Starships and Sustainability

Emptiness. I looked out into the vast emptiness of space and saw a reflection of myself and all the people on this crowded ship. Our storage hull, and bellies, groaned with the ache for sustenance no longer there. The little we had brought from Earth was nearly gone. As the weeks of travel lengthened, my mind wandered out, past our hull, to wander amongst the nothingness, only to come back and find less of a man than when it had left. 

“Beautiful stars, aren’t they, Captain?”

“What?” I turned around to see my security chief, Sergeant Tibik, in the doorway.

“You’re looking at the stars. I think they are gorgeous.” He sighed as he looked out into space.

“Oh, yes.” I waved him in and returned to the window of my office, refocusing my vision from the blank emptiness to the pinpricks of light that drifted in the midst of it all.

He stood next to me and watched. “Each one is a possibility.”

I looked at Tibik and cracked a grin. I admired this man. When everything seemed so empty and hopeless, all he focused on was the hope. I thought I might test that hope a little.

“Many possibilities have failed us,” I reminded him.

He waved a hand to swat away the negativity. “Bah. That’s the past, and they only improve the probability of a successful possibility next.”

I chuckled and patted him on the shoulder. No matter what happened, life could be as full of hope as the sky is with the never-ending stars. Hope is everywhere, despite the pain and emptiness in between. “Thanks.”

“For what, sir?”

“For smiling. You have something for me?”

He faced me and held up a file for me. “Report on the system we are approaching. Warrants a closer look, I believe.”

“Let’s get to it then,” I said, motioning to the door. 

Tibik led the way as he explained briefly, “Long range scanning showed oxygen and other essential elements in the atmosphere. We are coming up on the planet so we can do a more detailed sweep.”

“Is it visible yet?” I asked. 

“It should be soon.”

As he opened the door to the bridge, Tibik shouted, “Attention on the bridge!”

Everyone got to their feet and stood at attention, yet heads jerked awkwardly and eyes turned. I soon noticed the source of the small lapse in discipline. Through the bridge’s forward shield glass, a beautiful orb or greens, blues, browns and floating whites hovered before us in the blackness.

“At ease,” I whispered, and the whole bridge crew went back to staring at the planet.

“Report,” I asked.

The soldier at the sensor controls read the information from the screen. “Near-earth atmosphere and gravity. Full of carbon based life. No signs of advanced civilizations.”

“Tibik, I want you to form a recon team to go down there. You know what we are looking for.”

“Yes, sir.”

As he left the bridge, someone whispered, “I bet those traitorous Texans won’t find a place this nice.”

“I still can’t believe they abandoned everyone with the resources for the entire fleet,” someone responded.

“Hey,” I interrupted. “Breaking through the alien blockade was dangerous and chaotic. We can’t know what their captain was thinking in that insanity.” The crew fell silent.

Something started beeping.

“Um, sir?” The soldier at the sensor controls pressed a few buttons.

“What is it?”

Something crashed into the side of the ship, sending everyone to their knees that wasn’t already sitting. Alarms blared all around us.

“They followed us.”

“Bring us around and return fire!”

“They blew out our main engine!” someone yelled back at me.

“Shoot them anyway!”

“Captain,” the helmsman said, “we are caught in the planet’s gravity. We don’t have the power to pull out.”

“Use the secondary thrusters to guide our entry,” I told him. “Aim for water. At least I hope it is water.”

I moved to the tactical station. “What are we looking at? Why haven’t they fired again?”

The soldier there pointed at her instruments. “Looks like just a smaller scout, or raiding ship. A few torpedo blasts sent them out of range, but they aren’t coming back. I think they meant to send us crashing with the one surprise attack.”

“Coms, I need to speak to the ship,” I said as I walked to the microphone at my seat.

The alarms went silent. “Alert system is on, sir.”

“This is the Captain. The Chitters have followed us and we are now falling onto an unknown planet. Make your way to escape pods and arm yourselves. Essential bridge personnel will guide the ship for an emergency crash landing. We’ll see you on the surface.”

I clicked off the radio just as Sergeant Tibik returned to the bridge. He opened a locker and started handing out weapons. “I think I can be of some use here.”

I patted my friend on the shoulder. “Take tactical.” I turned to the rest of the crew. “I’ll need at least a helmsman to guide us down, the rest of you are free to go to the escape pods.”

Nobody moved.

I smiled at their loyalty. “If you have family, consider that an order. They’ll need you.”

Four of the crew saluted and jogged off the bridge. That left me, Tibik, and three others to go down with the ship. We each strapped into our positions and readied for the landing. As we entered the atmosphere, flames licked up around the hull, obscuring our view of the land below.

“Be ready, helm,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

The flames broke and we suddenly had a clear view of the planet below.

“The blue, right there,” I called.

“I see it,” the helmsman responded.

The nose of the ship turned to point toward a long strip of blue among green. At this distance it looked like a river, but as we dove toward it, the true width of the waterway showed to be quite expansive. A long and meandering lake like this was ideal.

“Escape pods are taking off, Captain,” informed Sergeant Tibik.

The ship took a steeper dive and before leveling out to make a level approach. My hands gripped my console tighter as the blue inched closer. As soon we touched, everyone jerked forward in their seats. I heard crunches and grinding as pieces of the ship were ripped off by the lake. As gravity quickly took more control of the ship our momentum quickly ran out. The nose dipped into the liquid and the glass was obscured by chaotic bubbles of blue and white. After what seemed like several minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, the ship came to bob on top of the water.

I stripped off my straps. “We won’t stay afloat for long, we need to get to an escape pod. Those are built to be boats as well.” The crew followed me through the corridors and into the hatch of the escape pod.

As the pod shot out from the ship, the top popped and flew off, to let us speed across the water in the open air. It was only then that I noticed the tall cliffs that surrounded the lake, topped by the jungle greens of tall trees and creeping vines. Before I had time to really admire this new planet, the Chitters’ ship flew overhead. 

Several dark objects detached and fell toward us. The helmsman tried to swerve to avoid the aliens, but they were too quick. Hook-like hands latched onto the sides of our small craft. The ship flew off in search of other survivors, leaving us to the deadly creatures crawling into our boat. Tibik stood up and aimed his rifle at the nearest shell-like carapace attached to us. The energy blast at that range ripped a hole right through the alien and it dropped into the water.

“Gahhhh!”

I spun to see one of my men get flung over the side of the craft. The Chitter lifted one of its bulbous bio blasters at Tibik. The pistol was in my hand and firing before I knew it. Three blasts to the chest threw it off balance, and a fourth sent it over the edge, if it wasn’t dead already. After a few more well placed shots, our craft was clear.

“Let’s hit the shore and find the rest of our crew,” I instructed. “I doubt everyone will be as lucky as us.”

***

It has been quite a while since I had this dream, and quite a while since I have made a new blog post, but that is why dreams are awesome. They can be analyzed and have meaning well beyond the time they are dreamed.

But I chose to write about this dream for a couple reasons. Firstly, it resonates with the entertainment I am currently engrossed in with my wife (yes, I'm married now). We have started watching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I also introduced her to Firefly. These two shows both portray a future of the human race when we are able to easily travel between planets. Both have interesting science-fiction premises, plot devices, and deep characters. However, the society that the shows take place in are extremely different.

Star Trek shows a society of humans and aliens, Starfleet, which is united in purpose for the most part. They truly desire to achieve what is best for as many of its members as possible. Aside from the occasional visiting character, which often turns out to be a villain, the members of the crew, and their counterparts on other ships, their society isn't bogged down by government corruption, conspiracies, criminal underworlds, and a whole lot of greed.

On the other hand, Firefly is rife with these societal blemishes that make people's lives harder. It is argued, and I personally agree, that these things are what make Firefly such a great show. However, the quality of life of many people in this world is so poor that it’s as if they were living in the past, and not the distant future.

The second reason that I choose to write about this dream is that I have been thinking about the future of the human race, and what we need to do in order to achieve the best future possible for every life on the planet. I saw an article the other day on the discovery of a planet that is the most Earth-like of any planets previously seen. This wasn’t a new article, but it caught my interest, and made me curious as to why this kind of thing isn’t bigger news in the large scale. I think back on the history of space exploration and everything I’ve read about its early stages, and it seems like it was of international interest on a scale that reached down to nearly everyone’s homes. 

But nowadays, I hardly hear anything about new things discovered in space, the mission of the international space station, or even discoveries on our own planet. It seems like the world is more concerned with celebrity or political scandals, what societal trend they can be outraged about, how people gain financially (legitimately or at the expense of others), and other things that seem more centered on self-preservation and greed than anything else. 

What good will this do us? To what kind of future will this societal behavior bring us? As far as I can tell, it will be much more like Firefly, than Star Trek. And even that is being hopeful. If we don’t invest in efforts of space exploration and travel, when this world becomes uninhabitable, we will have no choice but to perish along with it. And the destruction of our world could be the result of our parasitic consumption of the planet’s resources without trying to sustain it, or the invasion of a deadly alien force from which we can only flee.

My dream certainly represented a future where we might have advanced technologically, but certainly not much as a society. If one ship, or even the rulers of that ship are willing to ensure the starvation of the rest of the human population in favor of the possibility of more comfortable living conditions, I believe that would show how low the attitude of the average human had sunk. But just to clarify, I don’t really think that Texas would do anything like that. Some of the nicest people I know are from there. But they do have a stereotype of thinking they are bigger and better than everyone else, kinda like the United States as a whole.

Anyway, I ramble on. The thing is, I would much rather live in a future where greed and self-preservation are not the primary factors that govern people’s actions, like in Firefly, or slightly in my dream. A future like Star Trek would be much more preferable, and not just because of its holodeck technology. The attitude of the majority of human society in that future is stated very well in the movie Star Trek: First Contact, when a woman from the “past” is appalled that there is no money in the future, and that the captain isn’t paid. He responds by saying, “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” 

I believe that the only way we can get to a future that even remotely resembles that kind of utopian paradise is by starting now. We have to create a world where the basic needs of all our lives are met, by investing in technology, agricultural systems, medicines and education that isn’t there for gain and profit, but to allow the human race to exist in a way that doesn’t encourage greed, hate, and exclusion. Only in that way can we build a future, whether on this planet or another, where everyone can focus on self-improvement and the improvement of those around them.