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Life can evolve. Amena saw the evidence on an ancient Earth. It wasn’t pleasant evidence, and it wasn’t evolution into sentient life, but she saw evidence.
So okay, she accepts that no little green men exist on alien worlds, but maybe one of these other Earths holds evolved humanity.
Evolution faces a powerful obstacle, however — humanity itself.
Volume 2: We Must Evolve begins with the discovery of a mysterious ark full of refugees caught in orbit over Pluto…
Wait, an ark full of refugees…?
Well, that’s one Earth that’s not evolving. But another could be doing better. It’s possible, Amena keeps telling herself…
Continuing the action-packed Earths in Space series, We Must Evolve features a novel-length journey told in four novellas — “The Pluto Factor,” “Worlds to Save,” “The New World,” and “On Hold.”
Copyright 2015 Daniel R. Sherrier
Sela shut off her gadget. The paneling sprang to life, dragged her through the hull, and it dropped her into a dimly lit corridor. Tall glass cases lined both walls, stopping just before a bulky door a short walk away, though they took a couple of breaks to permit alcoves on both sides. Condensation obscured their contents.
She rubbed her forearm against the nearest case, wiping away the moisture until she could see a woman sleeping within. The individual stood perfectly still behind the glass, not even breathing. A faint coat of blue covered her exposed skin, though it appeared purplish through Sela’s helmet. There was glass within the glass, specifically around the head—a fishbowl helmet above which stringy cables bunched together. They extended down, spreading to various points of her skin and through her clothing, as well as into the fishbowl helmet.
The case re-frosted, but Sela was already directing her attention upward. She followed the cables into a compact generator that sat upon the case, forming its cap. Straining, her ears detected a soft hum, and she realized even that little bit of noise was cumulative. The dozens of generators produced a handful of decibels. Each unit was plugged into the wall, which, Sela presumed, allowed them to draw power from the exterior solar paneling.
How long had this technology kept these people alive? The computers positioned at the bottom of each case displayed the answer. Sela stood straighter and nodded in respect.
A cough came from nowhere, startling Sela, yanking her away from burgeoning ideas on cryogenics.
No, not nowhere—the alcove. She approached tentatively.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” a man said. He cleared his throat before continuing. “It’s so clean and pure.”
Sela peered around the corner and found the lone man gazing out a hexagonal window as the bright whiteness of Pluto reflected back on him. What appeared to be an oxygen tank was strapped to his back, plugged into his rotund helmet. Sela glanced at the air quality scanner on her wrist, and it reported safe, breathable air. Even though this ark replicated Earth’s sea-level atmosphere even more accurately than her own vessel, she decided not to deactivate her helmet yet.
The man turned to her. The glass was unable to dull the curiosity in his eyes. Despite his rumpled attire, emaciated physique, and general air of weariness, he seemed compelling. Sela knew this was a smart man.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“That’s something of a loaded question with me. I never know where to begin. I have so many questions, the most pertinent of which has to do with my colleagues.”
“They’re still them. If they didn’t arrive here, they must be with one of the other greeters. I’m supposed to greet you. Hello.”
“Hi. My name’s Sela.”
The man looked up at nothing in particular, rediscovering a concept. “Right. I guess you need something to call me. Fabrice.”
“Nice to meet you, Fabrice. This ship is a marvel. The solar capture technology must be incredible—I mean, factoring in the considerable time you must have spent in-between solar systems subsisting off of ambient solar radiation. Granted, the momentum must have carried much of the workload, and life support is hardly a necessary expenditure for a trip spent in suspended animation. Still…” She pointed at the nearest cryogenic tank and its computer. “Am I reading that right? You left your Earth forty thousand years ago?”
Fabrice turned to Pluto. “Forty thousand years, and here we are, just as we were.”
“Your technology could revolutionize the energy industry. The key to perpetual power is right here in your infrastructure.” The idea sparked a new one. “It might be possible to recycle the sun.” It made sense to her, and it led to further ideas.
She contemplated how this technology might facilitate a lunar colony, though she kept interrupting herself with notions of stellar recycling. Doubts arose, but a robust internal debate thwarted most of them. That didn’t stop new doubts from emerging. Those doubts needed to wait, however, as she considered how this ancient technology might integrate with the octahedron’s systems. She vigorously tapped her helmet and kept tilting her head at various angles in hopes of acquiring a better perspective of each new hypothetical scenario.
Fabrice watched her brainstorm, and Sela became self-conscious. Her mind was behaving inappropriately. Too many other questions required more immediate answers.
“Thank you, Sela,” he said, his mouth lifting into a slight smile for the first time. “It is my technology. The solar capture, the cryogenics, your route of ingress—my ideas.”
He truly did seem compelling, Sela thought, and his voice had a seductive charm. The temperature rose within her climate-controlled spacesuit.
“I’d love to exchange ideas sometime,” she said. “I’ve developed a means of trans-spatial travel—‘popping’—I refer to it as ‘popping’ across the galaxy. Just a silly little term. I surrendered to a moment of whimsy. Of course, with the power required to achieve the speeds necessary to cut out of normal space entirely and reappear at a predetermined point, the vessel has to remain relatively small, at least as far as I’ve managed to figure out. Nothing of this scale. But if we incorporated your solar capture units, perhaps if they stockpiled the requisite energy…”
Too many unanswered questions, she reminded herself. Stop adding new ones.
Fabrice said, “I like your helmet. And your belt. Are those devices of your own invention?”
“Oh. Yes.” Sela looked down at her gadgets and felt oddly embarrassed as a few knocked against each other. “Most are just cheap parlor tricks, really.”
“Why are you here? We don’t mind, necessarily,” she said, as her brain continued jumping tracks. “And then there’s the matter of the lifesigns my colleague detected on Pluto, and my sensor’s picking up clean air here, and yet you’re breathing your own oxygen supply. And the impetus for embarking on a forty-thousand-year journey—I assume Pluto wasn’t your target?”
“It was not. It was an unanticipated variable.”
“I thought so. So you were coming to us. You’ve been coming to us since long before we had a civilization.” She wanted to take a step forward, but something held her back. “What happened to your world?”
Fabrice extended an arm toward the cryogenic tanks, the ones to the right. “You can probably see for yourself by now.”
Sela hurried back into the corridor and inspected the tanks. Most looked the same, except the one with a puddle forming at its base. She sprinted over there and wiped away the condensation, but it didn’t clear up. Moisture accumulated inside as well. The computer screen flashed red.
“Fabrice! This person is thawing. How do we fix it?”
“On my world, we have—we had a theory of cosmic entropy. Systems strive for homogeneity.”
“Whoever is in that tank is going to die if we don’t do something.”
“The entire universe is constantly struggling to reach a uniform temperature. It craves sameness.”
Sela dropped onto her knees in front of the computer. Maybe she could learn the system fast enough to save the poor soul.
Fabrice continued, his tone losing any charm it once had, if it ever had any. “A universe craving homogeneity has an obstacle, a nemesis—life. We’re the piece that doesn’t belong. The universe wants us to perish.”
The figure behind the fogged glass stirred.
“He’s still alive, Fabrice. How do we get him out of—”
The case shattered, and shards bounced off Sela’s helmet as she fell onto her back, damaging some of her equipment. A bright purplish orb forced her to shield her eyes, though it was almost certainly bluish to naked perception. The glare effectively blinded her while her pupils went about the tedious chore of adjusting. Her curiosity, however, proved stronger than her discomfort. She squinted through her fingers, into the glare, and her eyes snapped wide open.
The man exited the tank for the first time in forty thousand years, his fists leading the way. His legs didn’t do much of anything, didn’t need to.
That bright purplish orb was the man’s head. And the man was floating.
Floating toward her.
He descended, his legs bending in whatever direction would get them out of the way. His fists uncurled, and he pawed at Sela’s helmet until he found purchase.
She reached for her lighter. Her arm quavered as she fired at his midsection. She could have sworn the laser struck him, but he displayed no reaction and his hands remained on her helmet. He didn’t attack her, just held on with such strength that she couldn’t slip free.
Coherence melted away from her thoughts, so she tried to latch onto any idea she could. That man, the non-glowing man, whatever his name was, he was talking about, about, about entropy. Focus on entropy. Entropy. What about entropy? Entropy was…was…