Saturday, October 3, 2009

Ark Ship - Part One

The landing pods were coming down from the orbiting ship. On one of the pods sat young Mike Harris, a descendant of those who had begun the journey to this new colony two hundred fifty years ago.

It hadn't been easy to grow up on an interstellar ship, never having set foot on a planet, never breathing fresh air, never seeing the sun rise over the hills as he'd heard about in the stories that had been passed down. Now, setting foot on a strange planet, feeling dirt under his feet for the first time, rather than the reassuring clang of the metal walkways, not to mention getting used to the lower gravity, was going to be a real challenge for all of them.

Mike's pod landed, and he opened the air lock, breathing real fresh air for the first time in his life. He was immediately overwhelmed by the scale of the planet. He knew this planet was slightly smaller than the Earth, but it still seemed huge to him.

In front of him, the terrain was rocky, with tall, craggy mountains stretching to sharp peaks. There was a smattering of scrubby plant life here, most of it scattered around a narrow river that the orbital survey teams had named the Mississippi, which would serve as the colony's water source. They had all been warned not to touch any of the plants until they had been analyzed to determine potential dangers or hidden poisons.

The sky was a pale blue, the sun a white fireball to the north. Mike had to squint and shield his eyes in the unaccustomed glare. Sure, he had been given training in what to expect on this planet – they all had. They had been forced to sit for hours every week under sun simulation lamps so that their eyes wouldn't atrophy in the dim light of the ark ship. They had done physical training and studied the scientific disciplines they'd need to build their colony. But after so many centuries of travel, some of the equipment hadn't worked to optimum efficiency, and so the training hadn't been as rigorous or thorough as his ancestors might have intended.

Mike was a thin, pale young man, whose age calculated in Earth years would be about twenty one. However, the strange way time passed on the ship, the lack of seasons, of a definable day or night, the irregular sleep schedule, not to mention the relativistic effects of traveling near light speed, meant that Mike wasn't sure exactly how old he was. And on this planet, whose year passed in 300 earth days, and whose day was 27 hours long, Mike couldn't begin to calculate his age. Still, he was clearly in his prime, though like all of the colonists, he was slightly malnourished from the replicated and recycled food stores on the ship. In time, he and his comrades would adjust to local conditions, and the hard work of taming this planet would make them strong and hardy.

He took a deep breath and stepped out of the airlock, and was immediately struck by how different, how odd, how utterly alien the planet felt under his feet. The gravity, slightly lower than it had been on the ship, was causing him difficulty in walking, and as he looked around, he noticed the other colonists having similar problems. It was a bit of a funny moment, and he suppressed a smile.

The Houston Space Center, Inc., where the generational ark ship had been designed and the orbital construction dock and space elevator had been built, was privatized (along with the rest of NASA, and a lot of other government agencies deemed “unnecessary taxpayer burdens”) after the launch of the ark ship. Since that time, most of its efforts had been focused on orbital advertising platforms – giant billboards hovering in low earth orbit filling the night sky with ads for toothpaste, condoms, and cigarettes.

During the privatization process, the systems used to communicate with the ship had been sold to The Ark Ship Project, a non-profit organization that had been set up to ensure that contact was maintained throughout the ark ship's centuries of travel. It had been decided not to tell the ark ship crew about the transfer, so as not to hurt morale on the ship. As far as the ship's crew knew, they were still communicating directly with NASA.

The Project kept tabs on the ship using the principle of quantum entanglement. Before the ship departed, a molecule of hydrogen on Earth had been tagged to a molecule of hydrogen on the ship, and by “jiggling” the molecule on Earth using certain patterns, thus “jiggling” the molecule on the ark ship, the Project could send messages to the ship, and vice-versa, in a kind of quantum Morse code. This method of communication had been a critical breakthrough for the space team, one that had circumvented the limitations of light speed in a practical and ingenious manner.

A new message was coming through, and the quantum computers were busy translating it. The uncertain nature of quantum mechanics made this a job requiring a massive amount of computing power, and messages had to be kept short and succinct.

Communicator George Sutton, an ancestor of whose had been among the launch crew for the mission, read the message from the display terminal.

The Eagle has landed on Amerigo. Survey teams dispatched.”

He typed back, “Congratulations. A historic day. America salutes its heroes.”