Part 1 Earth Was Tired
Earth’s Council of Environmental Sciences was meeting in a large amphitheater 200 feet below the surface of Lake Geneva. None of the attendees wanted to be there. Word of the meeting had been passed to all of the population centers on Earth, and only 52 people were able to travel safely to the site. The remainder of the attendees were forced to participate through electronic means. Earth was tired. She had endured many eons of neglect, ambivalence and in some cases attacks. Her climate had changed a great deal. It was true, throughout Earth’s life the climate had many swings, but those natural swings turned to violent ones that initially matched, then created new extremes. The purpose of the meeting was to review and accept a horrible hypothesis. The downward spiral of the deteriorating climate was well beyond the tipping point, and it would continue to a point where human life was not sustainable.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to welcome all of you and those of you that are participating through video feeds. If my information is correct, we have personnel participating from our centers beneath many of the capital cities as well as our six underwater habitats in each of the major oceans. Unfortunately, we have intermittent contact with a couple of the underground cities so their participation might be limited.”
“As you were told through the meeting invitation, we have come to the point where we have to make a decision. Many of you have already spent time supporting the different committees looking into atmospheric trends, results of the population displacement study, the committee on infectious disease control and lastly the committee coordinating the spaceship development. So, when I make the statement that the conclusion of all of our studies is that Earth has become hostile to the human race, none of you will be shocked. That is why we are here today. We must take the results from all of our studies and make one final decision for the future of our race. Over the last century, our population has decreased in a precipitous manner. If any action is taken, it must be done immediately if a viable amount of us will be able to leave and find another home.”
“Based on the results of all of these studies we must acknowledge the one lasting fact, which is our planet is no longer able to sustain life. I wish that we could have met face-to-face, but travel conditions are so difficult that wouldn’t be wise. Because of that, I want to hear from any of you that disagree with the conclusion of our studies. But let me warn you if you do disagree, disagreement won’t be enough. Our situation is so dire, you must present an alternate plan.”
The room and electronic connections were quiet. Those members in the room looked at each other, shook their heads in a reluctant agreement or just sat in their seats looking at their hands folded in front of them. The members sharing the electronic connection were just as quiet. After the pause had become uncomfortable, the speaker continued.
“I hear no disagreement. I declare that we must leave Earth and find a suitable planet. I also declare that all production facilities and remaining resources be used to build the large fleet of spaceships that have been described by the transportation committee. If there are no other comments, this meeting is over and may good fortune and pray that God smiles on all of us.”
The many creatures that lived on her surface and in the depths of her oceans did the best they could to adapt during the later years. Many became extinct because they couldn’t adapt as fast as the climate was changing. Those that adapted, only found new and greater challenges and most of them finally lost the battle.
During Earth’s later days, one of the few remaining creatures was the one that did the most damage; mankind. Mankind’s impact was debated early, but it soon became a minor issue. The changes were so profound and so disastrous for the mix of species, ultimately who caused it wasn’t as important as what was necessary to survive.
Aside from the degrading weather, the viral and bacterial world was reacting in the same way as the humans. The struggle to survive occurred at all levels and in many cases the enemy was perceived as the humans. Plagues and pandemics became common place for those remaining on the surface and even those who sought refuge underground and underwater were beginning to feel the onslaught.
A sad day occurred when mankind realized that the conditions on Earth were caught in a downward spiral. The living conditions had driven some of them underground and into aquatic cities under the water. Those who couldn’t afford to move and remained on the surface were perishing in huge numbers.
It was learning that the end was coming, and there was nothing that could be done to reverse the trend, that forced a decision to be made to leave the Earth. It wasn’t a decision based on the optimism of looking for a new home but on the pessimism of having to leave to survive.
As soon as the decision to leave was announced, society began fragmenting. It broke into three groups. Those who didn’t want to leave along with many who suspected they wouldn’t be selected, those who wanted to leave and hoped they would be selected and those who expected to be selected. Unfortunately, society continued the segmentation and stratification as the groups became suspicious of each other, the barriers between them became larger and more difficult to cross.
Mankind was fortunate as their technology had progressed to the point where they had some options. That was the good news, the bad news was, in such a long time of research, they hadn’t found any suitable planets within a reasonable distance. Faster than light travel was still theoretical and only in the dreams of the scientists. They knew any travel to a suitable planet would be long and hazardous, but the trip had to be attempted. If only a portion of those leaving Earth survived to land on a suitable planet, then there was the chance the human race would survive.
In spite of the deteriorating conditions on the planet, they were able to build enough ships capable of interstellar flight to carry a significant portion of Earth’s remaining population. The good news was they had the ships, and the bad news was there weren’t enough.
Earth had deteriorated to the extent that living on the surface was almost impossible. A large percentage of the Earth’s population was lost over the years while the ships were built.
The only fair method to determine who was going to leave was through a series of lotteries. During the lottery process, percentages of key disciplines were segregated apart from the general population so any long duration flight would have the right skills to support survival during the trip and upon reaching their new home. After the lottery had decided who went and who stayed, the stratification of the population became complete. Those not going rioted and those that were going built the barriers higher.
When conditions got to the point where they were ready for departure, there was no announcement, there were no parades, there were no departing speeches. The first of the ships loaded and they looked more like a group of survivors abandoning ship than the last of the human race leaving their home planet. The departures continued as the ships were loaded and left orbit.
The effort to load so many ships caused the departure to occur in waves. They were called clusters and over the months many clusters were loaded and sent on their way.
Cluster Admiral Ronda P. Hartsfield stood next to the last shuttle to leave the Kansas City Underground Launch Facility. She didn’t like what was happening in front of her. The last of the refugees from Kansas City were boarding her shuttle. They stood in lines, and each of them looked like they had lost a long battle. There was no jubilance, there was no laughing or joking. They just moved forward when their time came to board one of the last shuttles to leave Earth.
125 Feet above them, the wind was blowing at 125 MPH and the ambient temperature was 115 Degrees. Not bad for 1 AM in January. The last of the die-hard survivors that decided to stay on the surface hadn’t been heard from in over a month. Everyone thought they had lost the battle and were gone.
“Mr. President, these people look beat. They are the last of the people from underground shelter 44C. Once they’re onboard, we’ll be able to leave.”
“Admiral, this is a horrible day in Earth’s history. I wish that things weren’t so bad, but we have no other options. How are the other shuttle launches going?”
“There are still a handful launching from different cities around Earth. I think there is only about a dozen left that need to meet up with the transports in orbit. The transports are waiting for us, and when we join up, we’ll depart. All of the other ships have left orbit and following the planned flight path to our destination.”
“I wish we knew where we were going. Launching off like this and just heading in a direction scares the hell out of me.”
“I know, Mr. President. But we have little choice. We can’t stay here because of many reasons. Our only chance of survival is to leave. Our destination was picked based on the highest concentration of Earth-like planets in the region. No one wanted to spend all of our resources and go to a system where there MIGHT be one planet, because if we were wrong for some reason, then we’re all dead. We have to follow the odds and go where we should have the most options.”
“That all sounds great, but over a three hundred years on these ships? You and I will both be long dead, our children will be dead, our grandchildren may be dead, and we’ll be on our third or fourth generation before we get there. None of that sounds very encouraging to me.”
“Sir, I know that. But we have no choice. We can’t continue to live underground and underwater. We will die slowly, but we will die.”
“Ma’am, the last of the people, are on board,” said the loading master as the last of the tired people entered the shuttle.
“Thanks. Sir, it’s our turn,” the Admiral said as she indicated for the President to board the craft so they could launch.
Leaving the Earth
Admiral Hartsfield walked onto the bridge of the US5323, or commonly called KC 42, which was the craft’s call sign. As she looked around the command room, all eyes were upon her. The Command Bridge performed a two-fold function. It was the Command Center for KC-42, but it was also the Coordination Center for that cluster. Because of the many functions that needed support the center had two levels and Admiral Hartsfield's Command Station was positioned between decks so she could see each of the stations and their holographic representation of their system’s status..Each of the crewmembers manning their stations for the huge ship knew the significance of what was happening. They were all scared and desperate, or else they wouldn’t have been there. The Admiral took her time and walked to each of the stations and spoke to her crew. Some of them were near breaking down, and they were all under tremendous pressure.
US5323 was a huge ship. It was typical of her class and represented the best of Earth’s technology and, unfortunately, the last of it. Earth used the last of her resources, the last of the skilled people and the last of the time available to build. There was nothing left, but to leave. Admiral Hartsfield didn’t pay attention to how many ships there were, to her it didn’t matter. She was responsible for her cluster of ships, and there were many other Admirals in charge of their small portions of the fleet. There was a person responsible for the entire fleet of Earth ships, but he had left five months ago and was in no position to help them or direct them. All of the ships were going to one point in space, and the string was strung out over many parsecs. It would take 25 years for them to accelerate to full speed and the overall plan was simple enough. They were so stretched out, there was very little that they could do to help each other, so the fleet traveled in clusters. Each of them varied in size, but they had the transport ships with the people onboard, there were also livestock ships, repair ships and storage ships.
Admiral Hartsfield and the other ships preparing to leave orbit were the last cluster to leave Earth. The first of the cluster left over two hours ago and. KC 42 would be the last one to leave orbit and the last one to see Earth.
Admiral Hartsfield knew that one of her challenges was keeping her crew together and to get the departure done in a safe manner. It was difficult for her not to look at the view screens as everyone else on the bridge was doing. They were recording in their memories what Earth looked like and likely they would pass those memories on to their children and grandchildren one day. But today it was hard for them to keep their emotions in check. Some of them were crying, and the Admiral let it happen as long as they were doing their job, and their emotions didn’t interfere.
Even the Admiral was susceptible to the emotions generated by leaving Earth. She fought the urge, but just before departure, she had to take a moment and look at the view screens. She knew that what she saw wasn’t the best of Earth. She had seen images, growing up, that showed the snowcapped mountains, the azure seas, and the blue skies. She knew that what she was looking at wasn’t how it was it was supposed to be, it was how it had become. Earth looked angry, there were massive storms that covered most of the surface. The sky had a definite yellow tinge to it and what little she could see of the seas showed a surface that was turbulent with a definite light shade of green. It wasn’t the image that she had grown up with, but it was the image that she had become familiar with. Regardless Earth was their home and leaving it was painful. The last pictures in their minds were of a beautiful planet that was mistreated and was lashing out at those who treated her badly.
“Are we ready to leave orbit?” came out of a point deep in the Admiral’s throat.
“Yes ma’am,” was the emotional reply of the ship’s captain.
“Then, let’s go,” was all she had the strength to say before they left the orbit of Earth for the last time.
125 Years From Earth
“Mrs. Tierney, why did our ancestors treat Earth so badly?” asked Todd, who was sitting in the front row of the 3rd Grade Class of the George Washington Primary School, 27th Deck, KC 42.
“Todd, they made many mistakes which lead to the end. There were decades of growth and over using the resources. Everyone thought that Earth’s resources were unlimited, but they weren’t. By the time they saw how the damage was changing the planet, it was almost too late to do anything. For a long time they ignored the problems, then they talked around them, then they blamed others. Finally, it was clear that the climate had gone too far, and it was going in a bad direction for everyone. It’s not that they treated the Earth badly, it’s just that they focused on their needs first and assumed everything else would be ok, but it wasn’t and they learned that lesson too late.”
Just as she was finishing the lesson another hand went up in the rear of the class, “Mrs. Tierney why do we study Earth? All we’ve seen are pictures. It doesn’t seem important to us anymore. We live on this ship, and our parents and grandparents lived on this ship.”
“To know where we are going, we must know where we came from. We are living here now. We have 824 clusters of ships making this journey and yes we still have many years before we reach our destination. The only way we can concentrate on what’s in front of us is to remember the sacrifice that everyone is making. The first of the clusters are a full light year ahead of us, and they are going through space that no human has ever seen before. We are following them because we all want to get to our new home. We all must do our part so that all of those who are on this journey will have a chance for a future. That is our destiny, to enjoy what we have so that others will have their enjoyment also. Earth is all that we had, and because we were terrestrial animals, I think that it is important to remember where our beginnings were.”
“Ok, this is the end of this segment of school today. You can leave and go to the exercise area,” Mrs. Tierney said.
Before she finished the sentence, the children were moving in a swarm towards the door, and she laughed, knowing they likely didn’t hear anything after ‘end.' Now that her half day was over she would finish the day off by transmitting her 3D lesson to another ship in the cluster.
She like teaching that way, it was the best way for children to get instruction from multiple teachers and also the teachers in the cluster could change topics and work with different children. Physical movement between ships in the cluster occurred rarely, there was too much risk, and it was done only in critical situations.
“Willy, hand me that sponge…, will ya?” asked Kinkaid Robinson, or Kink as his friends called him.
Willy threw it down the crawl space then went back to his duty of cleaning the interior of the return air system for KC42.
“Boy, is it me or is this shit getting harder to wipe off? I don’t remember it getting this thick before,” pointed out Kink.
“Just shut up and finish up, I’ve got to meet some of the guys in the section room, and I don’t want to be late.”
Kink bore down and continued to wipe the sticky slime off of the walls of the return air system. For some reason it seemed to change over time, it never was that slimy before. He wanted to spend some time in the section room also, before heading back to the small set of rooms that he shared with his wife and their two allocated children.
“Captain Williamsport, we’re getting the weekly status message passed down from the clusters, do you want to hear it now?” asked the communications tech who was on duty at the time.
The bridge of KC42 was lightly manned. All they had to do was monitor the key systems and on occasion communicate with others in their cluster. It wasn’t a ship in the sense that they had control over where they were going, it was a huge human island moving through space at .6 Light Speed. They monitored the key systems and then changed shifts, then the next crew would monitor the key systems. It went on like that day after day.
A couple times a week, there would be some important communications between the ships in the cluster, but generally, it was just a transmission between two ships in the void wanting to confirm that someone else was out there. On rarer occasions or, at least, weekly, there were messages that came down from the lead clusters, and they were passed between each of the clusters in sequence until they finally reached the last cluster, the one that KC42 was in. This was one of those occasions.
“Yes, go ahead and put it on the speaker,” replied Jonas Paul, the current captain of KC42.
“Attention all Earth Vehicles. This is Earth 1 transmitting our weekly status update. We have traveled 61.19606 light years from Earth, and we calculate that we have 117.3309 light years remaining in our journey. We are encouraged that we’ve able to maintain a velocity slightly above the .6 Light Speed that we planned the trip on. Up to this point, we’ve been able to accelerate to .611961 Light Speed. Let us hope the higher velocity continues. We have a couple of announcements. The first one saddens us all, Christin P. Hershel, who was the last passenger that was born on Earth passed away in her sleep two solar days ago. We will remember her and all of the recordings of her interviews will be passed from ship to ship until we all have them available. Her passing reminds us of Louis Daniels, who we all remember as the last adult with any memories of Earth and his sad passing almost 10 solar years ago. All of his records are recorded in the ship’s log and have been shared among all ships. I’m also saddened to pass on that some of our ships have been experiencing significant technical difficulties. In most cases we’ve able to work within the clusters to fix the broken systems, but in some cases we’re running low on some of the key materials. We pray that this rate of failure won’t continue. I’m also concerned about another development. There have been some isolated outbreaks of unusual illnesses in some of the clusters. I don’t think there is any cause for concern at this point, but we do ask you to work within the clusters to monitor everyone’s health and pass forward anything that is significant. I also want to remind the cluster leaders to pass forward any key information that should be shared among the entire fleet. I’m sorry that passing information forward to the lead vehicles takes so much longer than when we pass a message back but, unfortunately, we’re constrained by the speed of light and messages going forward take more than twice the time a message going backward does. Please remember we are in this together and through that cooperation we’ll make it to our new home.”
250 Years from Earth
Admiral Joyce Herbold sat in the command chair and looked around the bridge of her ship. Only about half of the stations were manned and only a few minutes from the watch change when her exec officer would relieve her for the night watch. It was quiet time, one to reflect on her life, where they were, where they were going and their chances of success.
The wall behind her showed holographic pictures of the previous Admirals of their cluster as well as pictures of the Captains for KC42. On the left was the picture of the first, her name was Rhonda Hartsfield. As Joyce looked at her eyes, she wondered if the first people leaving Earth had any idea how difficult the journey to their new home would be. It wasn’t a simple issue of just jumping on a spaceship and going to the new planet, it was perhaps the greatest challenge in the history of the human race.
In actuality, the trip was turning horrendous. The consensus was that they had bitten off more than they could chew as the old saying went. The challenges of putting a planet bound creature into a huge ship were not fully understood, and Admiral Herbold and the others making the journey were the people paying for that miscalculation.
The problems impacting the human race fell into three categories. The mechanical failures, the human impacts and the unknowns.
The mechanical challenges were much larger than just repairing and replacing worn out parts. The mechanical failure rates turned, and the use of consumables was much higher than projected. The only solution was rationing the repairs and supplies. Some of the consumables were replaced with others, but the overall mechanical reliability of the fleet was decreasing rapidly.
The second impact on the humans was personal. Men and women weren’t made to spend their entire life on a ship. They were made to breath real air, drink real water and to eat real food. The population was still holding together but the illness rate, both physical and emotional, was bringing the entire population’s outlook to a dismal level. Regardless of the upbeat messages of getting closer to their destination, the overall enthusiasm they had upon launch 250 years, was gone. There were rumors that a couple of the ship in other clusters, had some incidents. The only clarification they got, was that the loss of human life was minimal.
The last problem was perhaps the worst and potentially disastrous. The ships were designed for human occupants, but they were also ideally suited for the viral and bacterial occupants. Not on purpose but where the humans go the virus’ and bacterium also go. If a mad scientist put a bunch of living creatures in a glass jar and watched to see who would survive, that would be like what the clusters were dealing with.
Within the first 150 years after departure, the problems began to surface. People were getting sick with new virus’. In the closed environment of the ships and the relatively stable viral gene pool, the world was perfect from the perspective of the microbiological world. It allowed the virus a new method of mutation. Instead of multiple variations in their mutations, they became focused and some of the common virus’ that man had developed immunity to, changed and found new weapons with which to attack.
The bacterium world was even worse. The closed environments of the ships turned into an ideal breeding ground. Each generation of bacteria grew more accustomed to the ship and developed new mechanisms to produce and take over their world. Unfortunately ‘their bacterial world’ was shared by the humans on the ships. Even if the bacteria wasn’t harmful to the human occupants of the ship they could become harmful to the ship. In the instances where the bacteria were harmful to the humans, the bacteria often won the battle. Many ships had to be abandoned because of the bacteria that had grown beyond man’s ability to battle.
The bacteria took many paths depending on the ships environments. Not all ships had the same battles. It was almost as if different bacteria developed in different ships. If one ship was unfortunate to have the wrong bacteria to evolve, then its end was almost imminent.
The mechanical issues of the fleet were almost manageable, but the viral and bacterial issues were the real threat to the human cargo. Because of that threat travel between ships within a cluster was forbidden. The risk of passing a pathogen or bacteria was too great. Each ship would fight the battle alone, and the outcome was theirs to bear.
Some of the ships seemed to bear the battles better than others. Those that kept the ship spotlessly clean from day one generally were better off. Any of the ships that didn’t clean everything, all the time, eventually succumbed to the microscopic attacks.
KC42 was one of the lucky ones. They had conducted extensive cleaning early in the trip, and that was likely why they were in pretty good shape in the later phases. That isn’t to say they had no problems, but at least, the growths in the air ducts were acceptable and not harmful to the human occupants. Cleaning the ducts and filters was now the number one job on the ships and crews were doing it 24 hours a day as the battle continued.
Admiral Herbold looked in Admiral Hartsfield’s eyes and wondered if she would have made the trip if they knew what the challenges were going to be.
“Admiral, we’re receiving our weekly update from Earth 1, should I patch it into your comm?” asked the communications officer.
“Yes,” was the Admiral’s cryptic reply. Much of the news coming down from the other clusters had become bad news. They were all battling for survival, and the Admiral felt that she needed to hear it first, before passing on segments. Over the years, the tone of the message had changed from optimism and good news, through the cautionary news, to news that showed how the fleet was deteriorating. Recently the news was how it was fighting a battle to still be intact when they reached the new planet.
The Admiral waited for a moment for the message to start and she looked around the bridge. The walls were covered with images of Earth, they showed beautiful pictures of what she might have been for many years before their departure. To some, the images were all that kept them together, to others they were horrific reminders of a world they would never see and they hated them.
“Earth Fleet this is Earth 1 with our weekly update. We are now 40.83586 light years from our destination, and we are on schedule to begin the slowdown in 49.4 years. I have some good news, we are close enough to get images and more information about or primary target. We knew that there was a large number of planets in the sector we’re approaching that might provide a suitable home for us. We have looked at a number of them and were lucky there are a large number of candidates. We have narrowed the search to the one with the greatest chance for us, and I’m excited to announce that the early information that we’re getting show our choice to be perfect for us. From now on we’ll begin to transmit pictures and information back through the clusters to all of you. You’ll be able to start getting to know our new home.”
“Now for our fleet status…” From that point on Admiral Herbold almost didn’t want to listen. They had lost more ships to various bacterial battles and mechanical issues. That was the information that the Admiral wouldn’t pass on. Each ship lost wasn’t just one less ship, but they represented the loss of thousands of lives. The fleet was in a survival mode, and everyone hoped that enough of them survived to land on their new home.
Slow Down-25 Years from Horizon
299.4 Years from Earth
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,…Initiate the slowdown,” was a simple phrase that Admiral Timothy Beardly transmitted. It may have been a simple phrase, but it initiated the slowing of all of the craft in their cluster. Their cluster being the last cluster of ships that constituted the remnants of the human race in their odyssey from a dying Earth to a new home that had been named Horizon.
The clusters left Earth with 543 ships and 503,232 people on board those ships. The journey was difficult, and when they eventually reached the slow-down point, there was only 412 ships left and 401,826 people on those ships.
They had traveled 178.527 light years from Earth and had 10.605 left on their journey. The next 25 years would be a gradual slowdown from .611961 light speed to a speed which they could enter orbit around their new home.
The bacterial battle was raging on. At least, they had found some techniques that seemed to buy them time. Most of the supply follow ships were almost empty, all of the supplies and repair parts onboard were almost gone. With some planning, a portion of the occupants of a nearby transport could be moved to the near empty supply ship, and their portion of the transport vehicle was evacuated to free space. Then the cleaning crews could go through it and conduct a very thorough cleaning. Once done, the section would be re-pressurized, and the occupants returned. It was a challenge, and there was risk involved but, at least, it gave them a periodic advantage over the bacteria.
As they got closer and ships were either too infected with bacteria or emptied, they would be put on a path to lead them past Horizon and enter into death spiral into Horizon’s sun. They wanted to reduce, as much as possible, any chance of carrying the bacteria to the surface.
Arrival at Horizon
The tension on board KC42 was building each day. Images of Horizon were available real time and being transmitted to every part of the ship and cluster. Each day of the last year of deceleration was a day of celebration. The instruments were telling the story of the new home of the human race. Progressively the images were getting clearer and larger as they approached the orbit insertion point.
News from the previous ships that arrived was excellent. One by one as they entered orbit, they used their aged shuttles to ferry the important human cargo to the surface. They emptied the storage containers and began to build a new home. The climate was suitable, the soil was fertile, the water and air were clean. The population grew with each new ship, and the new world had begun.
Admiral Beardly stood on the bridge watching the transmissions from the surface and monitoring the data from his ship as it approached the engine firing point where the last of their velocity would be removed, and the huge ship would settle into a stable orbit around Horizon. Beardly felt humbled, thinking about the many lives lost, the challenge that his ancestors had begun so long ago and the fact that he was fortunate to be one of the survivors of the greatest migration in human history.
All of the view screens on the bridge showed the beauty of Horizon and the bridge crew was excited and almost giddy in performing their duties. The ship’s computers were programmed to perform the final burn automatically, but there was something about the act that forced Admiral Beardly to use a command to initiate the final act of orbital entry. There was something human about saying the words after such a long trip that would put the final event under human control not the control of the computer.
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, …Initiate the burn,”
“Aye, aye Admiral.”
There were no humans left on Earth. It still sustained life, a life that struggled to survive. Life survived on the surface, beneath the soil, water, and in the air. It was a challenge, but it was a challenge that life had passed through before.
There was another activity. An activity that mankind abandoned and assumed was of little value.
Left to heal, Earth began to change. The microbial world was processing much of the pollution. The trees began processing the air, and other activities continued to survive, then change then improve.