Chapter 47 TRILLION Changing Minds
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Atlas’s Ship was waiting at the airlock door. His gold skin sparkling as if he’d just been polished. There was an ANT next to him waiting to take the test tube. Trillion noticed the ANT had wings; it wasn’t like any she had seen before.

“What’s that?” she asked Atlas.

“I call it a cormor-ANT.”

“I love the name.”

Icarus pretended to gag. “You two and your puns. I thought assass-ANT was bad enough, now this! Just stop.”

Atlas patted him on the back good-humouredly. “Don’t be jealous. Trillion, want to do the honours?” he said, handing her the test tube. “Give this to the cormor-ANT.”

Trillion inserted the test tube into a compartment of the cormor-ANT. “Maybe we should have called this one a stork.”

Icarus smiled, approving of Trillion’s reference.

Trillion watched as the cormor-ANT closed the compartment.

Ship touched the cormor-ANT and glanced at Icarus. “You’ll like this animation,” he said, before fading into golden mist. The mist of Ship drifted towards the cormar-ANT and seemed to merge into it, dissolving into every part of it. At moments it looked like golden glitter was falling on the all over the cormor-ANT before being absorbed into its skin. At others it looked the cormor-ANT was breathing in smoke made of flecks of gold and fire.

Icarus looked at the cormar-ANT with a grin. “You’re right, I did like that one, Ship.”

The inside airlock door opened and Ship took control of the cormor-ANT, making it walk into the airlock. Each of the cormor-ANT’s steps left a visible golden footprint. The door closed behind it, and it was launched out into space.

Atlas pointed to a large screen above the airlock door. “Ship, do you mind?”

The screen turned on. It showed a view from cameras on the cormor-ANT.

They watched as it dived towards the planet.

The planet looked inhabited. It was lush and green; clouds were in the sky. The night side of the planet was lit up with lights. It almost looked like Earth but with different continents.

As the cormor-ANT fell towards the planet it grew bigger and bigger, more details emerging the closer it got. They could see it had a slight green tint – even the water was green.

Their cormor-ANT adjusted its trajectory and headed towards the light side of the planet. Then it turned, angling itself towards the largest landmass near the equator. It turned on its engines, firing hard as it headed towards the planet at an increased speed.

The outside of the cormor-ANT started to glow red and the atmosphere of New Europa became thicker. The cormor-ANT was pushing itself through the atmosphere, creating a lot of friction in the process. Layers of the cormor-ANT’s liquid heat shield disappeared and was replaced by more of the nano liquid material.

The view of New Europa expanded. More details emerged as it flew beneath the cloud layer. Trillion could see buildings. Even skyscrapers started to emerge on the planet.

Trillion pointed at the screen. “Is that a city, Atlas?”

“Yes, I made some replicas of Earth’s biggest buildings.” Atlas pointed at one on the corner of the screen. “That small one there is a copy of the Burj Khalifa.”

As the cormor-ANT drew closer, the city came alive. Even more details emerged. There were roads; skyscrapers; suburban streets; railways.    

The cormor-ANT began to glide, its wings helping it stay afloat. As it flew, it started weaving in between tall buildings. It flew past several statues.

Atlas looked at the other two. “Those massive statues are us. And I included our Ships in there too.”

Atlas’s Ships voice came through the speakers sounding mildly braggy. “Mine is made of real gold.”

The orb in the corner flashed.

“Oh yes, and I included you too, Lex,” Atlas said. “We can do a flyby of those statues later.”

The cormor-ANT flew through the city. It flew over buildings. It turned sharply and fired its thrusters suddenly to avoid a tall skyscraper, then continued on to the edge of the metropolitan area where the view opened up onto a large field. Low trees and a patchwork of flowers covered the ground.

The cormor-ANT flew over fields of lavender, gliding closer to the ground, the purple flowers shaking in its wake. It continued on, over a hill of poppy fields, the bright red sea of flowers bursting with vibrancy.

Trillion’s eyes were glued to the screen. “Credit where credit is due. This is beautiful, Atlas,” she said, clapping a little.

“Just wait,” Atlas said, his attention focused on the view. “You haven’t seen the best part yet.”

“It gets better?” Icarus asked. “And you tease me about being ostentatious!”

Atlas pointed to the screen. “It’s coming up.”

The cormor-ANT continued to fly low over the poppy fields, ruffling the flowers beneath. As it reached the top of the hill, they could see the vast planet open up to a sunset overlooking the water.

Icarus started to clap. “Wow, this is incredible!”

Atlas smiled. “I timed it so that you’d see this sunset right here at this very moment.”

Trillion wondered how much effort Atlas had put into the choreography of this moment. The sunset wasn’t just happening around this moment. The sunset started at this very moment. The sun had literally just touched the edge of the planet. With the sun hitting the ocean it created a mirror image of the sun – as if two suns were touching each other. As she staired her eyes started to water. “You know this is the first time I’ve missed Earth.”

She stepped forward and put her arms around the two men’s shoulders. “Thank you, Atlas.”

Atlas wiped a tear from his own eye. “Why am I so emotional?”

The cormor-ANT turned its engines on hard, pausing all forward momentum. A wide, flat concrete building lay just below it, overlooking the water. It had a large Birthing Unit sign on the roof. Ship guided the cormor-ANT towards a mezzanine and through open sliding doors. It landed in a room that resembled a hospital ward, only it had no beds.

In the middle of the room a robotic nurse waited with arms stretched out. The cormor-ANT opened up its inner compartments. The nurse carefully took the test tube out of the compartment, seemingly unaware of the wild journey it had just been on.

“Are there hapticgraphic engines in that room?” Icarus asked.

Atlas’s face lit up with excitement. “Yes. Yes, there are. We are going there next.” He teleported out.

“I guess we go too,” Trillion said, before she teleported out too.


Trillion and Icarus joined Atlas in the birthing unit ward. Trillion thought the ward looked bigger in person.

Atlas’s eyes were closed. He couldn’t look up at the machine. He knew what was happening. “This is the moment I’ve been working towards my whole simulated life.”

Trillion pulled him close to her. “Your children are about to be born.”

Nodding, Atlas said, “My children will be here soon.”

The nurse carried the test tube to a square-shaped machine along the wall. It had an opaque compartment filled with a sack, and a clear compartment with lights and tubes running in and out of it.

“What happens next?” Icarus asked.

Atlas could barely talk. “This,” he sniffled, “this machine will defrost the embryo, then act as a surrogate mother, nurturing the baby for nine months until it’s ready to be born.”

“I’m so proud of you, Atlas.” Trillion squeezed him even tighter. “And a little jealous.”

“So jealous, old man,” Icarus agreed. “I can’t wait to have this moment with my children soon.”

Trillion let go of Atlas. “Now we wait.”

Atlas shook his head. “I can’t wait.”

Icarus raised his eyebrow. “What then?”

“We change our playback speed,” Atlas said.

Icarus nodded. Then Trillion nodded, and nine months raced past them in a few moments.

Trillion saw a flash of movement. She assumed it was Atlas. Maybe he had normalised his playback speed early. She resumed real time too.

She saw Atlas holding a baby drinking out of a bottle. She smiled. The baby’s chocolate skin was so perfect.

“It’s a boy,” Atlas said, holding the baby out for her to see.

“Can I hold him?” asked Trillion.

Atlas handed the baby over.

Trillion beamed. He smelt like pure joy. “He’s perfect. Does he have a name?”

Atlas pondered for a while. Trillion could tell his mind was working overtime. “His name is Atreus.”

“I think that’s quite fitting,” Trillion said while not taking her eyes off Atreus. “Peter started this journey. And now the first baby ever born away from Sol is named after him,”

Icarus joined real time. “I can’t believe this is the first baby born away from Sol.”

Atlas bit his lower lip. He walked around in a circle. “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t feel right. I feel sad. I feel lonely. I miss my family.”

Icarus placed a hand on Atlas’s shoulder. “You’ve just seeded your first world. It’s okay to feel a bit emotional.”

“No, it’s not that. I can feel a rush of emotions coming back into me. Like I was somehow too stoic. And now my emotions are coloured.”

“Are you okay, Atlas?” Trillion asked, comforting the baby while feeding him.

“No. I don’t understand why I wasn’t sad about Peter dying until now. Where’s the rest of the crew we left behind?” He raised his hands over his head.

Atlas started pulling his hair. In a panic he tried to speak. “Oh my God. Angelique!” Fear flooded his face. “What happened to Angelique? Where is she?”

Trillion took Atlas’s hand and held it. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. But I’m starting to panic,” Atlas said and began to hyperventilate.

Icarus tried to calm him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

Atlas slid to the ground and curled up into a ball, rocking from side to side.

“Hmm,” Icarus said, looking at Trillion. “This might have something to do with our programming.”

“What are you talking about?” Trillion asked.

“Atlas will have a better grasp than me,” Icarus said, trying to remember what he had learnt back on Mars. “Basically, the one change that was made to us when we were uploaded was a deep desire to create children. It’s a desire greater than anything else. It keeps us focused on this one task.”

Trillion sat down beside Atlas, the baby still in her arms. “Yes, I remember learning about that. Basically, we now live forever. So this programming is designed to keep us following the mission. Not getting distracted.”

Icarus looked down at them. “Ship, do you have anything to add?”

The Ship of Icarus appeared in the room. “Only that that piece of coding disappears once you’ve seeded a world. Once a colony is established. I think that’s what’s happening to Atlas now.”

Atlas was sobbing. He started to shiver. He was curled into a ball so tightly that Trillion wondered if his avatar was breaking.

Ship looked down at Atlas. “I think it’s the emotions coming back all at once. It’s too much for him.” Ship looked up at Lex floating in the corner. “Lex might be able to implement a piece of code that acts like an antidepressant. At the very least, it might slow down the rush of emotions.”

Atlas looked up. “Do it. I can’t bear this pain.”

The orb flashed.

Trillion watched as Atlas’s shoulders relaxed. She handed him his child, hoping it would help calm him further. “Talk us through what you’re feeling?”

Atlas started to breathe normally again and his sobbing subsided. “It’s like I can feel again. Think again. I was so obsessed with building this world. Seeding it. But now that obsession is gone. And now I can see clearly.”

Icarus sat down next to the two of them. “What does seeing clearly mean, Atlas?”

“Haven’t you noticed how myopically obsessed with our children we are? Trillion almost destroyed an alien species because she feared they were going to stop her raising children.”

Trillion nodded slowly. “I can sort of see what you’re talking about.”

The baby started to stir. Atlas stood up, gently moving from side to side, rocking the baby back to sleep. “I wonder if we can remove that piece of code in each of your matrixes.”

Ship put his hand up. “I can answer that. The short answer is no. You can’t make that sort of change to a custom AIs. That’s what makes us unhackable. Here’s a look at each of your matrixes,” he said, holding up a tablet. It looked like an interconnected mess of fibre optic cables. “There’s a physical node in each of your matrixes that has been there since you were each switched on.”

He swiped at the tablet, changing the screen. “This is Atlas’s matrix now.” There was a small part that was blacked out. “This section here has now been switched off.”

“Does that mean it could be switched on?” Atlas asked.

Manually switching off just that section would be impossible to –” Ship said thinking it through. “Impossible do without potentially turning off something that wasn’t meant to be turned off.”

Trillion looked closer and could see it wasn’t just one section turned off. There were tendrils reaching out from that section that were blacked out. As if a very complex puzzle piece had been switched off.

Ship added. “The code was always designed to be turned off once each of you completed your mission. So completing the mission would be the safest way to do it.”

Trillion put her arms out. She wanted to hold the baby again. She took him into her arms and stared into his eyes. “Okay, so what next?”

Atlas looked back at Trillion and Icarus. “We need to seed your children. Then we need to go looking for Angelique.”

Trillion smiled, holding the baby and daydreaming about what Atlas had created. “Atlas, you’ve built a new eden.”


THE END - for now. 


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