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ZARMINA

A Novel



by



John Simion


Copyright © 2018 John Simion

All rights reserved.

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CONTENTS

MAP OF ZARMINA

MAP OF LANDING ZONE

LIST OF CHARACTERS

PROLOGUE

REPORT FROM ZARMINA

ESCAPE FROM GUIANA

WAKING UP

PRELUDE TO FLIGHT

FALSE START

ARRIVAL

SCIENCE REPORT

LANDING

THE INITIAL SITUATION

LIFE ON ZARMINA

GETTING STARTED

A SETBACK, AND A DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER

BREAKTHROUGH

THE SICKNESS

PROGRESS

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

THE FIRE IN THE SKY

BECOMING LOCALS

FROM BAD TO WORSE

JUDGING MARTINEZ

COLONEL JOHANNSEN TAKES CHARGE

SPLINTER CELL

RIVER EXPLORATION, PART I

CATCH OF THE DAY

PROMETHEUS UNBOUND

ENGINEERING ZARMINA

RIVER EXPLORATION, PART II

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

CONSEQUENCES

SPREADING OUT

THE WAY OF THE GUN

COPING

CONTINUED EXPANSION

LIFE ON ZARMINA

UNDER THE VENEER

CIVILIZATION ADVANCES

DISCONTENT

CALLING DR. JOHNSON!

SOLVING SALT

FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS

THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY JOHANNSEN

ARRIVAL OF THE GATES

CHANGE OF COMMAND

A CURIOUS DISCOVERY

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE CAMP

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

PROGRESS, ATTITUDE

THE NEW GUY

CONCRETE AND COLD STEEL

RETURNING HOME

A SURPRISE VISITOR

ON TRIAL FOR MY LIFE

PLAYING HIDE AND SEEK

ANOTHER PERILOUS JOURNEY

SHOWDOWN AT THE MOEHRING

REBOOT

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT ZARMINA BRIGADE

BLOOD, SWEAT AND SPEARS

TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH

A SURPRISE FROM ZARMINA

THE ROCKET’S RED GLARE

END GAME

CHECKMATE

AFTERMATH

THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


MAP OF ZARMINA


MAP OF LANDING ZONE


LIST OF CHARACTERS

USFS Turing:

Main Characters:

Crew:

Colonel Kevin Johannsen, Commander

Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Denton, First Officer (wife of Clevon Jackson)

Captain Ellen “Zig” Zgorowski, Science Officer

Captain Charles “Chuck” Wright, Engineering Officer

Senior Master Sergeant Gabriel “Gabe” Bautzen, Supply Officer

Master Sergeant Luke Branton

Master Sergeant Nick Emerson

Technical Sergeant Eric Miller

Staff Sergeant Hunter Romano

Major Characters:

John B. Travis, colonist, lawyer-historian, soapmaker, and ironworker

Kay Travis, hair stylist, cook, and wife of John B. Travis

Allison “Allie” Travis, daughter of John & Kay Travis

Steve Gertz, PhD, Director of Science

Christie Johnson, M.D., ship’s doctor

Edward Williams, minister, confidante, and supporter of Colonel Johannsen

Steve Neumann, confidante and supporter of Colonel Johannsen

Secondary Characters:

Janine Strahan, nurse

Augustus “Augie” Goldberg, biologist

Dr. Joyce Cameron, psychologist

Clevon Jackson, Farm Team Leader

Davide “Dave” Pitrello, farmer and heavy equipment operator

Jared and Monica Howard, farmers

Ricardo Martinez, farmer, and Rosa, his woman

Kim Dae-Jung, engineer

Kenshen Kawaguchi and Hikaru Kawaguchi, entrepreneurs

Zach Carter, ironworker

Jill Duarte and Roberto Maldonado, expert fishermen

Sofia di Bartolomeo, cook

Jacob and Emma Turnberry, farmers

Ann Rogers, supporter of Colonel Johannsen and Lieutenant Colonel Denton

Special Character:

Surveyor, a robotic exploration tool powered by artificial intelligence

Colonists:

Judy Green

Isaac Richardson

Jim Wunderlin

Jerry Butler

Scott Patterson

Tom and Ashley Johnston

Jay Golding

Beth Barnes

Joe Brown

Dave and Melinda Newsome

Diane Weathers

Derry Perkowski

Evie Tseyi’nii

Rick Haas

Burt Burnett

Ann Rogers

Ed Hong

DeShawn Wallace

Nancy Cowan

Roger and Carolyn Hayes

Sam McCormick

Rose Cianchetti

Mason Brown

Rick Suleiman

Shawn Randles

USFS Gates

Colonel Annette Castillo, Commander

Major Sanele Barnett, First Officer, later transferred to the Turing

Master Sergeant Ernie McGinness, Supply Officer

Staff Sergeant Annette Meltzer (later reassigned to the Turing)

Rennie Aquino, colonist

Amy & Marco Rinella, colonists

USFS Moehring

Colonel Albert Frazier, Commander

Lieutenant Colonel Julia Spinelli, First Officer

Captain Tricia McDonald

Captain Trevon Thomas

Senior Master Sergeant Enrique Garcia, supply officer

Staff Sergeant Nguyen Van Duc

Sergeant Ramon Gutierrez

Sergeant Richie Ray

Jan Fields, M.D., ship’s doctor


PROLOGUE

Astronomers initially thought it rather an inconsequential star, a red dwarf star in the Libra constellation about twenty light-years from Earth. With a mass thought to be one-third that of Earth’s own sun, the star was so inconsequential that they simply gave it the numerical designation “Gliese 581” instead of something more important and impressive like “Polaris” or “Sirius.” Despite its inauspicious start, Gliese 581 gained prominence in the early 2000s when scientists detected a solar system and theorized that it might harbor a “circumstellar habitability zone,” the range of orbits around a star within which a planetary surface might support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure.

The problem that plagued science was the difficulty in proving exactly what was out there and what it all meant. The radial velocity method - tiny Doppler shifts in the starlight as a planet’s gravity tugs on a star and one of the most reliable methods of identifying exoplanets— established and confirmed the likely existence of three planets orbiting Gliese 581 in 2005, followed by a fourth planet in 2009. Existence of these planets was confirmed by study of planetary transits, which occur when the orbiting planet passes in front of the star and blocks a tiny fraction of its light.

The existence of possible fifth and sixth planets were announced in 2010 based on analysis of gravitational data. Since these planets did not transit Gliese 581, confirmation by planetary transit was impossible. A hot debate was touched off when another team, using a different radial velocity spectrograph, disputed their existence. They argued that the discoverers had erroneously assumed the planets had circular orbits and that the results would be completely different if the planets had elliptical orbits - and of course, nobody knew what kind of orbits any of the planets had. Yet another group of scientists used Bayesian analysis — which examines the statistical certainty of a set of observations - and concluded that the additional planets did not exist because the amount of background “noise” in the data had been underestimated. The team that discovered the two planets, led by Steve Vogt, tested and retested their data and held firm to their conclusion.

Even the launch of the giant Webb space telescope in 2019 and its successor, the even larger Braun telescope launched in 2031, failed to resolve matters; those telescopes were aimed primarily at resolving bigger questions like the origin of the universe and spent little time on small matters like exoplanets. During the one time the Braun telescope was aimed at Gliese 581, no evidence of the fifth and sixth planets was found. This immediately was hailed as proof by the camp denying their existence, while the opposite camp pointed out that with so little study, it was entirely possible that the fifth and sixth planets were simply on the other side of Gliese 581.

The one thing all scientists agreed on was that one or more of the planets in the Gliese 581 system might be within the habitability zone. Which planets might lie within it remained mere academic speculation until Vogt unofficially named one of the disputed planets, Gliese 581 g, after his wife, Zarmina, and was quoted by the Mercury News as saying that Zarmina “may well be like Earth, where you could walk around comfortably and look out at the stars.” The media-friendly name and possibility of life on an alien planet captured the public’s imagination. The article was followed by a frenzy of media speculation of what explorers might actually find on Zarmina - assuming, of course, that Zarmina actually existed.

And so the debate raged for decades, unprovable because Gliese 581 was simply too far away and too weak a star to give solid data. In the years following the launch of the Braun telescope, things generally fell apart in the world and astronomy became a much lower priority as sea levels and warfare rose and budgets fell. By the late 2060s, things had resolved a bit and the Branson-Musk interstellar drive finally offered the possibility of proof. That’s where my story begins.


REPORT FROM ZARMINA

I’m transmitting this report from the bridge of the USFS Alan Turing, the first manned ship to leave Earth’s solar system. The debate is over; the existence of Zarmina within the habitable zone of Gliese 581 is confirmed and humanity has found a new home here.

My name is John Travis and I’m the chairman of the Zarmina Governing Council. Before we left Earth, I was assigned to report on our mission. We got off to a rough start here. We barely escaped from Earth and after we arrived here we nearly died a dozen times from things you might expect on an alien planet — starvation, sickness and animal attacks. Our first loss to a manta was devastating, a turning point for our colony, and animal attacks are still common enough that we just had one a few hours ago. The biggest threat to our survival, though, didn’t even come from Zarmina. It’s one you might not expect, one we brought here with us. Our own humanity.

I have no idea when Earth will receive this report. I’m sending it with a quantum device that they say can transmit faster than light, but how long will it take to cross the 20 light-years from Zarmina back to Earth? And when will you get it? I don’t even know what year it would be on Earth right now. I know we’ve been here 2143 cycles, which is about two years in Earth time, but the star drive got us here by folding space-time and I can’t even get my head around that one. By the time you receive this report, you will probably have forgotten us, but we on Zarmina all still remember you. We don’t want to be forgotten.


ESCAPE FROM GUIANA

My own story starts with my love of sci-fi back in my younger days. I memorized every episode of “The Galaxions” and even watched all those old episodes of Star Wars and Star Trek. I knew they were silly and unrealistic, but I didn’t care because they took me to another world. I’d read books about starships, laser blasters and fighting giant ants to defend our home on some distant planet. I’d get so engrossed in the stuff that I’d hang out in the toilet until my dad and brother would start banging on the door, yelling at me to get out. Back in those days we were still imagining artificial gravity and suspended animation, but now, having been through interstellar space, those ideas just seem ludicrous. It’s absurd to think of people walking around in a starship like they have Earth gravity, or lying down in gleaming white and chrome containers and waking up about five minutes later at the end of their voyage, all fresh and clean and exactly the same age as they left. Let me tell you, our trip here was nothing like that.

For starters, there’s still no such thing as suspended animation. What they came up with for us was simply extended sleep. It’s not the same. The idea was that we would slowly drift asleep, our heartbeat slowed to the point of just barely keeping us alive, our nutrition and hydration taken care of by tubes and wonder drugs to slow the aging process. Sounds like suspended animation, right? It’s not. The big difference is that we’d still age. They told us we’d still age but so slowly that it wouldn’t be noticeable, maybe the equivalent of 10-15 years. A few years of aging didn’t bother me too much. I was 30-something on Earth and after all those years of dreaming of flying to the stars, I figured that aging 10 years wasn’t a bad tradeoff for such an epic journey. Besides, I was always up for an adventure and what better adventure could you get than going to an alien planet, all expenses paid?

Getting selected to fly on mankind’s first interstellar voyage was the most exciting day of my life. The United Space Force was in charge and once I said yes, they didn’t give me time to change my mind. My wife, Kay, and I were picked up and whisked away by gyrocopter to the USF’s launch site in Guiana. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but there was no departure speech, no ticker tape parade and not even enough time for a “hold mail” notice to the Post Office - not that it would have done much good anyway. They just picked us up and away we went.

Guiana was incredibly remote, hot and humid - good training for Zarmina as it turned out. The launch site wasn’t much, just a few metal buildings, some generators and of course a very long runway. There were four USF shuttles next to the runway, each with the usual staircase, elevator for loading and of course refueling equipment. Each of the birds was the latest design, dazzlingly silver in the bright Guiana light, crouched and ready to move to the runway. A few USF security policemen and a handful of private security troops lazed around the corners of the building, seeking shade and generally looking bored. Who could blame them? The war with China was over and with its remote location, Guiana wasn’t exactly a hot spot for military action anyway.

There wasn’t much time to contemplate conditions because we were quickly moved into a big warehouse for training. They issued us three white jumpsuits and some underwear, toiletries and a bag to hold that and a few photos and personal items. They said the USF would issue anything else significant that we’d need. We slept on cots in a converted warehouse with our fellow colonists. Nobody knew anything and the few USF troops that interacted with us either knew nothing themselves or were tight-lipped. About all we got out of them was that there were four ships waiting for us: the Turing, the Gates, the Jobs, and the Moehring.

Training was minimal. They had a mockup of the Moon shuttle and the centrifugal ring that would be our temporary home once we awakened from our extended sleep. Our training consisted of boarding and escape procedures for the shuttle, transfers from the main body of the ship to the centrifugal ring, briefings on the USF ranks and procedures, since they’d be the ones operating the ship, and some instruction on hygiene in space. Most of our time was spent on every kind of medical test and vaccination known to mankind. Line after line to be tested and injected. We knew we were about ready to leave when they gave us an entire day of laxatives to completely empty our bowels. Yuck! I made so many trips to the bathroom that I nearly wore a hole in the floor.

That much training took a whopping three days. Ready or not, on the fourth day we were awakened before dawn by the sound of explosions and gunfire. I was instantly awake but I must have been in shock. Being jolted from sleep by gunfire and grenade blasts, I got out of bed but simply stood there for a minute, stunned. I could hear people screaming outside but at first it didn’t register on me. Seconds later, USF troops ran through the sleeping area, telling everyone to get dressed and meet at the east entrance. There was a loud explosion nearby and suddenly a huge hole appeared in the back side of the building. My ears were ringing and several of our colleagues nearest the hole were bloodied and on the ground. Seeing their motionless bodies must have brought me back to reality, because instinct took over from shock and I started to move. I wasn’t going to stand there and watch while we got shot or blown up. I took Kay’s arm and we ran for the opposite door, following the crowd.

Ahead were a line of shuttle buses. Clickety-snap, clickety-snap. Fire from railguns, I knew that much from the news. More gunfire. Closer. A USF security cop and three private security guys ran past us to the east. I wondered why they were running the same direction as us and just then one of them went down, blood streaming from a jagged hole in the back of his cammies. Kay and I ran for the bus marked Turing 2. We stumbled inside and almost immediately fell to the floor, because the driver had panicked and hit the gas before we were ready. The bus engine screamed as the driver mashed the accelerator and bus started moving toward the runway. It wasn’t nearly fast enough. Even as we drove away, we could hear more gunfire and PING! PING! PING! as bullets hit the bus somewhere. Two more USF troops in flight gear waited at the shuttle and waved us up the staircase. Close gunfire again. One of the USF troops kneeled and fired his weapon at something behind us. More gunfire but inside the shuttle it was muted. Everyone strapped in just as the engines began to roar and the shuttle moved toward the runway. I had only a tiny window but now that I was strapped in, I could see a line of advancing troops. I didn’t have time to get a good look; about all I could see was flashes of gunfire and olive green uniforms.

Our shuttle turned onto the runway and as it did, I could see the other three shuttles behind us. Suddenly I was blinded by a gigantic explosion. Our own shuttle had just begun its run when I realized that we’d lost one of the other shuttles. There was no time to contemplate it, though, as we were pressed back hard into our seats as our shuttle accelerated. Now that we were rapidly climbing toward space, it seemed like everything was over. Seconds later we were so high that it seemed like our rendezvous with the Turing was going to be uneventful. Indeed, we could see the curvature of the Earth, one last look at the beauty of blue skies and white fluffy clouds. Yeah, and just then was when the shuttle suddenly jerked left. The movement just about wrenched my neck, but I had just enough time to see a silver bloom and then an orange explosion off to my right. Chaff and a missile strike? An instant later a hypercraft passed right under us. It was traveling upward at incredible speed on a different vector, though, and rapidly disappeared. Our shuttle kept climbing and in minutes I could feel the tug of gravity disappearing.


WAKING UP

After that, the rest of the shuttle ride was uneventful. It took a few more minutes to reach space but there was a babble of voices aboard. Everyone offered their opinion about what had happened and what was lost in the attack. Many were concerned about how USF security could have allowed an enemy combat unit to come near enough to attack a high security installation in the middle of the jungle. Who would do such a thing? The war with China had been over for ten years. Maybe they thought they could get the Branson-Musk drive for themselves, but if that was true, why capture the launch facility and destroy our colony ships? Well, one thing was for sure - those troubles would be left far, far behind us.

With all the talk, we were so busy we didn’t notice the docking procedure until the crew told us to line up to enter the Turing. The crew said nothing about the attack; they simply directed us toward the hatchway to enter the Turing. As we floated through the hatch and into the Turing itself, a large plaque read, Qui audet adipiscitur. Another crewman directed us to take the first corridor on the left and to move by hanging onto railings and pulling ourselves along. I asked him the meaning of the Latin on the plaque. He said, “Who Dares Wins” and “Hurry your ass up and get moving down the corridor.” I’m pretty sure the plaque didn’t actually say that last part.

Everything was zero-g — another broken expectation from sci-fi. No matter what you’ve seen in videos, there’s no artificial gravity in space except what can be manufactured through centrifugal force or acceleration - neither of which was available while simply orbiting Earth. It was my first experience in zero-g and let me tell you, without gravity, you float along while your stomach remains about ten meters behind you and upside down. Your every movement is exaggerated because nothing slows you down. Our group was a chorus of “ouch” and “sorry” as everyone banged into the walls and kicked each other while moving down the railing.

A nurse led us to a long passageway no more than a meter wide with stacks and stacks of drawers on both sides. The drawers rolled out from the wall and then sealed up when they went back in, reminding me all too much of a morgue. And these were supposed to be our beds? These things were supposed to be glass and chrome! Anyway, I was hanging there in the narrow hallway in my stylish white jumpsuit, waiting my turn, when something dawned on me.

“Hey,” I said to the nurse. “You’re putting us down to sleep, but who’s going to wake us up?”

Nurse Strahan was all business and not in the mood. “The shipboard computer controls all the drugs, nutrition and hydration. The computer will wake me first and I’ll monitor the rest of the wakeup process.”

“Whoa, wait a minute! What if the computer fails?” I asked.

“Computers don’t fail,” she snapped. “Now take off your jumpsuit and get in your sleep chamber.”

Seeing that we were entering a morgue scared the hell out of me. Hearing we were relying on a computer to wake us up when we arrived didn’t help. My brain kept echoing, “Computers don’t fail.” Yeah, we’re going to leap across 20 light-years, what could possibly go wrong? I’d always been up for an adventure, true, but just about then I changed my mind. Too late; there was no time for contemplation. The nurse made me take off my jumpsuit right in front of her and everybody else and get in the sleep chamber. No ceremony, no “thank you for your service to mankind.” Since the jumpsuit was all any of us had on, there was also no concern for personal privacy. It wasn’t easy or fun maneuvering naked into the chamber in zero-g, especially with me being almost two meters tall. I banged my head a couple of times and the nurse permitted herself a tiny chuckle until I finally managed to get in. The damned bed was cold and I hadn’t even had a tour of the ship or a free drink and a snack or anything. First she hooked me up to the tubes to supply food, vitamins, hydration, and a drug that would slow down my metabolism and keep me knocked out. I wish she’d turned on the feed for the knockout drug before connecting me to the waste removal lines. It’s a good thing the videos don’t show them hooking up the waste removal lines or nobody would ever go into space.

My wife, Kay, was right behind me in line. Now that I was fully connected, the nurse let her give me a quick kiss before sliding my bed back into the sleep chamber and turning out the internal light. I felt very sleepy. The last I remember of my interstellar journey was that last sliver of light as the chamber went shut. The year was only 2068 but now it seems like about a million years ago.

The journey itself was left to smarter guys than me. All I know was that the journey ended when the computer or somebody cut off the sleep drug. I heard some artificial voice telling me to wake up. At first sounded like it was far away and the AI voice was so beautiful and pleasant that I didn’t care. After hearing that beautiful voice repeat so many times, though, it wasn’t so beautiful and pleasant anymore. Eventually I got pissed off, opened my eyes and realized that the lights in my chamber were on. I also found that the chamber itself had cracked open a few centimeters and I had to turn away because the light from the hallway was blinding. It stayed that way for quite a while, but I was still strapped down and couldn’t move. I could hear voices and eventually somebody slid the chamber open, undid the straps, unhooked me from the tubes and made me sit up. I had the most splitting headache of my life and tried to lay down again, but the stupid light was right in my eyes and there were people pulling me out of the chamber.

Somehow I ended up in another room, sort of a recovery room. There were about 20 of us in there, men and women, buck naked, and strapped to couches that were as upright as you can be in zero-g. I gagged on my own smell and told the nurse I was seasick, but she just laughed and said it was normal — but then I noticed that she was wearing a mask. It wasn’t a pretty sight in that room. If ever I needed proof that suspended animation was a lie, this room was it. Everyone had long hair, the men had mountain-man beards, and everybody looked old and wrinkly. The nurse said we’d all feel better after drinking and eating and getting cleaned up. She gave each of us a drinking bulb and a tube of food while she and a couple of assistants cleaned everyone up. They could spray soap and water, rinse, and vacuum it all up almost simultaneously, right in place. It felt like a car wash and the water was cold but it was good to be alive again. By the time everyone was cleaned up, my cobwebs were clearing a little. The crew helped us into fresh jumpsuits and announced that they were moving us to the centrifugal ring to continue the resuscitation process. Entering the spinning ring from the body of the ship gave me some quick dry heaves, but once I was through, the artificial gravity from centrifugal force in the ring itself seemed almost like normality. Each of us got a bunk in the ring that we’d have to share by shifts. The staff said we were expected to spend our time working out and walking to restore our strength.

So far, I had no clue what was going on. My first thought was to find my wife, Kay, who had been awakened first. The centrifugal ring wasn’t that big, so after stumbling around for a while, I finally found her talking with some others. When I saw her, I just stopped. The sight of her still made me crazy. The way she smiled when she talked, that Asian accent, the shiny black hair and smoldering brown eyes. It reminded me of why I married her in the first place. When she saw me, she gave me a big hug and I immediately thought of something else, but the tight quarters didn’t present a lot of opportunity for romance. That kind of sucked because she had lips that begged to be kissed and it seemed like we hadn’t made love in a century - which might actually be true. All things considered, we looked pretty good for our advanced ages! In the centrifugal ring, nobody seemed to know anything. All we could do was speculate and try to regain our strength until the crew told us what was going on.


PRELUDE TO FLIGHT

Given the near-secrecy regarding its departure and how much time has passed since you’ve heard from us, you’re forgiven if you don’t remember the Turing. To make sense of it all, you need to know the background. This is how it all started.

I can’t remember who said it, but I always remember this old quote about how “the future ain’t what it used to be.” That was true. By the early 2050s, things on Earth had been deteriorating for decades. You know the drill, the dumbing down of the masses, making everything political while the rich and powerful manipulated everything on both sides. Nothing new there. The turning point was when the ice shelf broke off in Antarctica in 2055, instantly raising water levels a meter all around the globe. Together with the tsunamis that it unleashed, millions of lives were lost and billions more were left homeless; Bangladesh essentially ceased to exist. In the North American Federation, coastal California bought it in the first waves. Florida was already partly underwater when the tsunamis reverberated back and forth the rest of the way across the peninsula, flattening nearly everything else. As if that wasn’t enough, two years later California was devastated by two major quakes that occurred back-to-back in 2057.

With most of the world’s ports destroyed, the various disasters had already led to a worldwide oil crisis. The people who’d built the artificial oil-producing islands in Southeast Asia had anticipated these disasters, building platforms designed to go with the flow. Most remained above sea level and were quickly restored to full functionality. Seeing an opportunity, the Chinese tried to capture the few such islands they hadn’t already captured in the first South China Sea war. The North American Federation, trying to be the world’s protector, still had enough resources left to retaliate. After turning the situation into a major war, most oil production simply stopped. After cooler heads finally prevailed, the world finally stopped fighting and trying to fix the mess.

What really set the Turing in motion were the interests of Nicholas Branson in wanting to expand his grandfather’s Virgin Galactic beyond the Moon, and those of Saxon Musk, Jr., who was also interested in deep-space travel and had more money than God. Those two had long been rumored to have a super-secret testbed where they developed the cleverly-named Branson-Musk interstellar drive. I have no idea what the drive was or how it worked, but the development cost must have been phenomenal, even for them. Eager to test the drive but unwilling to pony up the entire cost of a space mission, they began looking for a partner. The newly-formed United Space Force, an alliance between the North American Federation and the European Union to counteract China’s increasing threat in space, saw a potential military use for the drive. The USF successfully lobbied Congress to partner with Branson and Musk to test the drive, but Congress imposed strict cost limitations on the project and required that the test be under USF control.

The only way to test an interstellar drive is to go interstellar, and as long as you’re going interstellar, you might as well go somewhere useful. The Gliese 581 system had been discovered decades before. Long the subject of scientific debate and thought to have potentially habitable planets, it was a natural pick for an interstellar mission. But what would the mission be? Nobody knew exactly how fast the star drive could travel - if it worked at all. An unmanned probe would be safe but there might malfunction and nobody would even know. A manned ship could be sent on reconnaissance and would answer the right questions and seemed logical, but there were problems. The first, obviously, was fuel. It would take twice as much fuel to make such a voyage. The second was the crew. The science of extended sleep had been used only for intra-solar system missions of a few years, with tests indicating that the aging process continued during sleep, albeit at a drastically reduced rate. Even with reduced aging, the crew would return - if at all — much older and to an Earth completely different than the one they left.

In the end, the planners decided to proceed directly to colonization and why not? Colonization ships only required fuel for a one-way trip and could still serve as reconnaissance. A simple message to inform Earth of success of the voyage would not only verify the viability of Branson and Musk’s interstellar drive, but could also provide enough information about conditions in the Libra constellation and Gliese 581 system to better prepare the next mission. Even “no message” conveyed useful information; namely, that the star drive needed more work.

Construction of the Turing and its sister ships was carried out in space with little publicity. Each ship would be under the command of a crew of eight from the USF. The payload would be 100 volunteer colonists, deemed to be the bare minimum to be sufficiently diverse in skills and in genetics to start a successful colony. Mission planners correctly predicted that in the current state of world affairs, they’d have no trouble getting highly-qualified volunteers for the one-way trip.

The ship’s designers had their work cut out for them. Operating on a tight budget, their design would have to walk a tightrope between the power and fuel demands of the interstellar drive and the mass of the spacecraft itself, the colonists, and their supplies. They had to carefully think about what the colonists would need to survive, because each ship’s capacity was limited and there’d be no “Oops, we forgot the toilet paper” on this mission. It was strictly a shot in the dark about what the colonists would need, since at the time scientists were still debating whether there were even any habitable planets in the Gliese 581 solar system. For the most part things turned out okay, although there have been more than a few times we’ve cursed the mission planners for not including cargo that would have made our lives a lot easier.

Almost half a million volunteers submitted applications. Of course many weren’t serious applications and I’m sure the mission planners used a computer program to weed out most of the rest, but I’ve often wondered how I got selected as an interstellar space colonist. I’d like to credit myself for my selection, but I can’t. I’m a lawyer. Nobody likes lawyers and why would they want a lawyer on the trip anyway? No, I’m pretty sure it was my wife, Kay, whom they wanted. It’s simple: Kay was a trained hair stylist. You have 108 crewmen and colonists — somebody’s got to cut their hair. PhDs and geniuses were probably a dime a dozen in that half million volunteers, but hair stylists? I’m betting there weren’t many — maybe none. Taking me was just the price they paid to get Kay.

Kay and I were the odd couple but somehow we just clicked with each other. When I met her, I was still in law school. My grandfather had been a lawyer, my father had been a lawyer, and it was just expected that I’d be a lawyer, too. I was in my last year of law school - before the disasters hit — when a couple of buds and I decided to take a quick trip out to California for spring break. I don’t know why, but one day I just thought to myself, “I need a haircut.” It must have been in the stars, because I wandered into Kay’s shop and there she was. I was thunderstruck and I almost embarrassed myself, I just couldn’t stop looking at her. She was exotic and beautiful and my voice almost cracked when I tried to say something to her. She just laughed and tossed her hair and it was all over for me. As she trimmed my hair she flirted with me and I thought I’d slide right out of the chair. Before I knew it, I got my voice back and we were out on a date. Kay was one of those people that makes everyone around them happy with her warm smile and bubbly personality. I was so taken that I forgot all about my friends and almost forgot to return to school! I finally got my senses back and made it back to school, but we stayed in touch. After graduating a couple of months later, I moved to California and worked insurance defense just to be close to Kay. Before long, we married.

Kay had come from an Asian family on the west coast that had lived in the United States for decades. When the disasters struck California, the results were tragic for all, but particularly for Kay. Most of her family was killed and some of the bodies weren’t even found. We would have died as well if we hadn’t been hiking in the mountains the day the tsunamis struck. In the aftermath, things rapidly went from bad to worse, so we decided it would be safer to relocate to the Midwest. By the time the Turing’s voyage was announced a decade later, I had my own private law practice and also worked as a municipal judge for a small town. We were doing well financially but all those wills, deeds, claims settlements and doling out fines for petty offenses had started running together as a blur. By then my parents had passed on and I never had any other family to speak of. Children for us had never been in the cards. It wasn’t because we didn’t want children, it was because our bodies didn’t seem to cooperate no matter what the doctors tried. Life had settled into a routine.

When the call went out for volunteers for the first interstellar space flight, it captured my imagination. I saw space as a chance to see things no one else could see. Pardon the phrase, but I wanted to boldly go where no man had gone before. Truth be told, after all that inconsequential legal stuff in my career, I saw a chance to do something as a lawyer that would actually be important, something I’d be remembered for - I could be another Thomas Jefferson. I dreamed of setting up a government from scratch that could right centuries of wrongs on Earth. I admit it, I pressured Kay into applying with me, and bless her heart, she wanted me to be happy and humored me by going along with it. We never expected a lawyer and hair stylist to be selected for interstellar exploration, but we must have done well on the psychological testing or maybe Branson and Musk just had a sense of humor. The reality is probably that there weren’t too many volunteer hairstylists and they got a free lawyer along with the deal. More likely, they figured the lawyer was expendable.

When we were notified of our selection, our talk got a lot more serious, but we concluded there was nothing holding us on Earth and we ought to see if Branson and Musk were for real. The people on the interview panel seemed confident and made everything sound so well planned, but in 20-20 hindsight it was obvious that we were all just guinea pigs. We should have seen it coming. The press didn’t interview us and the media didn’t cover the launch - although the remote location of the USF’s launch site in Guiana may have had something to do with it. I think our sponsors planned it this way. They’d claim credit if we were successful but would quietly let the world forget about us if we failed.


FALSE START

I found out pretty quickly why Kay was awakened first. After that long sleep, haircuts were one of the highest priorities, especially while still aboard ship. My own hair was most of the way down my back and I needed a shave really badly. Fortunately the designers of the Turing had taken that into account and had given Kay a one-chair shop to take care of the need. Kay worked for hours while the rest of us drew numbers to see who’d get to go first. I think I never enjoyed a buzzcut and a shave as much as that first one after arrival. I practically felt lightheaded.

Prior to launch, we colonists had had only a short time together in Guiana and that time was completely occupied from dawn until dusk with medical exams and training. Now we finally got a good look at one another. The majority were North Americans and British (probably at the insistence of Branson and Musk). Several other European nations were represented and there were a smattering of others from all over, but everyone spoke English. With so many from North America and Great Britain and with English as the standard tongue of air and space travel, it wasn’t difficult to standardize English aboard ship. In fact, English has remained as the sole language used on Zarmina — although the more “colorful” words from several different languages have since made their way into our regular vocabulary.

Now that we were awake, time passed slowly. A “day” in space was basically meaningless. We’d get eight hours in the bunkroom, then we were expected to make room for the next sleeper while we spent the next sixteen hours exercising and adjusting. The more responsible people actually exercised like they were supposed to but they were a minority. Most people instead spent their time playing games and talking and there were also old drama and action videos to watch. Some of the more adventurous ones left the centrifugal ring for some zero-g sex in the main body of the ship. We were eager to see where we were, of course, but looking out the windows wasn’t much fun because the spinning of the centrifugal ring made the view dizzying. You could remote-scan with telescopes although there was little to see at the edge of the system.

Talk on the ship usually started with speculation about our journey and what we’d encounter now that we were here. Those topics, however, rapidly ran out because nobody remembered the journey, knew where we were going or had any idea what to expect once we got there. Instead, the talk usually centered on who we were and why we came. As expected, almost everyone was highly educated and talented in some scientific field or other. Their reasons for coming fell into three major groupings. Some were running away from a bad situation on Earth, some felt they were contributing to mankind’s greater glory and some obviously thought they were contributing to their own glory. The latter group found themselves the objects of ridicule once it was pointed out that Earth didn’t even provide media coverage of our departure. Moreover, any accomplishments on the journey - even if transmitted to Earth - would arrive so late as to make the individual names associated with them utterly meaningless.

After several sleep cycles, video screens all around the ship were finally preempted for a shipwide briefing. Video briefing was a necessity since there was hardly room for all of us to move around, let alone space for a meeting hall. The screens showed several uniformed officers in a room with lots of other screens and controls, presumably the bridge. The one with the most brass introduced himself as Colonel Kevin Johanssen. It was a heck of a note that until now we hadn’t even been told who was in charge.

Colonel Johanssen was balding with a bit of a paunch, maybe middle aged, about what you’d expect to find in middle management in some Earth corporation. Here in space, though, he was the Big Man. Literally. He stood, and even though he was floating in zero-g, I could tell he was even taller than I am, over two meters tall and probably 100 kilos. A pretty imposing guy, he had a deep, commanding voice, the kind that always gets everyone’s attention. From the way he spoke, it was also evident that he knew he was the Big Man. He began by referring to us as “patriotic volunteers” or somesuch claptrap. While we all knew we were guinea pigs, none of us could exactly complain about that. We had all volunteered and we were all pretty proud about being the first humans to leave Earth’s solar system.

Colonel Johannsen began by introducing himself and the other officers. The First Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Denton, turned around in her chair and smiled, then returned to her work. The Science Officer, Captain Ellen Zgorowski, was visible in the background and gave a brief wave. The Engineering Officer, Charles Wright, floated into the camera’s view and smiled, then disappeared. Colonel Johannsen mentioned that there were a number of enlisted crewmen aboard but that we’d meet them in due time.

For now, Colonel Johannsen said, we were in orbit around Gliese 581 c, which was currently under survey by our instruments and probes. If things worked out, we’d be ferried down to the planet to begin our mission of colonization. Colonel Johannsen mentioned that we would probably want to know what had happened in Guiana. He said what we all knew, that we’d been attacked by the Chinese. The Chinese hyperplane had destroyed the Jobs in low Earth orbit and was last seen attacking the other two motherships, the Gates and the Moehring. Thankfully, said Johannsen, the Turing had been able to engage the Branson-Musk star drive and escape. He said he had had no further contact with any of the other ships and as far as he knew, we were the only survivors. Nevertheless, he said, we should take heart. Each ship carried with it whatever supplies and materials would be needed to make a successful colony. Before ending the briefing, he reminded us how important it was for us to continue to work out and gain the strength that would be needed in the days to come.

Naturally Johannsen’s talk stirred up a lot of conversation among the colonists. Discussion about the Chinese attack didn’t last long; there was still no information about it and Earth was now 20 lightyears in the past. Most people were interested in where we were going and what we’d do when we got there. Johannsen’s reminder that we had whatever we needed to succeed in our colonization effort was a morale booster. It was badly needed because the view of Gliese 581 c from our telescopes was depressing: a cloudless, ugly brown lump of a planet. With no other information about the planet, the rumor mill began in earnest. It was ice cold, it was boiling hot, it was a dead world, it was full of bloodsucking parasites. I heard a rumor of every cliché you’ve ever heard in a video.

Speaking of clichés, let me explode yet a myth about interstellar travel for you: Those sparkling white spacecraft they show in the videos? Total bullshit. The Turing may have started out sparkling white and clean but after this long flight (decades, centuries, who knew?), it looked and smelled awful. Mold colonies grew around the bathrooms, there were fingerprints everywhere, little bits of food and drink that missed our mouths were either floating around in the zero g section or landed in little splats on the floor of the centrifugal ring. The worst part, though, was that any fart that anybody made had the most incredible hang time.

Perhaps such matters are unavoidable, the nature of space travel. The planning staff at the USF, however, dropped the ball on who should clean up the mess. It seems that they didn’t think that a janitorial staff would be a necessity; they must have assumed that we’d all pitch in and take care of the hygiene. What a joke. These were important people. Nobody would clean anything, it was beneath them. I could tolerate a lot but Kay wasn’t so forgiving. One day the condition of the mess hall just got to her. She was too shy to say anything herself but instead whispered to me that I had to do something about it. I stood up and said, “Hey, guys, this is a mess. How about we all pitch in and clean it up?” The crowd scattered faster than cockroaches in the dark when you suddenly turn on the light.

The next couple of sleep cycles were relatively quiet. By and large, we had a really sedentary bunch of colonists who were extremely well versed in every rumor on the ship. Finally the video screens came back on and Colonel Johanssen reintroduced the science officer, Captain Ellen Zgorowski. A 30-something female, fairly attractive if a little worn-out looking, Zgorowski told us that Gliese 581 c hadn’t worked out. Its size was too large and its gravity was several times that of Earth. We’d be crushed outright if we tried to land. Zgorowski told us not to worry, however, that her instruments predicted better results at Gliese 581 g, the innermost planet, the one we now call Zarmina.

Captain Zgorowski admitted they’d made a mistake in waking us early but said it would be too much trouble to put us back to sleep. We were already in the Gliese 581 system and by coincidence, Gliese 581 d and 581 g were near syzygy, i.e., in a straight-line configuration, and hence it would only be a short trip to 581 g. A few hours later the crew handed out belts and had us all buckle down to something solid and the Turing started its intersystem journey with a mild tug and a bit of acceleration gravity. Things didn’t change much, except now the rumors changed to disheartening stuff like, “What if 581 g isn’t habitable, either?” and “Are we all going to end up starving to death out in the middle of nowhere?” It’s one thing to know you’re on a one-way trip and quite another to confront the reality of it.


ARRIVAL

Every sleep cycle Gliese 581 g grew larger and larger through our remote telescopes. One of the few things we’d been told was that the planet was tidally locked with Gliese 581, and this was evident as we looked through the telescopes. The entire side facing Gliese 581 was covered with pearly white clouds, much like Venus, yet the clouds thinned dramatically as they approached the edge of the daylight side and disappeared altogether in the dark. The planet looked almost like an eyeball, except this “eyeball” was black with a white cornea. The planet gradually grew on our screens as we approached, but there was little more to see since the dark side was obviously uninhabitable and the daylight side was covered with clouds.

According to the ship’s clock, it was only 46 sleep cycles later when the video screens lit up again. After Colonel Johanssen officially informed us of our arrival at Gliese 581 g, Captain Zgorowski briefed us on the new planet.

“The good news is that Gliese 581 g looks promising. The Earth predictions were a little off; it looks like 581 g is actually only about 25% larger than Earth instead of three times larger, as predicted back in the 2010s. The good news is that it’s a rocky planet with a strong magnetic field, like Earth, and I’m sure you’ve seen the cloud cover through your remote telescopes. The gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) says there’s definitely oxygen. The bad news is that the clouds are so thick that we won’t be able to get much info without satellite mapping and boots on the ground. We released our mapping satellites to get a good read on whatever’s beneath the clouds, which we’ll have in a couple of cycles. We’re still working to figure out gravity and the rest of the atmosphere.”

“As you might know, Steve Vogt was the scientist who discovered Gliese 581 g. He unofficially named it after his wife, Zarmina, because he felt the planet would be beautiful like her. Now that we’re here, we’re finally realizing Vogt’s vision. You’ve seen it from space. She’s a beautiful white orb and worthy of the name Zarmina, so we’re making the name official.”

Well, Captain Zgorowski’s speech created quite the stir, as you might imagine. You would have thought everyone on board was manic depressive. Morale went sky-high. Unfortunately the actual science report pretty quickly brought us down to earth … er, Zarmina. Rather than repeat it secondhand, I’m going to insert the executive summary here:

REPORT OF ELLEN ZGOROWSKI

Captain, United Space Force

Science Officer, USFS Alan Turing

Whoever planned this mission did a pretty good job or else was darned lucky. We’ve now studied Gliese 581 g - Zarmina —by shipboard telescope and recovered data from the satellites we deployed around it. Zarmina is the closest planet to its star, Gliese 581, and it sits in an orbit equivalent to Mercury back home. The orbit is extremely fast - we don’t know for sure what it is yet, but Earth had estimated it at 32 Earth days. Probably because of its proximity to Gliese 581, the satellites show us that it’s tidally locked. None of this is surprising; we predicted as much from Earth.

As I noted previously, Zarmina is about 25% larger than Earth. Earth is about 40,000 km in diameter and we estimate that Zarmina is about 50,000 km. At a planetary scale, that’s a significant difference, particularly in terms of mass. Because of this, we expect to encounter much stronger gravity than Earth.

We have deployed the dozen satelllites carried by the Turing. Heavy cloud cover and signal interference from Gliese 581 prevented their signals from reliably reaching the surface at ideal altitude. We were therefore forced to redeploy the satellites into much lower and faster orbits than intended. Since the low orbits may limit which satellites are “visible” at any one time, this may affect our ability to set up GPS later on. Moreover, the heavy cloud cover also makes the natural-light cameras useless. Nevertheless, the mapping data and weather information we’ve received so far has been invaluable, and the ability of the satellites to scan and save data on any type of motion on the surface may prove useful at a later date.

With Zarmina so close to the sun and tidally locked, ground conditions are a lot different from Earth. It’s a land of perpetual light. With no moon, the only thing that will change the light pattern will be Gliese 581 itself. As a red dwarf, Gliese 581 does experience periods of brightening and darkening that may break up the monotony somewhat but we don’t know what other effects they may have. We do know that it’s always going to be brightest and hottest in the center of the sunny side and probably darker and colder at the edges, no matter what direction we go. Temperatures are also dependent on other factors that will be discussed infra. The dark side will be a moot point; too cold and dark for habitation, its only foreseeable use would be mining.

From space, Zarmina’s heavy cloud cover gives the sunny side an appearance not unlike Venus. We seem to have caught a break as to the makeup of that atmosphere. Analysis shows about 29% oxygen, 23% carbon dioxide, 37% nitrogen, 6% hydrogen, 3% helium, 1% chlorine and the rest a mix of various noble gases. Pressure has not yet been determined, but the same mass that allowed Zarmina to catch and keep its atmosphere also likely causes high pressure. Estimates tell us to expect well over 2000 millibars, nearly 2 atm by Earth standards. We’ll have our medical people study this, but on Earth, divers routinely function with several atms of pressure. The main concern is that it will be more work to breathe, making us feel we are moving a bit more slowly than usual.

The differences in gravity and air pressure are going to make life on Zarmina considerably different from Earth. Walking and normal activity will be much more difficult and use more energy. Increased gravity and pressure may also affect common chemical reactions that we’re used to on Earth. For example, soap may not make suds like we expect, water may not boil at 100 degrees Celsius, and in an atmosphere with 29% oxygen, we’d better be very careful with fire.

Attached are our first radar satellite views at the surface features beneath the clouds. For now, let’s just talk about the sunny side, no pun intended. I say “sunny side” because the tidal lock means that’s all we’re going to be dealing with for the foreseeable future. Again, we’re going to have to rethink our orientation from Earth, because here we aren’t talking about hemispheres but simply quadraspheres on the sunny side. Dividing the sunny side into four parts, we have only northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest quadraspheres to learn about.

Since Zarmina is so much larger than Earth, there’s a lot of land, even without the dark side. The landforms don’t appear that much different from what you’d see on Earth, plus our GC/MS tells us there’s water down there. There appear to be a number of lakes and ponds scattered across the surface, and rivers or streams feeding them. There are no large oceans but there are large lakes in each quadrasphere. At first glance it looks like there’s a lot less water than Earth, but keep in mind the scale here. Those lakes, rivers and streams are a lot bigger than they look.

What we see in the northwest is our largest body of water. Since it’s landlocked, it’s technically a lake, but it’s actually somewhat larger than the Mediterranean Sea on Earth. There are several mountain ranges on all sides that may be feeding the lake, but there is no apparent outlet. In fact, this seems to be the case throughout this planet. The lakes seem to function like oceans on Earth - water feeds in, evaporates, the vapor makes its way to the upper elevations, cools, condenses, comes down, feeds the lakes, repeats. We presume it comes down as rain, but there are some places that seem to have snow, and we really don’t know how the added gravity and pressure affects the water cycle.

A quick look at the other quadraspheres seems to show a similar pattern. Zarmina seems to be divided into tectonic plates like on Earth, except that here they’ve apparently all run into each other and stopped moving at some point long, long ago. Each plate consists of a broad plain with lakes in the middle and mountains surrounding it. I say “mountains” with a grain of salt. These are hills by appearance. There are no jagged edges, the slopes are gentle, and almost everything is covered with some kind of vegetation. But remember scale. Some of these hills have an elevation far higher than Mount Everest. The slopes may be gentle, but they go on forever.

Our working hypothesis is that Zarmina is an old world, much older than Earth. Its sunny side faces away from meteor strikes from deep space and is also protected by its proximity to Gliese 581, which has gravity sufficient to divert meteors. Without seismic activity or meteor strikes, the effects of weather on the sunny side of Zarmina over the millennia seem to account for its gentle landforms. The dark side is a different matter. While it shows the same type of tectonic plates as the sunny side, the ridges on the dark side are extreme. Mountains are jagged and the entire surface is extremely rough - the result of ancient seismic activity, meteor strikes and the lack of weathering.


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