Hello, and welcome to release week for Crucible!
Over the course of this week, we will be releasing character artwork and short stories to set the scene for the world of Novum! Today, we’re launching into things with character artwork over at Joseph Lallo’s blog, and a short story here, exploring the origins of the colony at Guan-Yu.
Until Friday, you can tide yourself over with a free excerpt available on Amazon here!
Seed Colony: noun; one of the “non-intervention” colonies prepared for under the Vargas Treaty of 3128, which laid out several programs intended to safeguard humanity from war, disease, or accident. Each colony consists of a fully terraformed planet devoid of non-human sentient life, stocked with a viable population of volunteers. Volunteers consent to have memories blocked at the beginning of the experiment, and will be unaware both of their coordinates and of their participation in the project. These colonies are under military protection until such time as they develop spacefaring capabilities, and the coordinates of all seed colonies are classified. Intervention in a seed colony is considered treason against human interests.
They told me they’re only sending one transmission home, so I’ve been saving this up. We’ll be heading home soon, so there’s no point in putting it off much longer. I’ll tell you how things end up when I get back, but not much is going to change from here on out. We’re already starting to pack up; the tent village looks deserted.
I miss you terribly, I’ve been gone so long, but to be honest I can’t imagine leaving this place. I looked back at my journals and I spent the first few weeks complaining about the heat, but it started to feel normal at some point, I guess. It gets into your blood. I don’t know if you remember Nana’s house, back when Keeling was still a new settlement. You went out and played in the dirt and Papa yelled at you and said you’d get some disease. It’s like that here—we’re supposed to be very careful about quarantine, but there’s only so much you can do (and anyway, the people are going to introduce all sorts of microbes, there’s no way to do a full wipe of their systems). So after a while we stopped worrying about shoes and masks and…well, I guess I’ve just gotten used to the feel of dirt between my toes. The sun bakes into the earth all day and then the heat radiates back into your feet all evening, even when the air is cold.
Water is precious here, in a way I didn’t understand before. In a station, it’s all rations, you know? Purification systems. Here, the water goes into the land. Sometimes when you walk near the river, you can see new plants poking out of the ground. The break up through the earth, little spindly stalks but it’s strong enough, and then they unfurl. There was a week when I would come back every day to check on one of the plants. The botanists said it was just a weed, but it looked so strong and delicate at the same time, unbelievably green in this land of sand and hot winds.
I go for walks by the river at night, the sound is very soothing. You can walk, and walk and walk. It is an incredible luxury to be able to walk without anywhere to go; I have to be careful now that they can’t see me from the settlement camps, but other than that, I can go anywhere. No hallways. I’m going to miss open sky. Sometimes I think about running away and living in the hills. I know I couldn’t do it… I’d never make it here, it’s too harsh.
I’m so afraid for the people we’re leaving. We’re supposed to accept everything that’s going to happen, you know? But I can’t. I think they knew that. They told us before we came here that leaving would be the most difficult part, and they were right. Last night we named the planet: Guan-Yu, after a Chinese general from Old Earth.
None of it seems real most of the time, and then other times it does seem real and like a terrible mistake. Only sometimes, when I’m not thinking about it, I get this rush of wonder—it’s such a strange feeling, to have seeded a planet, so full of power, creating life! I told Simon that I felt like a god, and he laughed at me. I do, though. It’s this terrible sense of responsibility, like I should make sure they’ll all be safe, and of course they won’t be if I do my job correctly. I have to make sure that they’ll be in enough danger, and that the conditions are adverse enough, that they will start to develop technology.
We picked where to leave them right away when we got here: a harsh patch of earth with the river running through. Nearby, across a narrow strait, is a land of incredible fertility. You would not believe your eyes to see it! It is more green than I have ever seen in my life. The air smells sweet with flowers, and we found fruit trees and cereal grains. There is something like a gazelle, and we had a close call with one of the dogs that stalks them! It’s beautiful, and I hope the settlers get there someday.
But they can’t start there, they’ll be starting out somewhere less welcoming. Warm, of course, and the mountains will keep out some of the worst weather. Remember Ewing’s Conjecture, that I kept talking about before I left? It’s the one that says a society will develop technology most quickly if forced by adverse stimuli, but I keep having these nightmares that we used it incorrectly. There was a failed colony on a planet called Treherne, very cold, that proved that there’s a limit to it. They didn’t make it two generations. No one talks about it, but we’ve all been thinking about that one. And a thousand other things could go wrong, meteor strikes or some disease or something, but it would be so much worse to know that all these people could die from something I did. I don’t know how I could ever live with that.
And I’ll never know, anyway. That’s what gets to me. It will take thousands of years to know that for sure. What if we’d chosen the coasts? What if we’d dropped them off in the green lands? I’ll never know that, and I’ll never even know the results of the choices I did make, and the ones I didn’t. When they do come back, in a few years, they’ll just scan from space—and hundreds of lives will be passing underneath, so much more than just life forms on a scanner. So much more. To anyone else, it will just be numbers. It has become more, to me. To all of us.
Leaving will be a lonely business, like I’m leaving a part of my soul. The people we’ve dropped off don’t know our names anymore—of course, they don’t know their own, either—and I feel such mingled hope and sorrow to leave them here like this. They all agreed of course, just as you kept reminding me before we left. We made them sign three times, after all of the disclosures and telling them about the survival rates and everything, and we even asked again when we got here. They still said yes. I asked some of them why they were coming—strictly against regulations, but I know Simon did, too—so I know what some of them were running from. Harsh as it is, this land is kinder than some parts of occupied space. That’s all I’ll say.
Some of them wanted to come, they had everything and they gave it up. Those were the ones that touched me. A few just wanted adventure, but one of them said that this was the future of humanity. He was very calm about it, and he thanked me for my work. Right then I felt so young, like I didn’t know a thing about what I was doing, just throwing these people out into the world. Like there was no way to know what could come of it but I was doing something…big. I don’t know, I don’t have words for it. It felt like it mattered, so much, and I was walking blindly, changing the world in these vast ways and not even understanding it. I’ve had trouble sleeping since then. Sometimes I wake up from dreams of what will happen here, and I can never remember them…
Anyway, they all made their choice. And I have my journals to remind me why this is important, why we need to do this. Of the choices I made before I knew what it meant.
But there’s so much for them to learn, and now they seem so helpless! What if in a few years, they would regret it? I know what they’ll be facing: poisonous plants, predators, disease. Most of them won’t survive, and I keep thinking we just didn’t explain that well enough. They will try to cross the strait eventually, or venture up into the north, and they’ll lose so many when they do. I feel responsible, knowing that I have put them here. They are humans, and humans have unquenchable curiosity, an absolute desire to go searching, even into danger. I’m letting them go into danger.
But I feel so much hope, too—I really think they can flourish here. Who can say what technologies they’ll build, what they’ll discover that we could never have known? I have to keep thinking about that. Someday, far in the future, we might all be gone, destroyed by our wars, and these people might flourish far away from all of that. They’ll grow, not knowing anything about us, and venture out into the stars on their own…
It’s late, I should go to bed. I miss you, and I wish you could be here to see this. (You’d hate it here, I know.) I’ll be home soon—a few months in transit, but we leave the week after next. Nothing more to say, I guess. I hope you liked your birthday present.
Gentle Readers –