New Eden Colonial Council Chambers
Jun. 11, 2565 A.C.E.
The honorable Syth Welker faced the assembled council and this time, there was a lightness to his spirit. He smiled as the last councilor took her seat around the room’s edge, and rapped the chairman’s sounding box.
“I am sorry to disturb you so soon after our last session, councilors, especially given the gravity of the situation we faced. However, new information has come to light about the fate of the UTS Dawn Rose and her crew, and I thought it important—no, critical—that we assemble again to deal with it.
“Not to worry though,” he chuckled. “I will not be boring you with another long winded description of something dead and far away.” A number of eyebrows rose at that remark, as close as they came to disrespecting the memories of the First Colonists. “No, today is altogether a happier day, and it is not I who will tell you why.”
He nodded to his aide, a lanky young man, hardly more than a youth, inexperienced enough that he still lacked the thousand-meter stare that all members of the ruling staff developed over time. The man nodded back, face a study in seriousness, and tapped the comm controls.
The center of the council chamber lit up as a holo-image began to form. It was a scene familiar to everyone in the room thanks to repeated reviews of every detail of the UTS Rose Dawn that they could get their hands on; it was a holographic recreation of her bridge in 3/4 scale. No, not a recreation; a projection. Welker saw the eyes of the councilors beginning to widen as the resolution of the image improved and they recognized that there were people on the bridge, then crease in confusion as the sight conflicted with everything they’d heard about and discussed for the last several days.
“Hello,” a confident male voice said. Confident, but bone-weary, too, and determined to carry on in spite of it. Welker was impressed. “We are the survivors of the UTS Rose Dawn. It’s an ... unexpected ... honor to address the New Eden Council. I hope you’ll forgive the intrusion?”
Chuckles circled the room. “UTS Rose Dawn, this is Chairman Syth Welker. On behalf of the council, welcome! I assure you, we’re just as surprised as you. Please, tell us of the events that you experienced just recently.” Welker himself already knew, of course; he’d been on the comm with the Rose Dawn computer itself a good part of the morning already, and had spoken to the young man who addressed them now as well, albeit only briefly. He thought that hearing the tale from the survivors themselves would have a greater impact on the council than if he just related it.
“Very well, your honor. First let me introduce myself. I’m private Dann Chambers. This is private Jenny Pixton, and this,” he indicated the last figure, who was now visible with enough resolution to have noticeably artificial skin, “is Rose, the autonomous android persona of Dawn Rose herself.” Murmurs from around the room.
Pvt. Chambers put his hands to his hips and said thoughtfully, “From the crew’s perspective, it all started with me. I was the first to awaken in the ship after the disaster ...”
The council was largely silent and spellbound as Pvts. Chambers and Pixton related their tales to those assembled. “And that’s how we come to be here. I don’t have to tell you, we’re ... uh, well, this isn’t exactly the arrival we anticipated when we left Earth.” The wistful look on his Chambers’ face was affecting. Of course everyone on New Eden knew the story of the First Colonists now, but Welker wondered how many would have considered how it would feel to the colonists themselves, to arrive full of hope at a new world after leaving everything they’d ever known behind, only to find that somehow, somebody beat them to it. And that was ignoring the additional shock of finding most of their crew dead and themselves under attack by their own ship’s computer, via a rogue AI.
Welker felt for them, but unfortunately, misguided and monstrous as he may have been, Mayet had been right about one thing. They couldn’t take the newcomers in. Maybe, had it only been the three of them, but they had close to fifty more still unawakened from their long journey aboard.
Fortunately Welker thought that he might have the perfect solution in mind. Some on the council wouldn’t like it; in fact, he expected heated resistance from some. There would be a few who would insist that New Eden open their arms to the First Colonists, reduced as they were; they would argue that the additional supplies the colony ship carried made the arrival of more people a non-issue. They’d be able to feed their own and the new people and have enough left for years of growth.
There were issues with that stance though, the first being that it would take a lot of time to get new crops in the ground, so they’d still have the short-term issue of feeding everyone, no matter what supplies were on board the ship. And second, the new supplies were just a way of putting off the inevitable. The population would continue to grow, and the same problem would come up again, only there would be even more of them to die off.
He stepped forward, standing in front of the quartet of projected images. His face and voice were sad. “I’m afraid the bad news isn’t over just yet.” The android was impassive in the display; the others frowned, clearly wondering what new calamity was about to befall them. “The reason Mayet did what he did is that, quite simply, our world can’t handle the population it already has. New Eden was supposed to be habitable, and it is, barely. But it’s also hostile. We’ve had a devil of a time surviving here, and we have people starving in our streets because we just can’t produce food fast enough to feed everybody.”
The faces of the First Colonists fell; clearly they’d expected that their trip was done. Chambers looked up and spoke first. “Well, we can’t go back. What do you propose we do?”
“As it happens,” Welker replied with a small smile, “I do have a proposal to put before the council and before you, if I may.”
There was a rising tide of grumbling from the council; he was technically speaking out of turn. He should have made his proposal before them before involving the strangers, but under the circumstances, that would not have felt right. The grumbling didn’t last too long though. Most of them seemed to realize what was at stake.
“What I propose will not be easy, and will not be universally popular among your people,” he indicated the quartet, “nor mine.” He cast a long look at the council. “However, if you’ll indulge me anyway, I believe the idea has merit and should prove to be worth the time it takes to investigate it.”
He began to pace up and down the room, all eyes on him. “We’ve established that most of the population of your ship have passed on,” he said delicately, “and likewise, we’ve established that we have too many people on this colony. Why don’t we help you find a world that may be better suited for colonization, and then we solve each others’ problems. We replace your lost crew and colonists with volunteers from our world. I assure you, there will be plenty.”
Thoughtful looks from the First Colonists greeted these words, and murmurs arose from the council as well. Not all of them positive, as he’d expected. He sighed to himself. Ah well. What could he do but forge onward? “That doesn’t solve every issue, of course. You’re not going anywhere in that ship as it is, crew or no crew. You were sent here to this world, and carried only the fuel necessary to reach here. We can help with that problem; we don’t produce the same type of fuel that carried your ship to us from Earth, but we’ve had a few centuries to develop methods of our own that have served us well.
“At the same time, you may be able to help us with our ongoing food problems. Even if you carry away some of our excess population, that will only be a stopgap solution. If, on the other hand, you’d be willing to trade us some of the biological stock of your ship in exchange for the fuel you need, we might be able to find a more permanent solution by analyzing samples. We’d ask for a certain amount of seed stock, breeding stock, and bacteriological sampling from the various biomes of the ship to aid our research and our food production efforts.”
The four exchanged glances; he didn’t see any clear objections on any of their faces. The murmuring from the council had taken on more of a speculative tone. Perhaps there was yet hope.