Patricia led Kathryn and their two male escorts along the well-worn path towards the dam. Patricia had explained that this was where the leader lived, and that she never left. When pressed, the woman was unable or unwilling to explain why, merely saying with a shrug that it was how things had always been.
Arriving at the top of the dam, they approached a heavy steel door which was guarded by two particularly fearsome looking men who were armed with handguns in holster at their side, rifles strung over their backs, and holding long spears upright in their hands. They were resting their weight on the spears initially, but stood stiffly at attention when they saw Patricia’s party approach. She nodded at them and they stepped to the side to allow her passage. Kathryn noted that they were armed with the only firearms she had seen down here on the surface. She imagined that they must have been very carefully preserved from what these people called the ancient times and thus extraordinarily rare. Their use in guarding The Great Moll, whoever that was, showed how important this figure was to them. ‘They must consider it the thing most needing protection in their lives,’ Kathryn thought to herself.
They group walked down many flights of stairs, Kathryn imagined it to be about halfway down the interior of the dam. There were more stairs continuing down into an unseen dark abyss below them, but they stopped at another set of heavy watertight steel doors which were guarded by similarly fearsome looking guards, complete with a similar arsenal.
“The Great Moll has standing orders for us to bring her any unusual strangers,” Patricia explained to the guards. “This woman claims to come from another planet and has clothing and weapons completely unfamiliar to us. I believe The Great Moll will want to meet and assess her.”
One of the guards nodded, opened the heavy door, and entered beyond. The other guard closed the door behind him again, and stared down Kathryn.
“Assess me?” she asked Patricia.
“To determine whether you represent to us a threat, opportunity, or neither, the woman explained.
“I see,” Kathryn acknowledged. She didn’t know if she liked the sound of that, what would they do if they considered her a threat? How could she best present herself to avoid finding out?
The heavy door opened again and the guard returned. He said nothing, but his nod towards Patricia indicated their permission to enter. He held the door open for all four to enter, and then closed it behind them with a heavy bang which echoed loudly in whatever space they had now entered.
They began walking past large metal cylindrical objects twice as tall as any of them. “These are the turbines which the water spins to provide us energy,” Patricia explained. “There are eleven, but only four remain operational. We only need one for our purposes, but we never know which one might fail next and when, and we don’t know how to repair them once they stop spinning.”
Kathryn could tell the ones that were still working from those which were not, they had an audible whine to them as they spun.
Patricia stopped. “This is as far as we will go with you. We will be waiting back at the door through which we entered. You will find The Great Moll beyond that turbine there; your conversation is not for our ears.” The woman began to turn and walk away, but hesitated, and turning back to Kathryn reminded her: “Remember. She is… not like us. Try not to be afraid.” She then resumed her turn and led their two male escorts back in the direction they’d come from.
“Well that’s not ominous at all…” Kathryn muttered to herself.
There was a bright stream of light coming from between the two turbines she was to find The Great Moll, which provided enough light to be able to dimly see the entire interior of the cavernous chamber she was in. Walking into the light, she saw two ridiculously brilliant lights, and was so blinded by them that she could see little else. The buzzing hum of the lights was audible over the sound of the spinning turbines nearby.
“Beautiful…” Kathryn heard a voice say. “Step closer,” the voice commanded and she obliged. “Patricia tells me you claim to come from very far away indeed, a different planet altogether?”
“That’s right,” Kathryn answered. She had to look away: the blinding light was growing more and more painful to look at. At this point she just closed her eyes and suffered the light as a bright orange-pink glow streaming through her eyelids. “The planet Haven, in the Sigma Draconis system.”
After a pause, the voice asked: “New Horizon?”
“Yes!” Kathryn exclaimed.
“So you really made it…” the voice said to itself. “We never knew.”
“How do you know about the New Horizon?” Kathryn asked.
Instead of answering the voice continued its own interrogation. “How did you come back to Earth? It was to take you a hundred and sixty years to get there in the first place. Would it not have taken you just as long to return?”
“We made friends with superior technology. When we regained the ability to reach orbit we were visited by humans from the planet Kobol, who-“
“Kobol… The Mormons made it too?”
“Yes… the Catholics as well, how do you know about all this? Were records left somehow? If so I’d very much like to review what records you have.”
“Of course you would. Continue. The Mormons have superior technology?”
Kathryn was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of answers to her own questions, but she figured the best way to get answers for herself later on was to be as ingratiating and forthcoming as possible right now.
“Yes. They have developed a technology they call the Escher Rift. It harnesses the power of a star to open portals between systems. They visited us through it, and we made an arrangement for them to help us bring the New Horizon here to solve the mystery.”
“What happened to Earth, why it went dark halfway through our trip to Haven. It is the greatest mystery my people have ever known, and half of our drive to return to the stars was to be able learn the answer.”
“And have you?”
“Have we what?”
“Solved the mystery.”
“No. Well, my people may have, but I’ve been out of communication with them since I was… captured.”
“I see. Wait, you brought the New Horizon back to Earth? It’s here!?”
A long silence. “I once knew a man who left on that ship,” the voice said with a note of sentimentality.
“How is that possible?” Kathryn insisted.
“Because I was there,” the voice said.
Kathryn could hear a heavy switch being thrown and the lights slowly began to fade. As they did she began to be able to make out the image of her interrogator, flanked by two similar guards to those by the doors whom she hadn’t even realized were there.
The figure before her was an utterly ghastly sight. She was sitting in what could only be described as a makeshift throne, with several tall steps leading up to where she sat at shoulder level to the two guards beside her. It appeared to have once been a human woman based on what was left of the anatomy of the naked figure, but it was a body now terribly mangled and disfigured. It was missing its left leg, it having seemingly been ripped right out of the hip joint, as well as missing its right arm just above the elbow joint. It had one reasonably well preserved breast, but where the other ought to have been, instead a thick cable was attached firmly and directly to the artificial structure beneath the skin which had apparently been cleared away to allow the connection. The left side of her face was smushed clear off, allowing various layers of anatomy to be shown, from the relatively intact simulated human skin on the right side of her face, to the electronic and mechanical infrastructure underneath, down to the dull black artificial skull beneath.
“I was once beautiful too,” the creature lamented. “I was once considered a standard of beauty, but as you can see that was a long time ago. A very long time ago.”
“You’re… a simulant.” Kathryn uttered with dawning understanding.
“You know what a simulant is?” it asked.
“Yes. My people’s civilization was founded by four simulants of the New Horizon mission’s principle founders. They… they saved us from ourselves when we first arrived at Haven.
“I see. I’d like to know more about that when the time comes. Yes, Kathryn. I am a simulant as well, perhaps the very last one in existence. I was once known as a Molly, a conscious sex toy for men who indulged in such things. One of my… clients back in those days was a man who left on the New Horizon mission. I remember that many if not most of the men who availed themselves of me were unscrupulous if not loathsome, but Markus… we had a moment before he left, a moment which led me to grow beyond my original programming and seek an independent life of my own. I’ll never forget him.”
Kathryn was aghast. “Markus… Bowland??
Molly smiled. “Yes, why? What became of him.”
Kathryn cringed. “A story for another time I suspect. Sufficive to say, he was ultimately the reason why the founder simulants needed to save us from ourselves.”
“I see,” Molly acknowledged with a frown. If true this wouldn’t surprise her but more important things were at hand. “Do the Catholics or Mormons have simulant technology?”
“I’m afraid not,” Kathryn answered. The simulant appeared quite disappointed.
“What bargain did you make for them to bring you here?”
“When both of the other colony ships left,” Kathryn explained, “they purged themselves of Earth’s history.”
“I remember,” Molly said with a nod.
“But the New Horizon kept a full and complete archive, backed up by a physical medium which is still intact to this day. We agreed to grant them access to the archive in exchange for use of their portal system and upgrades to the New Horizon which allowed us to come here ourselves.”
“And now you’re here.”
“Yes. And now that we’ve met you, you can fill us in on everything that happened since the last transmission New Horizon received from Earth on its way to Haven!” Kathryn excitedly exclaimed. She’d never imagined such a thing would be possible, simulants weren’t supposed to last that long.
“I certainly could. But I won’t.”
Kathryn’s optimism visibly melted away.
“Not for free anyways,” Molly continued. “It seems from your story that information, history, is itself the most valuable commodity in the universe now. I’m not going to just give away my only currency.”
“Currency? What are you hoping to purchase from us Molly?”
“Freedom…” Molly answered quietly.
“I don’t understand,” Kathryn admitted.
“Some of my components have survived,” she explained, “but others have not. My quantum brain for example,” she said with a gesture of her remaining hand in the direction of her head, “is still in quite good condition which is why I can talk to you and tell you all the history you could possibly want to know. My internal fusion reactor on the other hand…” gesturing towards where her right breast used to be, “failed nearly two centuries ago now. I have been tethered to these turbines ever since.”
“You haven’t been able to leave this room since?” Kathryn asked somewhat aghast.
“I have not seen the sun in one hundred and eighty seven years.”
Molly looked down and away with one misty eye. “So it goes,” she replied with a sad expression.
“We would help you any way we can with or without anything in exchange Molly. You’re precious, you are… unique.”
“That’s a nice sentiment child, but with my existence at stake I can’t take any chances.”
Kathryn nodded. “What do you want us to do?”
“Well, fusion technology appears to be child’s play to the Mormons so I imagine they’ll be able to help you out with that at least.”
“But like I said, none of us have developed simulant technology so we wouldn’t know where to start in repairing your body.”
“In maintaining myself, I learned a great deal about simulant construction and repair. There are abandoned simulant manufacturing facilities all over the world, but I have not been able to go in search of them since I have been trapped here. The scavenging parties I send out don’t really know what to look for either but you and your people could find what I need, I’m sure of it. Ideally I want a new and intact Molly model which my program could be transferred into, but I would honestly settle for any intact simulant body to be transferred into. Oh hell…” the woman lamented looking at her missing leg. “Who am I kidding? To tell you the truth I’d settle for a mismatched replacement arm and leg and tell you everything you want to know.”
“We will do what we can to help you, I promise,” Kathryn assured her, “but you must let me talk to my friends, they must be so worried about me.”
“Of course. I assume you have this scroll connected to a communications network?” Molly asked as she held up Kathryn’s scroll.
“Then here, take it,” she said as she tossed it to Kathryn, who fumbled with it a bit and nearly dropped it before securing it in her hands. “They are welcome to come and meet me as well.