September 13, 2019
On the twentieth anniversary of Breakaway, those left on Earth and those on Alpha contemplate their fates...
Gavin Morrow stood with the small group of those that had once been the citizens of San Francisco, watching as the final tests were carried out on the newly constructed bridge. It was hardly the Golden Gate but at least it should allow them to get on foot across to Marin County. The new bridge was actually just over three kilometres long as the massive tidal surges of September 1999 had sheared away the shoreline both sides by many hundreds of metres. Sea levels had risen over ten metres around the globe, leaving very little of the twentieth century infrastructure intact.
"Dad, do you think we'll be able to leave tomorrow?" He was roused from his thoughts by his daughter Penny who had recently celebrated her nineteenth birthday. Strictly speaking she was his brother Paul's - perhaps the only descendant of the Alphans still alive for all he knew - conceived only days before the catastrophe that tore families apart forevermore. Claire had only been seeing Paul for a few short weeks and only left Alpha for her three months planet-side 'downtime', ten days before the moon was ripped from her orbit. She had no idea she was pregnant until around Christmas of that year as everyone was just focussed on surviving day by day. Penny had been born on 6th June 2000 and by then, he and Claire had become a family. Maybe one day they would tell their daughter of her origins. They had always intended to, but as time had passed and so many of those early days survivors had succumbed to disease or died as a result of the extreme conditions they were forced to endure, she had become almost unique amongst the children in having two surviving 'parents'. He knew that she treasured her good fortune and he did not have the heart to disillusion her. Besides, what would be the point? No one on Alpha could have survived the extreme forces that almost ripped Earth apart. On a tiny moon, nestled in a crater with no external atmosphere, that flimsy base would have crumpled as easily as a discarded plastic Cola bottle! No, his brother Paul and the three hundred tragic souls trapped up there with him would have died instantaneously. At least he had the comfort of knowing they would not have had time to suffer : unlike those left behind down here...
"Dad! Are you listening to me?" Penny glared at him and started tugging his arm as she started to descend the hill. "Come on, the first people are already on the walkway. I want to stand on the bridge and see the water beneath my feet ! It's hard to imagine that you used to have these bridges all over the planet. Hurry up!"
Gavin relented and trotted after their only child. She was now a young woman and had never seen an intact bridge before. It was moments like these that brought the reality of their situation home. That it had taken two decades to rebuild this connection spanning the bay and the mouth of the Pacific... everything had had to be moved by hand after the first couple of weeks. What machinery they had had was almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels to run and of course the pumps had run dry in days and there was no intact infrastructure to mine for more. Nor, of course, much in the way of skilled manpower. They had tried solar power but the dense and ever present dust and debris in the atmosphere meant that they were useless unless constantly cleaned, every few seconds! With no moon came no tides, so hydro-electric power was out and the winds only ever presented as gales creating great tornadoes and dust clouds which forced the human survivors to take shelter underground until they had passed. This was inevitably followed by several days spent digging their escape routes to the surface until permanent subterranean dwellings were created. The bridge had only been started eight years ago, once it became apparent that others had survived in Marin County.
About a decade ago, four men and one woman had managed the crossing in an old diesel powered tug using a concoction of 'home brew' which had turned the omnipresent grey smog a sickly yellowish/green. They had brought news that a band of around four hundred humans and a small assortment of animals had reached the coast the other side. There were about double that number our side of the water and the reaction to the four survivors and their news had been mixed. Some wanted to trade resources and join forces and an equal number saw the newcomers as a threat to already stretched resources. Fighting broke out, resulting in one of the five being killed, before we all came to our senses. Needless to say, it was a while before either side trusted the other sufficiently to collaborate on the crossing. Now, at long last, a permanent connection had been made and we could start to cooperate and rebuild properly. There is no way of knowing yet whether we are the only survivors on planet Earth of whether such rag tag groups are clustered throughout the world, just waiting to encounter one another.
He could only hope that the latter was the case and that humanity would finally learn to pull together for the benefit of all. As they reached the bottom of the slope he watched Penny take her first tentative steps onto the warped planking, breaching the gap and excitedly anticipating those she would encounter embarking on the journey from the far side. As he followed suit he took a deep breath and braced himself : once more unto the breach old man he thought and for the briefest of moments, imagined a figure approaching in the distance that was his brother Paul.
It was a sombre group huddled in Command Centre that morning. No one had forgotten the significance of the date. September 13th back on Earth : if indeed she still existed to mark the passage of time at all. Except this year marked the twentieth anniversary of their odyssey through the Milky Way. TWENTY YEARS ! It was still incredible to contemplate. That any of them survived at all was a small miracle in itself. The men and women who had been mostly in their late twenties and thirties were now middle aged with the oldest survivor in his early seventies. He himself was now sixty five. Two whole decades as Commander of Moonbase Alpha, easily the longest tour of duty in mankind's history, even without factoring in the time dilation effects.
John Koenig looked around him at what was left of his personnel. Eighty nine souls, including the only child ever born on Alpha. Young Jackie Crawford who was only a couple of weeks short of his nineteenth birthday. At least his mother Sue was still with them : for now. She was in her early fifties and rapidly succumbing to the various cancers reeking havoc on her systems. It had been the same story for many of them. Years in deep space with insufficient protection from the ever present cosmic radiation was taking its inevitable toll. Every anniversary of Breakaway saw their numbers depleted further, yet the survivors of that fateful day still lived in hope that they would feel the rays of an alien sun on their skin one last time before they met their maker.
The days of hoping to find a 'New Earth' to colonise were long since gone but they still held on to the slim chance that they would be accepted as refugees by a benevolent humanoid society somewhere out here. Eight eight elderly humans and one young man could hardly pose a threat to any society and they would be happy to settle on an isolated peninsula somewhere very remote. After all these years they had no desire to adapt to an alien society or risk contaminating its culture and citizens with their own. He just longed for somewhere ...non synthetic...to spend his last days.
Helena watched him from across the room where she leant on her walking stick, studiously avoiding the pro-offered arm. She might be getting old but she still had her pride, as did John. After all these years she could read her husband's thoughts without him needing to give voice to them. She too, worried about young Jackie. They needed to find someone to take them in before it was too late. Maria, at twenty five the youngest Alphan when Jackie was born, was now forty four. Although in truth too old for him, she was the only one who had been willing to see the lad as anything more than the 'Alpha child'. Their relationship was tentative and very new but to her mind it brought an inkling of hope. Being the CMO perhaps gave her a broader perspective and the humanity in her still hoped there was time for them to create their own family. Yes, she knew all the counter arguments all too well, and could see the futility of creating another 'only' Alpha child. But maybe, just maybe...whilst there was still life there was still hope. Of that she felt sure.
This year it was his turn to make the toast. Paul Morrow knew that if they survived another year he would be Base Commander on their twenty first anniversary. John had told him only a few days ago that he was finally ready to step down. It had been a long time coming and Paul had mixed emotions about assuming the mantle and the official responsibility. To all intents and purposes he had been running the day to day operations for the last couple fo years as Commander Koenig's declining health forced him to take a back seat. Though as long as he remained the official figurehead they could all pretend that the passage of so much time was just an illusion. He had prepared and re-drafted his speech a hundred times and it still sounded phoney and contrived to his ears. The usual self- congratulations to the Alphans for surviving thus far, praising their achievements and a rousing 'battle cry' to look ahead to a rosy future that was just around the corner. Certainly discoverable before their next anniversary. John Koenig had faithfully adhered to the same format for the last nineteen years and suddenly he felt like breaking the mould. He would speak the truth as he saw it. All those that were no longer with them deserved that much.
Standing, he glanced across to Sandra who inclined her head slightly to indicate that everyone had had their glasses filled. Paul cleared his throat and the murmur of subdued chatter faded away. "Dear friends, I had intended to honour our Commander by reciting a version of our usual anniversary toast but as I've been standing here gathering my thoughts ; those are not the words that come to mind. We have been out here for twenty Earth years as measured on the Command Centre chronometers. As a physicist taking into account time dilation effects, then it is probably somewhere mid twenty second century back home as I speak. We may or may not find a temporary home somewhere for our twilight years but we have somehow survived this long : against all odds. Therefore it makes sense to assume so did they. Most of our dear family and friends that we left behind on that fateful day. They had the resources of the entire planet to sustain them. So they would have re-grouped and re-built. By 2019 on their calendar those of us that left partners and children behind could now be grandparents. Those with brothers and sisters having nephews and nieces. I left my own brother Gavin who was single at the time. I like to picture him now with a wife and perhaps a son or daughter. I hope so. So this year, let us raise our glasses to their successes and their survival as well as our own. To the future of all of humankind !"
With that he clinked his glass first with Sandra and then found John and Helena had made their way across to join them. "To Gavin and his family." John smiled at his friend as they took their first sip.
Three painstakingly long hours later the end of the walkway was in sight. The construction crews had had little in the way of good quality tools or materials to work with so the final structure resembled the rickety old piers of the nineteen twenties that had fallen into disrepair prior to the cataclysm. Thus with the ever present smog limiting visibility to a few feet ahead and the very non-uniform planking, it had been a slow and arduous crossing but now they were nearing their goal.
Penny was leading the way with one or two of the other, more adventurous, youngsters - all eager to see what awaited them on the far shore. This post cataclysm generation had never seen an aircraft in flight or ships navigating the oceans. The only other settlements they had encountered had been discovered by chance when riding the few horses they had managed to keep alive. All were within the old city limits. So to meet people from over the water was as big a deal to them as discovering the New World had been to Christopher Columbus. They truly were the pioneers of the new age.
As he approached he saw a young man step forward from the small crowd gathered around the Marin County exit. Penny approached first and they appeared to be conversing. Heads bent low, but their voices were lost in the howling wind. Moments later a roar of laughter went up and Penny was on solid ground being twirled around in the air with the other young people whooping and cheering. As he reached the end of the railing strong arms braced the tethers and guided him safely ashore.
"Daddy this is Malcolm and he is the leader of the Marin settlement. He wants to show us around. Please can we stay overnight?" Penny's friends were already mingling with their contemporaries from this side of the bay. He had to get back to Claire, but what harm could it do to let the young ones stay and explore? As if reading his mind, Malcolm spoke up "Don't worry sir, she'll be fine with us. They all will. Come, we have prepared refreshments. Please you must all join us before heading back."
Gavin glanced up at the sky. It was beginning to turn to dusk so he would have to retrace his steps soon. He instinctively turned to the north where the moon would have been rising this time of year and thought of his brother and all the other Alphans. We made it Paul, we survived. Smiling at his daughter and her newfound friend, he headed for the lanterns and campfire in the distant smog.