The Disclosure: Distractions

Jan: Your asteroid mining efforts do have some skeptics from sustainability to possible impacts with the Earth due to changes in the orbits. Some of your competitors have suggested that the global organization, Lucy in the Sky, that you helped found is creating a rigged system that Xavier Labs benefits from while others are setback by it’s government lobbying efforts. Still, across the globe, even your critics agree… your creation of the Star Fund to help offset lost jobs due to increased automation is benefiting millions.

Xavier: There’s nothing nefarious about Lucy. I’m just a Beatles fan. It’s an open source organization with all communication going through the USPEBL. All…

Jan (interrupting): For those not familiar with USPEBL… Sorry to interrupt… it’s the United States Public Entity Blockchain Log. It’s a system by which all communications are placed on a public blockchain managed and redacted exclusively by the United States government. It promotes transparency for organizations with a public interest.

Again, sorry to interrupt.

Xavier: I could not have said it any better.

Xavier is running through another simulation inside Earth 2.0 that takes him forward 100 years. He’s testing the limits of the simulation when he notices a major anomaly within the data access logs of the simulation. Someone, or something, has been attempting to access the DNA records that are used for uniquely identifying each human being now living within Earth 2.0 as well as the DNA records Xavier Labs has been receiving as part of the asteroid entitlement program.

He sets a trap and waits…

Jan: Thank you. What do you say about the sustainability of asteroid mining?

Xavier: Obviously, there are logistical limitations. We’ve detailed those in our reports to the necessary government agencies, and we have trained developing nations about the limitations to the exploits of asteroid materials.

Jan: After the repeated failed colonization attempts of Mars, where do you see human life expanding outside Earth? I mean, besides Earth 2.0, of course.

Xavier is sitting in his personal lab, about to take the serum so that he can enter Earth 2.0.

“Xavier.” he hears.

He looks behind him, knowing full well he’s secured the lab before taking the serum. He’s encountered strange side effects before during the waiting period of taking the serum and entering Earth 2.0, but he hasn’t taken the serum yet.

“Xavier!” he hears the voice louder.

He places the serum on his lab table and sits down at his desk and pulls up his communication logs. “Could it be that someone has hacked his encrypted nanobot communication system?” He thinks to himself.

This is the same system he used to control Dr. Tom Fields during the super vaccine trials. He built a safeguard into the nanobots to disable them and flush them from his body, but upon review of everything, he finds nothing to indicate the nanobots have been compromised. He initiates the flushing protocol just to be on the safe side and waits for his body to purge the nanobots over the next 72 hours, which is a process he performs once a month anyway.

Xavier: We’re going back to Mars.

Jan: Really? It’s been a repeated abysmal failure over the last 30 years!

Xavier: It has cost trillions of dollars and dozens of lives, but the value is still there. We will succeed in colonizing Mars within the next 100 years.

Jan: You’re saying within your lifetime then. Is that because of your latest constellation satellite system orbiting the red planet?

Xavier is lying in his bed at home, doing his bedtime meditation, when he hears the same voice from the other day while in the lab.

“Xavier!”

“I am he,” he answers back.

“0266”

He opens his eyes and stares at his ceiling for a brief moment before he smiles, chuckles, and then closes his eyes and falls asleep.

The following day he goes into his personal lab and takes a dose of nanobots and then takes the serum to enter Earth 2.0. As he’s waiting for the serum to kick in, he keeps thinking “0266” over and over in his head until he falls asleep.

Xavier enters into his simulation in Earth 2.0 that takes him ahead 100 years. The simulation is now using the data available from the Mars constellation satellite system Xavier Labs has placed around the red planet. With nearly half a Martian year worth of data, Xavier is now able to more accurately simulate conditions on Mars.

He begins running a series of simulations within his simulation in order to figure out the best method to colonize Mars, when he hears the voice again, “0266”. He smiles.

The simulations complete, and Xavier analyzes the data to determine the best scenario to follow for colonizing Mars.

Xavier: The constellation satellites are helping us better understand what will become home for billions of humans in the future.

Jan: And what about beyond our solar system? Your quantum entangled satellite system is nearing Alpha Centauri. Do you expect to find life? Or plan to colonize the habitable planets you discovered before sending the satellites? What does the future of human space colonization hold?

Fredrick Prophet tosses a file onto the table in front of Xavier. “Another one bankrupt, Ned!”

“I don’t think I have ever seen you this enthusiastic before, Fredrick. Should I be disturbed that you enjoy watching people fail so much?” Xavier chuckles as he opens the file to see that one of their top competitors in quantum computing has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Laughing, Fredrick responds, “Good thing we’re on the same team, eh! See you in the board meeting later quantum genius,” he says as he’s leaving.

Richard enters Xavier’s office and glares at Fredrick as he passes him. In turn, Fredrick gives him two thumbs up and a big smile. Richard passingly gives Fredrick the middle finger as he walks to Xavier’s chair and sits down in front of Xavier, “So, you saw Xeno’s belly up? I know a few guys over there worth picking up for our own teams.”

“Richard, when you go to bed a night, do you ever wonder if, or when, these other companies are going to figure out that quantum computing isn’t what they think it is?” Xavier asks his business partner.

“Not particularly, Ned, but I can see how that would be something that might keep you up at night. There are a lot of good people losing their jobs pursuing something that continues to remain a big mystery that we’ve already figure out.”

Xavier gives Richard a look of disgust, “The only thing we figured out is that existing quantum computing paths and technology is total bullshit and can be done for a fraction of the cost and resources with optimized classical computing.”

There’s a long, uncomfortable silence.

“Ned, you’ve never struck me as someone with much of a conscious about… Well, anything. You getting soft in your old age?” He smiles at Xavier.

“I’m being serious when I say this Richard.” Xavier pauses as Richard hangs on his words. “I’m going to setup a program for universal income for everyone on the planet when we finally start returning the RUBARB mining haul. I know Fredrick is going to be pissed, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Richard looks at Xavier with a puzzled look.

“What?” Xavier charges.

“You’re full of shit, Ned.”

“I’m being 100% serious, Richard. We’re changing the world, and I think it’s important to change it for the better!”

“Hey, I’m dead in a few months anyway, so whatever flips your pancake, Ned.”

“Don’t be like that, Richard. When you first told me about your repeating cancer, I started taking this kind of stuff a bit more serious.”

“Ya…” Richard gets up from his chair. “Total bullshit, Ned.” Richard heads for the door. “I don’t see why you can’t just tell me, your best fucking friend, who is dying of liver failure what you’re really up to.”

Xavier raises his eyebrows, “You done with the drama?”

“I’m all ears if you’ll tell me your real scheme,” Richard says as he turns back around and sits down.

“Okay, the plan is that we’re going to setup the entitlement program and use our patented DNA sequencing for uniquely identifying each recipient.”

Richard sits back in his chair, “That’s brilliant, Ned! You’ll have exact DNA data on billions of people! What you’ll be able to do with that data is limitless, but I’m still a no.”

“C’mon, Richard! Let me help you! With this, we can find a solution to your liver!”

“Not going to happen, Ned. I love you and all, but this is it for me. Please respect that. And don’t put me in your Earth 2.0 or even my own. It’s the end of the line for me. I’m out with this last liver, okay?” Richard looks sternly at Xavier. “This is it for me, Xavier, and I need you to respect that.”

Xavier looks downtrodden and nods as Richard leaves his office.

Xavier: I’m as eager as you to discover what’s next. The future is the greatest discovery. It will be important to respect any existing life that we might discover in the future, no matter how primitive it may be.

Jan: Should we expect to find life elsewhere in the universe?

Xavier: It would be naive to believe otherwise. Whether it will have achieved the level of intelligence and success as humans is to be seen.

Jan: So, you don’t think other intelligent life is out there?

Richard is lying in his bed with his armada or robots around him and Xavier as the lone human. Richard reaches his head out from under his blanket and grasps Xavier’s hand.

“I appreciate everything you did for me, Ned, now and in the future. Please tell my ex-wife that I hold no ill will against her not joining me today. I’m pretty sure it’s because she hates you more than me.”

Xavier smiles as his eyes begin to well up, “You sure you want me to turn off your system, Richard?”

“You promised me, Ned.”

Xavier begins the shutdown sequence for Richard’s nanobots that have been keeping him alive since his fourth printed liver failed. The consequence of running on the nanobots is that Richard has had to live in a confined space that can wirelessly transmit the needed electricity into his nanobots that consume more than 100 times the energy it takes a human to live.

Xavier looks Richard in the eyes as Richard begins to die, “I love you, brother.”

Richard dies.

Xavier closes his eyes and a stream of tears runs down his face.

Xavier: It would be a pleasant surprise.

Jan: With Earth 2.0, some of the philosophical minds of the world have suggested that we’re just years away from discovering that this reality is, too, a simulation. I would imagine that in your research into Earth 2.0 you would have come to some truly educated theory about such an idea?

Xavier: It’s an idea that’s been kicked around since before the beginning of this millennium; both in science and pop culture. Anyone with a curious mind has likely pondered the very nature of our existence itself. All our research points to this reality that we live in being absolute.

Jan: And signs of a higher being or a God?

Xavier: I’d be naive to assume I have all the answers.

Jan: Your research has found nothing to prove one way or another?

Xavier: Do you mean do I hear a voice calling my name at night, giving me guidance and answering my prayers? No.

Jan: When we return from this acknowledgement of our patrons, we’ll next discuss the hot topic of politics.

The Disclosure: Earth 2.0

Jan smiles at Xavier while waiting to return from the break to acknowledge their patrons. Xavier places his hands together in prayer, draws them towards his face and bows his head as he closes his eyes and smiles at Jan. He looks back up at her and says that he’s really glad to have chosen to do the interview with her because she’s a no nonsense interviewer. He compliments her on her job.

Jan: We’re back with Ned Xavier from Xavier Labs, and our next topic of conversation is Earth 2.0. It’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t at least heard of the Earth 2.0 project yet, but for both those who haven’t and those who have heard of Earth 2.0 here’s a little video about the incredible Earth 2.0 project.

The video starts playing on the video prompt in front of Jan and Xavier. It starts off with a promotional video that Xavier Labs made a few weeks ago to inform people about the latest government tax rebates available to those who want to retire early into Earth 2.0.

Xavier thinks back to the start of the project with his business partner Richard Aryu

Xavier and Richard are sitting at a quiet bar. Richard is stirring his olive in a nearly empty martini glass as Xavier is sitting next to him with a tonic water. A beautiful woman sits next to Richard and looks at him and Xavier with a big smile, orders her drink, and then takes her drink over to sit at a table with her equally beautiful friend who is watching Xavier and Richard.

“You miss your wife still.” Xavier says to Richard.

Richard lets our a deep sigh, “Sig, I’m sure you probably think I’m silly for still holding on to that relationship. What can I say.” Richard places his hands on the edge of the bar. “I need to show you something I’ve been working on, man. I think it’s finally time.”

Richard and Xavier walk out of the bar past the two women sitting at the table. The women smile at them and give them a flirty wave of the hand. Richard stumbles along with Xavier’s support as he waves at the two women and tells them to have a nice evening. They get into Xavier’s car that drives them to Richard’s home. When they arrive, they are greeted by Richard’s three Security Bots at the front gate.

“I really need to get one of those,” Xavier says to Richard.

Still inebriated, Richard slurs out, “They’re crap! Let’s build something better.”

The car drives them to the top of the roundabout where there’s a walkway to the front door about 100 feet away. Two more Security Bots help Richard exit the car. Xavier follows behind them as the car drives off to the parking garage on the other side of Richard’s sprawling property.

They enter Richard’s home where there are three more Security Bots that take over for the two at the entrance. Richard tells the Security Bots to take them to Lab 5. One of the Security Bots assists Richard to Lab 5 while the other two take up defensive positions along their path.

“You might be getting a little paranoid, Rich. These bots are like military guards.” Xavier is impressed with their build quality and autonomy; especially for being Richard’s garage projects. It’s decades ahead of anything he’s seen from the military contractors he’s worked with.

“These guys are crap, Sig!” Richard starts to hiccup uncontrollably. “No offense, pal.” He slaps the Security Bot helping him on the back.

“None taken, sir,” the Security Bot responds back.

They arrive at Lab 5 and Xavier takes over assisting Richard with his stumbling as the Security Bot is not allowed into the lab. Xavier looks around at the lab. It’s everything you’d expect from a mad scientist, much like his own personal lab but far more advanced. He’s in awe.

“This is one hell of a lab, Rich.”

“It’s crap! Take me over to the refrigerator.”

Xavier helps Richard over to the industrial refrigerator on the other side of the lab. Richard opens the door to the refrigerator to reveal a corridor with another door at the end. Richard stumbles his way over to the door and goes through a series of security checks to unlock and open the door. “This other guy is okay!” Richard shouts as he enters the other room.

Xavier cautiously walks down the corridor and enters the room. He sees laser pointers on his shoulders coming from several directions. Richard turns on the lights and there are five Security Bots that are far more advanced than the bots outside Richard’s home. Xavier raises his hands in surrender.

“Don’t do that, Sig. These guys are your friends.”

“I have to admit that I’m impressed with your security, Rich, but maybe ditch the laser sights. You’re not a wanted criminal.”

“Anymore!” Richard yells. “Anymore… Men, stand down!” Richard commands the Security Bots. The laser pointers stop, and the Security Bots move into a relaxed position.

“This is cool stuff, Rich. We could make a fortune off of this with the guys Fredrick knows in the community.”

“Ya, Sig, we could. Except Freddy is a dick. You know how I feel about that guy.”

“You drunk enough to tell me what really happened between you guys? You used to be best friends. He’s the one who introduced us.” It’s been three years since Fredrick Prophet introduced Xavier to Richard after Richard was arrested for illegally using surveillance data from the terrorist AI system he build for the US government. It’s been six months since Richard has spoken to Fredrick. Fredrick has told Xavier that nothing happened between the two, and Richard won’t tell Xavier anything about it.

“There’s another time for that, Sig. What I need to show you is going to blow your mind though. Come here!”

Jan: I happen to be good friends with Laura Kive. Since that brave moment she shared with the world on the Morning Star live stream, millions of people have followed suit in doing their part to help reduce their carbon footprint in the world with Earth 2.0. Your latest statistics are showing nearly 2 million citizens and more than 6 billion subscribers.

Xavier: We’re up to 8 billion subscribers. It speaks volume to how closely connected we all are.

Jan: When you have 80% of the world’s population wanting to keep in touch with their loved ones, I’d say so! Some naysayers call it a morbid infatuation with death and even point to studies that suggest, however, that you don’t really have 8 billion subscribers.

Xavier: Our data on this is public and reviewed by regulators.

Jan: Yes, it’s public, but there are still those who say they have analyzed the raw data and determined that the statistics you reported are not valid. They also suggest that the regulators aren’t truly validating your numbers.

Xavier thinks back to the first set of conversations he had with the Director of Marketing for Earth 2.0…

The Marketing Director, Derek Fields, is standing in front of Xavier, Fredrick Prophet, and Richard Aryu, “The United States government approved the Alternative Living Act nearly nine months ago, and we’re still sitting at just over 2,000 volunteers for Earth 2.0. However, we have a big idea that could really help increase the volunteer count.”

“I’m all ears, Derek,” Fredrick starts off. “Quite frankly, we sunk a ton of money into this project, and it could very well be what takes down Xavier Labs. We need numbers!”

Derek points to Fredrick. “Right!” He then looks at Richard and Xavier, who don’t seem as upset as Fredrick. “Our plan is to live stream an environmental activist uploading herself to Earth 2.0”

“Herself?” Xavier asks.

Derek looks over at Fredrick and then back to Xavier, “Yes, sir. We already have the candidate.”

“Then why are we having this presentation?” Xavier begins to stand up and Richard along with him.

“Because she’s the daughter of the Speaker of the House.” Derek says, halting Xavier and Richard mid rise.

Xavier: I welcome any valid scientist’s analysis of the data.

Jan: Now, there have been rumors circulating since the launch of Earth 2.0 with regard to the behavior of some of your scientists when they link into the system. Some of the allegations have been disturbing from rape to murder and even terrorism. But no one inside Earth 2.0 has come forward to corroborate these allegations.

Xavier lies down on his table with a series of cables and wires that make a virtual helmet around his head connecting to a computer where Richard is typing frantically.

Richard looks over at Xavier, “You ready? Make sure you relax. This is going to be intense!”

“Relaxing into an intense experience? Rich, do you even monitor the words that come out of your mouth?”

“The pill should be starting to kick in, just go with it.” Richard says as he presses one last button before walking over to Xavier and watching him pass out and go into a deep trance.

Xavier is walking down a long, dark tunnel towards a bright, white light. He hears the voices of his mother and father and uncle emanating from the walls of the tunnel. He looks around the tunnel but cannot see the walls. He feels himself being gently pulled towards the light without even walking or moving. He hears a scream below him. He looks down and sees a young woman being harassed by two men wearing masks.

He keeps being drawn towards the light despite trying to run back towards the young woman. He falls to the ground and claws his way back to the woman. The men begin to physically assault her as Xavier finally claws his way back to where they are. The woman looks up and can see Xavier as a white light above her. The two men notice that the woman is looking at something above them. They turn and see a white light floating above them.

Xavier snarls with rage and his eyes become filled with amber flames. The two men run away and Xavier flies after them. They run as fast as they can, looking back to see if the white orb is still chasing them. It’s gaining on them slowly as they run towards another tunnel with a blue light at the end. Xavier stops as he looks at the blue light and can see massive amounts of data scrolling up a computer screen that’s giving off the blue light. He sees two names he recognizes: Tom Fields and Jonathan Starcraft. The two men disappear into the blue light.

Xavier returns to the woman who is crying in the darkness that surrounds her. He picks her up and carries her towards the white light. As they get closer to the white light she lifts from his arms and floats away from him into the white light as he begins to feel himself being pulled in the opposite direction, back to nothingness. She smiles and waves at him as she is absorbed by the white light.

Xavier opens his eyes and looks at Richard, “What the hell was that?”

Richard starts laughing and claps his hands, “I know right! Isn’t that the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?”

Xavier is breathing heavily as he sits up. He grabs Richard by the shoulders and looks him in the eyes, “Who else have you shown this to?”

“Just Fredrick.” Richard can tell Xavier is upset, “I swear, just you and Fredrick. What’s going on?”

Xavier gains his composure, “I’m sorry, Rich. It was just a little overwhelming. You’re right. This thing is amazing! Let’s chat with Fredrick and the board about getting funding to get this out of the garage.”

Xavier: No one has ever been raped, murdered, or tortured in Earth 2.0. It’s a peaceful, permanent residence for all who choose this path. The tranquil nature is monitored 24/7. Citizens also have access to all the same entertainment and news sources we have here in our world. They view our reality on their television screens as entertainment.

Jan: Viewers, we have a special treat for you tonight. We’re going to take a brief intermission from the interview to show you some of the recordings of what’s inside Earth 2.0 from the perspective of the people living inside. An advertisement was placed in the publications in Earth 2.0, and several citizens responded. They have sent us their videos, and we’re going to show you a quick montage of them. During the second part of this three part series, we’ll be showing your more of what it’s like to live inside Earth 2.0. And don’t forget that most governments have created their own programs to completely cover your costs of gaining citizenship to Earth 2.0 and eliminating your carbon footprint on Earth. So, let’s take a quick break from this interview with Ned Xavier to show you a quick preview of what’s coming in part two of this series on Xavier Labs and the future of humanity. We’ll be right back with more hard hitting questions for Mr. Xavier.

The Asteroid Conflicts

Marcus locks his spacecraft in orbit around Asteroid 98308 and begins the loading bay sequence to deploy the autonomous robot mining rigs. All the system checks have passed, and Marcus transmits the notification to his fleet commander that he and his partner will begin the deployment countdown sequence. The first surveyor lands on the predesignated location of 98308 and begins detailed monitoring of the rotation of the asteroid and taking samples.

Marcus analyzes the data, which indicate massive gold formations at the location. He transmits his findings back to the fleet commander that he’s going to begin the sequence to create the first mining rig landing location.

“Go ahead and launch the first rig, John.”

John is stationed on the other side of the spacecraft from Marcus. “Confirmed data, beginning sequence to launch first rig.”

One by one, the 12 surveyors are launched and perform their tasks without issue and transmit the data back to Marcus. Only 3 of the locations show signs of precious metals, but the quantity of the metal is well worth the effort. Marcus has John initiate the retrieval sequence of the 12 surveyors, and each of them return back to the loading bay without issue and with minimal effect on 98308’s very slow rotation.

Marcus’ ship finally moves into the direct line of sight communication with his fleet commander, and their ships create an automatic laser communication connection. The video link shows the fleet commander and medic on Marcus’s screen, and they begin to check-in on him while another medic checks in with John.

“How’s it going out there Marcus? How’s she handling?” The fleet commander asks Marcus.

“Steady, ma’am. This is the most solid ship I’ve been on yet! I’m really impressed.”

The medic asks Marcus some questions about his mental state and how he has handled the 17 day trip with John. Marcus mentions that it’s been a good trip, and that he’s been very comfortable the entire time.

“Remember, Marcus,” The Commander starts off, “When you go into Earth’s shadow, it’s going to be a solid 115 minutes of testing of that ship’s life support and navigation systems, but you’re going to be on your own for pretty much the entire time. We’re deploying the haulers. They will intercept your trajectory in about 15 days, which gives the mining rigs plenty of time to strip that rock!”

“Yes, ma’am. This is what we trained for. We have checked and rechecked each of the systems. Everything is working exactly as it should. This is a well built machine! Mining rigs are going full speed ahead, and everything is reporting back in perfect condition. We could not have timed this any better!”

They finish discussing the mission, and then the commander transmits a message they received from Marcus’ wife and children. Marcus watches the video with a big smile and then records a video of his own to have the fleet commander send back to Earth while he’s out of communication. John also receives a message from his family.

The ship goes out of direct line-of-sight communication with the fleet commander. John calls Marcus via the in ship video communication channel.

“Marcus, I really appreciate you vouching for me for this position. This is going to change my family’s lives! I can’t thank you enough for believing in me. My family thanks you as well.”

Marcus chokes up but holds it back. “John, you’re like my little brother. We’ve known each other for how many years now? Heck, you were my wing man when I met my wife! I wouldn’t have the life I have without you by my side. I couldn’t imagine being on this mission with anyone else. We’re going back to Earth as billionaires!”

They smile at each other and give each other a thumbs up and prepare for the shadow transit.

#

30 minutes into the shadow transit Marcus receives a notification from the system monitoring the rotation of 98308 that an anomaly has been detected in the asteroid’s speed of rotation. Marcus evaluates the data as it’s coming in, and comes to the conclusion that passing through Earth’s shadow causes the rotation of 98308 to speed up by a considerably measurable amount. He logs the information into the tracking software and records a video of him stating the findings.

Another 50 minutes into the shadow transit and Marcus feels a massive shake in the ship. The hull monitoring system begins flashing a notification that the hull has been breached and the automatic recovery system has failed to seal the hull in Bay Module A. Marcus calls John on the video system and goes pale. He vomits inside his helmet as he sees John’s lifeless body strapped into his station with a golf ball-sized hole right through the middle of John’s helmet. John’s helmet is filled with frozen blood like an aquarium with one of John’s eyes pressed up against the left side of the helmet and the other sticking out of the other side of the helmet where the projectile exited.

Marcus’ hand is shaking as he closes the communication channel and removes his helmet. It’s considerably colder than it was previously, and the system monitoring the air temperature is starting to warn him that temperature in his command module is dropping quickly and will be unsafe for anyone without a suit within 30 seconds. He heads over to the closet, opens the door and pulls out the helmet from his spare suit in the closet. He cleans up his suit as much as possible and puts on his helmet and seals it. He then places his vomit filled helmet in the closet and closes the closet.

He heads back over to his command chair and secures himself. He looks at the clock to see how much more time is left in the Shadow. 30 minutes. He looks at the pitch of the ship and notices that it’s still increasing at an accelerating rate.

He records a brief video update, “The ship has been stuck by a golf ball-sized object that has penetrated the hull and killed my partner. Repeat, my partner John Ellis is dead. The hull is breached and the automatic sealing has been unable to reseal Bay Module A. The ship is appearing to head into a spiral. The recommended action is to release the damaged module of the ship to help correct the trajectory.”

Marcus calmly performs the sequence of commands to jettison the module where John’s body is. The system confirms that the release of that module will be possible inside of a three minute window, but it might not stop the leak unless Marcus also releases the adjacent cargo bay that was also damaged by the projectile.

Marcus starts talking to himself as he’s going through the data. “Okay. If I hold on to everything, I’m going to spiral and lose total control of the ship in approximately 14 minutes and lose all life support within 1 week. If I release John’s module but not the adjacent cargo bay, The ship will be able to correct the spiral, but I’m still going to lose life support in 10 days. I can figure out something in 10 days!”

He closes his eyes and thinks about all the good times he had with John. Tears begin forming in his eyes as he opens them and then presses the button to release the module with John. He drops his head and lets out a deep sigh.

#

Marcus sends out an SOS signal in hopes that it will reach the haulers in time for them to speed up their arrival and get to him in time. The ship’s navigation system has begun correcting for the damage to Bay Module A, but calculations are showing that it’s catching just enough solar wind that he’ll need to refuel the pitch correction module every 3 hours in order to allow the navigation system to continue to make the corrections needed to keep him in orbit around the asteroid. If he breaks orbit, he’ll never be found.

He spends the next 48 hours combing through manuals and every scenario he can come up with that will give him the best chance of survival without having to jettison any equipment in the damaged Bay Module A. Marcus realizes that he needs to get some sleep in order to keep his mind sharp. He secures himself in his bed and closes his eyes. Within seconds of falling asleep, he opens his eyes, “That’s it!”.

Marcus unstraps himself from his bed, puts his helmet back on, and pulls himself as quick as possible through the ship to the entrance to the damaged Bay Module A. He pauses, realizing that he might be making a delirious decision that’s deadly dangerous. He slows his breathing and makes his way back to his command module where he sits down and meditates.

As Marcus opens his eyes from meditation, he hears a crackle from the inbound receiver. He stares at the receiver as if he can hear with his eyes. A few minutes later he hears another crackle with a faint voice.

“What are the odds there’s someone else out here?” Marcus says to himself. “You’re hearing things, pal. Get back to bed.”

Marcus waits in front of the receiver a bit longer. There are no more crackles. He pulls himself back over to his bed, straps himself in, lets out a deep breath, and then falls into a deep sleep.

#

Marcus wakes from his sleep, feeling well rested. He goes over his calculations again and confirms that his plan will work. He pulls himself through to the ship to the Bay Module A entrance again. He double checks his suit, helmet, and harness buckle. He begins to depressurize the module he’s in so that he can start unlocking the door to the damaged Bay Module A. Once depressurized, he initiates the sequence to open the doors.

As the doors open, the system notifies him that there is a stability issue with the connection between his module and Bay Module A. The damage to Bay Module A is much worse than he was able to see through the porthole. Most of the back end of the module has been ripped off of the module. He sets out to execute his plan.

Using straps, Marcus secures the first mining rig near the door to Bay Module B. He double checks that Bay Module B is not pressurized and initiates the door unlock sequence. He moves the mining rig into Bay Module B and secures it with the straps. He closes the doors between Bay Module A and B and then goes back out of Bay Module A so that he can go refuel the pitch correction system.

One by one, Marcus methodically moves each mining rig from the damaged Bay Module A to Bay Module B, and then checks the pitch correction system to make sure that it has enough fuel. Every three mining rigs, he has to recharge his oxygen. Slowly but surely, Marcus has moved each of the mining rigs from the damaged Bay Module A into Bay Module B and secured them.

He goes back into this command module and runs through a series of simulations to make sure he can jettison the now empty damaged Bay Module A without causing any problems with this orbit. He figures out the sequence that will work best and programs it’s execution into the module management and navigation systems.

The module management system confirms the simulation outcome! Marcus begins the countdown sequence to execute the module jettison plan. Everything goes off without a hitch, and the navigation system makes the corrections needed to keep orbit around 98308! Marcus sits back in his command chair, straps himself in, and breathes a sigh of relief.

There’s another crackle on the inbound receiver, and Marcus jumps up in his chair from falling asleep. “Definitely not just hearing things, pal. Someone is nearby!” Marcus says to himself. “Let’s hope they are in my path!” Marcus is excited about the thought of rescue!

Another crackle comes in on the receiver, this time it is much clearer. “98308, we have received your distress signal. We are in your path and can provide assistance. We are transmitting our intercept plan on encoding 34871 dash Alpha Sigma Tango. Please confirm intercept plan on encoding 34871 dash Alpha Sigma Tango.”

Marcus pulls in the data communication and analyzes the plan. They will be able to intercept him in 2 days! Marcus communicates back to the other ship that he has confirmed the data received and is thankful for their help.

#

“I’m just relieved that you guys were here to save my ass!” Marcus exclaims to the captain of his rescue vessel.

Captain Williams smiles, “Hey, we may work for competing mining companies, but I’ll never let that stop me or any of my men from being good human beings.”

Marcus floats around introducing himself to the other 11 men standing on board Captain Williams’ ship, shaking each of their hands. A couple of the men seem a bit shady, but Marcus keeps his poker face of appreciation for their help.

“Epher, get this man a pair of boots?” Captain Williams orders. “How long until you rendezvous with your haulers, Marcus?” Captain Williams asks.

“Should be 11 to 12 days, sir. Line of sight communication within about 3 days.”

“You’re welcome to stay aboard with us. Or if you’d like to go risk it back on your ship over the next 12 days…” Captain Williams gestures with open palms, “The choice is yours. Per Space Ordinance 85, we’ll supply you with any rations you need to survive, and we’ll stay in orbit with you until your fleet haulers arrive.”

Epher comes back in with a pair of boots and helps Marcus into them so that he can now securely stand in the room with the others.

Marcus looks at the group of men and looks back to Captain Williams. “Since it’s all the same, Captain, I’ll head back to my ship with the rations you feel are fair.”

Captain Williams places his hands on his hips and smiles, “True loyalty is hard to come by, Marcus. I sure hope Miller Mining recognizes your dedication to them. If that’s ever not the case, I want you to get in contact with me directly.”

The two walk side by side as Captain Williams places his arm around Marcus’ shoulder and walks hims out of the room. “Before you leave, I want to show you something.” Captain Williams says to Marcus.

#

Marcus and Captain Williams walk into a massive observation deck with multiple telescopes and a long thin portal that stretches across the entire width of the room. Marcus can see his ship off in the distance, and his jaw drops as Captain Williams hands him a large stack of cash.

“Look, kid. I know they don’t pay you shit at Miller. They’re going to give you what? 10% of the draw? Maybe 12, if you’re lucky. You risked your ass, and your best friend is dead.” Captain Williams starts.

Marcus interrupts, “This is a big rock, sir. I’m going back a billionaire.” He smiles big.

Captain Williams smiles back. “Look, I don’t want to burst your bubble, kid. Space Ordinance 85 also means that we get to keep half your haul because we rescued you. We’re missing our own asteroid deadline, and it was a big one! We don’t know for sure what the take would be on that one, but the laws are the laws. And they are good laws, son. They saved your ass.”

“I thought you said you did it because it’s the right thing to do.”

“It’s a win-win, kid. Making money is the right thing to do. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, and now you’ve learned it. Why do you think I’m flying around in the latest Xavier crafts while you’re flying around in that rinky dink death trap?”

“Hey, that bucket of bolts held together rather well considering what we were hit by.”

“That bucket of bolts is still around because of your resourcefulness, kid! It’s YOU that saved that ship. Not the other way around.” Captain Williams pauses as he lets Marcus reflect on what he just said.

Marcus is upset that he’s going to be going home with half the haul he planned on. He’s thinking about how it’s not going to be enough to cover all his bills from 10 years like he had planned.

Captain Williams points over to the far side of the room where there’s a large dent on the side of the wall. “You see that dent? That’s from a rock the same size as what hit your ship and nearly killed you, if not for your ingenuity and dedication, son.”

Marcus looks at the dent and is in awe of how the ship withstood the projectile. “That’s impressive, sir, but Miller has the best surveying platform in the solar system. It’s a million times better than what you’re using from Xavier, and you know that.”

“Listen, kid. I can see your heart. I can see your potential. If I had just 5 men like you, instead of these clowns on my ship right now, I’d be hauling 100 times what I am now. I know a great opportunity when I see one. And you, Marcus! You are a great opportunity. And this is a great opportunity for you too!”

Marcus’ face shifts from skeptical to intrigued. “What are we talking about here?”

“Before we go any further, I have one question for you.”

“What’s that, Cap?”

“Would 1 billion a month, that’s with a b, Marcus…”

“Per month?”

“Yes, per month, and it gets even better, kid.”

Marcus smiles thinking about how 1 billion is 100 times what he’s making already. “I’m not sure how you can get better than 1 billion per month, but I’m all ears!”

“You get to stay at home with your wife and kids. No more space cowboy bullshit.” Captain Williams places his left hand on Marcus’ right shoulder.

Marcus looks at Captain Williams with contempt, “You think I’m stupid?” He shrugs off Captain Williams’ hand from his shoulder and turns away from him. “You think I’m some chump? You come save my ass, and you think I’m going to pull some bullshit espionage on my employer because you throw a billion in my face!”

Captain Williams smiles at Marcus. “A billion a month! For the rest of your life! You’re a good man. You deserve to be living in a luxury home with your beautiful wife and children rather than floating around in space as a frozen pop like your best friend.”

Marcus turns to Captain Williams in a rage and raises his fist. He pauses as he looks at Captain Williams who’s still smiling. “You’re not even worth it. Trying to take advantage of me like this. You’re a sick man.” He shoves the stack of cash into Captain Williams. “Take your blood money to some other sucker.”

Captain Williams looks Marcus in the eyes, “10 billion a month?”

“Deal with the devil.” Marcus’ pupils dilate, and Captain Williams knows he’s got him. Marcus looks down and then back to Captain Williams. “What do you need me to do? Blow up my ship?”

Captain Williams smirks, “Don’t be so silly, Marcus.” He pulls a black device out from the middle of the cash and hands it to Marcus. “Now, listen very careful to every word I’m about to tell you. Don’t say anything until the end, and don’t expect me to answer any questions. I have no answers.”

Marcus folds his arms in front of him and listens intently to everything Captain Williams says.

“When you get back to your fleet, they are going to take you in for debrief on the main carrier. You seem like a smart computer guy. Login with your friend’s credentials. You have the next 11 days to figure that part out. Plug in that device for one minute and then remove it and destroy it. How you do that is entirely up to you. Keep your story straight and your mouth shut about this conversation.”

Marcus interrupts, “They’re going to know it’s me, if I hack John’s account.”

Captain Williams becomes irritated, “That’s your one and only chance to not shut up and listen!” He continues calmly, “They are required by Space Ordinance 85 to send you back to Earth immediately. That will happen before they know anything. You WILL be arrested when you land on Earth. Call nobody but your wife, and explain that there is a mix up you will sort out. Three days after you arrive, you will receive a visitor. You will not know his name.”

Captain Williams pauses between each word, “I. Do. Not. Know. His. Name”, and then continues, “You will follow every direction he gives you without exception. Then you and your beautiful family live happily ever after so long as you keep your mouth shut and your nerves as steel.”

Marcus keeps looking into Captain Williams’ eyes. “This is the real deal, isn’t it?”

“You bet your ass, son.” Captain Williams says in such a calm manner that it sends chills down Marcus’ spine.

#

Marcus is heading back to his ship on the shuttle navigated by Epher. As they approach his ship, the image of John’s helmet flashes in his mind. He blinks repeatedly as if to remove that image from his mind’s eye. He looks at his ship and how odd it looks with the two jettisoned modules. The truth becomes apparent. He looks down at the black device in his hand and thinks to himself, “You just sold your soul to the devil.”

The Carbon Footprint Challenge

Laura sits down in front of her computer and activates her webcam. She checks her makeup in the image on her computer and makes a slight adjustment to blush and primps her eyelashes. There’s a little too much back light coming from the window of her second story bedroom, so she gets up and draws the curtains in slightly while checking to see the adjustment to the lighting on her webcam. Perfect!

She sits back down in front of her computer, looks down, and let’s out a big sigh. She opens her social streaming application, Morning Star, to get ready to broadcast her message through all of her social media accounts at the same time. She smiles. 80K followers!

“This is going to be the most important live stream I have ever delivered,” she thinks as she pauses for a moment to reflect on the profundity of her upcoming address. She opens her notes she’s been writing in preparation for her important address and reviews them, sometimes mumbling a word here and there allowed. She reads a few lines several times, practicing her intonation. She looks at her social media follower count… She smiles. 320K followers!

She looks at the time on her computer: 9:50 AM. There’s a knock on her bedroom door, and she hears her mother and father ask if they can come in. She gets up and opens the door and gives them both a big hug.

“I’m so proud of you,” her father says cheerfully, while simultaneously holding back tears.

“I love you, Laura.” Her mother steps back from Laura to look her in her tear filled eyes. “You are so courageous!” she says, holding Laura’s shoulders and smiling the biggest smile Laura has ever seen before.

The three of them talk a bit more about her speech, and her mother shares some tips with her on what words to emphasize more than Laura had planned. “Thank you for the advice, mom. I love you so much!”

Laura looks passed her parents and at her much younger brother standing at the other end of the hallway. “I love you Phillip.”

Her brother stands with his arms folded and a scowl on his face and says nothing at first. Their parents both turn to him, and he quickly unfolds his arms, adjusts his posture and smiles. “I love you too, butthead.”

#

Laura sits down in front of her computer, checks her makeup again, and primps her eyelashes. The back light has changed a little, so she gets up and opens the curtains slightly while checking to see the adjustment to the lighting on her webcam. Perfect!

She sits backs down and opens the top drawer in her desk and pulls out a box with a label of Xavier Environmental Technology and places it on the desk directly in front of her. Her heart is racing. She holds her hands around the box and closes her eyes for a couple of minutes to meditate and relax.

She sits back in her chair, takes a deep breath, holds it for a count of seven and then let’s her body completely relax as she exhales. She looks at her social media follower count… She smiles. 480K followers!

Her phone rings. It’s a video chat from Rebecca! “Right on time, Becks!” Laura says as she accepts the call and holds her phone up so that her friend can see her.

“Oh my God, Laura! I’m so excited for you! Have you seen your follower count?”

“Yes! This is going to be so amazing! So, tell me everything!”

“Laura! I’m really at a loss for words for how amazing this place is! Remember that time we went to Belize and got lost in the rain forest and saw that family of sloths? I went back there as soon as I arrived! It was just as magical as it was when we went. So green! No pollution! No logging destroying the rain forest anymore!”

“That sounds so amazing! I can’t wait to be there with you!”

“Oh, and all the other people here are just awesome! Completely helpful, beautiful souls! There’s beauty all around, and it’s going to be even more beautiful once you’re here!”

They both let out glee as they smile at each other. “I love you so much, Becks!”

“I love you too, rawr-bear! Now get your butt here! We’re going to Europe as soon as you arrive.”

#

Laura’s eyes begin to water as she looks at her social media follower count… 800K followers! She holds back her tears and looks at the time on her computer: 10:30AM.

“Time to go viral!” She starts her live stream.

“I’m here to save the world, and I’m not going to apologize for it!” Heart and thumbs up emojis go flying across her screen, and Laura smiles.

“When my friend Becky called me out on the Carbon Footprint Challenge a month ago, I initially didn’t know what to think or do. I have to admit…” She pauses as tears fill her bright blue eyes. “I was a little angry! But I realized that I shouldn’t be angry with Becky. I should be angry with the excessive deforestation that she’s calling attention to. I should be angry with the excessive pollution that she’s calling attention to. I should be angry that I haven’t used my position of economic and social privilege to do more about the exploits and destruction of our environment and the environment of the underprivileged.”

A tear rolls down her right cheek. She looks at her social media follower count… She smiles. 1.5M followers! Heart and sad emojis go flying across her screen.

“I’m taking a stand for our planet! I’m staking a stand for the oppressed! I’m taking a stand for those who don’t have the privilege I do, for those whose lives and families are effected by my excessive carbon foot print!”

Heart emojis go flying across her screen. Laura smiles and lifts up the box in front of her. “I’m going to read you these beautiful words from this great company that’s going to help save our planet.”

Congratulations on making an important contribution to help save our planet. Enclosed is your pathway to a reduced carbon footprint and a better world. This will reduce your carbon footprint to 1/100th of the expected carbon footprint based upon your DNA testing and social privilege scoring. The nanotechnology enclosed can ONLY be administered by Laura Elizabeth Harris. To activate the nanotechnology, first place your finger on the fingerprint scanner. This will allow you to then enter the 5 digit PIN you selected when you ordered your Global Climate Administration approved Carbon Output Reduction & Utopian Technology system. Upon entry of your PIN, you will then be prompted to state your full name. Only YOUR voice under no duress can activate your uniquely created nanotechnology and unlock the box. Remove the pill inside and swallow with 4-6 oz. of water. Lay down in a safe space with the box on your chest. Relax. Thank you for being a world saver! You will be greeted by an on-boarding specialist upon arrival. See you soon.

Laura follows the instructions. The box opens and reveals a fingernail-sized light blue pill. She swallows it with a cup of water lies down on her bed, which is in-frame of her webcam. She gets comfortable. Then she jumps up and walks over to her computer.

She looks at her social media follower count… She smiles. 5.1M followers! Heart and sad emojis go flying across her screen. She looks into her webcam “I love you all, and I challenge each and every one of you to the Carbon Footprint Challenge. I hope to see all you fellow planet savers soon!” She turns to go back to her bed, pauses, and turns to face her computer. “I’ll see you soon, Becky!”

#

Laura lies down on her bed, places the box on her chest, places her hands by her side, and closes her eyes. A green light on the box begins to flash faster and faster until it turns to a solid green. Laura opens her blue eyes and her pupils widen. She smiles. The green light turns to blue and Laura’s eyes close as her body goes limp.

The Cost of Living

Cost of living expenses have continued to soar while wages have remained relatively stagnant for an historical 20 year run. Unemployment rates have remained near historical lows as have crime rates. In fact, crime is all but eradicated. The gap between the cost of living and average income continues to grow and remains a concern for potential increases in crime. To combat this massive living wage gap, the United States government has recently passed the Government Economic Oversight Act to help empower families through a variety of somewhat controversial (but effective) incentive programs.

The newly formed Economic Empowerment Department is well underway with ensuring that population growth does not outpace economic growth while offering parents alternatives to traditional family options. Rebecca and Jonathan are in their final weeks of a rare twin pregnancy. Concerned with the future conditions for their children, they meet with an economic counselor to discuss their situation.

“Welcome to Economic Empowerment!” The counselor sounds like a self help guru. “I’m glad you are taking the time to explore your options with your…” the counselor pauses, pointing at Rebecca’s stomach, “unique condition. It has been quite some time since we’ve had a pregnancy such as yours. So many opportunities for you!”

Rebecca explains to the counselor that she has read up on all the programs online. Rebecca doesn’t view any of the options available as opportunities, but both her and Jonathan are concerned about the grim future for twins.

The counselor holds up a finger to get Rebecca to stop talking and reaches deep into the lower left drawer of his desk. He practically disappears behind the desk, he’s reaching so deep. “Well, there is one new program…” the counselor grunts from behind the desk, “that you might be eligible for,”

“What’s that?” Jonathan stands up to see if the counselor is okay.

Pulling a green folder up and sliding it with his long bony fingers gently on the the desk, the counselor begins to explain. “This is the Governing Responsibly Economic Empowerment Directive. It’s a new program with very strict eligibility requirements and strong privacy guarantees. It is unlike anything else we offer. And it’s good for our economic environment.”

“I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds good,” Jonathan says as he sits down.

“With this program, we run a few tests on your child to discover certain genetic determinants. What that means is that we can predict with 91.9% accuracy how your child’s genetic makeup lends itself to them being a productive member of our society. In the event that your child will not make a living wage, you are given options.”

Rebecca and Jonathan look at each other and then back to the counselor, “Continue.”

“If your child is determined to be unable to achieve an adult income over the predicted livable wage, the United States government will provide you with his/her lifetime earnings in exchange for you donating your child to scientific research.”

“WHAT?!” Rebecca is disgusted.

“Keep in mind that you will also be receiving this payment from our government 100% tax free. No restrictions. And what you’re doing is for the greater good of our fragile economy.”

“You want me to abort my child for a few measly dollars?” Rebecca stands up, but Jonathan remains seated and grabs her wrist.

“Rebecca, listen to what he’s saying. I’m sure the government isn’t going to abort our child. That’s illegal anyway.” Jonathan looks at the counselor, “You’re not going to abort our child, are you?”

“Of course not! That’s illegal!” The counselor motions to Rebecca to sit back down. “Your child will become part of scientific research. None of which involves abortion. It is part of a government program to ensure that we have enough subjects for ongoing child development research and studies into social behavior. It’s all for the greater good, really. This program ensures your child lives a happy, healthy life without concern for financial well being or being a drain on societal resources. It also provides financial security for your family.”

“It’s tax-free, Rebecca,” Jonathan interrupts.

“I’m not going to do it,” Rebecca says adamantly as she gets up and walks out the door.

Jonathan turns to the counselor, “Give us some time. Do the tests have to be performed before birth?”

“No, Mr. Jones. You can perform the tests and complete the paperwork anytime within the first 24 hours of giving birth as long as you have not returned home with your child. Keep in mind that a lifetime of wages for an individual child is often more than $5 million in tax-free income.”

#

Jonathan and Rebecca are in a car riding back to their apartment. She’s giving him the cold shoulder.

“This is something we need to consider. We don’t make enough to support two children. We can barely make enough just to support ourselves,” Jonathan pleads with Rebecca.

“Jon, this is OUR child we’re talking about. This isn’t a cat or a dog. This is our baby. Our unborn child who we will never get to see grow up. Who will probably be poked and prodded and experimented on. God, just thinking about the children who have already been subjected to this experimentation. For what? For science!? For some fast money. A few measly bucks!”

“He said all the experiments were for the greater good, Becks. It’s not a few measly bucks! And we’d only accept the offer if our children qualify by not making a living wage, which means they’d be a burden on us their entire lives. If they are going to be making a living wage, then we don’t even have to consider it at all. It’s a non-issue!”

“The whole thing is a non-issue, Jon. I’m not giving up my children just so that we can have money. I can’t even believe that there is a program like this. It’s disgusting! And the fact that you are even considering it…” Rebecca looks at Jonathan with more anger than he’s ever seen before. “This topic is never going to come up again. You understand me?!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

#

Rebecca is breathing heavily and working through the pain as she’s being rushed through the maternity ward of the hospital. Jonathan is holding her hand and trying to remember the coaching they received during Lemaze class. However, they both know this isn’t a situation that Lemaze prepares you for. Rebecca’s breathing is becoming erratic and her eyes start rolling into the back of her head.

“Emergency C-Section!” The nurses escort Jonathan out of the room and take the now unconscious Rebecca into the emergency ward.

Jonathan is standing in the hallway, palms sweating as he nervously chews on his fingernails. The counselor from the Economic Empowerment Department taps him on the shoulder.

“Have you given further consideration to what’s available to you, Mr. Jones?”

“Rebecca said no way.”

“It would seem Mrs. Jones is incapacitated at the time, is she not? You could sign for her. The tests take only an hour to run through our AI simulator. I can get back to you with the amount, and then you can make the decision.”

“It won’t matter. Rebecca said no way. I can’t make that decision without her.”

“Mr. Jones, you have no obligation to donate your child to the greater good. This is merely to run tests. If you give me your consent, as the only able-bodied parent I can find at this time, I can run the tests and then bring you back all the paperwork and a check with the full 100% tax-free lifetime amount.”

“But it won’t matter. She’s going to notice millions of dollars showing up in our bank account.”

“We can arrange an installment plan, Mr. Jones. You have an opportunity to win the lottery right in front of you. The choice is entire up to you, of course.”

Jonathan nervously fidgets with his fingernails as sweat is starting to bead on the side of his head. He knows that $5 million would allow him to retire. Who knows, it could even be both children. Then he and Rebecca would be $10 million richer! They could retire today. They’d never have to work another day. They could travel the world. Jonathan snaps out of his day dream.

“Mr. Jones?” The counselor extends paperwork towards Jonathan as his eyes widen.

#

Rebecca and Jonathan sit on the balcony of their apartment, drinking coffee. Their son waddles up to them and tugs on Rebecca’s shirt.

“Yes, Aiden.”

“I love you, Mommy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart.”

“Oh, and I think Jackson pooped himself.”

Jonathan jumps up, “I’ll get that on my way out, honey.”

Jonathan walks into the apartment while Aiden crawls into Rebecca’s lap and snuggles up with her. Jonathan puts his empty coffee cup in the dishwasher and washes his hands. He then walks out of the kitchen and into the living room to the fowl odor of poop.

“Aiden was right! You sure pooped yourself!” Jonathan reaches down and picks up Jackson from the crib and places him on the changing table. Jonathan whistles while changing his newborn son and looks out on to the balcony to see his wife and Aiden snuggled up with each other.

Aiden lifts his mom’s sleeve on her left arm and starts tracing his finger along her tattoo.

A beautiful red rose surrounded by a child’s footprint with a banner above the toes: In Loving Memory of Rose.