Surface of Xinju
If there was one thing that Anderson Bell relished in life, it was the feeling of warm sun on his face. Having spent much of his life in space, it was something he didn’t experience as often as he liked. It was very fitting that today, at this historic moment, that he could feel the warmth of their new alien sun.
Quite a crowd had gathered, and with good reason. Over the last few days many civilians had been awoken from their cryonic stasis and shuttled down to the planet surface. There was work to be done so many hands were needed. Off to the south and east sat a city of tents. They had been assembled as temporary accommodation while the town was being built.
Doctor Laura Banks, who was dressed up for occasion, approached Bell and handed him a shovel. It had never been used. The wooden handle was freshly oiled and the metal blade was so shiny that bell could see the wrinkles on his face in it. A blue ribbon had been tied around the handle.
“It’s time Captain,” Banks smiled warmly at him.
Bell took a step and turned to face the crowd. “If I could have your attention Ladies and Gentlemen.”
The noise died down and within a few moments, the world was silent, save for a gentle breeze rusting the leaves of nearby trees, and the muffled roar of a waterfall downriver.
“I have a very special honour today. This is something I’ve been looking forward to after all the trouble we’ve experienced in recent days. I’m glad that so many of you are here to witness this. You will likely tell your grandchildren about this day.
“A very dear friend said something interesting to me the other day. He said that we are at the dawn of history. That spoke to me in a powerful way. I know that for a lot of us, our departure from Earth felt like the end of the world. Things looked very hopeless. Today that changes. Future generations will look back on this as the year zero. Given enough time we will all fade away from memory, but the things we do here will become legend.
“There are many things in life that we don’t have control over. Disaster can befall an entire planet. People we love can die. We can’t choose how, or even if, we will be remembered in the future. What we can control however, is the world that we make, to hand down to them.
“We are a privileged generation. Not very often, does a community of people get handed a clean slate. This planet is a blank canvas. We can create whatever world we want, so let’s make it a good one.”
The crowd applauded.
“So, without further talk, in my capacity as Captain of the Endeavour, and as the Military Governor of Xinju, I hereby begin the work of digging the foundations of our new home – Moreau Town.”
Bell pressed the blade of the shovel into the soil, then placed his foot on it and pushed down hard and firm. The blade cut deep into the soil. He lifted a large shovelful out of the ground and held it over his head.
“Today it begins!”
The crowd cheered with joy and enthusiasm. It was a good day to be alive.
With his official duty finished, Bell wanted to enjoy a little time alone to reflect. The people were celebrating. They were taking turns with the shovel digging while others talked, danced and ate.
Bell stopped by the grassy river bank and looked at the water. He knew that the life ahead of him would be hectic, but today, everything felt tranquil. He stood on a world unspoilt.
Bell turned, reluctant to be pulled from his private reverie. He saw Colonel Millwood standing just a few paces behind him.
“Colonel, glad to see you up and about again.”
“Thankyou Sir. The doctors gave me a clean bill of health. I wanted to be here to witness the festivities. That was a nice speech you made.”
“Glad you enjoyed it.”
The CAG reached out and handed Bell a tablet display. “I thought you’d like to see the results of the lab survey on the rock samples I brought back from the asteroid field Captain. They have confirmed what my sensors recorded. The material matches the signature that you gave me. We’ll have to make some room on the periodic table though, because it’s a new element. Anyway, It looks like you’ve found what you wanted, not that I understand how you knew to look for it.”
Bell took the tablet and cast his eye over the data. “Not what I wanted Colonel, not what I wanted at all, but thank-you for your good work. The mission was very nearly a costly one for you.”
“Sir, I heard about Commander Murphy, and I was wondering, will there be a funeral?”
“We held a small burial this morning before the digging ceremony, just for the senior bridge staff. We laid his body to rest in a flat stretch of land a little out of town. We’re thinking of calling it Wellington Cemetery – after the Commander’s home town in New Zealand.”
“It’s a nice gesture Captain, particularly after what he did.”
“Why do you think he did it Captain?”
Bell sighed. “We all get handed choices to make in our life Colonel. The important thing is not so much what we choose to do with our life, but how we choose to do it. On the first question, Murphy chose well. He wanted to protect his family. No husband or parent could ever do anything less. On the second choice however, he let himself down. He went about it the wrong way. Murphy made his choice. Now it’s up to us to make our choices.”
“And what about you Captain? Have you made your choice yet?”
Bell smiled. “Now Colonel, we have to make our choice again every day of our lives.”
He motioned Millwood to walk with him, and together the two officers headed back toward the crowd. There was work to be done.
Housten – USA. Earth. December 2134
Anderson Bell opened the door of Rear Admiral Rawley’s office and stepped inside timidly. It wasn’t every day that he was called into the old soldier’s sanctum.
“Come in Captain, come in.”
Bell closed the door and headed for the Admiral’s desk.
“Take a seat Captain.”
The Admiral’s face was difficult to read.
“I’d like to congratulate you Captain Bell. You have been appointed as the Captain of the first ARK ship to take colonists from Earth to MA 77481 A.”
“Thankyou Sir.” It was all Bell could say. This was an amazing privilege and responsibility.
“The lottery made the final decision of course, but you were one of a few hand-picked candidates whose name went into the hat.”
“I won’t let you down Admiral.”
“Well, before you get too excited there are things I have to tell you, and I’ll stress that this conversation is classified at the highest levels.”
Bell nodded his understanding.
“Do you recognise this Captain?” Rawly slid a tablet across the desk. Bell studied it.
“Yes Admiral. It’s the probe that crash landed in the Sahara Desert twenty years go.”
“That’s right. What else do you know about it?”
“Nobody really knows much about it Sir. We don’t know where it came from, or who made it. It is considered the greatest evidence found for the existence of extra-terrestrial civilisation. The only other thing I can say is that there have been some conspiracy theories. People have suggested that it may have been the catalyst for the devastating environmental changes that are taking place around the world lately – but I’m sure you don’t put much stock in stories like that.”
“Actually Captain, despite our silence on the subject, the governments of the world have taken that theory very seriously. We have not been able to prove a link of course, but it is suspected that the probe released something into Earth’s atmosphere when it arrived. It’s the likeliest theory we have.”
“Why would somebody send a probe from so far way to destroy our world?”
“Who knows. That is anybody’s guess. Our scientists spent a great deal of time studying the probe. We found that it was constructed from a unique material – one not found on Earth.”
“That pretty much proves that it didn’t come from here then.”
“Yes. Now here comes the important bit Captain. Your orders, when you arrive at your new solar system, are to establish a colony and build a new future for the human race. You know that much, but you are also ordered to search for the existence of this mineral. If you find any presence of it near your planet – be concerned. It could indicate a mortal danger to all that you hope to build.”
“You’re thinking that if they did it to Earth, they could do it to our new home as well.”
Rawley nodded. “You have to consider the possibility Captain.”
Bell looked the Admiral in the eye. “You can count on me Admiral. If this mineral exists in our new solar system, we’ll find it.”
“Good. Keep it quiet though. Don’t even share this with your senior officers until you have to. The last thing you want is to generate panic.”
Rawley stood, and Bell followed suit. The Admiral extended his hand. “Well, congratulations again Captain. You have a difficult but important destiny ahead of you. I fear that I will die here on Earth before a solution to our problems can be found, but you will be the leader of a new human civilisation. The future is in your hands Mr. Bell. Make it a good one.
Bell headed out and made his way straight to his own office. There were preparations to make for his trip. The rest of the day seemed like a blur. He couldn’t quite believe that he had been chosen. Life would never be the same again.