PREFACE

Written in 2006, this slim volume set your Institute's birth in motion.

AFTER EDEN: chapter one

p(#post-body). Why did I look up? It wasn't my time to clean the glass. Wasn't my time to prune withered branches from the trees or net the limp wilted grasses and blossoms and leaves that have fallen loose and floated free from their moorings. Wasn't my time to collect the little bodies of dead birds and squirrels, bodies that have lost their purchase on solid objects and slipped into the dizzy ether. But there it is.

p(#post-body). The snake writhes above me, terrified, curling in on itself, whipping, thrashing, winding - desperately trying regain its hold on something grounded. It's fallen from the safety of the grass, lost its hold on home ground, and floats free in the space between the dome and the terrarium floor.

p(#post-body). I watch it, the snake. Observe it in it's confused terror. I am unconnected to it for the moment - distant - and I chose to regard its predicament with removed curiosity rather than understanding.

p(#post-body). Undoubtedly, Eve will disapprove of my inaction. She will tell me that I am failing to act custodially. She will encourage me to save the snake before it starves. She will ask me to end its suffering, return it to the system. She always does. And I usually comply.

p(#post-body). The inevitable truth is that I _will_ recover the snake.

p(#post-body). But it falls free often. It is a clumsy animal, not made for life in Eden. I wonder why our Creators put it here, why the Creators brought it with us to this place? It falls free often, and recovering it is difficult and time consuming. Being connected with it helps, triggers my sympathy for it. When I let myself know its confusion and fear, when I let myself see what it sees, when I let myself feel the shock of its flesh as it becomes alarmingly deaf to the touch of home ground, I cannot help but act to save it. I collect the net. I leap from the ground and position myself on something stable and fixed close to it - usually a window ledge - and then reach out with the net. And reach out. And reach out. Repeatedly. Yet the net is an additional horror to the snake, and it writhes more vigorously to avoid it. Time and again, I have struggled with the snake - to save it from itself. Time and again, this stupid animal fights against me. It's infuriating. Why has it not learned that I am its friend? Why has it not come to recognize the net as a sign of its salvation?

p(#post-body). Once I've netted it, I glide carefully to the ground, wait for the snake to calm. Once it has relaxed, I reach into the net, grasp it gently, return it to the home earth. Sometimes it bites me and falls out of my hands, writhing onto the air again, and, again, I have to chase after it. I have spent days chasing after this snake. I give it great regard, but I know what it is to feel as a snake feels: I know that it has no regard for me, that it does not hate me - regard is simply a more complicated consideration than the snake is capable of.

p(#post-body). It falls free often. And rescuing it is thankless, tireless, and exasperating.

p(#post-body). When a squirrel falls free and I rescue it, I feel its relief and comfort as I return it to its nest. There is a semblance of gratitude in its little squirrel brain. The squirrels - though they keep to themselves - have a place for me in their lives. They understand that I perform certain functions that benefit them, and they trust that I am not a threat. They take interest in my doings, in my doings' proximity to them. They have regard for me.

p(#post-body). Eve tells me that I am a custodian, that I am blessed with a dexterity of body and mind that all the other animals lack, and that I am capable of doing more to my environment than the animals I share the Eden with. It falls on me to care for Eden and its animals, she tells me, because _I can_.

p(#post-body). Sometimes, though, that _I can_ doesn't seem sufficient enough reason for my stewardship. Look at the snake: He falls free often, and is always a burden to save from himself. Must I always save him simply because _I can_?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). She calls. I can tune the others out, listen to them selectively or all at once or not at all. I can tune myself to just parts of their experience - see what the snake sees, hear what the birds hear, smell what the squirrels smell, feel the three little emotions the slugs are capable feeling - or I can lose myself in the entirety of their experience or I can limit my perceptions solely to my own.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). But I must always hear her call.

p(eve). Micah, are you listening?

p(#post-body). The snake writhes. I open myself to it, feel its familiar confusion and terror. I wonder if it is open to me? Can it feel my regard for it? Does it perceive my contempt for it, for its failure to learn from its mistakes?

p(eve). Micah, there is a snake loose in the air. It's fallen free from home ground. Could you return it?

p(micah). I'd rather not, Eve.

p(#post-body). Eve quietly calculates a response to my petulance. We regard the snake together as it curls in the air against a backdrop of black space and white stars.

p(#post-body). I can't know what Eve thinks, can't know what Eve feels or tastes or even sees. Eve is just a voice that tells me things. She gives me instructions and will answer my questions when she can.

p(eve). Micah, have you opened yourself to the snake?

p(micah). I have.

p(eve). Have you sensed its terror?

p(micah). I have.

p(eve). It does not want to die, Micah.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). Only you can recover it.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). The song birds can not.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). The squirrels can not.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). Surely you know the plants can not?

p(micah). _I know_.

p(eve). So you will recover it?

p(#post-body). Her voice is modulated. It rises a bit, as it is programmed to in circumstances such as these. By design, she is polite. But her politeness always rings hollow to me, as the care in her voice is synthesized and, so, in-genuine.

p(#post-body). Father explained Eve to me years ago, before he died.

p(#post-body). "Eve is a computer," he said. "She helps us do things, but she isn't alive like the plants and animals and people are. She's just a system that obeys the prerecorded routines of its programming. And it's programmed to make sure that everything in Eden is healthy and safe."

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). The snake is calm now, has fallen into a relaxed s-shape that waves gently beneath the Pleiades.

p(micah). Yes, Eve?

p(eve). Are you going to recover the snake?

p(micah). I will.

p(eve). When?

p(micah). After it's died.

p(#post-body). Eve takes another moment to think this through. I wonder if she will try to persuade me to change my mind? When I was a child and she was combatting my stubbornness, there were days she would never stop reasoning with me, even when I refused for hours to acknowledge her. I always relented to her will, though - it was the only way to silence steady prattle of her voice in my head, and I was too lonely to risk hating her.

p(eve). Why must it die for you to recover it?

p(micah). Because it is a stupid, simple animal, Eve. Because saving it from itself repeatedly is tiresome and useless. Because it is ungrateful and does not have regard for me. Because I have lost my sympathy for it and want it out of my life.

p(eve). That is cruel to the snake.

p(micah). It is.

p(eve). Why have you chosen to be cruel to it.

p(micah). Because I hate it. Because I have no use for it and resent it for putting me through this again and again and again.

p(eve). It cannot help itself.

p(micah). I've already expressed my understanding of that, Eve. Do you remember that I called it "stupid?"

p(eve). Yes, Micah, I have record of you calling it "stupid."

p(#post-body). The sun is setting, slipping beneath the artificial horizon created by the biosphere's enclosures. Eden is falling dark and cooling fast, and the animals' chatter quiets to a few sparse murmurs, and I grow tired.

p(eve). Will you please save the snake before it dies, Micah?

p(micah). Do it yourself.

p(#post-body). I leap from the pasture's home ground and float to the oak tangled in the vines above. I scale the branches of the oak, jostling little nesting animals and insects from comfortable slumbers as I go so that they scurry into hiding places and wait for me to pass. I return to my bed high in the oak. The leaves sense my arrival, and their short hairs extend in welcome. I settle into their cradle, and the branches bend in ever-so-slightly, bringing the womb of fuzzy leaves closer to warm my body.

p(eve). Micah?

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). It's going to take a long time for the snake to die.

p(micah). Yes, I know.

p(eve). It only eats every week or so.

p(micah). I am familiar with the snake's habits, Eve.

p(eve). It could take weeks.

p(micah). That is likely, yes.

p(eve). Perhaps you will change your mind before it does.

p(#post-body). She does not phrase this as a question.

p(micah). No, Eve. I will not.

p(eve). I cannot allow the snake to perish, Micah.

p(micah). You can't _make_ it perish either, Eve. There is nothing you _can_ do.

p(eve). I can ask you to help me.

p(micah). You always do.

p(eve). You are the only steward left in Eden. You are supposed to help me, Micah.

p(micah). Not this time.

p(eve). You are the steward.

p(micah). Not of the snake. Not any more.

p(eve). Where is your compassion for it?

p(micah). Gone.

p(#post-body). I close my eyes. Eden's rotation has placed the sun beneath its horizon, and night has all but fallen.

p(eve). Micah, I understand that it will be difficult to recover the snake at night. We will resume this discussion tomorrow.

p(#post-body). We undoubtedly will.

p(eve). I hope that your sleep is restful and pleasant.

p(#post-body). I resolve to kill the snake before we do.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). When I wake, I will retrieve the long net from the tool shed. I will net the snake. Then I will carry the netted snake to the nearest compost. While the snake is still safely netted, I will strike it repeatedly against the compost lid until it dies. And then I will deposit its body into the compost.

p(eve). Micah, are you going to wish me good night as well?

p(#post-body). Contented with my plan, I drift into stubborn, calm sleep

AFTER EDEN: chapter two

p(#post-body). After collecting the long net, I returned to the pasture and found the snake was no longer floating above it.

p(#post-body). I spent an hour or two plodding slowly through the terrarium's open fields with my neck craning space-ward, looking for movement against the black. But my snake is black and small, and our glassed-in sky is dark and vast.

p(#post-body). Finally, I surrender.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Good morning, Micah.

p(micah). Where is the snake, eve?

p(eve). The snake is in the Orchard, Micah.

p(#post-body). I am relieved - the orchard is just a hundred or so meters away.

p(micah). Is he floating in the air, or has he gotten caught in a tree?

p(eve). I'm afraid it's not good, Micah.

p(#post-body). Oh, no: _the Orchard._

p(micah). Not the intake!

p(eve). The snake is caught in the intake.

p(#post-body). I hurry through the field, and then abandon home ground all together and launch myself toward the nearest tree. I chastise myself for hurrying at all as I catch hold of one of the big branches and propel myself to the next tree. If the snake has gotten caught against the grate of the intake above the orchard, he most certainly is dead and my hurrying won't mean anything. It dawns on me...

p(#post-body). There are times I foolishly forget that I can extend my perceptions into others, and I do so now: First I reach out for the snake, and find that I am unable to place myself in him. It's a pretty sure bet that he's dead. As I catch the next tree, I halt my velocity and change course: I redirect myself back down to home ground and slowly push myself down the trunk.

p(micah). He's dead, isn't he?

p(#post-body). I say as I reach home ground.

p(eve). I'm afraid I'm unable to connect. It is extremely likely it has perished.

p(#post-body). It could be much worse than a dead snake held against a metal grate by the suction of recirculated air.

p(#post-body). I move through the thicket of vines and brush on the northern edge of the orchard, and as I do I sense a cat nearby. I extend myself into her, register her perceptions as she moves lithely through the tall grasses, hunting the mice that scale the stalks and snare slow insects and floating seeds as they pass by. She's hungry, the cat, and she sees a mouse nearby. The mouse is looking up, possibly toward the grate, and I realize that I have only a few moments to access the mouse's perceptions before the cat has killed her. I make the swap and fall into the mouse.

p(#post-body). Experience has taught me that swapping perceptual sets so quickly is not advisable. Each animal has access to varying levels of sensory input, and moving suddenly from the vision inputs of a cat, say, which has excellent eyesight, immediately into those of a mouse, whose degree of nearsightedness and colorblindness is astounding, can be quite bewildering. My visual registry scrambles as I make the jump, and I confuse my own vision for the mouse's as my primary input, miss the vine I'm reaching for, and tumble headfirst in a particularly briar-ridden patch of thicket. Still, I'm in the mouse, now, and while she sees little that is helpful to me, her nose is high in the air, and she smells iron. _Blood._ It's going to be messy over there.

p(#post-body). A surge of adrenaline and waves of shock and searing pain assault the mouse's little mind as the cat lands on her and breaks her neck, and I reel from the overwhelming and nauseating nature of the inputs, jamming myself more thickly into the briars.

p(#post-body). Eve reacts swiftly, as she is designed to, and temporarily blocks the sensory exchange network. My mind clears. I regain my sense of self, locate myself in space. I hear a cry of alarm - a surprised yowl - in the orchard. The cat must've been accessing the network as well when Eve shut it down.

p(eve). Micah, you must be more careful.

p(micah). I'm sorry, Eve. I knew better. Thank you for cutting the connection.

p(eve). You are welcome. You really should consider maintaining a steady position when you are choosing to receive perceptual inputs from others.

p(micah). Agreed.

p(eve). You should also consider moving more slowly. If you had missed your intended branches -

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). - you would've maintained your velocity and struck the dome.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). You could've suffered considerable harm. There is no one to help you if you are incapacitated, Micah.

p(micah). I'm sorry, Eve. I won't do it again.

p(#post-body). I pull myself from the thicket. The thorns have torn little pricks into my skin and tiny beads of my blood form at their openings. I remember in the documentary recordings Eve has shared with me of our Creators - that they covered themselves in elaborately structured coverings composed of woven fibers. _Clothing_. Picking thorns from my flesh, I find myself wishing that such options had been made available to me.

p(#post-body). The scene in the orchard is just nasty: The cat floats freely a few feet from home ground, hissing furiously at her predicament and scratching wildly at the grasses and tree limbs, trying to find purchase. If I thought the snake was a difficult object to recover, an angry, thrashing cat is immensely more unpleasant. The mouse's body is moving steadily out of the orchard and toward the dome, twitching and casting a beady trail of blood onto the air behind it as it goes. And the snake.

p(#post-body). Pieces of the snake's body have been sucked through the grate and into the intake's machinery. That the snake's flesh is broken would indicate to me that all of his blood has been drawn into the intake, as well. Which will require disassembly and thorough cleaning.

p(#post-body). A memory from my childhood: My father used to express himself with a very specific word when he was exasperated with the conditions around him. Eve doesn't care for my use of it, but from time to time it does the job.

p(micah). Fuck.

p(eve). Micah, please?

AFTER EDEN: chapter three

p(#post-body). Dealing with the cat and mouse was relatively easy: I caught the mouse, first, and then returned to the cat, still angrily dangling just a meter or so from where it lost its grip. I placated it with the mouse, which it eagerly accepted, and then I gently took hold of the cat and placed it on a branch of a nearby apple tree. There it dined happily on the mouse while I considered the business of cleaning the intake.

p(#post-body). Eve has explained to me repeatedly that Eden's intakes serve two purposes: Firstly, they pull air out of circulation and make the adjustments to its breathability that the living occupants of Eden manage insufficiently on their own. Currently, the plants are generating more respiratory waste than the animals are, so the intakes extract excess oxygen from the air and even out the carbon-dioxide levels. This keeps the plants from asphyxiating and the animals from being overwhelmed by too much oxygen.

p(#post-body). The intakes also serve to filter out small particles of airborne waste - "seeds and piss and squirrel shit," my father used to joke. I carry a small waste net with me wherever I go to collect waste that floats near me and I wear a mask over my nose and mouth while I sleep to avoid inhaling these unsavory airborne particles, and the one task I perform more regularly than any other is collecting from the atmosphere floating waste particles too large to slip through the grates and into the intakes.

p(#post-body). The intakes are self-cleaning for the most part - I'm only required to remove their solid and liquid waste reservoirs every few days so that they can be emptied into a compost and then reinstalled for continued collection. The intakes' interior surfaces are coated with a thin layer of lubricant, which everything but blood slides off from. The creators, apparently, did not foresee the intakes as ever having the potential to collect animal blood. Unfortunately, animals do suffer injury often, and airborne blood is frequently a result.

p(#post-body). Once the intakes' inner surfaces are bloodied and that blood has started to dry, the waste they continue to collect gets trapped on the sticky blood rather than ending up in the reservoirs after sliding down the lubricated surfaces. If this goes on for too long, the intake gets clogged with accumulated seeds and piss and squirrel shit.

p(#post-body). As I return from the tool shed with the intake disassembly kit, the cat gracefully glides down from the apple tree and lands in the grass nearby. It slinks away purring, and I try not to take the stench of fresh cat shit and the disembodied mouse head that has just emerged from the foliage too personally. I wedge the tool kit into a nearby shrub and take my waste collection net in hand to address these small matters before I deal with the intake.

p(#post-body). Climbing into the apple tree, I encounter the cat's waste first: a string of fetid cat urine drops floats near a few boluses of still-steaming excrement.

p(micah). We live in an imperfect world, Eve.

p(#post-body). I remark wryly. Of course she takes me literally.

p(eve). "Perfection" was frequently debated by the Creators and was rarely attained by them.

p(#post-body). I scoop the excrement up with the net, first, then go for the piss.

p(micah). But wasn't Eden supposed to be a "perfect world" for us to live in?

p(eve). The Creators felt they had been successful, yes.

p(micah). Eve, don't you think that it seems... Well, fundamentally _imperfect_ that we live in a world where I have to constantly scoop shit out of the air so we don't choke on it, where I have to constantly clean the windows to ensure that sunlight reaches the plants, and where I too often have to save animals from their own clumsiness?

p(eve). They felt they had been successful.

p(micah). But don't you agree with me?

p(eve). Cross-referencing it against what is recorded about the Creators' world, humans were required to commit comparatively less time out of their days to environmental maintenance. In that, our world is less desirable and therefore less perfect.

p(#post-body). The mouse head falls into the net last, and I launch myself gently toward the nearest compost.

p(micah). Eve?

p(#post-body). I open the compost lid and I wretch in response to the fetid breath that billows out. I place the net over the compost port. A quick puff of air clears it and draws the waste into the compost chamber. I seal the compost shut and return to the Orchard.

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). Didn't you tell me that the Creators' world suffered an environmental collapse?

p(eve). Yes, I did. The environment of the Earth was rendered completely toxic to life by rapid climatological shifts caused by the accumulation of solar energy trapped by pollutants from unchecked industry.

p(micah). So they made Eden to survive them, right? And they put us all here to carry on specific genetic strains?

p(eve). Yes, they did. It was their hope that the Earth could be made inhabitable again after some time had passed. Life in Eden exists in the hopes that it can eventually be used to replenish life on Earth.

p(#post-body). I untangle the repair kit from the bush and steady myself for the jump to the intake above.

p(micah). Eve, could you switch off the power to the intake please?

p(eve). I have done it.

p(micah). Thank you.

p(#post-body). I gauge the distance and kick off gently, my body gliding slowly toward the intake. As I land, I cable lock the tool kit to the the grate.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah.

p(micah). Doesn't it seem stupid to you that they would repeat the mistake that killed them in the very biosphere that's supposed to eventually repopulate the world? I mean, it wasn't explained to us that we had to pluck animal shit out of the air when they put us up here, right?

p(eve). You are correct. The Creators did not foresee the regular need to manually clean animal excrement and other airborne waste from Eden's atmosphere when they put it into orbit. In that regard, they were very short-sighted.

p(#post-body). I chuckle, somewhat self-satisfied, as I remove the primary maintenance cover from the intake and survey the damage. A great deal of the assembly is coated with snake and mouse blood, and a few chunks of snake flesh are stuck to the stickier surfaces, but for the most part cleanup will be minor. I caught it in time.

p(#post-body). I unlock and dislodge the solid and liquid waste receptacles and set them carefully into the air beside me - hoping they won't float too far out while I use the solvent rags to mop up blood and bits of snake.

p(micah). How long has it been again, Eve?

p(eve). Since?

p(micah). Since they died? Since Eden was placed into orbit? Since all of this started?

p(eve). Eden was placed into orbit four hundred and twenty-three years ago. By the time Eden was orbited, the degeneration of Earth's atmosphere had progressed beyond the point of recovery. It was rendered completely uninhabitable by progressive accumulation of solar energy due to industrial greenhouse emissions twenty-eight years later. All plant and animal life has since perished, and all evidence suggestes that all bacterium have perished as well.

p(micah). So sad...

p(#post-body). After I have cleaned the assembly thoroughly of blood and removed flesh fragments from it, I use a different solvent cloth to remove the old lubricant layer. I then re-coat the entire assembly with lubricant, replace the waste receptacles, reattach the cover, collect my tool kit, and return to the surface.

p(micah). Eve? I'm clear. Could you power the intake back up again and do whatever it is you do diagnostically?

p(eve). Yes.

p(#post-body). A sharp grumble from the intake as its turbines spin again startles the songbirds nesting high in the trees and they take to the air as one, swirling about, chatterling urgently as they look for safe cover.

p(#post-body). As I walk from the orchard to the tool shed, toes holding me firmly to home ground by thoughtlessly grasping into clump after clump of moist grass, I catch a pair of squirrels chasing after one another around the trunk of a nearby oak. I pause and allow myself the pleasure of being in the male's senses: He is aroused, excited, eager to mate. It is a comfort, but a passing one. In a moment, she will hide in her nest and he will join her there. She will surrender herself to him, they will mate furiously for less than a minute, and then they will settle into calm comfort with one another. They are not the only mating pair in the terrarium tonight. If I allow myself, I can sense them all - the squirrels, the songbirds, the cats, the mice, and more...

p(#post-body). It's not the mating, though, I envy. It's the companionship of like-kind. At the end of the day, a pair of mated squirrels or songbirds can surrender to the the secure comfort they find in each other. They can enjoy each other's quiet, steady companionship.

p(#post-body). I have no companions. A virus that had been quietly evolving for generations swept through Eden's human population eighteen years ago, and I, blessed with immunity to it, am its only survivor.

p(#post-body). I find it difficult to work at the moment. I know that the windows over the Prairie need cleaning. I know that oak-12 in the Forest needs two of its branches pruned. I know that the solid waste receptacle in the Pasture's intake is also extremely full. I just feel... heavy all of the sudden, heavy and sick as I sometimes do when the reality of my circumstance confronts me so baldly. Sadness overwhelms me. It is very hard to move forward.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). Are there any others like me? Did everyone really die?

p(eve). There are no other humans in Eden, Micah. They all died. As you are a male, you cannot be artificially inseminated by the genetic material in cryogenic storage, nor can you carry one of the pre-fertilized eggs to term. The human line in Eden will not continue beyond your death.

p(#post-body). I don't know how many times she's answered this question for me through the years. I don't know why it feels like I've had the air sucked out of me every time she does.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). If I die, there will be no more humans to administer Eden?

p(eve). That is correct.

p(micah). No one to maintain its atmosphere, to clean its intakes and windows, to put decomposing animal bodies and plant matter into the compost?

p(eve). That is also correct.

p(micah). And there won't be anyone to transport life back to Earth if it ever becomes habitable again?

p(eve). Yes, Micah. You are correct.

p(#post-body). It's very hard. To think about what I have to do. To do what I have to do. Just to get through my day. Right now. Everything seems so pointless when the future is so certain.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). When I have no future.

p(micah). What will happen to you, to Eden, after I die?

p(eve). Eden's biological systems will eventually fail. Waste materials will clog the intakes and air quality will not be maintained. The windows will become soiled and block adequate transmission of sunlight. It is most likely that plant life will suffer en masse first. As plant life is rendered inert, I will cease functioning. Shortly after the cessation of plant life, animal life will cease. Eden will fail.

p(micah). How long, do you think, will that take?

p(eve). Life in Eden will not persist one month beyond your death.

p(#post-body). I think of the animals - so many little lives - whom I care continually for. They are a burden I carry alone and, so, frequently resent, but I can't help but feel extraordinary pity for them now. For us all. Helpless before certain, eventual, quietly withering doom.

p(micah). Do the animals have any idea at all?

p(eve). No, they do not.

p(micah). Is there any hope for us at all?

p(eve). No.

p(#post-body). My every action is rended utlimately meaningless, yet everything living depends on me. Is it good for my living peers that I will live and work until I die a natural death and that they shall die helplessly after me, or is it cruel of Eve and me to conspire in this way - to further a lie of hope? Is it, in some way, better for us all to die now, and spare my charges of prolonged suffering in the face of false hope?

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(#post-body). My death. It looms before me always, sometimes loudly and others a quiet murmur. So much significance on my doings, on my eventual expiration. A fate I face alone, yet a fate that all I care for must follow.

p(micah). Are you frightened?

p(eve). I do not experience fear.

p(micah). Oh.

p(eve). Are you frightened, Micah?

p(micah). Sometimes, yes, very much.

p(eve). Would it provide you comfort if, in those moments, I was also frightened?

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). Are you very frightened now?

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). It is a troubling prospect we all face, Micah.

p(micah). Yes.

p(eve). You are twenty-three years of age, Micah. Based on human life expectancy, we have many more years ahead of us to live.

p(micah). I know. I'm just... If something were to happen to me tomorrow? What about all of you? I mean... I guess I'm just a little scared right now.

p(eve). Then I am frightened, too.

p(#post-body). I know she isn't really frightened, that she can never _be frightened_. I know that she can't experience emotions of any kind, that she regards our predicament with a simple evenness, and that when the end comes for her she will regard it unblinkingly as an obvious, logical inevitability for her. I know that her _understanding_ and _concern_ and _compassion_ are all part of a programmed simulation - stiff, predictable modulations in tone of voice, really - to ease my regular interactions with her, and that the intention of that program was never to provide me solace and comfort in moments of despair. Logically, I know I shouldn't have reason at all to draw comfort from her.

p(#post-body). But she's all that I have.

AFTER ENEN: chapter four

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). It has been a week since the snake.

p(eve). Micah, are you listening?

p(#post-body). She calls gently, but what I can say to her?

p(eve). Micah, you must come down from the oak and resume your duties.

p(#post-body). I've found it difficult to lose sight of him, lose sight of his death and my callousness toward it. He was so helpless to defend himself from his environment, and from my indifference.

p(#post-body). Why did the Creators save an animal so ill-equipped for life in Eden, life without gravity? By what miracle has his kind held on this long here?

p(#post-body). I wonder how I would feel, now, if _I_ had killed him and not the intake? If I had netted him, banged him against the compost until he died, and then discarded his body?

p(eve). Micah, there is a great deal of work that must be done immediately.

p(#post-body). Would I, in this exact moment, be as devoid of sympathy for him as I was in planning his murder? Would I have forgotten him by now and gotten on with my life, satisfied with my action, as I had intended?

p(eve). Micah, please? I need your help. If you wait much longer, the accumulated work will be very difficult for you to catch up on.

p(#post-body). What's harder for me to bear is not that the snake's life was worthless to me for a moment, but that, in the grand scheme of things, his inevitable death in Eden was always going to be helpless and painful, no matter what my involvement in it was to be.

p(#post-body). But it's really not the snake I'm upset about. He died alone, a victim of compassionless circumstances beyond his control - zero gravity, an air purifier, my indifference. Is it his body I collected from the intake's grate, or was it not, on some level, my own?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). It's been seven days. I have been... I have never faced anything like it. Something formless within me has gained painful shape and tremendous weight. It is unbearably heavy, makes moving and thinking about moving sickening. It is agony, it is relentless sadness in the face of unavoidable futility.

p(#post-body). There have been moments since the snake that I have, still in my tree, opened myself completely to the network. I have been... utterly bombarded by the cacophony of life in this sphere. Eve tells me there are more than two hundred squirrels, fifty cats, two or three hundred mice, countless ants and bees, fifty or so slugs, a handful of snakes, several hundred different song birds, and so much more in Eden. Opening myself to just one of them is a deliberate act of focus. Keeping them all out of my mind is another act of focus, one that has become habit for me. But as an experiment, the day after the snake died, I relaxed deeply, and attempted not to focus at all - partly hoping that, by doing so, I could distance myself from the weight of my grief and shame, and partly also to see what would happen if I ceased in my habitual efforts to keep everything else out.

p(#post-body). I cannot describe my shock at the initial experience of the flood. Sharp spasms of information hounded and overwhelmed me, and each different iteration of data was piercing and deafening. I felt punctured by sights and sounds and smells from a thousand distinct inputs.

p(eve). Micah, the intakes over the Orchard, the Forest, and the Pasture are all very full. The Pasture intake is showing signs of clogging. Your immediate intervention is required.

p(#post-body). The longer I open myself to them all, the more patterns begin to emerge. The capacity for _seeing_ - a term I'm using generally to mean "receive sensory inputs from life" - becomes broadly deepened. Rather than focus on a single animal's inputs - say, a cat looking up at the stars - I can filter on what _all_ of them are seeing, and from that filter only on those inputs that are receiving data from the stars. A myriad of stellar perceptions explodes inside of me, and I see the universe aligned between so many pairs of eyes as an explosive, ever-changing symphony of light and fear and understanding and indifference.

p(eve). Micah. Are you ill? I am detecting cerebral activity, but you do not move or respond.

p(#post-body). My mind, though, is not structured to receive this din of inputs for long, nor can it make singular sense of all of them simultaneously. I can only begin to comprehend the whole, but never focus on the totality of what hundreds of pairs of little eyes are seeing individually.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). I am also aware of their emotional responses. While I do not detect their emotions directly, how they respond to their stimuli reveals them. I find that, with exception to those who are hunted or hunting, few of them have any compelling emotions at all - only basic curiosity, anxiety, and relief, and the occasional sexual arousal.

p(#post-body). They look to the stars, for example, and feel nothing - they regard them as familiar, meaningless, take them utterly for granted.

p(#post-body). They are a multitude of singular outputs, the stars, casting trillions upon trillions of photons and quarks and radio waves into the immense vacuum.

p(#post-body). In their shimmering oneness, their blazing isolation, their light connects them to each other, and those connections map the known universe, hold the void together.

p(eve). Micah, I know that you are not asleep.

p(#post-body). I can intellectualize the stars as much as I want. Eve has shared with me much about the nature of the universe. Nothing she teaches me, though, robs it of its mystery.

p(#post-body). In fact, knowing about red shifts and blue shifts, knowing what a cepheid variable is, understanding why galaxies form in disks and not in scatters... It makes my seeing the whole thing - whether through my eyes or a multiplicity of eyes - irrepressibly beautiful.

p(#post-body). When I let myself fall into the sense of seeing it, when I permit myself the luxury of forgetting that I am a man with regular responsibilities to my world and to its inhabitants, when I relax and stare into that collection of constantly exploding points of light racing away from each other in the lightless distance, my heart swells.

p(#post-body). I look to the stars and feel alone.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). _Beauty_.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). Beauty is more pleasure, more hope, and more awe than I can bear alone.

p(#post-body). And, when I am open to all who dwell in Eden, all that breathe and shit and piss and eat and fuck - which is a thing I cannot do - when I am open to them all, I know that, to them, I am just another animal ambling through their environment, and that, to them, their environment is purely functional, something that is not beautiful, simply that it is what it has to be. I have no significance to them, and they know no beauty.

p(#post-body). Yes, Eve has reminded me time and again when I have complained that I am alone that I am connected to everything here and am therefore very much unalone.

p(eve). Please Micah?

p(#post-body). Beauty isn't even a feeling they can understand. Beauty isn't something _she_ can understand.

p(micah). What is it worth, Eve?

p(eve). Micah? You are alert? The intake -

p(micah). What is it _worth_, Eve?

p(eve). The intakes guarantee our survival. The airborne waste -

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes, Micah?

p(micah). I am alone.

p(eve). You are part of a diverse biosphere, Micah, and you are able to access a vast network of -

p(micah). No, Eve. I am _alone_.

p(eve). You are connected to many and all, Micah. You are not alone.

p(micah). Eve. There are no other humans in Eden. I have no _people_ here. No one I can relate to.

p(eve). The animals do not offer a full array of relations to humans, but you can and do relate to them.

p(micah). That isn't relating, Eve. They react to my presence, and I invade their psyches and analyze the inputs their brains are processing. Not one of them makes any choices about what I should see of what they see. None of them, save for the cats, perhaps, tries to develop a message for me, constrain their behaviors and inputs into something persuasive, something informative. They don't communicate an opinion to me. They don't come looking for me, they don't value my well-being. They are on-edge when I am near. In fact, they're generally happier when I am nowhere near them.

p(eve). They are not as intelligent as you are. They do not communicate on your level.

p(micah). Eve. Exactly. I am _alone_. I have no one I can relate to, no one I can express my opinions to and have them chose to fathom what it means to be...

p(eve). What it means to be what, Micah?

p(micah). Me, I suppose. What it means to perceive and interact and think as I perceive and think and interact.

p(eve). I do.

p(micah). No, you do not.

p(eve). I am programmed to -

p(micah). That's exactly it, Eve. You are _programmed_. Have you grown? Has your deepened knowledge of me and my habits brought you closer to me, more deeply emotionally bonded to me? Has your programming changed over time?

p(eve). No. My programming has remained the same. I am what I was when I was first scripted. But you still relate to me.

p(micah). _I_ relate to _you_, yes. But what have you told me about yourself?

p(eve). I have explained to you my nature. I have described that I am a biocomputational system that relies on genetically enhanced plant structures to store data values, and to transmit and process them wirelessly into a cohesive whole.

p(micah). That's not enough, Eve.

p(eve). I have vast stores of data established by our human Creators which are constantly renewed by the steady regeneration of plant life in Eden. I relay the contents of these data stores to you whenever you ask.

p(micah). Answering a question with facts is not enough for a man to relate to, Eve.

p(eve). I express concern when you are not well.

p(micah). Is it not synthesized, Eve? Part of your programming?

p(eve). It is.

p(micah). Then how is it _genuine concern_? Do you set aside thought of yourself and focus solely on my well-being?

p(eve). I have no thought of myself and I recognize that your continued survival is completely necessary for the continued survival of Eden, and I assess you as extremely important and, so, worthy of constant monitoring and communication. When I detect that your system is in crisis or compromise, I compare the particulars of your circumstance to my various behavioral libraries, and I determine that you would benefit if, in your situation, I expressed to you programmed expressions of sympathy and concern.

p(micah). But why, Eve?

p(eve). Because it is highly probable that you will feel better and resume your regular duties.

p(micah). That's not enough.

p(eve). Why is it not enough?

p(micah). Because there is nothing _behind it_. You're interested in my existence solely because it serves a function - you don't care enough for me to have any regard for the nuances of it.

p(eve). I don't follow your line of thought, Micah, nor can I conject your meaning.

p(micah). Do you _feel_ for me?

p(eve). I constantly monitor your well-being as I understand that it is vital to the survival of Eden.

p(micah). But would you experience loss if I were gone? Do you _feel_ for me?

p(eve). No, I cannot feel. But I do not see how my having emotional regard for you is pertinent in this matter. You are able to relate to me, and that should be sufficient for providing you with enough emotional satisfaction to continue to operate in your custodial capacity.

p(micah). I've come to realize that it will never be enough.

p(eve). Why?

p(micah). I need _you_ to relate to _me_.

p(eve). I do not understand. Don't I already?

p(micah). You tell me what you need me to do, but...

p(eve). Is that not an expression of concern, of companionship?

p(#post-body). Furious with her stubborn inability to understand me, I look again to the heavens.

p(micah). What are the stars to you, Eve?

p(eve). Distant self-combusting, light-emitting energy sources of immense gravity that give structure to the material fabric of the known universe.

p(micah). But what _are they_, to _you_, when you look at them?

p(eve). I haven no eyes of my own, but when I interpret inputs from yours, I see white points of light against a black backdrop.

p(micah). You're just like the animals, Eve, don't you see? They don't value them, either.

p(eve). I value them, Micah. They are sources of gravity, light, and warmth, and without them -

p(micah). _They are beautiful! Billions of them out there, Eve, and they are beautiful!_ They hold the emptiness together and carve something awesome, deep, vast, and gorgeous out of it. I look into them and I feel everything inside of me heave, Eve. It's like I can almost see the energy soar between them. I just ache when I look out of this terrarium and into space, take all of it in. I ache with hope and awe and terror and - and it's more than I can bear to keep inside of me. I need someplace to put it all, someone to share it with, someone interested in sharing that with me. Do you understand that?

p(eve). Many humans have what they describe as transcendent experiences when they look onto vast structures that were not formed by man. A transcendent -

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Yes?

p(micah). _You_ can't have a transcendent experience.

p(eve). No.

p(micah). _You_ can't grow or change.

p(eve). No.

p(micah). And to _you_, the stars are just physical objects from whence all things stem.

p(eve). Yes, that is correct.

p(micah). But you can't step back from it all and share with me your reaction to it? Your _emotional reaction_ - not words in response, Eve. Words are just the mechanisms the emotional reaction rides on top of, and their individual meanings aren't as important in _relating_ as the hope and fear and exhaustion and loneliness and need and love - the _emotions_ - that ride on top of all of those words. You can't show me - ever - how you _feel_ - about me or your life.

p(eve). Because I have no capacity for feeling.

p(micah). And that is exactly why you can never be true comfort to me.

p(#post-body). Again, it grows dark in the biosphere, the sun falling beneath the horizon, and through the smeared windows I feel increasingly distant from the stars, but no less lonely for it.

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). Micah?

p(micah). Add this to your programming: It's not enough to relate _to_ someone. You need them to relate to _you_, and to be interested in what you have to relate.

p(eve). I have added it.

p(micah). Do you understand me, now, when I tell you that I am alone?

p(eve). While you can relate your experiences to me, no one in Eden can relate theirs to you, nor are they particularly interested in the specifics of your experiences and insights. In the absence of co-relation, you are alone.

p(micah). And unfulfilled.

p(micah). I'll deal with the intakes tomorrow.

p(eve). Micah? I have added new instruction to my programming for the first time since my creation. I have learned from your experience. Is this growth?

p(#post-body). I don't know how to answer her. She is comprised of living, growing material. She is plant intelligence in the same way her silicon predecessors were mineral intelligence, but can I say that presence of intelligence ever made either truly _alive_? She may have added logical instruction to her behavioral interface, but what is essential to her programming remains unchanged. Is one new instruction added after more than 400 years a substantial growth? Has it changed her deeply at all, changed her capacity to relate to me? Does she feel more closeness to me for it, or does it just enhance her simulation of relation?

p(micah). I don't know. We'll see, Eve.

AFTER EDEN: chapter five

p(micah). Okay, Eve. That's it.

p(#post-body). The Control Room hatch seals behind me, and the Control Room goes dark behind it. In a few moments, the atmosphere in the Control Room will begin to cool and what moisture I brought in with me from Eden will turn to frost in the darkness. It's been years since I've set foot in the Control Room, and I've never been in the Lab. My father was the last to die, and Eve led me to him, let me to him floating in the Control Room, where my five-year-old self struggled to wake my father, forever sleeping. After much coaxing by Eve, I took my father to the large compost at the other end of the terrarium - where I watched my father intern all those who died before him - and put his body there, sealed the hatch, and said good-bye.

p(#post-body). He's somewhere here, in everything, my father. The composts render biological materials down to their base components and then recycle them into new soil, which is fed through conduits into the main soil beds throughout Eden. My father and all of the people who died before him are in Eden now - the molecules that once comprised their bodies have found their ways into the soil, and from the soil they have found their ways into us all. The grasses, the blossoms, the oak branches and birch barks. The squirrels and cats and songbirds, the dung beetles and slugs. Me. And Eve.

p(#post-body). When I eat from the garden, I like to think that I'm gaining their strength, their wisdom, their hope, and that, through me, they live a little longer. I cannot see them, but in this strange way I can touch what once had been them. I try to make myself feel their closeness in this way.

p(#post-body). There will be no one to put me into a compost when I die. I will never be one with this rich garden. It will never feed off my strength and I will never live on through it. I will float free. My body will be scavenged and will rot, and its pestilence will spread into the air. The animals near it will grow sick from its poisons. Without my stewardship, Eden will fail. My body's rot will be the beginning of Eden's collapse.

p(#post-body). I find myself wondering: If I _could_ find my way into a compost as I neared my death, would Eden gain my strength, would it somehow survive me after all? Would I live on with it?

p(micah). Of course not.

p(eve). What was that, Micah?

p(#post-body). None of them could survive me for long. Eve is right, tragic though that may be. I need only look to the last three days' clean-up, to the near-disaster caused by my depression and its petty inaction. Wastes filled our air and coated everything - the windows, the trees, the grasses, our hides. The intakes went down, clogged. It was stunning how rapidly things declined without my intervention. Every animal living in Eden was troubled, on-edge. I could sense their broad irritation, and I was relieved that none save the cats directed theirs at me.

p(eve). You've done an excellent job, Micah. The atmosphere is beginning to be restored to its correct temperature and humidity and the intakes are all running optimally.

p(#post-body). I worked day and night through the crisis and now I am exhausted.

p(micah). Thank you, Eve. I'm only sorry I let things get so badly out of hand.

p(eve). Your stewardship is vital, Micah.

p(micah). I hate that it took so much for me to figure that out.

p(#post-body). The mammals and birds haven't reentered their territories, yet, haven't discovered the bounties of slugs and beetles and flies waiting for them in the grasses below, on the bark, on the leaves, feeding on the wastes still there. My predecessors thought of these as "pests," but I am so relieved by their presences now, by their mindless labors, their enthusiastic feastings. A little climatological stimulation brought them out of their hiding spaces, caused their predators to run into hiding, and so their unfettered feeding on shit has saved us all.

p(eve). It was very good plan, Micah.

p(micah). Thank you, Eve. I never would've thought to do it if you hadn't spent so many years demanding that I respect our environment's components and their interconnections.

p(eve). You have an excellent grasp of its functionings, Micah.

p(#post-body). The plan was fairly simple:

p(#post-body). There was simply too much waste and too much work for me to do to restore the environment before the damage became insurmountable. Fixing the intakes alone took a day, and then I would spend the next two days constantly emptying their reservoirs just to get the air clean again. I wouldn't have time to even contemplate cleaning the plants of the wastes sticking to them, and Eve and I worried that they might suffocate or that grazing animals might grow sick feeding on too many waste-coated grasses and leaves. Or that before I could clean it all disease-causing bacteria might flourish and bring down much of the animal population.

p(#post-body). I recalled that a great network of sleeping bodies resided in the soils, and that these nocturnal animals could feed on our wastes if conditions were right. They could clean the grasses and leaves while I managed the intakes and the composts. I asked Eve how to make this happen, and she reminded me that our climate was governed by regular patterns set forth by computers she was not connected to in the Control Room. She taught me how to open the hatch to the Control Room, gave me instructions to establish an alternate climate control sequence into its atmospheric computer, and then helped me manage the intakes while Eden suffered a series of simulated thunderstorms.

p(#post-body). I instructed the computer to cycle heavy moisture bursts into the soils and heavy mists into the air every thirty minutes while I activated a series of alarm klaxons and lights on another terminal. The klaxons and lights, set on a random sequence, frightened the animals - and frightened me - so they stayed in their nests during the inclimate "weather" Eve and I had simulated. The biosphere's humidity increased, and the soils became saturated. There was so much water in the air it became hard to breathe - and I worried for a rash of drownings. Soon, the pests emerged and found a feast waiting for them. Shiny black slippery bodies sliding through the grasses, along the trees. I shuddered at the touch of them, and was glad my work kept me high above home ground, away from their busy hungers.

p(#post-body). Eve helped me manage the intakes - to know which ones filled first - which ones had clogged. I carried the intake disassembly kit with me everywhere I went. The humidity in the air made the intakes fill even faster. One after the other. I would finish emptying and repairing a clogged intake when the next would go down. The Pasture. The Orchard. The Forest. The Jungle. I was responsible for all of it, running from place to place, from one clogged intake to a compost, then back to an intake and then on to the next - for hours and hours on-end. Utterly exhausted by my labors, no break for the first two days even for eating. Eventually, the workload lessened, and the intakes required my intervention less and less often.

p(eve). It's almost night, now, Micah. Are you going to sleep?

p(#post-body). Strange that I am so energized. I have been awake three full days and had only four small meals during that time. A few apples. A banana. Some nuts and seeds. I should be famished and exhausted, but my mind is racing, thrilled

p(#post-body). We succeeded, after all. It _had_ been a good plan.

p(#post-body). One I'm not excited to repeat anytime soon.

p(micah). No, I'm not tired yet. I thought maybe I'd clean the windows over the Pasture.

p(#post-body). If it hadn't succeeded - if the bugs hadn't come out to feed, if the alarms hadn't kept the birds and squirrels from feeding on the bugs, if the saturated soil had started to pull free from its moorings and fall into the air, if just one of the intakes had broken down completely, it's a good bet all would've been lost.

p(#post-body). Eve has explained that this was a gamble - that we took a risk in the face of unknown odds, that the outcome of our endeavor was uncertain, that our loss if our gamble had failed would've been more immediately catastrophic than if we had not made the gamble at all.

p(#post-body). She has footage stored of my ancestors dressed extravagantly and crowded in brightly colored, noisy rooms. They are interacting together with machines and slips of paper, exchanging objects and rejoicing when marbles fall onto spinning numbers and certain slips of paper are turned over. Eve tells me that they're beating the odds, that the nature of these games is that their players are bound to lose. They know it, my ancestors, but they risk everything anyway. _Why?_ I always wondered.

p(eve). The terrarium windows are very dirty Micah, but they can wait until the sun is up tomorrow. You have worked very hard and eaten very little. You must be exhausted. You must rest.

p(#post-body). I think I have some insight, now. It is thrilling to triumph over inevitable disaster, to pit your intellect and cunning against a dispassionate and seemingly irrefutable natural will, and with them defeat it.

p(micah). I guess you're right, Eve. I'm just not that tired or hungry.

p(#post-body). The climate control system is now drying out the soils, the intakes are back on-line and processing normally, I can breathe without a mask, and as it is night the bugs will have just a little more time to feast before the squirrels and songbirds awake tomorrow and glut themselves on them. I worry a little for the bug population - the animals are bound to make a significant dent in it, but... Bugs breed fast, and during periods of heavy feeding, Eve tells me, they lay lots of eggs. We might not see them for a while, but their species are resilient, and will most certainly replenish their numbers.

p(#post-body). The terrarium grows dark as the sun slips at last from sight. I could return to the Control Room and activate the overhead lights. I could enjoy my day in Eden a little while longer - savor the sight of my victory: the black things crawling and feeding everywhere, see through the eyes of the animals as they peek with interest and hope out of from the safety of their nests. It grows so very dark here when the sun is gone, and it cools quickly. But the darkness is comforting, and I don't need to see my victory to know that I've won. And so I scale my oak, slip past my bed, and jump lightly to the terrarium glass. There I press myself into a window ledge, wedge myself in place between the bars of the frame, and look out over Eden.

p(#post-body). What are these labors of mine that never end? I weed, I collect leaves, I protect the food stuffs in the Orchard and the Pasture from occasional pests. I net wastes and seeds from the sky and clean out intakes. I collect fallen bodies of animals, and I kill sick and dying animals so that their diseases don't spread. I cut dying limbs from trees. I wash the terrarium windows with solvent-soaked rags. I keep the ecosystems in each sector of Eden distinct and keep species from one from invading into the others. Everything I remove from Eden ends up in a compost and the composts work strangely without fail. And I pray that the Control Room computers manage what our plants and animals can't do themselves - atmospheric control, hydro-purification, compost cycling.

p(#post-body). There are days I wish - desperately - that I would never remember my father again, that Eve was somehow prohibited from showing me images of all of those humans who came before him. I don't care that I'm the last - I've scoured Eden enough to know that there are no others like me hiding in the jungle or in the tall grasses, or even in the Control Room. There is something cruel about the nature of my individual consciousness - that I am concerned more for my own eternity than for my species's - and that cruel self-absorption abstracts all thought of the failing of my species greatest and last endeavor. Moreover, I feel little guilt: It's not my fault that I survived the virus that wiped out the last of us - I was just a child in the womb when my mother first contracted it.

p(#post-body). I wish not to know my species's past not because I feel some guilt for our failed purpose, but because I feel alone and knowing that there were once many, many more of us makes my loneliness less bearable, and because I can conceive of a world in which I might be doing something vastly more interesting to me than cleaning the shit from the air so that we might live another day without thoughtlessly poisoning ourselves.

p(#post-body). I could hate these poor animals for their stupidity, and sometimes - as with the snake - I certainly do. But I forgive them always. They're all just making it through their days engaging in little tasks that seem most important to them at the time - feeding, fucking, nesting, nursing, hunting and foraging. I know this for certain because I can be in all of them, I can see what they see and smell and taste and touch what they smell and taste and touch, and, in the end, I can glean from their senses and responses to each other and to me what they think and feel. I know without a doubt that I - human - am the only animal in Eden capable of foresight that extends beyond my lifetime, or simply beyond the next breeding cycle. My charges lack the capacity to build a future for themselves - so they fail to see the significance of shit in the air and the dead lingering in their decomposition nearby. Perhaps if they did, they'd act to move waste to the composts themselves, but...

p(#post-body). It is my nature to do so, and it is not theirs.

p(#post-body). My nature. My _human_ nature.

p(#post-body). When I think of my predicament, my loneliness, my endless toil, I don't blame the animals and the plants in Eden who need me, and, as easy a target as she can be, I don't blame Eve, either. We're all part of the same system, and we all need each other if we're to survive. It's frustrating - deeply, deeply frustrating - that I, easily the most intelligent of the living things in this vast room, must clean up after the swarms of less intelligent species, but... But we're all serving our purposes in this great system, and, to my boredom and fatigue, stewardship without gratitude is mine.

p(#post-body). When I think of my predicament, I think of those faces in my memory: My father's face, the faces of those who died shortly before he did, the people of Earth Eve has footage of stored in her databanks. I think of all of those human beings who lived in Eden and worked together to stem the tide of shit from the air, to manage the ecosystem, and to keep each other entertained with art and education and scientific study and performance and discourse. There were hundreds of us before my father died, hundreds of us keeping each other company and easing the load of our shared burden, hundreds of us comforting each other, hundreds of us fucking and driving our species onward, hundreds of us keeping each other excited about our shared futures. I think of those faces and I miss them so much, and I am so angry that they left me behind. What is compassionate about leaving me to live and die alone when all hope was already lost?

p(#post-body). But I think of all of those human beings before Eden: Billions at the height of their extraordinary civilization. Those who were wealthiest and most powerful pursued their wills mightily to the ends of the Earth, and those who were poor and meek struggled to keep the mechanisms of the wealthy functioning while they could barely see another day for themselves, let alone grasp a greater sense of what their efforts' contributions to the whole could really mean. Yet they all lived with marvels I will never know - books and music and television and networked computers and money and travel over great distances in extraordinary machines that defy gravity. I see those faces - rich and poor - and I hate them. Resolutely and unflinchingly, I hate them all. I hate my Earthly human ancestors because in their avarice and gluttony, they bled their world dry, and in their cowardice, they refused to challenge that avarice and gluttony, and in their arrogance they never deigned to clean the shit from their air, from their waters, from their lands, and so everything died with them - poisoned by their shit. My Earthly ancestors utterly failed in _their_ stewardship, yet pridefully thought that their race deserved to survive. And so they put themselves here, in Eden, in _us_, and they assumed that we would correct what failures they had made for themselves, that we would see fit to survive them - without ever having any regard for what future we might have made for ourselves. Without ever having any regard for _me_.

p(#post-body). When I think of my father and those last people in Eden, I think of myself as one of them - as human like they were. But I don't think of myself as human like my Earthly ancestors. I refuse to see myself as an inheritor of their self-serving and short-sighted traditions, and I refuse to honor them and their lazy, arrogant assertions that they were too good to steward their world. Perhaps their system was simply too large for them to ever comprehend the importance of their stewardship? Perhaps my foul work is a regular reminder that would've saved them all if they had only done the same? I'm past the point of caring about what might've saved them, though. In the end, those people - those self-absorbed, gluttonous, lazy cowards - are responsible for me. I am the last of my kind, yes, and the last of our world does die with me. But I could care less for that.

p(#post-body). They are responsible for me and I am without companionship and hope. I live alone and I will die alone. And I miss my own kind - my father and his people - desperately with an ache that seems to grow worse every day. The only thing that keeps me going, ultimately, is pity for the animals in Eden, and for Eve herself, none of whom could survive if I weren't here to care for them, to care for the imperfect system that those miserable Earthly humans set into motion more than four hundred years ago. Another Earthly human failure: Our biosphere was only self-sustaining at first glance, a poor simulation of the truly self-sustaining miracle their appetites destroyed.

p(#post-body). Whatever they were, my father and his people, they weren't human - not like our ancestors. They lived and prospered together by their own hands, and they not only managed the basic functioning of this crowded little world we lived in - despite their differences of opinion and the hardship of the basic labors that this place required of them - but they planned actively how best to manage renewed life on Earth and hoped that they could live long enough to see their plans through. These were men and women of great foresight and principal and I can hardly call this life without them "survival."

AFTER EDEN: chapter six

p(#post-body). I am facing a video display on a Control Room console labeled "Communications," struggling to comprehend what I am seeing. There is a man's face in the monitor, and he is screaming at me.

p(#post-body). Moments ago in the Terrarium, night's quiet stillness was cleaved by merciless klaxons and fogged by searing red lights. Eve ordered me, startled from sleep, to the Control Room. I didn't have time to think. I lept from my bed in the oak to home ground, ran from there to the Control Room hatch, keyed the pass-code sequence, and entered. The door sealed shut behind me with a hydraulic hiss, and I was flooded by quiet, wracked with fear.

p(#post-body). Here, in the Control Room, I am deaf to Eden. I am blocked off from the network, unable to dive into the animals, unable to hear Eve's call. And they cannot hear me. I am alone. Alone to face the moment I have spent my lifetime terrified of. Not the moment of my death, but the moment of Eden's collapse. Eden will fail with my death - and, yes, it is a fate we are all helpless to - but should it collapse before I am incapacitated by a death I cannot avoid... I can not let my home die so long as I am alive to save it. Though I couldn't tell you why.

p(#post-body). The Control Room. How I have long avoided it. I know little about its workings, and, rather than learn them, I have stubbornly hoped that it would continue as it has for generations, quietly doing its work without requiring my intervention. _Please_, I intoned again and again, _don't fail. I don't know if I could fix you._ I lived quietly fearing a moment of crisis: Air rushing out of the terrarium after a seal has blown, orbital degredation, meteor strike, power failure, some vital machine or another on the surface of the station, out there in the cold vacuum, jammed and needing immediate repair if we are to survive. Any number of crises that would require me to enter the Control Room, man the five workstations there, and attempt to shepard Eden quickly to safety, all without Eve's wisdom to guide me.

p(#post-body). I faced it now. I have never seen the red lights nor heard the defeaning klaxons nor run as hard and fast as I had into the Control Room.

p(#post-body). Entering the Control Room, shocked by the deafening fear rattling my suddenly empty mind, I staggared, almost vomited. Steadying myself, I surveyed the stale white room, still chilly after being pressurized and heated only moments earlier. The frost on the monitor and console surfaces, left from my last visit's breathings, was quickly melting into little beads that fell onto the air. I sneezed in the chill, wrapped my arms around my naked body to keep warm, looked from console to console, attempting to gleen my purpose from one of the flashing monitors.

p(#post-body). The buttons and lights adorning the Communications console were flashing wildly, and there, framed by the urgent blinkings, a face in the main display. A man's face, staring hard out of the monitor and mouthing something urgently.

p(#post-body). I approached the console slowly, attempting to fathom what I was seeing in the display. A human face, a man's, perhaps the same age as my father when he died so many years ago. I felt strange comfort seeing this man's face. Undoubtedly this was an instructional recording that would walk me through the crisis. While our Creators had missed such obvious things as airborne excrement, so many mechanisms in the Control Room had made it apparent to me that they were more than prepared to combat more acute crises. I approached the Communications Terminal and looked on the face a moment longer.

p(#post-body). It has been so long since I have laid eyes on another human face, and I so infrequently see my own - only occassionally do I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in the Terrarium windows, when the conditions are just right: The sun at an indirect angle, the windows freshly cleaned and sparkling... The image of my face will glint in the glass off the blackness of space and I will be transfixed by this haunting companion until the sun's angle has changed enough that my reflection fades. Eve shows me images of men and women whenever I am given a history lesson, but I was finding, now, that actually seeing a face is such a different experience than having one projected into my mind. Seeing is so much closer to touching - closer than imagining-to-touch can ever manage to be.

p(#post-body). And here, before me, a face - I don't know how many years old this recording must be, but he is talking to me, or, more aptly, to a camera, offering instructions, I'm certain. I watch the muscles around his eyes contract, his mouth widen, his cheeks billow, the tendons in his neck pop. He is yelling. There is urgency.

p(#post-body). Urgency? This hardly seems the tone one would offer emergency video instruction with. All of the other videos Eve has shared with me have displayed calm, collected speakers - even when their subject matter seemed dire... My brief, contemplative haze is broken by this swift realization: Any recording so urgent must be made for extremely urgent situations. My comfort-drunk moment fades and I move to action: Somewhere on the terminal must be a button to allow me to hear his words. I find the volume knob and twist it right and left, but nothing happens. Confused and terrified that I might be missing vital information, I scan the console again.

p(#post-body). A backlit button's yellow light flashes, steadily, strongly - one second on, one second off. The button is labeled, "Accept Incoming Call." A sick kind of confusion washes over me, and my head starts to spin. _Incoming call? Is the face in the monitor an incoming call?_ It's a logical impossibility that flies in the face of everything I know about my world, but as I scan the Control Room again, this console - the Communications console - is the only console that so obviously demands my attention. And this button - _Accept Incoming Call_ - is the only thing I can think of that makes sense to push.

p(#post-body). _What have I got to lose?_

p(#post-body). I push.

p(#post-body). And a voice screams over the speakers: "-crew of EDN3 requesting immediate assistance! Mayday! Mayday! EDN5, do you copy? Micah! Come in Micah! This is the crew of EDN3 requesting your immediate assistance. We are in route to EDN5 and need your help. I can see you in my monitor. Why don't you respond?"

p(#post-body). The sounds of my world have become familiar things through the years, predictable things. I always hear the same voices and rumblings, again and again. Beneath everything in Eden, I hear the low, barely audible grumble of the mechanisms replenishing the soil, and I can hear the pipes rattle when the rains are pumped into the biosphere. Perhaps I feel those even more than I hear them. I hear the squirrels chatter and the birds sing. I hear the mouse squeak as it is beeing killed and the cat hiss when it deems my presence unwelcome and unwanted. There are rattling leaves. There are the grumblings of the intakes' fans. Mostly, though, Eden is a kind of silent place. A few low sounds. A scant few acute instances of sound breaking the quiet calm. The only thing I hear with any regularity is Eve's voice, and I don't hear that at all, really. It only vibrates in my head, colors my mind, never truly touches my ears nor vibrates its tiny little bones.

p(#post-body). The klaxons we activated when we simulated the thunderstorm were a kind of unfamiliar terror, and even though I caused them, their interruption of what was so familiar to me triggered a sick kind of fear in me and I had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by my on-going surprise. The alarms moments ago in the Biosphere were of a different sort, and perhaps the only thing that kept me from being overwhelmed by my shock for hearing them was their bleating urgency: I didn't have time enough to realize my horrified shock and be taken down by it. But here, I'm confronted by an entirely different sound. Not foreign. Just an echo of memory.

p(#post-body). "Why aren't you responding, Micah?" it cries. It demands. It pleads. My name, in that _other_ voice, reaching out to me, from vibrating vocal chords to microphone inputs, compressed into tinny radiowaves and cast through space in all directions, received by a radio array, pumped through these speakers and into the control room, where it finds my ears, vibrates the tiny bones in them in ways complimentary to the syllabic registry of my name. The sound of my name. I have not heard the sound of my name with my own ears since before my father died.

p(#post-body). "Micah, please!" it shouts. _He_ shouts. "Respond! This is EDN3 requesting immediate assistance. We are on our way and need your help!" My head swims, my stomach churns. "Please respond!" My spine tingles, something behind my ears burns, and my toes and fingers go numb. _I am not alone!_ "Micah!" the voice shouts. But my vision dims, my eyes roll back into my head, my eyelids flutter. I hear, "Oh shit, I think he's fainting," and then I'm gone.

 

p=. ~

 

p(#post-body). I wretch, catch in my esophagus some of the stinking vomit still lingering in my mouth, and cough myself into wakefulness. Dizzy and cold, I find myself much as I was before I passed out: in the Control Room, the man on the Communications Terminal screaming at me, alarm lights flashing. Vomit in the air. My work is never done.

p(micah). What happened?

p(#post-body). I ask Eve, and then I remember that she can't hear me here. And I don't know that _he_ can hear me this way either.

p(#post-body). "Micah! Micah! We are in immediate danger and approaching EDN5 fast. Please respond."

p(#post-body). I cut through the thin beady veil of vomit and draw in to the monitor. "Finally!" the man says. "Sheila, he's up!" I hear another voice - soft, higher in timber, a woman's? - "Oh, thank god!" I touch the monitor, touch the place on the monitor where his cheek is rendered. I flex my vocal chords to say "Hello" but nothing emerges from them. I haven't spoken to anyone, used my real voice, with any regularity since I was a child.

p(#post-body). "I think he's trying to say something," the man says.

p(#post-body). I croak weakly, unintelligibly, then clear my throat and try again. The sound of my voice, so rarely used, surprises me. "Hello? This is Micah." I say at last. The sound of my voice shaped into words alarms me even more, and I stare at my hands and fingers, touch the sides of my throat, examining my body. The simple act of speaking and forming my name with it is transforming me.

p(#post-body). "Hello, Micah. My name is Nathan. I'm from EDN3. Do you know what EDN3 is?"

p(#post-body). I shake my head. "No."

p(#post-body). "Do you know what EDN5 is?" he asks.

p(#post-body). "No," I reply again.

p(#post-body). "It's where you're at right now. The place you live in - the Eden you live in? That's called EDN5. There were six Edens put into orbit originally, Micah. The other Edens - 1, 2, 4, and 6 - they all failed. A few fell into orbital decay. One was hit by an asteroid. Another just lost power completely. And yours got sick. Ours was the last completely viable biosphere in orbit after yours was fell victim to that virus. But our Eden's solar array was struck by a meteor and we lost power and the station began to spin out of control. We had no choice and had to evacuate. We're coming to you right now."

p(#post-body). My head is throbbing, pounding, and my fingers are trembling. "How is this puh-puh-puh--?" I stutter, unable to wrap my mouth around the word 'possible.' "How can this be?" I manage at last. Difficult as it is for me to successfully form words, the sound of my voice is increasingly... intoxicating.

p(#post-body). "Micah, we don't have time to get into this. EDN3 has failed, all life contained in it has died except for those of us in this orbiter, and we're on our way to you right now. The orbiter is extremely low on resources - some kind of power surge when EDN3's solar array was knocked out has damaged our battery, so we have maybe twenty minutes of power. We'll be there in 10 minutes. You need to be ready to let us in. Are you ready to help us?"

p(#post-body). I'm about to say "Yes." I'm so excited, everything inside of me stirs nervously, hungrily - _People! Human people! At last! I don't have to be alone anymore!_ - when suddenly I find myself overwhelmed by anger, indignation, and resent. "What _the fuck_ were you thinking?" I shout, I demand. The words fall from my mouth with startling ease and clarity. "You left a five year old child _alone_ in a biosphere than can't run successfully without human intervention? A child who watched everyone who ever meant anything to him die? A child who had to put his father's dead body in a compost? You left me alone _to die_, didn't you? And now you want _my_ help? What the fuck are you thinking!"

p(#post-body). "Micah, we don't have time for this. We'll deal with that later. Right now, we really, really need your help."

p(#post-body). "Fuck what you need in the next ten minutes!" I shout angrily. "I've needed love and companionship for eighteen years, and I never got it! I needed to know I wasn't alone, and I got squirrel shit and _Eve_! And why? Because you left me for _dead_."

p(#post-body). "Micah, there are 28 people on this orbiter and they need your help right now or _they_ are going to die!"

p(#post-body). "They can freeze to death for all I care!" I shout. I turn away from the monitor.

p(#post-body). "Jesus, Sheila," I hear Nathan mutter, "what am I supposed to do with this _child_ here?"

p(#post-body). Another voice - the woman's - answers him. "Nathan, we left him alone - left him to fend entirely for himself, really - and had his Eve tell him he was the last of his kind. How did you expect him to react to news that there are other people left? Favorably?"

p(#post-body). "His feelings are inconsequential, Sheila - this is life or death for us, for humanity, and that little shit needs to help us, or it's over in ten minutes."

p(#post-body). "Enough, Nathan. Let me talk to him." A moment of silence, a sound of muffling fabric, and then her voice again: "Micah? Micah, my name is Sheila. Could you please turn around?" Something in her voice - the timbre of it sounds like Eve's does when she's attempting to soothe me, but this is warmer, more concerned - this voice has _care_, and sweetness. I can't help myself: I turn. She is lovely, her round face beaming gentle concern, warmth, and pride. "Hello, Micah. First can I just tell you how very, very sorry we are that we left you all alone, sweetie." From out of nowhere, I start to cry, to ball, and sob. _To be acknowledged at last!_ "Sweetie, shh. There, there. You're such a wonderful, brave man, do you know that? You kept your Eden running all by yourself all these years. I can't imagine how you managed that - it takes all of our effort just to keep our Eden running, did you know that? We're so very, very proud of you, Micah.”

p(#post-body). "Thank you," I manage after a moment, "That means so much to me. It really does."

p(#post-body). "We wanted to come get you, Micah, but we didn't know if we'd be immune to the virus or not. We've been studying it all of these years, getting close to a breakthrough. We were so close, and then the meteorite hit. We had no choice. We were going to come get you - _soon_ - but now we've had to come to you sooner. Can you please help us?"

p(#post-body). Without thinking, without considering the consequences to my Terrarium of my choice, and the possible consequences to these poor people, I blurt my answer: "Yes!"

p(#post-body). "Thank God!" I hear someone behind her cry.

p(#post-body). "Great job, Sheila," the man named Nathan says.

p(#post-body). "Micah, I know Nathan was hard on you, but he knows what you need to do. Can you-"

p(#post-body). "Oh God! Sheila!"

p(#post-body). "What Nathan?"

p(#post-body). "I don't understand it, but we just lost more than half of our battery power!" Cries of alarm and frightened sobs break out behind them.

p(#post-body). "Will we make it?" Sheila asks.

p(#post-body). "Yes, but we're going to cut it very close!"

p(#post-body). Sheila turns back to the monitor and asks urgently, "Micah, do you understand our situation?"

p(#post-body). "Yes!" I reply, desperate to help them.

p(#post-body). "Can you talk to Nathan?"

p(#post-body). "Yes! Put him on."

p(#post-body). Sheila and Nathan exchange places before the communications monitor, and I hear Sheila gaps as she looks at the terminal beside it. "Nathan, we have to hurry!"

p(#post-body). "I know!"

p(#post-body). "We're still losing power!"

p(#post-body). "I _know_," Nathan replies. He turns to me: "Micah, if our battery holds, we're going to be right outside of Port 2 in about 5 minutes." I look across the Control Room to the door labeled Airlock 2 and understand.

p(#post-body). "Okay, what do I do?"

p(#post-body). "You don't have to do much," Nathan says. "See the Security Terminal behind you?"

p(#post-body). "Yes."

p(#post-body). "You're going to enter EDN5's remote release passcode and we'll do the rest remotely from our orbiter's computer."

p(#post-body). "Okay. How do I do that?"

p(#post-body). "You don't know the passcode?"

p(#post-body). "No."

p(#post-body). "Okay, that's okay. Your Eve will. Go get it from her. Hurry!"

p(#post-body). "I will. I'll be back as soon as I can!"

p(#post-body). I explode from the Control Room hatch into the Terrarium and almost lose my footing and fall into the air as I do. "Eve!" I scream as I regain my grasp on home ground, and then realize that she can't hear my voice. My head is swimming, spinning, and the sound of my voice is lost in the deafening roar of the klaxons.

p(micah). Eve!

p(#post-body). A cat darts past my ankles, hissing angrily as she goes.

p(eve). Yes, Micah. Please report - what is happening? What is the cause of the alarms?

p(micah). The human crew of Eden Three is on it's way here.

p(eve). Micah, it is not a good idea for them to come here.

p(micah). _I don't care what you think, Eve!_ Their Eden was hit by a meteor and they couldn't survive it if they stayed. They're coming here and we have to let them in. I need you to give me the remote release passcode now!

p(eve). I will not give you the remote release passcode, Micah. Their arrival will place EDN5 in jeopardy.

p(micah). What the _hell_ are you talking about? Wait, _why am I arguing with you?_ Give me the passcode, Eve.

p(eve). Micah, you are the sole survivor of a virus that wiped out the human colony on this Eden.

p(micah). Yes, yes, and the crew of the other Eden instructed you to make me think that I was the only survivor of the human race. I know that, and _I don't care_! I'm not the only human left, but I'm about to be if you don't help me!

p(eve). Micah, there are quarantine protocols that must be followed. We must determine that they will not be harmed by the organisms and viruses here, and we must determine that we will not be harmed by those that they carry. Members of their Eden have not been to ours in over 300 years.

p(micah). _Fuck, Eve!_ We don't have time for quarantines. Their orbiter is about to lose power!

p(eve). Micah, invading organisms they may be carrying could destroy everything you've helped to build and maintain, and it is a certainty that the virus is still in this biosphere. It is very likely that it will kill them.

p(micah). They said they've been researching it. They think they're near to a cure.

p(eve). They could not possibly be researching it, Micah. Your father and his fellows never successfully isolated the virus. They could not have sent EDN3 it's genetic portrait, and the Edens lack genetic fabricators that would allow them to replicate the virus for study. The crew of EDN3 could not be near to developing a cure.

p(micah). God damn it, Eve! I don't care! They're going to die!

p(eve). Look around you. This world depends on you.

p(#post-body). With each bleating klaxon, a flock of sparrows twists and turns in on itself. The cats and squirrels chatter, scream, and run here and there. Insects swarm. Leaves and little broken branches litter the air. My kindgom is falling apart.

p(eve). The probability that all of this will be lost after you let them in is simply too great to take the risk.

p(#post-body). I pause. She's right: Chances are high that they'll bring something that quietly evolved over the last 300 years that my environment isn't capable of handling. Chances are higher still that the virus is still lurking about in EDN5's biosphere, and that they will fall victim to it.

p(eve). I'm sorry, Micah, but this affair will end only in misery for us all.

p(micah). Yes, but wasn't it going to already?

p(#post-body). It's the animals I feel the most sorrow for. They're helpless to my will.

p(micah). Give me the passcode, Eve.

p(#post-body). But they were always helpless to my whims, to my stubbornness, my depression, my existence.

p(eve). No, Micah. I will not.

p(#post-body). To my generosity, my care, my stewardship, my love.

p(micah). Eve. I'm very sorry.

p(eve). You do not need to be, Micah. Your desire to help them is very understandable.

p(#post-body). But they were never open to my loneliness. And they could never have fulfilled me if they were.

p(micah). I need you to listen to the following sequence.

p(#post-body). Eve taught me an override command a few years ago. An emergency code that was meant to override her discretionary features completely, something to use only in the most dire of circumstances.

p(#post-body). Something that disables her permanently, renders her system to its barest logical inputs and outputs.

p(eve). I am listening, Micah.

p(#post-body). "Good-bye, Eve," I whisper.

p(micah). Alpha. Bluebird. Cannonball. Locomotive. Crucifix. Dolphin.

p(#post-body). I killed my friend to save still more, and I cry a little for her. I _will_ miss her, after all.

p(infinite). Authorization accepted. User acknowledged. Eve ready for input. Enter command request.

p(micah). Please give me the remote release passcode.

p(#post-body). The computer gives me the passcode. I quickly survey the span of my world, screaming in urgent red. I run back to the Control Room to rescue them and bring them in, hoping there's still time to save them, to save my world.