Three months later…
Aboard Orbital One, dignitaries and VIPs of all sorts and varieties from all colony worlds had gathered for the signing of an historic treaty known simply as ‘The Terran Accords.’ They were gathered in the hastily refurbished former United Nations meeting place on the station, a large semi-circular amphitheatre style room. There was a large and elevated podium at the front for individuals to give addresses to the convened crowds. As Margaret stepped up to the podium, flanked by Patricia on her right, and Kirby on her left, above her heads were the flags of the old United Nations, alongside the flags of Haven, Kobol, and Roma.
It had been relatively easy work to restore Orbital One to this point after Kathryn, Jaren, and Teresa had issued their final reports to their homeworlds on the way back to the Solar rift system. A flurry of official communication and daring proposals fluttered back and forth between the three colony worlds and before New Horizon reached the rift, several engineering teams and support ships had already been dispatched towards the Kobol and Roma suns to get to work on Orbital One. Whatever would have to be negotiated as far as what could and should be done with Earth itself, the station itself at least seemed to be fair game and there was an informal agreement that responsibility for it would be shared, an agreement which would be formalized in the Terran Accords.
The political leaders of all three worlds met for the first time at the station, after their many teams had established a Kobolian artificial life support system, simply bypassing the original system of arboretums throughout the station. The New Horizon team had already managed to restore the basic operating system, but every system still had to be initialized if possible, or replaced with equivalent or superior equipment if not. The fusion reactors, the wider power and data networks, the docking area and the commercial habitat ring… in a sense they had only gotten started on the project, they had months and months if not years of work ahead of them to fully restore Orbital One to its original glory, but they were well on their way. They already had things to a level which allowed them to host this historic meeting on the station in relative safety.
Jaren had been emblematic to how his people in general reacted to the reality of simulants and the embodiment of Margaret herself. At first they had been viscerally aghast, taken back on a nearly primal level at the offence unto God. However much like Jaren himself, the more they got used to the idea, the more they were able to see past this initial reaction and see the value in it. They came to recognize it as a technology completely unlike anything they had developed themselves, and how understanding the technology which created simulants could advance their science and technology in any number of ways.
The Kobolians had originally not seen the value in exploring Earth because they felt that it had nothing to teach them technologically, and investigating the mystery of how Earth fell was pointless since for them it was not a mystery at all. Now this had turned around for them with the discovery of Margaret. Simulant technology was now a primary interest for them, something they never would have found if they had been left to themselves, not seeing the true value in pure curiosity driven research itself, the things you find which you’d never think to look for. Now they were in very serious negotiations with Margaret for as much access to her for study as they could get.
Margaret was happy to oblige but operated on a different sense of time given her age. She would indulge them in exchange for the option of possibly developing some enhancements she had in mind which the original simulant manufacturers would have considered a violation of their prime objective of perfectly replicating a human being. The Kobolians wanted access to her immediately and at great lengths, but she wanted to stay in the Earth system for a time, and might in some months or years agree to make an extended visit to Kobol and let them have their way with her for a good long while as she explored their world and culture. Eventually she had every intention of doing the same with Haven and Roma as well. From her perspective though, in contrast with the Kobolian’s clear impatience, she had all the time in the world, especially with her shiny new body. She felt young again, despite the true age of her intellect. Where before the New Horizon arrived, every new day felt like one narrowly stolen from unforgiving death, now she felt like she easily had another half century in her at least. She had lived so long in a black empty night, and now here the sun had risen for her, and she could see an unexpected dawn stretching forth in front of her, streaked with bold and vibrant colour.
The Romans were happy for the Kobolians having discovered such an interest in Earth by way of the simulants, but had never been lacking any such interest themselves. They had also been unaware of their existence, but were less intent on studying Margaret herself. Like other areas of technology, they resisted simply being handed the technology without having earned the discovery of it for themselves. They still feared that failing to develop a technology for themselves would impede the required respect for the powers of such technologies, and believed that being given a technology instead of developing it for themselves robbed them of something, a certain pride and dignity.
Haven’s President Kim was the most enthusiastic organizer of the summit, and a leader in pushing for the Terran Accords overall, to the point that from time to time she irritated the leadership of Kobol and Roma with the way she sometimes talked as though her own people were the truer descendents of Earth than the others. She had been fascinated with the old New Commonwealth which used to occupy so much of this chamber, and had been reading everything about it she could find in the archives for months now. It sometimes felt to the others that she was trying to bring them back into the human family, this person who only made contact with the rest of them yesterday for all intents and purposes, and assuming so much when from their perspective her civilization was still somewhat infantile in its level of development.
Nonetheless, all three worlds had come together, and although in broad strokes there was agreement about how everything in the Solar System should be managed, they were still in the process of hammering out all the fine details before the eventual signing. Some differences in philosophical disposition as to what rights the current inhabitants of Earth had, and to what degree the ruins should be preserved in the face of a desire to rebuild the planet to its former glory, persisted. To guide them, Margaret had taken the stand to give a public address.
Patricia in her same cherished pink flower print on white sundress, and Kirby in his well-tailored animal skin outfit, had hardly left her side since she had found herself in a new body. They were dubious at first, but before long they accepted her in her new form completely. Before New Horizon left the Earth, they had been kind enough to drop her and her people back at her village where she was able to spend time with her people in a the kind of intimate way she had been unable to for a very long time, having been stuck down in the bowels of the dam for so long. She was no longer angry or bitter at her predicament, and having the chance to live among them for several months did much to heal her spirit after being spirited into a brand new body. She fell in love with her people anew, and found herself very proud of how well they had survived and thrived, and came to newly respect who they were today more than merely lament everything she had seen them lose.
She stood up to the podium, but at first did not speak. As the voices murmured down to a whisper and eventually to a pressing silence, she surveyed the crowd slowly, still operating on a different sense of time from the rest of them. Her aides also surveyed the crowd, but had a look more of vigilance and sternness than Margaret’s look of pride and appreciation of the moment. Finally, just as the crowd was beginning to wonder if something was wrong, she finally spoke.
“Who speaks for Earth?” she asked. She looked around as some murmurs could be heard in response to her question as though she might have actually wanted an answer.
“I ask, because Earth clearly needs someone to speak for it. I have listened for a week now, to you scheming and planning for how you can exploit the Earth, how you can reshape it in an image you would like to see it in. However, I am also heartened to hear some voices calling for respect for what Earth has become over what it might have been in the past.
“I cannot speak for Earth, but I can speak for its past and present, for I have lived both. The Earth of old was a masterpiece of high technology and engineering, a gleaming utopia of social justice and progressive ideals. It was also only brought to that point in response to nuclear war and a global mass extinction due to our deforestation, destruction of natural spaces, and reckless climate change. It was a world of mixed merits, and as beautiful as it once was, before the fall it was already showing the signs of a possible decline back into the greed and recklessness which brought us to the brink before our second renaissance.
“The world of today is primitive, it is true. But it is a world of natural beauty and environmental reclamation. Mighty cities which stood impervious to nature for centuries, are now impossible to see, reclaimed by nature and the animals who were there before humans ever arrived. It is a world of natural beauty which its current inhabitants now live with harmoniously.” She looked at Patricia and Kirby. “By necessity and lack of other options to be sure, but in harmony nonetheless.”
There is beauty in what Earth once was, but it had a darkly destructive and exploitative side. Likewise there is also beauty in the Earth of today which you mustn’t fail to appreciate, though it certainly has its challenges as well. I cannot speak for Earth, but I can speak for its past as well as its present. I can be a bridge, if you would allow me to be. I can offer my insight into the past and the present, to help you build a future here which serves both what Earth was, and what it is today.
“Yes, do the research! Yes! Do your excavations of the old cities! But also do have respect for the ecology which has since taken their place. Do so in such a way that you disrupt the local people and wildlife in as minimal a way as possible, and strive to restore the land to what it was before you conducted your research afterwards. Yes rebuild! But select only a few key sites across the world to develop extensively, and let the rest of the planet be as it is in peace. You are a multi system civilization now, each with your own worlds, you don’t require any more than this of this world. Yes help the current inhabitants of Earth! But respect the people they have become and the ways of life they have developed on their own in your absence. Have a standing invitation to any inhabitants of Earth to come to your cities, to learn your ways and live as you do, but don’t expect them to, and respect those who decline, and who remain content to continue to live in their own ways, and strive not to judge them, their cultures, or their ways of life by your own standards.
“Lastly, I’d like to speak of reunion. The history of Earth is sadly, largely, a history of war. I can see already how you are all too quick to think antagonistically, to measure the interests of Kobol, or Haven, or Roma, or Earth against the interest of others. You are too quick to it, too ready to see each other as different from yourselves. Do not fall into the same trap which so many humans have for so many centuries. It was hard enough for peoples of neighboring nations to exist in peace, and you are all of different worlds.
“But, you are ultimately all of Earth. You are all children of Earth, and that is why you are all here, in an exercise in peace, to draft and sign this treaty. This is a moment of great importance, as profound to the history of humanity as each of your mighty missions leaving Earth themselves were so long ago. And that is what you all are now, children of Earth and critical sub-plots to the larger and greater narrative of humanity, just as Earth itself has been since you left. But now, those stories are combining and converging into one epic combined narrative, finally.
“You are one species, divided for too long, and now, finally reunited at last! May friendship, cooperation, and sensitivity to each other never leave your hearts!”
Kathryn switched off the transmission as the applause was reaching its crescendo.
“Good speech,” Jaren offered as he slowly popped one of the breaded crustacean delicacies from Kobol into his mouth, playfully letting it linger in zero gravity flight towards his mouth before snatching it out of the air.
“Yes, it was very moving. I hope we can live up to everything she said. It certainly never occurred to me that might wind up going to war!”
Jaren laughed. “No, me either… besides, we’d crush you,” he said with a wink. “I like her suggestions for how we approach the reconstruction of Earth though, sounds very responsible.”
The two were alone in a private yacht Jaren had rented for their honeymoon. Since leaving Earth orbit and no longer keeping away from each other, they had been utterly inseparable, sometimes stealing away to their suite together for days at a time on the weeks long journey from Earth to Kobol through the Escher Rift. They had married immediately upon arrival at Kobol in what Jaren swore was a modest ceremony but which still seemed embarrassingly extravagant to her.
Kathryn sometimes doubted herself for recklessly moving things along between them so quickly, but she kept thinking about Margaret’s words to her, about not wasting any time, about trusting her instincts and just going with what felt right. Besides, the more time she spent with Jaren, the more it felt right to be with him. He only ever seemed to become more and more compatible with her, and she’d never experienced that before. She could tell that he not only loved her deeply as a woman, but also profoundly respected her as a human being and professional.
The craft they were on was rented from a facility in orbit around Kobol; it was fast, and had living spaces for up to six people if one didn’t mind being cramped, or just two if they wanted it to feel spacious. It had a rotating arm with bulbs on either end, at the ends of which were things like sleeping quarters and the kitchen and bathroom, but the vessel also had large sections in the central sections for stretching out in zero gravity, as well as the forward control area which featured a half globe fishbowl viewing window.
They were currently in this forward area enjoying the view as they orbited Saturn and coasted just a couple dozen meters above the majestic rings. They marvelled at how brightly the light they reflected off the sun lit up their cabin, especially when combined by all the light reflected off the gaseous atmosphere to their left.
“There it is,” Kathryn pointed out. “See that orange body out there?
“Oh, oh sure, I see it. That’s where we’re going?”
“Yup, according to the archives it’s a moon called Titan, and before the fall there was an orbital research and commerce outpost attached to it by something called a space elevator.”
“And you want to check it out.”
Jaren laughed. “Alright then my dear, when I said we could go anywhere and do anything you wanted for our honeymoon I really did mean it after all! It certainly does sound interesting.”
“There you go, that’s the spirit!” she encouraged him. “We’ll make an explorer out of you yet.”
He gave her a playfully dirty look. “Titan it is!” he finally declared with arms dramatically outstretched.
A control panel started blinking and softly buzzing to Kathryn’s right, and she reached over to access the panel and bring up whatever it wished to inform her of. She experienced a brief moment of horrifying existential dread, but in the blink of an eye it was gone, and replaced instead with a growing warmth radiating from the depths of her being, so much so that Jaren noticed.
“What is it?” he asked.
Kathryn snickered a little, and then as casually as possible, remarked: “I’m pregnant.”
“Really!?” Jaren replied in surprise.
“Yeah,” she laughed. “The health monitoring system built into the waste system was cued by elevated hormone levels and did further testing to diagnose me,” she smiled mirthfully at the thought of being ‘diagnosed’ with pregnancy.
“Oh that’s wonderful!” Jaren said as he floated over and embraced her in big bear hung which led them to softly bump against the large forward glass fishbowl. As they slowly floated back in the opposite direction he gave her a lingering and emotional kiss. Afterwards Kathryn smiled anew.
“I was just thinking about what Margaret said, about reunion. As far as we know this is the first interplanetary pregnancy. It is the physical manifestation of our reunion as a species.”
“So it is,” Jaren smiled. “What a delightful distinction for it to carry… begs the question though, where do we raise it? Kobol or Haven?”
“Neither,” Kathryn answered. “Earth, of course. We were both already planning to stay long term at the Terran Research Institute they’re building on the surface, I see no reason to change our plans. I still want to dedicate myself to researching and developing Earth. I, I hope you do to…” she asked, with her first hint of nervousness about how this would now all play out.
“Of course,” Jaren softly reassured her. I still want to be a part of that with you, and I can’t think of a better place to raise the first child born of two child civilizations of Earth than Earth itself. The manifestation returns to the source, it’s… poetic.”
“I just hope we can visit our homeworlds often, not only would we miss them, but I wouldn’t want to deprive our little ones of those worlds either.”
“Ones? Plural?” she balked.
“One could hope,” Jaren playfully suggested.
“Well,” Kathryn laughed, “let’s see how the first one goes first alright?”
“Of course…” he smiled.
“But you’re right… we should visit the other worlds as often as we can. I want to show it everything, all of the beauty and wonder which all of our worlds have to offer. We will raise it on Earth, but we will show it the worlds and it will feel at home on all of them; it will be the first true citizen of the cosmos.”