I’ve been over in Reddit with the /r/rational people discussing my ideas for a rational fiction basis for my next story.
It’s right here if you want to see how it started
In any case, the backstory bit got too big for Reddit, so I’ve moved it here. I’m hoping that I’ll get good feedback here, like I did over there. I’d like to keep this discussion over there, but there’s a tiny text limit over there, around half a chapter.
In any case, the next story will not be about things in space, it will be about people from a culture that resulted from the colonization of Secundus.
Oh, and the interstellar colony ship launching system is based on real science, and real numbers, not magical pie-in-the-sky interstellar transport mumbo-jumbo.
Humanity managed to make it to the stars, but roughly five years after the first wave of generation ships left the Sol system, Earth and its first colony, Mars, warred with each other. The generation ships received many messages from the governments of both planets, some apparently truthful, others obviously not. Leviathan and Prometheus monitored many transmissions during the course of the horrific war which lasted several months, but eventually, the Sol system went completely radio silent. It was unknown if humanity survived in the Sol system. After centuries of fading hope, there were no still no radio transmissions heard from the Sol system.
Unfortunately, the war between Earth and Mars did not remain entirely contained in the Sol system. Earth had financed and populated the colony ships and had a population dozens of times greater than Mars. A huge number of people wanted to leave Earth, and a large percentage of Martians were quite happy where they were. There were a few Mars citizens who had the desire to be a part of the first wave colony ship missions, had exceptional qualifications, and were invited to be a part of the first wave interstellar colonization efforts. One of those Mars citizens was Lindsay Kirkwood, a propulsion systems engineer.
When the Sol system went silent, and it was clear that she would never again hear from her family, Lindsay’s sanity began to degrade. Leaving family voluntarily was one thing. Knowing they were dead was another. To be clear, nobody on the colonizing expedition knew for sure who started the Earth/Mars war, but Lindsay thought she did. As her sanity quietly failed, it became clearer to her that Earth could not be allowed to colonize beyond Sol. Her co-workers took her silence to be mourning, and they were right, but it was madness too. Others were mourning too, she was not alone, but most of the others had brought family, people to share the pain with. Lindsay didn’t have that shoulder to cry on, or have to supply a shoulder for someone else to cry on. Two years and one month after the last transmission from Sol was received, the fruits of Lindsay’s madness were ripe.
Generation ships Leviathan and Prometheus were each Stanford Tori, 1.8 km in diameter. These tori were each twice as massive as standard Sol system Stanford Tori, because they were designed to move, not to merely orbit the sun. The total mass of each ship was 1.85e+10kg. Practical fusion power was still twenty years away (as it had been for the last two hundred years) when the colony ships departed Sol. Such titanic interstellar vessels were only capable of accelerating to 5% of light speed because they used nuclear salt water rockets and a remote fueling method for acceleration out of the Sol system.
The core component of the remote fuel system was a massive quench gun bored through the center of Earth’s moon. This launcher accelerated 200,000,000kg self-guiding packages of two percent Uranium Bromide enhanced water for use in the colony ships’ nuclear salt water rocket engines. During the colony ships’ acceleration phase, each package received by each ship was burned as fuel as it was collected, adding 50,000m/s delta-v per package. Three hundred launches of fuel were required for each vessel to accelerate to five percent of light speed. Then an additional 300 launches that had been launched in advance of the colony vessels were collected during the course of travel. 1200 total packages of fuel, for the Secundus colony alone.
Uranium mining had become a very lucrative business in the Sol system, and the solar arrays that powered the lunar gauss gun and allowed it to launch fuel had to generate up to 2.5e+22 joules of energy per launch, which was close to the annual power requirements for the entire Sol system. Per Launch. 4800 launches were made over a period of several years. Over half of the launches were full power launches, since half of the fuel delivered to the ships had to be accelerated to very slightly less than the cruising speed of the colony ships, before they left sol. Several persons with more than a passing knowledge of economics thought that perhaps the war they had barely missed had been caused, in part, by an economic crash after the colony ships were in space, and the fuel had all been launched.
Three hundred of the fuel packages added together was more than three times as heavy as an entire colony ship, so the ships would have to deploy huge solar sails to assist in slowing at their destinations, as well as gravity well assisted braking. Lindsay’s plan was made simple by the presence of so much fuel, even though she was not able to detonate the fuel all at once. This type of fuel and the packages they were stored in simply couldn’t explode that way.
On the day she chose to act, Lindsay locked herself into the main propulsion system control room, used her intimate knowledge of the propulsion control systems to bypass security lockouts, and then she accelerated Prometheus into a collision course with Leviathan. If she forced the two ships to use more than half of the total fuel carried between them, Earth’s colony would fail. Even with a moderate expenditure of fuel, one of the two ships would not be able to generate enough delta-v to slow itself, making the colony far less likely to survive.
The only thing that saved Leviathan was the extra mass Prometheus’s carried fuel and the sacrifice of three other Prometheus engineers. Within seconds of the rockets activating, the three heroes started ripping high voltage, high current cables out of conduits near the main propulsion system control room door, and used those cables as crude arc cutters to break into the control room. Prometheus was not a warship, her bulkheads were designed for atmospheric integrity in the event of a hull breach. They did not stand up long against the improvised welder.
When the three attempted to pull Lindsay away from the controls so they could stop the acceleration, Lindsay detonated a small bomb, killing herself and the three heroes. The bomb also destroyed the workstation that was running the security hack to prevent the Leviathan’s bridge from overriding the propulsion system controls. The instant the security hack was gone, the Prometheus’s navigation computer accelerated the ship away from the Leviathan.
During the planning phases of the colonization missions, while the ships were being designed, there had been a great deal of second guessing about whether or not an AI would be appropriate on the colony ships. If one had been present, surely it would have stopped Lindsay’s reckless use of fuel and perhaps even saved her life by noticing her behavior, her research into security systems, her careful examination of systems that she really shouldn’t have had much interest in. AI’s, unfortunately, were still no more stable than a human at the time of launch, perhaps even less stable. Of course if an AI went unstable, you could shut down and memory wipe it, but AI’s had been known to become vindictive if they were shut down and memory wiped. You couldn’t hide the fact that you had done it either, not with a human crew. A memory wiped AI was more than capable of determining that it had been memory wiped by the reactions of the humans around it, and within hours, days on the outside, it would know why, who did it, and usually hold a grudge. They were also very, very expensive, and would add hundreds of tons of infrastructure to a ship.
Even though there had been no ship AI to stop her, Lindsay had not destroyed either ship. She had, however, made it impossible for one of the two ships to stop in the destination solar system, no matter how they shared fuel. The total fuel used was significant, and Leviathan’s navigation computer had also been forced to burn fuel to try to avoid the collision. There was only enough fuel remaining between the two ships for one ship to stop in the destination solar system.
Prometheus was the ship that carried the vast majority of the industrial infrastructure for the new colony. Losing her would cost the colony its space industry, both of its prefabricated space elevators, and all of the planetary heavy mining equipment. Losing Leviathan, however, would mean that the colonists would not be able to terraform Secundus. The choice was clear.
All the humans in Prometheus were transferred to Leviathan. All the fuel was transferred as well, and as much of the portable industrial equipment that they could afford to carry and still have the fuel to stop in the destination system with a sane factor of safety. Prometheus was over-mass, over-fueled, and crowded. Population controls were implemented even more strictly. No child could be brought into the world until two other people died. It took a hundred years of lean times before the population of Leviathan became stable at the capacity it was recommended for. It was fortunate for the large crew that the ship’s life support capacity had been heavily over-engineered.
The planet Secundus was discovered second out of the four known extra-solar rocky planets with liquid water around a stable star. All four of these planets had been sent a pair of colony ships in the first wave of colonization. It was a barren place when the generation ship Leviathan arrived, roughly five centuries after leaving Earth. The original crew were all long dead when Leviathan arrived, but the citizens of Leviathan had maintained a civil society. The colonists were mostly well-educated and industrious.
Leviathan was meant to terraform the planet, seeding the world with Earth life-forms. Genetic material from almost every known creature on Earth was included in the ship’s storage, and that databases also contained nearly the entire sum of genetic knowledge that the human race had collected. The colonists could populate the planet with Earth life forms, modified Earth life forms, and even new forms of life, if they wished. Unfortunately, Leviathan was not designed to be a base for heavy industry. Again, the ill-fated Prometheus, still coasting through space at 5% of light speed, had been meant for that role.
The colonists would need a habitable world in order to prosper. The star that Secundus orbited had no other rocky planets, no asteroid belts, and very few free asteroids. There were a few rocky moons around three gas giants, and Secundus itself had a substantial moon, larger than Earth’s moon but less dense. Leviathan didn’t have the proper industrial capacity to confidently establish an in-space colony. That wasn’t its intended role.
For all the crew of the Leviathan knew, the other colonies might fail, and the descendants of Leviathan might be all that remained of humanity. There were many powerful arguments either way, but it was eventually decided that Leviathan would use all of its available resources in the way that they were intended – to terraform Secundus and provide the best possible place for their descendants to survive, in a biological environment as close to Earth’s as possible. After that work was completed, and the ecology stabilized, the citizens of Secundus would begin to expand the industrial capacity of the planet with the intent of eventually starting a lunar colony and using the moon’s minerals to build a space industry.
Tiny near-light-speed interstellar probes had told planners on Earth what to expect from Secundus. The planet was significantly larger in diameter than Earth, but about the same mass. It was very iron poor, with no radioactive materials to speak of. There was some tectonic activity, and some small amount of iron in the crust. The moon was slightly more iron rich, but had apparently formed in much the same way Earth’s moon did, by collision, so it’s mass was mostly made up of the same things as Secundus itself.
The oceans of Secundus contained a good deal of dissolved iron and other metals, collected over billions of years of exposure to the underwater recycling of the planet’s crust. Additionally, the oceans of Secundus were very large, and contained many times more water than Earth’s oceans. The landmass of Secundus was split into several disconnected continents, and a great many islands, but the total area of dry land was significantly less than half that of Earth. It was almost an ocean world.
Hundreds of years had been spent planning during the voyage, after the loss of Prometheus, fifteen generations participated. Every resource on Leviathan was planned for, every likely problem had been considered and a great many unlikely scenarios as well. Everything would be used. After Leviathan finally arrived, the great work began.
The colonists didn’t have to start from scratch. Interstellar probes had delivered some of the building blocks of life – microbes, bacteria, yeasts and molds. By the time the Leviathan entered orbit, hundreds of years of simple life forms had seeded the atmosphere with oxygen. Humans could have breathed it, barely, and only for a few minutes, but none were offered the opportunity because resources were carefully husbanded. Carefully designed landers dropped from orbit delivered ferns, lichens, moss, grasses, and simple invertebrates to the planet. Years later, crustaceans, arachnids and insects, followed. Decades after that, woody plants, bushes, fruits, vegetables, fish and then birds were added. After twenty more years, the crew of the Leviathan started seeding the planet with small mammals.
The lack of accessible iron and other metals on the planet was a problem, many of the small mammals and inland plants of most types were sickly due to lack of metals. This had been foreseen, but the geneticists wanted to see the real scope of the issue before they modified any creatures.
After some time experimenting with more probes dropped from the orbiting Leviathan, locusts were modified. Each year after the end of the growing season, they would emerge and head from inland to the seaside. Upon arrival at the sea, the locusts would consume seaside plants and shore-washed seaweeds. Both classes of vegetable matter had plenty of iron and other trace metals in them. After feasting on mineral rich plants, the locusts would then return inland to breed, lay eggs, and then die, leaving their metal-rich corpses to be consumed by animals or provide fertilizer for the poor soil. This mass migration, every year, moved sufficient quantities of iron inland to improve the health of inland plants and animals. Despite this, most mammals that did not consume seafood or ocean plants would still need to be modified to better retain iron.
The colonists would need metals for industry as well. Again, the loss of Prometheus was painful. Many young colonists had wondered, for centuries, why it was that the Leviathan and the Prometheus had been specialized as they were. The records on Leviathan answered that question, because it had been asked many times before construction had been started on any of the ships. It had simply been cheaper to make the ships specialized, allowing a greater capacity for less mass. Each individual colony ship was a staggering investment of resources, and Earth had built four pairs, eight total colony ships.
Leviathan simply did not have the materials or industrial equipment required to create an ecology like that of Earth, as well as create the industry required to support either deep crust mining or massive water electrolysis efforts that would be needed to supply significant amounts of metal from ground-based sources. Instead, most species of crabs were modified to have longer lifespans and to collect metals from seawater for use in building their shells. From iron to silver, gold to copper, modified crab biology collected a great number of useful metals from the ocean.
Nearly a hundred years after Leviathan first entered Secundus orbit, colonists began to be delivered to the planet. Once down, nobody was allowed to return. The industrial costs of maintaining the cargo shuttles wasn’t ruinous, but it was significant. Every down shuttle was carefully loaded for maximum efficiency, and every up shuttle was empty.
Humans who had lived in artificial environment inside a gigantic cylinder for decades experienced a natural planetary environment, where the horizon curved down, not up like it did in the colony ship. For the most part, they were happy. For another twenty years, the results of the terraforming of Secundus were carefully monitored. The first colonists on the planet bore children who had been conceived there, and the first children born on the planet had their own children. All seemed well.
Leviathan was large enough to pose a threat to life on Secundus if it de-orbited onto the planet, and the prefabricated space elevators that Leviathan and Prometheus were to have anchored were still hurtling through space in Prometheus. It had simply not been possible to remove them from their specialized deployment mechanisms without wasting too much fuel.
After the ecology was verified to have been safe for twenty years, the next hundred years was spent stripping the great ship of everything useful that was not required to operate the ship. As metal-poor as Secundus and its moon were, creating another Leviathan would be absurdly difficult. The colonists, with few exceptions, agreed that the Secundus colony would one day send Leviathan back to Earth. Unfortunately, even with optimistic estimates, a return to earth would not be possible for centuries. The engineering effort to launch a colony ship was far, far out of their reach, and they would have to mine the cores of the gas giants for uranium, which might be an even more challenging engineering project than launching the ship back to Earth. The colonists were confident that even if truly terrible things had been done to Earth, by the time the Leviathan could return, well over a thousand years would have passed, and it was likely that the Earth would be habitable again, with some work.
It was a grand plan, but evolution raised its ugly head. A genetic variant of sand mite developed, somehow incorporating modified genetic material, probably from fiddler crabs. The mites were extremely small, and aggressively sought out strongly conductive metals of all sorts, consuming them directly, for use in their carapaces.
If the mites had developed even a single decade before, the colony would have been severely set back, but not crippled. Some of the last equipment to come from the Leviathan had been the computers and equipment used for genetic engineering. The colony had grown overconfident, and lax in its quarantine methods. The only warning the colony had was a die-off of fiddler crabs. One of the youngest geneticists went to examine and collect samples of the dead crabs. He returned with his samples, and did not realize that he was carrying on himself thousands of mites, slowly consuming the metallic substances in his equipment. When he brought the samples and the mites on him into the labs, he introduced the mites to the genetic manipulation equipment, and to the cabling and conduits leading between the lab equipment and the computers.
Because the first casualties of the mites (after the fiddler crabs) had been the genetic engineering equipment that would have been required to adjust the mites to stop them from consuming metals, all of the colony’s computers, lab equipment, even their shuttles were made entirely useless in a short time. Most of the colony’s electronics were gone in a single season, the rest of the high tech equipment, even though carefully protected, was gone in five years
The colonists’ high tech society had crashed back to the equivalent of the pre-computer age in just a few years, but there was no question of their survival. As a whole they were strong people, and no more human-harmful genetic aberrations were encountered. Despite the mites, for a thousand years or so, there was sufficient metal from the colonists’ supplies to allow metallic tools to be fairly commonplace.
Eventually, nearly two thousand years after the mites consumed the computers of the colony, metal tools and implements of various sorts were almost unheard of on Secundus. Even a small metal tool was worth a king’s ransom. No matter how well-kept it was, if a metal tool was exposed and used, it would be consumed by the mites in anywhere from months to a few years, depending on how carefully it was protected between uses, and how often it was exposed.