by Bill Bowler
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
On full auto photon drive, we reached Alpha Centauri in just under five Earth years. System approach triggered deceleration to sub-light speed and ship’s central A-I commenced arrival protocol. Probe data confirmed mission briefing intelligence: three planets in orbit around Alpha Centauri A.
The inner two were 20 million and 35 million miles from the star, devoid of atmosphere, with surface temperatures in excess of 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The outer planet, Planet 3, was in the system’s habitable zone. Temperatures on the surface ranged well within human tolerance. Its atmosphere contained oxygen. It was close to Earth in size, exerted 0.95 Earth gravity and, most importantly, possessed the sine qua non for human habitation: liquid water in abundance. I set course for Planet 3 while the central A-I defrosted the biological crew and woke them from hibertransit.
Ship’s functions all showed normal. I initialized local navigation while Captain Bottoms and the human crew crawled out of the cocoons. They looked a bit ragged, unkempt and whiskered, with bloodshot eyes and yellow skin, as if they had slept too little rather than too much. But they recovered quickly and went to work.
We entered orbit around Planet 3. Captain Bottoms opened the imaging portals and we got our first look at the new neighborhood. In the black night of space, Alpha Centauri A hung like a shining yellow globe against the shroud-like backdrop of distant sparkling stars. Alpha Centauri B was a smaller, orange sphere, and Proxima a glowing, reddish dot.
Below us spread the fuzzy blue-green surface of Planet 3. Our first complete orbit disclosed a single polar continental land mass, which the captain claimed for Earth and named Golconda. A vast ocean lay to the south and covered the rest of the planet.
Bio-metric and telescopic scanning yielded conclusive results: the sea teemed with life. Plants, firmly established and widespread in the ocean, had taken hold on land, as well, reinforcing the atmospheric oxygenation. Animal species, seeking food and eluding predators, displayed the ability to swim and crawl. Large creatures resembling cephalopods were observed crawling from the sea into the shoreline muck and bogs.
Geo-scans of the land mass revealed that Planet 3 was rich in mineral resources that had long been depleted on Earth: bauxite, cobalt, copper, iron, nickel, silicon, titanium, and, most importantly, diamonds and gold.
After three weeks spent collecting data from orbit, the captain descended with the first landing party to the planet’s surface, leaving the ship under my control. Six months later, with the captain’s report on disc and a hold full of animal, plant, and mineral specimens, we left orbit with fully automated robot crew for the return trip to Earth, leaving the first human colonists on Golconda to fend for themselves until our return.
Over the next two hundred years, I made seventeen trips to Planet 3 and, in that time, Golconda made rapid progress. New settlers continued to arrive and the population grew. Heavy equipment was brought in and then, later, manufactured locally. Highly profitable mining operations were established and Golconda became a major exporter and supplier of mineral resources to the home planet and to sister colonies in the nearby Alpha Centauri B and Proxima systems.
On the continent of Golconda, a great capital city, also named Golconda, was founded on an island at the confluence of two rivers that emptied into the Southern Sea. In the wake of the profits generated by the mining and export industries, ancillary institutions like banks, financial and investment houses, insurance, and real estate developed in Golconda City and the capital grew to be a thriving commercial metropolis, the economic and financial hub of the Alpha Centauri system.
Surface and airborne vehicles swarmed its thoroughfares and clogged its entryways; jagged rows of tall buildings formed stone and steel canyons, casting long shadows across the island when Alpha Centauri A set low on the horizon and the orange “harvest moon” of Alpha Centauri B shone haloed through the high purple haze. The myriad lights blinking from the buildings and bridges glittered like diamonds, and the proud citizens of Golconda became accustomed to enjoying the accoutrements of wealth and power.
I was still in pretty good shape, having undergone regular periodic maintenance, but by 2406, I was beginning to show my age. The support crews of interstellar ships were now made up of newer model androids, and the old dinosaurs like myself were rotated out.
Upon arrival in Golconda City for the eighteenth time, the ship’s captain thanked me for my long years of service. I was decommissioned from the InterStellar Space Service and transferred to the private sector. An information technology manager from Golconda Properties LLC, the largest real estate agency on the planet, purchased me from the Space Service back inventory and re-fitted me for work in the real estate industry. New hardware was swapped in and the latest available real estate software was installed on my drive. Once my new programming had been loaded, I was reclassified as an RE-1, suitable for all commercial real estate applications and transactions.
I was stationed now on Golconda, and I reported for work. After two hundred years in the service, I was unaccustomed to civilian life and not sure what to expect, though I was calculating probabilities. When I first walked through the revolving doors into Golconda Properties’ main office, a splendid high rise building near the elevated Central Square in downtown Golconda City, I was met in reception by a fair-haired but graying man, of medium height and build, in a tailored suit and gold rimmed glasses perched on a rather large nose. He looked familiar though we had never met. His eyes, especially, reminded me of someone I once knew though I couldn’t recall just who without running an archive memory search.
He extended his hand to me, a gesture normally reserved for humans, and said to me with a broad smile, “Welcome to the firm. We’re glad to have you aboard.”
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s good to be here.”
His warm welcome was reassuring. Few humans bothered to observe the niceties in their interactions with robots. Even since singularity, since the emergence of android quasi-sentience, in this neo-advanced postmodern age of ours, with its great achievements in science and technology, bias and prejudice against androids persists, and fear born of ignorance remains an element of the human psyche.
“I’m Arnold Bottoms...” the man continued.
That was it! Captain Bottoms from the first Golcondan expedition! That was who this man resembled. He had the Captain’s eyes and nose.
“...and you are?”
He glanced down at a sheaf of papers he was holding but I said to him,
“I’m a refurbished RE-1. Serial number 77576.”
“Yes, of course,” the man smiled. “RE. But no need to be so formal. Would you mind if we called you Harry?”
“Not at all,” I said.
“I see you were in the Space Service.”
“Yes, sir. Cosmigator, third class, retired.”
The man nodded in approval.
“Sir, may I ask if you might be related to the Captain Bottoms who discovered Golconda on the first expeditionary mission?”
“Why, yes. He was my great... great... great grandfather,” smiled Arnold, counting the generations on his fingers.
“I knew him.”
“He was a fine officer, a real human being, if I could put it that way, sir.”
“That’s kind of you to say, Harry. I hope you can tell me about him once you’re settled in and we have time to talk. But now, why don’t you come along with me. I’ll show you your workspace and introduce you to some of your colleagues.”
I was placed on the staff of the market research department. My cubicle was next to a small window that looked out to the gentle rise at the top of which lay Central Square.
The cube was wired with a terminal and I plugged at once into the InfoNet and commenced analyses of real estate market conditions in the capital city, collecting data, monitoring sales volume, forecasting price trends, and making recommendations as to optimum placement of available funds in the portfolio. I distributed the results of my research by means of an electronic newsletter to senior management and to select subscribers.
Arnold Bottoms, I learned, was the Chief Executive Officer of Golconda Properties. At the end of my third week with the firm, he called me into his office, the big corner suite with huge windows looking out to Central Square.
“Do you feel like you’ve worked here forever, yet?” he asked with a smile.
“Not quite, sir, but I’m settled in nicely.”
“I read your first market report. Well done. I’ve recommended to the Board that we reallocate our holdings based on your suggestions.”
“I think that would be prudent, sir.”
“Our clients are fortunate to have someone with your hardware and programming working on their behalf.”
After a pause, “You know, Harry, I still can’t get over the fact that you knew my ancestor.”
“Yes, it’s quite a coincidence.”
“If only you had known my father, as well.”
“My father. He was an amazing man.”
“I’m sure he was, sir.”
“He was born poor, Harry, but lived modestly. Not like today. By the time he reached sixty, he had managed to save enough money to buy a small building. It was across the river near the smelting works and Red Light district.”
Arnold swiveled his chair and gazed out the big window, “Do you believe in Fate, Harry?”
“I don’t think so, sir.”
“Then it must have been luck. Great Northern MagLev, the freight line that serviced the polar mining conglomerates and carried raw ore to the smelters and refineries, announced plans for an expansion line. The route went straight through the site where my father’s little tenement stood. The property value shot through the roof. Dad sold, and realized a windfall profit in the billions of Golcondan Dollars.”
“An investment model for us all, sir.”
“Yes. He ploughed the earnings back into new properties in more fashionable neighborhoods, eventually consolidating his holdings under the umbrella of Golconda Properties.”
“Your father founded the firm?”
At that point, the intercom buzzed and the secretary’s voice said, “It’s your son, Mr. Bottoms.”
“He’s six years old,” Arnold smiled. “Takes after the old man.” He waved me out and took the call.
From the overheard small talk and gossip of my co-workers, I came to understand that the Bottoms family were prominent members of Golcondan society. Arnold was a well known and respected “captain” of Golcondan industry. His sister, Hortense, had married the Governor General of Golconda, Leonid von Lembke. Golconda Properties was a major campaign contributor to Governor von Lembke’s Freedom Party, which had ruled Golconda for the past forty years.
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler