“The City in Search of a home”

Benjamin T. Evans

All rights reserved by the author

 

The core was completed a week ago. The single most important creation of man kind moved very slowly into alignment with the orbit of the Ark and docked only an hour ago.

The vast core had been under construction for 50 years. The size of a city in its own right, it constituted nearly one third of the Ark and would power it through space. The seven major pieces of the Ark had each been constructed on a separate space station. But, the core had taken almost a decades longer than any other piece. All but the core had been united three years ago. The guts of the ship, the most recent machinery and equipment had only just been finished. The ship, now nearing completion, was almost seven miles from bow to stern.

Eight hundred thousand of Earth’s finest citizens had been shuttled from earth to the Ark in the last month. The rest of humanity, no more than thirteen million elderly, unstable, or otherwise undesirable people, would remain on earth. The fate of Earth was sealed and theirs with it. Those of us who came had one more week to get used to living in zero gravity. Dr. Rivers had devoted much of it in the attempt to understand how their new home would be able to travel throughout the galaxy without ever moving.

            It was the largest undertaking known to man. Ever since the old governments had admitted to the populace that we could no longer salvage our world the construction of the Ark had been of the highest priority. The old world governments set in place Infrastructure that would ensure the completion of the Ark at all costs even if they themselves weren’t around to see it. It was the first time that mankind as a whole had looked ahead in attempt preserve the human species.

As Dr. Thomas Rivers looked down on earth he remembered looking at pictures as a kid of what the world used to look like. He had asked his dad how the people back then made the old lands sink. His father told him that thousands of years ago nobody believed in global warming caused by the Greenhouse Affect. They hardly bothered looking for alternative fuel sources. Now the old territories lay under water. Our beloved planet had become barren. The ice caps had melted. The encroaching seas drove our ancestors further and further inland. Acid rain had killed all terrestrial life except for us and vast quantities of microscopic extremophiles. Our only food source was the increasingly less fertile and polluted seas. The increasing population density lead to disease, famine, and poverty. His father also informed him that the nearly ten billion person population of earth had been dropping steadily for well over a thousand years. This, the Ark, was humanity’s only chance. In desperation the people of Earth had moved into space, and under the seas, but now it was time to leave our home forever.

Upon saying his farewells to friends and family Tom’s father had made him promise to give him a full account of the operations of the ship before he got underway. Of course this was impossible but he did his best to study the function of its core. As the departure drew near he composed his last letter to his parents.

Transmission:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I know you’ve probably been watching the completion of the Ark through our telescope but you could never fathom how large it really is. It has its own monorail system! It’s a fifteen minute shuttle ride from bow to stern! I could live the rest of my life here and find something new every day. It really is just like a city. Each of the six boroughs is powered by an industrial sized fusion reactor and the core is powered by three. I’ve been hard pressed to learn as much as I have. Most of the core is off limits to all but the highest ranking officials. I have been reading a lot about it though. Apparently the fusion reactors power an immense magnetic array that manipulates massive amounts of exotic matter and regular matter into a hollow sphere around the ship. The matter distorts space-time in the same way a large star or black hole would. It distorts space-time to the point that the ship is actually removed from the surrounding space-time. With space-time contracted in front of the ship and expanded in back of it the ship draws its destination to it and repulses its departure point. It technically doesn’t ever really move. In the books I’ve been reading it says that we won’t even feel any acceleration. It has something to due with space-time being undistorted within the sphere of exotic matter.

I was offered a position as a surgeon in the infirmary. Looks like I’ll be doing something useful here after all. Hopefully everything goes well. Our first jump will take us to Alpha Centauri. Nobody actually thinks we’ll find anything there but it’s worth a look. I’ll send you another transmission from there. So I suppose you’ll hear from me in four years. I love you both and maybe if we get lucky we’ll find a suitable home in the next couple years and we can come back and I’ll see you again.

                                                Love - Tom

 

            Dr. Rivers didn’t actually think they’d find another planet in the lifetime of his parents. It might not even happen at all. It was only possible to tell what solar systems had planets ten, a hundred, a thousand times as large as our own. For all they knew a planet suitable for life might not even exist. The possibility that a habitable planet would be found were infinitesimally small, but one could only hope.

            *Attention: The ship will be launching in ten minutes.

            He sent his transmission knowing that chances were he’d never hear from them again. In all likelihood the ship would jump a hundred times before a transmission from Earth would even reach Alpha Centauri.

            *Jump initiated.

The stars outside his window dimmed, and vanished. Pushing off his bunk he awkwardly came into contact with the large cold window. After a few moments the stars reappeared faintly at first and then brightly as ever.

            *Jump complete.

            The voice jolted him from his reverie. Four light years traveled in only the twinkling of a star.

            He pushed off again, grabbed onto his door, and continued out into the corridor. His curiosity couldn’t wait. Through a maze of corridors he wound his way towards an elevator. Once he reached the observation deck he would be one of the first people in the history of man to see another star so close up. He made his way to an elevator and once again felt what it was like to stand. After several minutes he arrived at the top of the ship. The door opened up to a throng of excited people. The ceiling was almost entirely tinted glass and directly ahead there was a star no different from our own sun. As he gazed up at it the heads began to turn in unison towards the front of the room. Before his eyes a brilliant orange glow appeared and strengthened. Slowly a second sun came into view. An orange hue swept over the room. Still standing near the elevator he took in a few more moments and slipped out to avoid the inevitable congestion.

            Inspired by the sight Tom headed down to the archives to follow the progress of the planetary search. Looking at one of the monitors in the archive he pulled up the partially completed scan of the solar system. As he patiently watched the scan advance it became more and more evident that the satellite telescopes of Earth had been right. No planets existed in the Alpha Centauri system. Nevertheless the detailed scan would be sent to Earth to arrive 4.6 years later.

            The series of solar systems that would be visited in the months to come, unlike Alpha Centauri, would contain known planets. Earth based sensors could detect planets as small as ten times the mass of Earth within our sector. The sensor arrays covering the exterior of the ship were capable of detecting planets within twice that radius. Although such large planets were unable to sustain life as we knew it they were a good indication of the possibility of smaller planets like our own Earth. After the solar systems with known planets in sector Alpha-1 were explored we would radiate outwards covering the adjacent sectors Apha-2 through Alpha-9 and so on.

            Tom brought up the next solar system that they would visit. It contained two Jupiter sized planets, a Saturn sized planet, and a Neptune sized planet. All were well out of the habitable zone around the star but one could only hope.

            Upon reaching his room he was dumbstruck. Outside of his window there was a planet covered in swirling gasses of different hues of blue. So low was their orbit and so massive was the planet that no curvature could be seen. To his further delight shuttle after shuttle launched from several decks above him. He watched as their paths took them in far off directions to explore and map this new system.

 

 

            Months passed. His first meal had been as horrible as he’d expected and his liking for the food didn’t increase with time. Severe injuries were relatively rare so work was slow. The only interesting thing he’d found out about the people on the ship was that the whole city seemed to going a little stir crazy as it was. Every twenty one shifts or so a newsletter would be sent out saying that another system had been deemed inhospitable. Most of the people had even stopped checking for them. People didn’t know when to sleep. A significant portion of the inhabitants didn’t even have a room with a window. There was enough freeze dried food on the ship to maintain the population for a decade but it didn’t take a psychologist or sociologist to figure out that the people probably wouldn’t last that long.

            Transmission:

            Dear Mom and Dad,

According to the ship’s data base we are twenty seven thousand light years from home. Undoubtedly by the time this transmission reaches Earth humanity will have ceased to exist and you along with it. We will be all that remains. Martial law has been enacted following a rash of homicides and violent crimes. Capital punishment is being implemented in all convictions of murder. Due to the conditions punishments for lesser crimes are severe mostly resulting in room confinement for up to several months. There is nowhere to escape. I and indeed the rest of the crew feel like fish in a bowl looking out into the vast depths of space only to be tempted by the unfruitful possibilities of a new home. We are losing hope.

                                    Love – Tom

 

 

            Clank. Clank. Clank. A noise came from corridor.

            Tom slowly opened the door to find a woman in her late twenties. As he saw her she smiled too broadly and took a steep breath.

            “Oh thank God someone who looks half way sane!” The woman exclaimed drifting past Tom into the room. “Wow, nice view.”

            “Yeah… thanks. My name’s Tom… I’m a surgeon.”

            “Oh I’m just a journalist.”

            “So you’re one of those people that keeps sending us all the good news.”

            “Oh, yeah! They think they found one this time. It’s an Earth sized moon orbiting a gas giant. It’s supposed to be absolutely fabulous! They say it’s an average of twenty seven degrees centigrade at the equator and has abundant water. They even say it has an oxygen rich non-toxic atmosphere… oh doesn’t that just sound exquisite?”

            “Yeah. Definitely.” Tom uttered skeptically.

            Tom got the distinct impression this woman had had a lot to say and no one to say it to for a very long time.

            “They’re sending down shuttles to check it out as we speak! Can you imagine? We could be on real ground within a twenty one shift! I’ve always wanted to travel but I never could have imagined such an adventure.”

            It appeared to Tom that this peculiar woman could not have been on the same ship as him for the grueling voyage and maintained such a nauseatingly cheery demeanor.

            “Is there something I can do for you Miss?”

            “Oh no don’t worry about me I’m fine.”

            “Right. Well I’m going out to get a bite to eat.”

            “Excellent. I’m starving.” She said drawing out her last word.

            Tom couldn’t help thinking that this was possibly the most annoying person he’d ever met. But being such a recluse he found comfort in knowing at least he wouldn’t be eating alone.

            Over their meal Tom discovered that they had a good deal in common and he would have enjoyed the woman’s company very much if he hadn’t figured out the cause of her perpetually high spirits. He began to doubt this woman was a journalist and he even began to question her sanity. She appeared to be living in a delusional world of importance and adventure. People kept casting sidelong glances at them and whispering. There was no evidence that anything she’d said about a new planet was true. No one else was talking about anything exciting.

 

 

            Several weeks later, and after many more after work meals with Jocelyn, Tom was quite convinced that she was absolutely crazy. Systems had come and gone without even a glimmer of hope concerning a habitable planetoid. Jocelyn, of course, claimed that the government officials kept the excitement secret so the occupants wouldn’t lose any remains of moral they had left if it turned up to be a false alarm.

            More social crises came and went. People died but more were born and although the population of the ship increased steadily a sort of equilibrium was reached.

            One Sunday morning, while scanning the new updates, Jocelyn burst in.

            “You wouldn’t believe it…”

            Tom agreed to himself that he probably wouldn’t.

            “We have just intercepted the first communication from an extra terrestrial intelligence!”

            “Really,” Tom said trying to feign interest, “who’s sending the message?”

            “Well we don’t know of course.”

            “Of course.”

            “We received it early this morning and its point of origin is only five thousand light years from the galactic center. We’re scheduled to jump in an hour.”

            “Five thousand light years? We’ve never even ventured more than twenty thousand miles from the center. At that distance there’s no chance that life could survive. The radiation would be unbearable.”

            “Do you understand what this means? We’re not alone! We’re going to find a new home!”

            “What if they don’t want us just waltzing in and colonizing their planet?”

            “Oh don’t be such a pessimist.”

            To Tom’s great surprise by supper time the ship was in uproar. All observation decks were off limits, the majority of the crew had been confined to quarters, and everybody wanted to know what this new race was like, not the least of who was Jocelyn.

            The ringing of the deadbolt that had locked him in his room still resounded in Tom’s head. Hours had gone by and Jocelyn still hadn’t stopped talking. It wasn’t even apparent if she’d taken a breath yet. Tom had had the distinct misfortune of being with Jocelyn when the ship had gone into lock down. His face was aching from hours of forcing a variety of amused and interested expressions.

            Hoping to derail Jocelyn’s current train of thought Tom interjected.

            “Where exactly do you live? I’ve known you for months but I’ve never even seen your room.”

            “Oh it’s a pig sty. I don’t even have a window.”

            “No, I’m interested. Can we go there when they lift the lock down?”

            “No, you wouldn’t want to its way down in the depths of the aft end. It’s almost ten minutes by rail.”

            “Please?”

            Jocelyn uncomfortably searched the room for something else to talk about. Deciding not to push the subject further Tom took the opportunity to take control of the conversation but Jocelyn had apparently decided to watch the news for she pushed off across the room and turned on the screen.

            *Passengers of the starship Ark, we have been able to determine the origin of the transmission. The transmission emanates from a moon three fourths the size of our Earth but of comparable mass. The moon seems to be primarily iron and heavier elements with a considerable magnetic field which has protected its inhabitants from the constant bombardment of radiation. Explorations crews have been sent to make first contact…

 

 

            The lockdown was lifted. They hysteria wore off for the most part. Although, a certain percent of the population of the ship could occasionally be seen floating around the corridors in homemade alien suits.

It had turned out that the alien transmission had been a radio address to the whole planet announcing plans for the first “manned” mission to orbit their world.

Tom floated in front of his computer console reading the mornings news. The last lines of the transmission had been translated. They read:

“Today we set out in hopes of reaching a new, unspoiled world. It will not be easy. Our rations are limited and our possibilities are few. If there is anyone out there who is looking upon our world from afar, we hope your fate is better than ours.”

Tom read it stunned. This vastly more advanced civilization had fallen to the same fate as humans.

Feeling despair coming over him, Tom decided to look up where Jocelyn lived on the ships database. He searched the sixth burrow where Jocelyn said she was from but found no listings for her. After searching each of the other five burrows in turn it was clear that there was no Jocelyn listed as a passenger anywhere on the ship. Confused Tom reflected on his prior meetings the person who claimed to be Jocelyn over the last few weeks trying to find a hint as to who she was or why she had told him a false name.

“She is crazy after all.” Tom mused to himself. “Maybe she has multiple personalities. I wonder if psychiatry has any record of her.”

Going down to the second burrow sickbay where he worked, Tom searched out the Chief of Psychiatry.

“Hello, Dr. Steele?”

“Yes, can I help you?”

“I have a friend who goes by the name of Jocelyn. I’ve suspected for a while that she was a little mentally unstable.”

“Do you want to arrange a psycho analysis of her?”

“No, you see, I tried to look her up on the ship computer but it doesn’t have any record of her. I think she might have multiple personalities.”

“I see.”

“I was wondering if you could tell me if the psychiatry department has ever had any contact with a Jocelyn.”

“I assure you, any patients that come in here are cross checked with their medical history and biographical information. Any inconsistencies would have been caught immediately. Besides I can’t let you have any information about patients here. It violates Doctor - Patient confidentiality.

“Why don’t you bring her in the next time you see her?”

“Right. Well, thank you for your time.”

Upon entering his quarters, Tom found several men in white uniforms talking among themselves.

“If you’re waiting to bring Jocelyn into psych you might be here a while.”

Just then several of Tom’s colleagues came in behind him.

“What is this?”

The head of Surgery spoke. “Tom, we’ve been watching you take meals alone in the dining halls talking to yourself. We’ve listened to your stories of this Jocelyn girl but never seen her. It just doesn’t stack up. We’re worried that you may no longer be fit for work. You’re being suspended until further notice, and we want you to come with us back to psych.”

“No, you’ve got it all wrong. Jocelyn’s the one who’s crazy, we need to get her help!”

“It’s ok Tom, every things going to be fine. You’ll be better in no time.”

As two of the two and a half foot tall muscular men took a hold of him to escort him out one said to the other over his head, “Hey, Joe. It’s too bad that old radio signal turned out to be a malfunctioning sensor array. I really would have liked to meet some aliens…”

Me too, Bob.”

 

© Copyright 2004 by the author

All rights reserved