Friday, February 07, 2044 6:59 PM
I’m the one. Fate had to pick someone to be here, now, at the end. Well, not the end—you know what they say about endings. Say rather at our leave-taking. And I am the one who last boards the last shuttle, after all the others have embarked. I look around—not too bad, ‘though pretty bad, of course—but there’s hope of recovery in a distant future…
As I strap myself into the lift-seats in the Maintenance section (back of the rocket, as it were) my mind is suddenly filled with the enormity of it—here we are, following in the footsteps of the Fell, taking wing into the cosmos. As I leave this planet, we repeat a step that many have taken—the Fell, and who knows how many sentients before them. We say good-bye to planet Earth.
The ‘ancient aliens’ nuts had it partly-right—we weren’t the first ones here—but we came from here—we evolved within the mega-ecology of the ‘virgin’ Earth. The way it was told to me was that the Fell left Earth for good, many millions of years before we did. Once they had left—and enough time had passed—this holy planet reverted to its teeming oceans, crowded with whales, sea-beds covered with lobsters—forests grown so profusely that a person couldn’t walk into one, never mind walk through one. The plains spread out over fertile lands packed with maceratory herds—and permafrost and sand covered the cold and the arid. Flocks of birds once again filled the skies, sometimes, during migrations, blocking out the sun for days.
That’s what makes it holy. No matter what damage we do to her—we eventually do one of two things: we disturb this place until it can no longer support us—or we wise up and hit the road—and having done either of those things, we relieve the Earth of her burden of sentients—and she re-purifies herself.
Eventually, even the metals used to make orbital-labs and satellites will come back down to where they came from, back into the Earth. It’s isn’t a fast process. It takes long enough that by the time a new sentient species evolves, it has petroleum underground and rare metals scattered all over the world. Those millions of years—those are ‘user-transparent’ (as we used to say)—the new species will never have any inkling that their world has been used before. In the face of supereons, even gems and stainless steel parts become dust in the wind.
There’s a trick to it—that’s why all sentients are clever—if you miss the tricky part, you never leave. Earth is a playpen—each of the new, sentient species must grow up in it. You can just imagine how much time it takes an entire civilization to grow up—hell, even thirty years ago we had no idea of the ‘trick’.
But we got lucky—some gal with enough money to make herself heard managed to convince some people to prepare for leaving Earth, and they convinced others, etc. until it became a world-wide issue. Leaving Earth is the tricky part—the Earth is a great place to grow up—but being confined to a playpen as a teenager is simply wrong. Our survival depended on our maturity—if we lacked the courage to leave the nest, we would stay there until starvation ended us.
So we had a world-wide consensus (not without detractors, of course) by 2030. The next decade was an epic parade of cooperative construction on massive ships, colonies, and space-platforms. Countless boosters pushing away from Earth’s gravity-well filled the horizon like distant fireworks. A few scientists began focusing on the technology that would transform space-debris into water, atmosphere, fertilizer, and building materials. Sub-ecologies, like Kansas farmland and Louisiana rice paddies, had to be transported to labs where they could be the ‘sour-dough’ that we would use to create new fertile growing areas amidst the vacuum of space.
The whole project was weakened by lack of a plan to get everybody off the planet—until, in 2038, materials science finally gave us Arthur Clarke’s holy grail—a space elevator! Ethical qualms thus reassured, the only remaining difficulty was the significant number of people that didn’t want to go. Removing people against their will was a non-starter—we weren’t going to do this if it demanded blood on our hands—our future voyage, as mankind, could not begin with a mass murder.
The problem was picked at—turns out that any one past menopause wasn’t a problem, anyone too young would be legally required to go with their families, and most adults that didn’t want to go weren’t all that ambitious. Holdouts were informed that most factories and industrial facilities would be destroyed as a final, helping hand on Earth’s long voyage to its next sentient explosion.
Great, curved windows showed the glowing, blue ball with the white stripes. There were less than a hundred-thousand humans remaining on our old playpen—scattered widely enough that they’ll never join up, in small enough groups that inbreeding will doom them, if it isn’t something else first. What reasoning could be done had been done—they know the same facts. They’re just downright ornery—who knows? Maybe that’s the last cut of the umbilical—shedding the downright ornery, those so well adapted to their cradle that they will die in it rather than be discomfited.
I think of the billions of us out here, a fledgling civilization, not even ready yet to pass across to neighboring stars—and how long it will take us to fill up our new home and suck dry the solar system’s vast resources. And I wonder if it will last long enough for humanity to reach for the stars.