[As usual, please share the story image above anywhere you wish, if you so wish]
I like my 13 word stories the best when there are multiple interpretations and implications — so this is one I like quite a bit. I’d figure this one has to be set a bare minimum of two centuries in the future — but for Earth to have a single planetary government or even a functioning worldwide confederation of sovereign nations in that time, and for an off-Earth settlement to have grown to the point where its prowess in space exceeds what Earth is capable of, suggests a longer timeframe unless something absolutely revolutionary happens. Which is always possible; you can’t predict an unexpected breakthrough.
So I’m thinking five hundred-ish years ahead, something like that. Titan has more on the ball than Earth in the asteroid-deflecting department. That suggests places closer to Earth like Mars or major asteroids like Ceres likely have at least equal capabilities. There are lots of people who don’t live on Earth and weren’t born there, either. Humanity on Earth probably isn’t outnumbered or anything — it’s still a hell of a big biosphere compared to ones that have to be built by hand. Any technology advanced enough to make that factor not matter implies something like Star-Trek-ian replicators that can coalesce matter out of energy and vice-versa — and that would make deflecting a mere dinosaur-killer asteroid child’s play. So that doesn’t exist.
Earth has probably suffered some sort of stagnation or regression. I’ve often thought that one possibility of an Earthly nation or corporation or whatever successfully beginning a large-scale self-sufficient colony off of Earth could be a pulling back, a sense among the Earthbound that they had done their part and sent the pioneers off, the eggs were no longer all in one basket, and the next step is to concentrate on Earthly concerns. At best, on feeding and housing and educating everyone at something approximating a first-world standard. At worst, settling old scores with the ultimate stakes of nuclear or biological warfare lowered — a war that ended the human race on Earth wouldn’t end all of the human race.
And poor Earth, whatever her status in this story, it’s not quite clear, but she’s not quite the self that sent humans off to make Titan a great power anymore. It’s implied Earth knew a massive asteroid was on the way to flatten them, but directly said that Earth couldn’t do anything about it. So good old Titan steps in to save Earth’s bacon.
But not for free. Resources still matter. It’s hard to imagine them not mattering — short of technology indistinguishable from magic. So Titan lays claim to — what, exactly?
That could be read as the asteroid. Ouch, that would hurt Earth. To watch untold trillions of dollars worth of resources zip past, almost close enough to touch, with a greater power shepherding it off to their own benefit.
But that’s not the only reading. Maybe Titan is claiming Earth. Hey, you’d all be dead down there if we hadn’t saved you. That means you belong to us now.
Sometimes in history, the tables eventually turn. The balance of power shifts. What happens in that future often depends on the past the new power remembers.
I hope the future salvaged Earth was humane to their Titan colonists, now that the Titan masters have arrived.
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(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 14 February 2016. Becoming a patron means they get to see almost all of my posts three days before they appear here, and when I publish a short story they get to read it THIRTY days before anyone else, PLUS they can download a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF I CHARGE FOR THE EBOOK. So if you’re not already part of my Patreon crew, you should be!)
2364: Jedi Heir to Crowdfund Mars Orbital Habitat
AP-MARS (Thoat Crossing Domeplex)
15 April 2364 UT-Earth
Mars-born asteroid-mine heir and ordained Church of The Force Master Jedi Arianna Musk-Aguinaldo announced the establishment of a systemwide GoKick crowdfunding campaign in an effort to construct a habitat devoted exclusively to members of the Church of The Force. Late last year Musk-Aguinaldo made headlines with her purchase of Mars-sychronous orbital rights from her own private funds, with the purpose shielded by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with a maximum duration of three years and early disclosure limited to her and not to the government or officials of Mars.
Some financial and political experts believe that Musk-Aguinaldo intended to develop her orbital habitat concept in secrecy for the entire term of the NDA, but was prompted to take earlier action in response to a March 23rd security breach of MarsGov intranet, for which the infoterror group Full Transparency took credit.
The scope of the project is ambitious for a private effort, with a habitat ecology capacity of 250,000 individuals and plans to invite 25,000 initial occupants. Those occupants are expected to consist of individuals with strong networks within the church hierarchy, as their number represents only a small fraction of the Church of The Force’s estimated thirty million members throughout the solar system. When asked if the habitat would be open to skeptics or nonadherents to the church in the future, Aguinaldo-Musk stated that skeptics directly related to church members in good standing would be welcome, but individuals designated to be Dark Side by official action of the church would be excluded or exiled without exception. Also excluded would be members of or adherents to the schismatic Congregation of Lucas, Prophet, whose doctrines differ with the Church of The Force on doctrine regarding the divine inspiration of Star Wars movies beyond the Holy Sextet (Episodes I-VI) or inclusive of the Old Expanded Universe.
The Church of The Force’s teachings on shunning of those designated Dark Side have been controversial both historically and at present, as church Writs have been issued commanding the faithful to sever all contact with employers, spouses, and parents, or even to abandon adolescent children to foster care.
Habitat plans include a hydroponics district and wildlife preserve designated as “Dagobah,” a mixed urban and recreational parkland district of “New Alderaan,” a vacuum and cryonics laboratory named “Hoth,” and a contract with Mars Orbital Utility Solar (MOUS) to provide primary power (in addition to onboard fusion reactors) to the habitat via microwave laser.
I know, I know. We have to ask these questions in public, for all those who haven’t thought about it, don’t care about it, or think the future of humanity off this planet is a science fiction pipe dream.
Sure, it’s a bit of a pipe dream. Because getting a significant and sustainable human presence into space — onto asteroids, moons, other planets, into artificial habitats — is still an endeavor that is on the edge of our capabilities. It’s an expensive undertaking, because we’re very busy with resource-intensive activities like war and selling things to each other and making sure we have ample infrastructure and funding to support sports events.
And nobody wants to grow up and leave home. It’s a big fat pain in the ass. It’s easier to stay. And stagnate. And eventually be buried in the comfortable, familiar back yard in the shadow of a progressively older and less comfortable home.
I think it’s better if we get out there. I understand if some of you don’t. I just think you’re on the wrong side of future history and common sense. We, as a species, cling to the familiar — but we are also explorers and wanderers and have been for many thousands of years. While individuals may be happy to stay home on Earth, and that’s fine, opening up the frontier of the rest of the solar system opens a psychological gate; we have no real frontiers left on the planet for the disaffected to run to. Having frontiers again, just knowing they’re there, would probably relieve a lot of the feelings many of us angrily have, of being trapped. Being able to actually get off Earth if one is so inclined would be equally if not more helpful.
And those resources floating around up there can help Earth, too. It might be nice to shut down heavily-polluting rare earth metal mines in our backyard in favor of importing them from asteroid mines that don’t have ecologies around them to worry about, for example.
But I could rant on this subject all day — I’ll go ahead and give you a break here.
Taifun Arrives in Lunar Orbit
L5 News & Entertainment Network
14 January 2357
Taifun took its place in Lunar orbit today, as projected. The asteroid, 9.8 kilometers in diameter, was first discovered in November of 2271. Its original trajectory was a near-certain direct hit on Earth in 2340 and would have generated a force roughly equal to what was produced by the Chicxulub impactor which was a factor in the decline and extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago.
Project Jade Emperor, named for a figure of ancient Chinese mythology who vanquished a primal and destructive evil from heaven and earth, began its work altering the trajectory of Taifun by 2280. Enormous on-site ion drives were built on Taifun’s surface; the first was ignited in 2288. Those same ion drives, the majority now over 8 decades old, have fallen silent. The work of establishing mines to take advantage of Taifun’s trillion-plus tons of rock, nickel-iron, and rare earth metals is projected to begin within 2 years. The ion drives will remain in place and are undergoing overhauls so they can be used for course corrections during the decades that Taifun will remain in lunar orbit; finally, they will be used to expel the mined-out remains from the Earth-Luna system.
More than 300 universities throughout the solar system have requested permission to set up research stations on the surface of Taifun, most applications being submitted within the last decade. Selection of approvals, anticipated to number 20 or fewer, will be announced in early 2358 according to a press release from United Nations Deimos Annex.
Seriously, people. It’s bad enough it took 50,000 years — maybe 100,000, depending on which theorist you think is most credible — to go from self-aware sentience and serious tool-using to getting off this planet and walking on the moon.
It was really a remarkable milestone. Getting there stretched the technology of the day to its limits.
But what it didn’t do was stretch human capabilities. At the height of the US-USSR space race, NASA funding peaked at a smidge under 4.5% of the federal budget. Now, it idles about at under 1%. Because we constantly find bigger fish to fry. We’re busy doing important stuff like slashing funding for higher education, keeping up with what celebrities are up to, maintaining our supplies of five dollar Starbucks dessert coffees, and complaining because putting up more solar panels and wind farms might just take the wind out of the highly lucrative fracking business.
Much like a spoiled, entitled teen, we’re endlessly finding reasons that we don’t need to get out of the house.
But sooner or later, we’ll need to.
Are we really going to sit around until we’re forced? Or until one wild-eyed dreamer, somehow, against all odds, does it despite the disinterest and disdain of the majority of humankind? Seems a ridiculous way to run things, if you ask me.
A little earlier, I wrote about pessimism in science fiction. Seemed like a nice idea to follow that up with an optimistic little story doodle.
(Untitled 100 word short-short)
The children gasp happily at the view as the shuttle door opens. They set up the picnic on matted needles under a gnarled pine by the beach. I snap pictures of the shoreline and rocks, hoping to compare them to the old paper snapshots my great-great-great grandfather took nearby.
In his snaps, there is a city here, half drowned in a rising sea. Today the sea has retreated again, and the cities are inland, underground; forest and grass and wild animals reclaim a world made mostly of natural beauty.
The dirty work is all in space; Earth is beautiful again.