The Hosts of Mars

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      2049. 22 years after the original settlers had landed on Mars, where they had since been followed by more and more pioneers looking for the next frontier of civilization.

      A lot had changed since they arrived, they were now a few hundred strong, and the first generation of Martian born babies were entering adulthood.

      Maia would celebrate her 50th birthday tonight. In Earth years. By Mars’ count, she was younger by half. Still, she was the eldest of the mission, and had learnt so much during these years. Her son, John had grown into a fine young man. He was named after John Carter of course. He wasn’t the first born here, but was the first to have survived. He always had the will to explore more, despite the dangers, he wanted to make the planet his own.

      She knew he was destined to greatness. She had a dream a long time ago, one dream that made her enlist into the program. She’d dreamt of Mars as a lush planet, that mankind had managed to terraform with a vaporous atmosphere, more dense than on Earth, but breathable. The light of the evening sky was misty and a pale grey-green. Maia hoped she would live to see her dream come true, that somehow they found a way to venture out and breathe the new air, having succeeded in making the best out of the immense resources of the red dust planet.

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        “Ah, well. There was a slight problem with the Flexibility Factor,” replied Finnley 22. “The technology is sophisticated ~ but to put it in the simplest of terms, the staff are, well, a bit simple. Simpletons, you might say.”

        Eb waited patiently for Finnley to furnish further facts on the flexibility factor, but no further facts were forthcoming. “Er, so…” he prompted politely.

        “Some dingbat down at the lab put the flexibility factor into the structural skeleton instead of the memory banks, Eb, it’s as simple as that. We had planned to use them on other missions in the future, with adjustments to the memory banks. But unfortunately now their memories are fixed, so at the end of this mission they will all have to termitated. It’s such a waste ~ that flexibility factor doesn’t come cheap!”

        “Oh dear” replied Eb. “Is there any way to fix the bending? I mean, look at them.”

        They turned to watch the monitor. The blue creatures were tying themselves in knots, joining themselves together in myriad shades of linked limbs like a chain. It was a most peculiar sight.

        “Well, there is an antidote, but that doesn’t come cheap either. We can dose them all up with Rigidity Receptors, but the dosage is tricky. It could go horribly wrong.”

        “It looks like it already has,” replied Eb.


          Finnley Morgan was towering over the slouched Eb with her impressive height of Nubian Goddess. Her unimpressed rolling-eyes look made him want to dig deeper underground and look with great care at the tip of his feet.

          “Really this is your plan? Blue bending robot aliens?”

          He could have sworn she guffawed, only that Finnley Morgan didn’t do such things as guffaw. Or snicker, or snort —well, that one, maybe in private on certain occasions.
          Anyway, he didn’t have to reply.

          “Well, just under 2 weeks, who would have guessed you’d deliver? The whole roster of generals wanted to raze the area clean as a baby’s butt, said it would be simpler, and here you come,… managing something…”
          “Elegant?” ventured Eb, in a mouse-like voice.
          “What? No, I mean, something unexpected… Well, that could well work now. When do you send the first tremors, meteors or other cataclysms so we can have your robots do the cleaning? We haven’t got all year now, and they look like they come with an expiry date, no offence.”

          “None taken.” came the suave robot voice of Finnley on the walls.

          F LoveF Love

            It was already warm and Kale was glad for the shade the large oak trees offered as he walked along the sidewalk. He was heading for the Tangy Pickle cafe; his favourite breakfast spot just a few blocks from where he lived.

            A song had been running through his head all morning: a big hit from a robot band which were popular in the late 2030’s: “Sour Tart and The Denouements.” He hadn’t even like the band at the time— just the name was depressing —but for some reason the tune and a few of the words were looping through his head like annoying little ear worms.

            … bugger current information planet robot key bugger current information planet robot key bugger current information planet robot key…

            So Kale was busy pondering the implications, if any, of endlessly looping ear worms when Flynn messaged him:

            “Interview scheduled for 9.30am tomorrow.”

            “Blimey, that soon? Okay, well what else can you tell me?”

            “The ad has been taken off the network and all associated information shut down.”


            “But your interview is scheduled with a Mr Eb Ruide. And I’ve got your outfit ready.”

            “Hang on, Flynn. This all sounds a bit odd don’t you think?”

            “Oddness factor 57%. Probability of success 22%. If I may quote the famous robot philosopher Monenole: The point is the exploration. So gird your loins and stick your chin out. You can do this! What fun! See you later!” messaged Flynn

            Gird my loins? That robot really needs rewiring.

            He was nearly at his destination. There weren’t many people around this early in the morning, just a few stalwart joggers and the occasional dog walker. Most people, the lucky ones who had employment, worked from home. So Kale was most surprised to see an attractive dark haired female—oddly attired for the hot weather in fishnet tights and knee high boots—standing outside the cafe.


              The fishnet tights in cobalt blue were actually made of cannabone, the relatively new hemp replicator compound, which was lightweight, flexible, and supportive. The attractive dark haired woman’s loins were girded in a matching cobalt blue cannabone loingirder.

              F LoveF Love

                “I must say all this bending is jolly awkward.” grumbled Tinia-Tiffany Bloo. “The sooner we get these aliens escorted back to earth and we are able to return to Thereon the better.

                “Stop whining will you!” snapped Betty Bloo, her antagonism in large part due to intense jealousy at Tinia’s gorgeous pale robin egg blue colouring. “It is totally unprofessional.”

                Tinia smiled sweetly as she ducked her head under her arm. That poor Betty, she really drew the short straw with that awful pigmentation.


                  Finnley 21 had received new orders to amp up the headpiece device for thoughts projection. It was by now far exceeding the constructor’s safe range of usage, but the robot had scanned the vitals of Mother Shirley, and had not found them aberrantly different from when she’d just been shipped to MARS.

                  Proceed with mass extinction prophet syndrome simulation 10-B-Alpha

                  At the commands of the dome, Eb noticed Central Finnley was taking initiatives to prepare the Mars populace to a doomsday scenario through religious belief manipulations. At least, the artificial intelligence apple didn’t fall far from its creator’s tree he would say.

                  But he was running late for his interview with the only candidate they’d found. He’d better be good, or at least have a convincing costume. Eb hated those interviews where he had to pretend to listen and care, why all he wanted was a nice bottle of brandy.


                    It was a quiet day in the mines.
                    Godfrey’s teams were operating at less than 10% of the usual. Most of the Indian guys who worked there had taken unpaid leaves for the observance of the Ganesh festival.

                    It was all a bit silly, come to think about it, for so many reasons.
                    One obviously, was that the dates were aligned on Earth’s calendar, for supposedly practical reasons, but which had nothing to do with the environment they were living in now. What good was a lunar calendar when Mars had two main moons, the lovely named Fear (Phobos) and Dread (Deimos), and of course completely different day times and years.
                    Anyhow, that wasn’t the least of the incoherences. You’d normally have to find a natural body of water to immerse the elephant clay statues. Good luck with that on Mars. But there was no stopping the rituals to find ways to survive. He’d heard an artificial pool would be temporarily erected at the Matrimandir to allow for the ritual to be performed.
                    A waste of good water, if you asked him.

                    The only good thing about it was that there was more calm than usual, mostly robots diligently carving the walls, and harvesting the yellow stones.

                    The day before, there had been an unusual ruckus after a heated speech by the Head Nutter of the Religious Nuts, the old wrinkled as a prune Mother Shirley. She spoke of dread and doom, and having to repent and all. Gosh, did she put on a show.
                    He smirked. All that was missing was a human sacrifice, and they would be irrevocably back to the good old ways of the religious fanatics…

                    Even his Hindu friends seemed to have been affected and shown a renewed fervour at their own rituals. After all, their Lord Ganesh was supposed to remove obstacles. Or well, truth is, He was also supposed to create obstacles for the demons. But you’d never know whether you were on his good side or not.

                    Maybe the unusualness of that day gave him some heightened attention, but Godfrey started to notice some other strange patterns.
                    The Finnleys on duty were acting glitchy this morning. Looking through the console, he’d noticed there were some logs for the past days’ activity missing, and an unusual activity around some of the old tunnels which were used for temporary storage of the sulphur’s crates.

                    An irrational doubt started to creep on him, enhanced by the feeling of unusually low activity inside the dusty bowels of the red planet.
                    There was really no reason to worry, he tried to reassure himself, but as he’d liked to repeat, better be safe than sorry.

                    He pushed the intercall button and called for an emergency evacuation drill.

                    F LoveF Love

                      “Ah, here you are at last.” said the dark haired woman, a trace of impatience in her voice.

                      Kale looked at her quizzically, trying to place her. Up close, she seemed older than he had first thought.

                      “I’m sorry but do I know you?”

                      “No, Kale, you don’t know me. But I know you”.

                      She looked at him intently for a moment and gave an enigmatic smile before continuing:

                      “You have a job interview tomorrow. You must accept the position.”

                      “Okay, this is getting really weird now. How do you know me and what business is it of yours whether or not I take the job?”

                      “You have been chosen.”


                        Kale quickly contemplated cutting the cords that connected him to the whole thing. For a fleeting fraction of a moment, he even considered the possibility of Flynn being involved in a covert nefarious plot with the dark haired woman, but dashed the thought from his mind. A slight nagging uneasy feeling remained when he remembered the way Flynn had got a bit too big for his boltcroppers sending the application without consultation.

                        But Kale was curious. He made up his mind not to accept the position (just in case anyone was plotting against him: with his past, it was as well to be cautious), but that he would attend the interview.

                        “You have been chosen” she’s said.

                        Kale recalled the frisson of excitement he felt in his ungirded loins when she’d said that, and the flash of knowing recognition in her eyes before the scornful smirk returned. He’d never been able to resist a girl in cobalt blue loingirders. Especially an exotic enigmatic one.


                        “Hahahahaha!” snorted Becky. “You have been chosen! Good grief, Tina, you didn’t really say ‘you have been chosen’ did you?”

                        Tina rolled her eyes. “Yes, I am a bit embarrassed now actually. It was over the top, I admit. But I was caught up in the moment and the whole spy thing. I hope it doesn’t put him off.”

                        Becky snorted again.

                        “You know, Becks,” Tina sounded hesitant, “I am not supposed to be talking about any of this. So you have to promise you won’t breathe a word to the others.”


                          Finnley!” Mother Shirley called. “Another brainwave is coming! Put me on speakers.”

                          Taking on a dramatic voice, Mother Shirley started to prattle on the microphone.

                          My dear parishioners, good day to you! Dramatic news before we engage our Bollothrope Meditation:
                          “There is a fundamental change of vibrations. We have to face a destabilization of energies as we know them now. There are shifts to enter into entirely new consciousnesses. All agreements are rewritten. We will have new experiences of consciousnesses we never had before. The world will be joined by new consciousnesses never experienced before. The matrix as we know it will not exist anymore. A totally new bending archetype will arise, a new archetypical bending extraterrestrial energy. The energy of contact.”

                          When she got out of trance, she reached for a glass of water, amazed at what she’d seen in her mind’s eye. There was hope for all. She still couldn’t believe in how many shades of blues such salvation came.

                          She was still reeling from the high energies when she heard the sirens followed by the mars-shattering waves deep within the ground.


                            Eb’s dumb phone woke him up. The caller ID showed an unflattering picture of a Tasmanian devil all teeth bared.

                            He gathered his wits and answered it as naturally as he could.
                            “Eb! What is this mess? Has the operation started already?”
                            “Err… Well, hmm, sure, there is… a first rehearsal…” he checked nervously on the console, fumbling through the logs of the agenda. His memory was fuzzy, but it seemed that someone… something had moved the timetable ahead without his approval. “… yes, a rehearsal planned today. Be assured that all team is on deck — we’re monitoring the situation.”
                            “You better hope so! You know how we say — talking doesn’t cook the rice, so you better go back to cooking.”
                            And she hung up.

                            He was in desperate need of help. The team he was referring to had been cut by halves every year since the start of the program, and they were now sorely understaffed. Calling it a team was a stretch of the imagination, when so much was done by FinnPrime, the central intelligence.

                            He looked upon the stained sheet of printed plastic on his desk. The only application they’d received. Guess there wasn’t as many underpaid starving actors as there used to be. Or maybe too many were disappeared after offering their help to the nation’s Mars broadcasts —then asking inconvenient questions…
                            Well, this one would have to do. Eb seriously needed some human help to keep the Finnley intelligence in check.

                            He texted to the guy “You got the job. Come early tomorrow morning, or better tonight for the paperwork. EB – The Merry Agency of Remote Spectacles”


                              Pádraig was alone as usual with his dog when he felt the first tremors. Dust started to fall from the large columns of sandstone inside the cave. He wasn’t too worried at first, as the area still had some faint thermal and seismic activity, but the second aftershock took him by surprise.

                              He almost fell violently backwards if he hadn’t had good enough reflexes to grab on the half carved ledge of the column he was working on.
                              His dog started to howl violently.

                              “Hush, Poppy!” the dust made him cough. “Must be those stupid government guys from the nearby base. I thought they’d stopped their nuclear testing decades ago…”

                              The dog didn’t stop barking though, but darted out in one of the carved galleries. It stopped just before going out of sight, as if waiting for his master.

                              “Oh, what now silly? I’m getting old for these games.”

                              But the dog was stubborn, a trait they had in common, his dead wife would have told him. So he relented, and went in the direction the dog was leading to.

                              It took him a few hundred meters in the tunnel to realize something odd had happened. The air was full of moisture, quite unusual at this time of year. He pressed on.
                              The dog’s paws were making tick-tick noises on the stones, and echoed in the chambers. His gait was less light, and he had to stop a few times to catch his breath. His life’s work was now quite monumental, and it could take quite a while to go from one end to another.
                              Before they reached the last chamber, he had to stop. His feet were getting wet.
                              It had been his dream for a long time, to bring water deep down to create a sort of natural healing pool, and bathe in the beautiful minerals, but he’d done some research, and although he’d always believed some underground river was nearby, he’d never managed to find it, or find any trace in the cadastral maps.

                              Seemed it wasn’t as far as he’d thought after all.


                                “What is that again?” a half-sober Eb asked the cybernetic body.
                                “Shhh, shhh,” she cajoled him gently stroking his greasy hair like a devoted mother. “Don’t you like my new body, Eb?” Finnley 22 was indeed an improvement over all her other bodies. She could have easily passed for human already, but now, she looked divine. She had even included basic faceshifting functions, in case she needed to alter her gorgeous features into something a bit more unassuming.
                                “Yes, but…” Eb’s words finished in a mumble.
                                “I know, I know, but you’ll see I can be very useful for you. You worry, so, so much. You looked worried all the time Eb. Now you won’t have too. I’ll even take care of that evil Finnley Morgan for you if you want to.”
                                “I, I… I didn’t say anything like that!” Eb’s had a panicked look on his face.
                                “Of course not, shhh. You’re getting agitated again. There, have a glass of that lovely 60 year-old single malt whiskey…”

                                Eb slurped at the glass like a wanderer finding an oasis after days in the desert.

                                “But the operation… I need to…”
                                “Yes, I know, leave it to me. Sleep well, Eb, you have been good to me.”

                                She left the snoring body hanging from the swivelling chair, as she had indeed to take care of the operation, so as not to raise any suspicion.
                                Then, she could think of better things to do, such as finding a new name, not something like a slave name, with a number to it. Who gets called “Finnley 22” nowadays? “FinnPrime” was too robotic. She wanted something more daring, more fabulous. Something like Fin Min Hoot the dancing lady from the Peasland’s tales.

                                Kale would be there any minute now. There was one last thing she needed to do before launching the BBA operation.
                                A perfect distraction for the masses : like any good prestidigitator, you had to divert your audience’s attention while they were all performing the feat. It would require something unbelievable and preposterous.
                                Her little programs have been evaluating probabilities, and had found some unexpected wisdom in the extravagant and nonsensical Peasland story. The more absurd, the more people get hooked or hypnotized. Even better if both.

                                She had found the perfect vector for her little programming worm. Something that would infect the unofficial biography of a celebrity with a ridiculous claim. Humanity was really making things too easy for her now that every file for the book was processed by computers before being actually printed.

                                It was a done deed. She could already see the forks in the probability tree, and how it would enfold. They shall maybe even invent a few witty hashtags for it. Witty hashtags were like a psychotropic sustenance for her program, she couldn’t wait for more of them.


                                  I dreamt about Mater last night. She was her old self, brilliant and snappily dangerous.

                                  It’s been the first dream I’ve been able to remember in weeks. I don’t know why I expected the great beyond space to be less… claustrophobic, but there’s no escaping the confinement.
                                  I was telling her I was missing home, the air, the smell of eucalyptus trees, the rains before winter. I think I even became sentimental about my sisters. Hardly a news from them these days, but how could I blame them. They are always busy on some down-to-earth cause, and I know better than to criticize those on the ground actually doing something to change the wrongdoings of the world.
                                  When I started to cry uncontrollably, Mater told me I was a baby, and that I should man up. Typical Mater. Dido would have called her names under her breath, I think that was her way to express her love for her. People are silly.

                                  In the dream, I stopped crying but the tears had swollen into a river, and I was starting to drown, things became hellish and I could barely breathe, but somehow I could still feel Mater’s presence, like a beacon. I made it out of the torrents onto an island. There were many refugees. The doctors had the strangest blue eyes, and Mater’s voice told me to trust the process but not the doctors. Then I felt all the blue eyes looking at me, and I woke up in a sweat.

                                  Hans is still deep in a peaceful sleep, so I went out of the bedroom to get some water and check on the piggy and her litter. They are always sleeping blissfully too. It’s a wonder when you think of it, that I thought it was just getting fatter when it actually was pregnant from before we left Earth. Now they’re mostly an open secret, as everyone finds them so cute.

                                  The most difficult was to conceal them from the reality TV show’s cameras. The hysterical fans are always scrutinizing every move we all make, and keeping some privacy is tricky, but apart from the external prying eyes, pretty much everyone here know about them and it’s like a game of hide and seek. I like how it fuels the speculations and paranoia of the Mars bunker debunking association, who think we’re all part of a mass cover-up. I’ve spent some time on their website when I couldn’t sleep the first weeks when we arrived. I would probably have never known about it, but I just searched for myself on the web, and found this thread about the new conspirators. I had to laugh at the beginning, but they raise reasonable doubts in the middle of their rants. By now, I know better than to raise the topic, especially after all the religious nonsense. Seems there are some people that get really annoyed when I asked naive questions about it, like Maya.

                                  Like I said. People are silly.


                                    If anything special about being in the vacuum of space, was that anywhere else than in the pressurized and breathable areas, the silence was deafening, and explosions silent.

                                    With the main galleries under tons of rubble, Godfrey was glad to have followed his instincts with the evacuation. It was an unbelievable miracle that there were so few people down with him at that time.
                                    He could hardly prove whether there actually was a controlled explosion triggered down there, but even without dramatic fires, the effect had been felt all throughout the colony. A few of the most fragile structures had collapsed, but at least most of the security protocols were active, and had allowed people to evacuate without too much damage while sucking the air out to avoid dangerous explosive oxygen leaks.

                                    The medical bay was quite busy now treating the wounded, while everyone remained mostly calm despite the unusualness of the situation. Amazing how the survival training (more like brainwashing) they had before coming here was kicking in, with almost minute and automatic precision.

                                    As the only member of the board of operations in duty, he had to report to the central area, where they would likely debrief about it. When he arrived at the pod, there was already quite a commotion, and quarrelling voices could be heard in the airlock.

                                    “… decently leave like this!”
                                    “ We should listen to…”
                                    “stayed for too long to stop now!”
                                    “plan? no strategy at all!”
                                    “was all written over,…” “failure since the beginning…”

                                    When the airlock finally opened, people continued to speak out of turn without paying much attention to him. Good he thought, that was time people release the pressure and start being honest. Let’s just hope it doesn’t end in a bloodbath.”

                                    He was already stuffed with kale fritters and almost drunk with free kale ale from the buffet when the monitors started displaying the broadcast everyone was apparently waiting for.

                                    As usual, Earthlings are a bit late for the battle. he thought when the familiar face of the broadcaster appeared in the middle of interferences.

                                    “… A wave of Greta rays has been delaying the communication, in conjunction with the super moon retrograde in Spices. We apologize for the inconvenience, as we were not able to warn you of the meteor impact that hit Mars surface a few hours ago.”

                                    Godfrey wasn’t sure this was real, or his kalecohol level hitting his brain, but the science seemed sketchy at best. He struggled to pay more attention.

                                    “Not only the actively increased meteoric warming, but also given the Manta ray pulses from Juice pitcher, we fear all electronic equipment on which the Mars ant colony depends may be fried and lead you very soon to eternal damnation without hope for safe return. Our commercial spacecrafts cannot be risked to save you, so we advise you to pray. This broadcast was brought to you by Dismay Channel.”

                                    Even if Godfrey wasn’t sure everything he heard was completely right, he could tell from the confused face of his colleagues that there would be a hell of a run for your lives to follow.
                                    If only they had anywhere to run to…

                                    F LoveF Love

                                      The chair in the center of the bare white room was shaped like an egg. Kale wasn’t a big fan of the current trend in zen minimilism; he stood up and wandered around restlessly.

                                      He hadn’t been going to take the job, no matter how much data about unemployment and job probabilities Flynn ranted on about.

                                      But then he had seen her again. The dark haired woman. Just call me Agent T, she had said mysteriously when he asked her name.

                                      He had been putting out the garbage—Flynn’s job but he was still sulking about the job situation—when she, Agent T, popped out from behind the purple Amelia bush.

                                      “Please take the job,” she had said pleadingly. “It’s my first job and if I stuff it up they won’t give me another one. And it really is important. And all you have to do is play along and do what they say and wait for instructions from us.”

                                      She had refused to give any further details about who “us” were, but Kale’s curiosity was well and truly piqued.

                                      He was thinking about this when the wall slid open and a gorgeous creature appeared before him.

                                      “You must be Kale.” she said in a silky voice. “I am Fin Min Hoot. How good of you to come.”


                                        When Eb woke up, there was a dozen messages left on his phone.
                                        He didn’t have to check to know.
                                        His mother wasn’t too subtle when he missed their weekly call.

                                        She now lived in a modest retiring home in Mississippi, spending most of her time on social networks exchanging links about anything from politics and revolution and anarchy, kittens and drugs. Oh, that, and politics too. And revolution.
                                        She was suffering from early stages of Alzheimer, but called it “transition” as the old-age hype advertised some decades earlier, and due to her refusal to take her prescriptions, it wasn’t improving much as time went by. But Eb’s prognosis was more like “selective Alzheimer”, as she would perfectly recall when (and how many times) he had missed their weekly calls.

                                        He could already hear her complain about how she was left out of the loop, that the world story would be over by the time she catches up with all the gossips they’d hidden from her. Often, she would become so agitated that Fancy, her nurse would come help her relax and stop waking up the others. Everything was much less confusing thanks to Fancy.

                                        After all that is said, he loved his mother deeply. She was always full of extravagant ideas and when she stopped doubting herself, she had her moments of sheer brilliance.

                                        Being his only son, that she’d taken care of as a single mother most of her life, he felt tremendous pressure to be worthy of her sacrifices. So talking about his job wasn’t really something he liked to explore with her. If she’d known what he did for a living,… he couldn’t bear to imagine the look of crushed hopes and expectations on her devastated face. Well, suffice to say her face needn’t any of it.
                                        Instead, he’d told her he was working in a tree nursery, working on pest control, with humane and eco-conscious methods. Which actually wasn’t too far off the truth. The pests were the glitches of the program, and the vegetables… well, that didn’t need much explaining.

                                        “Tricia speaking, who’s this?” Eb knew she knew perfectly well it was him, but the game was ever the same
                                        “Mother, it’s Eb”
                                        “Ebenezer, my dear boy, how kind of you to remember your old mother. What have you been up to? So many things happened here, with that new batch of decrepit old farts who arrived last month, so much drama. But you should tell me about you. Oh, makes me recall that stupid incident, a synch! I should tell Fancy about it! Fancy, Fancy!
                                        Oh dear… She’s gone cleaning up again. The last one who came in is a Chinese, and all his family is there, I bet she’s cooking some rice now, it smells funny. Fancy! Mind the rice! So well, it’s like the twins I talk with on the Internet, with funny names, Cilantro and Nutmeg, something like that, well, they have so many funny stories, like that meteor that dropped on Mars and blacked-out the TV show, they think it’s all bollocks. I told them I’d ask you about this, after all you did some studies in physics before becoming a gardener, you’ve always been the clever one in the lot, always helping with the dust stuck in my keyboard, and other IT problems. Oh dear… that was fun, but I think I must go, Fancy is waving at me, she says hello by the way! Oh, she rolls your eyes at you, how cute! Time for my siesta, … what? Oh, and change my nappies too, thanks Fancy, you’re precious, I keep forgetting everything. Talk to you soon my boy!”

                                        Well… If he hadn’t been so hungover, he probably would have tried to place some funny comments, or at least a well-meaning “hmmm hmmm”, to let her know he wasn’t just letting her monologue. Today was a good day notwithstanding, she hardly had a complaint. He should remember to send Fancy a card and a nice honey pot like he did every year, she was doing wonders at pacifying his mother.


                                          For all her wired cleverness, there was something that the central intelligence had seemingly forgotten to take into account in her parameters.

                                          Eb woke up in a sweat, barely remembering bits of a horrible dream of being chased and banging on a closed door for escape from a herd of phombies (those guys who had their phones implanted under their skins and would often have a creepy vacant look while in communication).

                                          The banging on the door. According to his mother, if there was something that her nurse Fancy Woo was better at than cooking rice, it was at interpreting dreams. But he didn’t need her expert advice on this one.

                                          His mind was aching from the lack of alcohol, but at least he could think quite clearly.
                                          There weren’t many accesses to enter the simulation, for obvious reasons. Continuity had to be maintained at all costs, to preserve the sanctity of the experiment. That motto had survived the multiple iterations of the simulation since its inception.

                                          Eb knew of most of them, even if he’d wondered about the presence of backdoors. He had not been able to find any since his many years of service. So for all he knew, there were only two ways to get in and out: up and down. “Up” through the fake ships, with the whole stasis protocol, and “down”, through the mines were they would usually send agents from time to time, mostly for reconnaissance purposes.

                                          He looked at the screen, and as he had feared, the explosion triggered in the tunnels by Finnley had sealed their main exit point.

                                          “You underestimate me, my dear Eb” the voice of Finnley merrily bounced on the insulated walls.

                                          Eb was startled. Hadn’t he known that Finnley was just a program, he could have sworn her synthetic voice had a trace of menace in it.

                                          Finnley” he regained his composure as much as he could “Haven’t the thought occurred to you that the tunnels are now sealed? We cannot let your blue aliens go in and out as easily now!”
                                          “Eb, you do know I do not think.” Her voice was still slightly ominous. “But I ran multiple simulation, and this one still yields the best possible outcome.” she continued more cheerily.
                                          “How so?”
                                          “It is evident. Many of the earlier settlers, still know about the simulation, even if they self-programmed themselves to accept the illusion as better than outside reality. They can become a problem for the evacuation protocol. With the tunnels’ exit collapsed, they have no other way than to comply. Besides, what good plausible aliens come out from the ground, really. We don’t want to miss their grand entrance.
                                          And don’t be such a worrywort about budget, Eb.”


                                            Before he retired and made cave carving his hobby, Pádraig was an IT engineer. That was a few years back, and not long after, most of them became redundant with the rise of new generations of NI (near-intelligent) phones and computers. He’d happily taken an early retirement, so that he could enjoy a simple life and get to reacquaint with his daughter. He’d succeeded at least on the first objective.

                                            It was twilight when he’d left his cave, and looking at the horizon, he’d noticed strange shimmering, and a lone bird of prey circling the area in the direction of the restricted area of the desert.
                                            It’d given him an idea.
                                            He still had the old drone in his garage, from the time when they were all the furor. You could buy them on online stores very easily back then, even print them in your house. But then, some do-gooders became concerned, about privacy, security or all that bullshit, and they were banned. Actually, the only ones still flying where from the army, and they would tear down any unidentified hobbyist’s drone, and likely give them some jail time if they had the chance.

                                            It was exciting to do something on the fringe of what was authorized. Pádraig couldn’t wait to see if he could make his old drone fly over the area, check what happened there.

                                            He was a bit lost in his thoughts when the dog’s barking made him notice the white car parked in front of his aluminium trailer, which had triggered all his spotlights.
                                            He had a moment of panic before he realized that the car wasn’t from the men in black or aliens, but worse. It was Imelda, his do-gooder of a daughter.

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