“You Can’t Go Home Again” – Thomas Wolfe
My name is Dr. Arya Bose. I was born on November 26th, 2042 in India. I have lived two lives.
In my first life, I was an award-winning celebrity. In a quiz contest, the answer to “Who is the Astrophysicist who designed and engineered the RAVEN Space System?” would be me. RAVEN stands for ‘Research and Analysis Vehicle for Extraterrestrial Navigation’, a cool acronym we nerds came up with. I was the CEO and Founder of RAVENCorp Incorporated, a private enterprise whose assets included an interplanetary network of space ships, command centers, and research stations spread across the Earth, the moon and Mars.
In 2068, when I was twenty-five years old, RAVENCorp established a colony on the moon to mine Helium-3 isotopes, which were then transported to Earth. Helium-3 isotopes were used to produce electricity from Nuclear Fusion Reactors on Earth that we owned and operated. RAVENCorp became the world’s largest supplier of cheap, clean energy, just as the World’s oil reserves were running out. And I became one of the richest men on Earth.
But this journal is not about my first life; it is about my second!
On October 30th, 2069, when I was twenty-six years old, I underwent a voluntary cryo-freeze procedure before being launched aboard the Garuda III, a RAVEN prototype destined for Solar orbit at an average distance of twenty-five million miles from the center of the Sun. It was supposed to be a 2-year journey, with planned reawakening scheduled for 2071 when the Garuda III entered into its scheduled Solar orbit.
Things did not go according to plan; I awoke from cryo-freeze on January 4th, 3001 – after being in cryo-freeze for a total of 931 years – to begin my second life.
Dear Reader, this journal could serve many purposes: It could serve as a historic record of my second life; It documents my encounters with Ram, Lakshman, and Sita; It could serve as a description of how we built the Lunar Bridge, defeated the Roaches and ensured our survival; It could serve as an account of my transformation from a prominent atheist into the religious, spiritual … even mythological character I would later become.
But, above all else, this journal is intended for one primary purpose – to serve as a manual for designing and architecting a human civilization.
I woke up with memories of pain going back as far as I could recall.
Waking up from cryo-freeze is not a pleasant experience; it involves bringing a body that is almost dead back to life inch by painful inch. For some crazy reason, the nerve endings are the first to wake up. They think that the organs are dying and start sending out pain signals right away. The primary organs become functional slowly and the biological circulatory system is restored before artificial tissue support systems are withdrawn. The entire process takes almost a week; consciousness is restored towards the end when the body is fully restored and pain subsides. Your brain’s memory, however, remains functional throughout and keeps track of the pain.
In a sadistic quirk of fate, there is also temporary amnesia (i.e.) memory from before the cryo-freeze event takes some time to load after consciousness is restored. So when you wake up, although you’re not in pain currently, you will have memories of incredible traumatizing pain lasting over the past week. And you will have no other memories for nearly an hour after waking up. You won’t remember your name, your life, where you are or how you got there in the first place.
The only thing I could do consciously during that hour was to grapple with those memories while lying down in a fetal position. When my memories returned, they were distant, like memories from a dream remembered vividly. I understood why other astronauts referred to the experience as being reborn rather than waking up.
I was expecting it to be around December 2071. I was expecting the Garuda III to be in its expected Solar orbit. It was actually January 4th, 3001 and the Garuda III was almost back on Earth. Travel logs showed that the ship had lost all communications with RAVEN and had just kept orbiting the Sun for an incredible 930 years. On September 14th, 3000, a RAVEN command system from Earth had inexplicably come back to life after being dead for nine centuries. It had successfully reestablished contact with the Garuda and had ordered its immediate re-entry into Earth. And so, five months later, the Garuda was close to re-entry back to Earth and I woke up to begin my second life.
You would expect me to be shocked by all the time I had lost. In truth, though, I felt elated.
For the first time, I admitted to myself that I had hated my earlier life. All of it. The board of Directors. The bureaucracy. The politicians. The fans. The awards. The money. The women. The drugs. The phony smiles. Noticing myself wearing the similarly phony one in a mirror. The pretense of it all. Success can be its own enemy.
It had started quite well. No, let me rephrase that – It had started as a magnificent adventure. When Spirit was ready, I’d taken her for a joyride around the moon to test her out. And then parked her in my backyard. Heh! You should have seen the looks on the neighbors’ faces – I was a private spacecraft of my own and I kept it parked in my backyard!
RAVENCorp was soon incorporated with a specific mission: Interplanetary resource mining. We started exploring planets in our solar system for profitable mining ventures. The moon turned out to be particularly bountiful – Helium, Uranium, Thorium, Rare Earths – an investor’s wet dream. The funds had come pouring in. After you cross your first trillion, you no longer keep track of money.
It’s conventional wisdom that you’ll find it painful to adapt to poverty, especially if you’ve been born rich. I found out that it’s even more difficult to adapt to sudden success.
That was the reason I volunteered to go on this mission – to get away from it all. The other reasons – the technical ones, that my presence aboard the Garuda was crucial to its success, that the AI required human augmentation for facing unknown risks – were excuses, lies I had told the Board. The Media. And myself.
I had succeeded only all too well in getting away from it all – nine centuries lay between me and my previous World!
A door appeared suddenly and knocking sounds were heard– a call from the RAVENCorp Lunar Mines. The default Comms Interface aboard was NVCI (i.e.) Natural Visitor Communication Interface, which is tech-speak implying that the Garuda handled incoming communications using holographic projections that simulated natural face to face human communications. When I said “Enter”, I signaled that I was accepting the incoming call. The door opened and two men and a woman, all in white scientific gear, came through looking rather stern. A large oval table appeared in the middle of the room with three chairs on the opposite side from me. The projected table had positioned itself such that the swivel chair I was sitting on (physical, not projected) was smoothly aligned on the opposite edge of the table.
They took their offered seats and began. They were on the Moon and I was orbiting Earth’s atmosphere aboard the Garuda III, so there was a communication delay of 2.6 seconds (1.3 seconds light travel time each way). In this journal, dear reader, I’m leaving out such communication delays for improved readability.
“Hello Dr. Bose,” the female scientist introduced herself as she sat down across the table facing me. “I’m BF59. My colleagues are DM59 and YM59.”
Seeing the confusion on my face at their strange names, she explained, “We’re from the RAVEN Colony on Moon. We follow a nomenclature where everyone gets assigned a letter of the alphabet, followed by their Sex – M for Male and F for Female – and finally the generation they belong to. We belong to the 59th generation from RAVEN Moon.”
“What happens when some parents refuse to go along with this naming system?” I directed my question at her. I had surmised from the way the other men deferred to her that she was the leader of the group.
She hesitated a while before replying, “RAVEN Moon Colony that you established back in 2070 is still functional. But, a lot has changed over the years. We don’t reproduce the old way anymore – the results tend to be … unpredictable.
At regular intervals of 10 years or so, a new generation is bred using bio-womb chambers. The process has impeccable results – We are a society of extremely high IQ humans dedicated to the pursuit of Science. We normally raise 25 of us in every batch, so the first letter of our names tends to vary from A to Y.”
Then, in a low voice, she spoke again as though she were chiding a child, “You should know about our bio-womb chambers and the genome lab, Doctor. As per our records, you’re the one who had the human genome lab built on RAVEN Moon.”
Yup, she was right!
In 2068, I had, rather unscrupulously, ordered a biological laboratory fully equipped with an enormous array of human germ cells and artificial bio-womb chambers to be constructed. It was done in secret; even others on the Board of RAVENCorp did not know about it. I had found the Moon to be an ideal place to hide my secret.
The objective was to conduct human genetic experiments to produce high IQ geniuses – scientists and engineers – to work for RAVENCorp. Competitive advantage for a firm was determined solely by brain power. Wages for high IQ talent had gone through the roof and turnover was high. The idea was to produce a pipeline of high IQ geniuses who would all be completely loyal to RAVENCorp, the company to which they would literally owe their existence. Such a large pool of high IQ talent would almost certainly make RAVENCorp unbeatable in the high-tech sector.
I decided to change the subject from their odd names and get down to brass tacks. “So RAVEN Moon is still operational after nine centuries. Excellent! But what about the RAVEN Earth Control Center? Why didn’t they respond when Garuda reached Solar orbit in 2071? Why was I allowed to become Rip Van Winkle?”
“To be honest, we don’t really know. We can only assume it was because of the war. A few months after you left, we were contacted by the ETIs – Extra-Terrestrial Intelligent creatures – an intelligent species with significantly advanced technology, capable of faster than light travel. Historical records are mostly unclear, but our scientific consensus is that humans failed to establish peaceful relationships with them and launched nukes instead. Humans irradiated the surface of our own planet in a failed bid to wipe them out while hiding in underground shelters.”
“Wait…Did you just say ‘a failed bid’? The Aliens… they’re still alive?” I asked her.
“Most of them were killed but some managed to successfully adapt to an irradiated environment. We’re in the process of establishing communications with them now,” she replied.
“And what about us? And the planet?” I asked.
“Well… Humans built huge underground Towers – cities really – before nuking the surface. That’s where humans live while the ETIs live on the surface. It’s a rather delicate balance! And as for Earth, well, the biosphere has collapsed completely,” she said this with a slow sad shake of her head.
I got up to talk a walk, to help me think better. The table shifted to become a small coffee table in a corner, giving me sufficient space to walk around while preserving verisimilitude of the projections. I chuckled when I noticed that the table’s decor matched the flooring – Garuda was designed to go that extra mile.
“Ok, one question – These Aliens… ETIs as you call them… What do they want?” I asked.
“We don’t really know, we’re still trying to understand them,” she answered. “We’ve only just established communications, you see…And I’m sure our relationship has not been improved by the emergence of this new cult, the Ram cult.”
“The Ram Cult?”
As if on cue, there was another knock on the door. I was getting a call from RAVEN Earth.
“That’s them, you see. They’re the ones who’ve taken control of RAVEN Earth – they’ve commandeered your ship to return to Earth and woken you up in the process. Actually, I’ll even say that you’re being kidnapped right now. Please don’t answer the door! They’ll only try to confuse you,” she spoke with a note of urgency in her voice.
One of the two men who had remained silent so far chipped in. “You must turn Garuda around and come to Moon. You won’t be safe with them. Reset control to manual and operate it yourself.”
I checked the Nav Systems. My kidnappers were thorough. Garuda had dumped fuel cells en masse before entering Earth’s orbit, under orders from RAVEN Earth.
“I don’t have enough fuel for that. It looks like I’m out of options – My landing trajectory has already been plotted and I don’t have fuel left to re-plot another. So tell me more about this cult? Who’s Ram?” If I didn’t have a choice about my trajectory, I decided that I might as well spend the remaining time I had left before landing collecting more information.
“One of us, I’m afraid. He’s another Doctor from RAVEN Moon. Or rather, he was. You see, he’s taken to calling himself after some ridiculous bronze age Hindu God. He went to Earth without proper approval and he’s started a movement down there, some superstitious mumbo-jumbo, stirring up trouble. He fancies himself to be a prophet of some sort… he’s got a lot of followers down there and he’s destroying any attempt for lasting peace with the ETIs.”
I received a simple text message from my kidnappers, which flashed on the door:
Dr. Bose, when the Garuda lands, please stay near the ship until my team picks you up. I guarantee your safety and your liberty. You’ll be free to go to Moon if you wanted to after you’ve stayed with us for a few days.
I challenge you to listen to what I have to say with an open mind. If you do, it is inevitable that you will become one of us!
“That’s a rather bold challenge,” I replied with a smirk.
“You are an atheist, aren’t you? A man of science, correct?” she asked.
I replied that I was. I must confess to you readers that I was a very prominent atheist in my first life. I was known for speaking my mind forcefully about this subject – I had made it a habit of mocking religious people for the superstitious beliefs they professed.
The ship was now ready for atmospheric entry.
“Comms would be disrupted soon by atmospheric disturbances. Any final advice?” I asked.
“Yeah, be rational – not emotional. Question him on all his mumbo-jumbo.”
“I’m sure I can manage that.”
“Ram can be persuasive. He managed to convince another scientist, one of our very best, to go with him when he escaped to Earth.”
“Yup. They’ve taken to calling themselves Ram and Lakshman. And, of course, his wife went along with him as well,” she made the word ‘wife’ sound like an invective. “Make sure you don’t succumb to Stockholm syndrome. If you actually can make it, come here. We’d love to have you help us study the ETIs. We’re on the verge of establishing lasting peace. We can learn a lot from them, specifically about faster-than-light travel.”
The Garuda had started burning through the atmosphere. They blinked out as the call was cut off.
I was going to face my kidnappers soon.
My second life had just become a lot more interesting!
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