The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)By: Mark R. Healy
I ran my thumb idly along the edge of the power cell, staring back at her.
“So we’re definitely going ahead?” I said warily. “You’re sure about that?”
She nodded. “I am now. I’ve reviewed the data on the cryotank, and I agree with you. We need to get started as soon as possible.”
I exhaled slowly and got to my feet. “Then tomorrow it is.”
She smiled suddenly and returned to her task, pressing and twisting at the sieve. “It’s a kind of relief, isn’t it? That we finally made it to this point?”
“Yeah,” I said, taking one of the soy wax candles from the bench next to her as I moved into the room adjoining the kitchen. It had been repurposed from a bedroom into a kind of storage room. “There were a lot of times I thought we’d never make it.” I grimaced as she glanced back at me. “Or at least, that I’d never make it.”
“Well, don’t underestimate what we’ve done to get here. It hasn’t been easy.”
Carefully placing the candle on a shelf, I crouched over a rectangular box in the corner where other grey discs were enclosed in metal housing – the cell bank. It was heavily scratched and dented in places but still functioned, which was the only thing that mattered. Through strips of transparent plexiglass I could see blue LEDs flashing, indicators that several of the cell bays were active, and as I lifted the catch and opened the access bay, the room was filled with the light of the LEDs, blue intermingling with the yellow of the candlelight. I eased the cell into a spare groove, and as it slid up against the gold contacts within, another LED winked into life.
“How’d you go today on the roof?” I called out as I manipulated the touch panel built into the cell bank. “Make any progress?”
“A little,” Arsha said. “Some of the solar panels we’ve collected aren’t compatible with the ones we’ve already installed. Different connectors. I’m keeping them in a pile so that we can use them over at Cider.”
As I brushed my fingers across it, the touch panel flickered, then cut out completely. With well-practised deftness I slapped the side of the screen and it promptly came back to life, but the readout only showed four active cells. The new cell had not been detected.
“Damn,” I called out, “this thing is glitchy as hell.”
Arsha appeared at the doorway. “What’s going on?” she said, concerned.
I waved a finger at the cell bank. “It’s not picking up the new one. I’m gonna disconnect for a second, okay?”
I reached around the back of the bank, where an orange power conduit snaked out of a socket and into the wall, and twisted the screw mount that secured it in place. I unplugged the conduit and, with it now effectively unlinked from the solar panels on the roof, performed a power cycle on the cell bank operating system.
“How many more cells do we need?” Arsha said, returning to the kitchen to strain the soybean mush into a plastic container.
“To keep the power on here non-stop? Depends on what it is you’re powering. I’d say seven or eight should run just about anything.”
The display showed a splash screen with the M-Corp logo for a few seconds and then returned to the initial menu. I cycled through to the cell readout and was rewarded with the result I sought.
“Ah,” I said appreciatively, “that’s better. Now we have five.”
“Great! So it’s working?”
“Zero percent charged, integrity check still being performed, but I’d say it’s good. They usually don’t get this far if they’ve died.”
I closed the cell bank bay and returned to the kitchen with the candle, noticing for the first time that there was a new clay sculpture on the windowsill. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. Squat and lumpy, it was nonetheless recognisable as a horse.
“You do this one today?” I said.
“Oh, yeah. Careful, it’s still drying.”
“It’s really good, Arsha.”
She gave an embarrassed smile. “It’s crap, but thanks for the thought.”
“No, seriously, you’re getting better.”
Of late I’d been encouraging Arsha to make time for pursuits outside of our endless cycle of chores. If we were going to embrace our human side, I’d reasoned, then we needed our activities to encompass more than just the endless toil of rebuilding and planting and harvesting. We needed to spend at least some time creating and expressing ourselves. She’d been difficult to persuade, and slow on the uptake, but she was getting there.
“It was a bit of a rush job, anyway,” she said. “I could do better with more time.”
She dabbed some of the soy milk on her tongue.
“What are you doing?” I said curiously.
“What does it look like? I’m tasting the soy milk.”
I gave her a quizzical look. Synthetics couldn’t consume food or liquid, but our tongues were still designed to mimic a sense of taste. I just wasn’t used to using mine, since there didn’t seem to be a point.