SPACE 1999: Twin Planets
Chapter 1: Operation Exodus
The moon had been traveling through space for 629 days, the Alphans looking for a place to call home, and morale was at an all time low. Main Mission was silent, the personnel going through the motions checking life support systems, area reports and problems popping up, while the large screen showed the ominously black void all around them. Even danger had its purpose: animating them and giving them a focus, but it had been quiet for months, nothing to break the monotony of a daily existence confined to a bleak lunar surface.
Victor Bergman, chief scientist on Moonbase Alpha, ambled into Main Mission somewhat excitedly. "Paul, can you bring up the telescope on sector 2 at 86 degrees?"
"Sure, Professor." Moments later the Main Mission screen lit up with yet another void, this one with some scattered pinpoints of light.
"Punch it up, Paul. Highest magnification"
The silence in Main Mission was suddenly transformed by soft, excited murmurs as a very clear picture of planet-like globes began filling the screen. People got out of their seats and began gathering around the screen.
"I sent out some probes a while ago," Bergman continued, "and have been monitoring their feedback. That is a very small solar system, about a quarter the size of earth's. It has a small sun-like star and two planets, roughly 46 000 000 kilometers from that sun-like star. Interestingly, the two planets have almost identical orbits, but are always on opposite sides of that star. There are two other planets, much closer to the star, also much smaller. The two bigger planets are slightly bigger than our moon…"
Alphans looked at each other, mesmerized by the scientist's talk. Hope began showing on some faces.
"Preliminary information from the two planets suggests that they are capable of sustaining human life as we know it."
The silent murmurs instantly turned into louder conversation, the voices more excited, and some shouted out questions.
"Will we be going there, professor?" "How far is it?" "Are there things living there?"
John Koenig, no doubt hearing the commotion in Main Mission, slid open the door to his control room. His eyes took in the screen and the gaggle of Alphans surrounding Bergman.
"John. You're just in time for a little news!"
"Commander," Paul responded, "Professor Bergman just informed us of a small solar system found by one of his probes!"
"The two bigger planets are definitely terrestrial," Victor elaborated. "Both contain an atmosphere similar to that of earth, but somewhat more oxygen rich at 24.98%."
John came down to join the others around the screen.
"The only thing found in much smaller quantity in their atmospheres is water vapor," Victor concluded.
John studied his friend's uncharacteristically animated expression. "So, you are hopeful that this little system might warrant investigating?"
"Everything I've gathered from my probes suggests life can not only be sustained on those two planets, but is likely to flourish. Life as we know it requires water, but my early hypothesis is that those planets contain aquifers that provide water through springs and seeps. That explains the absence of vapor."
John grabbed his friend's shoulder. "What do we need to do to make sure, Victor? When will we be within reach of that system?"
"A few weeks, John. But I suggest we equip a long range eagle and send a preliminary team to investigate, since it looks so promising. By the time Alpha is within range, we could have all the information we need."
Main Mission had filled up as news of Victor Bergman's discovery spread through the base. The lethargy was lifting, and sullen faces had turned animated and hopeful. Here and there the more optimistic Alphans were hugging and giving back slaps.
John motioned to Bergman and they moved up into John's area.
"Get a report to me, Victor. Travel time, course plotting, requirements."
"All here, John." Victor waved some printouts and scribbles he had been clutching by his side. "Equipping an eagle with long distance drive can put a team on the first planet within four days. Those planets orbit around their sun once every 162 days. We can plan it so the eagle lands on the second planet as it comes closer to Alpha, and they could be home from there in three days. It gives us enough time to do thorough exploration and decide if Operation Exodus should start once Alpha is within range."
John spread the papers out on his desk. Victor's enthusiasm was catching, and he found himself smiling as he looked at the notes. "Have you put a team together, Victor?"
"I… ahh… thought that was your department, John."
"Of course." John stood facing the Alphans in Main Mission. "Paul, have an eagle equipped for long range immediately. We're sending a team to those planets. How soon could we have liftoff?"
Paul punched some keys and studied the readout. "Estimated departure can be in 8 hours, Commander."
"Victor Bergman will lead the expedition," John continued. "Bob Mathias, medical; Alan Carter, pilot; Sandra Benes, data analysis; Gabriel Dutton and Kimoto Yakamuro, scientific support, Hector Villaneuve, security. Paul, you and I will coordinate requirements for Operation Exodus and Helena Russell will oversee the transfer of the Medical Center." He turned to the scientist. "Victor, you'll brief me on everything you know so far. And minute by minute reports of our two planets. Alpha can be evacuated in 48 hours in a pinch, but it will be to our benefit to have more time, once a decision can be made."
Alphans scurried off to their tasks. Suddenly there was purpose in their lives again, the hope of a new home.
The long distance eagle lifted off 9 hours after Victor Bergman's report in Main Mission. The team on board opted for rest and sleep on the long journey, but information coming in from the probes was still checked regularly, and updates sent to Alpha. As the mountain of information grew, a sense of euphoria started developing on Moonbase Alpha. There was no doubt that both planets could sustain human life, and there seemed to be no dangers lurking on either one. The scientific party landed safely on the first planet and spent a few days gathering data, collecting specimens and exploring this new world before moving off to their second stop. Both planets had plentiful springs and seepage areas that provided water slightly more mineral rich than earth. Temperatures were mild, both planets were covered with plant-like vegetation, and bird-like life. Some small four footed creatures were spotted, but not approached. Victor emphasized that neither planet showed much sign of erosion or predation, which pointed to mild weather and benevolent animal life. The soil was rich and fertile; the plant life tested was non-toxic, and by the time the scientific party was heading back to Alpha, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Operation Exodus would be started once Alpha came within range of the solar system.
The welcome received by the scientific party was permeated with back slapping, congratulations and hugs. John whisked Victor away as soon as there was a lull, and the section leaders of Alpha gathered, perhaps for the last time, around the conference table in John's area.
"Well, Victor, unless you can give me any reason not to, I'm ready to announce Operation Exodus," John exclaimed. "Which planet do you recommend?"
"Why not give people a choice John?" Victor retorted. "The planets are almost twins. One is slightly bigger and more densely vegetated, but otherwise they are almost identical. We could settle both, doubling our chances of survival if something does go wrong."
This caused a long silence. Eventually Doctor Russell spoke: "Giving people a choice after this grueling existence on Alpha since our moon was blasted out of orbit sounds like a wonderful idea."
"We would have to split resources," David Kano offered. "And where does computer go?"
That caused a chuckle before the faces turned more serious again. "I never envisioned us splitting up," Commander Koenig said. "I'm not sure that is a good idea. Perhaps we can colonize one planet, and later, when we are settled, allow people to move to the second?"
"We've lived in such close quarters for a long time, some might enjoy the chance to set off on their own," Paul Morrow interjected. "If we do settle on both planets, and one turns out better, we could all move to be together again."
"The planets are close enough that we could still travel from one to the other all the time," Alan Carter pointed out.
"Why don't we see what the other Alphans think?" Helena said.
Since there was still time before Alpha came within range of the two planets, simply called A and B, the choice was put to the 262 people remaining on Moonbase Alpha. People overwhelmingly liked the idea of having a choice, and eventually it was decided that both planets would be colonized at the same time. Victor and the scientific team presented the findings from both planets. It was decided that the best way to determine the groups, was for each group to meet in a designated area at a certain time so there was no pressure and no coercion as when announcing a choice in a big group. Guidelines were drawn up for the splitting of resources; while each group would elect a temporary leader to coordinate Operation Exodus for them. 48 Hours before Alpha came within range of the solar system that would now become their home, the two groups met in their designated areas for the first time.
193 People chose to colonize planet A, the slightly bigger of the two. There were guffaws, handshakes and plenty of smiles as the group gathered around their newly elected leader, John Koenig. A few noticed his eyes restlessly scanning the crowd even while he was smiling and answering the questions thrown at him. Alan Carter and David Kano watched as Koenig spotted Bob Matthias and strode purposefully towards him.
"She must be with the group for planet B, commander. We made the decision together that we would each go to a different group after I asked her about her choice."
"You need to switch groups then."
"The decision was made that once a group is formed, there was no changing, remember commander? It was your directive, partly to make people understand how carefully they had to think about their choice."
Anger flashed briefly in Koenig's eyes. "But she made her choice first?"
"Yes commander. Once she told me she'd be joining group B, I knew that I would be in group A."
The group of 69 people who opted for planet B was also gathering, but was a much quieter group. They were talking among themselves while their elected leader, Victor Bergman, was arranging a small model of Moonbase Alpha on the table in front of them.
"Since we are the smaller group, we'll be entitled to 7 eagles," Paul Morrow informed the group. "Alpha will be within range of the planets for about 72 hours, which would comfortably give us around 10 trips to and from Alpha to evacuate. Professor…"
"While all our research has shown planet B fully capable of sustaining life," Victor Bergman began, "I still think it is wise to take a much as possible from Alpha itself to start our endeavor. I propose, therefore, that we dismantle sections of Alpha as they are evacuated, and transport the materials to B. We could use the panels and tubes to construct shelters and homes while we investigate what the planet itself has to offer."
"The Professor has suggested," Paul continued, "that a small party departs for B as soon as Operation Exodus starts, to scout a good location for our first settlement. Meanwhile the main group will remain on Alpha to dismantle sections as they are sealed off, and load the recycled materials on the eagles for transport to B. They will then return and load up again."
"It will be a grueling task," Victor said. "It would seem better to just load up and go, but the other reason I'm proposing we go about this task is to disturb as little as possible of our new home until we understand better the effect it would have on our new environment. If we re-use building materials from Alpha, not only will we be working with material we are familiar with, but we would also not have to pillage and improvise until we understand the consequences."
The Alphans looked at each other. It was a sobering thought, and one few had considered in the excitement of Operation Exodus.
"I fully support Victor," Helena remarked. "Most of us remember vividly the devastation mankind had caused on earth through thoughtless exploitation of resources."
"My analysis showed that most material from Alpha can be safely disassembled and reused," Sandra Benes reiterated. "It will be hard work now, but in the long run our careful planning will pay off."
There was a brief discussion, but in the end the group overwhelmingly supported the idea of reusing parts of Moonbase Alpha. Paul and Victor started on diagrams of the areas that could be dismantled first, while Helena returned to the Medical Sector to coordinate the division of medical equipment and supplies.
It was there that John Koenig found her a while later.
She looked up. "John?"
"You're going to planet B?"
"Yes John. That is my choice. Bob agreed to join you on planet A. We talked with the medical personnel and they are fairly distributed between the two groups."
She saw the anger in his eyes. "It is my choice, John."
"That's no answer."
"John, while there is no doubt that people spoke among themselves while making their choices, no one knew for sure until a few hours ago who would be in each group. With planet A being billed as the biggest and best mostly, it was easy to deduct that most would go there. I opted for a quieter, less flamboyant new home. The planets are almost identical anyway."
"You never spoke to me about it."
"Neither did you, John. But my choice has been made. Could you please respect that?"
John Koenig glared at her wordlessly for a while, then turned and left the Medical Center.
Victor Bergman was overseeing the division of scientific equipment with Professor Angela Robinson, who would be the chief scientist on planet A when John Koenig motioned his friend to join him. They wandered through an Alpha filled with frantic activity to John's quarters.
John came straight to the point: "I'm not happy with this splitting of our group, Victor."
Victor studied his friend. While he could deduct the main reason for John's unhappiness, he thought it best not to voice his opinion on it.
"People mostly enjoyed having the choice, John. And we'll be within reach. I'm sure there will be plenty of traveling and visiting."
"Your group is dismantling sections of Alpha."
"Yes John. We will recycle the material as we start our new settlement."
"The data suggests though that the planets are capable of supporting life by themselves?"
"True, John. However, we made a group decision to start our work with materials we are familiar with, and to limit what we take from planet B itself at the outset."
"You're making a lot of work for your group."
Victor understood that his friend, in his frustration, was almost attempting to draw him into an argument.
"It was a group decision, John. Look, if you want, we can set aside some materials for your group if you like. We have plenty of time."
"Our aim will be to make a fresh start, Victor. Our new home will consist of things from our new home."
"As you wish, John. I'm just about done with Angela's allocation of scientific equipment. Of course we will collaborate. Once we've set up our new communications, everything will be shared."
"I think we should impose a communications embargo for the first few months," John suddenly said. "That would ensure each community focus on its own development without constant back-and-forth."
"The ability to communicate should be there though. We are planning for all contingencies, but we just don't understand everything about outer space, John. Anything could happen and both groups need the ability to reach out."
"You are right, Victor." John sank into a chair with a sigh. "You've made what we've all dreamed of a possibility Victor. Now that the time is actually here, somehow it has made me depressed and uncertain. At least on Alpha we knew what to expect."
Victor sat down next to his friend. "We are all apprehensive, John. Truth is, no one knows what really waits for us long term on those planets. But, we never really knew what was waiting for us on Alpha either. Even when we were back on earth, the element of uncertainty was always there. The only thing that is certain is that nothing is ever certain."
John looked up at Victor. "Here on Alpha I knew what to do Victor. It was my responsibility. Now, it's like I'm losing control. I'm not needed anymore."
"You will be needed more than ever before, John. As soon as you are at your new home, it will call for decisions every minute of the day. People are going to look up to you, and the decisions you make on A will determine the long time future of the planet."
John was silent. Eventually he looked up. "Thank you Victor, as always, you have given me some perspective." Victor stood to leave. As he prepared to commlock the door, John pleaded: "Could you talk to Helena, Victor? Could we make one exception to change her and Bob around?"
"I'll talk to her John," Victor said. The door slid shut as commander Koenig set his head between his hands.
Bergman decided to get his commander's request out of the way as quickly as possible. In his heart, he knew, however, that nothing would change. The last few months on Alpha had been trying and glum, and a darkness had overtaken John Koenig. Deprived of his action and the adrenaline it called for, John had reverted to a morose and withdrawn commander; seldom seen and seldom part of the activities some sectors had organized. Victor thought he understood Helena's decision to a degree. John Koenig was widely admired and looked up to, but lately very few had sought his company.
He ran into her outside Medical Center, and she invited him to join her in her quarters, where she was gathering things for Operation Exodus.
"It's still unreal Victor," she said, gathering an armful of garments. "After all this time, we're finally going to a new home."
"No doubt we'll miss Alpha," he smiled. "Isn't that just human nature? We long for something else, but once we get it, we miss what we had before. But our new world will keep us very busy, so there won't be much time to dwell on it."
"Do you think we're making the right decision, Victor?"
"Yes, we are. We'll never know for certain what the future holds, but yes, it is what we need to do."
"I've just talked to John. He's uncertain too, Helena. He asked me to talk to you, so here I am."
"No doubt he wants me to change places with Bob."
"I don't want to, Victor. I want time, and distance. I don't even know how to explain."
"You don't have to explain to me, Helena. I understand. It won't be a permanent separation. In one day you could be on planet A, or John could be on B."
"I know, Victor." She sat down, took his hand in hers, "but right now I need that. Separation. There is a lot to think about. Mostly, I want peace, quiet, tranquility. Since our moon was blasted out of orbit, we've not had much time to reflect on things."
"That is my hope," Victor said, squeezing her hand. "That our small group will build a peaceful existence on B, where we can reflect on what the future holds for us. The future is truly in the hands of the youngsters. They will take mankind further on these new planets, and my hope is it will eventually be a much better world than the one we left behind."
The group for planet A started Operation Exodus with a mass voyage to their new home, loaded up with provisions, personal effects and most of the group. David Kano had a team helping him dismantle Computer for later transport, and a small crew remained behind to help Doctor Matthias load up the medical equipment and supplies. Most of the eagles would return unloaded to pick up more goods since there was a good 72 hour window while Alpha was with range of the solar system that was to be their new home. John Koenig too had remained, going from section to section checking on the work, encouraging the frightened and reassuring the stragglers. It seemed that now, having finally found a new home, there were some unwilling to let go of Moonbase Alpha.
Victor's group had a smaller first exodus. Paul Morrow, Sandra Benes, Gabriel Dutton and Tanya Lieberman manned the eagle that would reconnoiter and decide on the best location for the first settlement. Helena Russell had a team and an eagle dedicated to medical equipment, and would be the second group to leave. A decision had been made to release the medical pod on B and leave it set up as a medical unit until something could be constructed. The podless eagle would then return to Alpha to help ferry the building materials to B.
Victor supervised the loading of a laboratory eagle with scientific equipment and supplies. Dina Chang would accompany this eagle to B, where the pod would be dropped like the medical unit to function as the first laboratory. The eagle would then return to pick up a freight pod already loaded with materials salvaged from the dismantled sections of Moonbase Alpha.
There was little euphoria in this group because of the heavy workload, but everyone agreed that the work now would benefit them later as the earth moon moved out of range of their new solar system. Victor made sure he carried his load, moving from group to group, speaking words of encouragement. Teams were encouraged to use the journey to B for a nap, and the teams on Alpha worked in relays, but all were eager to get the work done and pushed themselves as hard as they could.
18 Hours after Paul's team left, they communicated that they had found a good site adjacent to a spring and a lake-like seep where there was enough ground to start a robust settlement. The first freight eagles, already loaded up with building material, lifted off together with the medical eagle and the laboratory, and thus began the move to planet B.
Work for both groups continued relentlessly as the window of range drew to a close. Most of John's group had left, but the commander caught up with Victor Bergman outside a travel tube.
"Well, Victor, this is it."
"Great excitement John. Who knows what our new lives will bring."
John hesitated for a moment, then faced his old friend. "I have great admiration for what you have done, Victor. I'm still not happy with the splitting of the group, but I think it was a wise suggestion. I wish you and your group on B the best of luck!"
"You too, John." The men shook hands. "I understand your decision about a communications blackout except for an emergency, but no doubt we'll be in regular contact soon."
"We will. In a few months we can visit each other and see how our communities have settled in. No doubt we'll keep learning from each other. I'm leaving now for A, Victor."
"We've one more wave of transports coming in, then we'll be gone too," Victor said. The two men looked for a moment at the still and quiet corridor. "Whatever happens, John, we'll always be bound by our time on Alpha. It has made us stronger and wiser. You were the right man for Alpha, John. Without you we would not have survived this long. Don't forget that, and use those leadership skills on A."
"I hate that," John laughed. "One day we need to come up with decent names for our planets and solar system."
Victor smiled, and the two men exchanged a brief embrace. Then the commander stepped into the travel tube and was gone.
The final wave of eagles were loaded up and ready to depart as the moon was getting ready to leave the range of the new solar system. Bergman and the last of his team hesitated for a moment in the dark, deserted Main Mission room, then turned and left for their eagles. Human life on Moonbase Alpha had forever come to an end. The Alphans now had a new solar system and a new home, one that would tax all their energy and wisdom in the months to come.
(To be continued...)