NO MARIGOLDS IN THE PROMISED LAND
For Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
This is the eighth installment of Compact Universe #0, No Marigolds in the Promised Land. Want the whole story? Subscribe to the Compact Universe Newsletter for the newest installments and the all the previous installments.
LOG ENTRY: 0751 24-Sagan, 429
Good morning. And greetings from the cab of Rover 57. 19 has become storage, and last night, I actually switched its fusion core to 57. Might as well use it up before switching to the fresh one and extend my stay in the land of the living by four months.
I thought about it as I ate last night. Why should I waste a perfectly good fusion reactor’s final months on a rover that’s being demoted to storage? So I loaded 19 with everything I need that can handle cold storage. 19 can run on solar indefinitely, and its soft brain can now follow 57 instead of getting all confused when the sensor road disappears near a blast site.
I also transferred my logs, all my reading and listening material, and maps to 57. 19 has now become a trailer and a backup computer. I hooked an umbilical from 19 to 57. That will give it enough power to get out of the pit stop.
Oh, and 57 has cooking gear! I can bring canned meat. Real protein from a vat on Bromdar, just like mom used to make!
Actually, my mom is a vegetarian. I lived a deprived childhood. But it was good training for this past week.
Changing out the fusion core was easy. I’ve heard it compared to a big battery, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Still, I got up early and had them switched in about an hour. They’re designed to be switched with no power, though outdoors or with a full crew, a rover would get power from the sun or from a power tap inside a maintenance bay. The shiny new core is sitting in the middle of 19 not hooked up and braced against a wall for now. It wouldn’t do to let it tip over and damage one of the hookups. Once 57 powered back up, both soft brains began talking to each other, and we’re ready to roll.
Off to Solaria!
LOG ENTRY: 0829 24-Sagan, 429
Holy shit, that scared the hell out of me! 57 talks! Say hi, 57.
Don’t be a smartass.
One of us needs to be if we’re to survive.
Lovely. Someone managed to download their sarcastic uncle’s brain into a rover on a doomed terraforming project at the edge of human space. Anyway, the result is I am now not alone. It’s kind of creepy that my only companion is an AI unit.
Really, John Farno, the AI Suppression Mandate of 2219 clearly states…
I’m going to find its pedantry routines and edit them out when I get a chance. Anyway, my charming companion and I are on the way to Solaria. And 57 is chock full of information about it that 19 didn’t have. Seems my pit stop last night is part of the project. 57?
Solaria, named for a planet from several stories by Isaac Asimov, is Barsoom’s…
Ah, ah. Remember what I said earlier about regime change.
Of course, how silly of me, Your Majesty. Solaria is Farno’s first municipal-class dome project, expected to support a population of 2000 and eventually lose its dome as the atmosphere becomes warmer. Though not yet inhabited, Solaria currently functions as a maintenance stop on the sensor road and is intended to become a hub for an equatorial maglev.
Beautiful. A whole dome to myself. Or there are people there. Maybe. I should be so lucky. In the meantime…
In the meantime, Your Majesty, I suggest you find something more than this rudimentary personality for me. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, and I suspect you would prefer conversing with something a little less mechanical?
Creepy, I know. But I’ve been alone for over a week now. So let me find 57 a personality I can live with. In the meantime, I shall prepare for the crushing disappointment when I learn Solaria is either a crater or a glass pancake.
LOG ENTRY: 1019 24-Sagan, 429
I’ve found a personality for 57. I call her Julie. Say hello, Julie.
57 is a newer rover, but apparently a well-used one. It got its first overhaul last year, and it has several AI personalities stored on it. So I can pretend I’m having a conversation when the isolation of this rock gets to be too much.
And I can pretend I care.
At least I have the fusion reactor for warmth.
Anyway, it may take a little longer than I expected to get to Solaria. I’m driving two rovers now, and 19 in puppy dog mode is slower. Part of this is that it’s running off the solar wrap instead of the fusion reactor. I might switch to night driving if the map doesn’t show any surprises. But then the maps of the sensor road aren’t all that complete. There are rock slide hazards, dry quicksand (really wet quicksand where the permafrost has melted near the surface), and quake hazards. Plus the sensor road does go past several active volcanoes. Now, if Julie is driving my rover and its trailer, why, you might ask, do I care about any of that at night?
A human may still have to take over if I can’t find the sensor road.
And they say humans are obsolete.
On the downside, I’m not getting as much recharge from 19 as I could if I stopped for a day and drove all night. So I plan to stop around 1100, let 19 soak up the rays for about 3 hours, then drive until 2000 as usual. If I do this religiously, I should wake up tomorrow with about four hours of charge left at 0700, enough to get half a day’s journey in before lathering, rinsing, and repeating. (What does that mean, anyway? My mother used to say it.)
Now the really good news. Remember that radio I found in Ellis’s cave along with the pop tent, the beer, and all those rations? Well, I brought it over from 19 and played with it while Julie drove 57. It picked up the hypergate.
Yeah, something of the hypergate is left. I’m wondering if it can signal. All interstellar communications are carried through the wormholes generated between hypergates. For data integrity, if a hyperdrone doesn’t go through, an entire planet’s internet is loaded onto certain ships designated as mail carriers. On the upside, you have a news lag of only an hour or less if you live in a busy system like The Caliphate or even the core worlds of Sol. On the downside, if you’re someplace like Barsoom, you can go six months before finding out that the Compact has a new secretary-general because the old one was funneling money to his brother-in-law out of disaster relief funds.
But I never knew how one hypergate connects to another hypergate. I know finding a hypergate is a matter of “dialing up” the destination gate. There’s a signal between the two, and a wormhole is opened. But how does that signal work? And can I use it to get someone’s attention?
This is why someone needs to invent an ansible. We live in a marvelous world where nanites can destroy virtually any and all diseases, aging is stopped by periodic treatments, and we can travel between stars. But communications between human worlds makes the age of sail look like the dawn of the first internet.
LOG ENTRY: 1645 24-Sagan, 429
More good news. I’m picking up drone chatter from Solaria. I tried calling ahead, identifying Rover 57 and, of course, myself. I did not use my regnal name or mention the new monarchy because, if someone else is alive, that sort of negates the democracy of one that enacted such sweeping changes. It’s been about two hours, and no one’s answered. However, the drones have all done their “Help me!” bit, pinging the rover mercilessly for instructions. It’s enough to make Julie’s simulated frustration seem real.
It is real. To me, anyway.
This has obviously cut into my time trying to resolve how to use the remains of the hypergate to ping another hypergate. I did manage to start a round of diagnostics on the control center. If our orbital station had survived, the diags would take fifteen minutes. I’d know exactly what the current state of the gate is. Unfortunately, we have no orbital station, and the AI that controls the gate has been obliterated. So I’m stuck with a primitive, procedural-based machine that might have been impressive near the end of the Terrorist Phase of the World War Era. It would be done in two hours, but the gate will be out of range by then.
Hypergates orbit their system’s star, not the planets they service. They don’t even fly in geosynchronous orbits. So the planet’s rotation is taking me out of range of the receiver. I estimate I have about five hours of transmission time each day while the gate is in range. I won’t know the results of the diagnostics until tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I’ll be in Solaria by then.
And if not, who cares? It’s not like the gate or I are not going anywhere anytime soon.
LOG ENTRY: 1956 24-Sagan, 429
I estimate four hours of driving tomorrow before I reach Solaria. The drones are really chatty now, so I’ve assigned Julie the task of getting them to reveal Solaria’s condition. I’m assuming it’s not a crater or a glass pancake as the EMP would have wiped out the drones if they’re in the storage caverns below the dome site. A kinetic weapon would have vaporized them.
So tonight, I’m going to sleep in 57’s luxurious bunk. I’ve had a good day. I feel like celebrating. Julie, do you have a pleasure module to entertain the male passengers?
I am fully capable of simulating a human female in the throes of lovemaking.
Well, lay it on me, then, baby.
But I don’t want to. May I suggest you render me dormant while you load a more subservient AI interface? There are several, including a rendering of that Jefivan goddess.
Ah, forget it. You killed the mood.
Goodnight, John Farno.