Marla woke in the darkness, her bedroom a study in soft grey, the objects in the room a hazy outline. She lay in bed for a long moment, somehow knowing without glancing at her clock that it was just before dawn. Sure enough, the pale sun drifted skyward through her window as she watched, bringing her small room into clearer relief. She rolled out of bed, hearing her world come to life around her as she did so. The colony was stirring into consciousness; the hum of the HVAC systems moving from the nighttime maintenance mode to full-fledged activity. It was time for her to start a new day.
She made her way through the tunnels to the cafeteria area. Some of the Nourishers were already up and about, preparing food for the various groups that kept their colony going. Each department wore its own colors, the Nourishers outfitted in close-fitting yellow jumpsuits. The Builders, in their flame-orange safety gear, were almost done eating. Marla knew they had many chores ahead of them to maintain and enhance the Dome, which they all shared. The rest of the Farmers were in various states of wakefulness; a wave of sage green swept the room as the group slowly filled the tables.
The meal, as usual, was delicious, and it inspired Marla to perform her own job with the same careful dedication. She finished her breakfast quickly and retrieved her equipment from her metal locker. Soon she was heading down the well-kept hallways to Door One. She stopped for a moment, as usual, to pay tribute at the Monument to the Pioneers. The marble pillar honored those intrepid few who had come from Earth so many years ago to found this colony. Marla herself had been born only fifteen years ago, raised in the colony’s protective dome. She was one of the youngest in the Baac colony and had learned its history during her computer-based class work. From a bleak, rocky planet the founders had created their domed village, then carved a fertile pasture around it under a pale but habitable sky. The Dome now held fifteen thousand inhabitants, each with his or her own job, and together they had created a happy, functioning society. The worn edges of the monument gave testimony of the current residents´ pride in the achievements, in the fond pats and rubs they gave as they went about their duties.
Someone moved up next to her; Marla turned and smiled at Bon’s presence. "Good Morning, Bon," she greeted with warm friendliness. "Looks like it´ll be a lovely day today." He nodded and smiled back at her. Together they headed down the main hallway to the large airlock. She gazed through the translucent walls of the small room as the environment cycled from the oxygen-rich air of the dome to the lighter oxygen mixture, which blanketed the planet. A landing strip was immediately outside the dome, allowing the Earthers who visited to get into the dome quickly. The Dome’s rich oxygen blend wasn’t for the Baacers, who had long since become used to the natural environment of the planet. It was for the visiting Earthers who needed the oxygen balance of their distant home.
The Earthers had been coming every six months as long as she could remember, for as long as the colony had been in existence. The plants that grew on this planet were unique. In return for new equipment and manufactured parts, the Earthers brought home crops of Ystatis in great quantities. Apparently it was an important medicine in their world, allowing them to cure disease and promote health. Marla walked out into the fields with Bon, moving towards their assigned area. They began harvesting side by side, tucking the large green leaves into packs on their backs. Bon seemed excited about something, and when they were out of earshot of the other harvesters he turned to Marla. "I heard a group talking in the cafeteria yesterday," he whispered to her with a large smile. "It seems that we’ve finally been able to set up our own foundry in the hills, near the ore we discovered. We can make our own spare parts. We won’t need the Earthers to bring those to us any more."
Marla was happy for the researchers, but confused. "That’s wonderful, of course," she agreed while she plucked the green leaves. "However, we’ll still provide the Ystasis to the Earthers; they need it for their medical stores. Maybe they could give us something else in trade. What else might we need?"
Bon’s voice came without missing a beat. "That is not the point," he insisted. "The Earthers have always stalled us when we spoke of expansion. They would not bring us the parts we needed. What if we could now build another dome?" he suggested eagerly. "Our population has been stagnant for a while now, because our available space is filled. With another dome, you and I could finally move in together! Even..." he paused for a moment and looked at her fondly. "Maybe even start a family."
Marla stopped harvesting and returned his gaze. To have a family! She’d thought about it when she was younger, but it seemed unlikely with the colony being so full. If they had another dome, it could be possible - it would probably be encouraged! She smiled at Bon. "That would be lovely, Bon," she offered with tenderness. "Yes, I would like that a lot. Let us hope that we can build a new dome." Marla daydreamed in the next few weeks about what their larger apartment would be like. There would be a bedroom for her and Bon to share, and another for the kids. Maybe their window would overlook the fields, so she could watch the plants grow. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? She began to pay more attention to the discussions in the cafeteria, of the progress of the researchers and the negotiations with the Earthers.
She was more excited than usual when the Earthers came at harvest-end, when they sat down with the colony elders to discuss the events of the past six months. She heard through the grapevine that the Earthers were very impressed with the progress of the foundry and the ability of the colony to make its own parts. The Earthers called for a meeting with all colonists a few days later, and Marla was sure that this meant a new agreement had been worked out. They would get their second dome; she and Bon could finally start a family of their own!
The lead Earther stood before the packed crowd in the cafeteria and cleared his throat. The room immediately fell silent, all eyes turning forward. "I am Captain Souza," the man began. "You all are due a great thanks from the Earthers. Over the past two hundred years you have performed diligently on this planet, supplying us with much needed medical supplies. You have laid down the infrastructure of this world, developing the systems and maintaining the Dome until it is fully running. We are now ready for Earthers to take over, and for you to move on to another world."
There were murmurs of discontent from the crowd. "We put in all the work," muttered one disgruntled voice. "Why should the Earthers move in now that it´s easy?"
Another deep voice chimed in. "This is our home, why should we leave?"
Captain Souza frowned, obviously disconcerted by the disquiet around him. He raised a hand for silence and spoke out forcefully. "Initializing this settlement has always been your mission, your job," he reminded the group. "That’s why you were put here, to found the colony. The Ystasis crop was helpful of course; it was an added bonus this world provided. However, your main mission was to found the colony and to develop it into a biosphere for humans to populate, so that we could then do research and study on this planet." Marla could stay silent no longer. She had such plans, such dreams. "We cannot move! Baac is our home!" she cried out into the packed room.
Captain Souza turned his gaze on Marla. "BAAC is not the name of this colony," he corrected her in a clear voice, an eyebrow quirking up in confusion. "BAAC is the name of your construction. B. A. A. C. The letters stands for Bipedal Agricultural Android Chassis. It’s the type of robot you all are. You were built for terraforming duties on planets, to be able to repair yourselves and create environments. Your programming was always designed to prepare planets so humans could then move in…"
A silence descended on the room, and Captain Souza nodded at the apparent success of his logic. "In any case," he said genially, "we will have transport ships coming in two weeks to pick you up. Please be sure to get the systems organized so that the new human colonists are able to settle in smoothly. Also, gather up the items you need for your new planet. We’ll be moving you to Andori Prime, which is a world with more methane in its atmosphere. You can learn about it on your computer systems, to prepare for the voyage." He swept his arms out at his side. "Again, thank you for your achievements here, and we look forward to your progress in your new home!" The next two weeks were busy ones for Marla and Bon, full of preparations for moving and of quiet discussions of their future. The transition would be very traumatic, but they were sure, as were the rest of their fellow colonists, that their new home would be a perfect one for them. They had worked so well together in the past that they were sure they’d find a similar peace and happiness in their new residence.
Two weeks later, three transport ships descended to the landing pad. The crew disembarked wearily from their ships, walking slowly towards the airlocks. To their surprise, they found the airlocks unmanned, although operational. Their explorations of the dome found that it was equally deserted, all systems running in an automated manner.
The entire population had vanished.
Marla and Bon watched the ships depart, empty, from a nearby ridge. Already the Builders had nearly finished the preliminary new Dome some 200 miles away, in a remote area of the flatlands. Because the Baacers had no intention of Earthers entering this dome, it was built with no additional oxygen requirements, which made its design and maintenance quite easy. The dome could hold the existing village and allow ample room for expansion. The Farmers had tilled the nearby ground and prepared it for winter. Enough seed was in storage to fully plant it once spring rolled around again.
Marla turned to Bon with a smile, and touched her metal voice box to his in a gentle kiss.
"To our future."