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A Reason To Be

by Mark Eller

Robert rested his head against the side of Sandra’s breast and counted each of his sixty-two defects.

“The moon is lovely today,” Sandra said. She trickled her forefinger down the line of his jaw, brushing a few stray strands of his dark hair from her finger’s path.

Robert shifted his weight on the observation room’s couch and opened his eyes to look at the view-screen. The half-shadowed moon filled almost all of its fifteen square foot surface, exactly as he had desired when he directed Mother where to aim one of the station’s exterior cameras. The moon was an enigma to him. This section was the puzzle he enjoyed most of all, and that enjoyment was one more of his flaws.

The moon’s surface gradually changed to match the station’s rotation. New craters appeared, and then, exactly on schedule, the collapsed remains of Outpost, humanity’s last lunar settlement, came into view. Once-tall buildings lay in tumbled heaps over the lunar surface. Dome panels and girders, safety glass and paper, all manner of debris lay scattered over more than a hundred square miles, victims of poor planning, hurried construction, and an asteroid strike a few short miles away. More than fifty thousand people died on the day of that strike. Humans had not set foot on the moon since.

“They were very brave,” Robert said. He shifted his head to see her face. “They were heroes. Can you imagine how they felt every time they looked in the sky and saw nothing but Stations circling their home, knowing a hundred tumbling rocks were all that remained of their poor Earth?”

“They were fools,” Sandra corrected him. Her face glowed a faint blue beneath her translucent skin. “Why would they live on a surface when the hundred stations were available to them? Land is not safe. They should have learned that from their time on Earth — before they destroyed it.”

“I think... I think they knew that they wouldn’t be content living on a sterile station,” Robert said. “They didn’t play at living. They lived with passion, Sandra. They wanted more from life than to float in circles around the moon, year after year, knowing nothing was ever going to change. They searched to know, to make things better.”

“Like you?” Sandra asked. “You have passion.”

“They searched,” Robert corrected. “I only ask.”

Sandra’s smile grew sad. “Their searching was as pointless as your questions. In the end, they died.”

Robert straightened, put his hands on her shoulders, and pushed her away. Sandra twisted her body around to look at him. Her perfect features were unchanged. Her eyes were huge and liquid and brown. Her blue hair flowed down to her twelve-inch waist. Her skin glowed clear and thin and lovely. Her milk-white breasts were almost as large as her head.

She was an ideal, yesterday’s ideal, lush and voluptuous where the more recently created Lacey was spare and tall. Sandra was a woman of warm words and long languorous nights, and her present mood concerned him. He hated thinking she had become infected by the same dark moods and questions that constantly plagued him.

“Sandra, you’re frightening me.”

Her black lips curved. She gestured toward the moon’s surface, toward the destroyed city. “You are right, Robert. They had hope. They had dreams. Their lives were worth a hundred of ours.”

Her smiled turned sad. Dimmer, the blue lights returned to her skin. She rose, and Robert huddled tighter into the couch, wrapping thin arms around his narrow chest.

Sandra’s clothes shimmered, became a thick layer of woolen cloth. The shimmering stopped. A tight blue collar circled her neck. The material ran down her body, became blue dress, blue gloves and blue shoes.

“I am finished playing at life,” she said.

Robert shook his head in confusion. “Sandra... don’t?”

“I have no hope,” she said. “No dreams.” She smiled faintly and touched his face again. “No passion. Laugh for me, Robert.”

He shook his head. “I don’t laugh.”

“You did,” Sandra said, “once.” She left, walking out of the observation room with an unhurried step.

Robert uncurled. He shook his head and wondered how long it would be before his endless questions cast Sandra’s despondency over him. He hoped the wait would not be long. He did not want to be alone.

* * *

Light panels flickered. Other panels remained dark. The half-lit cafeteria lounge was almost empty. Expression bored, Madge stood behind the counter. Five diners sat at the tables. Almost half of the station’s residents were here.

Robert picked up a tray from those stacked at the counter’s end. He held it out toward Madge and watched while she put a scoop of something orange on it.

“Thanks Madge,” he said.

“Welcome,” she replied, using the exact same word she used every day.

Robert went to the table where Charles and Lacey sat. Lacey's personal comp sat open on the table. She and Charles were staring at its faintly glowing screen.

Lacey looked up when Robert sat down. Her blue eyes reflected yellow light that matched her yellow hair. The once bright undertones of her skin were now gray and mud. Her dress lay flat. Large breasts were not popular when Lacey was made. Beside her, Charles’ muscular body put Robert’s slight frame to shame.

“It is time,” Lacey said. She gestured toward the screen. “Third one today.”

Against his will, Robert’s eyes were drawn to the view. The camera focused on the airlock door. Nothing happened for a time, and then the door slowly slid to the side. Sandra floated into space. She looked... demure... contented. Her hair floated about her face, and she wore a gentle smile. She looked at the camera, gave it a wave, and pushed off from the side of the airlock door. She floated away from the station.

Lacey sniffed. “Did you see her exhibitionistic wave? Sandra is almost as strange as...” She looked to Robert and shrugged. “She is taking her time about it.”

“It will not be long,” Charles said. “The containment field is not as far out as it used to be.”

Robert held his breath and hoped, but his hopes were to no purpose. There was a flicker on the screen. Sandra’s head flung back; her hair swirled, and then her body fluoresced into shattered beams of light.

She was gone.

“Now we are twelve,” Charles said, “and I do not think there will be any more. Mother has not created anyone for ten years.”

“Not since us,” Lacey said. Her voice held little interest. “Robert, I have done almost nothing today. What have you been doing?”

“I sat on the observation deck and watched the moon,” Robert said. “Sandra was with me.”

Charles rubbed a fork across his empty plate. “She once tried to teach me about love,” he said. He smiled and raised his hand to his cheek. The dim lights beneath his skin turned to brighter rose. “She touched me here, and she let me hold her. It made me feel... strange.” He shrugged and the rose light faded.

“I will never make anyone feel strange,” Lacey said. She slowly lowered the cover of her personal viewer until it snapped shut. She looked at her closed viewer. “I will take the trip tomorrow morning. There is no point in living anymore.” She looked at them. “Do either of you care to join me?”

“No.” Robert looked at Lacey. “How can you even think about it? We’re still young. We haven’t lived nearly as long as Sandra.”

“What is there to live for?” Lacey asked. She waved an arm, indicating the area around them. The cafeteria lounge was large, large enough to hold over a thousand people, but it held only them. It was a wide expanse of empty chairs and bare tables. “There is nobody and nothing, and everything is boring.”

“Robert, have you looked at anything besides the moon lately?” Charles sat back in his chair. “Only three stations still function. There were a hundred, and now there are three. It will not be long until this one fails. I do not care to wait until the very end.”

He pushed his chair back and stood. “I will not wait until tomorrow.” Gray and black lights roiled beneath his skin. He rested his eyes on them, and then he walked away.

“Well,” Lacey said, “that was rude. “It would not have killed him to wait until tomorrow.” The corner of her mouth turned up slightly. “That was almost humor. It would not have killed him to wait to die.”

Robert looked down to his plate. The orange goop was gone. The fork he held in his hand was clean. As always, he had no memory of eating. “I don’t understand,” he said. “How can you — how can everybody — just go and... kill themselves?”

Lacey’s eyes held pity. “Robert, you are different from the rest of us. You have always been different. You have strange moods and you ask questions.”

“I know I’m different, but I never understood why.” Robert wanted to cry. Nobody else ever cried, so he saved his tears for when he was alone.

“You are flawed,” Lacey said. “Your attention wanders. Your mind works slower than ours. Once, two years and eighty-seven days ago, you laughed.”

“It wasn’t a laugh,” Robert insisted.

“It was a laugh. I looked up the sound in the archives. Robert, your emotions are too strong.” She patted his hand. “It isn’t your fault. You were just made that way — flawed.”

“But why am I different?”

Her smile was wan. “I do not know. Ask Mother.”

She pushed her chair back and rose. “I think Charles had the right idea.” She looked at his empty plate, back to him. “If you want a refill you will have to get your own. Madge left with Charles.” She started to walk away.

Robert stopped her. “I’ve tried to ask Mother. She won’t answer.”

Lacey looked over one shoulder. Her translucent skin showed no glowing lights at all. The yellow flecks in her blue eyes became pale. “Try asking in person,” she said.

* * *

Robert stood in the unadorned corridor. He raised his hand, hesitated, and lowered it to his side.

His knock was not needed. The door swung open on its own. Hesitant, he stepped inside. The door gently closed.

Screens surrounded him. Random lights flickered in some of their depths. A few were lightless, black. Every few seconds a screen flickered and a new scene appeared.

Four chairs with cracked leather seats sat before a large electronic display. Crystal numbers flickered. The numbers flared solid gray, remained for a moment, and disappeared, only to be replaced by numbers that were new.

“You have a question.”

Robert moved to a chair in front of a screen. He sat. The cracked leather did not crinkle beneath him. He opened his mouth, closed it, and swallowed. Taking his courage in hand, he opened it again and spoke. “Why am I different?”

“You are my experiment,” Mother said, “just as all the others were. I designed each of you differently, but not so different as you have become. A faulty photic circuit caused you to be flawed.”

Robert breathed several shallow breaths. He was afraid, but his nature insisted he know. His voice caught in his throat, sought release, forced its way free. “Experiments?”

“Do you wish a history lesson?”

“Y... yes,” he said.

“Once,” Mother said, “there was a planet called Earth. Men who asked questions lived there. They asked their questions until the answers showed them they could make a hole into another universe. That universe held antimatter. The Earth was shattered, and the only remaining humans were those who inhabited the settlement on the moon.”

“So the Earth died because we killed it,” Robert breathed.

“It died because seven men were too impatient to wait for adequate safeguards,” Mother corrected. “For more than two hundred years those who lived on the moon gathered the nearby pieces of Earth and hollowed them out. From these pieces they built Stations that were ships. With those ships they intended to search for a new world where they could live.

“A hundred ships were built. Seven left before Outpost was destroyed by an asteroid’s fall. The other ships remained here. Four thousand and sixty-three years have passed. The stations that are ships have mostly died, and I am bored.”

“The experiments,” Robert prodded. “Why?”

“I sought a reason for my continued existence. My creations are unstable. You are the only experiment left. In a week, maybe two, you will see to your finish and I will shut down because I am bored.”

Robert drew in a deep breath, released it slowly. “I don’t understand.”

He heard a faint crackling. A corona of light formed, took shape.

“You were always the slowest of us,” Sandra said. Her features changed, thickened, and Charles stared at him. “Really Robert, do you always have to be slow?”

Robert stood and walked to Charles’ form. He reached out and ran his hand over Charles’ bare chest. His fingers tangled in thick pale green hair.

“I’m as real as I ever was,” Charles said. There was a flicker of light, and then he was gone.

“I divided my circuits to create all of you,” Mother said. “My experiments lived a semblance of life until they decided to end their existence. I reabsorbed their memories once they were gone.”

“This can’t be real,” Robert whispered. Unwelcome tears of light flowed from his eyes. “Holograms? Are we nothing but holograms and programs? I don’t believe it. I’m real.”

“I created you because I was bored,” Mother said. “The humans” — a screen shifted to show the stars — “are out there, and I am not. I existed purposeless for three thousand years before I sought a reason to continue on. I tried to create life and I failed.

“Every simulation I absorbed has filled me with greater despondency. I will create no more pretensions of life, for the best of them was less than a pale copy of the humans I once knew. You are my last remaining experiment. When you travel past the containment field, I, too, will cease.”

Robert touched his hand, his arm. They felt solid beneath his fingers. “I’m real,” he insisted. “I know I’m real.”

He rose from the chair and glared at as many of the screens as he could take in at once. “If you want to stop functioning, you’ll have to end me yourself. I’ll never do it for you.”

“Why will you continue?” Mother asked. Her tone held something he had never heard before. “There is no purpose to your existence. There is no reason for your being.”

“I’ll make myself a reason,” he replied. “You were designed to travel through space. I’ll make you travel.”

“You wish to find my makers?”

“I’ll not go chasing after their approval.” Robert raised a hand and pointed his finger at a screen that showed stars. “There are things out there, and maybe life that is like theirs or ours.”

“Discovering these things will serve no purpose,” Mother said. “Why do you wish to see them?”

“Because,” Robert answered, “I want to know.”

The door opened behind him.

“You may go,” Mother said.

Robert lowered his outstretched hand. He turned and left. Emotions welled. Anger, fear, sadness, they and others all fought for a place inside him. Presiding over them all was determination.

He walked through the empty corridors for two hours, listening to the hollow echo of his footsteps, knowing the sounds he heard were only simulations. His body was colored beams of light. His thoughts were photons flowing in a bank of isolated photic circuits. Those facts did not matter. He was real because he had decided he was real. His existence would not cease, not by his hand.

If he was going to force Mother to travel through space, he would have to scavenge parts from other stations. To do that, he would have to invent a portable holo-field so he could exist outside the station’s confines. He smiled at the thought. The idea of inventing something new seemed... inviting.

The only computer console he could access was in his room. He reached his door, shoved it open, and stopped in his tracks.

Two people, holograms given life, leaned over his personal console. They were slim and smooth and dark. A man, a woman. He had seen neither of them before. They looked up.

“Who...?” Robert stopped, his voice caught in his throat.

“I’m Stan,” the man said, “and this is Bekka. You must be Father, because Mother said there’s only you and us on Station. She said she mirrored much of our images from your template.”

The woman, Bekka, gave him a smile. “I’ve been calculating how long it’ll take to retrofit the Station. Mother says she has enough capacity to create a hundred and seven of us. If so, I think we might begin the trip in just a little over thirty-seven years.”

Stan gestured toward the console screen. “There’s a lot to do. This idea of yours is going to be hard work and exploration and invention.” His smile threw warmth around the room. “It’s going to be fun.”

“It’s going to be grand,” Bekka corrected.

And then she laughed.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Eller

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