What happens when the government knows that time is short? What if there is an option?
| As he often does, the President of the United States elected to have a briefing while he was walking on the south lawn. It was a warm early fall morning. While the briefers were talking about the myriad issues that can pop up overnight, the president strolled along the walk, glancing at the gardeners that were just starting their day, or the birds that swooped in low, apparently chasing each other. The sights of the south lawn were calming to him, and the reason for the walk. They helped him to relax and think while with one ear, he took in the briefing.
Where the men surrounding him were in their suit jackets, the President had left his behind, his white dress shirt sharply contrasting with the dark jackets of his briefers. Anyone who knew him, or who had looked closely would know that the tie tack was from his days in the military. The only tie tack he had ever owned. He looked like he could still be in the military, the precise haircut, the way he walked screamed it out to those who knew. He was still in great shape, even after all of the years that his service dress uniform had hung in his closet, unworn and yet cared for. When he had time to work out, most of his staff couldn’t say. He seemed to always be around the offices regardless of the hour.
By the time that the group was returning to the west wing, the briefing was done. The President stepped into the oval with his Chief of Staff behind him. The President stepped over to the bar and pulled two bottles of water from the small refrigerator hidden behind the ornate wood door of the bar and handed one to his Chief of Staff. As was their custom, the sat down to talk in the comfortable easy chairs sitting on either side of a delicate looking end table in front of the President’s desk. They sat a few minutes, slipping their water quietly, two men that had been around each other more than long enough to not need to fill in every minute of their time together with talk and both equally needing the time to think about the information that they had received. The President finally set his water bottle on the end table and picked up the briefing book that the Chief of Staff had brought in earlier, before the briefing. “So, the Middle East is getting worse.” The President said as he flipped through the pages, looking for the one he wanted.
“Yes sir. Israel is unwilling to negotiate. The Arab world appears to have reached their limits of patience.”
The President sighed. “Years of a failed pro-Israel policy down the tubes. I researched it out when I first came to this office. There was a time when the country was worried about election interference. We spent billions of dollars investigating and systems upgrades. Nothing much came of it all. Interestingly though, there was a lot of interference as it turns out. The Israelis were working behind the scenes the whole time. They worked to get candidates elected that would support Israel from all over the country. And that paved the way for billions in military and manufacturing. Israel drove the strife in the Middle East, George. Generations of politicians ensured that the country saw how important it was to support the Israelis. And those same politicians turned a blind eye every damn time they broke an agreement.”
Chief of Staff George Crandel nodded. “So, does this mean we are going to let them stand on their own now?”
The President found the page he wanted and he looked up at his Chief of Staff. “Israeli support in Congress is at an all time low. There is no better time to break away from Israel.” The President looked down at the page he stopped on. “It seems, from the briefing that the sun is expanding.”
“Yes sir, but how bad is that?”
“George. Finally, we are on a subject that I know more about than you.” The President said with a smile. “What the scientists are reporting is that the sun is beginning to die.” The President shook his head, still a little in shock from the news.
“What would you like to do?”
“I want the scientists here this afternoon. And the scientists that discovered the planets along with the NASA administrator here this evening.”
George returned to his office and took a few minutes to try to absorb the news. He thought about calling his wife, but quickly rejected that idea. There was no way that something like this could be talked about on the phone. Too many chances of the conversation being picked up. George sighed and shook his head, then he got to work calling. By four, everyone that was required for the first meeting had arrived. George stepped into the conference room where they were escorted to. It was a tense group sitting at the table, each with their own stack of binders and folders sitting on the table before them. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I apologize for the haste in bringing you here, and for this less than inspiring room that we are meeting in. The President will be with us shortly. Before he comes however, I need to inform you that as of now, all information relating to the observations of, and analysis of the recent solar activity are now classified at the highest level. You are now working for the government and only the President has the authority to release any further information. As we speak, your data, notes, and anything else that NASA and NOAA deem relevant are being collected.”
“You can’t do that.” One of the scientists said.
“We can and we are. What you have discovered, once released to the public will cause widespread havoc. Financial markets will crash, riots will start and grow larger. Basically, our society will break down around us. For this reason, we must restrict knowledge of this upcoming event.”
The door opened again and the President entered the room. “Keep your seat folks.” He said as they started to rise. The President sat down at the head of the table and looked around. “Now. As I understand it, the sun is about to die. My question to you is what is our time line.”
Three hours later, A second meeting started in another room similar to the first. Once again, George stepped into the room. Usually, George only had to half listen during meetings, but for the last three hours, he gave his full attention to not only the summary of the meeting, but also the details. Several phone calls and text messages that came in were ignored as the Chief of Staff focused on the conversation. Now, he was about to start another meeting that in many ways, was even more important than the first one. “Good evening. We appreciate you coming to this meeting. I need to stress to you that the discovery you made is classified. From here on out, all work on this project will be done at Patrick Air Force Base.”
“Sir. None of us work from Florida.” One of the scientists said.
“You do now. We will make arrangements to move you and your families. After this meeting, we will get your information and give you a chance to contact your families, along with a suitable cover story for now.”
The President walked into the room. “Good evening folks.” Again, the President waited until everyone was seated. “Tell me about this planet you have found.”
“Sir.” An older man stood up and ran a hand through his thinning hair as he searched for what he wanted to say. “The planet is orbiting a star with a spectrum that closely resembles our own. The probe data confirmed this. That, and the planet’s distance from the star was why we sent the probe.”
“So. You believed that it would support life?”
“Yes sir. “Another of the scientist said. “The probe verified that the temperature ranges on the planet are similar to ours, just a little cooler.”
The President nodded. “Okay then. You believed that you found a planet that might contain life. So, you sent a probe to evaluate it.”
“We did sir. Forty-six years ago. At the time, it was a battle to get funding. It took five years to get the funding arranged, and then three more to launch. The original team lived long enough to receive the data burst that told us that the probe had entered orbit around the planet. Since then, it gave us updates on its operational capabilities twice a year. The probe worked for two years and then broke orbit and began its return voyage.”
“Two years ago, the probe began sending basic information on the system. The probe was programed to give us the information it had stored, in the order that it stored it. The initial reports were promising. And as we received more data, the team, now of course, those of us in this room, grew more excited, but at the same time, we were looking for the inevitable thing that would say that we got it wrong. But there was nothing wrong. The planet has water, both fresh water and saltwater oceans. Weather patterns are stable and active.”
“So the planet shows promise then?”
“Absolutely sir. Once the probe entered our solar system, it began transmitting more complete data as well as pictures.” An aide handed a folder to the President and he opened it and flipped through the pictures that were inside. “What that revealed, was that the planet is well oxygenated. The plant life is just barely more than basic, as well as ocean life. Microbial life abounds as well. All indications are that the planet is able to support life from Earth. We also have several good locations for landing for follow-on missions.”
Dr. Kevin Milnek from NASA, cleared his throat. “So there is nothing but basic life on the planet?”
“Correct. Planktons are about the largest creatures in the seas and on land, there seems to be a very short grass that grows. It holds the soil down well, but it doesn’t do much more, except for feeding the insects that populate the planet.
“And how accurate is your data?” The President asked.
“Pretty accurate sir. There is no true way of verifying the accuracy, short of landing on the planet, however, the systems were tested several times here, and on the moon. Every system returned one hundred percent accurate results in those tests.”
The President took a moment to decide, closed the open folder, then gave his Chief of Staff a small nod. George stood up again. “Folks. If you would follow me, I can take you to the room where we can gather your information.”
Dr. Milnek stayed behind. “So. Dr. Milnek.” The President began after the door closed. “What do you think?”
Dr. Milnek shook his head. “It’s hard to say sir. My first thought is that this is great. However, there are several logistical obstacles to navigate.”
The President nodded. “That is for the next meeting. But will their report make it easier or harder.”
“Easier, I think. On a fully mature planet, you have established flora and fauna to contend with. This planet, if the reports are right, has everything needed. Of course, I would need time to review the data, but it looks promising.”
The President nodded. “Then let’s go to that next meeting then. Martha wants me to tuck in the grandbabies tonight.”
The final meeting was just two doors down the hallway. Here, four other people sat at a much smaller table. George had already found himself a seat as well, having led the previous group to where they needed to go, a little further down the hall. Once everyone was seated, the President cleared his throat. “Alright then. You were able to watch the last two meetings. My question to you is can you establish a colony on this planet. Not a bubble on the planet, but a thriving, self-sufficient colony that will grow on its own.”
“Anything is possible sir, but we would need to know what we would have to take, the distance to travel, and what sort of automation would be needed.”
“Automation Fred?” The President asked, with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes sir. We can send a ship to the moon, and control it entirely from here. The time it takes for radio transmissions is short enough to make that possible. However, sending it to Uranus, is a different proposition as it takes longer to receive data, and then give new commands. The time factor only increases the further away the ship is. So, we would need the ship to be able to do many tasks without our intervention.”
The President looked at Dr. Milnek. “Kevin?”
Dr. Milnek nodded. “It is hard to say sir. I have some idea of what we need, but I need more information on what the planet has, what we need, and what the colonists will require. Just as a start, a viable colony would be in the neighborhood of forty thousand.” As shocked voices began to rise at the sheer numbers, Dr. Milnek waited a moment before continuing. “This is if you considered a colony in the normal way. Needing twenty thousand couples to ensure enough diversity. However, I have been working on a way to cut this down to five thousand. It is a sound plan, but to tell the truth, I only have data for how many people and the equipment needed to ensure population diversity. What they will need, and what the planet will need, those are questions yet to be answered.”
The President was silent a few moments as he mulled over everything he had heard. Finally, he looked up at the people seated before him. “Our sun is dying. How long that process takes, they will have to get us an answer to. Meanwhile, we need to plan for the survival of our nation. I would say humanity as a whole, but as you know, international politics is suffering right now. I doubt we could get any other country to work with us. So. Unless the situation changes, I am directing you to make this your primary mission. Find a way to establish a colony on this planet. I want a draft plan in one month, and a fully complete plan within a year. Also, I want ships to explore any other planets to see what other options there might be.”