Sci-Fi Short Story
Author: Joseph Murphy-James
‘Population set to reach 20 billion this year’ was the headline of the Tribune, followed by a statement from the World Federation about the increase in production that would maintain the standard of living. ‘Irrespective of the effect on the planet’ was the response of the Science Guild that was widely ignored. Science had been ridiculed during the rise of the Global Federation except where it supported their aims; some scientists valued their position within government and relinquished the search for truth that science demanded.
The climate was changing. Subtle perturbations at first: little temperature difference between night and day, monsoon type downpours, sporadic flooding and worsening storms. Then, the severe weather events commenced, causing temperatures to rise into the forties for periods on end, and relentless storms with cyclones queuing to hit the shores causing massive surges, inundating continents. This resulted in thousands of deaths and homelessness accompanied by famine or disease for the hapless survivors.
The World Federation acted quickly, shifting food production closer to the poles and improving buildings so that the largest of cities could survive the effects of the deteriorating climate. Few in the new metropolitan areas ventured from their survival domes and, when severe climatic conditions breached city defences, there were substantial fatalities. Night and day temperatures rarely fluctuated, hovering above forty five degrees, forcing the World Federation to approach the science and engineering community. They wanted to examine the possibility of geo-engineering; using technology to reverse the impact of mankind’s damage to the planet’s climate. They were becoming desperate and their dithering had brought mankind to the brink of disaster.
The puppet scientists took the government’s money but they knew it was too late. Except for the polluted and acidified oceans, the planet had been covered in concrete, asphalt or gravel to provide habitats for the swelling population or raped to provide raw materials for the endless economic growth demanded by the Federation. The geo-engineering proposed by the engineers was inadequate and belated. Soon, the sun became no longer visible in the sky, blanketed by impenetrable clouds that never cleared. Then the rain started to sour with sulphuric acid and it ate into the metallic structure of the cities, etching droplets into the windows that no longer provided a vista worth seeing.
Clandestine, a group of wealthy technologists saw a better future for their kind away from the world and a bright blue sister planet beckoned, no longer visible through the dark clouds shrouding a home world that was becoming their tomb. In secret, they prepared for departure, building a gigantic arc in geostationary orbit, the shape of a monstrous wheel, providing simulated gravity from the centripetal force of its rotation, for the growing number of inhabitants that were being ferried to the craft by smaller shuttles. The World Federation knew that the exodus had started but were preoccupied as one crisis followed another; they were losing the battle and many key figures of the government joined the evacuation.
Hundreds of thousands left their world with the promise of a better life, wishing never to repeat the mistakes of their kind that had destroyed the jewel in the crown of the solar system, an erstwhile beautiful planet of turquoise oceans, blue skies, lands lush with vegetation and an abundance of wildlife. A land they had never seen, except in archives, confined to the annals of history. The runaway greenhouse effect had been relentless; a chain reaction started when a sustainable lifestyle was shunned for unattainable growth based upon the myth of economics and a baseless world currency. Many rejected climate science even when it was obvious that the facts were irrefutable. The science was unimpressed and ploughed on regardless.
The occupants of the arc left their stricken planet with a heavy heart, watching on mammoth screens as their previous homeland drifted slowly away. As they started their orbital departure the chief engineer ejected a substantial metallic globe, a sentinel containing the history of their civilisation and what had befallen them. It was a warning to whoever might discover the object, and armoured to survive the hostility of space. It was condemned to orbit the doomed planet below, watching the silent decline of life into quiescence to be replaced by a chemical turbulence with temperatures that would melt lead, evaporation of the oceans, crushing atmospheric pressures and a rain of sulphuric acid as the delinquent greenhouse effect accelerated.
“Morning, GSC, Venus orbit achieved,” said the commander of ISS Explorer 2, the international space ship controlled by the Global Space Centre in Malawi.
“We have copy,” said a jubilant mission controller minutes later, the latency of the communications delaying the response, “Glad you arrived safely. We’re breathing easier here.”
ISS Explorer 2’s commander pushed a button to transmit the data he’d gathered and sent it to the GSC. As he waited for the broadcast to finish, he opened the storage hatch door and released the autonomous collection droid, or ACiD as it was known, and programmed it to retrieve a massive egg shaped object they’d discovered that was orbiting Venus. He was puzzled by it. It was ancient and scarred but clearly fabricated by a creature that betrayed its intelligence. The ACiD accomplished its work and relayed the alien object through the open hatch and into the examination bay. Once the hatch had been closed, the ACiD returned to its recharging pod and awaited its next task. The commander examined the globe using remote probes.
Tentatively he used ultrasonic beams and low-energy electromagnetic ray bursts to examine inside the blackened and etched globe that the ACiD had secured to a low bench. He found electronics, but not to any design he recognised, and alien power sources that were still operating. Twisting to reach another probe, he tapped a command into a computer terminal, trying to determine the age of the globe. The commander waited for the computer to complete its work and the screen glowed with the answer, decorated with a red warning message. The object was ancient, the analysis had revealed and the displayed alert told the commander that no numerical estimate had been possible; it was simply old.
“Something for the boffins back home, Maybe they’ll learn something from it?” he said to himself, “It’ll keep them occupied for years.”
Two weeks later, the mission over, the commander gave his orders and they slid from the Venusian orbit and set a course for the Earth, a bright blue speck of light in a sky of blackness decorated with distant galaxies. The population of his planet was growing, soon to be seven billion, and the commander was concerned. Whether the Earth could sustain this growth was not a question for him but he hoped that someone was asking it, though he doubted that any but environmentalists cared. He’d seen the enormous hurricane forming in the south Atlantic as he’d left, the third that month, and he knew that they were becoming recurrent and deadly. The first had hit the mainland of the United States, inundating a major City, the second the Caribbean, causing both flooding and loss of life and the third skirted Florida and up the East coast. Each year, the hurricane season worsened but the current year was a calamity of biblical proportions. Perhaps climate change, thought the commander; it was not a popular viewpoint and he knew that he’d be ridiculed online were he to suggest it. He shrugged and turned to his computer screen, checking the final calculations. Leaning forward, he punched the communications button.
“Evening GSC, ISS Explorer 2, heading for home, mission accomplished,” the commander said as he touched the screen to initiate the burn that would send them on their way.