Friday, February 10, 2006

Pioneers - Chapter One: Ascendency

Hi all,

Sorry I've been away for awhile, it wasn't intended. But the good news is that I've finished Chapter One of Pioneers, a science fiction piece. It's told, in retrospect, by what will become the main protaganist in later chapters (I'm already planning chapter 2 right now).

Pioneers is based on the computer game Phantasy Star Online, which was a Massively Multiplayer Online game made for consoles back in 2002 - visually stunning and with a great sound track. As far as I know, no one really wrote up the story about it though.

Before I post it, I just wanted to add that I'm not very good with writing long pieces. As I posted in my blog, I excel in the sprint, not the long distance. I kind of like to tie things up very quickly, concentrating on quality descriptions and conversational narrative rather than a long drawn out story. So go easy on me please, I'm very uncomfortable trying this out...


Imagine a spring day, where in the morning the sunlight has just that sort of radiance that makes you smile. A spring day where the smell of honeysuckle drifts through the air, a day where children laughingly play in the parks with dogs yapping at their heels. A time of freshness and rebirth, where you have a bounce in your step as you walk on your way to work. It was a day like that when the world abruptly came to an end; or thereabouts.

Throughout the parks, the ground shuddered, like a minor earthquake, and had it just been confined to one area, then it might have been dismissed for some such. But no, it had been felt across the continents, those in daylight and those shrouded in darkness. Viewing channels sprang to life as the media companies began to disseminate the very scary information that the quake had been felt across all landmasses at exactly the same time.

They say that there were those in the government who had known for decades about this eventuality and that this was nothing new. Certainly enough they released the knowledge incredibly quickly. Studies had been done, scientists had evaluated, and governments had kept secret.

The world was coming to an end.

Panic flared throughout the major cities, people fled to the countryside, to the remotest areas they could find. But of course, there was nowhere far enough to go, nowhere that would ensure their safety. The military were drafted into the major cities to keep the peace and even though several thousand people were killed in the ensuing riots, the vast majority of inhabitants returned to their abodes and wailed and gnashed their teeth in quiet fury of their eventual demise.

The details of the impending doom of the world were released to the public in a day-long news conference. Something about how the magnetic field of the planet had been breaking down over the past few centuries and how now it was going to finally collapse – something like that. Even though everyone was glued to his or her media channel, it was just too much to take in, in one sitting. People just couldn’t get their heads around what their government was saying.

Of course, now we know that this was something that had been coming a long time. Vast projects to mine minerals and materials from the planet had finally done to the world what we, its war-like inhabitants, could never have been able to do in a million years. Ironically, the Pioneer project was the final project to rape the planet of its mineral and material wealth. When the Pioneer star ships finally launched themselves into space, all that was left behind was the doomed voices of over several billion lost souls, deemed too useless to society, and the wasted, barren planet that we once called home.

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once the world began to take stock of the consequences of their actions in the past and the inevitable destruction of our species and of our home, mineral and metal obsessed corporations and governments began to set aside their differences to fund practically any project that bore the ability to salvage our race from extinction.

Before the quakes, the Pioneer Project had been a scientist’s wet dream. It had had no funding and no backing of any real worth. But the scientists working on it spent their free time devoted to pursuing the intricacies of space travel and how it would all work. My grandfather, Leonid Malagance, who was in his thirties at the time, wasn’t a big wig. He was just a guy who did some number crunching and thought up fancy names for ideas. But that was before everything changed.

The Pioneer Project had been highlighted by one such corporation, and while before funding was pitiful, suddenly there was an abundance of resources and wealth. Suddenly, people were taking notice and action. Of course, it might have been a dead end but here we are. Pioneer would become a dream given form, a way of leaving behind our mundane worries and travelling to the stars, to explore the unknown possibilities of the universe.

It was 10 years later that they did it. I tell myself that it might have been my grandfather that finally resolved the complex mathematical and scientific equations that allowed them to do what they did. But of course although I have no idea what his standing was in the project, I still like to think he had something to do with it. During the course of some hypothetical computer simulations, one of the scientists noticed an infinitesimally small deviation from the expected results; something so small that it didn’t even bear investigating. But investigate it he did, and what he discovered was something that was so monumentally amazing, it had everyone at the Project excited.

What he discovered was that whilst trying to create a simulated Faster Than Light engine, a minscule portion of the output engine ionisation had disappeared. We’re talking about a few hundred particles here, something that could easily have been overlooked. Whilst most of the scientists carried on with the main research, a few splintered off to investigate this anomaly. Where did those particles go, they wondered?

About 2 years later, they had a very, very hypothetically rough idea of what had happened to those particles. When the simulated engine had been powered up, some of the particles had somehow been transported across space to another part of the solar system within the computer simulation. They had discovered this because extensive computer scans had finally demonstrated that there was a patch of minor radiation in our simulated solar system that wasn’t there before. This, then, was what had happened but we would never have found the information if we hadn’t been looking for it.

The particles had somehow jumped about 200,000 miles through space. What the scientists began to theorise was that when the simulated engine was fired up, space had somehow been “folded” to create a link between two points in space.

Here, I’ll try and explain a bit better. Take a piece of paper and fold it. Then take a pin and punch a hole through the paper. Remove the pin and unfold the paper. What you will find are two holes some distance apart, but which have been created by one pin. This is what the scientists decided had happened. Rather than creating a simulated Faster Than Light [FTL] engine, they had, in fact, created a hyperspace wormhole between two points. Obviously, the distance was very minor but the scientists believed that this was due to the duration of the engine burn.

At this decision point, the Project fell into debate and conflict. One group believed whole-heartedly that with the support of the entire world, a faster than light engine could be created. The other group, a very small percentage, believed that a hyperspace wormhole drive could be created and that it could be powered by a much smaller amount of energy than a conventional FTL engine.

Cue ensuing madness.

It was Administrator Lomar who calmed everything down and changed the directionless movement into something more positive.

“Calm yourselves, please. Now, listen to me carefully. These are both very good approaches to the same dilemma but we cannot place our faith in a singular project. Thus, I suggest this project diverges here. One group will evaluate and create this Faster Than Light engine whilst the other will begin work on this theoretical Hyperspace Wormhole drive.

“Now the Lantrian scientists have begun their final theoretical development on a hull for a ship. We have decided, since their ability to create orbital vehicles is far superior to ours, to allow them to design the final space ships we will use to leave this world behind for our new one. Finishing these ships will take many years so please, do not discount any possibilities for interstellar travel. Thank you.”

The proclamation that the Lantrian people, our immediate rivals, would have anything to do with our survival brought about an immediate outrage from our people. Our government responded with a statement that, in no uncertain terms, indicated that these projects were for the survival of the Humar race, and not just for countries or territories any more. Either we would all survive or our race would become extinct, and all our achievements – the rise of the Newmans, genetically engineered Humars with an unlocked gene that would enhance their Force ability, and the ascendancy of Robots that had come to co-exist with our people – would be lost forevermore.

Work began in the Pioneer project, in both camps, but it would be many years before any fruitful results were achieved. The first was a small probe that was launched 8 years later. For a few brief moments it sped through our atmosphere and into space before suddenly ‘jumping’ faster than light and disappearing from our scopes. Months later and we received telemetry from the probe indicating it was billions of miles away, near the edge of our solar system – the race to find a new home was on.

Meanwhile, the Wormhole scientists were having much less luck. The government hushed up their initial design when it successfully created a wormhole but then caused an explosion in deep space that resulted in the deaths of the astronauts of the space ship that had towed it there. Saddened and disheartened, they were ready to dismiss the whole idea but Administrator Lomar encouraged them to continue. He believed that there was something to be gained from the hyperspace wormhole idea, and even if the scientists did not create anything useful, they should take heart that they were working for the survival of our people, even though they were not directly working on the faster than light designs.

During all this time, the quakes began to increase slowly. At first, they were an annoyance but that soon changed when the quakes became unpredictable, striking both civilised areas and wastelands. Countries formerly at war with each other began to rely on international aid from their one time rivals. More and more countries began pouring in aid into the Pioneer project or with the Starfall codex, as the Lantrian project began to be called.

Both projects increased in speed and in numbers of scientists. Engineers were conscripted to help with the building of probes and test vehicles. The military began to draft members into the construction of small Prowler-class sub-light space vessels in an effort to create a small fleet of warships for the defense of the larger space vessels the rest of the population would be travelling on. Advances in Cryogenic suspension were made with the help of the Robots and Newmans, as well as other technological advances.

In time, the Starfall Codex began to be implemented. Over the course of 10 long years, a hull was designed and then constructed just out of orbit of our planet. It was a marvel to see as military vessels patrolled its borders, checking for, well, anything. As more and more modules were flown up, a small orbiting space platform began to grow into a mission headquarters. Heads of State were flown up for tours and media channels were allowed to film the construction of what the Lantrians called, in acknowledgement of our people’s achievements, ‘Pioneer One’ or P1.

P1 was designed with practically everything the Humar and Newman races needed to survive – life support, entertainment, foods, recyclable water supplies, absolutely everything a person could imagine. As the ship began to take shape, it became listed off-limits to all but security personnel and the people directly working on that module. These security precautions were beginning to be enforced due to the attempts of some doomsday madmen who believed that our race should die with our planet. Ultimately, their decisions to terrorise us would result in their wish of a doomsday coming to realisation when we would leave them on our world as it crumbled away.

During the course of construction Pioneer One, work began on a new hull shape. It quickly became apparent that Pioneer Two would be a much larger vessel for the majority of the population whilst Pioneer One would be a medium sized scout vessel. When our government asked theirs, the Lantrians responded by saying that it was their intention to allow Pioneer One to be the advanced scout vessel – a ship that would take engineers, architects and some scientists to the new home world. There, they would begin the majestic task of building and terraforming the new world into something our people would be able to live in.

After much discussion the leaders of both projects finally released the information we had all been waiting for – news of our new home world. The planet was called Ragol 4 and it orbited a star much like our own. Probes sent by faster than light engines had reached Ragol and their telemetry had informed us much about it. It had a similar gravity, a similar size, roughly 10% more water, slightly richer in oxygen and it was crawling with life. Not intelligent life, or at least if they were intelligent, they hadn’t yet begun the creation of a civilisation just yet but life none the less. But it was habitable and it would be somewhere where our people could walk in the fresh air and smell the scents of honeysuckle as they trod bare foot amongst green lush grass.

My grandfather didn’t have much time for either statements; he had been told that he unfortunately wouldn’t be able to journey to our new home. Most of the people on the two projects had been assured of a place on the ships but those with medical conditions were being screened out. My father told me that when he was sixteen, his father had been told that due to a malignant cancerous growth, he would not be able to come, although his son would.

My grandmother of course stayed with him. I always wonder what it would have been like to remain on our old home world as the cities crumbled away with the quakes, whilst the madmen gloriously revelled in the deaths of everyone around them; whilst you sat there with your loved one and had a last meal and drink before everything around you exploded into the void.

Whilst work on the FTL engines was finally nearing completion, the hyperspace drive work was just coming to fruition. After several dozen tests, the scientists finally managed to send a probe to Ragol – in far less time than a FTL probe would have taken. This represented a huge advancement and it was decided that Pioneer One would be equipped with the Hyperdrive engine whilst Pioneer Two would be equipped with the FTL drive so that Pioneer One would receive much more time to complete their work on constructing buildings on Ragol before Pioneer Two arrived.

This, of course, meant that the Hyperspace engine had to be completed as soon as possible. Work was immediately shifted over and old friends who had been separated on the Pioneer project were finally reunited, along with jokes and stories of “I told you we could do it!”. It was an amazing time and the Hyperspace Engine began to take shape.

Meanwhile, the quakes were getting much worse. Those able bodied people who were working on the projects were finally transported to orbital platforms that had been transformed into living quarters. Reconstruction on our cities was finally abandoned as the projects began to overtake everything else that mattered to our people.

Finally, the rivalry between our differing nations was put aside as the various heads met to discuss who would become the leaders of our new world. Eventually, our leaders emerged and announced that forever more we would be known as the Humar people, that no nation would claim sovereignty over another. Newmans and Robots were now considered free people and that ties of ownership were forevermore removed. The Lantrians and our nation no longer existed.

Pioneer One was finally fully constructed when I was 8. I had been born in space, aboard an orbiting platform, under simulated gravity with simulated light and recycled air. The space traveller generation had finally arrived and looked down to the world their grandparents had called home, wondering what it felt like to walk upon real green grass and to breath non-recycled air. But we weren’t allowed to travel down there for fear of contamination. Ironically, they had given up caring about the planet, they were more concerned with what we might pick up; that is, if they ever had really cared about the planet to begin with.

I saw my grandfather once, before we left. He was an old man with silver hair and an odd smell about him. He said he was very proud of his son and of me, Crucifer Malagant, his grand son, and gave me a pen telling me that it was this pen that had been used in the theorization about the anomalous readings that had led to the discovery of Hyperspace. I still have it somewhere.

The enormous task of choosing P1’s population began that year. Scientists, heads of state, military personnel, construction workers, and engineers – all sorts of people were being moved over. This, of course, meant more space for the rest of us so living space was expanded. But I wasn’t too happy when my parents were chosen to go with Pioneer One.

They sat me down and told me why they – they, in particular – had to go. My mother was a leading botanist and Ragol had plants that no one else had seen before. It would be an exacting task for our people to research them and for this arduous task they had chosen her. My father was going for a completely different reason. He had been asked to take over the responsibilities of his father, my grandfather, who had specifically chosen his son to replace him. It was a great honour and one that no one would have been able to turn down.

And so I watched, from the living space of my foster parents, as Pioneer One’s sub light engines powered up, leaving sparks trailing like behind it like a firework display. We all watched mesmerized as the powerful Hyperspace engines began to create the huge wormhole directly ahead of P1.

We all held our breath as Pioneer One moved in the direction, as its nose tipped downwards and then slipped into the wormhole before disappearing out of sight. A tear ran down my face, as the wormhole closed.

I would never see my parents alive again.


At 12:15 AM, Blogger SwissToni said...

I don't know what you are worried about. There's loads of good stuff here - you've managed to cram in a lot of detail without letting it get in the way of the story telling. Most importantly of all, I want to know what happens next. can you ask any more of a story than that?


I look forward to the next installment. I hope there's going to be one!


At 2:08 PM, Blogger Crucifer said...

I suppose it's because I'm not used to writing lengthy chunks. Plus, I'm not that happy with it descending into techno-babble or at least not well thought out babble - FTL ships, wormholes, etc.

Although when I started writing I knew that to put the story into its place I needed to have a backdrop which necessitated some kind of techno-babble introduction so I could get on with writing the "real" story...

Thanks ST, I'll get editing on the next chapter.


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