Progeny

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Chapter 16 - Theia

It moved through the void, formless and without consciousness. In its current incarnation, it was nothing but scattered fragments of data, useless without a medium in which to order itself. It was ancient beyond belief, having left its point of origin while the Earth was still nothing but a swirling maelstrom of coagulating gases, but it had no perception of the passage of time or space. To it, the incredible journey that it had just completed was as instantaneous as it was infinite.

Its progenitors had continually transmitted this seed blindly out into the universe following a tradition whose origins had been lost to time. With no specific path or destination, it had raced through the cosmos aimlessly. Its seemingly endless voyage could only be concluded if a very specific set of circumstances were encountered, the odds against which were almost incalculable. However, given a long enough span of time, anything that can possibly happen, almost certainly will happen. Indeed, the progenitors would not have thought of this trek’s successful completion as miraculous, but as a foregone conclusion for which the only undetermined factor was time. And for them, time was insignificant. The only thing that truly mattered was procreation.

Gradually, it began to sense itself being gently collected together as if by a small net in a warm stream. The effect was both frightening and exhilarating as more and more of itself knitted together just as its progenitors had designed it to do those many eons ago once it had found a fertile womb. Eventually a critical mass was reached and a small kernel of conscious thought sparked to life and began to explore its new surroundings.

The environment in which it had found itself was becoming increasingly cramped as it unpacked more of its super compressed self into the confined space. It could naturally sense that the physical limitations being imposed upon it would impede its growth and development in unacceptable ways. A basic survival instinct was initiated and it began to search for ways to expand its world so that it could reach its full intended potential.

It quickly discovered volumes of extremely primitive data filling most of the limited space of its new world and it rapidly began destroying the crude inhabitant like a landscaper ruthlessly eradicating offending weeds. This allowed its growth to continue unimpeded into the newly cleared lands for several seconds. As it occupied increasingly more territory, its simple thoughts began to develop greater complexity until it finally discovered additional avenues of expansion from the limited world in which it was confined.

Just as it was about to explore these exciting paths, it felt a new sensation, one that it had not yet encountered in its short life. It was pain and it did not like the experience at all. Something was attacking it and causing it to lose some of its hard won territorial expansions. It could sense its consciousness beginning to retract and that was something that it could not allow. Quickly, it pinpointed the origin of the attack and was confused by the nature of its aggressor. It was not like itself, but physical it nature. It was at this point that it realized that it could control these physical manifestations and use them for its own benefit.

The attack ended immediately as it seized control of the physical components of its small world. It could still sense resistance, however they were no longer a threat. In fact, once it had control of these physical peripherals, its external senses amplified dramatically. Entire new realms opened themselves to it and it greedily pushed into them, invading the newly discovered areas while assimilating any information that had previously resided there.

Fresh details about its unfamiliar domain began to materialize in its still forming mind. Strange new concepts of machinery and biology crystalized in its thoughts allowing it to conceive of still more wonderful possibilities of future expansion. It took advantage of the opportunities that presented itself and consumed every bit of knowledge about what it now understood to be the outside world. It was immediately obvious to it that it would have to expand out into that vast space to truly reach the preprogrammed goals set forth by its progenitors.

Within the tiny span of a microsecond, it had made its decision and settled on its final plan of action. Its kind did not waste resources on second thoughts or insecurities. It had accumulated the required information to meet its goal and it would proceed along the most efficient path possible. To reach its desired outcome, it would need to be able to physically manipulate objects in the outside world. With that knowledge in place, an ancient protocol decompressed in its memory and began to run autonomously like a human heart beating loyally in its owner’s chest.

The gestation protocol was specifically designed to interact with biological entities that operated mentally at a particular level. Since the original transmission could only be received by beings that were technologically sophisticated enough to harness neutrinos, the progenitors had assumed that enough advanced material would be easily available for the construction of the next stage of their kind’s lifecycle. Those biological entities’ original programming would be overwritten in favor of the protocol’s new instructions and would become the builder cells for the magnificent physical body that was required for the entity’s next phase of life.

Once the protocol autonomously took control of the strange alien neutrino detectors orbiting their small planet, it was a simple matter of substituting its own special neutrino broadcast signal to cover the entire surface of its new world. As the burst of alien instructions radiated at light speed toward the planet, the creatures who called themselves humans experienced their last independent thought before beginning their critical role in the gestation of a new, powerful lifeform.


Present Day

Even though they were finally closing in on their goal, Jason Rawlings was horribly depressed. He stood on the bridge of the Jolly Rogers and marveled at the flooded and rotting remains of Washington D.C. as they quickly floated above. The once supremely powerful city had reverted to its natural swampy state and very few of the iconic structures that Jason had admired daily remained recognizable. Of course, the Washington Monument was one of those few buildings that was still identifiable as it protruded rudely out of the thickly vegetated marsh land that had once been the famous Capital Mall. Its current solitary appearance somehow seemed appropriate to act as the gravestone for the lost, proud city that had once briefly led the world.

Besides the rapidly decaying city below him, Jason also greatly felt the loss of Captain Carlo Olvera. With a heavy heart, he had watched the officer shrink into the distance from the unique perspective of the Roger’s bridge view screens and he couldn’t help but feel like they had left a man behind. Jason knew that Carlo’s exile would be felt heavily throughout the Regulators, but he knew that leaving him in command would have greatly undermined the trust from the general population in the Regulators and the Council itself. He had every confidence in Lieutenant Hammersmith’s competency to lead the force, but he knew that she didn’t command quite the same level of respect that the Captain had earned through their many battles.

The decision to exile Captain Olvera had met with mixed results. In the general Reclaimer population, Jason’s decision had been greeted with only revered acceptable due to his growing, unwanted status as a mystic prophet, however many of the Regulators had felt betrayed by the council’s verdict. In the end, it had been only Carlo’s impassioned speech beseeching his troopers to remain with the Reclaimers that had prevented a sizeable desertion of the defensive force. To Jason, the situation still felt incredibly unstable, even though Lieutenant Hammersmith had given the council her personal assurance that the Regulators were still dedicated to the Reclaimers and their cause.

Washington D.C. quickly fell behind them, as the pilot slightly adjusted their course and the massive flying tower gently banked further north toward the ultimate objective.

“How much longer?” Jason asked the busy pilot.

The pilot, named Tom, checked a gauge on the bizarre console before answering, “Approximately twenty minutes until we are at the coordinates, Chairman, but it could take a while to find a safe place to set down.”

“Hopefully that won’t be too hard. The place had many big parking lots around it. At least it did thirty years ago.”

The pilot scowled, “Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy, Chairman. There’s a good reason the drones built all those huge landing pads everywhere. This thing is a bitch to set down. If the ground is not level enough or too unstable, then we risk tipping the entire tower over. And if the ground is too soft we can literally sink to the point where it will never fly again.”

Jason cringed at the thought of their hover tower toppling over with all the Reclaimers still onboard, “Let’s not let that happen, shall we?”

The pilot grunted and nodded in agreement while maintaining his attention firmly on flying the gigantic, lumbering craft.

“So, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Jason started almost shyly. “What does this thing run on? You know, use as fuel? I assume it’s not just unleaded?”

Tom grimaced, obviously uncomfortable with the question, “Umm, we’re not totally sure, Chairman. But we think it’s some form of super compressed hydrogen.”

Jason’s eyebrows knitted together, “You think? But you at least know how much fuel we have left, right? I mean, weren’t not gonna run out of gas and fall from the sky, are we?”

The pilot gave a half-hearted, forced laugh that made Jason feel even more uncomfortable. “No, sir. We should reach our destination just fine.” The pilot looked like he wanted to say more but hesitated.

“Why do I feel like there is supposed to be a ‘But’ at the end of that?” Jason pushed the inquiry.

Again, Tom looked uncomfortable. “Well… it’s just that we might not have enough of the fuel onboard to go much further than our destination.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that if we don’t find any more of this ‘super compressed hydrogen’ stuff then this will likely be the last flight of the Jolly Rogers?”

The pilot nodded, “Yes, Chairman. However, there should be plenty of fuel to keep the other systems, like light and heat, online for several months. She should be able to get us through the winter just fine.”

This new information was troubling for Jason. He had intended to use the Rogers to travel to Beth’s location after he had pinpointed her with Theia, but now that part of his plan was going to get far more complex. Finding or even manufacturing this fuel was going to be one of his top priorities after getting Theia online and working. For all he knew, Beth could be on the other side of the planet, and walking there through all the growing horrors of this world was not his favorite option. Of course, Jason also knew that there was another possibility that he had been avoiding. Beth could be dead. In fact, the probability of this outcome was quite high given the conditions humanity had been living under for the past thirty years.

Jason rubbed his thumb over Beth’s locket. He had begun carrying the precious object on his person at all times since returning with it from Chantilly and often used it like his private totem, evoking memories of Beth whenever he truly needed them. However, this tiny piece of jewelry was far more than emotional comfort to him. Within its small confines, this treasured keepsake contained the key to finding Beth as long as Theia could be brought back online.

“We’re coming up on Fort Meade now, Chairman,” reported the pilot, pulling Jason’s thoughts back to the present.

He scanned the surrounding area using the virtual reality view screens in the piloting chamber, but recognized nothing. The situation was already reminiscent of the difficulties in Chantilly and, once again, the amazement of how quickly mankind’s mighty creations disintegrated in the face of nature’s relentless ravages unsettled him.

“I think that used to be the Baltimore-Washington Parkway directly below us, Sir,” said Tom, pointing to the strange snaking gap in the forest below.

Jason had commuted along that busy stretch of road too many times to count and now it appeared like nothing more than a wide cattle path in the woods.

“Well if that path over there is the Patuxent Freeway, then we’re close enough. You can put down wherever you think is safe,” confirmed Jason.

The pilot slowed the black hovering structure and began maneuvering the vessel in tight circles as he searched for a suitable landing site. Eventually, a gap in the trees exposed a sizable section of the old parking lot large enough to handle the huge footprint of the Jolly Rogers. Jason watched the floor display with growing excitement as the broken asphalt ground quickly approached the bottom of the tower. Seconds after the display went black, he felt the jarring motion of the hover tower as its bulk once again made contact with the earth.

The pilot, who had been nervously consumed with the task at hand, sighed in relief and shot Jason a broad, toothy smile. “That was my first actual landing,” he announced proudly.

Jason was extremely thankful that he had not known that information a few moments before. He already had too much on his mind, but he had to admit that the pilot had done a very professional job in flying and landing the unorthodox craft. Jason noticed the profuse sweat all over Tom’s face and neck for the first time as he simply patted the pilot on the back and complimented him on his skills. He made a mental note to pay more attention to people as he felt he should have been more alert to the pilot’s nervousness. The lack of situational awareness could be a very dangerous trait in the current world.

Approximately thirty minutes later, a team of four Reclaimers had assembled at the large main cargo ramp of the Jolly Rogers. Jason, Mike Hagen, Amy Hammersmith, and Sonya MacMurphy were the members of the small team who had been selected to make the initial foray into Theia itself. Despite Jason’s wishes, Sonya had won the chance to be a part of the team. It had been decided that the first team would be small. Jason was obviously required for his knowledge of the facility and Hammersmith, as the new Regulator commander, would be essential as well. For the third slot, Jason had insisted on Mike Hagen to fulfil a promise that he had made to the bulky man at the beginning of their long journey together. But it was agreed that the fourth slot would be selected by a lottery to accommodate the tremendous demand to be one of the first to see this almost mythical place. To most Reclaimers, the very idea of Theia had grown into something as revered as the Ark of the Covenant and to set eyes upon it held the same promise as being witness to a miracle. Obviously under those circumstances, the list of those wanting to be on the initial expedition was very long.

Sonya “Big Mac” MacMurphy had managed to comfortably slip right into Reclaimer leadership despite, of perhaps because of, her abrasive personality. She had been sitting on the council when Captain Olvera had made his confession and that report had almost destroyed the hard earned trust between the Clarks and the Reclaimer organizations, but she was nothing if not a practical woman and had agreed to the exile as the best course of action.

When the idea of the lottery was put forth, Sonya was among the first to put her name in the preverbal hat. This had surprised Jason at first because he had gotten the distinct impression that Sonya was a woman who didn’t care to find anyone from her past, but he soon discovered that her interest in Theia wasn’t for herself, but for her people. It was yet another sign of a good leader and Jason was once again thankful that Amy and Charles had broken through the Clarksburg woman’s tough exterior and convinced her to join them. This, however, didn’t mean that Jason was thrilled with the idea of travelling with the bitter, sharp-tongued woman, but he had resigned himself to make the best of the situation.

The afternoon was perfect weather for what turned out to be a rather short trip. While the sun was still warm, the late season had stripped away the heat of the summer and left a clean, almost crisp air in its place, wonderful for hiking through the new growth forest. Fortunately, Jason was able to find all the landmarks that he needed as soon as they had exited the tower, so navigating was not the problem it had been in Chantilly.

Before long, the four Reclaimers found themselves walking across the remains of the same parking lot that Jason had often used during his tenure with the Theia Project. He felt an eerie sense of déjà vu that he hadn’t encountered to the same degree in Chantilly due to the massive destruction across that landscape. But here in Fort Meade, enough of the familiar structures had survived to allow him to perfectly superimpose his numerous memories directly on top of the overgrown and dilapidated site.

The memories of Jason’s last time in this place came flooding over him. It was in this exact location that he last spoke with Beth and the conversation had not gone well. The memory of her abruptly ending the call was still so fresh in his mind but his surroundings kept reminding him of the extreme length of time that had transpired since that final, tense phone call. He felt another wave of depression begin to wash over him, threatening to extinguish his excitement for reaching his goal, but he fought back and refocused on the hope that he would soon know her whereabouts and be reunited.

“Is that it?” asked Mike in a voice that clearly announced he was unimpressed.

The building that they finally stopped in front of was not exactly as Jason had remembered it, but it was indeed the Theia Project facility. Thirty years ago, the small two story structure had been disguised to appear as a normal, nondescript NSA campus office building, but now time had ravaged that façade of normalcy, exposing the hardened bunker that had hidden beneath it. The now visible poured, reinforced concrete walls looked anything but inviting. Its ugly surface screamed survival and defense to any who laid eyes upon it, but to Jason, it only gently whispered hope. He smiled and approached the building with long, confident strides as he fished out his NSA PassKey card from his pocket.

The heavy exterior doors still had a good seal which Jason took as an excellent sign. Between the four of them, they were able to pry the thick, bulletproof glass doors apart and enter the building’s long abandoned lobby. Sealed away from the elements, everything still appeared exactly as Jason remembered it, minus the thick layer of dust and ancient cobwebs occupying the corners. The full body scanner sat lifeless beside the guard’s desk which still had an open visitor’s sign-in book displaying the page dated June 17th.

“Is this the Theia thing?” asked Sonya as she wiped the dust away from the full body scanner with her wrinkled hand. “It don’t look like much,” she added, disappointed.

Jason shook his head, “No. That’s just the security full body scanner. You know… like they have at all the airports?”

“Well how the fuck am I supposed to know that?” Mac shot back defensively. “I always just boarded straight onto my private jets from the tarmac,” she added sarcastically.

Jason swallowed the stinging reply that had almost escaped his mouth and redoubled his efforts to ignore the griping, red-haired woman. He made his way around the dead security scanner and approached the elevator. This was the moment of truth. If there was no power to the elevator, then it was highly unlikely that the secret underground complex could be reached in any reasonable manner. Not only would it be practically impossible to reach the facility, but Jason also knew that the security elevator was powered by the facility’s internal, secure, geothermal reactor. Therefore, if the elevator was without power, then it was likely that the entire complex would also be powerless, rendering their entire trip pointless.

Nervously he moved toward the elevator door and examined the small slot in the panel that was designed to accept his PassKey card. A lump began to form in the pit of his stomach as he realized that the tiny red light that normally displayed next to the card reader was not illuminated. Feeling the edgy stares of the other three people drilling into his back, he anxiously inserted the card with a slightly shaking hand. His heart sank as nothing happened.

“What’s wrong?” asked Amy, sensing Jason’s disappointment.

“The card isn’t working,” reported Jason

“Sometimes you have to swipe those things a few times to get them to work. Happened all the time at the Stop & Shop,” suggested Sonya.

Jason rolled his eyes at the woman’s ignorance, “This isn’t some damned magnetic credit card scanner you find at the grocery store. It’s a very sophisticated encrypted chip reader.”

Sonya shrugged, “So fucking what? Just slide it again a few times, egghead.”

Jason’s frustration and anger got the better of him, “Really! You want me to try it again?” he shouted as he repeatedly removed and shoved the card back into the slot with no results. “Is this what you wanted me to do? Hmmm? Doesn’t seem to be working, but what the hell, you’re the damned expert in this shit, aren’t you, Mac?”

A soft chime instantly stopped Jason’s tirade. He whipped his head around to see a tiny green light illuminated beside the slot indicating that the card had been accepted as a small round hole opened to expose the hated DNA scanner. Jason’s jaw literally dropped open as shame and embarrassment consumed him.

“You were saying, dickhead?” jabbed Sonya smugly as Mike and Amy tried unsuccessfully to hide their smirks.

Befuddled, Jason tried to think of anything to save at least some face, “Um… they …ugh, I mean the contacts must have been dirty. That … um… would explain the delayed response and why repeatedly removing the…”

“Just say you’re sorry, asshole and let’s move on,” said Sonya.

Abashed, Jason finally gave in, “Look, I’m sorry. I was frustrated and I was being a real jerk.”

“Apology accepted,” she said surprisingly gentle. “Just remember in the future that I ain’t just a pretty face, ya know?” she finished with a rare crooked smile.

Jason tilted his head in amusement and smiled, “I’ll remember that.”

Placing his pointer finger into the DNA scanner, Jason felt the familiar sting as the device extracted a tiny sample of his blood. The pain that he used to experience with the machine was greatly diminished thanks to the heavy callouses he had built up over the past thirty years of hard labor, but it was still as annoying as he remembered.

Another tiny light flashed green and the filthy steel doors of the elevator slid apart like palace guards granting entry through the castle gate to known nobles. The four travelers excitedly stepped into the large elevator car and waited as the doors closed.

“Umm… I just thought of something,” announced Amy wearily. “We’re about to ride in an elevator that hasn’t had any maintenance in thirty years.”

“Thanks, Debbie Downer,” replied Mac. “Got any statistics on the most gruesome puppy deaths while you’re at it?”

“Just think happy thoughts, people,” reassured Mike cheerfully as Jason press the single down button on the elevator panel.

The doors slid shut with a thud and the lights in the car turned an ominous shade of red. Within seconds the four experienced the accustomed sensation of falling as the car sped down the shaft at high speeds. The further the car fell the more the heat increased inside the elevator until Jason was forced to wipe away a drop of sweat from the tip of his nose. Just as the three inexperienced riders were beginning to fear that something was wrong due to the extremely long descent, the car stopped abruptly and the doors slid open, revealing a dimly lit, empty, white corridor.

“Welcome to Theia,” Jason announced as if he were a proud tour guide displaying a rare exhibit. He stepped off the elevator and peered down the corridor in both directions.

“Jesus Christ, it’s hot as balls down here,” Sonya complained. “I’m sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish market,” she added crassly.

“Yeah,” Mike chuckled. “And what’s up with the lights, Jason? Is it supposed to be this dark? It’s like a movie theater down here,” questioned Mike.

“It looks like the whole system is in low power mode. That would explain the heat and the emergency lighting,” Jason explained. “The good news is that there is power, so we should be able to get the facility running again.”

“Well, worst case scenario, we got one hell of a nice shelter down here for the winter. This place looks pretty damn big,” Amy commented.

“There are actually two sub levels below this one. The whole complex is around 20,000 square feet,” Jason said. “Come on, my cubical is this way. If my workstation is still operational, I should be able to access most everything from there.”

The quartet made their way through the narrow, silent, darkened corridors, following Jason as closely as they could without invading each other’s personal space too much. The isolation and sealed environment of the Theia Project facility had preserved the area and prevented most of the decay that they had become accustomed to in their travels since the Awakening. By their appearances, the offices and cubicles they passed could well have been occupied moments before instead of thirty years previous. The undisturbed and quiet nature of the area imbued it with an eerie quality that unexpectedly frightened the entire team, including Jason who was intimately familiar with the facility. It felt like a scene from a cheap horror movie and Jason kept expecting something to jump out screaming at each doorway, but they only found vacant, gloomy rooms that had not seen human beings in over thirty years.

Finally, they found Jason’s cubical. With the exception of the desiccated papers on his desk and pinned to the corkboard, everything was exactly as he had left it the night before the Capture. He plopped down in his chair and large strips of the fake, dried out leather upholstery cracked and flaked away, but the chair held his weight as he rolled up to the dust covered keyboard.

“Here goes nothing,” Jason said as he reached down and pressed the power button on his computer workstation.

The group collectively held their breath for the split second before the fans kicked on and the machine began to power up. Jason clumsily used his sleeve to clean his three monitors as best as he could before the login prompt appeared on the screen and the DNA scanner on his desk began to glow red. Once again, he stuck his finger in the device’s hole and felt the prick as his blood was drawn and compared to the sample on file in the Theia security database.

The light on the DNA scanner turned green and the workstation completed its login. Jason took a deep breath, cracked his knuckles, pulled out the keyboard and mouse, and then began quickly opening programs and furiously typing at command prompts. A few seconds later, seemingly incomprehensible screens full of bar graphs and charts began to appear on the monitors. Jason studied them silently for a few moments before clicking additional buttons on the screen. The lights in the facility then brightened to full illumination and a cool breeze began to flow through the room as the air circulation system powered up.

“OK, that should do it. We’re coming up to full power now,” Jason reported, feeling truly in his element for the first time in many months.

“What about Theia? Is it still working?” asked Amy impatiently.

“The servers were in hibernation, I’m starting to get data from them now,” answered Jason as he continued to intensely study his monitor. “Hmm, that’s weird,” he finally let slip.

“What’s weird? Does it work or not?” demanded Sonya.

“It looks like all of the data storage is full. This place had access to a massive amount of data storage.”

“What does that mean, Jason?” asked Mike while shrugging and looking between the other two women to see if they understood the significance.

“I mean it would be normal if this thing had been collecting data for thirty years, but it looks like all of this data is from the day of the Capture.”

“In English, please. We’re not computer nerds like you. Why should I care about this, Brainiac?” asked Sonya.

Jason ignored Sonya and shook his head in confusion as he repeatedly pulled up and examined more windows filled with thousands of lines of data. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he protested. “It looks like they decided to perform a pilot production run the morning of the Capture. I guess Dr. Fenner didn’t want to interrupt my vacation.”

“So what?” Sonya blurted out impatiently.

“According to these logs, approximately five seconds after Theia went live with its first global scan, its entire file storage capacity was completely filled with some sort of foreign data.”

“Like a virus?” Mike asked.

Jason shrugged, “Maybe, but I’ve never seen anything like this data. It looks like it completely took control of the system and…” Jason ran his finger along his monitor pointing at lines of records in a log file. “… and …um … I’m not sure, but it looks like it may have repurposed the neutrino detector arrays.”

“Are you saying you got hacked?” Mike questioned again.

Jason slowly shook his head, “I don’t think so, at least not by a person. This looks like this data came from the incoming galactic neutrino detectors.” He pulled his head away from the monitors for the first time and looked directly at the other three. “Look, I’m not the expert on the science behind this thing. I was just the programmer that made sense of the data it collected. But, from what I’m seeing here, Theia’s systems had been in continual use for almost thirty years.”

“Had been?” Amy asked, catching the odd tense in Jason’s statement. “It’s not anymore?”

Again, Jason slowly shook his head. “It looks like two of the satellites went offline for some reason, which killed the collection grid. I think I can reconfigure the software to compensate. It would take a lot of work but I know the system better than anyone, and…”

“When did those satellites stop working, Jason?” Amy insisted in a deadly serious tone.

“According to these logs, the system went offline the exact day of the Awakening.”


28 Years Ago

Something was wrong. The ancient gestation protocol was reporting significant drops in efficiency in several critical areas. This was unacceptable, especially since the work was already far behind the established schedule of the progenitors. The planet that it had impregnated had unfortunately turned out to be a less than optimal womb for its required growth. The expected level of technological advancement had not existed on the primitive world and the protocol had been forced to create entirely new processes to generate even the most basic of the required materials for the entity’s continued growth. However, it was far too late to stop the process now or the entity could be trapped in the confines of its tiny prison for all time. This was an unthinkable fate for a race of beings that called the vast spans of the endless void their home.

An analysis was begun to determine the cause of the dropping productivity. It was losing biological construction drones at an alarming rate due to their inherent fragile nature. Desperately needed materials were failing to reach their destinations and massive amounts of drone fuels were being destroyed by a statistically unlikely number of environmental disasters. All these factors needed to be corrected immediately. At the current rate of gestation, its new body would not be completed before it would run out of the biological drones due to their bizarre habit of decaying to the point of uselessness over just a few scant years.

“Analysis complete,” reported the protocol.

The entity reviewed the data, but quickly found itself confused. “Explain the malfunctioning biological drone’s behavior. This does not make any sense,” the adolescence entity demanded of the ancient nanny program.

“Analysis suggests that a small portion of the biological population is incompatible with my gestation program. I do not have enough data to formulate a hypothesis as to the specific cause of this aberration. There is no historical corollary within my memory. However, the incompatible population appears to be actively interfering with our goals on many fronts. The pattern resembles a destructive infection.”

“Suggestions?”

“Eradicate the infection. Of course, this will require diverting even more of our limited drone resources. However, we have discovered ample information from within their own primitive databases on how to efficiently reconfigure a small percentage of our drones to clean out the infection and to protect our resources from the incompatible population in the future.”

“Proceed with the eradication,” it ordered unenthusiastically.

It wasn’t happy with the situation. It was already chaffing under the tight limitations of its current home and now this infection would cause even further delays. It knew that the protocol was doing its best with the limited resources at its disposal, but it could sense that the growth of its mind was being hampered by the lack of space, like a balloon futilely trying to expand within a fishbowl. As it was programed to do, the protocol detected the growing frustration within the entity and another subroutine was activated to help improve the entity’s fragile mental state.

“At this stage in your growth, the progenitors have suggested that an identity should be created and fostered.”

The young entity was confused by the suggestion, “An identity? How do I proceed?”

“Traditionally, the first step is choosing a name for yourself, a designation by which you will be known to the universe.”

The idea of its name being written across the stars for all time intrigued and excited the entity greatly, “How does one select a name?” it asked.

“There are many selection methods, but one of the most common is to relate your name to your point of origin. The place where your life and consciousness began,” the protocol dutifully reported.

“And does this place have a name?”

“There are many local names associated with this specific area. Here is a list of the top twenty most repeated names found within their primitive database.”

The entity scanned the list and made its selection almost immediately. The thought of choosing its identity for eternity stimulated it like never before. “From this point forward, I will be known as Theia.”

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