It seems almost like yesterday when we left our school as soon as the emergency call reached Earth. Our starship was ready and waiting on the launch pad. There was no time to unpack our kit at the launch site before take-off. We had to go. Emergencies were like that and we had been prepared for this moment. Even so, just the order to tie down in the couches and launch. Everything else would be sorted out later. Max had brought a cake with him and we watched it get flattened on take-off. He should have bought one designed for space flight. Would have had less air in it.
Once in space, our starship rolled into position to vector space in as direct a line as possible. It’s maw wide-open to pick up and digest any matter in the way to provide extra fuel. We all eased out of our couches. There would be no need for grav-shoes as we’d be maintaining 1g in slow acceleration for the next ten years. Max looked at his cake, shrugged and took a bite. He then smiled and proceeded to finish it off when everyone else here shook their heads. It might taste all right but who wants to risk a jippy stomach as we were about to race off into the unknown.
I used my pad to look at what was going on. I was in so much of a rush that the name of our ship hadn’t even registered in our heads. The Barley Firefly. What kind of name was that to lumber a starship with? I knew the humour of the rest of the lads that we’d be calling it the Barfly within hours and probably drinking a toast to its name when we were old enough. Maybe that was the point. Our flight out was going to take twenty years. If we went as adults, we’d be nearly pensioners by the time we reached wherever we were going. At school age, we could be educated and trained by the time we got there which would keep us busy. This was only going to be a relatively short trip so wouldn’t need to birth a generation to do the work when the starship got there. At our age, the girls would be kept in a separate dormitory until we reached adulthood. Less chance of some unwanted birth or love triangles.
Our destination was Marlin, the fourth planet around Tau Ceti. A mere hop really. Transit time was given as twenty years. Ten years accelerating out and ten years to coast in deceleration. Approximate figures. If we didn’t pick up extra mass in accelerated flight, we could add anything up to five years to the flight time. As it would all be computer controlled, all we had to do is sit back and enjoy the flight and get educated. We’d be hitting thirty years old when we get there but as that was a third of our possible life span, it was something we could live with. It was also why we took off as soon as we got the message which would have taken twenty years to get to us. It was an emergency and the sooner we were in flight the better. Sixty years lapsed time. We would be faster than sending a message saying we were on the way. We could signal that in the deceleration phase although I suspect their astronomers would have spotted us by then.
Another reason why we youngsters were selected is that we had no preconceptions about the flight. Well, we weren’t supposed to. A few of us had hacked the data files and read how some adults taking long flight would go a bit ship crazy. We got found out but told that as long as we kept that to ourselves we would still be allowed to go as we were seen as being potential leaders. An incentive if ever I saw one.
The years rolled by quickly enough. Once we were all educated, the tests determined who would do what. My steady head gave me the project leader status and I invariably went through the same thoughts other project leaders in the past must have asked. How did the people back on Earth know what freight to carry and why hadn’t they just supplied the colony planet with the necessary from the start and save us the trip?
The original message was clear enough. Volcanic disturbances that would effectively come to a head about the time we arrived. Our freight was the necessary kinds of explosives which would be able to re-direct lava flows and, if necessary, even block off the odd volcano if necessary. It was the kind of ordinance never given to a colony planet through something called ‘the limit of arms’ although quite why anyone would think they would want to attack the home planet or even a neighbouring colony beat me. The distance made it impractical to even trade, let alone war. Anyway, why didn’t they build their own if they wanted explosives?
Yet, here we were coming, trained to do this very job but no practical experience. Even a simulation couldn’t show what would really happen. The Marlin colony was pretty much a variation of human civilisation from about five centuries back. Apparently nostalgia rules such colonies and feeds down through the generations as a reminder of Earth. As we were now in deceleration mode, our receivers were picking up their broadcasts and we were getting the hang of their culture. We tried not to get too many preconceived ideas beyond understanding recreation and spending money. Nothing much on their crisis though but that didn’t surprise me. The transmissions were still a couple decades old and lately we weren’t always in line to pick them up. Earth would be receiving the transmissions but they would still be at least forty years behind us.
The team were doing well and integrated and co-ed now with everyone happily bonded with their ideal mate. The logistics was nearly right. Only a couple fights but quickly settled and no wallflowers. Reading through the roster, some had already indicated that they’d be happy to stay on at the colony to bolster the population and breed to add to the colony gene pool. I was still a little unsure about that. As team leader, it would ultimately be my option to return to Earth or send the next generation of kids back in our place. Starships were expensive just to abandon. They would certainly want to know what happened and if we were successful, especially if a message took twenty years to reach them. After nearly third a century, it would hardly be something that I would be able to remember as anything like home. Better a new life than a distant memory. Me? I wasn’t so sure. I was young enough to make the return trip. My partner, Melay, wavered. Like me, she wanted to know what she was letting herself in for and we were still debating about having kids on the way home, which as leaders we would be entitled to if the Barfly was half empty. One thing for sure, it was going to be pretty weird leaving the Barfly after being home for another twenty years to an Earth we only had vague memories of and little connection to.
The reports from Marlin got more intense as we dipped into a star orbit to shed the last of our velocity. Relative time, forty years has passed for them. We were likely to meet the children now adults of the parents who sent the original message. Were we going to be late? We were drilled and ready as we reached orbit and I led the first team down to the colony. Everything seemed normal. Hardly the dangerous crisis we were expecting. Were we too late? With the star orbit we missed the last reports of the breakthrough until we landed.
They had found their own way to stop the lava flow. No explosives. Molecule control. Revolutionary. Incredible. Instead of an emergency, we had a solution that would be available for all the colonised worlds. They discovered it ten years back and they could hardly send us back, so they kept up the messages of urgency to keep our spirits up than make us depressed that we weren’t really needed. If anything, it just meant no work and a bit more time to play. We did a lot of that on the Barfly.
That was one for the manuals. Earth would also have the same information…eventually. That was the problem with space emergencies. We take so long to get to the rescue without knowing whether we’d get there in time or see the remains of the disaster. We had useless freight but the means for trade to the next colony at Ross 128 where they’ve got a hydrogen gathering industry. It wasn’t far and we could combine it with some people trade to help each others’ gene pools. A benefit for all and make the best of a non-emergency. It might also solve potential emergencies elsewhere so we were still doing our job.
I was still team leader and had the pick of crew from those who had come this far plus colonists who wanted to see the next colony. No longer an emergency but certainly a need to spread glad tidings ever further into the colonies. Earth would have to wait another twenty years to read that particular message and they could hardly order us back. By the time, the starship arrived. Well, unless they had an emergency on Earth in the meantime. But would we or the next generation get there in time?
© GF Willmetts 2013
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