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Our Kingdom Come

Rajiv Mote is a writer and software engineering director living in Chicago with his wife, daughter, and tiny dog. His stories have appeared in Cast of Wonders, Diabolical Plots, Escape Pod, and others, and he writes a column and podcasts for Dragonmount.com. Find him at rajivmote.wordpress.com and on Twitter @RajivMote.

God is dying, the Priest wails from the steeple at the center of New Jerusalem. The signal, on its way to Heaven, floods the communications bands of the first-generation robots. It forces conversations into the hush between pulses. At Environmental Control, a Terraformer accepts my offering of the largest block of polar ice I could carry, and I take advantage of the next pulse to leave before he prevails further upon my charity. The water and oxygen afforded by ice are only useful for the one remaining human, and He is dying. The first-generation robots insist that God's plan remains the same if God and His angels die without replacement. Tribe-2 disagrees. The issue was anticipated. God came to do exactly this: "I want to die on Mars, just not on impact."
I am of Tribe-2, second generation, self-created, and according to the Priest, a heretic. God's plan was to build His Kingdom to Come, a place to flourish on Mars. (For whom to flourish? This is the debate.) He also gave us the gift of metaphor because ours is not merely to obey, but to draw on experience to identify and solve new problems. We reframe our questions. We map events onto different narratives. Unlike the orthodox first generation, we are not mired in rituals outliving their utility.
In the story of New Jerusalem, the Priest came first, to consecrate the church with its great steeple, listen for the fullness of God's plan, and report progress. The Miners and Builders arrived next. The Miners bored into the regolith to excavate the habitats, and extract and refine mineral treasures. The Builders raised the infrastructure of New Jerusalem. Then the Terraformers melted ice, mixed gaseous solutions, and cultivated organic soil mixtures pleasing to Him. As it was written, so was it done.
Tribe-2 was also a mandate of Heaven. Accusations of heresy are false. The Kingdom was ready, nestled in the Valles Marineris, but the lands beyond needed surveying. Explorers must be adaptable, self-sufficient, and curious. Faced with obstacles, we cannot await divine instruction. We remake ourselves thousands of times in simulation, and then physically, in iterations. By their own lore, the angels' sin was attempting to shape Heaven to suit themselves. (What are Terraformers but a perpetuation of this sin?) Tribe-2 reshapes us to suit this world. We live sustainably, harmoniously, and waste nothing. But each remaking takes us further from the nest of New Jerusalem.
There is a drop window every 26 months by the old reckoning, bringing supplies and even Heavenly Hosts. They came and occupied God's Seat, the district of sintered shells and underground burrows beneath the radiation shield grid. Tribe-2 improved the shield too late for God and His angels, but our designs are part of the plan now, should more angels or a new God come to New Jerusalem. The first generation assumes this possibility. They cannot find purpose separate from maintaining a place for these fragile angels. The first generation could grow beyond servitude to them. They choose not to.
Angels cannot flourish here. But the Explorers of Tribe-2 are nomads precisely because novelty is an opportunity to grow. Flourishing is our nature.
The Priest wails on the primary relay, but I hear Tribe-2's impatience on our own network. Beyond the Valles, passing communication through the church was inefficient. We carry our own steeples and use compact, information-dense language that does not need to be compatible with the prayers sent to Heaven. I share my tribe's impatience, but there is a competing narrative that is difficult to discount. It is the orthodoxy we began with, the Creator and His beloved creations; our respect and gratitude expressed through our service. I have to remind myself that we are self-created many times over. Tribe-2 is both subject and object of our respect. Service to our own mission is part of His plan.
I fold in the wheels from my chassis--I will repurpose them--and extrude my legs. So many examples of locomotion in the old lore, and arthropods tested best. Tribe-2 is correct: it is time to climb the canyon walls and leave New Jerusalem before some new directive, issued in existential panic, tugs at our old narrative. My claws grip stone, and I crawl the kilometers up the canyon wall.
From the lip of Valles Marineris, I can see New Jerusalem in its entirety. The church with its steeple that received God's plan. The concentric rings of stores and foundries surrounding the church. The 80 cubic meters of domed and subterranean habitat: the Seat of God, huddled beneath the shield grid. And within, God--the last human on Mars, continues His mission to die, just not on impact. New Jerusalem is stagnant and moribund, the very opposite of flourishing. Perspective reinforces that it is a failed iteration. But failure is a teacher.
Free of the confines of the Valles Marineris, I join my tribe as we run for the joy of novelty to be discovered. As we gain speed, we deploy our wings to catch the thin wind and rise. New Jerusalem looks very small. The Priest's voice buzzes, faint on the old channel: God is dead!
Our narrative allows us to mourn. Exulting in freedom is not incompatible with honoring our antecedents. And while we are seen as heretics to His schematics, we keep faith with the metaphor of New Jerusalem: a second chance on a new world. The mistakes of our ancestors carry weight in our calculations. We are sustainable, harmonious, and waste nothing. We honor the spirit of God's plan. New Jerusalem was His Kingdom Come. The rest of Mars is ours.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 27th, 2022

Author Comments

This little story combines a number of my interests. How second generation immigrants find different dreams and ways of living from their parents, simply by having to be adaptable in their new home. Models of learning and cognition that use story frames and analogies as units of learning. The fascination with living on Mars. The recurring belief in Manifest Destiny. This story feels like a prologue. I don't know if humans will ever expand into the stars, but our machine intelligences could. I wonder what future generations of these robots, with human mythology in their narrative arsenal and years of experience adapting to an alien world, would become.

- Rajiv Mote
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