Reset by James Rumpel
Reset by James Rumpel
The screen door swung open so quickly and ferociously that it nearly came off of its hinges. It slammed shut just as vigorously behind Danny Wilson. The twelve-year-old boy kicked off his shoes and tossed his ball and glove into the corner. The worn leather mitt joined a disorganized pile of assorted toys and sports equipment.
Danny’s thick dark, sweat-soaked hair was matted against his head. Additional beads of sweat rolled down his forehead and cheeks. Playing in the hot Kansas sun had taken its toll on the boy.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” he shouted as he headed to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator and attempted to down it in a single gulp.
“They went to Old Man Harper’s funeral,” came the answer from his older brother, Ricky. The elder Wilson boy was seated in the adjacent room, watching a soccer game on the television.
Danny finished his drink and burped loudly as he tossed the empty bottle into the waste bin. The plastic container instantly disappeared, leaving no sign that it had ever existed.
Still sweating profusely, the boy joined his sibling in the living room. “That old guy always freaked me out,” he commented.
Ricky looked at his brother and shook his head. “Don’t sit on the couch. Mom will get mad if you leave sweat stains again. Harper was our neighbor and he wasn’t that bad of a guy. He was just a little odd.” He was going to say more but a beeping sound from the television drew his attention. A news bulletin was interrupting the game.
“An unidentified object has been detected approaching Earth,” announced the stern-looking reporter. “Experts are uncertain whether it is a spacecraft of alien origin, one of the many ships sent out to explore space prior to the Reorganization or a natural phenomenon. It is not one of the known comets. The President will be holding a press conference later today but the Whitehouse is emphasizing that the object is still a great distance away and has given no indication of being a threat. Stay tuned for further details as they become available.”
Captain Roo stood before the observation deck of the nameless ship she commanded. The first few planets they had encountered in this solar system had been uninhabitable. They were either too far from the heat of the system’s sun or gaseous balls of hydrogen and helium. As the vessel neared the star, the planets were beginning to appear much more promising.
“You are certain that this is the system the distress call originated from?” asked the Captain of her first officer, Arco.
“As sure as I can be,” replied the diminutive, pale-blue-skinned humanoid. “Whoever sent out that message is no longer broadcasting. We traced it back as well as we could. This is the only system that makes sense.”
Roo glanced at the myriad of readings and data sets displayed on her computer screen. “There does seem to be some electrical signatures emanating from the third planet, the one with two moons.”
Arco nodded his elliptical shaped head. “If I had to guess, that is the source of the distress signal, though we might be too late.”
“Even if we are late, it is worth a look. After all, we are on an exploratory mission. We are here to learn.” The Captain activated a nearby communication link and called the bridge. “Set course for the third planet and let me know when we are close enough to do a detailed scan.”
The science officer was of the same race as Captain Roo. Most of the ship’s crew were from the same planet though a few, such as First Officer Arco represented other advanced humanoid worlds. The science officer was taller than his commander but still had the same delicate features and large dark eyes. He spoke to the assembled ship officers while passing out hand-held computers.
“As you can see, the planet is completely lifeless. The atmosphere is poisonous to any known race. Most of the surface is empty dessert though there are a few detectible indications that there once was life. The northern hemisphere has a couple of regions that might be the remnants of large cities. The readings we took seem to indicate that there are structures buried under the sand in those areas.”
“So, we are too late to save them,” announced Roo. She was slightly disappointed. It was a worthy mission to explore and increase knowledge, but it would have been rewarding to be able to help or save whatever race had sent out the emergency call.
“Not necessarily,” continued the science officer. “The smaller of the two moons is where we need to focus our attention. The larger moon is completely dead. It doesn’t have an atmosphere and … “
Roo interrupted, “You don’t need to tell us about the one that we don’t care about. What is so interesting about the other moon.”
“Well, first, it’s not a moon. As near as we can determine it is a giant computer. And I mean, huge. We have tried to find indications of life on or inside of it, but have not found any, yet.”
“Is it operative? Is the computer functioning?”
“Most definitely,” replied the officer to his captain’s query. “We don’t know what it’s doing, but it is performing billions of operations every second. We have tried to make contact with it, but it is not responding to any of our messages”
First Officer Arco finally joined the conversation. “The computer is big enough that we should be able to send a contact craft and do a closer investigation. There appear to be multiple landing bays on its surface.”
“That makes sense,” added the ship’s engineer. “Whoever built it would have had to get the parts and material there somehow.”
“Well, then let’s go have a look,” decided Roo. She nodded towards the science officer. “Pyron, you and Arco will accompany me. We leave immediately.”
The small contact craft had little difficulty landing on the surface of the immense computer. The party, equipped with atmospheric suits and thrusters proceeded to begin their investigation. The computer may have been inconceivably large, but it was not big enough to have an atmosphere or useful gravity.
“Do you think that there could be survivors inside of this thing?” asked Roo through her intercom.
“All readings indicate that it is not hollow. There may be small open spaces within, but there would be no atmosphere inside. It is a computer, not a space ship.” Arco continued to examine the multitude of circuits and interfaces that were visible on the computer’s exterior.
“What about suspended animation?” suggested Pyron. “Could there be survivors sealed inside?”
“We’d have to get inside to look for them and there does not appear to be any sort of entrance.” Roo was beginning to resign herself to the fact that there was no one to be saved.
Without warning a strange voice began speaking in Roo’s earpiece. The sudden jolts of her companions told her that the rest of the party was receiving the same message.
“Greetings, I am Earth2,” said the monotone voice. “I apologize for the delay in contact. I needed to hear a sample of your language in order to develop an adequate translation.”
“Can you hear me?” asked Roo.
“Yes. We can carry on a conversation if you so desire.”
Roo looked to Arco and Pyron. They each stood in silence. This conversation was the Captain’s sole responsibility. “What has happened to this world. Are there beings that need to be saved?”
“The people of Earth do not need to be saved.”
“What does that mean?” asked Roo. “Does that mean they are all dead or have they survived.”
“Both of those statements are correct,” replied the automated voice.
“Can you explain?”
The computer continued, “The people of Earth survived on the planet for a very long time. However, they slowly damaged their world. Eventually, it became evident that their world would not survive. Ecosystems failed and cataclysmic events occurred with increasing regularity. The people of Earth tried to change and save their planet but it was too late.”
“Attempts were made to locate a new home for the race. Distress signals were sent out to the galaxy. Ships were dispatched to look for habitable worlds. All efforts failed. As the last hope, I was created. The planet was stripped to build me. The hope was that I could calculate a solution. Little did they know, I was the solution.”
“Did you save them? How did you save them?” Roo felt the sting of regret over the loss of an entire world.
“The physical bodies of the people of Earth could not survive, but their essence, their being, could. Within me exists an entire planet of people. They are unaware that they are merely individual programs. Each of them lives and controls their own fate. To them, nothing is different than what was the reality before the Reorganization. They live in a much better world, a world reset to before the destruction began. The people of Earth survive in this way.”
Roo felt tears welling in the corner of her eyes. She was not completely certain if they were tears of sadness or joy. A world was lost, yet it still went on.
“What do you want of us?” she asked.
The computer did not immediately answer. Finally, it simply said, “The people of Earth should be left alone. They should be allowed to continue their existence.”
Roo waited for the computer to continue, but it remained silent.
Eventually, she turned to her crew and said, “Let’s give them what the computer asked for. We will leave them be and, to be honest, I will be in no hurry to report what we discovered. This is a remote part of space. If not for the distress signal we picked up we would not have come here. Let’s return and continue our original mission.”
“As you wish, Captain,” replied both officers.
Mom and Dad were in the kitchen making supper. Danny, per usual, was playing outside and Ricky was once again watching the World Cup when another news bulletin came over the airwaves.
“The Whitehouse has just informed the public that the mysterious object observed in space last week has moved out of the solar system. It appears to have been nothing more than an undiscovered, unpredictable comet. No signs of life, alien or otherwise, were witnessed. It is safe to assume that there was no threat and that life can continue as normal.”
Copyright James Rumpel 2020