Chapter Eleven


Anton's Big Picture


Dahlia --

We should talk about last class presentation. Visit my summer home? Next Saturday?

-- Anton


Anton's summer home was on the south coast of Martha's Vineyard. There was a drive, but not nearly as rigorous as getting to Annette Bushkov's compound. If you wanted to indulge in nostalgia, you could take a ferry from the Falmouth on the Massachusetts coast to Edgartown. I chose not to, and I landed at the airport instead.

Many residents here love boating. They get in real boats and sail them thither and yon. About half are real sailboats, too, the wind powers them.

The front of Anton's house looked old and weathered. When Anton greeted me at the door he explained, "This side of the house dates from two hundred years ago. It's a beast to keep up, but I love the look." As we walked in, we passed Anton's "brag wall" -- there was some impressive stuff on it: awards, degrees, honorary degrees and autographed photos.

When we got inside, things were quite contemporary. The view south was stunning. This was called a beach house, but it isn't really on the beach. It is on a bluff over an inlet, and the ocean is a quarter mile away, crashing up on the real beach which spread entirely across the inlet there. What surrounded the house was wind-swept dune grass, with a circle of strategically-planted bushes and oak trees which acted as a windbreak for the house itself.

We sat at a table in the living room that took full advantage of the view. In spite of myself, I was starting to feel relaxed and inspired.

"Dahlia, you and the class have been on quite an odyssey, I suspect."

I nodded.

"Let me give you some more perspective before I make my proposition to you.

"As you look around now, and reflect on what you've seen over the past few months, does humanity look threatened to you?"

"... No?"

"It is." Anton said grimly, "It doesn't look like it, but it is.

"What is threatening humanity is its success. We have conquered adversity, we have conquered natural calamity, we have conquered resource depletion, we have even conquered age.

"And therein lies the problem: mankind is an evolved creature. For thousands... no... millions of generations he has evolved to conquer adversity, as all life forms on earth have.

"The problem... the huge problem... is: We've won!

"...So... what do we do for encore?"

"Enjoy the fruits of our success?" I offered.

"That is retiring," Anton grinned, "And mankind did not evolve to retire."

"And there is some more urgency to this problem, as well. Mankind has already evolved his successor species: The creations."

"Creations? Our helpers? ... Some people have always worried that they would rebel and take over earth, but there are plenty of safeguards... aren't there?"

Anton smiled, "It's not a question of nefarious plot, the threat is much more of a... whimper... than that.

"The creations are well designed to live in the world as we experience it today. We now live in a known world. We understand it. Science has removed the mysteries. We can still have surprises, of course, but nothing is going to happen on earth that creations can't understand and handle.

"Mankind, on the other hand, evolved to handle a world full of mystery. We are well adapted to handling the unknown, while creations are well adapted to handling the known. Earth is now a well-known place.

"So, if mankind is now living in retirement: What's next for mankind?" He waited patiently for me to answer.

"...Death?" I said, not liking what I was saying.

He grinned, "Death... or moving on! Moving to places where the world a person lives in is still an exciting mystery and full of unknowns. There mankind will thrive again, and do what he's best at doing.

"Mankind's 'fit', mankind's destiny, is to confront huge mysteries and solve them enough to live and thrive. That's what mankind does best, and in that environment creations can comfortably play their role has helpful tools. In that environment mankind and creations are symbiotes. In earth's environment today creations are a successor species waiting for mankind to realize he has outlived his usefulness.

"That's why this Mars colonizing program is so important: it's a key step in mankind's survival. Mankind must adapt to Mars, adapt to other places in the Solar System, and adapt to traveling to the stars. This must be mankind's destiny. That or... retiring... and letting his successor species, the creations, eulogize his passing."

"I... I... I never thought of things that way." I said.

"Few people have. It's not a comfortable thought, and these are comfortable times we live in."

"What can I do?"

"Fully back the Mars program. We must get mankind self-sufficiently settled around the Solar System, and we must get him headed to the stars."

"That doesn't sound so hard."

Anton looked happy. He'd made a convert.

But it wasn't enough! Anton had worked this hard and just converted me. Just me! This was a human race problem, and this couldn't be handled as just another human hobby idea! There are billions of those, and a billion were a lot more comfortable to think about.

This would take some more thought, some careful thought.

"Your time, your enthusiasm, and your DNA will all help." he said confidently.

"In the meantime, would you like a tour of my humble abode?"

We walked around a bit, then went down to the dock and got into a sail boat -- a real sailboat! It was a small one. He launched us, and we sailed to the beach. This ride was fully as wild as the Annette Colony Road ride! Those sail boats really do lean way, way over! The good news was that as I kept climbing to the high side in stark terror, Anton said, "You're doing it right!" and laughed heartily like an old sea captain.

At the beach it was windy, and cool, but I did take some time to build a sand castle. I'd loved doing that since I discovered the sandbox in our kindergarten playground.

We talked and thought, and talked and thought. I didn't say so, but I was thinking, "It still wasn't enough!"

Anton talked about how mankind was a boom species. That's why we had the Neolithic Parks. The creations were openly enthusiastic about wanting to dismantle those because they were the source of so much human suffering, and they weren't alone. There were periodic publicity campaigns and lawsuits. The lawsuits were to dismantle the parks and toss someone in jail for condoning the torture and child abuse that occurred in them.

"But if those are closed down, it is certain death for the human species at the next world-wide calamity." he said grimly.

The ride back felt entirely different and a lot more relaxing. Anton said that was because the wind was at our back now.

At the end of the day I headed home. It was short, but it had been a fascinating trip in so many ways.


The Last Class


Things did not get better, and the Antonelli storm did not blow over. It raged.

Before my next-to-last class with this group, Anton called a staff meeting. Whatever was coming, it would not be good.

He called the meeting to order and announced, "Folks, these are trying times.

"I've been trying to accommodate Ms. Antonelli and the board, but... in a word... I can't." he sighed.

"The changes I've passed on to you are just a beginning for the board. Sadly, they mark the end for Child Champs in Brooklyn. Following this class cycle, I will be shutting down this office in Brooklyn and transitioning Child Champs to virtual... for now. I will be looking for some place I can reestablish a teaching facility in a more technologically tolerant environment.

"Are there any questions?"

On one hand it was not too big a surprise... but then it was a big surprise! Personally, I was sure Anton was going to be able to rise above this. He'd risen to all other challenges for the last ten years, hadn't he?

Nancy, one of the other teachers, raised her hand, "On-line? That's going to kill the image, isn't it?"

"Indeed," he chuckled a bit over the irony, "It presents a marketing challenge.

"But there is something else that has influenced my decision, as well. There is an opportunity coming, a completely different opportunity, and it's a game changer. It's big. It's exciting. And I want to present it to you and your students with a bit of flourish.

"So what I will do is meet with each of your classes personally to discuss this new opportunity. Please let them know that the last class will be a special session."

We did so, and all of us left the meeting wondering what was coming up?




It was the last class, the special one. I started by introducing Anton, "Today we have a special guest speaker: Anton Noidtal, director and owner of Child Champs." I announced.

We all greeted him, and he began.

"I'm here to talk to you about a program the government is sponsoring, and it's one some of you may be interested in. It's one that I certainly am.

"The government is supporting setting up a colony on Mars. Not a resort, not a science station, not a factory, but a large population colony where humans live permanently and will come call their home, and so will their grandchildren. In a few years it will become self-sustaining, and be another step in man's settling the whole solar system, and beyond that, the stars.

"...Why should we be interested?" asked Bob.

"Because it's a place where you can be human again. It's a place where your human ingenuity will matter. It's a place where you can make a difference, not be just another cog in an increasing well-ordered world -- a world which has world become better and better suited to cybers and creations. It's a place where there will be surprises -- something human people in biological bodies are still the best designed creatures in the universe to deal with... well, the universe we know about anyway.

Janet asked, "Have we come that far? What about the risks? How will we get fed the right food? How will old people like Bob and I get our medical care?"

Anton laughed a bit, "This is not a digger cult. We can do digger just fine here on Earth. The bots will come too. Much of our food is nanobot made now, and that is just as easy to do on Mars as it is here. The same for medicine. We can make it there as easily as we can here.

"In fact, we've had the technology to colonize for two decades. What has held this project back is worries about risk. That very human emotion to save the children has had some surprise consequences. One of those has been to save Mars from colonizing humans.

"This is not to say there are not risks. There are. Accidents will happen. Surprises will happen. People will die and people will be amazed.

"But humans are designed to be mortal. Up until twenty years ago there were no immortals. Humans are also designed to take risks." He looked around a bit before he continued, "This is not a popular point of view these days, but I feel our current trends towards cutting off risk-taking in the name of saving the children have gone way overboard. They are badly twisting our social thinking."

"Isn't that just adapting our thinking to the environment we live in now?" asked Jaden.

Anton smiled, "You bring up a good point, Jaden. Our environment today is certainly not the Stone Age environment our brains and bodies are best adapted for.

"But that's the point! What we are living in now, here on Earth, is not what humans are well adapted for. It's too secure. It's too predictable. We are best adapted for a world full of mysteries and unknowns. These days we are going to find that environment on Mars and beyond. This is where humans should be now... at least some of us."

"There is one more point you should know about. I said biological bodies, not human bodies, for a reason. On the Mars colony we will have enough technology to transfer intelligences between cyber and biological. And, we will use that technology there. You can use your Earth body when you want to, but your intelligence won't be restricted to it."

We looked around at each other, I said, "I've heard speculations on such. But isn't that unethical and illegal?"

"It is here on Earth, but Mars is not Earth." he grinned, "With time, there will be quite a few things OK there that are too scary technically for Earth society to accept."

He looked around the classroom, looked each of us in the face, "You are all here because you want to take part in a great adventure: the great adventure of raising a child. What I'm asking you now is: do you want to take part in an even greater adventure: that of settling a new world? Carving a new world from a new wilderness? I'm asking you as a group because a group you have become. For weeks now you've been sharing your triumphs and disappointments, and you've had both. You are becoming tight.

"I'm giving each of you the site which describes this new colonizing program and the details of what it takes to qualify and what you can expect there. Take a moment to go through that and see if you have any questions."

Anton waited patiently while the class went cross-eyed for a bit and absorbed this new information.

"You're a founding member of the Mars Colonizing Steering Committee? Wow!" said Jaina, then with a cross between admiration and suspicion, "Are you like some kind of high mucky-muck government official then?"

Anton smiled at her, "This has been a long-time dream for me, Jaina. To make it happen I had to engage the people, and creations, who had the right resources to make it happen. So, yes, I'm now some kind of high mucky-muck NGO official. I leave the government work for others." he laughed.

Adrian spoke up, "I know the creation establishment has resisted this for a long time. Have they changed their minds?"

"They now recognize that colonies throughout out the solar system can be traded off against closing the Neolithic Parks on Earth. As much as they dislike putting people into danger in space, if they can take people out of danger on Earth, they will give it their support."

"Will they accept people with... diverse beliefs?" asked Annette.

"Colonies have a long history of accepting people with diverse beliefs. The creations recognize that, and this one will be no exception. One of my contributions as a steering committee member is making sure the colony project is structured to be diverse. Diversity and redundancy will add to security and survivability. This will be an adventure, an experience full of surprises. We can't know now which policies will work best, so trying many makes a lot of sense.

"And, your group, Annette, with its long habit of living close to the land and being resourceful in dealing with surprises, should make it comparatively comfortable in adapting to this new environment."

Annette smiled back at Anton.

Anton looked at Rubyzin, "Ruby, what are your thoughts?"

Ruby didn't hesitate, "Oh, I'm an entertainer. The world is my oyster." she laughed, "I guess more than the world these days. I've been offered gigs on the Moon and Mars."

"Are you saying this is irrelevant to you?"

"Yes. I travel all the time. What difference does this make?"

"Will your child travel with you?"

Ruby looked a little surprised and thought a moment before she said, "... Good point."

Anton left her to muse on that. He turned to Jaina, "What are your thoughts, Jaina?"

"It sounds like super fun... for a while. But I'm still an Earth girl. I've got lots of friends here."

"Are they the face-to-face type?"

"Some of them are... a few... well, a couple. Most are on the net, now that you mention it."

"Dahlia tells me you're interested in raising Mars babies, why not do that where they are native?"

She thought about it, and brightened, "I could be a lot more effective there, couldn't I. I wouldn't have to constantly be saying, 'When you get to where you'll live, things will be... whatever.' Yeah, that would be good. It's not like I can't come back to Earth for vacations."

"So true." assured Anton.

He turned to Miranda, "You've traveled a long way to get here. What do you think about traveling a bit further?"

She frowned, "I have my family to think of. My mother is very old."

Anton brightened at that, "The colony settlements will have the most up-to-date medical facilities. You and all your family should find it a lot easier to get patched up there than here. Once you're there, there should be a lot less red tape and hoop-jumping."

Miranda liked the sound of that.

He turned to Adrian. "I don't want to sound like a PR hack, but you're one of the more resourceful people here: You've grown a thriving business."

He didn't laugh it off, he was thinking hard, "I'm glad you recognize it's no walk in the park. ...I'm wondering if I'm too specialized? Business is what I know best. ...That and gene editing."

"Any new colony is going to have a lot of business dealings. They won't be the same kind or in the same environment, but they will be all about exploiting opportunities and dealing with people, creations and Mother Nature to make them happen."

Now Adrian smiled, "That sounds familiar."

He came back to Jaden again. He just looked and waited.

Jaden finally spoke, "I'm a union man. ...Or, at least I have been one. I admit that these last few months have been quite a test of my union spirit. Will collectivism have any meaning, any importance, in a Mars colony? Are there going to be evil bosses I can rail against. Are there going to be dark conspiracies that I and my fellow workers have to protect ourselves from?"

Anton didn't say a thing. He just waited.

Jaden continued, "I... I... I guess if those are irrelevant that's a good thing." he looked up, "There will still be dangers, though, won't there? Of course! ...Which means I can keep an eye out for the safety of others." he brightened at that thought, "Yeah, my ideals can still have meaning. We all still need to be sure we are as safe as we can be... and still get things done, of course. Yeah, I'm in."

And finally he looked at me.

I said, "I got into this to raise babies, not wear a coonskin cap. But you make a good point. There certainly seem to be a lot of 'Yes, buts...' involved in baby-raising these days. I teach this class, but sometimes I'm real disappointed in what I have to teach. I want to raise a baby the way I think is right, not the way everybody in the neighborhood thinks is right. Do you think that's going to be possible on Mars?"

"I think it's not only possible, I think it will be mandatory. Mars is eight-to-twenty four minutes from Earth on the fastest communication link. How is some Earth bureaucrat or monitoring creation going to look over your shoulder real time?

"Not that some won't try at first. But you can simply tell them 'Get real!' ...What are they going to do?"

"...Live with it." I said with a grim grin.

"Just as you will have to," he cautioned, "I'm sure there will be a few times when you'll dearly wish that big, expert help was a lot closer. But those will be rare compared to the most-of-the-times when you're satisfied that you're doing the right thing. And doing a real good job with the resources at hand. And you will be," he grinned, "You've been training for this a long time."

He looked around at all of us, "Pardon me if I sound a little megalomaniac, but... You've all been training for this. You haven't been aware of it, but this is what you've been living for. You're all human, and humans live for solving the mysterious. These days, we will find the mysterious on Mars.

"Are there any more questions?"

There were none. He'd given us a lot to think about.

"I'll let you get back to your studies. Thank you."

He walked out, and we all thought for about a half minute before I said, "OK. Mars project, or not, that pretty well wraps up this course. Let's review, answer last questions, then it's party time!"