by John Thornton
As Dillion Vermeer prepared to step from the elevator on the top floor of Asteroid Prospectors, she still expected to see her long-time friend Kevin Mayberry in his large corner office, but she suppressed the urge to cry as she reminded herself Kevin was dead. Needlessly checking her deep blue business suit, and white shirt she stepped out looking more confident than she felt. Her brown eyes glanced around and she could not see much difference in the office suite.
“Doctor Vermeer, the others are in the conference room,” Kevin’s secretary, Jason, said to her. “May I get you anything? I could easily make a cup of cinnamon kohvi for you.”
Dillion brushed her black hair back over her ear, and met Jason’s eyes. The exchanged look needed no words to go with it. He felt her sincere appreciation. She smartly turned and walked toward to the conference room.
Then she stopped and turned back, “Thank you, Jason. Kevin appreciated your work.” A blush came over his face, and he turned away, but not before a tear rolled down his cheek.
The polished hickory doors of the conference room were open, and the oblong table had two other people already seated at it.
“Well, here is our little lady now, Miss Vermeer! Come right in, and make yourself at home,” a man said in an overly-loud tone as he rose to his feet. He was shorter than Dillion, husky, with slicked-back hair, and a new, but ill-fitting suit. Dillion was surprised that with the expense of the suit, he had not had it tailored for his own frame. Dillion would never spend that amount of money on apparel, and she wondered why anyone would.
“Reverend Jaxson Rhono,” Dillion nodded and extended her hand as she entered.
Acting as if he had not seen her attempt at a handshake, Jaxson turned and motioned to the other man, “I believe you know our friend, Nigul Rebane of Rebane Space Construction.”
“Yes, Nigul and I were classmates,” Dillion withdrew her hand. Nigul was thin with a sharp nose, somewhat too large for his face. His sandy hair and very dark eyes were just as she remembered, distinctly contrasting physical traits. His business-casual attire was in tasteful colors.
“Classmates, along with Kevin,” Nigul replied. “We all desperately grieve over our lost alum.” He did reach out and give a brief clasp to Dillion’s shoulder.
n“Oh, indeed, we all do, yes we do,” Jaxson interjected, and stepped between the two. “Doing Kevin’s memorial service was one of the hardest funerals I’ve ever performed, yes it was. But, I did daddy’s funeral as well—some years ago—and most recently, Kevin’s sainted momma’s funeral. That poor woman, poor, poor woman. She never did get over the loss of Kevin out in space. Oh, the day I sat with her when they told her of that tragedy. The Mayberrys they’re some fine folk, yes, fine folk. There don’t get no better people than them Mayberrys were. By heaven’s graces, that’s a fact.”
Both Nigul and Dillion cringed inwardly at the grammatical dialect Jaxson used. They did not agree on many issues, but both had been trained in engineering and recalled the motto coined by the Dean of Engineering, Professor Hubert Carvalho, “If you can’t say cannot, you can’t be an engineer.” Dillion had even made that official policy for her work.
“Congratulations on your win in the courts,” Nigul added quickly.
“It was a blessing that the courts followed Olga Mayberry’s wishes in her will. I never expected to be the heir to all of Kevin’s estate, but as his blessed momma directed, it came to pass unto me.” He looked around the office. “Well’s we are here now to talk about—not memorials and funerals—but the future,” Jaxson went on, as his sad face was replaced by a different look. “I’m just a simple minister, and this Asteroid Prospectors is a right big endeavor, that’s fallen into my lap. So’s I called in you two folks, to help me understand this terraforming business. Just what is that?” He gestured as he spoke, and Dillion and Nigul both took a seat.
“Perhaps, you would consider having some of the Asteroid Prospector senior staff join us? Kevin recruited and hired only the best and brightest people, and I am sure they would be more than willing to assist,” Dillion offered.
Jaxon sat at the head of the oblong table and looked down at the display screen in front of him. “I could’ve done just that, but I need honest answers. You see, the employees here, well, they’re all worried about jobs and such, since I am now being their boss and all. I don’t need no mealy-mouthed people pleasers. I need honest feedback.” He pressed a couple buttons on the table, next to the display and then stated, “I’s got my helper here, E1877—a name I must change, just must—come on boy, answer me.”
A mechanical voice came from the display, “This is E1877. I am listening. Were you addressing me?”
“No other machine helper here, is there? Well, you just record all’s that we are a sayin’ here now. Got that E1877?”
“Affirmative. Recording initiated,” E1877 replied.
“So’s what is terraforming and how does it play in with colonies? Well, Nigul, my friend, what is terraforming, and why should my business be interested in it?” Jaxson asked.
“Terraforming, in a simple, basic sense, just means to transform somewhere to resemble the earth, especially so that it can support human life,” Nigul replied.
“Like that there moon colony where all them folks died?” Jaxson asked.
“Limited terraforming was attempted without success on the moon, roughly thirty years ago—with Moon Base Alpha. Despite the fortuitous locating of subsurface lunar lava tubes, which did expedite making the base, it was unsuccessful,” Nigul replied. “Our engineering today is far superior to that era.”
“The Great Event, and the 90 Hour War contributed more to that failure, than any engineering problems,” Dillion brusquely interjected. “Reverend Rhono I started Dome Survival Systems just so we can address the issue of repairing and restoring the Earth. Dome Survival Systems is a non-profit entity which is open to all who want to participate, I do not even take a salary.” She glared briefly at Nigul. “I think if you…”
“Miss Vermeer, your charity service is noted, and I want to come back to that in a bit, yes, I do, but right now, I am tryin’ to figure out this colony idea, and how it goes with terraforming?” Turning to Nigul, he asked, “Terraforming is sort of like having some creation kit to make the Garden of Eden, again?” Then smiling broadly, he joked, “Minus them snakes, of course.”
“Speaking broadly, you could phrase it that way,” Nigul replied but gulped as he did. “It is essential to the proposed generational colony ship program. Now, Rebane Space Construction has been the primary contractor for Asteroid Prospectors, and has built the vast majority of the spacecraft which have so effectively mined the asteroids. The Mayberry Mover…”
Jaxson interrupted, “That is Kevin’s motor for space travel, and part of my portfolio now. Came along with the whole shebang. I was told the mineral wealth of the asteroids is like five-hundred billion unified credits, using the fancy new money talk, and that fleet of space planes and stuff. I knows the company is flying up there and taking rocks and smashin’ them into usable stuff. But I want to focus again on terraforming. That astronomer gal, Gretchen Westerhuis, I think that’s her name, well, she is mapping out some very interesting places up in the heavens. Very interesting.”
“Professor Westerhuis has made amazing discoveries of exoplanets, and Rebane Space Construction stands ready to build ships to take us to those locations,” Nigul stated, and rubbed his chin a bit. “Vision is all that is needed to take that first step toward colonizing other solar systems.”
Turning back to Dillion, Jaxson asked, “Dear girl, I owe you an apology. I was rude, and knows it. You were about to tell me about saving the Earth, I believe. Now, what plans do you have? I know Kevin was’a working on a grand scheme to help us all. What part do you play? You don’t need to get all technical on this right now. Just gimme the big picture, and we’ll start with that.” He gave her a smile that held little warmth.
Dillion let out a breath she had not been aware of holding in, “Well, sir, it is a project that Kevin and I discussed many times. It is about the protection of what is left of the Earth’s fertile soil and stopping the decline of the human population. I can provide you with an entire portfolio of information, in case Kevin’s files are not easily accessible. I have all the scientific studies, research findings, and proposals which support Dome Survival Systems.”
“Let me see if I understand, your plan is to make colonies on Earth? In places to protect what is left of this ruined old world?”
“Yes, sir. We must take action before it is too late, although, in all honestly, I would not use the term colonies. I prefer refuges, or perhaps sanctuaries,” Dillion replied.
“Sanctuaries are in houses of worship,” Jaxson retorted.
“Yes, excuse my phrasing. These domes will be safe-houses, during the implementation of comprehensive mitigation efforts to reverse the course of the ecological damage. It is all in our reports and projections. Kevin had a wide-ranging plan, the Earth Restoration Project, to reverse the ecological catastrophes which are happening.”
“Oh, yes, so I’ve heard, and that’s part of why you two are here. I’ve been wondering, I guess I see two things happening. There’s your idea of staying here on Earth and ridin’ out the storm, so’s to speak. Then the other idea’s those gigantic colony ships goin’ off to the heavens on some sojourn through the ages. What about us just doing that terraforming on our neighbor planets here? Say, Mars or Venus?”
“With all due respect, there is not a need to go to another planet. Neither Mars nor Venus is a good candidate for a colony, or for terraforming. Kevin has a plan, excuse me, had a plan, to bombard the Earth’s stratosphere with the nuclei of comets. He charted and tracked at least twenty-seven suitable prospects, some out in the Kuiper Belt. By strategically placing them into the jet stream from orbit, they will cause climatic change which will basically rinse the radiation out of the sky.”
“I must not’a heard you correctly,” Jaxon stated, “Miss Vermeer, are you saying that bombing the sky’s a good thing? That sounds like what them enemies did in the 90-Hour war when the Holy Land was laid waste.”
“Well, the term ‘bombard’ was the one Kevin used to describe his plans. It probably is not the best term, sorry. The science is sound, and not like the nuclear detonations of the war. As you know, Kevin was brilliant. Essentially, he planned to bring a massive amount of water, via the comets, into the jet stream. That will drench the Earth and wash the radiation down out of the atmosphere.”
“Sorta like in Noah’s day. The gates of heaven opened up and the waters from above came down. The rains came down for days and days and days.”
“Yes, something like that. It is not just about the water. There will need to be survival places for humanity to be protected from the falling radiation. There will need to be radiation mitigation systems to absorb what is concentrated by the water run offs.”
“Miss Vermeer, you’re saying, you want to drench the earth with space water, cosmic snowballs, and then have hidey holes for people to live in to escape the stuff the rains bring down? All while some sponges soak up the poisons?”
“Yes. That is the basic project. Kevin and I discussed this at length. My specialty is the Dome Survival Systems. The plan calls for 10,000 domes each holding 10,000 people. I know that is a far cry from the current population level of 1.8 billion. But consider our current population level is only about a fourth of what it was just a few years ago, and the birth rate is plummeting and mutations are causing even those babies born to have very high infant mortality rates. Therefore, with proper screening and testing, we can save 100,000,000 people who have no radiation damage, and build secure places for them to survive. Then, when the radiation levels are down to where they will not endanger humanity’s ongoing evolution, the people can come out of the domes and repopulate the newly revived planet.”
“Evolution?” Jaxson exclaimed. Then he caught himself. “Well, yes, thank you. I will give that my full and due consideration.” Turning back to Nigul, he asked, “Do you agree about Mars and Venus?”
Nigul looked at Dillion, and then back at Jaxson. “Yes, neither of those planets are suitable for colonization in the long-term. We have tried to make ships capable of surviving on the surface of Venus. They all failed more quickly than any of us expected. The people who planned those missions envisioned a dome which would convert the atmosphere of Venus into a swampy mess. They quoted ideas about Venus being known as Earth’s twin. But that was a manipulation of the data. Sure, it is the closest of all planets to Earth. Venus has nearly the same mass and size as the Earth, but they ignored all the facts which show it to be unsuitable. A quick list; there is not much water on Venus, the incredibly slow rotation of the planet gives it a day many Earth months long. The atmosphere of Venus is chiefly toxic gases which generate a surface pressure nearly a hundred times greater than that on Earth. Then there is the fact that Venus’ surface temperature averages nearly nine-hundred degrees in that old Fahrenheit scale.”
“Sounds more like Hell than a Garden of Eden,” Jaxson replied. “But what about Mars?”
“Reverend Rhono,” Dillion interjected, “Mars is far more difficult to terraform than Earth is to repair. We tried a small-scale colony on Mars and due to air filter problems, all those people died as well. It was not public knowledge, but it is in the records here at Asteroid Prospectors.”
“Oh, my, no,” Jaxson replied, and for the first time seemed to have a genuine emotion on his face. “E1877, is that true?”
“Yes,” the mechanical voice replied.
Dillion continued, “Mars is unsuitable. It has some water, but extracting that is far more laborious than was initially expected. The air filtration problems continue, and we do not have a good answer to that issue yet. Mars’ gravity too low. There is no shield from cosmic rays, no magnetic field to speak of, no protection from solar radiation. Mars is much further from the sun, and has a more elliptical orbit. Basically, Mars is just too dry, extremely cold, and its best places—equatorial regions—are similar in temperatures to Antarctica but with the normal night time temperatures far, far colder. Where the attempted colony was located, which was considered the best Mars offered, routinely had nighttime temperatures of less than one hundred degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. Mars is too dry, too cold, and too exposed. The other possibilities are so far and remote on the outer planets’ moon systems, and those are just variations on the problems Mars has, and worse. Building protective domes on Earth remains far easier than to build similar domes on Mars, the outer moons, Luna, or even worse, on Venus.”
“Sounds like water is a prime factor for this colony idea, and the terraforming tool,” Jaxson stated. “That Westerhuis gal says they have found water on some other planet, far way.”
Nigul jumped in, “Indeed they have. Westerhuis 23, with its four known planets, the second one shows very positive readings for large amounts of water. The colony ship program can build ships to reach that system, and others, if we have the backing and the vision to seek out the heavens. Plus, and if I might add, the colony ships will have generations to study the target worlds and design terraforming specific to each planet. It is a winning situation, or might I just say, a divine calling.”
“Them gargantuan colony ships, can they really be built?” Jaxson asked. “I mean, if I was to…”
“Not as cheaply or as efficiently as the domes right here pn Earth can be built,” Dillion interrupted. “The Dome Survival System is our best chance to protect humanity and set us back in a proper upward spiral.”
“Yes, Miss Vermeer, you’ve made your position clear, and I respect that, yes, I do. But is it either or? Is it? I could fund both projects, and we would double our chances, right?” Turning again to Nigul. “When can those colony ships set off?”
“We can build ten ships in thirteen years, sir. Just thirteen years,” Nigul stated with confidence. “That assumes we have proper funding and support from Asteroid Prospectors and the leadership that sees hope in the heavens.”
Dillion nearly choked as she caught the religious tones Nigul was spewing. She knew he was agnostic at best, but saw how Jaxson lit up whenever Nigul spoke like that.
“Miss Vermeer? When can you begin building your first dome?”
“Right away sir,” she replied. “For less than the colony ships, and to protect far more people. I am proposing protecting 100,000,000 people, while the colony ships will hold at most just one million people, if that.”
“Now, Miss Vermeer, do not disparage Mister Rebane’s ideas here. None of that petty cat-fighting. I am going to approve both of your colony ideas.” He stood up, and walked to the window. The tan clouds of radiation were far on the horizon, and were not expected to make their way toward the city. He pushed thoughts of them away, and looked at the blue skies that were still visible in most of his panoramic view. “I believe we have come to the end of this meeting. Initial checks will be issued for both your projects.” He turned around and looked right at Dillion Vermeer. “Come out and be ye separate. Go and build your domes, but we will meet again to talk about repairs to creation.”
Dillion rose, surprise on her face. “Thank you, sir. Thank you. Future generations will look back at this as a turning point.”
“Good bye Miss Vermeer.”
Dillion walked away, planning who to call, and what to do to start building Dome 1. She caught Nigul’s eye as she walked out, and he nodded ever so slightly.
After she had left, the Reverend Jaxson Rhono said, “The stars are our covenant. I will start a New Canaan Movement. Now, you go and build me a Noah’s Ark for space. You may build seven of them. Distribute out six, but you save one just for me.”
“Thank you, sir! Thank you!” Nigul left the room.
After a few moments, Jaxson Rhono said out loud, “So, now that I’m in charge here, I suppose Jaxson Rhono might as well use these toys Kevin Mayberry built.” Jaxson Rhono leaned forward and pushed a button on the table.
“How may I assist you?” the very mechanical E1877 asked.
“Are you aware of who is in the room with you?” Jaxson asked.
“Yes, you are Jaxson Rhono. Current President of Asteroid Prospectors. Current and sole member of the Board of Directors of Asteroid Prospectors. How may I assist you?”
“Well’s I’ll be. I really need to change your name. I have a cash-cow and a plan. Bring me my elders and deacons.”
“Yes, sir. Messages being sent now,” E1877 replied.
Then to the empty conference room, Jaxson Rhono prepared his next speech. He thought of it as his finest sermon, and the words poured from his mouth, “My friends, you are the elders who have served with me since our days of small time rallies and meetings in basements. But now we’ll need to work. We’ll need good and clean land, and animals of all types, and this has to get done. You must acquire, by whatever means necessary, whatever we need to succeed. I mean anything. Look everywhere. Find what we need. Nothing shall prevent your righteous goal. No matter what, get it all. This old world is under a curse, and the wicked are reaping their just rewards. So, just like the children of Israel plundered the Egyptians before their exodus, we’ll gather whatever we need to make the Noah’s Ark work. The prophets of old used the wicked to advance their goals, and so will we. Did the Hebrews care about the Egyptians after the plagues? Make friends for yourselves with with those who have dishonest wealth. We’ll use whatever we need, for it is our inheritance. We’ll take the honey out of the corpse. We will offer the six vessels to the people of the world. That is our gift of charity. They can buy them from us like the nations of the world bought the grain from Joseph. Yes, after they buy those six they can outfit them however they will. But our golden angel will get all the very best. And that is your task. Elders, you will find the best and get it for us, by whatever way you can. We’ll call our golden lamp the Rapture, for it’ll carry us all away, in the twinkling of an eye. No, it’s the last days now. So, better yet, ours will be named Eschaton! Yes, the last day is here! We will build the Eschaton! Jaxson Rhono you will get to purge out the evils. You will set up what is right and proper. Yes, Jaxson Rhono will forever be the new messiah! Jaxson Rhono, will be the deliverer. Jaxson Rhono, will be the Savior of all of mankind!”
The maniacal laughter echoed off the conference walls.