Maf: A Brief History of the “Original Colonists” — Part Two
The great ship the “Ark Royal” with 187,000 souls on board, slowly swung away from Earth to a point near the Moon. The Ark Royal would use the gravitational pull of the Moon to slingshot its acceleration
The ship had escaped, surviving the missiles the Russians had sent in its direction.
But the shuttle, the Philadelphia, had been destroyed. All its passengers and crew, a full 20,000 people, had died in a horrendous explosion seen over half the Earth as two Russian missiles intersected the Philadelphia’s trajectory.
Two more Russian missiles had hit the tail end of the Ark Royal itself, but although the great ship quivered and shook, all six long miles of it, the computers reported “No damage.” Captain Patrick McHenery and his crew were greatly relieved, so was Houston Control and millions of people across the earth.
Millions of people wept openly as the “last, best hope of Earth,” crept slowly away from Earth into the infinite blackness beyond.
As the ship neared the Moon, a crew member reported to the Captain. “Captain,” the Captain turned toward his radar and sensors officer, “I have detected a nuclear explosion on the surface of Earth.”
Captain McHenery’s face went pale. He seemed to stoop. “Where?” he asked, “How many?” “Just one so far, sir,” said the radar officer, “I believe it was Berlin.”
Captain McHenery dropped into his chair. “Oh, shit. They did it, they bloody well did it.”
The Captain stood up. “I’ll be in my quarters, notify me of additional explosions.” The Captain disappeared into his quarters off the bridge, as the radar officer turned to scrutinize the ship sensors.
A few minutes later, Dr. Roberta Huntington appeared on deck, flushed, excited. “Where’s the Captain?” she questioned.
“In his quarters, maam, there’s been an incident on Earth,” stated the radar officer.
“What kind of ‘incident?’” asked the ship’s doctor, her voice rising,
“A nuclear explosion, and I have just detected several more.”
“Oh God! Oh God!” shouted the Doctor. She stood still for a few moments, her face pale, she was trembling.
Doctor Huntington steadied herself. She spoke: “But I have to report to the Captain, I have some good news that may take away some of this misery.”
The Doctor approached the Captain’s door and hesitated a moment before she knocked. She questioned herself, should she talk to him now, with this huge tragedy going on, a double set of tragedies after the loss of the Philadelphia?
The Doctor steeled herself to talk to the Captain. She knocked on the door.
“What is it?” she heard the Captain ask.
“Sir it’s me, Dr. Huntington, I have good news to report.”
“Oh, please, God,” the Captain said in a whisper, “Please let it be true.”
“Come in,” the Captain stated.
The Doctor opened the door, and briefly peeked in before opening the door full way and stepping inside.
She saw that the Captain was distraught.
“Sir?” asked the Doctor, “Are you okay?”
The Captain sighed, “I’m fine, I hope your news is truly good.”
“Sir, it is,” the Doctor said beaming, “I’m proud to report the birth of a baby. First baby of the Ark Royal, hopefully with many more to follow.”
“Who are the parents? What name did they give?” asked the Captain.
“Anita and Eric Jones,” replied Doctor Huntington, “it’s a baby boy. They named him Perold Jones.”
“Excellent. Thank you Doctor. I needed this. This truly is good news, I’ll go and visit in a couple of hours,” stated the Captain.
“Yes sir,” responded Doctor Huntington, “I’ll tell them to expect you. They will be very pleased to present their new bundle of joy.” Doctor Huntington couldn’t help the smile that was forming on her face. “This is truly a joyous occasion,” she thought to herself.
The Doctor turned to the door and over her shoulder she said, “I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
A few days later, the Captain met with his officers of the ship to review the detailed report of the war on Earth.
The Captain shuffled through the papers before him as they all watched the monitor against the wall.
The long-range cameras of the Ark Royal, now nearly 170,000 miles past the orbit of the Moon, revealed a multitude of nuclear explosions all across Earth. The crew was transfixed, horrified.
“Sir,” said Commander Thomas Bretson, second-in-command of the Ark Royal. “From the reports,” Commander Bretson paused, “and the visuals, I don’t see how anyone on Earth could have survived.”
“Someone had to,” stated Lt. Commander Rebecca Carmichael, Chief Engineer of the Ark Royal.
“I hope so,” said the Captain. “Meeting adjourned, I want to go over these reports in private.”
Chairs scrapped against the floor as the senior officers stood up to leave.
Doctor Roberta Huntington remained behind as all the other officers filed out the door. “Are you okay sir?”
“Yes Doctor, I’m fine. I just need to get some rest. The last few days, the last few weeks have been hectic.”
“They have been sir, if you need something to relax, I can prescribe something.”
“No Doctor, I’m fine. Now we have to forget what we left behind and focus on the job ahead.”
“Yes sir,” replied the Doctor, “Well if you need me, you know where to find me.”
“Thank you Doctor,” answered the Captain, “it’s good to have a Doctor — and staff — so conveniently to hand.”
Doctor Huntington closed the door behind her, turning her thoughts to focus on what lay ahead. The Captain was right. They must all now focus on the future. The challenges were grave and daunting, but the Doctor had no doubt that with this crew and command, everything would turn out just fine.
The great ship accelerated through black space, a continuous one gee propulsion maintaining a constant gravity. The onboard computers scanned light years ahead, searching for signs of intelligent life, searching for a new home, a habitable planet that would welcome the Ark Royal and her crew and passengers.
The Doctor knew in her heart they would find a new home, she just knew it, she thought to herself.
“But with how many more babies?” she asked herself out loud. Already, just ten days from Earth, a dozen babies had been born, all premature except for the first. But the preemies were doing well, safe, secure, nurtured and cared for in their preemie incubators and by an over-attentive staff.
“We’ll be okay,” said the Doctor, as she passed a woman in the corridor.
“Excuse me Maam, I’m sorry, I didn’t get that,” said the young woman.
“Oh, nothing,” said the Doctor, “just thinking out loud.”
Thirty three months later, alarms sounded sharply across the bridge.
The automatic sweeping systems had detected a possible candidate planet for establishing a new society. The Captain was awakened from sleep and summoned to the bridge.
“Another false alarm?” asked the Captain.
“Too early to tell sir, we are still several light years away, but it’s a Huuge planet, emphasis on ‘Huge’”.
“How big?” asked the Captain, knowing that any answer would be just a rough estimate at this range.
“I can’t say for sure sir,” replied Sensor Officer Teroy, “but the sensors are estimating 80,000 miles plus,”
“That’s the size of Jupiter,” said the captain. “What about the gravity, any data? It must be far beyond the limits to support life.”
“Well, that’s the odd thing, sir.” answered Radar Officer Lt. Douglas “Sparky” Teroy, “The computers have detected the gravity waves, and they appear weak for a planet this size. And I’ve run diagnostics twice.”
“How weak?” the Captain questioned.
“Well sir, the size of the planet and being a rocky planet — which is all we know for certain so far, suggests a very weak gravity, perhaps 1.2 gees.”
“What!?” exclaimed the Captain. “That’s impossible! A rocky planet that size should have a force of, what, a thousand gees?” the Captain asked.
“Yes sir, approximately sir. I’ll run diagnostics again.”
“Do that,” said the Captain, “then do it twice more and recalibrate. If you get the same readings at that time, run diagnostics twice more again and recalibrate once more. Then reanalyze the data. If you get the same readings, come get me. How long will that take?”
“At least two, probably three hours sir.”
“Very well,” the Captain appeared agitated, “get it done.”
“Commander Naerus,” the Captain stated, “how much closer will we be to that planet in three hours?” he asked of the Propulsion Officer.
“Sir,” said Commander Naerus, “we are traveling at several magnitudes of the speed of light. If we want to orbit that planet, we need to begin decelerating now — quickly.”
“Let’s do a flyby, then we will orbit that solar system and then swing back toward the planet. As we near the planet the first time, let’s sweep it with all sensors and systems and gather as much data as we can. If it appears to be someplace we can live on, we’ll orbit the solar system at distance until we have slowed enough to permit an orbital insertion.”
“Propulsion, begin a rapid deceleration, allow us up to one and three quarter gees. Sound the alarms for a hard deceleration, notify the passengers and crew. I’ll be in my quarters.”
A chorus of “Yes sirs,” emanated from the bridge crew as the officers hurried to fulfill the Captain’s orders.
Three hours later the Captain had again been summoned to the bridge.
“Report.” commanded the Captain.
“Sir, we have run diagnostics and recalibrated as you asked, I ran diagnostics again to be sure.”
“What do you have Lieutenant?” asked the Captain.
The bridge crew crept in around the Captain and Lieutenant Teroy, the Captain could sense the excitement of the bridge crew. “Must be something good,” the Captain thought to himself.
“Sir, data indicates a huge, Earth-like planet approximately 100,000 miles in diameter. I don’t know how nor what physics may be in operation but gravity appears to be at an estimated 1.1 to 1.2 gees. We have also detected H2O covering between 70 to 80% of the planet’s surface. And, sir, it’s right in the middle of the ‘goldilocks’ zone. It’s liquid water sir, not frozen, not steam.”
The Captain smiled. A bigger smile than anyone had seen since before they left Earth nearly three years ago.
“Very good,” said the Captain, appearing to be very pleased, “increase deceleration to two gees, sound the alarm and notify passengers and crew that we’ll be increasing deceleration to two gees.”
“Commander Naerus, begin calculations for an orbital insertion.”
“Ahead of you sir, I’ve already done that, we will have to jump to three gees temporarily as we are swinging around the system, but it will be for just three days or so. I’ll have better data as we get closer.”
“How long Commander?”
“Sir, we can attempt an orbital insertion in five months.”
“That’s quick,” said the Captain. “What method will you use to achieve that?”
“Well, sir,” responded Naerus, “the three, possibly four days of three gee deceleration, and I’ll use the planets in system for gravitational drag. We can orbit in five months.”
“We need a name for paradise, people, any suggestions?” asked the Captain to the bridge crew at large.
“New Hope” said Science Officer Lt. Commander Thui Ng, who had been working on bridge with the data and sensor teams to harden the data received from the planet.
“A good name,” said the Captain, “I like it. Let’s keep it. Inform the crew and passengers that we have a name — ‘New Hope.’”
A month later the great ship passed within 11 million miles of the huge planet “New Hope.”
“Talk to me,” said the Captain, “what do you have.” The Captain watched the monitors where he could see light glimmering in the night on the dark side of the planet.
“Sir, it’s inhabited. Those lights are cities.” stated Lt. Teroy.
“And sir, I’m picking up radio emissions, nothing high tech, appears to be telegraph only.” stated Lt. Commander Ng.
“Hydrosphere is indicating 78.5%, average temps approximately 20.55 degrees Celsius — or about 69 degrees Farenheit.”
The Captain nodded, visibly struck by the good news.
“Very good. Well done bridge, you’ve done well.”
“Commander Naerus, prepare for that hard deceleration at three gees. Let’s inform the ship. Get everything battened down for a hard burn.”
The Captain turned back to the monitors across the bridge, looking from one to the other, each showing a different set of data including images from long-range cameras. “In four months, we’ll be preparing to shuttle toward the surface.”
“Begin manuvers to orbit the solar system, use all the gravitational drag you can get, Commander Naerus. I want to be orbiting that planet in four months. Maybe on the surface we can clear up some of these mysteries, the gravity,” said the Captain.
The Ark Royal headed into space to orbit the solar system. Four months later, the ship had applied a three gee deceleration for 83 hours, then a four gee deceleration for nine hours and had slowed to the point where it could enter the solar system and orbit the huge planet.
The Ark Royal was now approaching “New Hope.”
The Captain was in his chair, visibly tense. The passengers and crew were confined to quarters, strapped into “crash couches” for the dangerous manuver of orbital insertion.
If just one thing went wrong, they could burn like a comet in the atmosphere, or explode. The best “error” would be if they hit the atmosphere at a high speed, bouncing off and away into space, possibly requiring several more months to swing back into orbit around the planet. But the objective was not to get near the atmosphere at all, allowing the 300 landing shuttles to ferry passengers and crew to the planet’s surface before returning to the Ark Royal to repeat the manuver.
“Orbit at 10,000 miles then increment in every two hours by a thousand miles. Our landing shuttles are rated for two thousand miles but I want to give us some leeway. I want to park in orbit at 900 miles from the surface.”
“Yes, sir,” responded the bridge crew. At this critical juncture, everyone was tense.
“Sir?” queried Lt. Thomas “Tomtom” Davis, Propulsion Officer on deck at this time.
“What is it Mr. Davis?” sensing the fear in the officer’s voice and hoping he was wrong. The rest of the bridge heard it also.
“Sir, I have very limited thrust from the manuver drives. The ship is slowing — but sir.”
“It’s okay Mr. Davis, we all knew this was not guaranteed, continue.”
“I can’t stop the ship sir. We’re going to burn.”
“Don’t panic yet, son. We’ll get through this. Anyone else concur?” asked the Captain to the bridge crew.
“Sir, unfortunately I concur,” stated Commander Naerus, as he stepped onto the deck. “I have been monitoring the situation from Engineering. I Can slow the ship, but not enough. And we can’t conduct a burn a to perform a reorbit at distance. I think we took damage from those missiles that hit three years ago. Main drives remain online, but at a tenth of the power. We are losing systems all across the ship.”
“What’s your prognosis Commander?” asked the Captain.
“I have a crew reviewing damage from the rear access tunnels and,”
“That’s dangerous Commander,” interrupted the Captain.
“Sir, yes sir, but I feel it’s necessary.”
“Sir, we are in a dive, we can’t pull out, we will impact the surface, at the speed we are going now, we may explode in the atmosphere or explode when we hit the surface. But I do have an alternative plan.”
“Let’s hear it Commander.”
“Yes sir, it’s” just then Commander Naerus’ tablet bleeped. “Sorry sir, it’s the engineers inspecting the manuver drives from the access tunnels.”
A few minutes later, Commander Naerus terminated the conversation after receiving the inspection teams’ full report.
The Captain and bridge crew had already heard.
“No apologies Commander. You said you had an alternative plan?”
“Yes, sir, but it’s dangerous.”
“Let’s hear it Commander,” asked the Captain flatly. “What can we do?”
Commander Naerus iterated his plan. It Was dangerous. It would be best to evacuate the latter third of the ship, but they had no time, passengers and crew will have to ride out whatever happens.
The plan required the ship to face the surface of the planet stern first. Then the rockets of the ship, now malfunctioning and the rockets of the huge shuttles strapped to the top of the ship would all be fired at once.
This would slow the ship enough to prevent a terminal and lethal disaster as the ship hit the surface of the planet.
The crew was estimating casualties would be light, perhaps a thousand killed, maybe up to 5,000 injured. From a passenger and crew manifest approaching 300,000 from all the babies born over the last three years, this would be a tragedy, but bearable.
The passengers and crew were apprised of the situation and the dangerous manuver they all hoped would prevent the ship from exploding in the atmosphere. All across the ship, people broke into sobs as others prayed to a distant God. Fear gripped all.
The retro rockets and the rockets aboard the shuttles fired simultaneously. Only the Captain and Commander Naerus knew through a discussion exactly how dangerous this was.
The exhaust from the rockets of the shuttle would burn through the hulls of each of the shuttles attached to the deck before it. If it happened too quickly, the fuel in each of the shuttles would explode causing the entire ship to explode. All it would take was just one shuttle. If it happened too slowly, the shuttles would be heavy anchors forcing the ship to sink through the atmosphere too rapidly causing a terminal event with the surface of the planet.
Commander Naerus calculated a landing 200 miles away from land. He hoped he could make it happen.
On the planet Maf, a huge blazing comet crossed the sky from west to east. Millions of people peered upward to observe this magnificent sight. Little did they know they could be watching the last moments of life for 300,000 people.
The comet crossed from night into morning. Aboard ship, temperatures were rising rapidly. Explosions could be heard — and felt — from the top deck as pieces of the shuttles burned away. Aerodynamic effect began ripping portions of the shuttles apart.
A tense silence filled the bridge.
Commander Naerus and several others were monitoring the sensors and the instrumentation, attempting to control the great ship’s plummet through the atmosphere.
“Sir?” said Commander Naerus, “we’re going to hit the water approximately 200 miles east of the nearest landfall and several thousand miles west of the next. The ship will sink. Too much of the ship will have been torn apart to maintain water integrity. This is all in the engine areas, no habited spaces sir.”
“You’re doing well Commander,” stated the Captain.
40 minutes after their descent to the surface had first begun, the Captain called out over the public address system: “Brace for impact.” The ship was crashing.
A huge explosion rocked the ship as it hit the water. The superheated hull of the ship converted water instantly to steam. The lights went out, pitch darkness gripped the ship. The bridge crew could hear shrill screams from across the nearer portions of the ship.
Emergency lighting flickered on.
Instruments returned to an active state.
“Sir, we are sinking fast. But I am showing no leaks in any of the quarters.”
“How deep is the water here?” asked the Captain.
“Two miles sir. But we can handle the pressure.”
“To get to the surface we will convert some of the interior into submersibles and then make for the nearest landfall. Any estimate of how long that will take?”
“Yes sir,” responded Commander Naerus, “one, maybe two years, a year and a half maybe.”
“Okay,” said the Captain. The bridge crew grabbed ahold of whatever they could as the ship rocked from side to side and from bow to stern as the ship sank beneath the waves, buffeted by the currents in the ocean.
“Sir?” stated Commander Bretson, “we’re going to hit bottom hard. We are now descending by the stern so it will be stern first, but the engine compartments are filling with water which is accelerating our descent.”
“Understood Commander,” stated the Captain, “how much time?”
“About twenty minutes sir. I expect rearward areas of the ship to crush and or snap off. We could lose a couple thousand people,” said Commander Bretson.
Eighteen minutes later the Captain warned the passengers and crew, “Brace for impact. Brace for impact.”
With a heavy thud, the ship impacted the ocean bottom. The engine compartments dug deep into the mud burying themselves a hundred feet or more.
The ship broke in two, the engine section separating from the remainder; horrible sounds of tearing metal echoed throughout the ship as the Ark Royal shuddered and quivered.
Finally, it settled on the bottom with a boom and sudden stop that threw everyone standing to the decks.
The Ark Royal, was at last on the planet, albeit two miles below the ocean.
Now, the hard work would begin.