Chapter I: A New Hope

in #anewhope5 months ago (edited)

The Earth quakes. Like the snores of a giant in a deep slumber, each tremor is a reminder that the great beast needs only rest before her return. A young boy sits hunched on the barren ground, his lower back pressed up against the decaying embankment. A strong gust of wind bites his cheeks as the small granules of debris pepper his face. His head sags down below his shoulders like a wilting flower. The sun has returned, but it has not brought with it a sense of purpose. The wretched stench of doubt and decay leave the air putrid. The youth of the boy has all but left his body as he exerts what little of his willpower he has to rise to his feet. He stands between the shanty metallic walls of his mother’s shack and the crumbling façade of the clay warehouse across the dirt road. His family was lured back to the surface with the promise of a new beginning, but what little progress they had made was constantly threatened from the capricious environment and the devastating powder keg that trembles below. He is among the many souls counting their days, their dreams for a better future trampled with every quiver of the ground on which they stand. The planet that bore them fruits and was the habitat for all of humanity’s achievements and glory was now trying to rid herself of them. The boy aimlessly wanders the streets of a desolate wasteland, searching for something in which he can find solace. He, like all others on the surface, are hopeless.

Of the people living on the planet following that fateful day on March 18, 2077, few remain. Humanity plans for the future, we believe that we understand our surroundings, but if there is anything that mankind had collectively learned during the 21st century, it was that despite all of our technological advances and collective ego, we were but a pappus in the wind when mother nature readied her revolt. Sea levels had steadily risen each year, temperatures were climbing, and while the effects of a changing climate were felt with each year, it was the events on that fateful day that would alter the course of our history forever.

We had overcome many of the historical challenges that plagued us since the dawn of recorded history. We had nearly eradicated disease. Advances in farming techniques and storage had allowed us to remove the threat of starvation. We still loved to have a scrap here or there, but it had been more than a century since the last major war. While the threats posed by our changing environment could prove dire, there was a haughty confidence that whatever nature threw at us would be overcome by our brilliance. After all, we had sequenced the human genome, we had understood quantum mechanics and were on the very cusp of producing crafts that could travel at the speed of light. There was nothing that could mitigate the awesome power of the human mind.

But like all great tales from our past, pride had again become our downfall. Constantly looking outward, we sought to explore the cosmos, a right afforded to us by way of our divine intellect and silicone creations. And while we set our sights further away from the very ground where we stand, the great hunk of solidified carbon and element from which we evolved refused to be trampled by our insolence. It is from dust that we are created, and it is to dust that we shall return.

The first tremors had been felt in the fall of 2076. Seismic activity was no stranger to the South Pacific, though slightly harder to fully detect with much of the archipelago having been freshly submerged by rising tides. Many of the locals had been forced to migrate north further inland to avoid the more extreme weather variants. By the time we had a full grasp on what was upon us, it was far too late to react. For decades following the eruption, geologists and the remaining industrial leaders would pass blame and responsibility. The events of the next 40 years were unlike anything imaginable to those who stood on Earth that fateful day.

The staggering loss of life due to the eruption was near instant, but the lasting damage to the atmosphere was unfathomable. Millions of tons of ash and soot filled the sky, blocking out the sun and destroying much of the remaining biodiversity on the planet. Global temperatures spiked dramatically, melting what little remained of the ice caps, causing catastrophic floods that wiped out entire coastal cities. Then in a dramatic about face, temperatures soon shifted rapidly in the other direction, bringing about a deep freeze that rendered much of Earth’s surface completely uninhabitable.  

That any living creature could survive 40 years of calamitous events is a miracle in and of itself. The first nuclear bunkers were built during the mid-20th century as a response to the Mutually Assured Destruction guaranteed by a nuclear holocaust. As military advances continued throughout the 21st century, the wealthiest and most powerful among us had commissioned the building of underground cities capable of sustaining life for decades. Outfitted with state of the art medical and technological facilities, there was a kind of “ark” that would preserve the genetic material and data of our civilization so that we might survive an apocalyptic war. Few imagined that it would be the planet itself that struck first, but it was the existence of these subterranean cities that bought humanity the time it needed to regroup and plan for the future.

Geothermal powered data centers built by Danube Industries remained online, monitoring the surface while humanity huddled together underground, waiting for their moment to emerge. It would take 40 years before the atmosphere would stabilize and create the conditions to support a fledgling life on the surface. But even though we could once again “survive” above ground, there was little hope that humanity would again “thrive” given the damage to the soil and the uncertainty of what quakes beneath. The aftershocks had continued long after the great eruption, and the remaining scientific community was near certain that more eruptions were on the horizon. Humankind could not survive another half-century underground, with many of the resources depleted, it would mean that the future of civilization would likely be somewhere on the next frontier.

With the future of civilization on the line, what little remnants of society remained would need to act quickly. While the political order had crumbled, the gravity of the challenges had been the rallying cry we needed to forget about any past differences and work together toward saving what was left of a legacy and ensuring a prosperous future for humankind. There is a deep-rooted sense of irony in the fact that it is only in our darkest hours that we find the fortitude to work together toward a common goal. In many ways this is a defining attribute of the human species, when times are good we look for reasons to fight, and in moments of grave peril, we overcome all odds to work together in the hopes of our preservation.

The colonization of Mars had already begun, and offered a good chance to create refuge, but while the red planet could provide an atmosphere free from impending disaster, the Mars colony would only be a temporary solution while we wait for Earth to again become habitable. To most still living on the planet, there was little hope for salvation. Humankind was lost in the dark, collectively lost and in a state of limbo. Was this the new purpose of life, merely to survive? With each quake of the ground, something deep beneath our feet called to us….

With each striking blow of his pickaxe, Dr. Mirko Timberland could feel the kinetic energy pulsating through his body. An exasperated chuckle burst out from underneath his gasping breath as he thought about his ‘ancient’ body still able to keep up with the young archaeologists he had brought with him. While the laser drills sliced through the clay like butter, exposing long forgotten ruins, the hoary Timberland insisted on using his axe. He had spent his life dreaming of this moment, and the use of such an archaic tool allowed him to savor every moment. 

They stood in what was once called the Persian Gulf. The hot sun beat down on his skin as beads of sweat accumulated on his brows before dripping down his face and evaporating on the hot sand. It was surreal to think that he was standing near the center of a basin that had been covered in water since the retreat of the Holocene glaciers some 15,000 years before. Now again exposed by the return of the great ice sheets, lands once buried under the pressure of millions of liters of water were beneath his weary feet. The sea’s sudden retreat had unearthed unimaginable treasures long buried and forgotten.

As a student of archaeology, Dr. Timberland had spent much of his early academic life pondering our early archaeological discoveries. As a young boy, his upper-middle class status had afforded him many luxuries, the most valuable of which the freedom from stress. Mirko was raised to be what his mother called “a gentleman, and a scholar”. While his peers fell deeper into the cyber abyss, he wanted to explore the physical world, seeking answers to metaphysical and philosophical questions through the treasures of our past. Something deep within the Earth called to him, as if he marched to a rhythm of a lost art. While others spent their time in chat rooms, he would wander the empty corridors of our great museums. And while he was fascinated by artifacts from every epoch of human history, he felt most drawn to the ancient cuneiform tablets of Sumer. A culture of which humanity knew little, but yet who seemingly had boundless astrophysical understanding.

The tales and depictions of the Anunnaki were what first captured his young imagination. What little we understood of them was incredible, a group of human-like deities who were the offspring of An, the god of the sky, and Ki, the goddess of earth. Often depicted with them were models of our solar system and fantastic crafts and ships that to a person from the 21st century would have appeared to be a rocket or flying saucer. These depictions had been fodder for a wealth of conspiracy theories and revisionist origin stories that questioned the pedigree of humankind. Were the Anunnaki a race of aliens who had visited Earth and planted the very seeds of modern civilization? A delightfully curious thought to a young thinker, but something that would be impossible to prove. Still it was these early fascinations with the Anunnaki and ancient Mesopotamian cultures that would provide his guiding compass in life.

He knew his life’s purpose. He was to discover a deeper meaning buried on Earth. This feeling is seldom understood by those who have not felt it themselves, but it is the drive that has led to nearly every major discovery or artistic masterpiece that has changed the course of human history. Now a man late in his life, he had spent nearly half of his existence buried underground like many of these treasured artifacts. While many of his fellow academics who were fortunate enough to have survived the eruption spent much of their waking days focused on how to survive and rebuild, he was tormented by the unanswered questions that like he were buried beneath the surface. To a layman, these cultures appear to have been primitive, the origins of human culture that serves as the starting point for our linear progression. But what if human understanding and progress was not linear? What if humanity is simply ignorant to our past? How can we truly understand our future if we remain blind to the past?

George Orwell in his masterpiece 1984 wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Human “progress”, though perhaps not inherently linear, has often functioned so. The butterfly effect does not only apply to the physical realm, but can affect the theoretical as well. Our entire historical understanding is built on early theories and discoveries. These early discoveries serve as the building blocks for an entire civilization, and thus if it were true that these early theories were naively false, it would upend the entire understanding of our history and purpose.

At a moment when it was seemingly all hands on deck within the scientific community to search for solutions toward our predicament, he had demanded the permission to take a small group of young students out into the former Middle East and dig for treasures. His fantasies were not met with admiration as one could imagine. He was “chasing ghosts” or “wasting valuable resources” with his far fetched conspiracy theories. Just as to why Gerald Kronos took an interest in his expedition was a true mystery to him, but as fate would have it, to have such a benefactor could only mean that his hope for humanity remained.

After weeks of digging, they would unearth something truly remarkable. The moment he laid eyes on the relic, he felt a connection radiating from the carefully etched stone. It was as if he had seen it before, it was what called to him since he was a boy. What he could understand from the cuneiform writing was truly incredulous! There was the reference of the Anunnaki and a great period of calamity on Earth that would threaten the very existence of life on Earth. Detailed on the relic were a series of astrological coordinates and a reference to the future of mankind beyond the Leo II galaxy. The relic referenced a journey, the details of which were incomplete.

His eyes welled with tears of joy as he held the sacred stone. In a moment he had felt a confirmation of his purpose, that all of his years of sacrifice below the surface had not been in vain. Dr. Mirko Timberland, standing in the depths of a basin once at the bottom of the sea, was the first to lay his eyes on A New Hope for humanity.

Earth had shown to be a worthy adversary, for the wealthiest among us this was but an inconvenience. Gerald Kronos, undoubtedly the richest man to have ever lived, had spent his entire life building Danube Industries. His investments in biotech had led to the first insertion of nanotechnology in human cells and had been one of the main reasons we were on the cusp of eradicating disease. His foresight had been worshiped by those who remained, that he could have constructed vast underground cities outfit with enough resources to survive the past 50 years was somehow divine. In 2123 it was certain that he was the oldest living creature still on Earth, having cheated death hundreds of times. A man of his wealth and power was nearly invincible, so even when nature sent her worst, it was seen as an obstacle to be overcome and the cause for a new adventure.

As the last remaining brilliant minds all worked together to find a temporary solution for our survival, Kronos dreamed of something more grandiose. Let’s not forget that one does not become a man of such unfathomable wealth by thinking within the confines of what is “possible”. It was his personal wealth that built the underground cities, who had stored much of the data and genetic material from nearly every Earthly species. That is why it was often referred to as Kronos’ Ark. And yet while his godlike status had been a source of entertainment these past decades, he knew that in order to remain revered, he would need to offer those that remained hope. A path toward a better future for humanity and future generations. Indeed, we would colonize Mars, and we could live on temporary space stations or subaquatic structures while the Earth continued to heal, but this was an admission that humanity was to build a purgatory in which to survive until we can once again reclaim our Earth.

When he first heard about the relic, it was an intriguing prospect, but hardly anything to stake his reputation on. Dr. Timberland was ecstatic about such a discovery, but all too often men like him who dedicated their entire lives to a theory seek meaning and truth that will confirm their bias.

Dr. Timberland knew that his excitement would be met with ardent skepticism. His first thought was to bring his discovery to two old University colleagues, Dr. Tobias Brandt and Dr. Giselle Tyson. Brandt, a geologist, would be able to tell him what he needed to know about the stone. After running a series of tests, he had carbon dated much of the material and found that the relic was approximately 24000 years old. But perhaps even more remarkable was the existence of Moscovium, a chemical element which had been instrumental in our breakthrough in antigravitational engineering allowing for our first expeditions in interstellar travel. This was a mind boggling anomaly, as the mere “discovery” of element 115 had occurred just a century before. Dr. Tyson studied the astrophysical coordinates outlined on the tablet and it was stunning. The level of detail of each of the solar systems and planets referenced was beyond even our understanding. There could be no doubt that whoever recorded this information had a vast knowledge of the cosmos.

Their work was dismissed as fiction and academic heresy. Humanity is racing toward its inevitable demise, why would we listen to the fantastic stories of ancestors who lived in caves and carved pictures into walls? Nonsense it all was. That is, until Gerald Kronos calls. Kronos had amassed so much wealth and power over the past decades, that he didn’t know what to do with himself. What can a man who has everything do with his money? Build rocket ships. It was all hands on deck as the best and brightest minds assembled to mobilize toward Mars. Humanity was on the cusp of interstellar space travel, but to this point, large scale expeditions were yet to commence. Early probes had been launched, with the discovery of warp speed still in a theoretical phase, the risks of sending any human led explorations out into the cosmos without a specific destination in mind would almost certainly be a waste of valuable resources and technology. Suddenly this ancient discovery had given Kronos a potential destination, though far fetched, the more his private researchers investigated the map that had been deciphered by Timberland, Tyson and Brandt, the more bright the prospect appeared.

Humanity had nearly eliminated all that had once plagued us. We had found ways to rebuild organic tissue and make ourselves stronger. We could interface technology with our brains, unlocking unused corridors of our minds, making us smarter than anything imaginable. For those that could afford it, one could be immortal. But what good would that do if we had nowhere to live? For Kronos, the Mars colony was no exploit. It was a necessary venture, but hardly an adventure. Adventure is the only thing that can keep a man alive beyond his years. It’s the thirst for experience that keeps us alive. Yes, time was something he had bought himself, but no money in the world could buy patience. He would sooner launch with a team of space explorers and race toward the end of the galaxy than end up on Mars with the rest of the plebeians. For Kronos, this was as much about his own personal desire for experience than it was about the future of mankind.

And so it would be, a team of the finest thinkers and technology that money could buy would set sail on the great cosmic ocean in search of what lies beyond the Leo II Dwarf. It was only logical that their expedition would be named Anunnaki. As Earth continually dried up and her resources depleted, their prospective voyage became a beacon of hope for all of the rest of civilization. Kronos, Timberland, Tyson, Brandt and the rest of the exploratory team would make their media rounds, expressing hope for their expedition and how it could bode well for the future of mankind. They would remain in constant contact with ground control and the Mars colony, providing regular updates and relaying critical data for other exploratory commissions. Dr. Timberland took great pleasure from the fact that the Anunnaki were once again viewed as a kind of deities by humankind. Never could he have imagined such a proud moment.

On the morning of their departure, tens of thousands gathered at the launch facility. Those still hardwired into the system could watch from afar, cheering from home. For the last remnants of humanity, these voyagers were rockstars. People needed something to put their faith into. Hope can be a powerful tool for the human mind. It is what causes us to do incredible things. To persevere through even the most dire of circumstances. As the rockets soared in the air, the young boy followed with his gaze and his head perked up toward the sky. From this day forward his life would no longer be a culmination of random desultory games. The will to survive and come rushing back to him, his life again having purpose. To all of those brave souls remaining on Earth, the cosmic explorers were A New Hope for a better future…

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