The news spread slowly. It was perhaps sooner discovered that destruction had been averted only because it never came. Those who had not committed suicide, been murdered, or fallen to illness or injury with no support infrastructure available, sat staring at the sky, waiting.
The day came, that day that was to be the last, and it passed. Then a new day came followed by yet then another. Humanity itself was a being torn by emotions of anticipation, terror, and a refusal to believe there was hope.
The internet had been shut down months earlier and most media had ceased as people simply stopped caring. For almost 6 months chaos ruled. There was no law, no rules, no hope. Anyone who should have been able to protect, guide, lead, to inspire hope, had left.
Thomas looked at the picture bound to the side of his console with rubber bands. A woman was holding a newborn in a hospital bed. His wife and son. He wondered what had become of them. Did they manage to make it?
The scientist, the world leaders, the rich, they all left. Thomas with them, because he was the best money could buy. A Navy pilot of 24 years graduated to space fleet commander. 25 massive ships capable of carrying 150,000 in total had left the earth. Built in secret, in space, by a combined military force that was truly a marvelous achievement of human unity.
He was in charge of leading an exodus of the grandest scale. Leading the most powerful, brilliant, and talented chosen to carry the legacy of the human race for a fate worst than the one that befell the dinosaurs was rapidly approaching.
The rock measured nearly 200 kilometers in width. An M-type composed of nickel-iron, not that it mattered as it was more than twice the size needed to destroy all life. It would likely return the Earth to its original state at birth. A molten lifeless mass.
Mara, Kyle… why did I leave he thought to himself. He knew the answer, duty. That idiotic concept drilled into him that was to be the most honorable of actions. What about his duty to Mara and Kyle? It almost seems stupid to question it when weighed against the survival of the entire human race. A woman and child versus every woman and child to come.
Mars would be the home of humanity. All history of our existence on Earth would be completely erased. Though we were nowhere near making it habitable yet, supplies for years in advance, life would be hard, if possible at all. It was about 3 hours after they began to decelerate on their 7-month-long journey that reports from other ships began to spread.
Coming from the cold depths of space and passing several strong gravitational fields on its way there had apparently pulled just enough on the mass to create a fracture.
Brittle fracture failure is sometimes seen on ships and massive structures as the metallic atomic structures line up and sheer themselves apart, but never was it thought to happen on something of this scale.
The massive rock split in two, remarkably almost in half. Having near-equal mass as they hit each other they sent themselves on different trajectories. Space, being quite big, is not forgiving when it comes to accuracy. These subtle changes were enough to prevent what was already something to have a probability so small it was negligible.
The response on the ships was of joy, elation, and pure happiness but, that quickly came to a halt.
The ships were designed for a one-way trip. There wasn’t enough fuel to return as there was never the thought there would be anything to return to. They were far past the halfway point where the thought of return would have at least been feasible. Cargo was limited and everything was carefully calculated to ensure the survival of the human race so things like return fuel, or any communication equipment to contact Earth were abandoned.
But hope remained.
Mara, Kyle, and Earth remained.
Thomas now leads another near-impossible feat. Getting everyone back home. The difficulty of the task was not one anyone took lightly, in the end, such a challenge was nothing for the combined effort of the smartest people of the time. Additionally, the passion and desire to return were more than enough to fuel the long hours of work ahead for them.
The ships had landed on Mars, needing the supplies to establish a means of refueling for the return. It was concluded that one ship would return with a skeleton crew in order to come back with the needed supplies to return the rest.
In only 8 months a ship was prepared and launched. With the plan in hand, it would take at most 2 years to return everyone home.
The dismal red planet, the cramped living quarters, the bland rations. The strict conditions made life no more than confinement to a red prison. This new life to come had been accepted initially since death was the only alternative, but the hope of returning home and memories of blue skies and vast oceans made the situation near unbearable.
4 months after launch, communication with the ship was established.
2 months later the ship contacted Earth.
The 15 min delays in communications made what was to come, a living nightmare.
“This is the Thomas Michelin Captain of rebound 1, we’ve established coms with Earth, but we have a situation.”
“Mars base Alpha, we read you, please elaborate”
“They are broadcasting a message… We’ve received a message from Earth, though it seems to be an automated looping broadcast. It says, Don’t come back”
“Rebound One, please repeat”
“Earth is telling us not to come back”
“Rebound One, we are contacting someone of higher authority, will you please bounce us through to a channel to communicate with whoever is sending that”
“Mars Alpha, the communication is one way, they are broadcasting but not receiving. Wait, we’re receiving some new information. What? How’s that even… Command, they have control of the nuclear weapon launch satellite system that was initially designed to deter the asteroid.”
“It’s been armed and set to destroy anything coming in!”
“Repeat rebound one, please clarify your situation.”
“We’ve confirmed that weapons are hot and… What! There is a launch! We have an incoming weapon!
Thoma’s initial reaction to the message from Earth was gut-wrenching and infuriating. Right up until launch he was in office mode, thinking by the book, following procedure, trusting the chain of command… but the launch of a nuclear weapon toward their ship changed everything. In space there are no evasive maneuvers, the laws of physics propel them directly into the path of the weapon. The weapon wouldn’t even need to be near them when it goes off to end them all.
In the final moment, Thomas lets go of “honor” “duty” and “sacrifice”. These three things drive a soldier to do almost anything for almost any cause for almost anyone. For that moment he was free, he ignored the commotion on the other end of the radio and stared at the blue orb. What we did, abandoning our people. my people, my Mara, my Kyle. This is the right thing. We deserve this. I deserve this. Fuck these assholes on Mar…
“Rebound one, status update. Rebound one, status update. Rebound one, status update…”
This went on for an hour… no one ever replied.
What happened in that com room was kept secret for only 42 minutes.
What happened on Mars after that was even scarier than what the Earth had gone through in the time leading up to… Hope.