Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Story: A New Home

A New Home

by Floyd Looney

(Art work by Don Davis, commissioned by NASA, 1975, and released to Public Domain. http://www.donaldedavis.com/PARTS/allyours.html)

“The strawberries, honey” Janet told her 7-year old daughter Anna, in the garden near their house “Make sure you pick the big, plump ones that your grandpa likes”

“Okay, mommy” the girl said swinging her little wicker basket excitedly, wearing her brand new yellow dress and feeling like this was some sort of holiday. Grandpa was visiting, he didn't live too far away but he was normally busy with his writing and stuff. Anna glanced up and could see his house from the garden, it was a mile or two up the curving wheel of the revolving space station.

“His whole class graduated yesterday, he is proud of them all. They all did so well” her mother said “Your grandpa got to watch the ceremony live from Earth, so I invited him over for our own little celebration”

“Yea” she said twirling on the spot “Maybe he will take me for a walk by the lake”

“He does have time today, I guess. A rare day off for him” Janet said, thinking it might be about time for her father to retire but knowing he wouldn't. With the end of the semester he would dive back into his writing full time. She sighed and shook her head.

“We have enough strawberries for two cakes” she said, guessing that half of them would survive long enough to decorate the cake “Let's go back in now”

They left the garden and passed by a lot of other gardens before they reached their modest house with the little decorative white picket fence. Janet had always wanted a cute house like this but before coming to Terra Beta, it was never going to happen. Her husband was one of the engineers who kept the station running smoothly, like trying to keep cloud formation inside the station to a minimum.

Terra Beta had cost a fortune to construct, it was located in a Lagrangian Point just past the moon, but they could see Earth a lot of the time rising and falling behind the moon – which looked bigger from their perspective than Earth. It was supposed to be a pilot program as a test, the real goal was to build a rocket to push it into Mars orbit so that world could be studied more intently for a long time.

That phase never happened because of a global depression across Earth. It affected Terra Beta a bit but internally they had their own cottage-industry economy. Much of their own food and other things were made right on the station, such as the gardens. Nearly any part that was needed to repair the space station could also be manufactured there.

Janet greeted her father when he arrived but Anna leaped into his arms. If it weren't for the 0.8g gravity she was sure he would have been bowled over. They chatted and had some tea until her husband came home. He looked a bit grim but he put up a good show of enjoying the little celebration.

After Anna went to bed, they had some wine and chatted about things like her fathers teaching job and how his books were selling. When she put her father to bed in the guest bedroom she went back downstairs to confront her husband.

“Jeff, what's going on, why are you so grim and worried?” she asked “and yes I can tell”

“Earth's governments are clamoring to send up ten thousand refugees to Terra Beta, as if we can take care of them. It's insane, it could never work” he told her “They do not understand how carefully balanced everything is up here. Ten thousand welfare cases would destroy everything.”

“What can we do? The consortium is owned by those governments after all” she said, wondering if they would have to move back to Earth. She really didn't want to go back to Earth.

“I don't know. There will be a council meeting on the subject tomorrow, but the members haven't been told about this yet” he told her “Everyone will find out and the reaction to it could tear our community apart”

It doesn't make sense, Janet told herself. Why would they want to send a bunch of refugees to a space station. Did any of those politicians understand what they were doing? Maybe they did. Maybe they saw this as a way to end the space program for good. They already canceled the idea of sending it to Mars and of building a second habitat wheel, maybe this was to be the final death knell. Politicians haven't changed much since Herod, she concluded.

The Terra Beta community was incensed and shocked when the news came out. Many of the adults had come to the same conclusions that Janet had. That this was an effort to end the space program for good, binding the human race to surface dwellers forever.

Janet's father was on the council. He had gone into “deep think” mode while everyone else panicked and argued about what it all meant. Finally he raised a hand and the gavel told everyone else to shut up, including the small crowd that had shown up in person.

“We do have an engine on this space station” he informed them “It would take a while to build up enough speed, going around and around the moon and then Earth and then going out to Mars. We can park at Mars like the original plan had called for. Let them spend millions to send a handful refugees that far and see how fast their minds change”

“But isn't this station owned by those governments when it is all said and done?” Another member of the council asked “Can't we try to come to a compromise of some kind?”

“How about you guys keep them talking for a few months while we get out of dodge?” her grandfather replied to some chuckles “That would be useful”

The thing any politician ever did best was distract the public, Janet reckoned. Her grandfather would be fired from the long-distance teaching job, besides it would be hard to do that from Mars with the delay in communications it would bring.

First they reported that the space station had an bronchial infection and shut off all entrances from the outside. “It is very contagious, no one should visit this station for a while” their top doctors had reported to Earth.

Then while negotiations were going on with the Consortium the station started orbiting a small area of empty space within the Lagrangian Point, most of this while hidden by the moon. It took many weeks to build up any real speed and they orbited the Moon, now the Earth could see it and track its speed, their communications became alarmed.

“It is time for us to find a new home” Janet's grandfather announced to the station to much applause, it was also being beamed to Earth “Humanity can no longer be anchored to one world. We must move amongst the planets and then the stars and thrive. Thriving can only be done with freedom, which would be denied us if we stay”

Then once they were clear of the Earth-moon system they began to track an incoming vessel, catching up with them a little by little. It announced itself as “Space Fighter One” and said it had been sent by the consortium to bring them back or to destroy them.

With only a couple days to act the council met again. Her grandfather was now the Chairman and he told everyone to shut up when they were arguing and bickering. Instead he opened a communication channel to SFO and allowed them to watch and participate in the meeting.

“So, you carry a single nuclear missile” her father said, repeating the information as it stood “How much fuel do you have?”

When he heard the answer his eyebrows went up. “You are on a one-way suicide mission, sent to murder 11,000 innocent people who want to be free. Is this what you wanted to do when you grew up?”

The pilot answered “Of course not”

The old man nodded “Why don't you fire off the missile toward the sun and come aboard and join our community? Wouldn't that be better than dying for such a horrible cause?”

So Terra Beta survived. It thrived in Martian orbit, it sent down teams to study the world below even as Earth slipped into darkness. Soon radio signals ceased to be broadcast, nothing but static and evidence of increased radiation levels.

It's been fifteen years now and another station is being built, this one will be sent forth toward interstellar space, on a mission to thrive and survive around another star. They are also told to build another some day and send it elsewhere too. When Terra Delta is complete, I will be on that mission to find a new home.

-Anna Smith


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