Monday, October 12, 2009

Ark Ship - Part Four

President Gibson sat by the fireplace in the residence wing of the White House sipping a scotch on the rocks. When Liaison Markey had delivered the news of the ark ship's arrival, Gibson hadn't immediately understood what Markey was talking about. It took a few minutes for Markey to jog his memory of the ark ship mission, and only then did Gibson really understand the importance of what Markey was telling him. Even Secretary Thacker was suitably impressed, had finally stopped reciting statistics about Russian military maneuvers, and began asking questions about the ark ship mission. The President had summoned his press secretary, and they'd hammered out a quick statement to be distributed to the news media. It carried the appropriate tone to convey the gravity of the moment, but Gibson knew the media wouldn't spend too much time on it.

Markey had mentioned that he had gotten the news from the Ark Ship Project, and mentioned a Communicator named Sutton. Gibson decided that he wanted to speak to Sutton. He checked the time. 21:00 hours, which meant in Houston it would be 20:00 hours. Not too late to call.

The Ark Ship Project office was abuzz with activity. Communicator Sutton and his team were still analyzing the colony ship's data and helping the colonists plan next steps. Sutton's phone rang. “Please hold for the President.” A second later, a familiar voice was on the other end of the line.

“Communicator Sutton. This is President Gibson.”

“Mr. President. It's an honor, sir.”

“I heard the good news about the ark ship.”

“Yes, sir. All appears to be going well. We're analyzing the data that the colonists are sending back, and we're pretty confident that they're going to make it.”

“Excellent news.” The President paused, and a slightly awkward silence developed.

“Mr. President?” George was afraid he'd been cut off.

“I was just thinking, Sutton. This is an Apollo moment. The whole planet should be tuned in.”

“I know, sir.”

Another pause.

“Well, keep up the good work. America salutes its heroes.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The line was disconnected.

The colonists gathered the next morning for their first dawn. It was a slow sunrise, with waves of brilliant color radiating outward from a point on the horizon that got subtly brighter until the red fireball of the sun pierced the horizon and began to draw sharp lines of light and shadow on the distant mountains and the landing site.

Mike and Susan had breakfast together, as they often did on the ship. Mike pointed at the distant mountains.

“I'd like to try climbing those someday. Looks like a pretty incredible view from the top.”

Susan grinned. “Once we get everything settled here, you're welcome to.”

“Any word from Earth?”

“Nothing since last night. I sent a message yesterday detailing the sort of “time zone” differential here, so I don't expect them to try to contact us until a little bit later this morning.”

“What's the plan for today?”

“The plan is to get all of the teams together and map out a plan to establish a crop cycle here. We also need to start constructing some more permanent facilities for storing the food and provisions that we brought down from the ship.”

“Where do you need me?”

“I've assigned you to the greenhouse construction team. We've got our first construction shuttle coming down from the ship today with building materials. A greenhouse will allow us to jump start the crop cycle using the plants and seeds we've already brought down from the ship.”

Susan heard the quantum computer beeping and went to check it. The message from Earth was simple: “Good morning! How did you sleep?”

Susan grinned and typed back, “Slept fine. Beautiful sunrise.” Susan had developed an affection for Communicator Sutton, whose reassuring messages had helped her manage the incredible stress of the task before the colonists. Despite her reservations, and the odd sense of disconnection that nagged at her, she was glad that after all of this time, Earth, and especially America, hadn't forgotten about them. It would have been a real problem for morale if they'd gotten this far only to find that something radical had changed on Earth and they were out here on their own.

“What are your plans for today?”

“Today the real work begins. The colonists who stayed on the ship are beginning work on dismantling it and bringing it down in cargo shuttles. We're scouting the area for other food sources or potential hidden dangers.”

“How are you feeling?”

Susan grinned and typed back, “Feeling good. Stress level is high, but it will be until we get established.”

“Understandable. I'm sending you our analysis of the soil and atmospheric data you sent us. Should be helpful.”


Susan thought for a second, and then typed back, “Tell me you're not the only one watching us back there.”

Sutton's reply came after a brief pause. “Assure yourself that America is proud of you, and that you're not alone.”

President Gibson was watching a recorded broadcast from the launch ceremony of the ark ship. History recorded that nearly everyone on the planet had tuned in, that it had been, as Gibson liked to say, an Apollo moment. He watched as then-President Jill Blancheford got up to make her speech.

“My fellow Americans, and those watching around the world. This is indeed an historic day. A century ago, our nation stood on the moon. It was a giant leap for humankind, and our footprint on the moon remains. Since then, we've flung probes into the farthest reaches of the galaxy, which have sent back amazing photos of what's out there, beyond the cosmic borders of our imagination. We've put rovers on Mars, on its two moons, and dropped probes into Venus. We've built an international space station with a construction dock capable of building ships in orbit, and a space elevator to shuttle supplies back and forth. We've harnessed the energy of the sun to power our planet and eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

“And we've used our most powerful telescopes to peer into the heavens and look for other planets like ours, where there might be life, or where we might be able to make another footprint, another giant leap across the stars. We found one such planet, and we named it Amerigo, to honor the tradition of exploration and adventure that made our own nation possible.”

Gibson paused the playback. He had always wondered about that name. From his knowledge of history, Amerigo Vespucci's role in discovering America was decidedly limited, and the continent had been named after him because a cartographer had read Vespucci's name in some letters that may or may not have actually been written by Vespucci. Still, Gibson thought to himself, the writing of history is often different from the living of it.

Secretary Thacker poked his head into the Oval Office.

“Mr. President?” Thacker asked.

“Come in, Evan. I was just watching the ark ship launch ceremony.”

“I see. Well, I've got some bad news about Russia.”

Gibson sighed. Always with the Russians.