Chapter 15 (Second Draft)

Under the watchful eye of her guards Kathryn approached and took the scroll from Molly.  She unfurled it and tapped out a comm request up to the New Horizon.  Jaren’s face immediately appeared. 

“Kathryn!” Jaren’s face on the screen uttered.  “Oh thank the lord, are you alright?”

“Yes, Jaren, I’m fine, everything’s fine…  In fact, I’ve made a new friend who would like to meet you.  She’s made us an offer which I think you and Teresa are definitely going to want to hear.  If you two agree to come down and discuss it with us I will then be free to leave with you again.”

Jaren’s eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion.  “Or we will be two additional valuable hostages.  It’s what they did to you.”

“The men can be savages,” Molly said loudly enough for Jaren to hear.  “But I will personally guarantee your safety and free passage.”

“Who was that?” Jaren asked.

“Well,” Kathryn said looking back at her momentarily, “our new friend,” she answered optimistically.

Jaren looked to the side at someone off screen and nodded before sighing in resignation.  “Very well.  We’ll come down right now.  We’ll bring the cure for you as well while we’re at it, the sooner we can treat you the better.”

“Cure?” Kathryn asked with renewed concern, remembering what he’d called out to them during their botched rescue attempt.

“Yes, that’s what I was trying to tell you.  It was a plague Kathryn, that’s what wiped out Earth.  The people down there now are just the descendants of those who happened to have a natural immunity.  You don’t though.  We were all infected.  New Horizon’s medical tubes couldn’t detect it but Koboli tech could, and Nadelle was able to create a cure.  Untreated you only have a few days left until you would die from it.”

Kathryn looked at Molly, who nodded both gravely and knowingly.

“Very well,” Kathryn acknowledged.  “I’ll meet you at the main entrance to the dam.  You can land just beyond it and I’ll show you down here.”

“We’ll be there in twenty minutes.  See you soon.”  He hastily closed the channel, presumably to be able to come see her as soon as possible without wasting any moments in between.

“He loves you,” Molly stated matter-of-factly.

“Yes,” Kathryn said with a smile to herself.  “You could tell?” she asked, looking up at her.

“I was designed to be an expert.”

“Of course,” Kathryn acknowledged with a stifled laugh.

Molly pressed a button on a panel on the arm rest of her chair where she was missing an arm.  “Patricia,” was all she said.  Kathryn heard the clanging of the heavy door and not long after Patricia came into view and joined them.  “You have served me well bringing this one to me.  She is to be treated as an honoured guest, as are her friends who will be landing and joining her shortly.  Please escort Kathryn to the top of the dam to greet her friends with her.  You will then bring them all down to meet me, and clearly instruct the men to not interfere.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, Leader,” Patricia answered with a slight bow. 

“Good.  Go on then.”

 

As instructed, Patricia led Kathryn and her two male escorts up the stairs again to the top of the dam and over to the nearby clearing.  Not long after they saw Jaren’s ship high up in the sky rapidly descending towards them, and then dramatically reduce its velocity as it approached the ground, coming to a near stop just above the ground, and then softly touching down.  The door wall fell away to form a ramp, and Jaren fearlessly emerged, walked quickly over to Kathryn and embraced her so tightly that her eyes widened and it momentarily became a difficult for Kathryn to breathe.  He let up enough for her be able to do so, but still held her quite tightly still, rocking with her sideways back and forth for a long lingering moment.

“Thank the lord you’re safe,” he said quietly in her ear.  “I was so worried about you.”

“I know Jaren,” she said as she set him a distance from her with her hand son his upper arms.  “I know, but I’m fine, everything’s fine now,” she said with a smile as she put a hand to his cheek.  “And I’ve made a wonderful discovery!”

While Jaren got himself acquainted with the idea that all really was well now, Kathryn noticed Teresa and Felix approach from behind him.  As soon as Jaren gave way Felix immediately subbed in and gave her a big bear hug, lifting her up off of the ground and twirling her around.  “Way to still be alive, kid,” he said in a teasing tone.

When he set her back down on the ground, Jaren pulled a transdermic out of his pocket and held it to her arm.  A small plastic bell created a suction in the void abover her skin into which a skin dilating vapour was emitted, permitting the cure for the plague to be readily absorbed into her bloodstream when it was secondly released into the void.  The whole process took only a few seconds before he pulled the device away and she rubbed the spot for a moment as Teresa put her hand on her shoulder and smiled an appreciative smile, saying simply: “It’s good to see you again, Captain.”  Kathryn nodded in acknowledgement.

“Judging from how things went when we first met, I’m guessing this isn’t your new friend?” Jaren said with a motion of his head towards Patricia.

“No, but she works for her,” Kathryn explained.  “She’s a simulant Jaren, a sexim actually,” Kathryn added as she momentarily looked over at the dam.  “She’s very likely the last functioning simulant in existence, and… only barely still functioning at that.”

“What’s a simulant?” Teresa asked.  The moderately confused look on Jaren’s face signalled his own lack of understanding as well.

“Oh.  I guess you wouldn’t have any records of them would you?  Well, simulants were synthetic humans constructed on Earth during the era our missions left.  They were designed to be completely indistinguishable from humans, and when the New Horizon mission departed they’d reached that level quite completely.  Some were constructed based on real living people, and others were novel units designed from scratch.  The founders of Haven colony, the most revered figures in our history, were simulants of the four original principle mission founders.”

“I had no idea…” Jaren said with obvious uncertainty.  Still, the implications became quite clear to him.  “Wait, so you’re saying that down in that dam, the voice I heard on your scroll, is a six hundred year old artificial human?”

“Yes!  Well, probably a bit older actually…”

“That’s… perverse,” he remarked.

“What do you mean?”

“To try to duplicate God’s highest creation, I… I don’t know how I feel about that.”

Kathryn gave him a curious look.  She knew that he came from a religious planet, but she’d never been confronted with this side of him before.  She chose to believe that it was more of a reflexive response to this new revelation, and that with time his better sense would win over, and she knew she would be happy to help him if he needed a little reassurance.

“Well you’ll have plenty of time to ponder the metaphysics later.  In the mean time you’re going to meet her.”

 

As the group made their way into the dam past the guards and down the stairwell, Kathryn explained that Molly’s body had severely degraded over time.  She explained her demands in exchange for telling them everything she could tell them about what happened to Earth since the last time New Horizon’s physical archive was updated on the way to Haven.  It would help that the archive on the New Horizon was nearly sixty percent updated from Kobol at this point, and advancing every twelve hours as updates were transmitted through the rift.

Jaren immediately understood the importance of this opportunity and put whatever reservations he had about the concept of an artificial human being itself aside for the time being.  They passed the second set of guards and entered the turbine room.  Despite the clear warnings of her appearance from Kathryn, Jaren, Felix, and Teresa were all visibly taken aback when she came into view.

“Did you tell them I used to be beautiful?” Molly asked Kathryn, betraying her vulnerable sensitivity to her appearance in front of her new visitors.

“Yes I did Molly, they know.  And they’ve agreed to do whatever they can to help restore you.”

Molly nodded to Patricia and the young woman retreated once more with their escorts.  The two male guards on either side of Molly’s throne remained though.  Jaren and Teresa stepped forward to greet Molly.  “As official representatives of the planets Kobol and Roma,” Teresa opened, “we offer you greetings, and graciously accept your kind offer of friendship and cooperation.”

“Good…” Molly acknowledged with a nod.  “Good.”

Felix stepped forward, but his head was down looking at the screen of his scroll.  “It looks like there is supposed to be detailed data in New Horizon’s archives regarding the construction and maintenance of simulants,” Felix offered.  “A quick scan turned up fragmentary information, which suggests more complete information we haven’t received yet.  Next chance I get I’ll request the Koboli recovery team to prioritize data on simulants in any way they can.”  He looked up at Molly.  “Even so though, the required technical expertise is… beyond any of us,” he admitted, waving the scroll towards Jaren and then Teresa.

“I understand,” Molly said, “but with time… if I had an appropriate laboratory and enough technical details, I could learn to do the work for myself, or adequately instruct others in what I cannot do for myself.”

“As for your internal fusion core,” Jaren said, rubbing his chin, now seemingly more invested in the technical puzzle confronting him than any lingering concerns regarding her existence at all, “we don’t have anything off of the shelf on Kobol which would be appropriate to the job, but with the relevant specifications from New Horizon’s archive regarding dimensions, capacity, output, and a good look at your original defective unit… I have no doubts at all that we’d will be able to replicate an appropriate micro core for you.”

“Excellent!” Molly’s expression so visibly brightened at this news that her excitement was contagious.

“In the meantime,” he continued, “we brought with us to Earth a number of anti-matter batteries which could probably be used as an external but relatively portable power source for you right away.  Even one of batteries we used getting some of Orbital One’s systems up and running again would probably have enough power left in it to keep you going for several years at least.”

“Orbital One?” Molly marvelled, “you’ve been there?”

“Yes,” Teresa answered matter of factly.

“I remember it well,” Molly recounted, seemingly overcome with nostalgia.  “I remember when Orbital Two came down.  Those were… dark years, literally,” she remarked with a raise of her one remaining eyebrow.

“As for your… body,” Jaren said, struggling through a touch of awkwardness in the required phrasing.  “We have no immediate way to help you, I’m afraid.  We don’t know anything about how you work or how to construct anything like you.  With your help though, and with years or even decades of study of… what’s left of you, we may be able to create a rudimentary replacement for your limbs, but… I suspect anything more sophisticated would take several decades or more of dedicated research, even with detailed data from New Horizon’s archives.  Plus…”

“What?” Molly asked, sensing his hesitation.

“Such research, on my world, could create some… political tensions.  Religion is still a very significant force on my world, and there are many who would object to such a project.  We also are currently led by a president who is not known for taking actions which could be potentially politically damaging.”

“I see.”

“Haven technology is… well, simple by comparison to the Romans and Koboli,” Felix admitted to Molly,” but we would relish the opportunity to study you and do anything we could to help you restore yourself.  It would take us much longer to get up to speed but, well… we revere our simulant founders as, well not gods per se, but certainly regard them in something approximating a mythical sort of way.  Restoring you would for us be a labour of love and respect.  We would cherish the opportunity.”

“And yet,” Molly replied, “if it could take them decades it could easily take you a century.  There may however be an intermediary measure which would suit me even better.  On the coast to the south lay the ruins of a once great city, a place once known as Vancouver.  Somewhere in what is left of that city lay the remains of the laboratory where I was created so long ago.  While there is no chance of there just happening to be an intact Molly unit just waiting there for me, there may still be intact replacement parts such as arms and legs.  If we were extraordinarily lucky there may even be an abandoned yet nearly complete simulant body which I could be moved into with some work, but this is likely just too much to dare hope for.”

“If we provide you with a new power source,” Kathryn asked, “and make every effort to find these spare parts for you, but we can’t and promise to conduct all the required research and development to fully restore you eventually, will you promise to provide us with all of the history you know?  If we commit to doing the research as long as it takes to be able to honour our agreement?”

Molly considered the question carefully.  “If you provide me with a new power supply in short order, and make the attempt to restore me now, if… you will bring me the sun again, I will provide you with the most essential details.  The full recounting of everything I know, my full recollection and legacy though, will be withheld until I am adequately restored, or until I feel I can trust you enough to be assured that you will continue your efforts to help me regardless.  Is this acceptable to you?”

Kathryn, Jaren, and Teresa looked at each other and all nodded.  “It is, Molly.” Kathryn stated.

“Outstanding,” Molly said.

“I should be able to get our other shuttle to extract the power cell from Orbital One and get it down here within an hour.

 

True to his word, less than an hour later Irvina had ordered a fresh battery installed into Orbital One, and had personally brought the used one down to Jaren, accompanied by Francis, who stayed behind with the surface team in case with his engineering expertise might be required to help the others connect it to Molly.

“Now one way or another, with no battery backup your systems are going to lose power when we switch you over from the local power supply to this battery,” Jaren explained.  “What will happen when that happens?”

“I will appear to die,” she explained, “but when power has been restored I should finish rebooting after a few minutes.  “If not you will need to hard boot me by pinching hard the skin between my thumb and finger and pressing any of my molar teeth.  It is also possible to do so by tinkering with my brain case, but I’d quite prefer you didn’t do that if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Jaren said with his usual friendly smile.

Molly, not charmed one bit, warned him: “you should know though, that if I don’t wake up, the guards here will believe that you have killed me, and they will take swift vengeance on you.  No matter what I might tell them ahead of time, you would not make it out of this room alive.”

His smile dissipated, Jaren nodded that he understood.  Molly provided him with the exact voltage and amperage her body required, and told them where nearby they could find a plug which matched the inverse connector on her chest.  They were able to connect the plug to the power source and dial in the exact energy dimensions as Kathryn and Teresa watched on, and then informed her she was ready.

“Go ahead,” Molly said seriously with a lowered head and eyes glaring forward into space.

Jaren and Felix lifted the half meter long battery onto her lap, and held their breath as Jaren unplugged her existing power supply.  Her gritted look forward gave way to a complete absence of any kind of expression whatsoever as the life literally drained out of her.  Jaren then carefully plugged in the new power source and everyone held their breath.  Nothing happened for almost two minutes, and as the guards began to murmur to themselves, Jaren began considering attempting the hard boot up process she had described to him.

As he considered this, her eye bolted wide open and she sat up as she gasped deeply.  The suddenness of her revival caused Jaren, Felix, and Francis all to jump back over a meter in fright, making Kathryn and Teresa laugh at their reaction.  Molly seemed to regain her composure, and when she realized what had been done, and that it had been successful, she thanked them and assured them that it had worked perfectly.  A plethora of wide grins and congratulatory handshakes ensued as Molly looked down at her new portable life line.

“Years you say?” she asked Jaren.

“That’s right,” he assured you.  “Congratulations.  Like I said, by the time that wears out, we’ll have designed a replacement internal unit for you.”

“Thank you,” she said simply.  “I’d like to see the sun now,” she said with an emotional note in her voice.

Her guards lifted her and the battery in her lap up and put her in a chair in which they could more easily carry her.  With the expedition team members following behind, they carried her over to the door, and Patricia, her escorts, as well as the door guards, all joined the parade behind her as they ascended the stairs.

When the upper door opened, and natural sunlight fell on Molly, she began openly weeping out of her one large brown eye.  Her guards set her down on the grass in the full glory of the late afternoon sun, and all of the rest of them let her be for some time as she continued to sob with the intensity of her relief.  She had been trapped down in her dungeon for so long, and now to be free, after having no hope of ever being so only days ago, was too much for her to keep contained. 

She had never been a natural leader.  Confident sure, capable certainly, but the burden of leading these people and being responsible for their survival and safety for so long had been so much for her to bear, especially from down there in her lonely depths.

“Patricia,” she managed to croak.  The young woman knelt down in front of her.

“I am very happy for you Leader, this is a great day is it not?”

“It is child, it is… take me to the village.  Tonight there will be a great feast to honour our guests and new friends, spare no luxury we have to offer, both the finest goods we have scavenged and created for ourselves, understand?  This is a day to be remembered for generations.”

“Yes Leader,” the woman said, now becoming overcome with emotion herself.

“The noble travellers have come home, and they have pledged to help us.  It is a reunion, child.  Our family has finally been put back together.  We have a future again.”

“Yes, Leader.”

 

True to her word, the celebration was beyond anything the villagers had ever known in their lives.  Not only were the reserves of their locally produced alcohol and cannabis nearly entirely depleted, but later in the evening they’d even broken into the especially sacred store of wine from the before time.  They laughed and giggled to themselves opening six hundred year old bottles of wine.  Some were rancid, some were vinegar, but some were remarkably drinkable.

There was a gigantic central bonfire resulting from a pyre twice the height of a person, and the villagers spent most of the night taking turns dancing around it sometimes in wild unstructured enthusiasm, others in attempting to replicate the ceremonial dances their elders had passed down to them.  There were other smaller fires nearby as well, fires more amenable to roasting full deer, fish, and goose, or merely for gathering around conversationally.  Molly and the New Horizon crew on the surface were gathered around just such a fire.

Jaren sat down very close to Molly under the watchful eye of her personal guards, in order to speak with her in relative privacy.  Kathryn watched him do so, but could hear none of the exchange.

“You don’t like me, do you?” he asked.

“I don’t like men,” Molly answered matter-of-factly.

“I see.  Because of your… origins.”

“That’s right,” Molly answered carefully, and after a moment’s hesitation.  “You don’t like me much either do you?” she asked him.

“I wouldn’t characterize it in quite that way.  I find your existence… disquieting, a disruption to my view of myself.  It is nothing to do with you personally though, encountering any simulant would have elicited a similar reaction.  Likewise I suspect with me being any unfamiliar man to you.”

“Hmm…” Margaret responded thoughtfully but still somewhat dismissively as she took a drink from her cup.

“Tell me…” he asked thoughtfully, “can you come to trust a man?”

Molly shrugged.  “It’s been known to happen… sometimes.”

“Then I shall endeavour to do whatever I can to foster your trust in me.  I wish us to be allies, friends…  I want you to trust that even if you had nothing to provide us, we would do whatever we could to help you regardless.”

“Why?  I find that hard to believe.  Everything in human interaction is an exchange.”

Jaren sighed and leaned back, staring into the fire.  “I’m going to be honest Molly, when I first learned of your existence… I was not just disquieted, I was utterly aghast.”

She looked at him curiously with her one large brown eye.  “Why?” she asked.  If one could focus on the parts of her that were still intact, one could still see how achingly beautiful she must have indeed once been.  Her eye was large to the point that she appeared wide-eyed while looking casually, and her most casual gaze always seemed to be staring into the deepest depths of one’s soul with compassion and sympathy.

“My people have come a long way since we originally left Earth, our religion is more a… figure of speech at this point, something few take too seriously despite our habit of speaking and acting as though we still do take it very seriously.  The deep parts of me that firmly internalized the religious teachings of my youth cried when I found out about you.  We had forgotten that simulants ever existed, we brought no records of their existence, and after generations of it never coming up, we had completely forgotten.

“The idea of a perfectly simulated human being seemed to be… a direct challenge to God itself.  If nothing else, it is God who creates people, if not their bodies then their… well, soul for lack of a better world.  If humans can create something indistinguishable from a human being, something so close an approximation that we would assume it had a… soul, to meet them and never be informed of their artificiality, I guess if felt like there was no space left for God at all in the genesis of a person.”

“Maybe that’s something to think about,” Molly offered matter of factly.

“It is,” Jaren agreed thoughtfully, “and I have been, believe me.”

There were several moments of silence as they stared into the licking orange flames together, seeing their whole lives in flashes dancing in the image of the flames reflecting in their eyes.

“The more I think about it though?  The more…” Jaren trailed off.  “See, my people are so technologically advanced compared to the others because we consider technological advancement to be a primary commandment from God.  From the very beginning the goal was always to strive to become ever more godlike in our morality and behaviour, and at some point after landing on Kobol we re-interpreted that into an imperative to become ever more god like in our technological powers as well.  We sought to build ever more powerful tools, but we never once thought about attempting to duplicate God’s powers of human creation, the power which was obviously generated to create you.”

He and Molly were still staring into the fire, and she found herself quite interested in what he had to say.

“My people had to be coerced into coming here by the other colonies.  They had no interest in Earth because we detected no technology here we could learn from.  That has changed now.  After my initial shock at your existence, I realize not that even if we never choose to construct fully fledged simulants ourselves, our understanding of your construction and function would be a vast leap for us in any number of areas.  The discovery of you I believe will if nothing else mean that my people will be more interested in Earth now, intrigued by what they can learn and what powers they can newly harness from understanding you and your kind.  So yes, we all want to know everything you can tell us about the history of Earth from the time New Horizon left to the present, but my people especially will want to help you restore yourself regardless of that because of what they can learn technologically from helping you so.”

“I understand,” Molly said with a nod.  “You haven’t earned my trust yet Mormon, but you might’ve opened a door.”

Jaren smiled and a puff of air escaped through his nose as his smile was accompanied by the hint of a laugh.

Sensing that whatever they were talking about was abated for the time being, Kathryn came around the fire over to them and sat on the other side of Molly.

“Molly, we know from our orbital observations that there are a number of small encampments like this one spread all over the world.  Do you ever come into contact with them?”

“Not directly, no.  Our most frequent interactions are when our scavenging parties come across those from another village in the ruins of an ancient city.  More often than not violence ensues, but what else would you expect, they are all men after all.”

Kathryn wrinkled her brow at this generalization.  “I see, so how do you think the others would react to coming across us?”

“I don’t know,” Molly admitted, “I’ve been locked in that dam for the better part of two centuries, and when the scavenging parties return they have little more to offer than casualty reports.  You probably know more about them than I do just from your ability to observe from orbit.”

“You know Jaren,” Kathryn said past Molly, “I was thinking, so much has happened so far, it would probably be wise to check in with our home worlds before launching any expeditions south, offer them an update on our progress and what not.”

“You’re probably right,” Jaren agreed, “of course there’s always the possibility that for whatever reason we might be told not to engage in that mission and return home instead.”

Kathryn grinned.  “I think there would suddenly be some inexplicable communications interference if they tried to issue that order.  It’s a damn how things like that can happen at the most inopportune time.

Jaren laughed.  “Quite true.”

“Besides,” Kathryn continued, “I find that quite unlikely, at least from my people.”

Jaren nodded that he probably felt the same way about his own command higher ups.  In his experience they tended let their people take whatever risks those on the ground felt it appropriate and worthwhile to take.

“So Molly,” Kathryn said, turning to what was left of the simulant.  “What are you willing to tell us about what happened to Earth?”

The simulated woman took another drink from her tin cup and took a deep breath.  “Well, you’re right of course, that there was a plague.  Nobody knew where it had come from or how it had been created, there… was simply no time.  People seemed fine for a week after being infected, and then suddenly dropped dead the next day.  Billions, and billions… and billions,” her eye revealed her to be lost in unpleasant remembrance.  “Have you ever walked the streets of a city of twenty million corpses?”

Kathryn and Jaren just looked at each other with a shiver up their spines.  Sensing that it was story time, the rest of the New Horizon crew and some locals gathered up near her to hear.

“Everyone who was going to die… everyone on Earth anyways, died within a week of the first death.  There was no time for civilization to break down, instead it just ended… midsentence.  For quite some time we simulants thought we were the only survivors.  Our programming is designed to recognize infectious agents and simulate the effects on us.  Our deaths are only simulated and unlike the humans we can be reactivated, but this disease… it was designed to be undetectable to modern medicine and… as such it went unnoticed by our systems.

“We thought maybe we were the only survivors, and for a time we contemplated how empty and shallow a fate that would be, we who could not reproduce, we who did not know how to create more of ourselves.  We would wander the Earth in dwindling numbers until finally the last of us inevitably went offline.

“But then, a miracle happened.  We came across humans, survivors.  At first we thought maybe they were just simulants who had gone mad and come to believe themselves humans but no, honest to goodness flesh and blood human beings.  We cherished them as the miracles they were.  We tried to lead them, tried to gather them up in one place and rebuild what we could of a civilization, but… supplies were limited.  Our whole food supply chain had become so technological that specialized technicians were required to generate everything from lettuce to meat.

“After the first riotous frenzy of hostility and outbreak of murders, theft, and hoarding… we realized that what we had hoped for would be impossible.  My husband and I gathered up our descendants and others and headed here.  We had a lot more technology left over back in those days, but energy to power them was a scarce resource.  Dams such as this one were one of the few remaining reliable sources of power.

“Some other simulants did the same and-“

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Felix apologetically interjected, “but you had a husband and… descendants?”

“Yes,” she answered nostalgically.  “His name was Colin.  He was a simulation of an Australian man who ran a casino and bar on Orbital One.  He died several hundred years ago falling from a great height and damaging his brain beyond repair… there was nothing we could do.  Long before that though, we were the first simulants in history to commission a human child of our own out of sorrow at our own inability to reproduce but, well… that’s a story for another time.  And yes, some of the people here are descendants of that child, like Patricia over there.” Molly pointed to Patricia over at the main fire, who noticed and smiled back.

The New Horizon crew all nodded a new understanding of the relationship between the two.

“Does she know?” Kathryn asked her.

“No, she… she wouldn’t understand.” Molly answered.  “That’s really all there is to tell.  We made a life here as best we could.  We still scavenged what we could find, there are old small towns near here, but it wasn’t long before we’d scavenged everything we could form those places and had to mount ever more dangerous expeditions south to the ruins of Vancouver.  We had to learn from scratch how to farm, how to keep animals, how to build shelters, all the things which were completely unknown to us as pampered high tech city dwellers.  We had some very rough years and lost a lot of really good people, but… we came through in the end as you can see.  I’d like to think we are thriving, all things considered.”

“What became of the other simulants?” Jaren asked.

“We kept in contact for some time,” Molly explained.  “We were a network of saviours for the remaining humans, sharing what information we could about what we’d found and newly learned and discovered.  One by one though… they stopped answering my comm requests, either they broke down or their comm devices did.  The last I was still in contact with though I never heard from again after the Years of the Falling Sky.”

“What is that?” Kathryn asked.

“Oh, it’s an era we survived and still reference.  A century after the Plague struck, all of the larger things in orbit started falling down on us.  The most catastrophic event was when Orbital Two fell down and hit the lands to the far East of here.  After that critical communications relay crashed down, I never heard from another simulant ever again.  That was four hundred years ago.”

“So it’s possible that some other simulants have survived,” Felix observed.

“Possible yes,” Molly conceded, “but the odds are quite against even my own survival… I shouldn’t even still be around.”

“Can you tell us more about what happened before the plague?” Teresa asked.

“No,” Molly answered matter-of-factly.  “I increasingly trust you people but I’m not ready to play all of my cards at once here.  Besides, the night grows late.”  She looked over to the main fire and saw that half of her people had collapsed in exhaustion or from too much drink or smoke in the now twilight.  “My people have prepared beds for you to spend the night with us.”

“With… all due respect,” Jaren offered diplomatically, “we should really be get-”

“What he means,” Kathryn said, cutting him off, “is that we would be honoured to be your guests tonight.  In the morning we will return to our ship and report our progress to our home worlds through the rift.  Molly, you’re… welcome to join us on the ship while we do so, if you’d like.”  She wasn’t sure how she’d feel about the offer.

“I… I haven’t been to orbit in six hundred years.  I’m torn,” she admitted, “by my desire to get as far away from my prison as possible, and… my reluctance to abandon my people.  Thank you Kathryn, I may take you up on the offer but I think I need the night to sleep on it.  Patricia!”

The young woman in the flower print dress came over from the main fire to see what Molly wanted of her.  Please show our guests to the beds we’ve prepared for them.”

Patricia simply nodded and held out her hand to lead them.  The New Horizon crew lifted themselves up onto their feet and followed her to bed.

They didn’t get much sleep that night, not only were the beds somewhat uncomfortable, but their thoughts were consumed with the nightmare story Molly had described for them.  It was a story about the end of all things, a thing feared in very primal parts of their deep human psyche.  Every one of them when they did finally fall asleep suffered at least once being the last being alive in a city of twenty million corpses, desperately, frantically searching for another living being to assure them against their absolute loneliness, but finding none.