“Hey, do we wake up the stiffs bro? … Bro?”
Paora shifted uneasily.
“It’s a pretty little planet eh?” Tai whispers, hardly moving his lips at all, staring at the holo of the planet in front of them.
Damn, that was a long silence. Paora was worried. He’d been through a lot with his pal, and he wasn’t liking Tai’s long silences.
“Yeah, real pretty, do we wake up the stiffs?” Paora repeats.
“Nah, not yet.”
“Whaddaya mean ‘nah’? We haven’t come all this way for nuttin?”
Again, a long silence. How many heartbeats had that been? Just what is going on in his head? Finally Tai breaks the silence.
“I mean, look at it, it’s perfect right?” he says “Just as we expected. Breathable air, oceans, bio-com-pat-able life.”
“Yeh. Come a long way to see it too bro.”
“Exactly Pao. See it. Up until now, we’ve always been on a mission. We’ve been important. Bring what’s left of humanity to the oasis in the desert. That kinda shit.” he’s talking with passion now “Once we wake up the stiff’s bro, then what? They’ll start to run things. They’ll take over.”
At least we were finally starting to get to what’s been eating him thinks Pao. His buddy was usually cheery, the first to crack a joke or pull a prank. But the closer they’d gotten to their destination, the more pensive he’d become.
Maybe I’ll just work through this with him and then we can get on with it. I’ll try some humour.
“So what are you suggesting bro? That we turn around and make the long journey back and apologise?” he joked, but it fell flat, no response, so he continued more serious now, “It’s dead bro. Too hot. Runaway greenhouse gasses. You know the story.”
“Yeh yeh, I know the story but….I dunno.” Tai looked back at the perfect blue, white and green blob of a planet hanging in front of them “I’m happy up here you know? I have you guys, a purpose to life, what more do I need? That all disappears as soon we wake up those stiffs.”
“It doesn’t disappear Tai, mate, it just changes.” says Pao.
“Yeah, but it’s like a met-a-morph-a-sis style change. Big. I wonder what happens to us ya know? We’re here. We’ve fulfilled our purpose, we’ve taken this ship through a hell of a lot of empty space, and now what? We just get a pat on the back and told not to get in the way?”
Pao pursed his lips and gave Tai a solid stare. One of his best.
“What?” said Tai.
“I know where you are coming from bro, but you gotta see the bright side. We’re hero’s mate. We’ve taken 10 thousand people from a sinking ship, women, children, all that. And we’ve got us across a galaxy and orbiting a planet that we can call home. That they can call home. That we can explore and -”
“Conquer, pillage and destroy mate -” Tai interrupted.
“What is with this? This mel-on-choly? It’s not you bro.” Pao’s ire was stoked, his patience was wearing thin.
“It’s this fuckin’ lagrange point of existence we’re in right now.” spits back Tai just as passionately “A meter this way and humanity goes one way, a meter that way and it goes a different path altogether. I mean are we doing the right thing here? Look at this planet!” and more quietly “We’re fucking aliens.”
“Yeah but bro there’s nuttin’ down there that’s smarter than a dog-”
“Is it OK though?” Tai interjectsl“To go jump on a planet and kill and eat a couple of dogs and say ‘This is our planet now pup! Fucked up the last one, so now we need yours’-
“Holy shit mate!” Pao’s frustration was reaching it’s limits “That’s the entire purpose mate! That’s why we’re here! Without us there’s no humanity left, we’re gone!”
“But it’s not bro. There’s you and me. There’s Shayla and Carl and we live good. We can grow old, have kids maybe, rig up some way to grow rye in the pods and brew our own bodgy whisky. There’s a life here. HERE, in this tin can.”
“Shiiiiiit mate I get it.” says Pao, seeing it for the first time and feeling relieved that he’s finally got to grips with what’s going on in his pal’s clever little head “I really do. It’s scary. We was born in this tin can. I mean the stiffs have never even seen it since they were snap-frozen before they were loaded. Yet… it’s our entire goddamn life. I get that bro.” Tai looks like he’s about to argue but Pao holds up a hand and continues “But holy shit mate, I’ve read all about some of the shit they had back on earth bro. Like actual real meat mate. Apparently it’s delicious. And all that open space, man you could just run forever. We’ve never even been swimming mate. Can you imagine that?”
“Yeah bro, like floating… like fucking floating in outer-space. Weightlessness! We’ve got it, right here. There’s no reason to go down there.” says Tai. He’s looking desperate, like he wants to be convinced, but he can’t do it himself.
Pao tries another tack, “So what would we do? Just eject the ten thousand fish fingers back there out into the universe? I mean shit, that’s pretty bad ass. That’s extirpation bro. I dunno about all that god shit they had back on planet A, but ejecting ten -”
“I ain’t ejecting shit bro. That’s not it.”
“So what is it?” says Pao, settling back into his chair for the next round of what-the-fuck-bro.
“It’s this… this… consumption thing.” Tai says, not quite looking at Pao “Like we’re a fucking virus bro. The whole of humanity is this throbbing great virus that consumes everything. And then when it fucks things up too much it explodes and sends out spawn to infect other planets…”
Pao explodes out of his chair throwing his hands up in the air “Jayyzsssseus!! You have to be kidding!” he says, looking to tho uniform gunmetal grey ceiling of the command center.
“It’s just I read something bro.” Tai says, quietly, almost pleading now “Just the other day. In the histories. Our home planet? The cradle of our civilisation? The thing the stiffs called home…”
“Fuck mate, spit it out, what.” Pao stalks around to another workstation and inspects some readouts. Poking absently at the panel.
“… I don’t think it’s the first one. Like I think we’ve been here before. The histories I think are talking about two different places. Like they mention these places that didn’t exist back there. Whole continents and animals and all sorts of stuff. They called it something…something about dirt. What was it? …fuck I can’t remember but the planet had a name that was like dirt.” Tai says, and now that he feels he’s onto some solid ground he starts to work up a head of steam “Yeh, like the garden of Eden or something, and we called it Dirt, and we fucked it up and we skipped out and settled on a plant and lived there until we gun dun goofed that planet too-”
“Alright bro! Alright!” Pao leans heavily on the workstation, trying to derail the train wreck of self conviction “So let’s say we did. We fucked it up. What do we do? We’re a couple of kiwi’s in charge of humanity, orbiting a fucking bea-u-ti-ful planet. I mean look at that shit” he gestures at the globe, still spinning in front of them ‘Those stiffs are perhaps the last living souls-”
“They’re not the last living souls, they can’t be! Think about it bro” Tai is back to pleading “When we left the first planet, this “Dirt”, we surely didn’t put all our eggs in one basket. So there were others. We spread. Like a virus. The entire galaxy could be populated by…” he pauses, searching for words, and then a wry smile touches his lips “….kiwis like you and me bro.”
“Ha! That’s my man! Funny. Now you got all that outta ya system? Can we continue with our role in saving humanity?”
“Bro, no need to rub it in hey.” he says, hurt.
“Let me break this down for you bro. I think I get it. You’re fucking scared. Your life is about to change. You’ve found a good metaphor that seems to fit — a virus. Yeh big deal. Hells mate, if you eject all the stiffs it’s no different to a flower going to seed… it’s just a fucking metaphor. It’s not life, it’s poetry.” Pao takes a second to let that sink in and arrange his own thoughts “I been looking at some of the holo’s from back home too ya know? Fuck mate, life is brutal. It eats and expands and grows and takes over and fucking prop-o-gates. That’s what it does. Then it fucking dies or crashes or spreads to other planets.
“And don’t even get me started on your ‘we’ll be useless’ line of reasoning,” he continues “the original plans include the steps we need to turn this into a space station. We stay up here, with Shayla and Carl, the stiffs can send us whiskey, we’ll trade it for … for … fuck I dunno.” Damn, he really had something going, if he could have just wrapped it up in a nice little package he’d be done with this.
“So yeh.” says Tai. “Yeh, that’s the thing right? We stay up here in the tin can, doing what we’ve always done.” he chews his lip “So really the question is whether you and I want to fuck up this planet by injecting the planet killing virus called humanity. Because we, we we are going to be doing the same thing regardless.”
“Holy crap. I dunno. I give up. If you can’t beat a metaphor, join it — we’re like scientists bro. Watching our culture grow. There’s nuffin’ wrong with it.”
Pao fiddles with the zoom level on the holo. Keeps his hands busy to distract him from having to think about this cluster-fuck of a situation. But Tai’s not done yet, he looks across-
“There’s something else bro. The BIG thing.” says Tai.
“Right, come on then, can’t wait to hear it now…”
“Have you ever seen a stiff?”
“Fuck mate there’s ten thou-” says Pao gesturing over his shoulder
“Like they’re in sealed pods right? Have you ever actually seen one?”
“Nah mate. But I know they’re there.”
“And mate. Have you ever seen me?”
“What the fuck? Have you lost your fucking mind? You are standing right in front of me.”
“Here’s the thing…. The really big thing.” he takes a deep breath
“I’m trapped in space with a fucking looney!”
“I think I’m a simulation, and you are too. A bunch of AI’s that drive the ship.”
This was the limit, Pao took one step towards Tai and TWHACK
Tai topples of his chair holding his nose. “Ow fuck!” Sprawled on the ground, his chair lying on it’s side a good meter away he manages to look up at Pao’s face, red and angry, he’s yelling now- “…If this is just VR, then that pain is just a simulation, think about that, whacha reckon? Real?” yells Pao, his open palm still in the space Tai’s face occupied a moment earlier.
“Jesus bro, I think you broke my nothe.”
“The blood bro, real? Or simulated? Pretty fucking good graphics if it’s just a sim. I mean look at how it floats and rotates in this low G, look at how it’s spattered on that panel.” says Pao, pointing a finger at a spatter of blood on Tai’s console.
“Here’s the thing Tai, even if we are just a simulation, and you know this entire fucking universe could simply be a simulation by the way, even if we are, we still only have a couple of choices. Either we go ahead with our plan and we wake up the stiffs or we don’t.” Pao says fiercely, but looking down at his \ friend there, holding his nose, looking at him in… what is that? Fear? He softens. “Oh fuck bro. I’m sorry mate. Fuck. You just drove me over the edge again mate. Lets get you to the medi and get you fixed up. We’ll take a break, we’ll have a bite to eat, game of foozball and we’ll talk about later OK?”
He takes Tai by the elbow and helps him up.
“Let’s not make the decision today OK?” he continues, “I’ve been listening bro, I really have, lets just sleep on it”.
“Alrigth” says Tai, still a little shocked. “Tommowow”.
“Yeh, we’ll make the decision about humanity’s future tomorrow.”