I spent a few days rummaging in the attic, did you know spaceships had attics? They do, where else are we going to store all those oddball things we’ve picked up on our wanderings? As usually happens, I went in looking for one specific item and was sidetracked opening boxes of other memories. I did, eventually, find the recordings of young Cliben Sylvet and his speech to the scientific community. It was strange hearing his voice again after all these centuries. I listened to it so many times during my educational years, that I know it nearly by heart still. The deep timbre of his voice, the shocked gasps of the crowd. I felt again as I did when I first heard it, young and naive to the ways of the world. I was in awe of his audacity, to challenge his betters in such a public way. My instructor had pointed out that he had been a man at the very end of the educational system, not a child barely out of her parent’s arms. Trying to bring my feet back to the ground. He failed, I had glimpsed something wonderous and I would spend the rest of my years in education chasing it. Trying to capture it for myself.
Where were we? Ah, the space race! Yes. This was all required study in history classes when I was a child so you’ll have to forgive me if I forget a few things occasionally, childhood was so very long ago.
The two factions, the Council of Reason and the Conclave of the Gods, retreated to their respective continents and began researching in earnest. New ships were grown to transport materials to growing spaceports. New genetically modified plants were taken into space and tinkered with until we could grow entire ships in a few months. They were brilliant, beautiful works of art. The plants grew in what configurations we desired, trained to make different textures for different purposes. They had a wonderfully organic feel to them. Like the twisting roots of a water tree, only space was their pond. Large leaf-like structures looked as if they could be pulled aside to reveal a window, while roughly textured bark protected sensitive areas. Antenna and sensor arrays looked more like new shoots emerging, some like the curling fiddleheads of ferns. Doors were masterworks, airlocks that looked like giant flowers, folding open and closed at need. They were beautiful in a way the hard metallic ships will never be.
Outer hulls were thick and hardened against the micro-meteors and the fine dust of space that was as abrasive as sandpaper. The hull also absorbed the radiation from our sun, converting it into fuel. It wasn’t the primary source of fuel because once you were too far away, or even on the wrong side of a moon, you were shielded from the radiation. Still, it was enough to power internal systems, usually, which saved on the overall fuel load. As time passed the individual plants began to develop a new way to express themselves since they no longer needed flowers and insects to pollinate them. They began growing elaborate designs on the skin of the hull, eventually extending it inside as well.
These small ships began making runs to the two planets when they were close to us in their yearly orbits, carrying equipment and people to stay and study. Neither faction shared much information with the other, but there were spies. Agents, double agents, secrets, and research were stolen from each other. Later there would be many works of fiction written about the dangerous life and loves of the spies. It’s hard to say which ones are more truth and which more fiction, but I think it more likely they were mixtures of both.
Both factions had a problem, however, with a subset within their own populations that didn’t want to go. They either claimed it was the ‘will of the Gods’ that the planet (and us) be destroyed or that the entire thing was a hoax, planet Yoeleb didn’t even exist. Without a doubt, the “Gods” group was the worse of the two, claiming we all needed to die to pay for our sins. Since they had no problem with the idea of dying, they had no problems causing the deaths of those that disagreed. They blew up research buildings, churches, and government buildings all across the lands run by the Conclave. The factual information on these events is sketchy at best because the Conclave didn’t want it known and didn’t share it with the Council. We do know it happened because of the spies we had in their population, but beyond that, their records were sealed to us.
Within Council lands, being the more scientific rather than religious types, we had more of the second type, nicknamed the Deniers. They did stage a few protest marches but mostly it was a flurry of papers that denounced Sylvets research. Conspiracy theories ran rampant, whole entertainment shows were made to tell people it was all a huge lie that the government was telling the people. Supposedly it was so the government could control all the resources, commandeering them to build the spaceships. The spaceships weren’t, they claimed, to take us to a safe planet but rather to build a military force. They never quite say why this would be a needed but their adherents didn’t seem to mind. They weren’t violent, however, and once Yoeleb got within a range that even the cheapest backyard telescope could see it, they more or less gave it up.
The transport ships were growing larger and larger year by year. They became a fixture in the sky, one that people trained their telescopes on and watched with avid interest. Our education system changed the curriculum to include more classes on life both in space and on the new planet. They were taught all about the planet that was to become our home so that by the time they actually arrived it wouldn’t look or feel quite as foreign. Images and videos were sent back from the each of the trips, some of them so fantastic as to be nearly unbelievable. What was edible, what wasn’t, what animals were predators, which were not.
When the first large transport ship was finished, it was loaded with material and sent off to build temporary spaceport above the planet. This way the smaller ships that could easily pop in and out of the atmosphere of the planet could stay there between trips, saving space and fuel on the transporter. Once the temporary station was complete and the smaller shuttles in place, the moving began in earnest. At first, it was building sized containers of stuff. Mainly building materials, computers, and the equipment that would be needed to build homes and offices with the new and very different material the planet provided.
This planet did not have a plant even remotely like the one we used to grow everything we had, our homes, our computers, our ships. Yes, it was a heavily genetically modified plant by this point, but the original still grew as a wild weed. Even worse, the plant didn’t like the new planet. Every effort we made to grow it, even in its base wild state, failed miserably. We could still force grow it from the existing stock in greenhouses, but that would only last for so long as the genetics would become faulty after so many clonings. In the end, they took as many samples from wild plants on our home planet as they possibly could and stored the genetic material for future use. The ability to manufacture complete synthetic gene structures was still hundreds of years in their futures, but this single act of preservation proved vital to pushing that research.
Stations were set up, plants were transplanted, animals were taken to see if they would adapt. In some ways, it was desperately foolish to take plants and animals from our own world. A few of them became mistakes that would haunt generations to come. We forever altered the planet we were moving onto. But we proved to be the worst of the invasive species. The planet adapted, that’s what planets do, but not before some plants and animals were driven to extinction. People can be so selfish and ignorant sometimes. So long ago now that the things we brought with us are now considered native. I suppose they are correct, the plants and animals we brought did their own adaptations and are not the same as the ones that arrived. Stood side by side, you could tell they were related, yes, but the same? No.
A decade after the first research crews that set up the stations to study the environment the first of the robotic components arrived. These were cutting edge at the time, simple machines that had no real intelligence of their own, a physically upgraded version of the personal robots that floated along behind nearly everyone at home. These had arms, legs, and the ability to manipulate things with sound. Instead of having to use its arms to lift an object, it used sound waves to do the lifting and its arms to guide it into place. These robots opened the huge cargo units that had been slowly delivered since the first transport was complete and put the contents to work. They made temporary homes and workspaces for the ever increasing number of researchers arriving.
Soon the tent cities were replaced with more permanent structures. Since the plant would not grow or even live there once grown, they devised a way to use a local plant. It was named by the first group of researchers, who were able to name nearly everything since they were the first to see it, a tree. There were many different types of these trees, tall and short, thick and thin, some that grew quickly, etc. A whole team was dedicated to them, to categorize them, and discover the best way to use them. With them was the geologists. Rocks, we discovered, were very nearly the same everywhere. The universe was made of planets and moons that consisted of the same basic ingredients. The two disciplines joined forces and created products that could easily be used by our sophisticated 3D printing systems.
Everything had to be remade because the plant would not live for more than a few years on the new planet. Imagine this if you will. Everything had to be remade. We couldn’t just grow our computer components, the parts for our robots, our homes, any of it. We had to learn how to make all these things, things we relied on, from entirely new materials. We had to make them, not just grow them. Not tweak the DNA to grow it in a specific shape or for a specific function. The only parts that did not seem to slowly wither and die were the ones that had been heavily modified with animal DNA. Those we developed for the brains of our computers, essentially giving the plant the neuropathways of a brain, only one we could program. There was much speculation as to why these parts didn’t degrade and it was generally accepted that it was because of the crossing. The addition of animal DNA had increased the plants’ ability to adapt. The same was true for the spaceships. The entire plant used for those was infused with the animal DNA so that it was one very large brain.
Our society changed and adapted to these new demands, some adopting it quickly, others struggling. In the natural way of things, by the time the third generation of children was born on the new planet, they had no problems. It was all they knew, and all their parents had known in some cases. The old ways were slowly lost, except our spaceships. Those we continued to grow for a very, very long time. Eventually, however, they were infused with our own DNA instead of an animal. This changed the game completely. No longer just empty brains waiting for programming and following direction, the ships began to think for themselves. No longer merely living, they became aware. Personalities, quirks, habits, they all began to emerge as the changes took hold and they learned.
With ships that were aware, had their own thoughts, had their own ideas, the game changed forever.
Where were we? An old mind wanders when it is full of a thousand years of memories. Let me look back at the log here a moment. Ah, just starting to get to the good part. Or the bad part, depending on how you look at it.
Clibben Sylvet, our young rakishly handsome student who chose to use Professor Yoeleb’s mystery planet theory as his thesis. Clibben was a handsome fellow too, very well liked by the young ladies. He also had a wonderful speaking voice, very deep and somewhat rough. The kind of voice that drew you in and kept you hooked, just waiting to see what he’d say next. He made reading the menu at dinner exciting. The deep voice was a bit of a surprise when it issued forth from his slim build; as if your mind expected the body to be as wide and deep as the voice that issued it. As he stood there at the podium reading his thesis to the assemblage of the highest ranked scientists in our country, did his captivating voice make a difference? Would the assemblage have laughed at him if his voice had been high and trembled? I don’t know, but I have always wondered.
Sylvet’s presentation of his thesis, along with the images and data he’d painstakingly pieced together, was all the more dramatic because it was clear to all that he’d accepted his findings as factual. In the normal process of things, a theory was let loose into the world for any other scientist to take up, test, and challenge before it was accepted as fact. Sylvet didn’t wait for that, oh no, he delivered his final line with thunder and furry. Our world was destined to die. Horribly, violently, and in the near future.
Sylvet had not only found the mystery planet, but he’d also used the decades of data to plot its orbit around our sun. That orbit, as projected by all the models, indicated that once every eight thousand years the mystery planet came into the inner regions of our solar system and smashed its way through the inner planets. It was large enough to disrupt the inner planets orbital tracts and, if a planet was unfortunate enough to be near the path, could destroy the planet entirely.
Sylvet had then taken this information and combined it with the information we had to reverse the path of the orbit to project the last several times this had happened. This was another bombshell moment. According to those models the spot in our system that we’d always wondered about, the one that was oddly devoid of a planet where it appeared a planet should have developed naturally, had once had a planet in it. Then the mystery planet had made a trip through and the unfortunate planet had been in its path. The impact of the two bodies was unequal, as the mystery planet was ten times the size of the smaller one it rammed into. The result, Sylvet speculated, was how we ended up with a ring of what we had called asteroids in that region of space. Those asteroids were actually what was left of the small planet and a hunk of the mystery planet, after the massive impact. Nothing but a ring of debris locked in a perpetual orbit along the path the planet had once taken.
The room had sat in stunned silence.
But Sylvet was not finished with them. In that devastating deep timbre, he continued on, he had projected the path forward as well and he tossed the image up onto the giant screen behind him. In roughly two hundred years, the planet would again enter into the inner ring of planets and again cause chaos and destruction. This time, this time it was our own planet that was in the path of this massive killer. It wouldn’t be a direct impact, as it had been for the other unfortunate victim, but rather a glancing blow. It would still destroy all life on the planet, if not cause the planet to break apart. It may not break down to asteroid size, he speculated, but merely break into several larger pieces. The sheer tidal forces in play would cause our volcanoes to erupt and the crust to rip apart. We were doomed to die in a horrific manner.
The auditorium had remained silent for only moments before it exploded in sound. There was shouting and arguing everywhere. Some discounted it as wildly inaccurate, impossible even. Some shouted demands for immediate access to his data, some wanted to prove him wrong, some to prove him right. Some embraced it wholeheartedly, finding his logic and data as presented fit in with their own too perfectly to not be correct. It was pandemonium.
It didn’t take long for his presentation to leak out of the academic community and into the larger public sphere. The military nearly lost their collective minds, proposing to try and blow up the massive planet before it came too near. The public split into factions, with one becoming an extremist group that threatened to kill everyone on the planet. For nearly a year there was massive civil unrest worldwide, with people rioting, looting, and waves of hysteria. Religions found a surge in new members as panicked people turned to the gods in prayer. Things eventually settled down.
With time, his data was found to be correct and was accepted by all. The planet was named, by Sylvet, after the man who had initially discovered it, Yoeleb. The real work began. Debates raged over what to do about the problem. We had roughly two hundred years before Yoeleb made the outer reaches of the inner system planetary orbits. From there, it would swing around the far side of the sun from us, then on the way back around cross our path. That loop gave us an additional year. One year for our planet was seven hundred sixty-two days long.
Studies were done on what effect Yoeleb’s intrusion would have on the other planets in the inner system and it was decided they would feel the effects, certainly, but nothing so drastic as to be devastating.
When that report came in, the idea was born to move. Yes, move. We had made probes that could reach Nahn and Plagen easily and with the new motors they did so in record time. Why not make ships that could move our people? Debates raged, some wanted to grow small commuter style vessels that would take people on quick round trips. Others wanted to grow larger ships that would carry not only people but specimens of plants and animals, articles of history, our entire civilization. Some argued for both. Build small ones and begin taking the population while working on the larger one to take other things.
The naturalists weighed in on if our plants and animals would survive on a new planet, after all, we didn’t even know if the conditions there already had plants we could eat. Or if introducing our species would devastate the ones already there? Too many questions without answers. The old argument of ownership returned, with the Conclave claiming Plagen as its own. The Council decided that Nahn looked to be a more habitable world, so a peace agreement was made. The Conclave would claim Plagen and take its followers there, while the Council claimed Nahn. The Council believed it had the better of the two choices and let the matter drop.
Thus began the space race in earnest. Both sides began growing new experimental vessels. Trips to and from the respective planets were made by small groups, taking samples, reading, observing, scouting. Both sides were on the clock, so to speak, and all eyes kept watch on planet Yoeleb.