Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ark Ship - Part Three

The media carried a brief mention of the ship's arrival, along with snippets of the President's prepared statement urging the world to “mark this historic moment and consider it in context with the petty problems of international politics.”

In Houston, Communicator Sutton had been sending messages back and forth to the colony all day, and he was analyzing the data the colonists had transmitted. It looked like the primitive equipment that the space program had used to find the planet and determine that it was appropriate for colonization had gotten a few things wrong. The colonists had a challenge on their hands.

George thought back to all of those ancient science fiction books he had read as a kid, and he wished that it had been possible to invent faster than light travel, teleportation, and all of those other ideas that, he was sure, had once filled the world with hope for a fantastical future of unfettered space exploration and global peace and harmony. Unfortunately, the laws of physics and the financial and practical limitations imposed by political reality had seriously limited what the world's space programs were able to achieve in the centuries since humanity had first set foot on the moon. America had barely even managed to build the orbital dock and space elevator that had made construction of the ark ship possible, and that was only achieved because a President with an incredibly strong personality and filibuster-proof majorities in Congress had demanded it. And then she was voted out of office with the next term, as America realized the cost of the project and turned radically away from it.

The truth was, as George had long ago realized, that the future is never as incredible or different as you think it's going to be. Computers get faster, new things get invented to make life easier, fossil fuels get phased out and fusion power gets phased in, global warming takes its toll as governments fail to act, but nothing really radically changes. An interconnected world had led to a stasis in international politics, as governments became less interested in conquest and more interested in competition. Most of the world's oppressive states had finally succumbed to the pressures of the international marketplace, and nearly every country had achieved some approximation of democracy, or at least enough of the illusion of democracy, to keep the populace from revolting and keep business moving forward. Sure, capitalism's inherent tendency to “boom and bust” continued, and certain countries did stupid belligerent things that made other countries angry, but nothing had happened in more than two centuries that might even possibly lead to global warfare or even a radical realignment in the global power structure. No, George thought to himself, there would never be a United Federation of Planets, nor would there be a horrible dystopian future of robot wars and nuclear holocaust.

A new message was coming through. The quantum computer translated it.

“Scouting reports complete. Analysis suggests colony establishment will be difficult. This isn't the planet we were promised.”

The last sentence made George blink in surprise.

The colonists were bedding down for the night in their landing pods. They had all gathered to watch their first ever sunset, as the white fireball sank to the horizon, turned pink, and then dusky red, and the sky had burned away to reveal a canopy of unfamiliar stars. A large, crater-filled moon began to rise red on the horizon to the southeast, framed by the craggy mountains.

Mike had gone to visit his good friend Paul Venster, whose father had led the botanical teams in their surveys. Paul sat in an armchair in his pod, reading an info pad. Music played over the pod's sound system, and Mike recognized it as the kind of ancient Brazilian bossa nova music that Paul had fallen in love with on the ship.

“Hey Mike. What's shakin'?” Paul put down the info pad and peered at Mike, who was standing in the doorway of the pod.

“Pretty incredible sunset, eh?” Mike said as he sat across from Paul in one of the pod's two dining chairs.

“I just can't believe we're really here. I mean, this is it, man, this is what this whole thing has been all about. We're just the lucky ones who get to actually do this thing.” Paul was not known for his eloquence.

“Yeah, I know.” Mike paused, and looked thoughtful. “But, I mean, why are we here, really?”

Paul blinked. “We know why we're here.” Paul started speaking in the proud, unwavering voice of the announcers on one of those mission indoctrination videos they'd all been forced to watch repeatedly. “We're here to show that America is the greatest power on Earth, so great that we're able to establish a foothold -”

Mike cut him off. “Yeah, we've all seen the glorious inspirational mission films, man, but really, what are we doing here?”

Paul thought a minute. “What do you mean?”

Mike tried to put his thoughts into words. “What I mean is, what connection do we really have to this mythical America place that sent us here? None of us, none of our parents, and on back from there, ever set foot there, and we'll certainly never see the place.”

“Yeah, but,” Paul stopped. He wasn't sure where this conversation was going.

Susan was just sending the last bit of data from the day's explorations back to Earth. She had begun to regret the somewhat testy note she had sent earlier about the planet they were “promised.” The space program had had no way to know with absolute certainty that the colonists would have an easy time of it. Still, she wasn't happy about the task before her.

Hell, in her heart of hearts, she wasn't happy about any of this, and she suspected that not many of the colonists were really pleased to be here either. Oh sure, they had all had the freedom to choose what role they would play in building the colony, but beyond that, they were all slaves to the mission, just as their parents and grandparents had been. And while she too had been forced to sit through a dozen or more indoctrination films, she was having a hell of a time trying to figure out her purpose here.