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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 10 (v.1) - Jade

Submitted: December 30, 2015

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Comments: 3

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Submitted: December 30, 2015



The end of our journey is in sight.  Eridani looms in front of us and grows larger each day.  We are 70 years into our flight.  I am 95 years old.

We have made it this far with no more major disasters, after the one that killed Michael and so many others.  But the ship is showing its age just as I am. When the explosion blew a hole in the hull, it changed the donut's center of gravity.  That created extra friction, and extra wear, on the giant bearings that sit between the donut and the shaft.  When the donut started vibrating, we had to stop its rotation.  For the past 10 years, we have lived without artificial gravity.

That is fine with me, at my age.  As we approach our new home, I think I will not last very long once I feel the full weight of my body again.

I have lived a long time.  When I was growing up in the clone facility in orbit around the Moon, I had no hope of experiencing freedom or love.  No hope of having children.  Or grandchildren.  No hope of getting an education, having a career.  No hope of making friendships that last until death. 

I have done all of that.  It has been a strange and difficult life, but a good one.  I have no regrets.  I am happy.

The only thing I want now is to walk on the planet that will be our new home.We have named it Jade.

Jade is slightly larger than Earth.  And much drier.  About 20% of the surface is covered with water.  Most of it is in the 18 oceans, all very small by Earth standards.  There is life on Jade, but only simple, single cell organisms, like the algae of Earth.And only in the oceans, the tiny rivers, and the damp soil around the bodies of water.  Still, we knew what we were looking at, when we got close enough for our telescopes to see the surface.  

Chlorophyll.  The chemical that gives plants their color.  A green hue covered the oceans and snaked its way up the canyons and river beds where there was water.  Most of the planet was dry, and the same reddish-orange color as Mars.  But we were mesmerized by the patches of green that dotted our new home.  Serena said the oceans looked like sheets of jade, and the name stuck.

The ship is a mess.  We began running out of spare parts 30 years ago.  Since then we've been cannibalizing entire decks of the ship to keep the others running.  In the living quarters, we have three or four people sharing the space intended for one.  The ship smells.  As equipment fails, we revert to doing things by hand.  We can only hope the Apollo makes it through these last days.

Eventually we overcame our shortfall with the food yields.  It wasn't any one thing that solved the problem.Instead, it was the combination of many small tweaks that did the trick.  I'd like to think I was a part of the solution.  Eventually I finished my education.  I am proud of the PhD I earned in botany.  I worked in the greenhouses for 40 years and was the supervisor for a decade.  But at best, I am a skilled technician.  The person who did the most to improve our yields does not have a college degree.  My daughter, Serena.

After she finished sculpting the memorial, Serena went a little bit crazy.  In a good way, for the rest of us.  She told me the plants were her new canvas.  We began finding her asleep in the greenhouses.  When we realized she wasn't eating, people started bringing food to her.  

She would spend hours, sitting cross legged in front of the tomatoes or the squash.  Then she would find me and say, the tomatoes need more nitrogen.  The squash is getting too much red light.  She cannot explain how she knows these things.  But she is almost always right.

We got used to the sound of Serena's guitar, and her soft voice, as we tended the plants.  She sleeps among the vegetables and only eats or bathes when someone makes her.  The plants are her children.  Martin gave his sister a nickname.  Riena del Jardin.  Queen of the Garden.  My second daughter is as crazy as her mother.

As is my first daughter.  Eve is married to the ship, in her words.  She never had time for a husband or children.  Similar to her sister, Eve practically lived on the bridge while she served in the Navy.

I am very glad Martin is my son.  With him I proved I could raise a normal human being.  

Martin had every intention of following in Michael's footsteps to become the ship's administrator.  He has his father's charisma and would have been good at it.  Things changed when he met Claire.  His wife is a surgeon and reminds me of Eve.  Only friendlier.

Martin is the most passionate father I have ever seen.  I wish he had been born first, he could have helped me raise Eve and Serena.  Claire gave him three sons, then his first daughter.  He decided to become a full time father after the next pregnancy led to triplets, all girls.  The ship needs surgeons more than administrators.  Martin and Claire gave me seven beautiful grandchildren.

Most of the original crew are gone.  Admiral Pullers commanded the Apollo for a decade after the explosion.  Pullers promoted Jarek to Admiral and handed over the ship when he retired.  He died quietly in his sleep a year later.

Jarek led the mission for 21 years.  He was succeeded by Eve.  She commanded the Apollo for almost three decades.  Now, my children are old, just like me.  The grandchildren run the ship.

I had 42 incredible years with Jarek.  He died eighteen months years ago.  I held him in my arms as he took his last breath.

We have been fortunate that the ship's engine has not failed.  Without it, we would not be able to slow down enough to go into orbit around Jade.  Five years ago, we shut down the massive antiproton annihilation device.  Then used the maneuvering engines to slowly rotate the Apollo 180 degrees.  When the donut was pointed back toward Earth, we held our breath as we restarted the big engine.  For the rest of the journey, we would fly backwards.  It took the antiproton engine a year to get us up to speed.  Now we were using it to gradually slow the Apollo down.  By the time we reach Jade, we need to be traveling 18,000 miles an hour.  A snail's pace compared to our interstellar speed.  Any more than that is too fast to enter orbit around Jade.  We will only get one chance.

As soon as we are in orbit, we will start sending people and supplies down to the surface in the landing craft.  They are large gliders with a heat shield on the underside.  Friction with the atmosphere will slow them enough for the parachutes to take over.  At least that is the plan.  It is expected that not all of the landings will be successful.

The landing craft will double as our first shelters on Jade.We will have to get busy building domes, so we can control the atmosphere and begin growing fruit, vegetables, and trees.  The ship's cargo bay has rows of crates filled with seeds.  We will collect the bees, butterflies, and other insects that spent the past 70 years in the greenhouses.  Cages filled with our many legged friends will descend to Jade's surface with us.

If we manage to survive, we will terraform Jade, as much as the water supply and other resources will allow.  As an interim step, we have brought earth boring machines with us.  They will dig tunnels through Jade that will serve as our first permanent living spaces.

Those of child bearing age will have their work cut out for them.  About 1500 humans will land on Eridani.  Not enough genetic diversity to be likely to survive over the long haul.  For many generations, Eridanians will have to continue the tradition the clones started on the Apollo.  Forty thousand sperm and egg samples are stored in the onboard freezers.  They will need to be added into the population.  The sooner the better.

We have a second antiproton annihilation engine.  Much smaller than the one that powered the ship, designed to fit in a lander.  Yet, powerful enough to provide an enormous amount of energy for many years.  After we shut down the big engine, we'll fill a lander with the unused antiproton cells.  We will need all the help we can get to survive on Jade.

Everything from the ship that will fit into the landers will go with us.When the last one has reached the surface, we will fire Apollo's maneuvering rockets one more time.  To force the ship into the atmosphere and a fiery crash landing.  Much of the outer shell will burn away.  We expect the shaft to break away from the donut.  But the Apollo weighs 3 million tons and most of it will survive reentry.  We expect to be able to reuse many tons of metal, plastics, wires, and other materials.  Assuming the engineers made the right calculations.  Before we can implement our recycling plan, the ship has to hit land, not one of the oceans.

It will take centuries to turn Jade into something that resembles an Earthlike planet.  For now, we will trade the compartments and passageways of the Apollo for Jade's tunnels and domes.  

Entering Jade's orbit was as anticlimactic as the launch, 70 years earlier.  The evacuation of the ship began.  We had decided the initial order of business was honoring our fallen.  Serena and her memorial were on the first lander.  Along with the ashes of the dead.  

I am in the last lander that leaves the Apollo.  As we near the tops of the clouds and the parachutes begin to slow us down, I feel the oppressive grip of gravity.

My children meet me at the landing zone.  Martin helps me out of the hatch.  It is the first time in my life I have set foot on a planet.  The first time I have felt wind on my face.  The first time I've taken a breath of natural, unfiltered air.

Jade is cold and the atmosphere is thin.  My knees buckle after I take a few steps.  I sit in a wheelchair and Serena takes me to see the memorial.

And the cemetery.  There were headstones for all who did not live to see the end of the journey.Eve pointed out the spot she had selected for herself, when her day comes.  She will spend eternity next to Admiral Pullers.

Tears run across my cheeks when we get to Leisl's plot.  Next to her is Jarek.  An empty plot, then Michael.  I will rest near my good friend, and between the two men I loved.

The bright light of Eridani warms my face.  We make our way to one of the landers that has been converted to living space.  I sit and listen to the conversation and laughter of my children and grandchildren.  I am calm.  A sense of completeness fills me.  I give everyone a kiss and tell them I must rest.  

As Saffron falls asleep for the last time, she dreams of Michael and Jarek. 

© Copyright 2019 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.


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