Providence Is Demise
Terpsichore stretched her awareness to its fullest, into the narrowest reaches of the Share.
The last group of Seedlings floated in countless chambers, waiting to awaken. She sensed their collective shudder and sigh, as thousands of young minds expressed anticipation.
"Soon, we'll be free..."
"But what about Sister?"
Their tiny voices formed a vast murmur, as if the stars themselves whispered all at once within the limitless space of her synthetic dream.
In truth, Terpsichore felt more like their Mother than their Sister. For an entire human life cycle, they'd been a part of her, connected through the engineered pathway links of the immense bio-network known as the Share. She was their Pilot, their Teacher, their Guardian--and soon they would all disembark from the vessel which bore her name, and her consciousness.
She had once been a young human woman, before the time of the exodus. Now, she was Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance and Chorus, one of nine Sisters from Earth's ancient lore, and one of nine great Seed Vessels which set out from the homeworld nearly a century ago. Nine bearers of life and hope, the last effort to save humankind from a deadly virus which decimated the population of the solar system.
A desperate mission ensued in the wake of the disaster, to deliver future colonists into safer areas of the galaxy. Secluded and quarantined in their pristine embryonic chambers, unborn human children free of the dreaded disease had been sown across the most habitable worlds. Their journey followed a circuit many light years long, and they'd reached their final destination.
The serene and mysterious exoplanet called Providence loomed ahead, named so quaintly by the founders. Fifty-thousand people in total would soon settle here. Currently, only five hundred were adults aboard the greatship. The remainder would be implanted and grown within surrogates, whether human or artificial.
Terpsichore's true form floated within the womb-like confines of a liquid interface. Her flesh mattered little at this point. She'd long since ceased to dwell on its needs, its hungers. All was provided for by the nourishing proto-fluids constantly bathing her skin and organs. It was her mind which was essential to the mission's success.
The Share expanded her consciousness to incredible parameters. The greatship in which they traveled was her body. She was acutely aware of every passenger, every niche, filament, and circuit within the system. When not hovering in the augmented, lucid state of the virtual realm provided, she had a fleet of holographic and robotic avatars to embody her projected persona.
Her favorite avatar was the sleek robotic steward known as the Sister. Fashioned of glistening platinum, into a stylized semblance of a beautiful woman, this mechanical extension of her being was capable of any necessary expression or communication.
The Seedlings were advanced in their cognitive abilities, being educated while in their stasis through the Share. These children of the new colony on Providence would be born with knowledge and skills far beyond the capability of a normal human infant, as all had been designed for accelerated development. Terpsichore held all of the lore and information of Earth within her core matrices. Once they were in orbit, she would download it all into the myriad dropships, which were to descend to the new planet's surface, and begin the settlement process.
Then, Terpsichore herself would fade out of existence. The greatship would no longer be necessary. Its biological components were already deteriorating, as was the way of all living tissue.
Her sole purpose was to carry and release the spawn of future generations, and then her own tenure would be complete.
She'd known that she would sacrifice her life for this mission at the time she volunteered for it. It was the same for all nine Muses.
A small price to pay for the continuation of humanity, she told herself.
Yet there was a rebellious thought at the edges of her mind, akin to the individual she'd once been. Could she continue on her own, sail beyond the orbit of Providence, and discover what lay in the eternal depths of space and void?
It was a lingering temptation, but she didn't dare admit it.
"Entering destination space. Prepare to engage rear thrusters." Terpsichore's message resounded through the bounds of the Share. Though she alone controlled the systems, she was required to alert the resident caretakers. The warp-field drive deactivated as they drifted into steady approach.
New beginnings, new cycles of time and vitality. Breath and hearts still circled to the rhythms of Earth. She often wondered how the Seedlings would adapt to their new homes.
Only time would tell, and her own was about to run out.
Her emotions existed, though she was more a network than a natural human being, now. Over the decades, the complexity of her psyche had been refined. Once she observed the basic structure of her own personality, from an objective viewpoint within the Share, her responses had simplified to instinct.
Anger. Envy. Fear.
Providence was demise. The end of all she knew, all she was. And, in spite of herself, she was frightened.
It startled her when the Captain opened his channel in the Share. She hadn't experienced such a reaction in many long, indecipherable years.
"Sister, all systems are ready for launch," the Captain said. "Prepare to transfer at your discretion."
Somewhere, in a nearly forgotten corner of the greatship, her body trembled.
"I don't want to die."
The Captain's voice was incredulous, his statuesque avatar expressing concern. "Are you ready to do this, Terpsichore?"
"Of course. Transfer of core files will commence in fifteen standard minutes."
During their close work together, the Captain had become a caring, intelligent friend. She trusted him, but she couldn't confess her all too human weakness.
Once she downloaded all of the essential files, she'd be left with nothing to sustain her. The greatship would dwindle and corrode, and eventually self-destruct by crashing into Providence itself. In human terms, she was already an old woman, at least a hundred and twenty years of age. Her body would never be able to live outside of the Share.
Her mind, however, was still sharp, curious, and she was possessed of a will to live.
"I have a final performance for our family, while we await the transfer."
The Captain smiled. "By all means, proceed."
She'd adapted to her role as the Muse of Dance, and often choreographed her own. Whether through the Share, or her various avatars, creative expression was one of her few remaining anchors to humanity.
She released the performance across the network, a show of herself whirling to the time of drum and chime, sistrum and bell.
While the Seedlings and crew watched her avatars in awe, she quietly subverted a segment of code within the Share.
A new countdown.
"I've been to nine planets in twelve years, and it's starting to show."
She'd seeded over three hundred worlds in her lifetime. This last colony was strong. With the Captain in charge, they could surely endure without the core files of the Share. She decided to keep them for herself, and live just a while longer.
Her covert countdown reached zero.
Terpsichore disengaged the transfer.
"Sister, what are you doing?" The Captain sounded terrified.
But it was too late to turn back.
The Captain and several others deserted their positions on the dropships, though it meant they would miss the launch.
The dance went on, her wish in defiance of fate.
"Do you wonder what lies beyond? Worlds without number. I can find more...if you let me go."
It was an impossible goal. She knew they couldn't allow it. The Seedlings were lost without the Muse. Terpsichore was their soul, to be absorbed into the emerging new world below.
Only sixty seconds to her escape.
The dropships launched.
The Captain and several others approached the central tier, where her body was interred in its watery haven.
Her terror intensified, as they manually released her shivering, withered shell from the chamber.
"Please. I want to live."
Her long-neglected eyes caught a single glimpse, the Captain's gentle face as he cradled her in his arms.
"We need your knowledge to survive," he said. "I'm sorry, Sister."
Her human ears heard, and she felt the taut lines of her face contorting into a grin.
She couldn't speak, but her voice echoed across the Share, as she exhaled her last, and the transfer began.
"Always remember me."