The fiction New Horizon ,by Akshayarka had won the joint third prize for the Sci Fi Eclat competition of Techniche, the annual festival of Guwahati IIT
This story chronicles the journey of one individual as he fights against all odds to save himself and a friend from the apocalypse. The story starts as the protagonist sits in his house formulating a plan to do so.
He finds his friend, and convinces her to come with him. Together they hijack a car get to the launching site for eleven starship that the government has built to evade Doomsday.
These ships are then described. A revolutionary new propulsion system, a new material for protection, and life-support systems. The space craft launch, and the protagonists are taken to the new world.
The story ends with a refreshing twist.
Our world was about to end: it would literally fall apart, get consumed by a massive black-hole that was headed our way. This hungry monster would simply engulf our world unless we did something about it. Our technology was not yet advanced enough to halt such a catastrophe, and so we would have to evacuate the whole planet.
And to that end, all leading engineers, astronomers, physicists, sociologists and doctors were called together to form a government-aided research team. A team that would conduct the greatest experiment in history. A team that would design and build mega-starships to carry the people out of our doomed planet, and take us somewhere far away, to a new planet, for a new life.
But, there was a catch in this brilliant strategy: we didn’t have enough resources to ships big enough to carry the teeming millions of our people. So some would, ‘regrettably’, have to be left behind. Only a select few would be taken for the ride, the rich and powerful, the able-bodied ones … others would be left behind.
And I was a mere construction worker.
Alone in my quarter, I cradled a flashlight in my hands. I had only thirty-six hours to live. After that, oblivion. The government starships were set to launch the next morning… I had to do something. And a plan was already forming in my mind. But I could not leave my friend.
I found the house I was looking for, and knocked on the door. After a short wait, the door was opened by an old friend. Tara Jennings, a first-class romantic poet, was a good friend. We had graduated from the same university (albeit from different branches – I was a student of Computer Administration. Tara had prospered, but I was left behind). We had even lived in same locality.
After all the formalities, I spoke in a more businesslike tone, ‘Look, we don’t have much time for claptrap. Great thins are afoot tonight.’ Tara’s eyebrows were almost lost under her hairline. But I continued. ‘Please bear with me. What do you know about black holes?’
‘Black holes? Aren’t they like – collapsed stars or something?’
‘Right. When a massive star goes boom, the remnants kind of implode into themselves and form a black hole. It can absorb anything and everything. Kind of a dead end -’
‘What,’ Tara interrupted, ‘exactly is your point?’
There was no way to put it softly. I had to tell the truth. ‘The world is about end.’
Tara rolled her eyes. ‘Is this your idea of a joke?’
‘I’m deadly serious – no pun intended.’ I ploughed on, before she could butt in again, ‘Look our world is really about to end, and we cannot do anything to stop it. All that we can do is to save some section of the population.
‘Recently, our space flight capabilities have seen a quantum leap. Propulsion systems, life-support systems, everything has advanced beyond recognition. And now it is time to put all that to the test. For the only way to save ourselves is to flee. This black –‘
‘Wait,’ she interrupted me, ‘what do you think the chances of a black-hole intersecting the orbit of a planet are? It’s astronomical !’
‘It doesn’t have to intersect our orbit,’ I explained patiently, ‘it’s got an enormous gravitational field that extends for millions of miles; it comes close, and we’re doomed.’
‘All right, let’s say that I’ve agreed that the Apocalypse is indeed coming,’ she said placidly, ‘but how do you propose that we uh – flee? How about that eh?’
‘We evacuate the planet,’ I said simply. ‘And that’s why I’ve been talking about space flight capabilities and all that. We’re building spaceships!’
Tara sat down in a daze. ‘How – how do you know – about all this?’
‘I built one of those ships myself, didn’t I?’
Slowly, very slowly, comprehension dawned upon her face. ‘You mean everything’s lost? Seven thousand years order and civilization – all lost.’ There were tears in her eyes.
‘Shhh,’ I consoled her, ‘Not everything. After all, the starships are large enough to hold a third of our population. True, we’ll lose our cultural heritage. But civilization will not be lost. It will only start anew.
‘This news,’ I continued, ‘was not made public for the simple reason that it would cause mass hysteria. People would end up blowing themselves up even before the actual “end of the world”. But still, only a few influential persons will be allowed to board the ships; others are not so lucky.’
At this, Tara looked up in indignation. ‘So,’ she said, ‘they’ll just leave like thieves in the night?’
‘Disgraceful!’ Tara exclaimed, enraged. ‘We have to do something. We can’t let so many people die like that. We’ll have to save ourselves!’
‘My point exactly.’ I let out a sigh of relief. Tara was at last on the right track. My plan was simple: to get aboard one of the starships in place of somebody else. Desperate times did call for desperate measures, after all.
I explained all this to her. It took a while to convince her, but at last she agreed. We would have to time our plan carefully. I had already found our perfect doppelgangers: a rich heiress and her jobless husband. They would arrive at the boarding site by car, and in this journey was a lonely, forested patch of road where we would be able hijack their car.
My flashlight played an important role in this.
Another dawn, another day. I was perched on an overhanging branch of a tree just beside the road; Tara was crouching behind a large rock. We were waiting for our ride out of the planet.
I had a clear view for miles around, and could see a green Bugati-Veyron approaching. It was, no doubt, our doppelgangers’ car. After all, a Bugati-Veyron was something very rich idiots bought to impress other very rich idiots.
Just as the car passed under me, I dropped my flashlight; it hit the driver’s head with a satisfyingly loud thud. Without a driver, the car’s built-in security systems kicked in, and brought it to a stop. A bewildered woman got out of the car and looked up. Then suddenly, there was a sharp buzzing sound, and the woman collapsed.
Tara was standing beside her, a tazer in hand, sending ten-thousand volts through her body.
‘Where did you get that tazer?’ I asked her in amazement. I hadn’t known that Tara could be so violent.
‘I’d bought it for self defense sometime ago. I just used it for offence now. Its much more handy than chloroform.’
‘Ooookay. Let’s get to work now.’
Tara bent over the woman’s purse and extracted her electronic ID. ‘Is this what you were talking about?’ she asked me.
‘Yes,’ I replied. The government issued these little devices to the selected ones to record all their personal information. We had planned to take the ID of these two people and overwrite the original information with ours – kind of like impostors, really. The trickiest part of the operation was hacking into the database. It took me half an hour to do this. But after that, I became Lord SylwesterRosonski, and Tara became Lady Serafina Pekkala Rosonski.
‘Your ID please.’
Six armed guards stood in front of the gates of the launching site. There were eleven starships in all. The ‘Salvation’ fleet. The Salvation Alpha was for political leaders and ambassadors. Salvation Beta was for other important personages. The other ships were for the general public. We were headed for the Salvation Sigma.
The starship was an impressive site: a hundred feet wide and over five-hundred feet tall, it could easily accommodate more than a million people. It was not shaped like a regular rocket, but was more like a funnel. Its exterior was made of the fabled ‘vibranium’ metal: thousands of times stronger than steel, and one-twentieth of its weight. This made almost indestructible.
But the most striking breakthrough in the ship was its engine: the Nuclear-Pulse Drive. Once clear of the atmosphere, the engine would detonate small atomic charges in succession to propel through space; the Salvation Sigma could fly at sixty percent to speed of light.
We showed our IDs to the guard. Tara’s ID seemed to confuse him a bit. Perhaps he had seen the heiress Serafina Rosonski before.
Fortunately, he decided not to argue. After all, the ID provided ‘infallible’ protection against impostors. We went through.
The interior of the ship was even more impressive the its exterior. The lobby was decorated with tasteful antediluvian furniture. Though what use furniture had in a spacecraft, I have no idea. Endless corridors branched away from the lobby. On entering, an attendant handed us a tablet-like device.
‘Um – what do we do with this?’ Tara asked the attendant.
‘It is a map,’ she replied, ‘for guiding you down to your chambers.’ Then she pressed a button, and a greenish map was displayed on the screen. ‘Happy journey!’ she said mechanically, and pushed us along.
We went through fourteen corridors and finally arrived at a thick, metallic sliding door. There was a peep-hole in the center of the door. Our map prompted us to raise our IDs to this peep-hole. Evidently, it was some kind of scanner, for the next moment, the door slid open.
The room was full of…
‘Perambulators,’ Tara exclaimed.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘perambulators.’
‘No,’ someone behind us disagreed, ‘not perambulators. Those are suspended animation chambers.’ The speaker was a tall, muscular with intelligent eyes and an engaging smile. He was, I judged, in his early fifties.
‘Welcome aboard the Salvation Sigma. You are among our earliest arrivals, and the launching procedures are still a few hours off. So please don’t hesitate to use the onboard recreational facilities to occupy your time,’ he said, gesturing towards a pinball machine and a television on the far side of the room. ‘Good day.’ And just like that, he was gone.
‘Pleasant host,’ Tara said with her eyebrows raised.
Three hours had passed since we got onto the ship, and by now, our room was full. Some of the occupants were smiling, some were excited, most were nervous. Tara was positively fuming beside me. We had just learned how our spacecraft were to launch without raising the alarm among the commons: every city in near vicinity was to be sprayed with drugs so that the people would fall asleep (and not notice the ships). Even though I had managed to convince her to stay on board, Tara still disapproved the plan. It was unjust and cowardly, she said. I can’t say I agreed with her.
Just then, the television screen lighted up. It showed the man we had met three hours earlier on the threshold of the room.
‘Good morning. I, captain of the Salvation Sigma, welcome you aboard. The launching procedure will begin in under five minutes. Our journey will take roughly ten years to complete,’ at this, there was a collective intake of breath by all the people. But the commander had not finished yet. He said, ‘But don’t worry. This ship is equipped with advanced suspended animation facilities. These will put you to sleep and keep you from ageing until the journey is complete. How it works… well, that’s story for another day. Rest assured, however, that you will be completely safe under suspended animation. The central computer will assume control of the ship, and as we approach our destination, we’ll be awakened automatically.
‘All passengers are now advised to assume their place in the suspended animation chambers. This is just a safety precaution to avoid any disturbance during the launch. So, relax!’
The lights dimmed, and a soft humming sound filled the air. It gradually increased in pitch and turned into a thunderous roar as the engines kicked in.
‘T-minus ten seconds to launch,’ a computerized voice announced. ‘Nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one. Blast-off! ‘
With crushing force, the ship lifted off. Accelerating, accelerating, and accelerating until finally we reached escape velocity. But under the protection of the chamber, I could hardly fell the force, when suddenly it disappeared. We had cleared the atmosphere of the planet.
The lights came on. The Commander’s voice came on the PA system once more, ‘Folks, let’s take one last look at our home.’ And with that, all the walls became transparent.
It showed us a wondrous sight: our green-blue planet, rotating majestically on its axis. It sired the first great civilization, but was now doomed…
The walls slowly became transparent again, and the commander spoke, ‘The main engines will kick-in after a minute. I think its time we all get into the suspended animation chambers.’
I looked for one last time at Tara. There were tears in her eyes, but she smiled. And then I slipped into my delightful perambulator. The door closed and the lights blinked out. The air became cold as I slowly drifted off into a heavy, dreamless sleep…
‘Welcome back,’ the commander said.
I had woken up a few seconds earlier. Even after ten years of sleep, I didn’t feel any different. It felt ten minutes, not ten years. I pushed open the hatch, and sat up. The three hundred other people were also just getting up. And beside me, as always, was Tara. I extricated myself from the perambulator with a little difficulty.
The commander was still speaking, ‘We have covered most of our journey, and now only a few days remain. Let’s take a look at our new home.’
The walls became transparent again, and we had our first view of the new world. There it was, a small green-blue planet its parent star at distance of roughly ninety-six million miles.
The Commander’s voice announced, ‘It is really not much different from our own world. The atmosphere is roughly thirty percent oxygen, and average surface temperature is about twenty-five degrees centigrade… If you ask me, it is actually kind of an improvement on our home – it’s much cooler!’
The view was then magnified so that we could actually see the surface of the planet. Large and scaly beasts roamed the open grasslands and dense forests. It was paradise.
And thus the time passed, until finally the great day of the descent arrived. We were asked to get into the suspended animation chambers again.
The Salvation Sigma came thundering down.
That night, the stars shone in all their magnificence onto the planet. The air saturated with sweet scents of wild flowers, and the ground was littered with sweet fruit. A sparkling river flowed under the clear sky. It was the most beautiful site I had ever seen. And it was my new home.
Tara and the Commander appeared beside me. She pointed skywards as a large reptilian bird flew over us. I flicked my tail in amazement.
Akshayarka Alammyan Deka
Don Bosco School, Guwahati