It was a damned long trip. Sixteen years of sleep, of silence. No scenery. Not even a fucking billboard along the way. Interstellar travel is neither a journey for the impatient, or the easily bored. The nearest equivalent experience being time served in solitary confinement. The crew spent their ‘time in solitary confinement’ and lived their lives according to the protocols set forth by the Committee On Interstellar Travel-United Space, or COITUS. While in hibernation, one lived a realistically stimulating life in a world that existed only in their mind. A computer program uploaded and installed in the temporal lobes allowed the recipient to engage in whatever activities they wished to: eat dinner at a four-star restaurant in Manhattan, sleep in a hammock next to the Amazon River, have sex with that movie star crush, engage in conversation with long dead parents, hike the Appalachian Trial, or snorkel in Hawaii. Even work was governed by the cerebral program and was designed to entertain, but also give the sleeping traveler the exercises that train them in their essential duties when they arrived at their destination.
Kepler-44 was discovered orbiting Sirius B, a white dwarf star about 8 light years from Earth. Named after the Kepler telescope that discovered the planet in the year 2019, and from later spectroscopic analysis of its atmosphere, was deemed hospitable for life — except for its much higher CO2 levels that were twice that of Earth — air too poisonous to breathe, but otherwise similar in its other gaseous components. Somehow, Kepler-44 lacked a runaway greenhouse effect, perhaps because of its orbital distance from Sirius B and the star itself being cooler than our Sun. When Earth’s own CO2 levels began to rise beyond the point of no return and turned its oceans into champagne, it was decided that we were SOL and it was time to look for a new home. It took 22 years of planning, arguing, and fundraising, to build the transport vessel Celeritus. Able to travel at one-half the speed of light, Celeritus took 16 years and 2 trillion dollars to build. Efforts to reverse global warming on Earth were failing, and the Mars colonies would not be ready to receive the 50 million immigrants from Earth for another 30 years. Time was running out, but time is compressed on a ship hurtling through space at one-half the speed of light. Sixteen years at this speed means the future of humanity depended on finding a new home pretty quick. Maybe it would have been cheaper to build the goddamned atmospheric CO2 scrubber while we still had the chance.
It’s December 5th, 2096. It’s a Tuesday but that’s a trivial fact of zero importance to the sleeping crew of Celeritus. After all, these 3,000 men and women were chosen because of their physiological tolerance to high CO2 levels. Not levels found in Kepler-44’s atmosphere but, if nothing else was done, at least they could survive brief exposures. Not really good enough. During the sixteen-year journey of interstellar suspended animation, the crew had their cardiopulmonary systems continually subjected to ever higher CO2 levels so that they could be better acclimated upon arrival to Kepler-44 and freely breathe its poisonous atmosphere. If, someday, Earth’s own atmosphere was remediated and became hospitable for life, for human life, it would be possible for at least some of the Kepler-44 colonists to return to Earth. Reversing the procedure would take time, but if it’s no problem for people to acclimate to the thin air at high altitudes…
Two-hundred thousand kilometers outside of Kepler-44, Celeritus comes out of its high speed pursuit of salvation. Reverse thrusters deploy as scheduled. Several hours previous, the crew were awakened and brought into consciousness, real consciousness. The transition from sleeping consciousness to an awakened state was programmed by COITUS so that the crew would think they spent those sixteen years living a conscious, productive, life, not a life programmed by long dead computer engineers. At least the grogginess of hibernating for such a prolonged duration was minimal, and the crew even had regular exercise programmed into their schedules while their brains were offline. This was necessary to preserve bone density and muscle tone. Otherwise they would be little more than limp bags of organ meat when they arrived at Kepler-44.
The captain of Celeritus, Dave Moss, approached the doorway leading to the command center. Moss had a slight limp in his right leg, a reminder from an IED incident while he was fighting in Syria during the Middle Eastern Calamity of 2018. He was the right person to lead this little adventure: a member of the U.S. Army’s secret High Carbon Atmosphere Project and a bold risk-taker who made decisions using raw intelligence and not raw emotion, and didn’t tolerate insubordination from anyone. That is, except for Stan Rawlins, his second in command. Both men respected each other and often forgot the chain of command did not apply to them. Inside the command center Stan was already preparing Celeritus for orbit around Kepler-44.
“Good morning Dave”.
Stan could not resist doing an impression of the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially after a night lasting sixteen years. Stan, witty and prone to playing practical jokes, was more of a counterpoint to the serious attitude that Dave projected, and Dave did not dignify that salute with a response.
“So, do you think they made it to Mars?” asked Stan. Probably one-hundred years had passed on Earth since Celeritusbolted from the solar system. If Celeritus failed to reach Kepler-44, then perhaps the Mars colony had succeeded in rescuing the human gene pool from oblivion.
“I hope so, or else we’re all that’s left” Dave replied. He continued with “But we’ll probably never know, and besides this was a one-way trip for me”. Looking out the huge rectangular window with the face of Kepler-44 sailing across the reflection in the glass of his blue eyes and crew cut hair, Dave couldn’t help thinking how humanity had deserved this fate. Ever since his Middle East tour of duty, it was apparent to him that humans were beyond saving, in the moral sense of the word. There was too much fighting over trivial religious nuances and how many virgins a martyr was allowed upon snuffing themselves out in the name of Allah, or burning fossil fuels like there was no tomorrow, until tomorrow arrived and it was time to pay the price the climate scientists said would have to be paid. It was all just too ridiculous for words, so Dave thought nothing more about the subject. He had moved on, and the rest of humanity needed to as well (minus those who were otherwise noncontributing zeros). And those known remaining members of humanity were here under his command. Everybody wanted to rule the world, but none would rule Kepler-44. Dave would see to that.