Chapter 2: History

Sometimes time lapped against the shores of the planet like a mirage slaking its vacuous thirst. Sometimes it came crashing down in terrifying waves like the rising ocean but these are not the metaphors that Saps would have chosen to describe their troubled times. These are the metaphors of another species.

Draco.763.3b was a backwater moon, the larger of two moons revolving around an uninhabitable planet revolving around a distant blue giant star in a godforsaken dwarf galaxy named Draco since it was first viewed by Ptolemy in the second century of the Common Era on Earth1. The 763.3b suffix was a robot designation from the universal astronomical catalogue signifying Star number 763 within the Draco galaxy, planet number 3 within that star’s planetary system, and naturally formed satellite “b”. It was neither the best of worlds nor the worst of worlds. It was the only world its inhabitants had ever known since the mists of oral history.

Of course its inhabitants called it “earth” rather than Draco.763.3b. The moon was roughly the same size as the first earth populated by humans, according to the robots who kept impeccable records of such things.

The moon completed one day-night cycle every 27 hours and revolved around its planet every 35 days (one month). It completed an annual revolution around its distant sun every 4125 months. There were four seasons, winter, spring, summer, and fall lasting more or less 1031 months each, depending on what part of the moon you inhabited.

The moon had been genesised by robots a long time ago to make the world suitable for human colonization. Of course, “suitable” might be open to interpretation. Conditions on the moon were rough and unforgiving. If you were careful and if you were lucky, you could survive on this world, but just barely.

Take Sector 84 for example. The winters were particularly harsh there. It was mostly snow and ice. The terrain was all scrunched up with low-lying mountains crisscrossing each other and caverns in those mountains sinking deep into the frozen bowels of the underworld. The spring and fall weren’t much different from the winter, just the dirty snow replaced by dirty drizzle and mud slips. Come to think of it, the summer wasn’t much different from the winter, spring, or fall. You rarely saw the sky or anything else capable of taking your breath away and making you forget, if only for a moment, the miserable life you must bear from birth to death. The only thing you could do to make an honest living was to work in the mines, as generations of humans had done all their lives, to chip away at the gold or the cobalt in those mine shafts and carry up cartloads of it back to the surface to trade with the robots when they came, once every 64 years. The robots brought food supplies, clothing, medicine, and other necessities in return for the gold and cobalt. Only God knew what the robots did with the stuff.

Sector 87 was different, though it wasn’t much better. The winters were milder and the summers were dry as a parched throat, mostly dust. The land stretched flat all the way to the horizon in every direction. It stretched over underground rivers and lakes. The only thing you could do in this sector was farming and you couldn’t even do that very well. There wasn’t enough produce left over for reseeding the fields, let alone for trading with the robots. There was just barely enough for meagre subsistence.

It was never ascertained why the humans were not very successful in colonizing the moon. It might have been that the human species had been cloned by a robot or the limited gene pool resulting from early inbreeding. It was pretty much the same on all the worlds that humans inhabited.

How did it all begin? A group of humans on NGC 206.572.3, otherwise known as Earth2, nestled in warm entrails of Andromeda, had looked up at the stars in the night sky and contracted a case of wanderlust. They hadn’t developed the technologies required by interstellar travel but they knew the robots had. A few humans who possessed a scientific bent visited a robot colony nearby and requested a ride to other earth-like worlds. The robots listened politely but at the end they asked what the humans intended to do with themselves for the millions of years, give or take a few thousand, that it would take to travel from here to there. To make a long story short, the humans agreed to be put to sleep cryogenically and awakened when they arrived at their destination. The robots attempted to dissuade the humans from their endeavour using logical arguments, but to no avail. The robots sat down with different groups of humans and discussed possible earth-like worlds within the local group of galaxies.

One group of a couple hundred humans chose to go to Draco.763.3b. One of the robots pointed out that the moon had no atmosphere and would need genesising. It proved impossible to deter the humans from their desires.

The next robot interstellar ship going to the Draco galaxy took along a hundred or so human passengers, the great-grandchildren of the group who had requested to be taken to Draco.763.3b in the first place. There were 53 males and 51 females. The youngsters were spellbound looking out the huge windows of the star ship as it slowly picked up speed, still well inside the NGC 206.572 planetary system against Andromeda’s bejewelled night. After a few months the humans had enough of looking through the window and requested to be put to sleep in the cryogenic containers the robots had brought along for that purpose. The robots shut off the oxygen in the ship, except for the containers, and concentrated on maintaining course. After awhile they set the controls on auto-pilot and rendered themselves unconscious.

When the star ship finally entered the Draco galaxy to within 30 light minutes of Draco.763.3, the star ship’s auto-pilot woke up the robots, turned on the oxygen supply throughout the ship, started brewing coffee, and gently woke up the sleeping humans.

When the star ship was still one light year out, a welcome wagon of robots from a neighbouring planetary system was called in to ready Draco.763.3b for human colonization. The atmosphere was barely breathable and the soil scarcely arable by the time the auto-pilot had woken up its precious human cargo.

The robot shuttle descended in lazy spirals until it hit the dense low cloud cover. Lightning bolts and booming thunder smashed and rocked the small craft as it struggled to maintain integrity while looking for a safe place to land. Most of the humans vomited bile because that was all they had in their stomachs after their long hibernation. Somehow the shuttle managed to land on a flat piece of ground among bleak low-lying hills. The shuttle door opened and a narrow ladder protruded downwards to the ground. Hail stones pinged and zinged the shuttle hull as the first human made his way cautiously down the ladder bundled in a thick furry coat and heavily laden backpack. As soon as he hit the ground with his thick boots he ran across the rock-strewn plane to a cave with a wide entrance protected from the elements by a rocky upper lip at the base of the foothills. Another human similarly dressed and laden stepped down the ladder and ran across the field to the cave. Another came, another and another. Soon the last human came down and ran across the field to the cave. The shuttle door closed and the rockets ignited lifting the shuttle slowly off the ground. The shuttle continued its laborious ascent until the sound of the rockets disappeared among the thunderous clouds and lightning bolts.

They lit a fire in the cavern and boiled the tasteless soup the robot welcome wagon had left them. It was nutritious though synthetic. They warmed their hands wrapping their fingers around the hot tin cups of soup and thought about their chances of survival. Disorientation and depression made them sleepy, along with the relentless drizzle and hail.

The first structure they built outside the cavern was a church. They called it The First Church of God’s Forsaken. They built it from rocks and mud.

The humans began to explore their surroundings. The grasses and plants were stunted, sparse, and inedible. A few dead twigs had been hopefully planted in the mud at regular intervals, most likely by the robots. The few animals they saw were small with more bone than meat, but they would have to do.

A provisional government was elected. Actually the church elders had formed the first government. The people could not imagine anybody else suitable for the job of governing them.

The humans began to split up into pairs, one male and one female, and solemnized their relationships beneath the mud and stone arches of their primitive church. The newlyweds took their leaves of the rest of the brethren still living in the common cavern and set up households in smaller caves nearby. Eventually the cavern was relegated to storage and trading of food stuffs, seed, and hardware. Room was made for a public bath and barbershop, a doctor and dentist clinic, and the like.

A second generation was born. Many infants survived but many more did not. 27 humans died in the first twelve months, 14 females and 13 males. Nobody lived to see more than two seasons. That was because each season lasted roughly 1031 months and the average human life span was 960 months. The first four generations of humans calculated their years as if they still lived on their home world, Earth2, in Andromeda. By the fifth generation humans fell into figuring their years in accordance with their planet’s orbit around the local sun, and thus their home world was forgotten.

During the spring of the first Draco year, human settlements expanded throughout the sector. A mapping expedition was organized and the known areas were divided into sectors. Wild animals were husbanded and arable land was farmed.

 The land gave little worth eating in spite of their efforts. By summer the fields turned into large dustbowls and the dry fruit withered on their vines. Lakes receded, rivers became trickling creeks, and creeks became paths of dry cracked mud.

In the fall of the first year gold and cobalt were discovered in the depths of the caverns and caves of Sector 84. Many destitute families from Sector 87 abandoned their skag wood houses, barns, and barren fields, loaded up their drac-drawn wagons, and migrated northwest to Sector 84.

That turned out to be a fixed pattern. In late fall, early winter, many families would migrate southeast to Sector 87. In late spring, early summer, those same families would migrate back to Sector 84. Some families stuck it out in both sectors all year around.

A robot trader ship usually visited the human moon twice a season to exchange goods and raw materials for much-needed or desired supplies. The gold and cobalt fetched a good exchange rate.

By the 174th Draco year, the human population had grown to approximately one million inhabitants. They had spread out over thirty percent of the charted areas. With drought, famine, disease, and wars, the human numbers stayed pretty much the same over the next 500 years and nothing much happened that was worthy of being recorded, unless you counted the daily evils that neighbors perpetrated on each other.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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7 Comments

Filed under Prose, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories and Novels

7 responses to “Chapter 2: History

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