By Tim Nutting
The gavel rang hard in the dark room, like a hammer driving nails home in a coffin. The fifteen women and men present sat around a slightly oval conference room table. Most wore somber expressions, a few barely disguised their contempt.
The overhead lights lit the table and its occupants, but little of the room beyond. Each was of middle age, thirty five years at the youngest, and they represented a broad selection of the many ethnicities that Earth offered. At the head of the table sat a woman that could have been fifty, though her eyes said she felt eighty. Her once dark hair now an iron gray, tightly bound at the back of her skull.
Behind her the only other lights in the room illuminated a stylized starship with a ribbon-like swoosh drawn around it. Beneath the image large stylized letters spelled out “Genesis Mission” while words along the ribbon said “Securing the Future for All of Humanity”.
In the background air pumped through vents in a steady susurrus. A few of the people still held whispered conversations.
The gavel banged again, it’s holder looked at the hammer in her dark-skinned hands, handling the tool with hesitant movements. The smaller conversations ceased. The woman cleared her throat and set the hammer aside.
“Genesis?” She asked aloud, looking up away from the table.
“Yes, Captain Okafor?” replied a disembodied, androgynous voice.
“Begin recording.” A small chime played. She nodded. “I hereby call this meeting of the Ship’s Council to order for Special Session 173A. I will forego the usual round of before business formalities and get straight to the matter-”
“Captain!” Interrupted a lean man with Asian features at the far end of the table. He leaned forward and drew breath to continue speaking.
“Mister Zhou!” she snapped back. The immediate repartee stopped him. “We will have this meeting by order!”
Zhou pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair with a barely perceptible nod. Around the table a few others frowned, some nodded. Captain Okafor took a slow breath and continued her dictation. “We will allow brief, and final statements of position for the record, then vote. Is that clear?”
Around the table each council member nodded. In their eyes Okafor read many emotions. She saw the anger she expected out of some, the casual defiance she’d grown used to in others, and in almost all of them the fear that she felt coiled in her own stomach.
“I will begin. This is not the future I was promised when I grew up aboard Genesis, and I know each of you feels at least a little the same. When my grand parents volunteered to be on this mission, they knew that humanity needed a second chance, and they made great sacrifices to give us that chance. My situation is not unique. All of our families made the same decision.
“We were raised on the idea, the mantra, that our new home would be a chance for humanity to survive, no matter what happened to our once beautiful home, and we would be securing future generations of humanity a new home, a new chance, even if not one person from this generation would live to see it.”
The captain paused, looking down at her hands. They were hands that showed work from her personal field of expertise in botany. These hands knew plants, they knew life, but it was a controlled life. Not for the first time, and not for the last, did she imagine and pine for the opportunity to practice her science under a sky instead of in a box. Just once…
“Time until point of no return?”
“Seventeen hours, thirteen minutes, and forty-five seconds. This allows for-”
“Thank you Genesis.” She looked soberly into every set of eyes. “No matter how this vote turns out, none of us will live to see the end results of our decision. The choice we make will affect all the future generations who are born and who will die on board this vessel. It is incumbent upon us to make a wise and, above all, impartial decision. Please consider the lives of your yet-to-be-born grandchildren and great grandchildren. The chair recognizes Han Zhou.”
Captain Okafor felt her shoulders slump. She took a small breath and consciously reinforced her spine. She could not, above all else, appear weak today. She must be the iron support for her crew… for her family. No matter how fractious they might be, they were at least that. Family.
“Thank you, Captain,” Zhou said. He straightened the cuffs of his shirt and stood so that all could see him. “The captain is right. We bear a fantastic responsibility, to ourselves, to our family legacies, and to the future of all humanity. That is why it is incumbent upon this council to vote that we continue. Astrophysics has determined that there are other destinations that we might chart a course toward, and the mission always had the possibility to move beyond our first destination. Genesis was intended to be only the first leg of humanity’s diaspora to the stars!”
He continued, explaining the destiny of the human race, as he saw it. To Okafor’s ears it seemed that he expanded the starship’s capabilities, let alone its inhabitants’, to a degree that she found unlikely. She knew her people, or at least she thought she did. She always entertained doubts about what she thought she knew. Certainty was the luxury of the foolish, her mother had always said. Regardless, Zhou was beyond certain that, even though their preset destination was now impossible, the only choice was to go forth.
Elaine Amar spoke next. The dark-skinned blonde had always looked exotic to Okafor. They were old friends, had attended school together, had even compared boyfriends and occasionally girlfriends. Amar’s views differed markedly from Zhou’s.
“We do indeed have a responsibility to humanity, and there is only one world in the cosmos where that responsibility can be fulfilled. That planet is Earth. We have lost contact with mission control, we know that. I don’t think any of the mission planners intended to receive replies from any of us at a forty-five year delay. Earth stopped listening to us fifteen years ago, we know that. We did not know what would happen to them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if we go forward, if we continue to follow the mission plan, we may risk the entire future of humanity. All of it. Our only sane choice is to turn around now, while we still can, and go home. Go back to Earth.”