The end of the world is coming, What are they going to do about it?
|George walked into the oval office and looked at his friend as the President was reading another briefing folder from the stack of folders on his desk. It had been a long year since that morning when the President set this project in motion. George, as probably the least recognized Chief of Staff in American political history, had spent the last year, shuttling between DC and Patrick Air Force Base, where it was rumored that he was spearheading a next generation ramjet engine research project at NASA.
George was actually feet first, and neck deep in the Serenity project. He spent hours in meetings with NASA engineers, and scientists of all stripes, working on a viable plan to present the President. The project had already cost him his marriage. Shara couldn’t take the constant trips that George was gone on, and even worse was the fact that she knew he wasn’t telling her what was happening. That day when the project was started, he had every intention of telling Shara but by the time that the meetings were done, somewhere deep inside he knew that the best thing to do was to not tell her. The best thing for Shara was to let her believe that there was a future, not just for her, but for their son as well. The President met with Shara after she told George she wanted a divorce. And soon after, Shara moved out of their DC home, along with their son, and they settled into a small ranch in Canada with some help from the Canadian government.
Serenity was a perfect project for George after that. The meetings, and reports that he needed to read, took all of his time. George was rarely at the White House. Instead, his deputies were the ones seen to be running the show there. Updates on the project, when given to the President, were all done in person, George would arrange a meeting, usually late at night, in the Situation room, and they would discuss how the plan was developing. But today was different. The President looked up as George approached the desk and smiled. “Hey George. Is it time?”
George smiled back. “It is sir.”
“Well then. Let’s get to it.”
George followed the President down to the Situation room. Inside, several people stood waiting. The Situation room, normally was restricted to a very select group of senior officials as there were highly classified material and operations that were to be discussed. The room was a SCIF. A term that designated it as a specific place that highly sensitive national information could be discussed without fear of the information being intercepted electronically or by any other means. Often, George had come to this room at night and met with the President alone. The President would ask for the room to be cleared while they were having their meeting. George would bring whatever he needed to brief on a storage device that he plugged into his own laptop that he brought as well, that was using an operating system that was developed by NASA for use on their classified projects, yet another way to prevent the information from falling into the wrong hands.
This time, the room was full of the lead managers from the project. Each of them with what seemed like the requisite pile of binders and folders, even if they rarely opened them during a meeting. For the last year, this was the only project for them, tucked away in a building at Patrick AFB. These men and women were the subject matter experts in their fields and on this one project, they knew all the details intimately. George had his own pile of binders and folders as well, the hard copies of which were sitting in his office in Florida while the electronic copy was on the storage devise, he brought with him. There was only one other computer outside of Patrick that could accept the devise, and read the contents, and that was in the possession of the President.
The President nodded to those in the room. “Please take your seats folks.” He waited until everyone was seated before continuing. “Well now. I know you have all been working hard. George has been briefing me on how things have been going during this last year. So as I understand it, we have a better look at the situation, and hopefully, a path forward?” There were nods around the room. “Good. Let’s start with a report on what our sun is doing.”
A scientist sitting in a chair along the wall stood up. “Sir. Over the last year, the sun has behaved in the predicted pattern. It is dying. We have run simulations over and over and there is no doubt of this fact. The problem is not if, but when.”
“And have you answered that question?”
“Yes and no sir. Our best estimate comes in a range of time. We are predicting anywhere between forty and one hundred years until it destroys all life. However, we will begin to feel the effects within the next twenty-five years as we begin heating up.”
The President nodded. “I don’t suppose that anyone has some way of bring the sun’s fever down?” There were a few grim chuckles over that comment, but no one said a word. The President looked back over at the scientist. “And what report do you have on the star that this new planet is orbiting?”
“Well sir. We do not have as much data of course, but we were able to determine that it is a much younger star. It appears to be stable as well. As far as we can tell, it will be healthy for quite some time.”
The President nodded. “Thank you. So that is one item in our favor.” The President looked at Dr. Milnek. “Dr. Milnek. Do you know what we would need for a thriving colony?”
Doctor Kevin Milnek was the perfect definition of a nerd, right down to the pocket protector and pens in his shirt pocket that he was never seen without. But once you looked past his outdated clothing, and the thick-rimmed glasses, and even his shaggy hair that rarely looked like he found a barber that had graduated from a school, you found a man that was extremely intelligent and had a great sense of humor. That is, when he was not working, where he was all business.
“Yes sir. We pored through all the data and found out what the planet has. From that point, we were able to determine what we need.” Dr. Milnek opened a folder that he had before him. “We would need to do this in stages. The first stage would bring the remaining insects and smaller ocean life to the planet, as well as seeds. The ship would need to scatter these over a large area in order to create the conditions necessary for follow-on missions.”
“Follow-on missions?” The President asked, his head coming up quickly from the paper he was reading, to look at the scientist.
“Yes sir. If we are to be successful, we need to build the environment that the colony will need to survive.”
The President sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Exactly how many missions will there need to be?” He asked.
“We do not have an exact number yet sir. But I can say no more than six.”
“So six launches will not be that noticeable.”
Dr. Milnek shook his head. “I’m sorry sir. You misunderstood me. The ships will need to be built and loaded in orbit. It will take several smaller shuttles to deliver the payloads in the manner needed. A ship of the size needed to deliver all of this, would be too large to launch from the surface.”
The president nodded. “Well. They say that nothing worth doing is easy.”
“No sir. This won’t be easy. We will need to train the construction crews as astronauts. Then, we need to lift all the materials and fuel. All in all, this will be quite the undertaking, even dwarfing the International Space Station construction.”
“How long do you think it will take to complete all of this?”
Fred Anderson, NASA Administrator spoke up. “Sir. We can build and launch everything within thirty years.”
“That is a long timeframe Fred.”
“Yes sir. We can start building today. But it takes time to build. The International Space Station taught us how to build, and also the timeframes needed.”
“Do we have a ship designed then?”
“Mostly. Enough to begin construction with anyway. But we still need to train construction crews.”
“Okay Kevin.” The President began, turning back to eye Dr. Milnek. “You said more than one ship?”
“Yes sir. The idea is to bring the flora and fauna in steps. Allowing each group to expand enough to remain viable once the next level flora and fauna are introduced. This is another reason why it is necessary to take this time.”
“So, the final ship. I assume this one will hold the colonists?”
“Now. Does this reduce the size of the ship?”
“Yes sir. But it will still be the largest ship. The ship will have to carry everything the colony will need.”
The President thought for a moment before continuing. “So. How do you work out the colony size? You told me, as I recall, that a sustainable colony would contain forty thousand people. And yet, you told me you could bring that number down to five thousand. How will this work?”
“The colony will be started with females only. We will transport the females, along with enough semen for each woman to have eight children. There will be a complete lab for ensuring the sex of the child as well. This will get us a stable population in one generation.”
The President nodded. “Okay, but just off the top of my head, that means the women will be obligated to around thirty-six years of parenting. You said that the trip takes what? Twenty-two years? That means this is a fifty-eight-year project. Now. Add in that the woman is around twenty when she leaves earth, then she would be seventy-eight when her last child is on its own. Not to mention that the woman is bearing children from the ages of forty-two to fifty-eight. Those would all be considered high-risk pregnancies if I am not mistaken.”
Dr. Milnek nodded. “You would be right sir, if that was what the plan required. However, there is another option. We can use cryogenic stasis to slow down the aging process for the colonists. They would age approximately six years in the twenty-two-year voyage.”
“Okay. So. They are bearing children from twenty-six to forty-two. And the last child is out of the home at sixty-two. The pregnancy risk is about gone, but what about the ability to support and raise the children.”
“We were worried about that as well. Agrarian societies tend to have shorter individual lifespans. We can negate that somewhat with technology however, we want them to learn to do without the level of tech that we have. The solution would be to have the women begin bearing children at sixteen.”
The President looked at the doctor. “Sixteen? That would mean they would be ten at the start of the voyage.”
“How would they be taught the skills they would need?”
“They would be taught enroute sir. We can instruct them while they are in stasis. We use a form of this in prisons now. Instructing inmates on behavior modification while they are asleep. It is moderately effective in that application. The form we will use is a more direct method and will be far more effective.”
“And what are the risks?”
“None that we can find sir. There is a bonus benefit however. The procedure will remove memories during the process. They won’t remember much of their lives here on Earth. We can be somewhat selective on the effects, so we can remove memories of family for instance, so the girls are not as upset when they are revived, and the family is not there.”
The President looked down at the table. “If this was any other topic except the survival of humans Kevin, I would be sorely tempted to beat you to a bloody pulp for even hinting at doing something like this.”
“I know sir. And I agree. This is why we have never used this before. There were experiments. Well documented. One hundred death-row inmates had the testing done. It was very effective.”
“And they retained the skills?”
“Yes sir. One of the inmates would have been able to perform surgery even. He had quit school in the tenth grade.”
The President shook his head. “So. Tell me how this will work for the girls.”
“Yes sir. We would begin with testing young women for certain traits required. Once we have the women identified, the next step is when we are ready, the women are impregnated during a semi-routine doctor visit. The child is monitored as she grows. Once it is time, we have to devise a way to get the child and then transport her to a facility for final testing. If the child passes, she is prepared and then put in stasis, loaded onto the rocket, and sent to the ship where she is for lack of a better term, plugged in. Once at the new planet, the girl is awakened. Ideally, this is done while on ship as gravity can be controlled. The girls will need to exercise to rebuild muscle. Then they land and the colony can be started.”
“And we will need five thousand ten-year-old girls?”
“About seven thousand sir, eight to ten years old. We need more as we will have some girls fail final testing.”
The President sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Anyone have any idea of the chances of success?”
There was silence for a minute as no one seemed to be willing to speak. Finally, George cleared his throat. “As you know sir, space flight is very risky. That being said, seeing as we have been to this planet now, and have hard data on the journey, and the technology to be used is proven, the odds are very good sir that we will be successful.”
This will require at least three different presidencies to complete, perhaps up to six. In order to keep funding at the levels needed, you will have to make sure everything works and can be explained. We will have to justify the budget to Congress and they will want to see results. Further, we will need to find a backup plan as well. It is all well and good to say we have a plan folks, but if for some reason, this undertaking fails, we will need a backup plan. So finding another planet that we can send a colony to will be just as important as getting this plan from the drawing board to completion” The President stood up and looked around the table. “Patrick Air Force Base will be where you all will work from. I want a firm plan for the first ship so we can work on launch schedules.”
An hour later, The President and George were sitting down in one more meeting. This time, it was with congressional leadership. “Ladies and gentlemen. I apologize for the late meeting. We have a lot to discuss.” The president waited until everyone was seated. “I know you are aware of the fact that this project is classified. I have just returned from a meeting with the principals on this project.” The President looked around the table and shrugged his shoulders. “Folks. There is no way to soften the blow here so I apologize if this is harsh. We are running out of time. The sun is dying. There is no doubt about that fact.”
“I’m sorry sir. You said the sun is dying?” The speaker of the House of Representatives asked.
The President nodded. “Yes. The scientists have confirmed it. The sun is beginning to expand.”
“When? How much time do we have?”
“They don’t have an exact time Mr. Speaker. But no longer than one hundred years.”
There was a general muttering among those in the room. The President let them have a moment to talk among themselves before continuing. “Folks, the long and the short of it is that we are running out of time. However, we also have an out. We can set up a colony on a new planet. It will be expensive however, taking up to six interstellar trips to complete the mission.”
“And this planet is our only option sir?” The Speaker asked.
“So far, it is our only option. There are a few more that may be viable, but the surveys are not done.”
“What sort of priority are those, sir?” The ranking member of the Senate republicans asked.
“Just as high a priority as this one. Folks, this all comes down to time, and how little of it we have. A viable colony takes planning. The one planet we do have will require population of flora and fauna in order to support the colony. And even then, there are a whole host of issues. It took a year just for the planning for this mission.”
“What about other nations?” A member of the House Finance committee asked.
“The way relations are right now, we would have an outsized burden for costs, and they would want to have far too many passengers to justify it. Plus, even if we entered negotiations, that would give away the planet and its location. There is no telling how ill prepared the colonies of other nations would be, and you have to ask, what happens if they decide to fight for supplies? Which leads us to the next obvious question, what additional arms would have to be transported in order to defend the colony?” The President shook his head. “No. I am afraid that the best option is that we keep this to ourselves and give our colony every chance to survive.”
The room was silent for a few minutes as the group absorbed those comments. Finally, the Speaker of the House spoke. “I know a little about space travel, just enough to entertain my grandchildren. So, forgive an old man if I ask the question, but I am assuming that this is a very long trip? And if so, I assume that not just anyone can go.”
“Your right Mr. Speaker. It will take twenty-two years once the ship is built. And there are specific age requirements.”
“What numbers are we looking at for a budget?” One of the members of the House Finance Committee asked.
“We don’t know. The best guess right now is everything you can give. The shuttle fleet will come out of retirement, but we will still need boosters. NASA says they will need every launch pad. There are the materials to build the ships. Supplies for the colony, fuel, and paying all the workers.”
“What are the odds of success?” another person asked.
“About eighty-five percent.” George said.
The Speaker of the House looked over at the Finance committee chairmen, then over at his counterpart from the Senate. Once they had all nodded, he turned back to the President and sighed. “Sir. Tell NASA to get started. We will work out funding.”
An hour later, the President and his Chief of Staff were back in the residence with drinks in their hands. “Well now George. It looks like the colony has a fighting chance.”
George took a sip of his drink before answering. “Yes sir. But this was just one small hurtle. We have a lot of much bigger ones to cross in the future.”
The President nodded. “True George, but it is a start.”