4000 years of known human domination had left the Earth unable to sustain life on its own. Pollution had destroyed the atmosphere, leaving the human population unable to survive exposure to its ultraviolet rays. This had started a technology race unlike any other in history. Scientist from all over the world united to save the planet. However, it was too late. Even if they could create another atmosphere, it would not be completed in time. Therefore, the human population decided it was time to leave.
New technology for terraforming other planets was completed in record time and 4000 gigantic colonization ships with enough room for over 1 000 000 people each were constructed, but there was not enough room for everyone. In the mid-3000s, the population had boomed, quickly growing to the size of 11 billion people. Of those 11 billion, only 4 billion made it off Earth. The remaining people on the planet tried to terraform it back to what it once was, but the attempt was not successfull. The Earth was dead. Those who had the resources and money constructed their own ships, following the others while the rest of the population was abandoned. They would soon die.
The ships scattered all over the Sol System, terraforming every planet except Mercury and Venus, since they were too close to the sun. Some ships even tried to head for the dwarf galaxy of Canis Major in hope of finding other planets to live on. Since no faster-than light engines existed yet, these ships had to cryogenically freeze their populations. Contact with these ships was lost two years after they parted ways with the rest of the fleet. No one knew why. 30 years after they left, Earth was devoid of life.
It is now 600 years since the exodus, and the galaxy is united under one government. The capitol of the Sol System is Saturn. Thanks to innovative technology, mankind is now able to go farther than ever, but the faster-than-light engine is still a long shot away. Ships that try to push the limit often report findings of floating wreckages of the colonial ships that tried to go to Canis Major, but no logs or messages were found on them. Although they have no real economic values, the historic values are through the roof. A man could earn a real fortune in towing in these large hulks and selling them to collectors and museums.
A dark planet, its surface obscured by the storm clouds floated in space right in from of him. Flashes of lightning were visible in the clouds all over the globe, indicating a global super storm underway. He could do nothing but stare, as the clouds started to swirl around, until a large hole in the cloud cover opened, but only darkness could be seen through it. Suddenly, the hole seemed to close, but it only compressed itself into a thin line splitting the clouds in two across the equatorial belt. Then, the planet opened. The whole planet split along the line like a gigantic mouth and he screamed as it sucked him in.
Zean Ejil woke up drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. His shoulder length black hair clung to his forehead as he stood up from the bed…And banged his head on the low ceiling. Muttering curses, he headed for the small bathroom in his cabin. The lights came on automatically and he walked over to the mirror, looked into it and cursed again. He really looked awful. His usual clear, blue eyes were a dull grey and had large, purple bags under them. His skin was as pale as the scar that ran halfway down his left cheek.
Another night without sleep, he thought as he stepped into the shower and refreshed himself. They had been bothering him for a while now, the dreams, and it caused him to loose so much sleep that it sometimes felt like he was actually sleepwalking rather than being awake. The water felt like liquid heaven as the cascading drops softly washed away sweat and grime from his body. He sighed deeply and reached for the shampoo.
He was just stepping out of the shower when the loud voice of Lex, his second-in-command, came on the P.A.
"Zean, come up to the bridge right now, you've got to see this!"
He dried himself off, put on a pair of blue pants, a white shirt and his leather coat with the wings of the Neptunian Eagle on the right side of his chest, a reminder of his days in the navy. He checked himself in the mirror one last time, took a deep breath, opened the door and stepped into the small hallway.
The Orion was by no means a large ship, the crew numbered merely seven, but it was a sturdy one, an old Neptunian equipment transport, refitted with magnets and powerful gripping arms to serve as a scrap-hauler. Zean walked down the hallway, looking at the shadowed corners, spying after the rats that Olly kept complaining about. His boots on the grated floor clanged and banged, sounding similar to the aural assault you would be under in a steel plant on Jupiter. He reached the ladder up to the second level, climbed it and walked into the cockpit. Lex and John, his navigator, were both there.
"What do we have?" Zean asked, hoping that this was not a false alarm. Like the last five.
Lex just pointed a finger out the front window. Zean followed the finger and gaped. There, in the middle of uncharted, untouched space floated a completely undamaged colonial cruiser, and an old one, at that. They were worth a fortune in a damaged state, but a complete one would be worth…
Before Zean could start calculating the exact value, Lex started fiddling with the Nav-computer and had the ship turn slightly to the left of the colonial ship and Zean had to gape again. Another ship and another one, and another one... All-in-all, ten undamaged, massive colonial ships just floated in a circle in the middle of space, connected by large wires.
"I told you had to see this." said Lex, grinning like a madwoman. Her pearly white teeth glittered in the weak light in the cockpit.
"Look, there has to a rational explanation to why the ships were just abandoned," said Zean loudly, refusing to believe an opportunity like this would just fall into their laps.
"Maybe they ran out of fuel?" suggested John.
"No, sensors indicate that the ship is undamaged, and the fuel tanks are full of something. Most likely fuel…hopefully," replied Lex.
"They don't appear to be emanating any kind of electronic signals at all. No network, no sensors, nothing," said Roger, communications and radar specialist and self-proclaimed ladies-man extraordinaire. "It's like the whole thing's been stripped."
"Isn't that normal procedure?" asked Lex and looked at Zean, who was the most experienced with these things.
"It is now, but not at the time these were abandoned, I think. What date was stated again?"
"Around forty thirty-one A.D." replied Roger.
Zean shook his head. "Don't know anything about ship procedures at that time, sorry. Anyway, I think we should send someone over there to check things out, get a certain idea of what we can sell or not."
"Shouldn't we tell someone about this? I mean, it's not like we can haul all these hulks back home ourselves," said Roger.
Zean gave him a look. "Just for that, you're volunteering for space-duty," he said. "This is our big break," he said, excited. "If we can manage to get these ships home, we'll be richer than…well, richer than anyone else!"
While none of them really believed that they would be richer than anyone else, they could still calculate a nice, healthy sum for each of them, and even though they had to split it between seven people, the money involved could really help them along down the road of life, which was filled with potholes.
"But we can't let anyone know about this. If we reveal this to anyone, even the museums or collectors, other haulers will be on them like flies on rotten meat."
Lex made a grimace at the metaphor, knowing that Zean didn't really have a way with words. Judging by the expressions on Roger and John's faces, they thought the same.
Lex, Zean and John were sitting in the cockpit, staring out the window at the lights that moved along the windows of the colonial ships, anxiously awaiting any news. The four "lucky" ones who had been drafted into space duty had moved systematically from ship to ship, checking them from top to bottom, a lengthy process. They were now entering the ship known as The Pride.
"Hey Zean," crackled the COM link, "Roger here, I think this one was left in a hurry, most of the equipment is still here."
Zean perked up. Here was a chance to solve an age-old mystery.
"Is the black box still there?" he asked.
"I don't know. Ask S'Kar, he's the one on the bridge."
Zean nodded to John, who pressed a few buttons on the screen that showed what the small cameras on the space suits were recording. The view switched from Roger's suit to S'Kar's, the youngest member of Zean's crew. The camera was showing The Pride's bridge, filled with advanced and complex – for that time – computers and navigational equipment and countless other controls.
"S'Kar, do you read me?" asked Zean.
"Loud and clear, captain," replied the youthful voice.
"I want you to look for the black box. It should look like a big square with a small lens. And it should be white," he added helpfully. Lex and John were staring at him. He shrugged. "What? I don't know how the things looked like before," he said and patted their own black box, a small oval sitting on the top of one of the computers.
"Looking for it now," said S'Kar and started slowly moving the camera first in one direction, and then another.
The video feed pointed around the bridge of The Pride until it fixed itself on a small console next to the Nav-computer.
"Bingo!" shouted S'Kar, excited.
The three people on the bridge erupted into cheers along with the rest of the crew on The Pride. A black box had never been found on the colonial ships before; maybe the discovery would help solve the mystery of what happened to them.
To be continued...
Well, there you go, the first chapter of Kane's Field. Please read and review!