Systematic Destiny (Part 5)

This story is part 5 of our series inspired by our conversation with Dr. Joel Green of the Space Telescope Science Institute and set in the sci-fi universe of Civilization: Beyond Earth. For part 4 of the story, click here, and return next week as we continue!

The twins were born a week after the computers died. Their mother chose the names Caleb and Aaron. She is not their biological mother of course, they are both clones of me through and through, but she is my wife and she will help me raise them with the strange traditions of our little society.

Decades ago my great grandfather, the fifth generation, had a massive heart attack and nearly died at his desk. It was a sober reminder that genetics were not everything. Life and fate still held their sway over us. His genes – my genes – were supposed to be impeccably immune to heart disease. One broken link in the chain would mean the end of our mission: the genetically-locked computer system, our search for planets that could support life, and our stewardship of science on a dying Earth. Beginning with the seventh generation, our society maintained multiple clones for redundancy and safety. My father was one of three, just as I am. Birthing us as twins or triplets eased the strangeness of our clone identities in the early years, before we reached the age of fifteen and were told officially.

All that careful planning and adaptation seems pointless now. The computers have failed, eroded by time and isolation, and our search for exoplanets cannot continue. Perhaps it is just as well. The last expedition of the Seeding fled Earth when I was five years old. The long-dreaded Inflection Point has come and gone. Fossil fuels are utterly spent, and there will never again be enough raw power to reach escape velocity and flee this doomed rock. We sorry few who are left face a lukewarm apocalypse. There is food, and shelter, and even cooperation, but all overshadowed by raids and struggles over the remaining sources of energy. It was only with our solar cells that the Institute was able to continue as it had, and even those caught the eyes of roaming bandits that we had to buy off. Humanity slouches back to an earlier age, and we are left to watch it rot.

The night after the twins are born, I sneak into their nursery, careful not to make much noise. The room is dark and windowless and their faces are serene with sleep. They know nothing of our purpose here. Maybe it would be best to keep it that way. I think back to my fifteenth birthday. There were soycakes and candles for me and my brothers. My father discussed astronomy with the three of us, then told us who we really were. I remember the stale smell of candle smoke.

The next day, I call an emergency meeting of the Institute leadership. Except for my resting wife, everyone is in attendance. I serve the tea and we begin.

Nobody speaks at first. My brother Joseph looks to his wife, then breaks the silence. “We need to get the computers back online.” Everybody nods in agreement.

“We will certainly try,” I say. “But it does not look good. We have to be prepared for the event that they are lost.”

Hector, my other brother, crosses his arms. “So what then? Our purpose is expired?”

Joseph grabs his wife’s hand. “No, we will find a way.”

Hector chuckles, then frowns. “The scavengers haven’t come around in a few months now. They should be back soon.”

“Good thinking,” I say. “Maybe they have some parts or expertise that we could barter for.”

“Or at the very least, we could sell the junk,” Hector says.

I interject. “You must be joking.”

Hector shrugs. “This mission is just as important to me as it is to you.

But we have worked long and hard, and there is no more use for our knowledge.”

“There is always use for our knowledge,” Joseph says.

Hector nods, but he does not seem convinced. I realize suddenly that neither am I.