As a supernova graces the sky, Earth faces a lethal gamma burst. Dr. Langman leads a daring mission: retrofitting slow ships with hibernation pods, a last hope against annihilation. Time ticks, launches begin, and humanity's fight for survival unfolds against a cosmic wonder.

9 months ago

Latest Post Infoslate #8 - April update by Kirk Bushell public
Exodus is the second part in our new lore series covering the events leading up to and beyond the period in which players find themselves in Halcyon Online. Be sure to check out the first part in our series, Genesis.

The nova hung in the night sky, big and bright and beautiful. This type of cosmic event occurred but rarely, especially at this intensity, and it was truly a sight to see. Under any other circumstances, the nova’s light might have been the delight of astronomers and stargazers worldwide. Langman almost envied those who didn’t realise its significance – children, hermits, members of isolated tribes – they, after all, could now look at the brilliant new light with unalloyed wonder. For her though, the nova's beauty was a taunt, its beauty eclipsed by the grim knowledge that it signified that for Earth at least, the lethal gamma burst was close behind.

A large majority of the human population was still on Earth; it was time for desperate measures. Langman took one last look at the sky and then stepped back into the conference room to continue the meeting. It was perhaps unusual to have a meeting at night and on such short notice, but there just wasn’t time to do otherwise. There were undoubtedly many other meetings like this happening globally – skeptics, cultists, and so on aside, much of the world’s resources had been allocated to this problem for years now, and the latest development was pushing things into overdrive.

“That, then, is the situation. Not much time, and much to do in the interim. What do we have that we can throw together in the next few weeks?” asked Langman.

Minister Nkosi’s deep, resonant voice filled the conference room. “We have hulls but not as many advanced drives as we need, and without good drives it doesn’t matter if we get people out, they’ll die on board before the ships get to their destinations. These are already quite long voyages. In theory we could build ships that sustain many generations born on board – in practice we don’t have time, and all the room we’d have to allocate to supplies and equipment would grant much less passenger capacity anyway.”

“Quite. What else is there?”

Several of those there had proposals. “There are several drives that failed post-production reliability checks. We may as well strap those onto ships at this point. There’s a good chance they’ll go wrong but some chance of escape is better than none.”

Nkosi nodded. “Not desirable, but better than nothing.”

Another proposal: “Any ships without drives to launch, we bury them, maybe give people a shot at holding out here on Earth? Lots of radiation shielding on those ships, supposed to sustain life for some time – maybe long enough before systems break down?”

This idea met with grimaces around the table. “Burying a ship the size of one of these arks isn’t exactly child’s play. Even if we did, I’m not sure many would oblige – who knows how long it would last, and we’ve spent years and years saying the future is space and building shelters here on Earth is a dead end…”

One engineer had spent much of the meeting tapping his pen back and forth. He slapped the table. “I’ve an idea – a radical one, but perhaps that is what’s needed. We could pack lower-speed ships to the gills with hibernation units. In principle such a ship wouldn’t need advanced drives – it’ll take a long time to get to the destination but if the capsules work as well as they’re supposed to that doesn’t really matter. With the crew in hibernation, we can use ion drives from unused long-range probes. The drives don’t generate much thrust but they are very power-efficient, which in turn will let us put more hibernation units in each ship.”

“How will we get them off the ground?” asked Nkosi. “Even our most advanced ion thrusters won’t get a ship that size into orbit, the thrust just isn’t sufficient.”

“We’ll use the old methods – strap disposable rocket boosters to them. It worked for space launches back in the day, and we’ll switch to the ion thrusters once out of Earth’s orbit. For that matter, they launched some of the Brahe probes that way – only then it was many probes to a rocket, and this time it will be many rockets to a ship.”

A younger engineer piped up, visibly frustrated. “Sir, with respect – hibernation capsules have never been tested for that length of time, especially not with these sorts of conditions! Regardless of what the research says will work in theory, putting someone in short-term medical hibernation is very different from spending scores upon scores of years in an experimental spaceship! They might not work, and even if they do people will arrive with everyone they knew dead! Who knows what would happen to those inside?”

“Well, I know what will happen to them if they don’t get on a ship,” Langman interjected.

“ have a point there.”

On her way back from the meeting, Langman settled back in her seat and let the car drive itself back home. Drifting in and out of sleep as dawn broke outside the car, the scientist caught various brief sound bites from the news feeds playing on her car screens…

“With communications now restored, conspiracy theories claiming space ark Troika was destroyed soon after launch can finally be put to rest…”

“...indicate the gamma ray burst will arrive prior to earlier expectations, but what will that mean for our planetary exodus? Our analysts break down several proposals and projects and see what the markets predict…”

“...mayor of Las Vegas announces plans for a “non-stop party” beginning a week before the new projected burst impact…”
“Reports of explosions at space ark Gryphon’s launch staging site have yet to be confirmed by government representatives…”

“Japan celebrated another pair of successful launches this morning…”

“...a renewed call for calm and preparedness from the Archbishop…”

There was more, of course, but Langman, weary as she was, didn’t take it all in. It had been a long time since she had been able to pull all-nighters and go on more or less normally afterwards, and end of the world or not, she was tired.

Weeks later, Langman looked up at the ark with apprehension. Banks of high-intensity spotlights illuminated the colossal ship against the night sky as final preparations for launch continued at a breakneck pace – there just wasn’t time to do otherwise. The last few days had seen a flurry of activity as ship after ship launched, well ahead of their original schedule. Some were the massive “space arks” originally conceived by the project, others were smaller vessels outfitted with various experimental methods as a “forlorn hope”. Most of the launches were successful, though there had been a fair few failures – drive malfunctions, engineering failures, or even in a few cases attacks by cultists or other rogue elements. Launch, of course, was not the only time when things could go wrong – probably at least some of these ships would fail to reach their destinations safely – but more and more ships were getting into space. While there was no way everyone on Earth would have a berth aboard one of the ships, many more did than one might have imagined.

Langman herself hadn’t expected a place at all once it became apparent the gamma burst would arrive faster than expected, but in the final frenzy someone told her she had a spot in a hibernation pod aboard the Gryphon. That ship wasn’t supposed to carry hibernating passengers originally, but an internal explosion – error or sabotage Langman didn’t know and hadn’t been told – had compromised several decks after the drives were fitted, and without the ability to repair them in time the damaged decks had been sectioned off from the rest of the ark and stuffed full of hibernation capsules. There wouldn’t be atmosphere or life support on those levels aside from the capsules themselves, but as long as the capsules ran there was a chance, and a chance was better than nothing.

Langman looked up at the nova – bright enough to be visible overhead even against the intense light pollution from the launch staging site – and smiled, letting the guard lead her to a boarding gantry. Despite all the chaos, she was proud of what people had come together to do. These last few years had not been wasted and humanity might just stand a chance.

Kirk Bushell

Published 9 months ago