Mother’s gentle voice announced that the Window would be opened for her allotted Sunlight. This did not surprise her. She was already sitting eagerly beside it, waiting. This was her favourite moment of every twenty-four-hour period that Mother called a Day.
She was angled to best see the wilderness beyond the Window. It was slowly consuming strange, crumbling structures under a distant reddish Sun floating in a dusty sky. Each time every Day, she would wonder who or what had built these structures? What had happened to them or where had they gone? Had Mother made them too? Sometimes she would see strange animals darting around the ruins on four legs, sometimes she would catch a splash of colour from some creature fluttering around the sky, but mostly it was just her and the vast Outside.
Anticipation incarnate, she waited for Mother to open the Window.
Suddenly, old creaking mechanisms strained as the Window slid sideways… The Outside’s light spilt in, almost blinding her, but she never blinked. Not once. Not for a second did she look away. Never. A grimy transparent filter remained to block the air from coming in but what she saw was wondrous!
So much light! So much colour!
“Mother,” she began as she had each time every Day, “When will I be able to go Outside?”
The answer never changed, “When it is safe,” came the short, unfathomable answer.
“And, Mother,” she asked as she had each time every Day since she had opened her eyes and crawled out from Mother’s insides, “When will it be safe?”
“When either I judge that you have a statistically probable chance of surviving or my unlocking mechanism is successfully activated from the outside.”
And–like she did each time every Day–she sighed and kept looking out that small window to the wild, wonderful Outside. Strange vines wrapped around crumbling architecture jutting out like the bones of a strange history from a world she did not understand. A world both visible to and hidden from her.
“Why am I here, Mother?” she asked as the Window slid shut, blocking any more radiation from leaking in, “Why are you here, Mother?” she finally asked as she always did each time every Day.
“I am a self-sustaining genetic life pod built by a joint venture between Pfizer and the Federal Government of the United States of America with the intention of protecting and reproducing the major homo sapien genes in the event of a catastrophic life event. The Government has designated me ‘Project Mother’, or Mother for short. I am one of a network of life pods placed strategically across the country and each with the same purpose. You are clone number seventy-two of genetic arc fifteen-AB and this is year one thousand five hundred and eighty-two since my catastrophic event programme was triggered.”
It was always the same, each time every Day.
It was the strange, deep undulations of Mother that woke her first. Strange vibrations hung in the air. Her world had been stationary for so long that movement felt alien. And then a huge, shattering boom rocked the very walls of Mother and tore the final dregs of sleep from her consciousness.
Immediately, she sat upright and looked around. Mother’s Night sequence was playing and the gloom was particularly thick. A cold shock ran down her spine and her stomach tied into a knot when she saw a new red light flashing in a corner! It had never flashed before! Mother was doing or thinking or seeing something she had never done, thought or seen before…
“Mother, what is happening,” she asked getting up and moving closer to the red light, “What was th–“
Another deafening boom rang out! The walls and floor shook terribly, and, crying and covering her ears, she fell to her knees. With eyes squeezed shut, she was vaguely aware that she was screaming. Her skull felt like it would split and her very skeleton vibrated. The air felt warmer and more red lights were now flashing across Mother’s wall.
“Another nuclear power plant has exploded. The nearby Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station has exploded. The original fail-safes have eroded and failed, and the core’s fission reaction shifted to a net positive energy loop seeing its three key reactors explode in quick succession. The estimated fallout will add a further fifteen thousand years to my original Year Zero estimate. It is the night cycle now. I will initiate forced sleeping protocol.”
“Mother, wha–” she started to exclaim, not really understanding what was being said but a strange, sweet gas began to seep from Mother’s walls. The last thing she saw as the darkness and red flashing lights began to blur was a new green light–or dot?–appearing on one of Mother’s circular, rotating screens.
That is new, she thought, and then there was nothing. Not even darkness.
Brilliant, white light stabbed through the darkness and pierced her consciousness. Slowly, she became aware of her own existence. She felt like she was floating and the air was surprisingly warm. Her head felt strange and her limbs felt heavy and light all at the same time.
Slowly, she opened her eyes and then quickly shut them. The light was everywhere. It was blinding and white! Was this what had happened to Seventy-One before Mother had taken her to Recycling?
Breathing deeply, she braced herself and forced her eyes open. Light! The world rushed in and she realized that she was in the middle of a room with bright, false Sun-like white lights everywhere and strange objects all around her. She could not tell which way was up or down? Was she floating in the light? On the light?
Then she realized she was not alone.
Tall, long-limbed beings elegantly floated around her with strange, dark eyes on strange oval heads that all swivelled to look at her.
“How do you feel, child?“
The voice–strange sounding, cold and foreign and nothing like Mother–appeared in her head. She did not hear it. Rather it appeared in her mind.
“I–” she stammered and tried to sit up but the air felt strange and her form was floating, “I feel funny. Where is Mother? Who are you? Where–“
The voice smiled. She could not describe it any other way than that but she suddenly felt warm and welcome. The white light did not frighten her anymore. She felt safe. She felt weightless and she looked at one of the strange beings that floated forward. She did not know how but she knew that this was the one whose voice she heard in her mind.
Its long-fingered, smooth hand reach out to her, and she took it. It was strangely cool to the touch, but it squeezed her little hand and she squeezed back.
“You are safe here, child. We are leaving your planet. You are lucky we were nearby and detected the explosions’ energy signature from your planet or we may not have realized that there was still human life down on that planet.“
“Where is Mother?” she asked, suddenly worried and starting to look around, panic growing inside her. She could feel the warm feeling in her head pressing back against the panic, though, and then the voice in her head spoke again.
“Child, you appear to have been a surprisingly effective biological safeguard against extinction that your species left behind. Or forgot was there. The safeguard has served its purpose as you are here and we have processed the other genetics stored within it. We are sorry, though, for we did not know that there were any of these safeguards built on Old Earth. We are only an archaeological team, child, and were not properly equipped for the rescue mission we had to perform to save you.“
She was silent, trying to understand what the Being said. She could see her small face reflected in its strange, dark eyes and, for some reason, felt a strange, overwhelming kinship to it.
“Arc-arci–what is that?” she asked, unable to pronounce the word.
The Being smiled. Or she felt it smile in her mind? It was hard to explain but it felt warm and lovely.
“Archaeological team, child,” the voice in her head patiently explained, “We are archaeologists. We look at the past, child, and that is what we were doing in this solar system. We were looking at our past. We would have come better prepared if we knew you were there, but there were no records that our ancestors left when they fled their homeworld to space.“
“But–Mother?” she was straining to understand, and then a strange sound appeared in her mind.
The Being was laughing.
“We are what our ancestors evolved into while they were in space. If anything, child, you are our Mother.“