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.