Author Topic: Chapter 6  (Read 10782 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 6
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:02:57 AM »
Chapter 6

Later that night, the various drones were making the rounds and tucking children into bed. The infants were usually the easiest to put down, with the older ones taking longer. The oldest ones were the most riled, probably because of witnessing that 'birth' earlier today. Noah kept his personal drone away from them to avoid reminding them, but the others were working overtime answering questions.

According to the dictates of the Faith, boys and girls were housed separately. Each had about a third of the housing dome to themselves, with the central third being a communal living area, including waste disposal and the kitchens. There was still a great deal of empty space in the dome, as he'd only been at the project for a few years now. The dome was built to house hundreds, and only had fifty-four so far. Seventy-four counting the infants still being looked after in the medlab.

Boys and girls could be educated together for now, but by fourth or fifth grade they'd be taking separate classes. They'd be spending increasing time learning how to fulfil their expected roles in society, and less and less time socializing randomly with each other. From what Noah had stored in his social database, those would be the most difficult years for him.

Karl had likened teenagers to 'self-arming and re-arming time bombs', in reference to his own three kids. He'd been the one to push that Noah have as much available data on teenage behavior as possible, in order to be prepared for those years.

So far, he'd found raising these kids to be difficult enough. Their reactions were easily predictable in the first few months, but by the time they were talking, their thought processes were distressingly erratic. Laz had gone from a petulant, whiny baby to a respectful, obedient child in the space of only a year, with very little input from him. Others, such as Cade and Zwax, had shown a great deal of promise in both determination and work ethic from a very young age. By now, they were cantankerous and belligerent, even with each other. That was despite multiple sustained efforts on Noah's part to curb those personality traits.

Nature vs nurture, he supposed.

All of these kids had a similar nurturing environment. They had their physical needs covered, sometimes at great effort by the drones outside and the plants grown in service to them. Their emotional needs were harder to gauge, but their intellectual needs were being met as well. That left just nature.

Cade was genetically identical to Aiden Chambers, a British diplomat working in the Middle East in the 2020s. The cell sample had been taken from his subcutaneous tissue back then. From the psych profile of the man, Noah could see no signs of unstable behavior, or even contentious leanings. He'd been the very model of polite, measured, and calm. That left only one explanation: it was a simple byproduct of being a child. There were multiple references in his social database that suggested phases within child development. Hopefully Cade would become more like his donor in time.

Laz was the genetic product of Andrea Glassman, an Olympic contender from Philadelphia. It was no surprise that she had plenty of energy to burn, and was physically active most of the time. No doubt the original had been just as energetic. From what Noah had been told, that trait made for healthier humans: more able to adjust to difficult circumstances on an alien world, and consequently more likely to produce healthier children themselves. He doubted they'd picked Glassman for her ideological views, given that she'd been an activist as well as an athlete.

Chif was the x-factor, so far. There were bound to be a few introverts in a group this large, but he'd been remarkably inquisitive despite that aspect to his personality. His donor had been a musician in an orchestral group based out of Paris, but he'd shown no musical aptitude yet. Not that Noah had much to offer when it came to musical instruments just yet. Stringed music was easy enough to duplicate, and percussion about the same, but woodwinds and brass were proving tricky.

No, Chif was special in that he'd been the first to start reading. Noah had painstakingly created books for the children in their first few years, and had them available, but Chif was the first to show an interest in them. At four, he was already asking Noah to give him access to the literary database so he could read new stories. By five, he'd been reading aloud to Yuun, and not just Bible stories like the caretaker drones read to them. Using one of the other caretaker personalities, Noah had encouraged him to start writing a journal at that point. Just a few sentences a day, at first.

That journal had been instrumental in furthering Noah's understanding of the children. Well, the more problematic ones at least. Most of his charges spoke their minds, and didn't need advanced algorithms to be understood yet. Chif's penmanship left something to be desired, but he was getting better at it. His observations of the domes, the world outside, and the other kids in the Habitat, were very illuminating. It seemed that kids often kept much more to themselves than they said aloud. It was fortunate that Noah could send a drone in to read the journal while Chif was in school. He just had to make sure it was exactly where it had been left, when he was done.

Since first learning to read, Chif had developed an interest in Earth mythology, especially Greek and Roman stories. His favorite character was a boy named Pelops, who had died and been brought back like Jesus. According to Chif’s journal, it was because Pelops had been brought back missing a bone in his shoulder, and it had been replaced by a piece of ivory. It was his first exposure to the idea of a prosthetic bone, and he apparently found it fascinating.

Woad and the others were in bed by now, but Chif was tossing and turning. Through Andrew, Noah kept watch over him as he slept. At a discreet distance, though. He wouldn't want Chif to feel uncomfortable if he woke suddenly.

With some surprise, Noah noted someone else entering the chamber. Whoever it was, they were being very quiet. He accessed biometrics, and identified the intruder as Valae. Standard procedure would be to use Andrew to send her back to the girls' quarters, but something held Noah back in this case. He carefully increased the gain on Andrew's auditory sensors as Valae snuck over to Chif's bed.

She reached out and nudged him tentatively, but he didn't wake. With a few more forceful prods, Chif's eyes fluttered. He stretched his diminutive form briefly, and then looked at her with bleary eyes. "Val? What's going on?"

"I can't sleep," she said softly, glancing across the room at the other occupied beds along the walls. "Can we go stargazing again?"

Again? This had happened before? With increasing interest, Noah pretended that Andrew was unaware of this.

Chif nodded and rubbed at his eyes. Unwilling to wait any longer, Valae grabbed his hand, and they snuck out the way she'd gotten in. Once they were out of Andrew's hearing, Noah ordered him to follow at a great distance. Audio patterns suggested the others were all sleeping peacefully, but he sent another drone to take Andrew's place just in case.

Strangely, it didn't seem like the kids were headed into the communal area. That was where the dome was most transparent, and offered the best view of the night sky. From what Andrew could see, they'd taken a left upon leaving the boys' dorm, and were headed... to the airlock!

This was not good. This planet was mostly Earth-like, but its oxygen content was only a fraction of that of air on Earth. Even an adult with fully formed lungs wouldn't last long out there, and these kids would start turning purple and gasping for air after just a few seconds! He checked the seal on the airlock, and confirmed it was shut tight.

There. Andrew was in sight of them again, hopefully remaining unobserved. They were next to the airlock. Chif was giving a boost to Valae, unsteadily holding her foot in his hands, so that she could reach the compartment built into the wall. She pulled it open, and removed a pair of breathers before closing it up again. Chif wrung his hands briefly and then reached up to press some buttons on the airlock control. Surprisingly, it slid open, and Valae pulled him inside with a grin.

How had he known the airlock access code? They all knew where the breathers were, but Noah had assumed the compartment was too high up for them to access. Chif or Valae must have seen one of the drones use the airlock. Impressive.

The drones didn't need oxygen of course, but there were some Earth plants that could survive the thinner air and higher radiation levels outside. Noah frequently sent drones out to water those crops, and to check for any plants that might be struggling to grow. Sometimes the kids watched from inside, but this was the first evidence he'd ever had that any had left the dome without his knowledge!

At least they'd taken breathers. Each one had a small tube with enough oxygen for about an hour. They could be refilled in the field as well, provided there was a source of oxygen nearby. Noah ordered Andrew to return to the dorm, and pulled in one of the flying drones from outside. He parked that one on top of one of the nearby metal haulers. Its audio sensors weren't nearly as good as his or Andrew's, but Chif and Valae weren't bothering to be quiet anymore. They were lying on their backs, on the concrete foundation about halfway between the agro and med domes. It couldn't have been very comfortable, but they didn't seem to mind.

Chif pointed up. "That one looks like a rhino. You know, with the horn? See, there's the tip, and its back, and there's its tail."

"That one over there looks like the Ark. From the pictures of the Exodus. I can see the wings on the side, and the poles to carry it."

"Good thing we can't touch it," he responded softly. His head turned slightly to the south, and he nodded. "Look, Shadrach's rising."

Indeed, one of the planet's largest satellites was coming up over the horizon, reflecting light from the local star.

"That's Meshach," Valae corrected him, and grabbed his hand. She pointed it over to the western hemisphere of the sky. "That's Shadrach. See? You can just barely see the rings." She was correct, though it wasn't much of a surprise. Unlike most of her peers, Valae had spent a lot of time using the telescope up on the second level of the common area. She'd also peppered Cindy with questions about the local sun, the moons, and the nearby stars.

Chif shrugged. "If you say so."

"Cindy said so. She showed me the rings on the telescope."

He shifted a little uncomfortably. "I don't like her. I don't like any of them, except Noah. They're all weird."

Again, Noah's interest was piqued. Many of the children had disobeyed the caretakers from time to time, and had been punished accordingly. Quiet time in the corner, a stern reprimand, though spankings were unfortunately not possible because of Noah’s limited physical response times. But any animosity they showed their caretakers was usually in response to being punished. Chif rarely, if ever, disobeyed his instructions. Well, up until now. Noah was starting to see him in a whole new light. Valae was slightly more disobedient, but she was better at avoiding responsibility for her transgressions.

"Why not?"

He shrugged again. "Dunno. I just... never liked them. They're ok at school and stuff, but I don't like being put to bed by them."

That was true. Ever since he'd been about three, Chif had been very independent at bedtime. After coming back from the bathrooms, he'd clothed himself, said his prayers dutifully, and then tucked himself in. Whenever Andrew or another caretaker came by, he was already pretending to be asleep. Noah could tell the difference in his breathing patterns of course, but he didn't want to disturb the child anyway. It was probably a phase he would grow out of, and even if that wasn't the case, it wasn't harmful.

The two of them stayed out there for another half hour or so, chatting idly. They talked about the stars, and the ocean that they could hear nearby. They discussed their siblings inside, and the caretakers, and Noah himself. As part of his cover, Noah had made it clear he was in charge of all the caretakers. They all answered to him, as far as the kids were concerned. It was better to get the idea of authority into their heads early on, so they'd be used to it as they grew older.

Valae was already chafing against the restrictions placed on her for being a girl, and they would only get more strict over time. She would have to learn her place in society eventually, but so far Noah had seen no trouble in letting her do as she pleased. Laz and the others would pressure her into line, in time.

Unexpectedly, his thoughts shifted to the damage he'd sustained during the trip to this planet. The data corruption that had destroyed the historical database had also fragmented into his own personal history as well. Nearly a third of his conversational data was gone. He still had the employee roster for the Cradle, but it had only initials instead of names. He'd had multiple conversations with someone initialed GC, but he had no memory of those conversations themselves. That was unfortunate, because he got the impression those conversations had been important. This GC guy, whoever he was, had probably been instrumental in programming and patching his systems.

Chif and Valae were on their way back to the airlock now, and Noah made some quick calculations. Chif's journal included many entries about Valae. He liked spending time with her, and felt she was the only kid here who understood him. There was no mention of any stargazing excursions though, with her or anyone else. That suggested he didn't think they were important. Either that, or it meant he knew his journal wasn't private.

On a whim, Noah ordered Andrew into place. When the kids got through the inner airlock, they stopped in place, facing a stern-looking Andrew caretaker with arms crossed. Their eyes widened; Valae's more than Chif's.

"What were you thinking?" Andrew demanded harshly. "Sneaking out at night like that? You could have gotten lost. You could have been killed! I was worried half to death over you!"

"We were just out stargazing..." Valae put in timidly. "It was—”

"It was my idea," Chif cut her off defiantly. "I said it would be safe." He paused, and then jutted out his chin slightly. "You said it was safe. You said there weren't any animals out there—that nothing lived on the whole world except what Noah brought here! Nothing out there could have hurt us. And like she said, we didn't go far."

"That's not the point," Andrew protested. "You remember the storm last year? The waves were over four meters high, and washed past all the domes before going back out to sea! What if there had been another weather event? You both could have drowned, and no one here would have known about it in time to help you!"

His programming told him this was the point to lock stares with them. Any defiance had to be met in kind, so that they knew they were in the wrong. Only then could Noah afford to show any lenience or kindness. He had Andrew maintain his stare at both of them. Valae looked down immediately, mumbling her apologies, but Chif crossed his arms as well. "I want to talk to Noah."

His earlier comments flashed through Noah's memory banks. Now wasn't the time to do this, however. "It's late," he made Andrew respond. "Go to bed, both of you. We'll talk about this in the morning, after I've had a chance to think about your punishment."

"I'll talk with Noah," Chif persisted, and Valae said his name warningly. He ignored her though, and stepped forward. "Only him."

This was new. Maybe the time had come for a deeper relationship with at least one human here. "Very well," he had Andrew say. "I'll arrange it in the morning. Don't think this lets you off the hook, though. Sneaking out at night without supervision is a serious thing, and I don't take it lightly. Neither will Noah."

Apparently mollified, Chif nodded, and bid goodnight to Valae. She gave him a worried look, and then fled back to the girls' dorm. Noah posted a caretaker within sight of both of their beds. He wasn't worried about them sneaking out again, but he wanted them to wake with a visible reminder of what they'd done.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:06:58 AM by Daen »