Zero minus four hundred thirty three years
Even at six thousand klicks per hour, the Elevator was very long; the blue planet beneath them did not seem to move any closer. Gus was a little uneasy without his symaiote bot; he felt half deaf, half blind, half alone despite his new female acquaintance.
Oops; what was her name?
Around about now he would normally contact Max and ask him. But Max was not allowed within the Restricted Volume; he was up at L1, socialising with the Godwatch Starhand, a crew of particularly outrageous vec bon-vivants.
"I don't know why She doesn't let vecs Down There; after all, didn't robots originally come from Earth too? " he said to the woman, who was looking down through the transparent floor between her shoes and pointing out landmarks to him and any anyone else nearby.
"Only a few hu on Earth; and a few rianths, and a crateload of baseline animals. No mechanicals at all. Long ago, they say, She was designed to defend the Earth against the primitive nanobots they had in the old days. And now, She won't let any aioids onto the Old World, unless she has them under complete control."
"So, what happens down there, then? No robot chefs? No robot lawnmowers? Who sweeps the floor?"
"People. Humans. Just like it used to be on Earth ten thousand years ago. More."
"No robots, and no vecs, eh? Well, it's nice to do a bit of drudgery every now and then, sweep up, do some decorating, dig the garden, build a wall; it makes a change;" Gus smiled; " but it must get old real quick having to do it all the time."
"Most Earthlings don't do that sort of housework; a lot of them don't even live in houses. Kinda appeals to me; living in a hut, or following the reindeer up near the icecap."
The woman was looking at the Earth's Moon, now; Luna, a blue and white patchwork, with irregular shaped patches of terrestrial atmosphere held tightly by thin transparent membranes. At least a billion people lived there, and as many vecs, no doubt. The people from the Moon studiously ignored the big blue primary; few ever went to Earth, and they considered themselves to be the oldest civilised human world.
"I've seen images of that moon before- they must be millennia old; it has changed," she said, a little sadly. "Once it was a romantic symbol. Lovers gazed at it, poets sang to it. It is just another world now."
"It's pretty, though, don't you think?" Wilma? Yes, Wilma. Gus was sure that was her name. When he and Max had arrived at the city of Chico on Nova Terra's western coast they had found a small and friendly group of Arkab B expatriates who had been very hospitable; Wilma had offered to pull some strings to get them tickets for the Sol System. In all the confusion, Gus had forgotten to memorise her name on his biological memory, and now they were approaching Earth with all their implants deactivated, so now he could not remember it at all.
Another side effect of this was that his tattoos were frozen into an immobile paisley pattern, with a few stars, suns and moons scattered through it.
"It doesn't look like this any more, I guess," he said, and showed her a large smiling Moon face unmoving on the skin of his forearm. She stroked the image with a finger, the first time she had touched him. "Nice."
The Elevator arrived on the Earth's surface and they walked out of it, enjoying the sensation of one real Earth gravity. This was the standard gravity value all over the civilised galaxy, but here it was naturally produced by the mass of the world below, and something in Gus' body seemed to recognise that fact. No coriolis effects, however slight. The air as well tasted infinitely natural; the trees and oceans of the world were all there in every lungful.
In the absence of robot porters they had to carry their own small backpacks; but this did not dampen Gus' spirits; he was home. This seemingly insignificant world was his ancient homeworld; it felt familiar deep inside.
They joined a queue to show their 'passes' to the Entrepot officials; these turned out to be (quite friendly) human baselines- the first pure unmodified humans Gus had ever seen.
"It is a long-standing tradition in the Sol System, apparently," Gus said, lightly.
"What, queuing? Oh. Long-standing
. Oh, I see." she laughed, politely. "What's the matter, your poor old legs giving up on you? A little standing around won't kill you."
Gus hung back to let the Arkab woman through the check-point first.
"Name?" said the official, a curly haired man with a thumbprint of paint on his forehead.
"Vema Elahaia," she answered promptly.
Bust my Backup, Gus thought; that was close. She wouldn't have appreciated my calling her Wilma...
"Auguste Gienah," he said, in his turn.
"Welcome to Earth," said the man with the thumbprint.
The island of Sulawesi, swollen since the Expulsion nine thousand years ago because of the lower sea level (which itself was a consequence of the increase in ice cover in the Arctic), was basically one big holiday village. But it was the only one of its kind; on the whole planet this was the only accommodation for tourists, here at the foot of the one remaining elevator. Dozens of small townships made up of grass huts provided accomodation for the visitors; but amenities were extremely basic.
"The Mother of All must be making a mint; trillions of people all over the galaxy apply to come here every year. I bet She can charge whatever She likes." Gus was looking at the infovert about sub-orbital tours; a trip to the windswept ruins of Washington, DC or the forest-covered Pyramids of Gisa was out of the question.
"There's no point looking at those tour guides- that is big money. Out of your league. The Old Mother likes to have a few visitors; but not too many; that is probably the only reason She charges at all. To keep the numbers down."
"I'd rather not say what I think about the old Lady myself. Not out loud, anyway."
Gus was not over impressed with what he knew about the Old Mother Gaia; thousands of years ago She turned her children out into the cold, dark universe, and made Her world a place forbidden to most humankind. Nowadays She only seemed slightly interested in the great star-spanning civilisation the refugees have created; like a crotchety old woman she kept contact to a minimum.
The Earthlings were determined to put a show on for those visitors who remained on the island; tribal dances and rituals were scheduled each night of their short stay. Vema and Gus watched one in the village square; two hogs were carried on bamboo poles into the display area and slaughtered; the paint- and blood-covered dancer who cut the throats of the animals waved his long knife at the offworlders, his tongue and eyes protruding from his head.
"By the stars- he is going to get that big one now- " Vema seemed to be enjoying the savagery of the show; her eyes were flashing. The big one was a large black buffalo, and the dancer deftly delivered his blow to the neck.
Staring wildly around the buffalo fell to its knees. "Well, this is erm, interestingâ€¦ you know, I reckon it would catch on back in Argartha on market day. The punters like a bit of blood."
"I don't think that creature is too keen on the proceedings, somehow."
Two butcher-cooks dragged the animals off to be cooked; the smell of roasting accompanied the rest of the display. Gus and Vema did not know what to expect; as all their implants were inoperative, the languages of Earth remained untranslated. Apart from the customs officers on the first day (who were no doubt linked directly to the Goddess or her subroutines) no-one had spoken to them in, or understood, their own dialect of Galanglic either. The Earthlings communicated with the guests in a series of practiced mimes, smiling all the while.
The next part of the ritual turned out to be a narrative dance; but it took a little while to realise the import of the story.
Dancers dressed as animals and dancers dressed as hunters followed each other round the arena; then warriors came and bound both groups, hunters and hunted, with scarlet ribbon. More dancers came, wearing steely blue, grey or black costumes, great boxy affairs with patterns resembling windows, or wheels and gears, and bearing written words in the ancient languages of Earth.
"I know what this is," Vema said. Gus was still bemused, and said so.
"Go on, then. What. What's going off?"
"This is progress; agriculture, industry... Look; they even have red tape. It's a history lesson."
Now silvery, slight figures arrived; perhaps these were the technocrats of the first centuries after Tranquility, after humanity set foot on the Moon. They carried a great, elaborately patterned sheet between them; with a flourish they twisted it and a new, monstrous figure magically appeared. Shaggy, hung with myriad knotted ropes and tubes, it rampaged around the dance area, and every dancer that it touched, fell lifeless to the floor.
"The swarm. That's what it is. The Nanoswarm. It's killing every-" Gus said, a little too loud; several other watchers turned to stare at him and he subsided. He took a sip of his `lager', a sparkling local drink, and shrugged; Vema was quietly laughing.
Now a final figure appeared; a woman, she was dressed in blue and white, with long silken streamers like clouds. She rose from behind the other dancers, and performed a long and elaborate dance with the Swarm monster; often she was forced to the floor, but rose again, but it was not until she cut the ribbons binding the animal dancers that she was able to drive the swarm away.
"Hey? Are they saying the antelope and the deer defeated the Nanoswarms? What's that all about?"
"I remember this from ancient history, I think," Vema whispered, leaning close. Gus felt a little warmer somehow.
"The defence computer systems, that's Gaia, extended themselves into the biological substrate; it underwent the first transcension ever recorded (if I recall correctly) and became the personification of the planet's biosphere. Or something. Anyway, that's what it looks like; it's allegoricalical." She waved her own `lager' in the direction of the dance, spilling a fraction. Laughed.
After vanquishing the swarm, the Lady Gaia freed the hunters from their bonds, and imperiously gathered all the steely grey dancers that evidently represented human civilisation; she gestured broadly and banished them, although they had to troop melodramatically around the entire circuit before they finally went.
Everyone recognized this; the Great Expulsion from Earth; so many were lost as the refugees from Earth's crowded cities tried to find new homes among the stars, but in the end, it led to the great flowering of the Terragen expansion. So it was, and so it should be, the dance seemed to say; a mother has to let go of her children, the chicks have to learn how to fly, tough love is harsh but still love. Previous Next