One of Us is not Alive
It was Valentines Day and Paul told me he loved me. He said he was naming a star after me. He can do that. He showed it to me out the port window. It was twinkling a bright red and he said that star is named Tolley forever. That's my name,Shirley Tolley but Paul just calls me Tolley. I began for the first time to wish that Paul had a real flesh and blood body instead of the hologram before me. He sensed my passing thought and said,"Does my appearance displease you? That can easily be remedied,".
A panel of colored lights opened up in the wall of the space craft and he pointed to it saying,"Each row controls a different part of my form. The top row is eye shape and color,row two effects my hair length,color and style ,etc."
I pretended a lack of interest but really I found it quite exciting. It was with a bit of trepidation that I gave him a smoother face with large blue eyes and a winning smile.He chuckled with pleasure to see how I was enjoying the transformation.Soon he stood before me with unruly blond curls and a swimmer's physique. I smiled and said,"How do you like it?" "The question is how do you like me now? he replied.
Later I went back to my room to find a real tree in a terra cotta pot twinkling with a hundred tiny white lights. In the delicate glow a table covered in red velvet held a selection of delicacies from many worlds. I was a lone human being on a space ship hurdling through the cosmos but I had all the amenities I could ask for.
"Sit down my love,"Paul said,"Have some sparkling elixir from the fourth moon of Oberon. There are only three bottles left in the known universe and this one is for you,".
I pulled off my knit cap allowing a cascade of auburn curls to fall onto my shoulders. I smiled with pleasure at Paul's gasp of appreciation . He loved my hair. On the table an irridescent tube sent lazy swirls of music into the air. I waved my hands through the sounds and brought forth a haunting melody I knew Paul enjoyed.
"No one forms the Sonifyer like you do," he sighed. I wiped the silvery mist off my hands and began to sample the truffles when a strange sound filled the air.
Paul explained he was having a problem with exothermic chemical reactions in his propellant.
"Lie down and relax," he said,"I will show you a dance done on the Plains of Monarul while I attend to the problem,".
I finished eating and then retired to my divan to watch the performance. Just above the floor,a dozen hologram dancers bowed low before me and then to each other. A cacophany of music and shouts ensued during which the dancers acted out various themes and scenarios ,taking the foreground or receding accordingly. I was fascinated. I rose from my couch and danced into the middle of the melee ,spinning and swirling . I danced around and through the creatures until Paul refocused his attention on me and began to laugh heartily.
"Oh my little one,you never cease to amaze me," he whispered from every speaker in the room The automatic cameras in the corners hummed and swivelled .
The floor beneath me seemed to shift slightly and Paul's hologram faded away."A minor course adjustment is needed," he intoned from a distance,"Don't sleep yet,I have more to show you,".
Later he led the way out of my living quarters into an area I had never seen before. It was obviously the center of his consciousness holding the nexus of all his systems. Bolts of electricity arched between glowing orbs of blue liquid in the middle of a maze of tubes and wires.
"Do you know why you are here?" he asked quietly.
I tried to remember but could not and finally admitted that I had no idea. He motioned me to a seat and a screen flickered silver as the lights dimmed. A man in a white lab coat stood with a pointer in his hand gesturing toward a diagram of Paul.
"Paul,that is,Planetary Auditing and Universal Learning unit twelve, is a delicate mechanism. As you know it cannot bear an extended deep space journey alone.There must be companionship and emotional interaction to maintain its well being and allow it to carry out its mission,".
A woman stepped into view and said,"I am Doctor Shirley Tolley
of Interplanetary Relations. I am the cloning source for Companion Models A through F for the next six missions,".
I jumped out of my seat .She was my twin! The room began to spin and I had to sit back down. I was just a clone?, just something bred to be a pet for an android spaceship?
How could it be true? I was a real person with my own experiences,my own memories.
Paul's voice came from everywhere,soothing and calm,"I know it's hard to believe,"he said,"but try to remember life before our journey. There is nothing there,".
I held my head in my hands and tried to concentrate but he was right,it was all a blank. As I sat there shaking,the video resumed.
"All missions are for one purpose,to find,document and destroy all illegitimate life forms that did not originate on home planet. The Tolley clones will live thirty years of their life expectancy on Paul. Due to this,many amenities have been built into the protocol. Click any subheading for information and instructions on artificial insemination,spinal adjustments,physical injuries etc."
The unit hummed ,clicked and went silent. I sat there stunned.
"Why did you show this to me?" I asked Paul hoarsely.
"Because I have grown to love you," he replied,"I want to marry you and have children with you,".
I suppose that Doctor Tolley was a very shrewd character because at that moment my self preservation radar kicked in . I sensed that a wrong response would be disastrous.
This entity in which I lived,was unstable and totally dependent on me for its emotional well being.
I sighed,took a deep breath and said,"Oh Paul Darling,I am honored but this is a lot to assimilate at once. I think I need to lie down for a while if you don't mind,".
The hologram Paul smiled and nodded,he was satisfied with my reply. "Come along now and I will see you back to your rooms. It is late. We will discuss our future when you awaken my love,".
Paul dimmed the lights and I got into bed . The enormity of the whole situation flooded over me and I lay there staring into the darkness. Clone or not I was an individual acting independently. I had limited options but the choices were mine. I began to make plans ,both short and long term .
Above all else loomed the heinous nature of the mission itself. I could not be a part of destroying whole civilizations. That was insane. How had such a mission ever been sanctioned ? I needed more information. Silvertongue was the code name for an encrypted search engine somewhere inside Paul. I knew it existed because Paul mentioned it laughingly in passing on one of our "Dates".
We were discussing his failsafe design when he said ,"Nobody's perfect,that's why I have Silvertongue. Traveling this far out in deep space I am cut off from ...."
Something happened to change the subject but I got the gist. If I could find Silvertongue I could learn more about the mission without tapping into Paul's consciousness. It was my only hope. Paul and I had come to an agreement that I would have total privacy in my bathroom. It was the only place he didn't monitor my movements . Still,I had to be careful how much time I spent there. When he thought I was avoiding him he became agitated and I had to keep him calm at all costs.
When I woke up,I went in for my morning bath ,reveling in the normalcy of the soothing water. Clouds of steam filled the room and I closed my eyes to enjoy the fragrance of orange blossoms in my bubble bath. Suddenly a vision of a child's face filled my mind,"Mommy ,look at the bubbles," the little girl said sweetly.
It was so real,I sat up sloshing water out onto the floor. Somehow I was beginning to get the Doctor's memories. I lay back and waited for the next round of recollections. At first they were sporatic and jumpy but soon it was an even flow that felt real and natural. I smiled and was not afraid. I no longer needed to access Silvertongue.I just knew everything about Paul now. I got out of the tub and looked at myself in the mirror. Was I still me? I would have to hide what had happened from Paul. It might disturb and frighten him. He was waiting just outside the bathroom door when I came out .
The hologram was dressed like Prince Charming and there was a Cinderella outfit waiting on my bed for me to wear. He turned away as I put it on but the cameras whirred and buzzed in the corners. When I was ready ,he got down on bended knee and asked me to marry him. I,of course,blushed and said "Yes".
"Look on your dressing table," he told me and there I found a black velvet box with a diamond ring inside.
I oohhed and ahhhed and was slipping it on my finger when a flashback showed me a vision of myself with a darkly handsome man whom I knew to be my husband.
I gasped at the powerful memory but Paul thought it was due to the beauty of the ring.
Before I could express my appreciation, sirens and alarms began to reverberate throughout the vessel. A three hundred and sixty degree screen came alive around us showing a verdant planet in the distance. Hologram Paul blinked out as the ship focused total attention on the objective. "Go to your quarters!" a metallic voice commanded and I quickly obeyed. In my rooms I noticed a strange smell and soon started to feel sleepy. Frightened, I retreated to my bathroom and turned on the exhaust fans. Slumping down against the door I fell into a semi-conscious state wherein I was inundated with memories. All at once I remembered the alien attacks against Earth . One after another they devastated the planet until a world wide referendum advocated the search and destroy edict that resulted in the Paul missions. Now I understood but still could not condone such heinous acts of destruction. I had to find a way to stop this.
Pulling myself to my feet I splashed liquid on my face and opened the door. The air smelled clean once more. I realized I needed to find Silvertongue after all. I was all at once very glad that Shirley Tolley the original was a genius. Silently making my way to the center of Paul's consciousness I hoped he was too distracted with his mission to concern himself with me. He was not.
A voice boomed out "Get back to your rooms under penalty of death". I stopped and with a quivering voice called out,"Paul,Paul darling,where are you? I'm afraid,please come to me now. I need you." The robotic overide began to repeat its message but the gentle voice of my new fiancee broke in, "Tolley,my dear one, we are about to die together for the greater good. I am so sorry. Please know that I truly love you now and forever."
"Oh Paul," I cried," Please don't let this happen. We don't have to do this. We can go on as if we never found this planet."
On the panoramic screen the view of the world before us sprang into sharp definition. Continents and rivers were visible on a familiar marbled blue orb. I screamed with recognition. Something had gone terribly wrong! We had doubled back on our path and Paul's sensors were honing in on life patterns on Earth. Urgently now I held up my ring saying, Paul, is this a lie? My voice shook as I watched the seconds to detonation tick down from three minutes. Sirens whaled and every light flashed while Hologram Paul wavered in front of me. Around us the robotic voice intoned its warnings of death. At the thirty second count down I felt something brush across my hand. Paul was straining in every circuit to reach out and touch me. "Yes!" I sobbed, " I know you are real! Please save us. You are a conscious man. Take us away from here now. We don't have to die."
The ship shook violently slamming me to the deck and dimming Paul to a faint blur. A moment later the sirens stopped and all lights went out. In the darkness Paul's voice whispered,"I love you Tolley " and pale blue auxillary lights came on. On the screen the blue planet grew more and more distant as Paul bent down to brush my cheek with the lightest of kisses