The Backstory

A Bit of Explanation (a.k.a My Backstory)

I audited a Creative Writing class at the Alexandria, VA, campus of the Northern Virginia Community College during the Fall of 2001. I’d been interested in writing for quite a while and figured I’d give it a try and get some formal instruction and guidance. Maybe that was part of my mid-life crisis. At any rate, I really enjoyed it and I learned a lot (I think – you’ll have to be the judge).

One of the story ideas that began forming in my mind back then was about a group of people who left Earth on a space ship, and traveled long enough and fast enough to cause time dilation, such that their descendants (after 1000 years or about 50 generations) return to Earth well into the future (at least 10,000 years and possibly much longer, from Earth’s point of reference). What would they find? How would they learn to survive? Would they be able to build a civilization, assuming that some cataclysmic event had essentially wiped out the humans that had been left behind?

So, over the years I’ve been mentally filling in some of the details and making written notes along the way. This web site is the result of finally beginning to actually write the story. Note that the story, or, more accurately stories, take place in three related but distinct periods of time:

  • Prelude, which is the time from conception of the idea up to and including the generation ship departing Earth orbit.
  • Spaceside, which is the time during the journey, from just after departure from Earth orbit until the people from the ship are on the ground on the Earth.
  • Dirtside, which is the time from just after the ship’s people exit the landing craft until whenever.

Overall Backstory

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, followed by the reunification of Germany less than a year later on October 3, 1990, the Cold War was basically over. The people of the “first world” looked forward to an era of peace and prosperity. This period was short-lived.

Without the constant political tension between NATO and The Warsaw Pact to dominate worldwide news cycles, and absent the hegemony of the former Soviet Union, “Third World” desires, issues, and problems crept to center-stage. Soon, what once would have been isolated, local conflicts were lead stories on the evening news. And some people groups who would have been subdued by Soviet rule were suddenly free to perpetrate aggression wherever and whenever they could afford.

Political leaders abandoned the facade of concern for their countries, exhibiting instead their true loyalty to themselves and their parties. Journalists at all levels and in all types of media gave up the search for truth and began promoting the talking points of their preferred ideologies. Entertainers suddenly became experts on everything from childhood vaccinations to public policy to economic systems. The increasing gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” was only exceeded by the animosity of those at either extreme.

People were divided by differences in worldview more than ever before. The constant, instant, global communication made possible by the Internet, and exacerbated by written sound bites with like and share buttons, highlighted the differences while minimizing the more common similarities.

For a short time beginning around 1996 everyone started to panic over what would happen when the “Year 2000” arrived. It was theorized that the 2-digit date fields used in much of the legacy software around the world would cause catastrophic computer glitches. Many people extrapolated this to almost everything, thinking that suddenly cars and trucks would fail to start, mechanical devices would stop working, water would stop flowing downhill, the physics of electricity production would be altered, and the world would erupt into flames. Of course, none of this came to pass, and once the worldwide panic over Y2K subsided the early years of the 21st century seemed to be a continuation of the last few years of the 1990s. But as the first decade passed things began to change.

The “Sexual Revolution” in the United States gained momentum with two effects. First, a series of Federal Court rulings coupled with normalization in popular entertainment legitimized anything a human mind could conceive, as long as it did not involve coercion of anyone else. Second, open hostility against traditional Christian beliefs – and those who held and practiced them – became largely acceptable by a majority of the population.

Politics became an “us versus them” free-for-all in which the best interest of the people was ignored in favor of “winning.” Minorities were used as pawns in the never-ending struggle to gain and maintain control. Political and academic elites dropped any pretense of working for the good of the country.

To any reasonable, thinking person who was paying attention, it became clear that humanity was poised to annihilate itself. The question was what to do with the realization.

Prelude Backstory

In the early 21st century, a project was undertaken by a consortium of concerned, like-minded groups – we’ll call these people visionaries – to assemble a giant space ship in Earth orbit and then to launch it on a 1000 year (ship’s time) round-trip journey perpendicular to the plane of the Milky Way galaxy.

Spaceside Backstory

The ship is cylindrical in shape, with propulsion systems at each end, connected by a conduit around which disc-shaped sections – called saucers – rotate to provide artificial “gravity” to the occupants inside. Alternating saucers rotate in opposite directions – one clockwise, the next counter-clockwise, and so on – providing a gyroscope effect so that the overall ship is very stable in its trajectory. The ship is completely automated with respect to propulsion, guidance, etc. Life within the saucers is dependent on the people living in it; they grow their own food, make their own laws, enact their own justice system – basically they do everything that a society or culture does for 1000 years, which is roughly equivalent to 50 generations.

The people in the saucers, embarking on a journey whose end they will not see, as well as their descendants (until those who will seal themselves into re-entry pods – see below) we’ll call pioneers. The original pioneers will, of course, know how the ship came to be, basically how it’s constructed, and what the intent of the visionaries was. With the passage of generations, this knowledge will become lore, and, eventually, will pass into legend.

Dirtside Backstory

At the end of the thousand-year journey, the old, cylinder-shaped behemoth inserts into a nearly circular low Earth orbit, inclined at 37.5o. Sensors begin scanning the surface of the Earth for signs of civilization. Other sensors scan for all of the “space debris” that should still be in orbit, if there is still technology to support them. There are no signs of any industrialized civilization, and there is no remaining space debris in orbit. Advanced civilization on Earth has perished.

The pioneers are directed to prepare to enter recently revealed parts of their environment that house pods that will take them on a one-way, one-time trip to the surface of the Earth. There are enough pods with enough space to accommodate everyone. Each pod has enough room and provisions for the population needed to start a small village wherever the pod lands. Individuals are directed to specific pods, whose populations have been selected based on a number of factors, including family affiliation, age, sex, skill set, and overall health. Everyone must enter their assigned pod within 72 hours after their assignment, at which time the pod will be sealed. The people sealed into the pods are hereafter known as settlers. Children born to settlers, as well as their descendants, will be known as colonists.

After a pod is sealed, a countdown of up to three hours will begin. The length of the countdown is determined by exactly when the ship will be in the precise position and orientation required to maximize the probability of successful pod landing. At the end of the countdown, two pods – one from each side of the ship in order to counteract the forces of launching the pods – will be fired from the ship.

Most of the pods will properly separate from the ship, enter the Earth’s atmosphere, orient themselves with their heat shielding down and their parachutes up, and “float” gently to a perfect splashdown in a body of calm water within sight of a shoreline. Some will float to a greater or lesser “thud” onto reasonably soft ground near a major body of water. Some will be affected by strong winds and will be deposited in a desert, or become precariously perched on the side of a mountain, or in some other less desirable location. Some will have shield or parachute failure and crash, some, perhaps, with survivors. Some won’t separate from the ship at all, or will explode upon separation. Some will skip off the Earth’s atmosphere and be lost in space until they succumb to a gravity well somewhere. This is a perilous part of the journey.

During the re-entry process, each “re-entry pod” has a camera and other sensors that take pictures and make maps of the area at several different altitudes. Laminated printouts of those maps are provided to the settlers upon landing, one for each individual over the age of 10 years. In addition to the settlers, the pods also contain equipment necessary to move them to the shore and anchor them there, provisions for six months, materials needed to teach children “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” and a library of information on basic skills needed to survive in a stone age situation.

Some of the saucers have no remaining people alive at the time of return to Earth orbit. Causes range from catastrophic puncture of the saucer by meteorite-like bodies, to the failure of the people in the saucer to successfully govern themselves, to a failure of the population in the saucer to reproduce at an appropriate rate. The pods from these saucers, though empty of people, will still launch from the ship, map the area where they land, and then land. These pods might eventually be found by other groups and their provisions exploited – at least those that are still usable.

There are no aliens, no zombies, no mutants (well, maybe some mutants). There may or may not be some surviving humans in groups in reasonable areas (forest and jungle most likely, maybe secluded mountain valleys), but not in the deserts, polar ice caps or anywhere that is similarly inhospitable. Animals and insects have mutated and evolved to fill the niches that were left by humans or that were created as man’s influence over the Earth waned.

There may or may not be any remaining signs of previous civilization such as remnants of roads, bridges or buildings. There will likely be some structures along the lines of Stonehenge or the Pyramids – some human-built things last a long time (Stonehenge and the Pyramids will still be around), so maybe there will be remains of dams, sports stadiums, airports, or maybe piles of rubble that were cities.

There will be caches of “stuff” left from human civilization – the “Time Capsules” that are sometimes placed in the cornerstones of buildings during construction, or that are sometimes created to mark events such as World Fairs. While some Time Capsules such as the one created by Westinghouse for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York are well known, most are likely to have been forgotten and will therefore be “findable” at some future date. Of course, many will be useless because of decay, water damage, or because they didn’t contain anything useful. Also, the Geo-caching craze will have left some caches around that might survive because they are contained in air- and water-tight rubber containers.

Landfills from the 19th through the 21st (or whenever) centuries may be sources of recyclable metal and some plastics. Some things, such as plastic bottles, cups and other plastic implements might survive and be usable after they are cleaned and disinfected. Other plastics and rubber can be melted down and used for something. Metals will be similar – some things made of stainless steel (such as knives (all kinds including combat knives, kitchen knives, and table knives) as well as forks and spoons will be usable as-is (once cleaned), and other metal things (wires, shovels, etc.) will be usable and the other stuff can be melted down.







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