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Short Story


It was an incredible achievement. The discovery of faster-than light travel enabled humans to travel to distant stars in a matter of days. The training program for new astronauts began almost immediately, and the project received an incredible amount of government funding. So much so, in fact, that many other industries and programs were abandoned and ground to a halt. It seemed as though humanity could not wait to abandon their home planet. It was true that centuries of pollution and overcrowding had reduced the planet to a smoky, barren wasteland, but moving planet was for many a step too far. Many were of the opinion that we should attempt to save what was left of our planet. It was clear to most, however, that the planet was beyond saving. The solution was to do what humanity had always done-simply throw it away and forget about it.


The surrounding cosmos was frantically scanned for habitable planets, and the closest was Mars. However, over 2 millennia of human inhabitation had all but stripped the planet of the abundant natural resources that it once had. Entire cities were destroyed and their metal melted down for the spaceship. Cars, buses, and airplanes were seized by the government for their fuel, and as a result, prices soared from their already exorbitant amounts. What was left of the world economy collapsed, and most fell into poverty. A strict, authoritarian rule was required to repress the frequent riots, and it was quickly decided that the Space Ark, as it was aptly named, would only be accessible for a large fee, effectively only allowing the rich to escape their ruined planet. Salvation would not be free in this degenerating world. As the privileged rocketed away to a fresh new planet, the people looked up from their slums and shantytowns and vowed that someday, somehow, they would follow their overlords to the stars.


From the blueprints and notes left behind, the remaining people were able to cobble together a spaceship of their own. However, it had to be made much bigger, because no one would be left behind. An international workforce was quickly established, which, despite the many language barriers, cooperated well. Within a year, the ship was built and fueled, using the last shreds of resources the planet had left. It was by no means beautiful or sleek. It resembled a bulbous, slightly pointed misshapen tube. This  was due to having to use all kinds and grades of metals. Compared to the ship that had abandoned them all, it was as a mangy street dog is to a sleek greyhound-both the same species, but so far removed from each other that it would be hard to believe. Aesthetics aside, it would be able to follow the privileged into the stars. The pilot, George Johnson, was a seasoned astronaut and a remarkable pilot, known for keeping cool in a crisis. He had been offered a seat on the original Space Ark, but had declined, stating that it was wrong to leave people behind. It was lucky for the people that he had, for the only other candidate was ninety years old and had fallen asleep during the simulation testing, resulting in a loss of several billion virtual lives.


In the end, only two billion came on the Ark Mk.II. The rest were either staying for religious reasons or the enduring disbelief in climate change, which was nice for the passengers, as it left enough room for everyone to bring all of their belongings and still have a large cabin each.  This, however, upset George, as he felt that no one should be left behind. He attempted to reason with the ones that were staying, and after a blazing row with both the Pope and the leading skeptic on climate change, decided that it simply was not worth it. As the comfortable plebeians left the grip of Earth’s gravity like an unlucky nephew escaping from an aunt’s suffocating embrace, however, several people realised that they did want to leave after all, but of course by then it was too late. Some attempted to communicate with the ship to try to get it to turn back, but all they got was a rather smug ‘I told you so’, which was not as helpful as they had hoped. On the plus side, however, it kept George chuckling throughout the entire voyage, which was lucky, because it was several weeks long and there was absolutely no scenery, unless you count the occasional comet, and once a rather petit royal.


Once the ship passed within view of the star that their new planet orbited around, George pressed the button that would awaken his fellow passengers. However, during liftoff, a power coupling had broken loose, meaning that it would have to be manually reconnected. This presented a bigger problem than it sounds, because the rest of the crew, after two days of the voyage, had decided to ‘have a quick rest’ and had promptly gone to sleep for the rest of the journey. The upshot of all of this was that George was the only conscious person on the whole ship, and he could not leave his post, because he had resolutely refused programming an autopilot. Furthermore, the button that extended the landing gear was out of George’s reach, glinting mischieviously on the console as if to say “Come and get me.” After much straining and swearing under his breath, he realised that he would never reach it. He would have to perform a belly landing. In other words, essentially crashing into the ground and skidding along the belly of the ship. This maneuver is extremely difficult to perform without destroying the ship, and George had only ever done it in the simulations, and even then he had crashed most of the time. Nonetheless, it had to be done.


The Ark Mk.II came screaming through the atmosphere, all flaps extended and engines protesting. It touched down once, twice, skidded, and came to rest just outside the rich colony. Truth be told, George had been aiming for the colony itself, but you take what you get. Once the ship stopped shaking and the warning light stopped flashing, George ran to the disconnected coupling and reconnected it. Once he did so, the passengers woke up, most of them complaining that they had only slept 5 seconds. After George patiently explained the concept of hypersleep to them for the ninth time, the passengers retrieved their belongings and egressed the ship to their new planet.


However, many were extremely dissatisfied with their new home, complaining that they couldn’t get a signal and ‘what kind of planet doesn’t have a Starbucks?’. It turned out that many of the people had not processed the idea of a whole new planet, and were expecting merely a less polluted version of the Earth. It was lucky, then, that the Ark Mk.II had taken all that wished to come, including farmers and construction workers. It looked as if this was a mistake the first colonists had made. Apparently most of the rich didn’t know one end of a tractor from the other, and as none of them had had the foresight to bring seeds of any kind, many had died. The survivors were living a hand-to-mouth existence. To clarify, they had their butlers pick fruits off of the trees, clean them in the river, chop them up, put them on any round bit of stone that was lying around, and serve them.


Within a month, the second settlement had been set up. It was prosperous thanks to both the seeds that they had brought from Earth and the new planet’s fertile soil, and the houses were sturdily constructed out of wood and stone. As the servants had deserted the rich colony in favor of the new one, which had promoted equality as part of an advertising campaign to increase the population size, the well-off were not as well-off as they had been on Earth. Quite the opposite, in fact. As the second settlement grew, the more attractive it seemed to the cold, hungry nobs. Many of them had discreetly slipped away and had attempted to join the bigger colony, but were all spurned. The people had not forgotten that they had been deserted.


This presented a conundrum to George, who had been elected leader for his stellar flight. Could he, with a clear conscience, turn away fellow human beings who were desperate and starving? On one hand, the rich had abandoned them on Earth, but on the other, they would die otherwise. If they continued to refuse entry and survival to the rich, how were they different from those who had left them? At any rate, it had to be put to a vote before the decision was made. It was said vote that had been tearing the town apart. On one side were the upper-middle class and many of the servants who had not been mistreated during their servitude. On the other were the lower classes and the disgruntled butlers. The debate had driven a large rift through the colony, and George knew that he would need to solve this problem before the split caused permanent damage. His main opponent was the lead farmer, Juan Pedro. Pedro had been an able farmer hailing from Venezuela under a cruel and greedy landlord. Because of this, he retained a distrust of all rich people. This would not have been so much of a problem if he wasn’t such an eloquent speaker. This was a skill that George did not have, and it was due to this that he lost supporters to Pedro at every debate. As winter approached, George tried a different tack. With words, he painted a picture of their fellow human beings huddling, shivering in the snow, lacking food or even blankets to sustain them. He theorized that many of the people here had been through the same situation, and he felt that he could rely on their empathy. Pedro’s position was essentially a ‘serves them right’, but for many time had eroded the bitterness that had been placed there long ago, and they now only saw people who needed help.


As it was put to the vote, 68% voted to let the others in. George worried about this percentage, afraid that it was not enough of a majority and that there would be a large chunk of the population who would feel alienated. Unfortunately, he was right. Led by Juan Pedro, most of the farmers had gone on strike and had demanded that the wealthy be sent out. George reviewed their stored food supplies and estimated that they could survive a week without the farmers. During this week, George frantically thought about the issue and brainstormed to try to find a way around it. At last he had an idea: The rich were not rich anymore! They had nothing and so were not the fat cats that Pedro so despised. George put this idea to him, and reluctantly Pedro had agreed to end the strike and accept the not-so-rich-anymore people as fellow citizens.


After this debacle, life in the settlement stabilized. The Ark Mk. II was turned into museums and was restored every 50 years. Once survival was taken care of, the citizens’ minds began to turn to the arts and sciences, and so the colony prospered. Eventually, communications were set up with Earth, and many were eager to see the loved ones that they had left behind, or had refused to go. Many had changed their minds, and it was decided that the Ark Mk.I would be set up as an interstellar ferry, taking those who wished to leave Earth to this new planer, now dubbed Principium, meaning “new beginning” in Latin. Satellites were sent into orbit, enabling hundreds of thousands to escape reality as they once did. In fact, life was starting to resemble that of Earth’s. George wondered how much time they had left before they would have to move again...