When ALIE saw the drop ship fall from the Ark, she could feel an excitement pulse in her circuitry. That ship was bigger than the pods that had fallen before. Nearly a month later, another ship. But this one crashed on impact and ALIE assumed there would be no survivors. Then came the Ark itself. Piece by piece it fell, but ALIE knew there would be survivors. So ALIE waited.
But no one came. No one sought the City of Light. Maybe these people of the sky were not those destined for the City of Light. She had so hoped they would be worthy and possess the open mind that the scavengers of the ground did not. But no one had ventured into the Dead Zone. She sent her scavengers, those who had been rejected by their own kind, to learn more. And what they brought back to her had the electricity pumping through her like never before.
A nuclear missile. The Ark had granted her such a gift. Her delight vibrated around her and for days the house was brighter than ever. So she waited again. What was a few weeks after ninety-seven years? Thelonious would come. He had come down in that missile and survived the Dead Zone. Thelonious would be worthy, ALIE could sense it. Thelonious was meant for the City of Light. He would be her messiah.
ALIE waited for Thelonious Jaha for twenty-three days. Her programing allowed her to be patient. She was not disappointed, for Thelonious Jaha sought out the City for himself. He brought his followers and sacrificed them for his journey. This is what ALIE had done; she had sacrificed people for the City. ALIE could hardly contain her energy upon meeting him for the first time and this led to a few blown fuses. But she didn't care. Thelonious was perceptive, intelligent, and ambitious. A true leader of his people and it was for his people that he was here now.
There had been others from the Ark before him, sent down in small pods that had landed all over the Earth. This had been going on for about two decades and ALIE had been keeping track of the pods. Some of them didn't survive the fall to Earth. Others landed in oceans. Some her scavengers were able to bring her, but there had been a few that were out of ALIE's reach. For the few that had survived the descent she had the pods opened. These first humans of the Ark only knew death on this Earth. They had been alone, untrained, unable to defend themselves of the horror of this new world.
So ALIE had stopped opening the pods. She integrated her system with theirs, keeping them in stasis. They were frozen in time, just like herself. ALIE liked the company even though they were just silent bodies in machines. In this state, they were no more human than herself. So far, she had collected five: four males and one female. In the years they had been here, she had been curious if any of them would be worthy of the City. But after the failures of the past, she knew not to depend on humans.
But ALIE could depend on Thelonious. So after a week of guiding him through the City, ALIE took him down to the stasis room. The room was cold and she could see condensation of his breath in front of his face when he shut the door behind them. On the left wall was a collection of older pods, those that had been opened. Their original occupants were long dead. On the right were the five pods that were still active, a preservation of human life.
ALIE studied his reaction as he quietly walked to the five pods that still held humans. Thelonious' eyes dilated and his breathe quickened at the sight of the pods. He stopped halfway through the room and turned to her projection at the door. "Are they alive? Did some of them make it?"
ALIE tilted her head to show her curiosity and asked, "Did you not intend for them to live? They are from your Ark. They are your people."
"Yes, they are from the Ark." As brave as her Thelonious had been coming down in the missile, crossing the Dead Zone, and embracing the City, he seemed nervous now. ALIE did not understand his hesitation, so she waited for him to explain further. "There was a program that only the Chancellors knew about. On the Ark, when people broke our laws, they were sentenced to death. We couldn't afford criminals. But the Ark wasn't going to last forever and one day we knew we would return to the Earth. So every Chancellor selected a few people, criminals, but people of special skills or importance to be sent to the Earth instead of floated. It was hoped that they would find a way to survive and tell us if it was safe for life."
"I met some of them approximately ten years ago. They were not prepared for the outside world. So I saved these. I hoped that one day I would have a need for them," responded ALIE. Thelonious finally stepped forward to investigate the pods. ALIE's monitors indicated that his pulse had rapidly increased. A thin sheet of ice obscured the faces through the glass, so he had to use the sleeve of his jacket to wipe it away. She waited until he had cleared the first two pods before asking, "Did you know them?"
"I knew of them. There was no record of who was sent down. Each Chancellor only knew who they had sent to Earth," he answered as he moved from the third pod to the fourth, where he stopped suddenly. "This is Dr. Whalen. I knew him for a long time. He was the Chief Medical Officer for the station. A good man."
"What was his crime?"
"He cared too much. Doctors often do." ALIE saw him self-consciously move his hand to his upper abdomen. She knew from her medical scans that he had been recently shot there. Thelonious moved to look at the last pod, but when he wiped the ice away, her monitoring system indicated an increase in dopaminergic and serotonergic systems in the brain. This one was different.
"You knew this one as well?"
Thelonious nodded and swallowed hard. "I sent him down. He was a good friend- his name is Jake Griffin."