…which will include a teeth-cleaning, a trip to our family veterinarian, a great deal of laundry, and the assembly – by yours truly – of a lawn sweeper that might as well have come from IKEA. So rather than entertain you with a typical Curmudgeon Emeritus rant, I’ll give you a peek at something I’ve been toying with for most of 2022. Suggestions about where to go from here are welcome.
The Counter-Hegira was a long time in the planning. As desperate as they were to be off, the planners needed to be certain that their provisions included everything the colonists would require to establish an endurable economic, social, and political order on the mother-world of Mankind. The preliminary probes had made it plain that the biowars that depopulated Earth had rendered its prior economic-industrial base useless to a new populace. Nature had reclaimed the planet almost completely; the few recognizable structures that remained had deteriorated to uselessness. Whatever the colonists would need to recreate a tolerably advanced civilization on Earth, they must bring with them.
The resulting list of required items was staggering. The volume the supplies would occupy caused the members of the Steering Committee great anguish. They had thought the shell of the vessel for the journey to be already at hand. It was a nickel-iron asteroid twelve miles in diameter that mining operations had neatly hollowed out. It could easily be fitted with the engines, instrumentation, and environmental support required for the interstellar trek. But it was too small for the purpose.
The volume of supplies needed wasn’t the only reason that seemingly convenient asteroid wouldn’t serve. The Counter-Hegira project had solicited volunteers for the enterprise from the whole of Ceta. The response had been as voluminous as the logistical requirements. Before the Steering Committee could close applications, it had acquired a list of over thirty thousand volunteers. The would-be migrants were of every nation, race, creed, and philosophy on Ceta. Their aggregate resources, all of which they committed to the trek, came to slightly over 300 billion floi: more than enough for the undertaking, as ambitious as it seemed. But they would need a bigger vessel, and not just because of their number.
The planners selected a much larger asteroid, a nickel-iron body approximately thirty miles in diameter, and set crews to hollowing and preparing it. They partitioned the interior to separate inimical migrant groups from one another, and to guarantee the security of the supplies the settlers would need to create an adequate economic base. Some of the ores carved out of the asteroid could be sold at a profit to various Cetan firms and governments. That provided a useful increment to the expedition’s funding.
Despite the unprecedented resources committed to the project, the engineering and logistical phases took over four years to complete. The unending internecine strife on Ceta’s surface often threatened to derail the project entirely. The Steering Committee members and the specialists who captained asteroid operations suffered frequent bouts of doubt that verged upon despair. Yet there came a day, four years and more from the inception of the enterprise, when all was finally ready and the migrants could board the ship.
There was space enough for the migrants and their belongings.
There were supplies enough for the journey and the colonization effort.
Engines of unprecedented power, capable of taking the vessel to the edge of lightspeed, were mounted, fueled, tested, refueled, and tested again.
The chairman of the Steering Committee decreed that boarding and the allocations of living space could begin. Once the crew and migrants were aboard and settled, the asteroid-vessel could set forth. However, it needed a name. To plunge into the Deep Dark without first naming the vessel would surely bring bad luck, perhaps even disaster.
Many names were suggested. The chairman picked the winner:
His partners concurred with his choice, but then, they’d concurred with every decision he’d made but one. He was a visionary, an acknowledged genius of conception, planning, and management. His attainments were the stuff of legend. He’d sunk the whole of his fortune, the largest ever accumulated by a Cetan, into the enterprise, without hesitation. They had named him their premier without considering an alternate. Thereafter they trusted every decision of significance to him and him alone. He had not disappointed them.
And so, on the twelfth day of the fifth month of Terrasynth year 5823, the 3617th anniversary of the First Planetfall upon Ceta, Homeward Bound fired its engines. It accelerated steadily away from Tau Ceti, toward where they expected to find Sol eleven years hence. The project chief had the conn at the launch, for he was as brilliant a mathematician, engineer, and astrogator as he was a planner and manager.
His name was Philip Lonsdale.
The histories of Earth Renewed would style him Philip the Bold, the founder and first King of Neastra.
For the hundredth time, Seth Merrell reviewed the two lists that would shape his future: the list of his personal possessions, and the list of items apportioned to him from the colonial supply. With each day that passed since the inception of the Counter-Hegira, he’d become less sure of the adequacy of his preparations.
I’ve made a huge wager, and I’m not sure I can cover the bet.
On Ceta he’d been a mechanic. While there was likely to be some demand for a good mechanic after planetfall on Earth, the imperative necessities would be to establish reliable supplies of food, clothing, shelter, and fuel. He’d decided to make his contribution to the recolonization of Earth in food.
Tools, seeds, and frozen animal embryos made up the bulk of his personal baggage. As he had never farmed beyond a backyard vegetable garden, during the six months that preceded the launch of Homeward Bound he devoted the bulk of his free time to learning everything he could about large-scale crop cultivation. He’d studied all its stages: everything involved in soil preparation, planting, nurturing, culling, harvesting, and storage. His wife Ruth, equally aware that there would be no returning to Ceta for some item they’d forgotten, had supported his effort throughout.
His allotment from the colony’s general supplies included a few small machines: scaled-down versions of the devices Cetan agricorps used for plowing, harrowing, planting, and harvesting, plus fuel and spare parts for them. Barring some unimaginable calamity, they, plus his own provisions, would be enough to keep him in operation for the first few years.
If the machines will serve and the fuel holds out, I should be able to keep ten acres. Perhaps fifteen, if I can claim a patch that’s not too rocky or claylike. But if they should fail…
He would be unable to replace those machines before the establishment of the heavy industries that produce such things. He had to hope that those industries—the foundations of an industrial economy—would mature in time to prevent a reversion to manual labor in all things. Likewise, he would be unable to renew his supplies of fuel and agrochemicals until the extractive and chemical industries that produce them should emerge.
If fortune should smile, he and Ruth would enjoy a decent level of productivity and comfort. Yet at the very best it would be a much harder life than three millennia of their forebears had known.
According to the published schedule, planetfall on Earth was only twenty-one shipboard days away.
A knock sounded from the apartment door. Merrell set down his lists and rose to answer it, careful of his movements in Homeward Bound’s microgravity.
It was Philip Lonsdale. Merrell stepped back in confusion.
The tall, spare, whitehaired planner essayed a half-bow. “Good morning to you, Mr. Merrell. May I have a few minutes of your time for a chat?”
“Yes, of course.” Merrell stepped aside and gestured that his visitor should enter and be seated.
“To what do I owe the extreme honor of this visit, sir?” Merrell said when he had seated himself.
Lonsdale smiled. “Extreme?”
“Indeed! I should hardly have expected the chairman of the project to take an interest in us. We’ve never spoken before this. Indeed, I don’t believe we’ve ever been within a hundred meters of you.”
Lonsdale cocked an eyebrow. “But you are an interesting fellow, Mr. Merrell. One of a small percentage of our complement in whom an interest should be taken.”
With a glance and a knowing look, Lonsdale indicated his host’s brawny chest and arms. Merrell blushed.
“It occurred to me well before the journey began that strength and endurance beyond what most Cetans possess would be an important asset to those of us bound for Earth,” Merrell said. “So I set out to acquire as much of them as possible.”
“That much is plain. It’s equally plain that you’ve striven to maintain your gains as we’ve traveled,” Lonsdale said. “What about Mrs. Merrell?”
“The same,” Merrell said. “Ruth is hardier and more athletic than most women–”
“Probably more so than most men as well,” Lonsdale added.
“Well, yes. A veterinarian who expects to perform surgery on the largest animals requires strength and endurance quite as much as a farmer and stockman. It was a gift from Providence that she’d already decided to train for that occupation when the Counter-Hegira project was announced. I should not have been nearly so willing to face the trials we shall all face, if she were a fainting-flower type.”
“You appear to be a well-prepared couple,” Lonsdale said. “I have reviewed your personal property and colony-stores allotments with interest. They strike me as both consistent and complete. Yet you deem yourselves to be of no particular interest.”
Merrell shrugged. “I can find no reason to think otherwise.”
“But I can,” Lonsdale said. “For you see, while my colleagues allowed me supreme authority over most aspects of the recolonization project, they did deny me one facet, by a majority decision of the Steering Committee. That withheld authority has moved me to undertake a project within the project. One in which I hope to involve you and Mrs. Merrell, though it may strike you as capricious.” Lonsdale looked about the little chamber. “Where is she at present?”
“Socializing,” Merrell said. “Ruth deems it important that we have strong social bonds with those likely to become our neighbors on Earth. She invests a fair fraction of each day in the effort to cultivate mutually supportive relationships.”
“Mrs. Merrell is plainly a woman of good sense,” Lonsdale said. “If the potential neighbors she’s been cultivating are as sturdy and sensible as yourselves, this visit could prove multiply fruitful.”
“How so, sir?”
“Would you permit me a somewhat personal question, Mr. Merrell?”
Merrell hesitated briefly.
“Please ask it, sir.”
“What moved you and Mrs. Merrell to apply to the Counter-Hegira project?”
It was not the question Merrell had anticipated. He started to speak, checked himself, and took a moment to organize his thoughts.
“Before the project was announced, I had been reading a lot of history. How New Albion originated, how it was initially structured politically, the cultural legacy it inherited from Earth, and how its laws and traditions have transformed over the centuries. I was frequently disturbed by what I learned. The public life our forebears enjoyed seemed much preferable to the constant political squabbling and social chaos New Albion suffers today. Many of our current problems seemed directly traceable to our departures from our legal and social heritage. The correlations between the influx of immigrants and the rise of social ills struck me as too strong to be ignored. I found myself wishing, somewhat wistfully, for a return to the practices of the founding. Failing that, I yearned for an escape from the turmoil, but there was nowhere on Ceta where conditions appeared any better than at home.”
“So you saw the Counter-Hegira as a hope for an unblemished start?” Lonsdale said.
“I did. As the project was initiated by native Albions, there seemed a chance that the spirit of our tradition of personal independence might seep into it. At the very least, the colonists would be sufficiently tried by the practical difficulties involved in reclaiming Earth for Mankind to have no energy left over for quarrels, noxious meddling, and Grundyism. But how does this bear on your interest in us, sir?”
“In this manner. I spoke of a withheld authority a moment ago, but without elaborating on it. That authority concerned the selection of colonists from among those who applied for the journey. My colleagues insisted that the trek be open to all the nations, races, and creeds of Ceta. Provided only that the applicant was not a felon, and that he could commit sufficient resources out of his own pocket, he would not be refused a place because of his race, his religion, or any opinions he might hold about politics, economics, and the social order.
“I considered openness of that order unwise, and I spoke out strongly against it. I cited the interracial, inter-creedal, and political strife that besets Ceta.” The planner’s face darkened. “Substantial fractions of our complement hail from Ulyanov and Dar al-Islam, you know.”
Merrell winced. “Ruth and I have tried to avoid those portions of the complement.”
Lonsdale nodded. “I knew from a wealth of personal encounters that the desire to be quit of Ceta’s conflicts animated no small fraction of the applicants to the project. I argued to my colleagues that a populace that perpetuates the divisions whose conflicts roil New Albion and Ceta generally would add unnecessary obstacles to the development of a struggling colony. Yet I was overruled. So I demanded an accommodation. Fortunately, I received it.”
Merrell felt his excitement rising. “What sort of accommodation, sir?”
“This sort,” Lonsdale said. “While the great mass of the colonists will settle the largest of Earth’s continents—the landmass that was once called Eurasia—I and up to three thousand others I can persuade to accompany me will use the landers to populate a far distant place. A large island divided from the rest of the world by deep and treacherous waters. An island a great part of which is inhospitable desert. An island whose flora and fauna are reputed to be extremely hostile to human trespass. According to the histories, its earliest employment by our forebears was as a prison colony.” Lonsdale smiled. “In short, it is an island that will require the strongest, hardiest, and most resolute of men to settle, subdue, and equip with a functioning, high-technology civilization.”
“And you are selecting your company in this enterprise personally,” Merrell said.
Lonsdale nodded. “As we speak, Mr. Merrell. As we speak.”
Merrell’s surge of pride at being one of Lonsdale’s selectees was abruptly displaced by a wave of wary curiosity.
“Sir, if it is not too bold of me to ask,” Merrell said slowly, “by what criteria are you selecting colonists for your island venture?”
Lonsdale’s eyes twinkled. “It is not too bold, Mr. Merrell. Indeed, had you not asked, I should have questioned my judgment in approaching you.” He hunched toward Merrell and lowered his voice, as if he feared to be overheard. “Here are a few: All my nominees were born in New Albion, speak English, and have been educated adequately for the purposes of the project. All of you are young fertile married couples who have not yet borne children. All of you exhibit indications of superior physical strength and endurance. Each of you has at least two valuable skills to your credit. And all of you strike me, from what I have learned of you, your families, and your upbringings, as responsible persons. There are others of which you will learn in due course.” He fixed Merrell with an expectant look.
“Mr. Lonsdale,” Merrell said after a moment, “I accept. We accept.”
Lonsdale grinned naughtily. “Are you certain that Mrs. Merrell won’t be displeased that you presume to speak for her in this?”
“I think not,” Merrell said. “She will not dispute me. Indeed, I should think she will be even more enthusiastic than I about joining your venture.”
Lonsdale rose, and Merrell did the same.
“And so is revealed yet another criterion of selection,” Lonsdale said. “Decision. The willingness to commit.”
They clasped hands, and Merrell showed him out.
The transport of the greater body of colonists and their supplies to the surface of Earth took twenty-two days and put a fearsome strain on both the people and the equipment. As had been planned, that group, some twenty-seven thousand persons of all varieties, were taken to the greatest of Earth’s landmasses. They set down upon the southwestern coast of what was once called Europe.
The settlers found the climate temperate, the waters warm, and the marine life plentiful. It appeared that there would be little danger of starvation, though they would be required to subsist upon fish and concentrates while the farms became established. Nor would extremes of weather be a problem for them, though they would shelter in inflatable cabins while they erected structures of a more durable character.
When all twenty-seven thousand and their gear had been offloaded and a semblance of order had been achieved on the ground, Lonsdale decreed that phase of operations complete. He ordered the landers to return to where Homeward Bound orbited, to fetch the three thousand colonists who had elected to follow him. Before loading commenced, Lonsdale called his selectees together in the asteroid-ship’s central cavity for some last announcements.
“Though you are fewer than the group that has settled Eurasia,” he boomed over the throng, “there are enough of you to form a viable settlement. Yet the locale I have selected for you, as I have told each of you in your turn, is both rugged and dangerous. It will challenge you severely. You will face much hard labor. There may be privation and disease. There will be injuries and deaths. Never in your lives on Ceta have you confronted anything close to the hardships you will face on Earth.”
He smiled. “That is a great part of the reason I selected the locale. It will try you to your limits, and perhaps beyond them…if, that is, you remain with my group rather than take the escape hatch I am about to open to you. For some of you may have come to feel that I have asked too much of you, too great a commitment, while telling you too little.
“If you have had, or are having, second thoughts about the enterprise I have planned, you may remain here while my group makes planetfall. When that is behind us, the landers will take you and your possessions to join the group that has been planted in Europe. I will think no less of you for choosing that course…but know this: I intend that there shall be no intercourse between the Eurasian settlement and my own. You will be cut off from contact with those who follow me—possibly forever.
“You will now have an interval over which to confer with one another and make up your minds without further comment from me.”
He stepped away from the microphone and sat as the buzz of conversation swelled to a cacophony.
Half an hour later, Lonsdale returned to the microphone. He tapped it thrice to request attention, which he received at once.
“If any among you have decided that you would prefer to join the Eurasian settlement, please move to stand near the left wall of the chamber.” He pointed.
He waited. There was a rustling from the crowd, and a low buzz of renewed conversation, but no one detached from the larger group. All remained compactly together in the center of the chamber.
After a few minutes, Lonsdale smiled.
“It appears I chose well. Loading and boarding will now commence, in alphabetical order by family name. Please be certain that all your personal possessions are securely packed and ready for loading when your name is called.”
The assembly’s cheer was long and loud.
“Sir,” the lander pilot said, “Your goods have been stowed aboard. We can cast off as soon as you’ve embarked.”
Lonsdale smiled gently. “I fear that I must delay you just a bit longer. I trust you’re not in a hurry?”
The pilot winced. “Of course not, sir.” He turned and headed back to the lander. Lonsdale waited until he’d closed the forward hatch behind him, then turned back to the rest of the Steering Committee.
“I shall retain that lander and the one before it in Neastra, gentlemen. You may have the others.”
Grunts of assent circled the group. “Are you bringing enough stabilized fuel to return them to orbit?” Roland Harcourt said.
“I believe so, but time will tell.” Lonsdale thrust out his hand. “You have done well, gentlemen. Though we may never meet again, I shall treasure the memory of our collaboration to the end of my life.”
“May we never meet again?” Brian Ashe asked as handshakes were exchanged.
“I doubt it severely,” Lonsdale said. “We will be thousands of miles apart, separated by great expanses of land and water, and severely tried by the effort required to tame our respective domains. It will be decades before there are functioning societies below that are wealthy enough to make air travel convenient. It would be possible to use the landers to reconvene, as long as they remain functional, but I would rather that we not expend the remaining fuel for that purpose.” He shrugged. “At any rate, I do not expect to live that much longer. But we shall see. Farewell and Godspeed, gentlemen.”
When the rest of the Steering Committee had boarded the lander that would take them to Europe, Lonsdale turned and headed not for his own lander, but deeper into Homeward Bound, to address a third group. That group was smaller than either of the others: a bare three hundred souls. It would not be descending to Earth, then or ever. Only Lonsdale and those within it knew of its existence.
Copyright © 2022 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
Well, you’ve well and truly set the ball on top of the tee, now it’s your problem to figure out which club to use.
As an aside (and I’ve had this discussion with other authors), I will offer some positive criticism that I hope you will take in the spirit offered. Your dialogue shouldn’t sound like the body of the work. People simply do not speak that way. Setting aside late-stage Heinlein as a bad example, they do not use correct grammar, they do not do parallelisms, they do not use long and structurally-correct sentences, and they certainly don’t speak in paragraphs.
Ex: “Ruth and I have tried to avoid those portions of the complement.”
Revised: “My wife and I, we don’t hang with those jerks.”
Of course, it is possible your intent is to mimic Dickens (or Asimov). But your writing would be much livelier if your characters sounded less like faculty lounge professors intent upon impressing each other and more like the bar scene in Cheers. A study of old television shows would be fruitful. All In The Family has some fantastic dialogue, or M*A*S*H.
Now that all that is off my chest, this story could go anywhere. Game of Thrones, perhaps. But might I suggest re-reading Tactics of Mistake for inspiration, since your future king appears to be scheming along the lines of that class of strategy.
Steve, Steve, Steve! They’re my characters, the products of a civilization that germinated and matured far from Earth, and they’ll speak the way I want them to! When you get around to writing your twentieth novel, you can have your characters speak as you please!
Awesomesauce! I look forward to reading more…
Suggestions? Hmm, as an avid sci-fi geek and consumer of SFIA (Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur), I might have a few…
First, our colonist protagonists are going back to Earth thousands of years after bio-wars depopulated Earth’s technological civilizations? Seems likely that even if technological civilization has collapsed, there may be some Human survivors left afterward (1 in 10K immunity, perhaps multiplicative vs. multiple plague strains?), perhaps reverted to hunter-gatherer bands. Australian Aborigines might still survive, those who kept away from tech civilization when the plagues were spreading. Other remnants might yet survive in other areas; who knows how thirty-six hundred years might have changed them, biologically, culturally, etc?
Also, this is Australia we’re talking about – some of the most dangerous fauna on Earth, plus whatever introduced fauna (cats, dogs, livestock?) that have become feral after the Humans largely went away. Wild dog packs upwards of 100 individuals, packs of feral pigs, etc, etc, ad nauseum. Perhaps the dreaded “Drop Bears” have become more of a reality than a joke!
Lastly, Lonsdale’s mysterious 300 colonists who are not going to Earth… the mind boggles! Some projects they might be working on – a solar power array to wirelessly beam power down to a ground station at the main Australian colony to give them free power without having to set up reactors would be one obvious choice. If they are harvesting or capturing Near-Earth asteroids for materials for their space station, there are many possibilities.
Aside from they might even set up a Kinetic Orbital Bombardment platform disguised within the “peaceful” orbital power plant. “Rods from God” as a final defensive superweapon should any of the other colonists decide to turn on the New Aussies (not good vs. fast moving targets, but bases and perhaps fleets could be pounded). Not to mention a gigawatt-class microwave beam from orbit could fry invaders and play Hell with their electronics (unless hardened)!
You’re off to a good start, I like it so far and I want to read more.
But. I sense a disconnect between possession of a level of technology enabling people to accelerate an immense asteroid to nearly light speed while requiring the colonists to live and work, once the fuel runs out, under nearly stone-age conditions. No long-lived solar cells providing power, no automated factories capable of turning out a wide range of products, no stores of materials shipped down from orbit to feed the factories? No robots to perform the most dangerous, difficult and dirty work?
You raise an interesting point. Thousands of years of progress “should,” according to normal conceptions, result in a great deal more technological progress than we have already achieved. But that’s the fruit of a linear extrapolation of the six thousand years of history on Earth of which we have some record. Such extrapolations are founded on the assumption the brokers’ ads are so quick to dismiss: “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”
There are voices on both sides of the matter. For example, Eric Drexler has great faith in the still-developing techniques of molecular engineering and nanotechnology. On the other side, Gregory Benford points out the rising costs and diminishing returns from technological advances. Our ability to command specific results from machinery at acceptable costs might not follow a favorable curve. That’s especially likely as regards some fundamental matters: food and fuel production being among them.
But this is science fiction, where the writer makes the rules. Besides, I’m still making up my mind as to what “the story is about.” Give my imagination a little time (and space!) to work, and we’ll see.
@Daniel D Kay, Jerry Pournelle had this to say (for which I might could hunt up a source) and for which NASA is a cautionary tale:
Not to be too much of a fussbudget, but how is this relevant to either what Dan Day wrote or what I wrote? 🤔
In your story you mentioned “The unending internecine strife on Ceta’s surface often threatened to derail the project entirely.” That seemed to describe a planetary polical or corporate government made up of members mostly interested in more in personal success than any long-term project benefiting other people.
Maybe I’m too influenced by the Screwtape Letter, though.
I enjoyed your story itself. Great start. I look forward to the book. I can’t advise you on style or direction. Writing’s an ability you either have or you don’t. I don’t.