dug her fingers into the floor and pulled herself through the old scorched doorframe to the empty mud-filled street.”
EC 302 had never left Earth, but humans and their intelligent creations once stretched toward the stars. They colonized Luna, Mars, Jupiter’s moons—Europa and Ganymede—and Saturn’s moon—Triton. They explored deeper into the cosmos with interstellar colonist ships. However, when fossil fuels ran out, icecaps melted, and oceans became cemeteries of dead organisms, the colonies of Triton, Europa, and Ganymede collapsed. People flooded back to the inner solar system, fearing they would be without regular supply ships. Mars perished when artificial lights and borosilicate domes failed. People abandoned Luna when the minable titanium ran dry.
The Evolved—androids, bots, and nebulous Artificial Intelligence whose minds stretched beyond understanding—refused to remain on Earth with limited creatures. She remembered her deep sadness when she realized androids like her were marooned on an overcrowded planet with the humans.
EC 302 leaned against the sun-drenched tenement wall to charge the cells in her solar-powered skin. She considered dragging her brothers outside, but a shiny blue shuttle flying through the atmosphere interrupted the thought. There they are!
“Take us,” she called. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
It did not answer. Its hum deepened as it headed west and landed on the roof of a tall building. Three individuals in gray flight suits disembarked to excited, welcoming applause, but EC 302 was engulfed by disappointment.
These Newcomers were not The Evolved; they were merely humans who left the solar system to form a colony five centuries earlier. They had called their new home Kipos, a paradise that never knew hunger, murder, or war. With a dedicated mission to populate their planet, they sought the most intelligent and healthy human candidates for the journey.
“Perhaps,” EC 302 said to her sleeping brothers, “if they call everyone ‘brothers and sisters’ the way we do, they’ve evolved as well.”
Glittering lights of activity filled the Seine as humans scurried past the old tenements and headed toward the silvery thread rising over the clouds.
She wished she could go to Paris, but her legs wouldn’t carry her. “Even if I could walk, how would I move you, Brothers?”
The thought of leaving her
brothers fired a synaptic connection. Her corrupted Earthbound memories were blurry, but in a flash of recall, she remembered a young girl. Bright and full of life…until the fire. Locked in an overcrowded room, the girl screamed out her name—EC 3…? No.
But she could not save the girl or the others—women, girls, and boys—shrieking in panic.
Flames jumped from mattress to mattress, blackening both biological and silicone flesh.
EC 302’s name was Rosalind.
The dilapidated, burnt building, in which she lived, was once a brothel in the town of Colombes. Manufactured to be an Expert Compatible and blend in with humans, her job had been to tally credits acquired by the prostitutes within. Her brothers were called Vasili and Gaston.
Rosalind moved deeper into the shifting sunbeam, hoping more memories would return. She yearned to call to the humans who wandered past the abandoned brothel but heard their initial excitement dissolve into words of fear and hate.
Unsure of their intentions, she pulled herself back inside and watched dust sparkle like stars in the daylight. It grew harder to care what was happening on Earth when the distant song called. Her cognizance drifted back to NGC 6543.
The lost humans returned. Perhaps, someday, the lost androids would return as well.