Breaking New Ground #1 – Prologue
Nature has been the catalyst for many of Humankind’s pivotal advancements; either by creating the conditions that required adaptation, or providing cataclysm avoiding solutions. Often both.
In the earliest days, the whipping winds and dark days were made tolerable once fire bloomed, later, coal scarcities were supplemented and replaced with the limitless wind, solar and hydro sources in the boom of the energy era. Humankind’s harking back to its origin, a literal return to its roots, for either inspiration or protection, has always been fruitful. It should come as no surprise then, that when the civilisation was faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, nature had an answer. A method that had been tried and tested for millennia.
To be an effective ecosystem, an equilibrium needs to be maintained, a balance in which no one entity takes more than it gives, else the system would collapse, and the parasite would be forced to move on. Unfortunately, the Human species is exactly that, and whilst Earth’s ecosystem has strained to support these plunderers of natural bounty, a limit was reached. It was time for Humans to break new ground, it was time to reach beyond Earth.
The early days of space faring colonial life was extraordinarily tough. Long dark decades of constant vigilance took a heavy mental and physical toll. Relentless toil on barren land with the same crew of terraformers made for slow, tortuous progress. As many colonies failed from crew’s breaking down as they did from mechanical failures. One brief lapse in judgement, or a unsealed door, and entire crews would die in a near instant. Progress was being made, but it was much too slow, and whilst new colonies were continually being established, only 1 in every 200 was self-sufficient. Humans, it seemed, would not progress to becoming an interplanetary species.
It was whilst tending to a small greenhouse garden, child’s play compared to the challenges faced by colonies, that an idea took root within the mind of one of Earth’s terraforming engineers. This idea, presented to the community for nurturing, germinated into a proof of concept and eventually bloomed into an actual viable mission. The idea came from the fact that plants and trees constantly venture into relatively unknown territories to spread their progeny. They did this via seeds. The seed is nature’s perfect early colony, containing everything the plant will need to become an established entity of its own. It’s a self-sufficient unit, a green bullet in an arid-brown landscape. Seeds spread forth from plants in their millions and whilst some, most, go on to become nothing, others thrive to start the cycle anew.
The technical suggestions made by the engineer weren’t too dissimilar from the current method of colonisation. The seeds would carry a cryogenically frozen crew, along with all the genetic material to create a diverse colony, energy sources of all types, oxygen, and patchwork composite building materials necessary to establish a base of operations.
Some slight differences were suggested. Rather than a surface landing module, the delivery rocket needed to be more spear-like, with the intent to burrow down into the planet’s mantel. This had the benefit of saving colonists a lot of the early mining work required for sourcing water and building the radiation proof subterranean habitats. A solution was found to negate the impact felt by the crew that also stored the kinetic energy for later use. The second difference suggested was automation, with robotic roots burrowing from the seed for many kilometres above and below the surface, collecting data, solar power, and any available water.
Undoubtedly, phenomenal technological advances were made in the process of building the first seed, but it was the psychological reorientation of the colonising process that had the most profound effect. It was the acceptance of two principles: first, that most seeds would fail, and second, that people would never visit these colonies.
The first point came after the acceptance that too many resources were spent trying to encourage colonies that couldn’t not survive. As colonists stepped into the pods it was with the understanding that their lives as they knew them were over. They would never see their friends and family again, and would most likely never wake up from being frozen. For many, the opportunity to be an early pioneer far outweighed this heartache.
The second point was the other side of that same coin. Not only would colonists never see Earth again, but perhaps more importantly, nobody from Earth would ever see the colonies. Until now, it was the unspoken expectation that these colonies would facilitate an intergalactic network that humans could travel. The side effect of this was a psychological and physical reliance on Earth for words of encouragement and supplies, hindering self-sufficiency.
Albeit a harsh reality, these two principles vastly broadened Humankind’s scope for colonisation, in terms of both space and time. Spatially, there were no limits, no radio contact windows to consider or re-supply trajectories to account for. If they could aim for it, they could colonise it. Temporally, there was now no deadline, just a continued firing of seeds out into blackness of space, with the rest left up to them. Eventually of course, it was hoped that Earth would hear from the successful colonies, but none of those who saw the seeds leave would hear such reports, the time frame was now millennia, not centuries.
For the seeds themselves, their primary purpose was to produce their own seeds and send them off to suitable targets. The hope was to spread exponentially across the galaxy, like a network of ivy that creates anchor points whilst climbing a wall, hopping from planet to planet. The life cycle of each colony, whilst each unique due to the unanticipated environment, went consistently as follows:
- Arrival. The seed would shoot into the ground, and robotic roots would weave through the planet’s surface to collect water, environmental data, raw physical material, and solar power.
- Germination. The first colonists would be revived and live inside the seed, constructing a stem that pushed through the ground and produce leaf like solar panels and atmosphere generators.
- Growth. The structure would be bolstered, reaching further into the sky and deeper underground. The roots would spread wider and the stem would firm to have a radius of a few kilometres. Reproduction would begin as in incubators facilitated the birth of new colonists.
- Habitation. The roots would expand and solidify to create a vast network of underground tunnels whilst many hundreds of leafs relentless absorbed energy and pumped out oxygen. The stem would reach into the clouds and Humans would move to live on the surface, in the tunnels and on the leaves.
- Blooming. The planet would continue to be terraformed, as the plant grew larger and stretched into the upper atmosphere. Other smaller plants would be established to support the process. The civilisation worked towards the production of the next seed, which would be fired from the middle atmosphere at their closest planetary neighbour.
The time frame for each stage varied wildly planet to planet, and was dependant on available resources, but with a few exceptions, successful seeds always grew in a similar fashion, resulting in some of the largest superstructures ever conceived. A terraforming power house, a tree of life that had roots reaching into the bowls of virgin planets up to the cold edges of the freshly created atmosphere. Stretching for thousands of kilometres and supporting millions of lives. Each planet had its own unique and diverse culture, its own visionaries, artists, scientists, heroes and villains.
This is the story of one of those colonies.
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