Aloft in a Starship

Aloft in a starship, Lord Mendelin sat, and pondered. But it was not the fate of men on earth—it was the human race, fleeing from it, that he was concerned with. A species that destroyed its home to the point where it became unihabitable—a choked planet of smoke, fire, and ash, but not entirely dry for all of the decaying organic material, mixing with the chemicals of man, had spawned hideous, slow moving fogs that were often deadly.

He, of course, only knew this through story.

It had been 4,000 years since. But the memories were fresh—well preserved by the technology that kept them going, the technology that had so far, outmatched death. Preserved and easily accessible to any of the three million or so human souls they new for sure existed in the entire universe. They had seen the destruction. They had seen the terrible panicked years that grew increasingly short as resources ran out, the bombs that had wiped out half-continents. The people dying of cancer. The death in the streets. The mutants.

But far worse than this, they had seen the 100 or so years that preceded this period—time in which something could have been done. Easily. They learned a history in which they saw their own species utterly fail, brought down by a system of money, power, and greed that somehow won out, time and again. It was utterly embarrassing. And humbling.

And by doing something that stupid, the race had forced itself to evolve.

No more distrusting science. No more doubt in technology. They were now the only way to save the human race. They needed every person working at full capacity to survive. And time—every second—was precious.

You see, he thought, space is always after you.

“On the way out of earth we struggled, like a fish, flopping on the water’s surface, but unable to launch himself into to the next world—a world he cannot comprehend. We lurched from planet to planet, draining each of its resources, and then moving on to the next. But always it was careful. Always it was measured. We knew how much time we had, calculating it to the final hour. In fact, one time, that was all we had,” Mendelin paused.

Every face was on him as he motioned to the Vision Field.

“It was on Alpha Centauri—a useful planet, but one that could never support long-term human habitation, as we found out.

“The chief thing we were able to do on AC1 was to collect organic materials to use in space farms—in this way, we were able to grow crops, and even some meat; chicken and fish. The space farms were much like they are today, but these were much smaller: tiny, self-contained globes that were held in a gentle orbit by our anchor ship, long flexible tubes attached to hold them and deliver the proper mix of oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon—some injected through the atmosphere, some through direct fertilization.

“To supply the farms was an exhausting process, but it was paying off. For fifty years we grew our population, extracted potent minerals used in batteries and advanced sensory consciousness systems, built new ships—even those with offensive capabilities (for who knew, he mumbled quietly). We had stocked everything up to last for another 300 years just floating in space.

“But there was one problem. We didn’t have any fuel. Our ability to collect solar power was limited—and to store it was another problem. But the crux of the matter was that we didn’t have combustible fuels. Living in space for 100 years after destroying our planet through combustible fuels, we had still not learned a better method of propulsion.

“Yes, we had nuclear reactors—but still, we didn’t have any fuel. In the last planetary orbit between Mars and Jupiter, we’d found ample plutonium and uranium—seemingly enough to last indefinitely—but the trip to AC1 had exhausted it almost entirely, so that we only used small amounts to power the ships and the extraction process. We’d explored the planet thoroughly: mined, filtered, scanned—but still no radioactive material. And no carbon based fuels either.

“I said that we’d come to discover the planet inhospitable, and that was true. The temperature swings and the atmosphere were deadly to any form of earth-based life, except for certain strains of bacteria. These we used in our extraction processes, though the hope was, at one time, to use them to terraform the planet—to make it earthlike. But it was not to be, and it was then determined that the colony had to leave the planet and preparations were made.

“Well, we’d been there so long that some people didn’t want to go. Let’s just stay in our orbit, they argued. We can continue to eat off of our space farms. This is our home.

“What they wouldn’t admit to themselves was that the planet’s resources were not limitless. Yes we were capable of renewing and reusing many of our own resources—but in the process of recycling one can never preserve one hundred percent of the original materials, and even then, recycling requires energy. And in the process of extracting materials for our survival, the planet was slowly caving in on itself…

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About The Author: Jay Scott

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