Sunday, November 25, 2012

Star Light Star Bright

Author's note: I've done several edits, as of 11/26/2012, 1:53pm.

It was a dark and stormy night. The Chancellor was writing his speech long hand, a very bad sign indeed his assistant thought, looking back at the clock on her desk. Twenty-five minutes to go, and then she would usher him to the studio. Enough time for her to finish clearing his calendar as he requested, even canceling meetings with Very Important Persons.

This was to be the last worldwide live speech, when he would announce that the final stage had begun. Whereas at the first, so many years ago, he patiently explained that scientists had discovered their atmosphere was thinning. Not many believed even years later when he made an announcement about the plans for survival. But tonight, years later still, this would be his fare-thee-well to all the world's citizens. And to those few who had drawn the short straw, good luck and godspeed.

Chancellor Vlark knew his words must address the fear and hope of each and every person who heard him speak. To help them understand that the Chosen who had boarded the Lifeboats were now launching towards their destinations. One crew flying towards the stars light years away, searching for a habitable planet. And another flying directly to the nearest, to jumpstart a carbon-based terraforming process. Both crazy gambles, with the slimmest possibility of survival. But quite probably - no, not probably. All who remained on this world would not survive to see the fruits of these labors, no matter how well they had prepared.

Vlark crossed out the words he had just written. Even now, when all scientific evidence showed that the planet's temperature was about to take a huge leap upward, the consequence of a self-propagating feedback loop they called it, one that had begun over half a century ago and was now unstoppable. Ignorance is what the people seemed to want. All these years they refused to heed the warnings and curb their appetites. They lived their lives as if nothing was wrong. They watered their lawns, drove their cars, and shopped to excess. Unstoppable.

His assistant came in and set down the tray, and he thanked her as she turned to walk out.

"Would you have some tea with me?" the Chancellor asked politely, motioning to the pot and glass of ice on the tray.

"Thank you sir, but I have appointments yet to cancel and it looks like you have a speech yet to finish." She looked at her watch. "Fifteen minutes, sir."

He nodded and watched her go. Gracious to the end, he thought, that's how all the civil service in his employ had been trained. He hoped that she would be not be swept up in the panic that would ensue after his speech was long over, when citizens finally realized that there was nothing more to be done. Too far past the tipping point, and who could blame anyone for doing whatever they could to delay the inevitable that awaited them all.

His generals had told him they were prepared for the riots and attacks on government facilities. They had decided to leave the spaceport unprotected, a formidable decoy for fathers and mothers who would fruitlessly search for more ships on which they could seat their children. While a mere few noteworthy officials took their families into hidden, well-stocked and protected underground encampments. He shook his head and sighed. No matter how the Chancellor explained, with all the years of planning and the billions of dollars spent, their only hope was already hurtling through space, and life here would be extinct long before either Lifeboat could fulfill its promise.

Vlark poured his tea, watching as the golden liquid spilled over the ice in the glass. He opened a packet and poured in the white crystals and swirled them around. This was the last of the luxuries he would allow himself. The tea was from a special leaf grown in the cryorganics pods that were now on each Lifeboat. And the ice, oh the ice. There was never enough to go around anymore, but somehow it was there in his glass every evening when his assistant brought him the tea. He wished that she had stayed so that he could share this glass with her, to let this be his last act of courtesy - and courage, before the klieg lights filled his view.

He looked at his watch, noting just five minutes to go, and sipped from the glass. He was glad for the minty cold that masked the bitter almond flavor of the dissolved crystals. He glanced one last time at the science report and then dropped it into the shredder, deciding there was nothing in it that he would use in his speech tonight. The citizens would know soon enough the limits of their foremost scientists, and their foremost government official.

The report said the probability of failure on the Lifeboat to the stars was nearly 100% because the physical and psychological makeup of the human body could not take the harshness of such a long journey through space. The best chance for survival of the race was if life could be reborn on the third planet from the sun.

The assistant came to escort him to the studio, and the Chancellor took one final drink. He hoped that this new race would not repeat the mistakes and horrors of their forbears. And perhaps, he thought as he stood to leave, perhaps someday those new beings, those "Earthlings", would return home to Mars to find the keys to their past. And to their future.

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