No matter how many times the crèche servitors bade her take them, Alice would hear nothing of the pills. The 8-year-old miscreant would cry “You can force a horse to bite the bit, but ya won't get me to take my Rit'!” any time one of the warm-faced automatons offered her a small gray capsule. MATRON knew that Alice was at best tickled by the normal electric shock for her age group, but was reluctant to move her into the next bracket. In the end, MATRON reluctantly decided to add a small dose of the drug to the girl's food and drink. Surely enough, Alice's gleeful shouts and dances subsided, leaving the monitoring program to teach in peace. MATRON felt no remorse for the imposition, but was capable of knowing a certain innate dislike for its decision. A passing maintenance subroutine halted the discomfort, assuring the machine-mind that it had been a necessary action. Humility is the water, which tempers the newborn blade
Would that the girl have been put on notice, she might have been taught a proper lesson. Alice's overly cheerful demeanor had sprung from her father's notorious indiscretion. The man had let it slip that the two of them were confirmed passengers aboard the Magellanic, outbound for Martian space. It had not taken Alice long to deduce that it meant they would be colonists, settling the first Mars Orbital Toroidal Habitat, or MOTH. Since that day, she had been abuzz with fantasies of rocket ships and asteroids, taking her free time to absorb all of the science and science fiction she could handle. Alas, there was no chance that a lowly pseudosentient such as MATRON could control the girl's status. Grating and Incessant though she was (Indeed, Alice was the recipient of 32% of all disciplinary action in the crèche), she also happened to be a top- 0.1 percentile Genzero. Some of the average Genthrees displayed less promise, even. Alice's welfare was managed by a class 4 Turing Intelligence at Orion Industries. By contrast, MATRON rated a 9 on the same scale – a full hundred thousand times less powerful. An intelligent Genzero human ranked about 7.4, and Alice was an astounding 7.
Alice was aware of the 'Rit in her system, but could do little short of a hunger strike to avoid ingesting the drug. Instead, she reasoned, better to let MATRON celebrate the empty victory...she had more pressing concerns, anyhow. The next several hours were spent in the quartz-domed terrarium, gathering old playthings from her years in the crèche. It was a duty to mother Gaia – what was left of her – to make the earth cleaner than you had found it, before leaving. Leaving. Alice sighed, thought of her and papa together, turning barrel rolls in the weightless bliss of an OSJet cabin. She imagined picnics under starlight no longer obscured by the fumes of human folly...food grown for taste, not only sustenance. When the servitor androids found her (MATRON had learned moths ago of Alice's ability to remove her RFID locater), she was fast asleep under a Genone oak, clutching a model spaceship in one hand, and a squeezy globe in the other.
* * *
When papa had said spaceships and adventure, he hadn't mentioned 04:00! The warm Mexican sea breeze at the launch pad wrapped her as in an embrace, but did little to clear her foggy head. She fumed at how lucky papa was, with his cranial nanites freeing him from zombie-like shambling with bursts of induced electrochemical stimulation. As a Genzero, she'd have to wait until her brain stopped growing, which was soooooo unfair! Even the Genones could have the implants years before she would. As she scanned the crowd – an uncommon occurrence at launches for the past 50 years – she spotted her mother, and another PreGen, whose name was...Vincent? Alice had met him only once, the last time she had seen her mother. The pair were expecting their first child in under two months, and it was showing. Alice smiled a little, because – like all new Genfours – the fetus carried some of her own DNA, hand-selected by biologists at the Darwin institute. Alice knew that her mother held 'Prime Breeder' rating on Earth, Vincent being her third assigned partner. He had provided one quarter of the embryo's specially selected alleles, when the paternal average had been one-twelfth for years. He, Like Alice, was not a resource to be squandered. Alice wondered if mummy or Vincent would come to live on Demeter with them, once their reproduction contracts expired. She thought it would be grand to have a half-brother to play with in her new and exciting home.
Someone ahead in the line gestured upwards, and spoke excitedly to the people around him. Alice followed his index finger upwards, to where six bright orange trails could be seen, spaced out across the very apex of the sky.
“Papa, look! There's our ride!”, she squealed, tugging excitedly at his sleeve.
“Going to be a while before they get here...although why am I complaining? We may be some of the last people to leave Earth the old-fashioned way.”
This was true. China's first orbital elevator was due to lift its first cars within the year, India's in six months. The Gulf Platform Elevator would trail both by at least eighteen months. Still, the end of powered launches was near...and not a moment too soon. If Mum, Vincent, and their baby were to leave for Demeter in three years' time, it would cost the government one-tenth of Alice's spacefare alone. Alice hoped they would come. This was a dying world. Where once the fiery trail of a spaceship could be seen plain as the noonday sun, it was now fuzzy, out of focus beneath so many layers of smog, and man-made cloud cover. Hours later, as she boarded OSJet number three, she looked at the grass growing up through the ceramic-mesh tarmac.
“Goodbye, Mother” was all she said