Per Ardua ad Astra
Chapter 1

January 1, 2070

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Qi Song, sat at his desk in his well-appointed office in Paris. Snow covered the ground, blanketing the buildings and the landscape in a mixture of greys and whites. He could still see the Seine river and the Eiffel Tower out the windows, though the top of the Tower was half-covered by the clouds.

He turned back to his desk, his back to the windows as he sat down. Qi, a man in his middle forties, his hair already going salt-and-pepper, was looking at his holographic appointment calendar, noting the one entry on his list. He was awaiting his Science Director, Janna Rudolf (doctorate obtained from the Technical University at Darmstadt). He mused that it was fortunate that he lived in an era when he could get routine treatments for his eyes to stave off the encroaching presbyopia that would otherwise inevitably mean glasses in times past to be able to see his reports without having to enlarge them unreasonably.

It was unusual for her to want to meet on a New Year's Day, but if the project she had in mind was as important as she had hinted it to be, this event would be well worth waking up early after the festivities of the previous night. He tapped the clear surface of his desk to dismiss the appointment calendar and relaxed in his chair as the tall blonde woman entered the room.

Her personality was somewhat quirky, and it was this, he thought regretfully, which had prevented her from getting along well with his other UN division heads.

Janna was strikingly attractive. She wore old-style glasses and affected the women's wear of the early twenty-first century. Today, she was taking off a long black coat and her hat, revealing her tied-back blonde hair and a grey suit jacket covering a crisp white shirt and her grey skirt. She came up to the chair near his desk, sat down, and crossed her legs, an expression of barely repressed excitement crossing her face as she held up a data chip.

Qi, for his part, liked wearing the relatively modern fashions of the seventies: the 2070s, that is. His outfit was a conservative dark blue one-piece jumpsuit and medium blue blazer jacket.

As was the custom at the UN offices, they spoke English, Janna having slightly greater familiarity with it due to growing up in Great Britain for some time. Qi had learned his over frequent exchange trips with India's universities, as well as his early school lessons.

"You look more refreshed than I do, Janna, and I'm pretty sure you had a few more drinks, too." Qi smiled and shifted to get more comfortable in his chair.

Janna blushed. "I cheated last night at the Heads' party. I took that new anti-alcohol supplement the North American R&D branch was testing."

Qi's eyebrows went up. "Really? I thought there were problems with it?"

She shook her head. "Not this one. It has a ridiculously complicated name I won't try to beat your brain with." She paused, then extended her hand in apology. "Um, not that I was saying you're stupid. But it works and doesn't make you get really sick."

Qi waved it off. "So what're you showing me?"

"Right!" Janna grinned and handed him the data chip. "If you'll let me project that, I'll start talking."

Qi inserted the data chip into the appropriate receptacle on his desk, then folded his hands and set his arms on his desk, waiting for Janna to go ahead. She stood and smoothly got to her feet. On her side of the desk, she looked for the first image, then tapped the desk to holo-project it.

"Europa?" Qi frowned. "I thought we couldn't ever go there."

"You're right. Um, we can't. Yet." A breath. "But there's something we might be able to use to get around it. Look, let me back up and kind of lead you to the final point. I need to make sure we're both on the same page."

Qi nodded.

"After we finally cracked the nuclear fusion problem, we started looking into space once more. We had reasons, ten billion of them by 2050, to do it." Janna added hurredly. "We're serious about it now; we've been sending multinational teams to the Moon and Mars. Knowing we could go to another planet or another place in our solar system – that we had the beginnings of successful colonies – has kept the world from letting conflicts flare up into wars as they did in the past. A safety valve."

"But the pace is still too slow," objected Qi. "My predecessor had the difficult task of steering negotiations among the major nations who would be selected to go and build the first colonies when we knew we could send human-crewed missions ten years ago. We don't have enough rockets – enough material – enough of anything – to make the Moon and Mars viable living spaces for humans for … maybe centuries, if that. The hope more than the reality is what drives our current international peace – that, and population growth finally hit the negatives a decade ago. We can breathe – but only just, Janna."

It was true. Every year, a favored few of Earth's citizens, chosen mainly by lottery, would be accepted into the training schools and taught how to survive on a ball of rock either several hundred thousand kilometers away, or millions of kilometers away. So many who wanted to go had to be weeded out because they proved unfit for one reason or another.

And there were always the conspiracy theorists, who insisted that the UN was selfishly putting a stranglehold on space travel for its own benefit.

But millions dreamed now. They dreamed of something better – even as humanity slowly began making paradise on Earth, so many itched to turn their labors to another place, expand the human reach to the solar system as a whole.

What would happen, Qi wondered, if that dream should be taken away? If Mars could never be terraformed? If the Moon proved unsuitable? The best plans to colonize Venus were dreams of crackpots.

And Jupiter? The immense magnetic field which surrounded the innermost moons (the ones most suited to colonization, unfortunately) would wreak havoc on computers and biological systems alike.

To go even farther into the solar system when they had barely gained a foothold on the two nearest practicable objects was sheerest folly. Europa, indeed!

He sighed. He looked up at his Science Director, who didn't seem anywhere close to somber. Her eyes were fixed on the image of Europa. She bit her lip, trying to repress her grin. "We have a way. We might have a way to speed up the terraforming."

Qi sat up. "The probe? It found something?!"

Janna grinned widely. "Believe it or not, yesterday morning. At two o'clock – A.M., that is. ESA headquarters got the raw data; the other international agencies are cross-checking it, but I'm all but convinced the preliminary results are solid."

Hermes, the space probe sent to Europa, was the second attempt to land one on a Galilean moon, The first, the Travail, had failed just moments before attempting to establish an orbit around Europa. It had been a bitter blow fifteen years before, and it had taken this long to get a second probe out, because researchers had subjected the components to repeated testing well beyond anything previously done, and because the money had dried up for a few years, resources being redirected into the colonization ventures which at least showed promise.

So for this probe to have not only landed, but sent back actual data—

Qi's hopes began to rise. He remembered the joyous, anxious moments as Hermes safely entered a braking orbit, slowly but surely touching down safely on the icy surface of Europa two weeks before – an early Christmas present to the world, he had thought. Since then researchers had been busy day and night, testing Hermes's capabilities and gathering data about this far-flung moon of Jupiter.

Could the speculations about possible life on Europa be true? Could it be more than just a curiosity for the exobiologists?

Janna continued, letting the weight of every word reverberate through the room. "I am all but certain, Qi, that we have found bacteria on Europa which we can use for terraforming on Mars."

Author Notes: As mentioned in the summary this is my attempt at a NaNo project. :) For those of you reading it fresh for the first time, this was to be my NaNo 2012 project but was never completed. This is my 'reboot' attempt for 2013!

This chapter: 1398 words, 48602 to go.