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Table of Contents

Jacob's Story

Part 1

Jacob couldn't wait. The day he had anticipated and prepared for over the course of almost a decade was soon at hand. He had grown up watching science fiction, dreaming of going to the stars. He was inspired by Jean-Luc Picard, the crew who manned the starship Enterprise, and the promise for a better existence offered through the exploration of space. He was intrigued by the concept of alien diplomacy; although still, almost a century after the films had been made, we continue to be unsure about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Now, at the age of 40, he was still in a kind of disbelief about the fact that he would be one of the first to tread this new soil. He was to be part of the first Martian colony ever to be attempted by humans.

As a child he was certainly unique, most children glazed over the classical film section of the BitMovies catalog and never paid it much notice. But growing up, he was not most children. Since the day he was old enough to operate a tablet he had sought every possible kind of media on the subject of space exploration, and digested it.

His family's means were modest. He probably would have had access to a thorough education on the subject much earlier in life if his great-great-great-grandparents hadn't thought Bitcoin to be a ponzi scheme. But it's not like his family wasn't able to take care of him. His parents were both teachers, and so they were barely able to secure an average lifestyle, a lifestyle that most people from our time would look down on– but he was grateful for it. He had to make many sacrifices to scrimp together the satoshis (the lowest denomination of Bitcoin, the dominant currency of his time) necessary to put him through college.

One of those sacrifices was to resort to movies and television shows old enough to have been declared part of the creative commons, and was therefore freely distributed to anybody who wanted it. This is how he came across Star Trek, among other things, and how the seed for space exploration had firmly been planted in the back of Jacob's mind.

But given how difficult his education had been to come by, it was practically a given that he would have to study something that might offer a return on that investment, and astronomy was not that, it had become basically another humanities subject, a one way ticket to waiting tables. At the insistence of everybody in his life he wound up studying the much more practical subject of engineering. His logic was that it was replication technology and warp drive that made the setting in Star Trek possible, so development of those technologies would be the logical first step in pursuing such a destiny for his descendants.

Honestly, the world would have been much closer to that reality had a nasty world war not just ended a few decades before Jacob's birth. Nuclear weapons were involved, and there were a few cities completely removed from the face of the globe, but luckily that was halted before it led to an apocalypse. The course of humanity had still been set back though. The first mars colony had been planned many decades sooner, but those plans, taken over by a new company, were just now finally coming to fruition. Thanks to the help of corporate funding of course.

You see, despite our best efforts to stop it, the distribution of wealth continued to spiral out of control until only the very elite could afford to live comfortably, and everybody else had a horrible time piecing together some semblance of the life the United States had grown attached to around the turn of the 20th century. Corporations had come to dominate all levels of government, and their sole purpose was to leverage the system to remove as many Bitcoins and other alt-coins of value as possible from the hands of the common folk. They were very successful in pursuing that goal, eventually leading to a great class struggle. The third world war had not been a war between nations, it had been a war between the one percent who had the influence of corporations, and the technology developed by them at their disposal, and the masses. Nearly every nation on the face of the Earth had broken out into a state of civil war. The masses nearly overtook their oppressors too, until the use of nuclear weapons put an end to all the fighting and brought the rebel armies to submission.

In addition to bringing the development of new science and technology to a screeching halt, that war also ensured that Jacob's dreams, many years after the war's conclusion, would be nearly impossible to fulfill. Especially in a post-war culture in which the elite had won, and were able to maintain their luxurious lifestyle at the expense of nearly all of humanity.

When I say Jacob was an engineer, you're probably picturing something different than the reality that he was living, because in this future there are two types of every profession. In the case of engineers there were engineers for the wealthy, and engineers like Jacob. So it went for doctors, teachers, lawyers, and every profession. The vast majority of lawyers, for example, were not the type that you would want to trust to defend what little, if any, of your rights that still remained in court.

The fulfillment of Jacob's dream of space exploration had become contingent on the whim of the ruling class, and he had practically given up on ever realizing it until the day of his thirtieth birthday, when he saw on CNN's news-stream a story about how Winklevii Aeronautics sought to put together a team to forge the first Martian colony.

It made sense that they would seek qualified members from the relatively newly created under-caste to be the first to go. It was practically a suicide mission. In exchange for risking their lives on this very dangerous undertaking these 5000 or so people would get the chance to become a part of history, and, if they survived, the opportunity to become permanent fixtures on the newly colonized planet which only the very wealthy would likely be allowed to immigrate to after it's been established and all the kinks worked out. Indeed, it was a very rare opportunity for social mobility in a world that had become depressed from over population and a lack of resources.

Life may have been much better if the lower class had been more quick in usurping those who held power, preventing the massive blowout their conflict had escalated into, and dedicated the Earth's scientific resources to creating the replication technology that saves everybody in Star Trek. But the window of opportunity for that to happen anytime soon had long since been closed.

Truth be told humanity probably wasn't quite ready to do this. Technology for the mission could have been much more thoroughly developed, and the whole thing could have been planned much better had the pesky masses not had a collective temper tantrum. But as things stood, those in power had arbitrarily decided that we should push forward anyway, and that's what the world would do. The need for a new land for the wealthy to isolate themselves from the have-nots was becoming more and more clear with each passing year. So like every child who couldn't wait to become an adult and shoulder the burden of responsibility that he would later come to despise, humanity couldn't wait to become space-faring. So we pressed forward to that goal in spite of humanity's immaturity.

But Jacob definitely did not mind. To him this marked the rebirth of a dream long since given up on, but never forgotten. In the hopes that it might someday be possible against all odds he had lived a disciplined lifestyle, the type of lifestyle that would allow somebody to meet the stringent selection criteria for the selection of an astronaut, just in case, and as fate would have it that discipline paid off. Soon he would be on a rocket-ship, one engineer among many slated to help set up the first colony on Mars and live there indefinitely.

Fast forward to launch day. The nervous knot that had been snowballing in his stomach for a matter of weeks had hit critical mass. Jacob found himself nearly physically crippled by it, but simultaneously elated to see the wildest fantasies that he had always entertained coming true. He had spent the entire preceding day celebrating with his family, ruminating on times past. It wasn't as large of family as some people have but enough to create to a bustling house on the day before launch. Most everybody was drinking, but Jacob, maintaining the same disciplined edge that had gotten him accepted into Winklevii Martian Test Colony Program, chose not to partake. Some of them, including his daughter, now in her twenties, had begged him not to go, but he simply wasn't having that. Others were so happy for him. The conversations went on later into the night than Jacob had intended, and he had to excuse himself sometime before 11 o'clock. The next day would not be one that he wanted to experience tired, it would surely change him forever.

So now he found himself strapped in with the other 5000 or so passengers, the point of no return approaching ever more quickly. This was ship number one, it was much smaller and much more cramped than the vessel they would take to Mars, it's sole purpose being to escape the Earth's atmosphere. The plan was to layover on the moon, where they would all board the ship that would become their new home forever.

Part 2

Fast forward again, this time two years later, to Mars. Everything seemed to be going according to plan. The colony was well on it's way to being established thanks in no small part to a tremendous amount of concerted effort and hard work on the parts of people like Jacob. The massive ship which they had used to travel from the moon to mars had been converted into the initial building, and center of the giant, insulating colony that protected the colonists from the deadly conditions outside. It had been expanded on using resources which had later been shipped from Earth, and had grown into a life sustaining structure capable of housing at least three or four generations of future native born Martians.

Jacob had been spending a lot of time in the public part of the observatory, the one not used for scientific observation. He had been adjusting as well as anybody on this journey, but like many others couldn't have imagined how overwhelmingly he would miss Earth once he finally gotten away from it. There were several telescopes in the public part of the observatory with an automatic computer fix on Earth anytime it was in view. One could clearly see the planet they had just permanently left behind when looking through it, and Jacob found himself spending a lot of time gazing back at Earth and wondering what the rest of his life might have been like had he not pursued this dream of his.

The colonists, intent on establishing their new positions with the wealthy elite who planned to follow them out in a few decades, were adapting very well to their new surroundings. No children had been born though. This was just one point that baffled the scientists who came along on the mission. The colonists had been trying to conceive but seemed to be sterile. Obviously, this was an issue of top priority which had taken center attention.

Something else was baffling the scientists. Several months beforehand, one of them had came back from an exploratory mission outside with strange piece of metal. It was one foot by one foot, and was in the shape of a perfect square. It's weight was incongruent with it's size at an unexpected 20 pounds, and it was glowing the brightest shade of green you had ever seen. It was brought into a contained area within the colony for further research. The scientists were amazed because it's properties seemed to indicate that at one time there was life on Mars. A find like this was world-view altering, and entirely unexpected. Not only that, but scientists were unable to understand the purpose of this strange piece of metal. It didn't seem to be hollow, at least not judging my the weight. There were no buttons, no way of opening it up. It just sat there emitting it's green aura, and humming a steady pitch so low that it was barely discernible to the human ear.

They would have been excited to report their findings back to Earth, had communications not been inexplicably severed just two weeks before the find. That might explain why, having been cut off, Jacob had begun to spend more time in the observatory eyeballing Earth recently.

They had no way of knowing this at the time, but the reason the communications were cut off were related to an entirely new war which had erupted back on Earth. This was also why the shipment of supplies they had just recently received would be the last. Turns out that the Mars project facilities had become a symbol of the immense power the ruling class had amassed, and when the rebel armies regrouped it was one of their first targets.

Between the sterility, the ominous green piece of metal, and the severing of the communications, it was starting to become apparent to any critical mind that something had gone awry, some overlooked variable in the planning of this mission that effected each and every life within the colony.

Most of the colonists were professionals who had been trained, and psychologically prepared for situations like this that might arise, so one would have had a hard time telling just how much fear there was spreading throughout the colony at this time, but the atmosphere and general mood had noticeably shifted from what it had been the first two years.

It was a few months later that they noticed the next planned shipment of supplies had not arrived as scheduled, although they were stocked with goods for five years in advance, just in case of some situation like this.

They still weren't showing it, but concern weighed heavily over all of these things with the colonists. As if this weren't enough, the following month something that Jacob recognized from Star Trek began to happen, only on a much slower scale than the episode that still rang clear in his mind. Have you ever seen the Star Trek TNG episode where the entire crew of the Enterprise reverts to being children?

This is what started to happen to the colonists almost as soon as they transported the green box into the colony. It happened more quickly to the people in direct contact with the box. But once the process had been started, it seemed there was no stopping it's spread even after the box was shot out into space.

So it spread throughout the colony like a virus. It effected some people more quickly than it effected other. Although the end result was that in three months time everybody in the colony was physically between the ages of six and eight years old. It was probably for the best that they were all sterile because had they not, there would have been newborns and toddlers being taken care of by people urgently in need of being taken care of themselves.

Then they proceeded to grow up again. Given enough time, they may have grown back into adults. But it didn't work out that way in the end, I'm sad to say. If you could have seen the way these little kids managed to take care of themselves to the best of their ability you would have been amazed at the display of human resilience.

A new hierarchy formed in which the older kids and the kids who had higher levels of maturity began to take care of the younger and less mature children. They cooked and cleaned, dividing all the daily tasks of living amongst themselves in as fair a manner as children could possibly come up with. Don't get me wrong, they were as scared as anybody would be in this situation.

Being kids again, they weren't able to handle it as calmly as their adult counterparts who came prepared. There were arguments everyday, some of them devolving into fights. One day, one of the children somehow wound up outside the airlock. If there were any witnesses, they weren't talking about it. A large group had to witness the poor boy outside suffocate to death, and had their lives lasted much longer, they would have been traumatized by the scene.

Nonetheless they got along remarkably well considering the situation that they were in. They still had their memories and knowledge of Earth and how they had gotten there. The problem was that some of the kids were too immature to go about doing what they needed to do in maintaining the colony, some of them weren't disciplined enough anymore, and some of them had just given up on life. So although they still had the knowledge, memories, and skills they needed, they had emotionally and intellectually regressed just as much as they had physically. They were all pretty smart kids, after all, these were the people who were selected according the ruling elite's specifications to go to Mars. They made it for four long years, developing their child society.

In that four years, the one's who had regressed the least, until about eight years old, were starting to hit their preteen stage. Jacob was among them. After several long arguments in the beginning he had managed to stake a spot out by the telescope he had become so accustomed to looking at the Earth through. He had turned that little corner into his new living quarters.

That's how he ended up with the terrible duty of delivering the bad news of what he happened to see when he looked through his telescope one day. He was sitting there looking through his telescope at where he might have still been living as an adult, as he had grown to do for many hours of the day, when he saw a mushroom cloud. The first blast was somewhere on the east coast of North America. Thinking his world had seen nuclear war before and survived, he opted to just continue watching the situation without alarming any of the others so soon. So he sat there watching intently for almost a week. What he saw was defeating. The number of mushroom clouds starting to increase. Day two saw two of them. Day three saw several more. By the end of the week the number had increased exponentially, and Jacob could no longer see any blue left on the orb from whence he had came.

It took him another week to get over this new information, then he made the mistake of letting everybody else know. They didn't take it well. Maintenance on the colony and it's life support systems had been lacking over the four years, the responsibility having been shifted to children. Now it had just stopped all together.

It only took a month before the near-vacuum that was the Martian atmosphere penetrated the first room. Three children died before they were able to lock it out and secure it. Room by room the entire colony started to become unlivable, with kids suffocating every time a section had become compromised. Some of the engineers did their best to pick up the slack for the depressed and deceased kids who had begun to shirk their responsibilities, but it wasn't enough. This was a job for a professional team of adults. The last room to go was Jacob's observatory.

Jacob sat in it alone, waiting for the inevitable. The knot in his stomach had not been this big since launch day. He took one last look at Earth, it was covered with smoke and ash. It was not his Earth. His life flashed before his eyes as the air escaped from the observatory he had been working his tail off to keep secured as long as possible. At first it felt like a cold sweat as the moisture in his lungs and skin evaporated, and he could no longer breathe. Then everything went black. The last surviving human in the galaxy was gone.

Fiction | Short Stories | Science Fiction


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