Celham knew going outside the space
station alone was a bad idea. But with main power failing, he had no
choice but to spacewalk and replace the transfer coupling on the main
solar array. Celham shivered inside the EVA suit over the blind luck
that they had a spare coupling. Unfortunately, having the replacement
coupling was the easy part of the operation. Normally, such a repair
would have involved three spacewalkers, two people inside the station
controlling the power, and most of the planet-side ground control.
The only thing he knew for certain that Mia inside the station and
him were the only humans left alive.
The clouds around Brigham started to
clear weeks ago but the surface of the planet looked dead. It was
spring in the northern hemisphere but where there should have been a
healthy green showing forests and grasslands was instead brown,
black, and gray. Pretty much what you would expect after a protracted
nuclear war along with Walau supervolcano being triggered which
coated the entire planet in a death shroud.
Celham reached the panel housing the
transfer coupling and quickly removed the cover. “Well,” he said
to Mia over the radio, “Brigham civilization can claim at least one
achievement over Earth and the rest of human-settled space.”
Mia said nothing directed but did grunt
a barely audible response suggesting she was listening. “The
histories say the nations of Earth fought two nuclear wars back
before the Flourishing. But neither of those conflicts ever came
close to driving humanity extinct.” Celham continued as he
disconnected the cables running to the old coupling.
“It does seem to be the end for our
species on this planet,” Mia said surprising Celham. Two years had
passed since the Walau eruption and since then Mia didn't say much
beyond the most basic communications. Mia held citizenship in the
Southern League of City-States, a loose federation of old pirate
kingdoms and republics for whom neutrality in geopolitics was the
main pillar of their foreign policy. Located in the Ten-Thousand
Islands region of the southern hemisphere ocean, the League had
successfully avoided becoming entangled with any of Brigham's three
What had finally pushed the Southern
League of City-States into the global suicidal fire was the
triggering of the Walau supervolcano by the narcissistic little
bastard running that country. Walau always wanted to play in
Brigham's big leagues of geopolitical games but never could be taken
seriously. So as the recent world war raged, its Dear Leader became
offended that Walau wasn't being asked to join any of the three major
planetary alliances. Somehow Dear Leader got his hands on a
megaton-level nuclear device and detonated the device in
The supervolcano was overdue for an
eruption by several thousand Brigham-years and whether by design or
dumb psychotic luck the weapon set it off. Walau's Dear Leader and
the rest of that tiny nation was essentially vaporized in the space
of an hour. Mia's family lived in the city-state that had the
misfortune of bordering Walau. As the eruption continued for months
it threw up enough material into the atmosphere to cause a planetary
Civilization, already pushed beyond the
breaking point by the rest of the nuclear war, didn't stand a chance
as Brigham was encased in a death shroud of toxic dust and gas. The
only survivors were the twenty-four people living in the experimental
space station orbiting Brigham.
“Kill the power,” Celham said to
Mia over the radio.
“Power disengaged,” Mia replied,
“station now on batteries.”
Celham quickly pulled the old coupling
out of its slot and inserted the new one. Incredibly, reconnecting
the cables was easy and fast allowing Mia to bring the solar arrays
back online. By that time the station's orbit had taken it to the
nightside of Brigham bringing out the full radiance of the Milky Way.
For Celham, the galaxy seemed to be taunting him with its beauty and
When Celham was a child, his
grandfather had read the newly recovered histories to him of how
humans left Earth to live among the stars and eventually come to
settle their world. The recovered histories told of technologies like
unmanned seedships that crossed the stars, of humans being encoded
into computer memory, synthetic wombs, and massive machines that
turned Brigham into a copy of Earth. All applied sciences that
despite the tireless efforts of the best minds on Brigham was still
closer to magic than practical applications.
But the recovered histories did offer
numerous examples of technology that had accelerated the advancement
of Brigham civilization. Most of the scientific knowledge went to the
betterment of all humans, but like all technology, it had a darker
side that unscrupulous men and women began using to gain and hold
Celham was silent as he hung in space
wondering just where humanity's birth world might be located. The
unmanned seedship that settled the planet had arrived over
thirty-two hundred years earlier. The initial settlement had begun as
planned with Artificial Intelligence guiding robots to gather local
resources to build a safe outpost for the reconstituted human embryos
even then growing in synthetic wombs. A few years later, the seedship
AI then turned to introducing Earth plants and animals to the surface
Given the engineering and replication
technology available to the first humans on Brigham, it only took a
century for the planet to become a copy of Earth. Even when the
colony obtained a stable and healthy human population of
sixty-thousand, the leaders expanded the number of synthetic wombs
and continued to crank out thousands of babies, which like the first
colonists were raised by robotic caregivers.
At that time the decision to keep the
seedship wombs going was considered a no-brainer by the colony
leaders. But it would eventually produce a schism that brought down
the colonial government and cause a war that pushed the survivors
into a deep dark age. Much to the chagrin of every one of the modern
era who read the recovered histories, very little about the schism
was explained. Compounding the mystery of those times further,
nothing was ever mentioned about the fate of the seedship and the
technology it housed.
“Celham, Mia said over the radio
bringing him back to reality, “you need to get inside, the radio
signal from the surface has returned.”
They met in the crew mess hall located
in a section of the rotating torus. The artificial gravity supplied
by the rotating torus was about one-third of the surface of Brigham.
It was enough to prevent all the maladies associated with living in
micro-gravity like bone and muscle loss. For the crew of the space
station, it also allowed meals to be far more relaxing compared to
trying to eat in the free-fall sections.
Mia had pulled up a map of one of the
barren regions of the northern hemisphere on the wall monitor. Called
the Utah Expanse, the area had been divided up in the modern era by
the four nations that had existed before the war. Development had
never advanced much beyond the coasts due to the extreme weather.
“The transmission is a data signal
but it doesn't correspond with any scientific or military code,”
Mia said while sitting at the nearby table. “I've tried to hail
them with our communication array but we're either being ignored or
they're simply not receiving,” she further said frustrated.
“You want to go down to the surface,”
Celham said confirming what he already knew about what Mia wanted to do.
“The station is falling apart,” Mia
said, “sure the areogarden is still viable but everything else is
months away from failing. If we didn't have that transfer coupling
we'd be heading down to the surface now.”
Neither talked about the other option
the rest of the station crew pursued since the world had ended. As
the months rolled by each crew member had surrendered to the
hopelessness of a dead world. Only Celham and Mia had held on to any
hope of a future, even with Brigham dying before their eyes.
This mysterious signal had first
appeared as the clouds around Brigham started clearing. Mia and
Celham had narrowed down its location to a remote valley thousands of
Kilo-Steps from any known settlement. Mia had instantly wanted to use
one of the remaining escape pods to find the signal figuring someone
on the surface had survived.
Celham had talked her out of it saying
that the ultraviolet radiation hitting the surface was still too
strong and that the signal was probably from an automated military
source. The truth of the matter was that Celham wanted to do
something completely different.
The space station had originally been
conceived as a way station for the manned exploration of Brigham's
largest moon. As technology had progressed from the recovered
histories, new telescopes built on Brigham had detected an
artificial structure on the surface. A vast complex that looked like
an abandoned city. What really raised the curiosity of the nations
was that every twenty-years something from that location generated a
visible light and radio signal that appeared to be aimed at Brigham's
surface. It was an overwhelmingly accepted theory that the signal was
saying, “Here I am, come see me.”
Mere months before the start of the
world war the spacecraft that would take astronauts to the moon had
been completed. Called the mothership, it had a tiny craft attached
to its side that would be used to land on the moon.
“You can't go Celham.” Mia
exclaimed upon hearing of his plan to use the mothership. “We're
all that left, our only option is to return to the surface. The best
bet for other survivors is that signal coming from the Utah Expanse.”
The two had never become lovers during
their lonely exile in orbit. But neither Mia nor Celham could
conceive of going their separate ways. Celham was emotionally
distraught but since his childhood, he had dreamed of going to that
distant outpost and maybe, reconnecting with that lost past of the
colonial era and even discovering the fate of the rest of humanity.
Mia's secret desire was to be around
children again, no matter how improbable that might seem. With
conditions on the surface of Brigham improving every day, there was a
real chance that the signal they were receiving was from a community
Two weeks went by as both prepared for
their individual fates. Celham had to wait for the moon and space
station to be in the proper locations to launch the mothership and
Mia wanted to wait until he was gone. She cried to herself as Celham
pulled away from the station and fired the mothership's main engine.
With her path clear, Mia then boarded
the escape pod, programmed the landing coordinates into the guidance
system, and headed for the surface. Reentry was a nightmare all by
itself with upper-atmosphere turbulence seemingly trying to exact
revenge on one of the creatures that had so destroyed the world.
Several times Mia feared the escape pod would break apart before
reaching the surface. It didn't but the retros didn't fire properly
and when the escape pod hit the surface Mia suffered a skull fracture
and several broken bones even though she was wearing all the proper
Unable to move, Mia drifted in and out
of consciousness believing she would die before long. But at some
point, the hatch was opened and a strange-looking group of men pulled
her from the ruined craft. They didn't look quite right and spoke a
bizarre language that was nothing like she had ever heard.
They loaded her on a vehicle that
floated in the air. Pain medication hit Mia once she was onboard and
her vision cleared allowing her to get a good look at her rescuers.
The people surrounding her weren't really men, they seemed oddly
intermediate between male and female. Even stranger, their hands felt
like a combination of plastic and metal but moved with a steadiness
and speed that no person could ever hope to emulate. Before she
passed out, the thought occurred to Mia about a word mentioned in the
recovered histories, a reference to mechanical beings called robots.
When Mia returned to consciousness she
found herself laying in what had to be an incredibly advanced
hospital bed. Mere seconds after opening her eyes, one of the robots
appeared beside her bed.
“How do you feel?” it asked in her
own native language. “Your injuries were extensive but we managed
to repair everything.”
“Where am I,” was all Mia could say
to the thing in front of her.
“You are in the main complex of the
reestablished Colony-One Base. With your global war drawing down the
Group Leader AI decided it was time to reemerge and recommence the
Designers primary mission.” The robot said in a soothing voice that
actually seemed musical.
“What mission are you talking about?”
Mia asked feeling lost despite the obvious implications.
“The establishment of a successful
human civilization on this planet.” The robot said in a tone that
betrayed a bit of frustration. “The main settlement dome was
completed mere months after the effective end of the war while the
reconstituted embryos entered the artificial wombs the following
week. That first batch of children are now over two-years-old.
Despite the protests of her robotic
caregiver, Mia was taken to the nursery a few hours later. The
children had never seen a human adult and were fearful when Mia was
wheeled into their area. But it didn't take them long to rush into
her lap and feel the warmth of her love.
Celham piloted the mothership into
lunar orbit ten days after leaving the station. A day later, he
boarded the landing craft for the trip down to the airless surface.
Despite it all, he successfully landed the craft just outside the
perimeter of the mysterious, ancient complex. Certain he was about to
fulfill his destiny he climbed down the small ladder on the side of
his craft and stepped onto the surface of another world.
Celham had difficulty walking on the
lunar surface since the gravity was even less than that of the space
station. But he slowly made his way to the nearest building and what
looked like a door. The buildings were pitted with micro-meteorite
impacts but all seemed structurally sound. What bothered Celham
though was that while the windows of every building he could see were
also intact, they were totally dark. Suggesting his lifespan would
only be as long as his air supply lasted.
Stepping in front of a window, Celham
leaned over trying to see inside despite the interference of the
glass of his helmet and whatever clear material made up the ancient
porthole. It was difficult to be sure, but there seemed to be a human
skeleton slumped over some sort of control panel.
“Well, I guess the right choice would
have been to go with Mia,” Celham said to himself, the dead person
inside the complex, and the uncaring universe. With nothing left to
lose, Celham walked over to what had to be an airlock door and began
hitting what was obviously the controls beside it. Much to his
surprise, after hitting the first button, the light in the nearest
window came on and the airlock door began to open.
Having come so far, he stepped inside
to see where his destiny would next take him.
1.)This story takes place in the same
universe of several others I have written before. One day I'll link
all of them together. More importantly, I'll correct all the various
mistakes in canon and organize a better timeline.
2.)The first mention of the concept of
seedships for came from a Arthur C. Clark novel called Songs of a
Distant Earth. Unmanned seedships get around the near
impossibility of building functional starships that could travel
between the stars and establish human colonies on planets in other
star systems. Strictly speaking seedships have no life support
systems and either carry frozen embryos or human DNA recorded in
computer memory. Upon arrival at the destination, the embryos would
be thawed, or in the case of the encoded DNA, reconstructed and grown
in artificial wombs.
3.)At first I was going to have the
seedship that colonized the planet Brigham be sponsored by the Mormon
Church. In that Arthur C. Clarke novel I mentioned, he had several
religions and even cultures send out such seedships in hopes of
preserving their beliefs or way of life.