Part One: Survival
The large vehicle moved swiftly over what had once been a road. Now, it was barely recognisable as such with its sporadic and deeply pitted surface. The dirt and earth were slowly enveloping the tarmac and soon it would finally disappear and decay until there was nothing left.
Inside was a man sat as a passenger while the vehicle drove itself and him to their destination, which was the entrance to one of many cities known as Harbourages that lay deep underground, shielded from the hostile and deadly surface that now encompassed the entire planet.
The state of the planet wasn't due to some cataclysm such as an asteroid strike or nuclear proliferation. It had been caused by the slow change of the climate. By the time they had discovered how to start to reverse the effects, it was already too late. The changes began to increase faster than they could adapt. They could only slow it down and delay it long enough to begin preparations for what was inevitable. The death of the surface and everything on it.
The planet's atmosphere was now closer to that of Venus than of Earth. If the passenger were to get out of the car he would cook to death in minutes. However, before that happened the pressure of the atmosphere would crush him. Once the oceans had started to evaporate into the atmosphere, the pressure had started to increase until almost nothing that was living could survive. By then humanity, or rather what was left of it, had already moved deep underground. Those that couldn't get into the protected cities deep beneath the surface simply died along with nearly every other species that dwelt on the surface.
The vehicle slowed as it approached the heavily reinforced structure. The large heavy doors slowly slid open and the vehicle drove inside onto an elevator platform. The large doors then slid shut and the platform began to slowly descend, a second heavy door sliding shut overhead, sealing the elevator shaft.
As the vehicle descended down, more heavy doors closed above. Each one acted as an airlock and with each lock, the pressure kept on decreasing until the vehicle reached the bottom. The final airlock opened and the car drove inside a large bay before parking next to a series of other near identical vehicles.
The car door opened with a hiss and a pop to reveal a dark-skinned man. As he stepped out he was greeted by a man of a much paler complexion. The two of them shook hands and the paler man spoke. "Willis, it's good to finally meet you in person."
Willis Washington nodded, stretching his legs. He had been on the road for just shy of a day and he was feeling rather sore. "Likewise Jackson. Been a long trip, mind if we go somewhere where I can rest and get something to eat?"
"Of course, it's a good distance from the Illinois Harbourage, so you must be exhausted," Jackson Hill accepted. "Welcome to the science district of the Michigan Harbourage. I was going to go straight into giving you the tour, but I think I'll show you the cafeteria instead since you want something to eat."
Willis rested his hand on his stomach. "I think I'd really appreciate that. Then we can get on with how your tests have been going."
"I can tell you now that they've been going fantastically," Jackson informed him. "I believe we're on the cusp of an actual breakthrough. The technology might actually be viable for more than storing vegetables and dried meat."
Willis smiled. "I look forward to seeing it."
"And I look forward to showing it to you."
Jackson led him out of the parking garage which had numerous vehicles outfitted with scientific equipment and into the corridor where they stopped briefly at a security checkpoint. They then continued on down the corridor then up a set of stairs.
They both stepped into the cafeteria which was sparsely populated. While most of the tables were free, there were a few groups of people clustered together.
Jackson gestured to an empty table. "Take a seat Willis, I'll go fetch the food."
"Thanks," Willis said as he sat himself down.
"Anything you want in particular?"
"I'm honestly not at all bothered. I'll eat most things as long as it's edible."
Jackson nodded with a smile. "I'll just grab two of the same."
"Sounds good," Willis agreed.
Jackson moved off to go get the food while Willis took a long look around the room. It looked a lot like the cafeteria in the Illinois science district, though the centre here was larger and had a facility that was dedicated to his particular speciality.
The other scientist returned with two plates and cutlery, placing one down in front of Willis, him taking the other. It was mostly slop, reconstituted food that was designed to not be particularly tasty or delicious, but more nutritional. There also wasn't a lot. Everybody now had a resource limit which they couldn't exceed. Food was factored into this as was water and clothing. Since going underground, life had changed objectively for the worse. With often tight corridors, artificial lighting and few open spaces, life these days often felt more like a prison sentence that would never end.
Willis couldn't really remember life before this. He had been born a scarce few years before they were finally forced underground. His parents had been another matter. They had seen the Earth die.
After taking a bite of his meal, Jackson began the small talk. "So, how's the family?"
Willis scooped up some of his own meal with his fork. "I'm thinking of moving here. My wife's unsure, but we don't have the facilities in Illinois. Right now I'm doing everything through you and your team over emails and conference calls."
"Which isn't that reliable," Jackson said. "Communications aren't what it used to be."
"No, they're not," Willis agreed. "We're on limited time. We need the environmental guys to figure out how to reverse what's happened."
Jackson slowly shook his head. "I'm not sure that's an option at this point."
"Then why bother with all of this?" Willis questioned gesturing at the room around them. "If we don't figure it out then we all die."
"We're all dead if we do. Even if we cool the planet, everything on the surface is gone."
"We have the genetic code of most creatures and plantlife stored in library arcs," Willis said. "We can remake the world given enough time."
Jackson was silent. He looked down at his meal for several moments before looking back up at Willis. "Listen, something's come up. There are people here with a plan to help humanity survive. It sounded a little crazy to me, but they might be onto something. I told them you were on your way so they stayed and waited as they wanted to speak with you too."
Willis leaned forwards. He was intrigued. "What plan is that?"
"I'll let them explain. First, though, you said you wanted to see the prototype pods, right?"
"Yes that's right," Willis confirmed.
"Once we're done here, that's what we'll do," Jackson told him.
The two of them, Willis and Jackson headed through the door into a large room. Along the walls lay the pods in all their glory.
Willis moved over to one and rested his hand on its cold steel surface. "Cryogenics," he said before turning to Jackson. "Actual cryogenics."
Jackson smiled. "We still have the issue with blood. We're going to have to remove it and replace it with something else or else the pod occupant will die when attempting to revive them."
"What's it been tested on?" Willis asked.
"Animals," Jackson replied. "Rodents mostly. We made a special cryopod to test them in. The issue as you know was the heavy congealing of the blood when attempting to thaw out. When we replaced the blood with a synthetic variant, then stored it, the revival process went nearly flawlessly. We swapped the synthetic blood back to real blood and the animal survived the process."
"How long was it on ice again?" Willis asked.
"One month. Our calculations say that one-hundred years is the upper limit. After that and cells will start to degrade and the occupant's chances of survival will drop dramatically."
Willis grinned. "It's no longer a pipe-dream Jackson. If we can freeze people for extended periods it could mean our survival. We keep the genetic diversity alive and use up fewer resources while we find a way to reverse what's been done."
Jackson waved his hand, indicating that he wanted Willis to follow. He did and the two of them stepped back out of the room.
Jackson turned to the other man. "I told you earlier about some people being here with a plan?"
Willis nodded. "Yes, I remember. I'm curious to know what it is."
"Follow me and I'll let them explain."
"Okay, lead the way."
Jackson led Willis further down the long corridor and up to a door. He pushed it open and the two of them stepped inside where they saw three others, two women and a man sat at a table.
One of the women stood up. "Willis Washington I take it?" she said offering a hand.
Willis walked up to her and shook it. "Yes, that's right."
"I'm Jennifer Shire," she said introducing herself. "I suppose Jackson has told you about the mission."
"Mission?" he asked, glancing at Jackson. "I heard about a plan, but not about any mission."
"It's quite a ways along," Jennifer began. "However, there is one issue and that is population. We need a large population to maintain genetic diversity but also for them to not use up too many resources. Cryogenics is the answer to that." She sat back down at the table, as did Willis and Jackson.
"So, what is this mission exactly?" Willis inquired.
"A ship," Jennifer told him. "A spaceship designed to be lived on for generations. Earth is lost, but perhaps we can find a new one."
Willis glanced at Jackson. He hadn't been lying when he said he might find the plan to be a little crazy. In fact this sounded more than crazy, it sounded downright fanciful.
"A ship?" Willis asked, not sure if he honestly believed it or not.
"Yes. We have solved issues that were impeding us such as gravity, or the lack thereof. We also can get people up into space quite easily due to this discovery."
Willis' head began to go through the possibilities. Finding a new world would offer a chance of survival if a way of reversing what had been done to Earth couldn't be found. But again, all this sounded fanciful. He wasn't sure he could believe it.
"I know this might be hard to believe, but it is quite real. The ship began construction before we were all finally forced underground. It is nearly complete and can house twenty-thousand, though we know that genetics will start to shrink before it can reach any destination, so we need another four-hundred-thousand, but in cryogenic storage."
Willis thought for a moment. "You can't keep people in cryogenic storage indefinitely," he told her. "Or else they'll die."
"We have discussed this part with Doctor Hill," she said gesturing to Jackson. "The plan is to rotate them. Twenty thousand will be out for ten years, then they will be put into storage for two hundred while another twenty thousand are thawed. We keep rotating the population like this until we reach our destination."
Willis nodded enthusiastically. "That would most definitely work. Unfortunately there's a problem. One hundred years is the upper limit."
Jennifer folded her arms. "An issue you will need to figure out. We're already well into the selection process. Once they have been informed in a few weeks, I expect it to have been rectified."
Willis folded his own arms, mirroring her. "Excuse me, no offence, but this isn't your project. The one hundred year issue might and probably is a biological issue, not an issue with the cryopods. We might not be able to rectify it. And you can't order us to do anything. Last time I checked you weren't my superior. I don't even know who you are."
Jennifer glared at him for a moment before she relaxed. She unfolded her arms and rested them on the table's smooth surface. "You're right it isn't. But we're talking about our survival. I talk to a lot of people and the general consensus is that the Earth is lost. We can't reverse it, it's too late, we don't have the tech."
"You say that as if it's certain," Willis said.
"It might as well be," she responded. "We don't have the means to do it and we might never have the means. I want to get as many people off this planet as I can. Originally it was only going to be twenty thousand, but the technology you're working on means we can save so many more."
"I understand," he said with a firm nod. "But, again, it might not be something we can rectify."
"If you don't figure out a solution we'll be forced to drop half of who we want to take. That's two-hundred-thousand people Mr Washington. Left here on this dead planet when they could have been saved."
Willis frowned at that. She was trying to guilt-trip him into fixing the problem. One that might not be fixable. "I'll give it my best shot," he told her and he would. If there was a way to extend the storage period and it would mean saving lives, then he would give it his all.
"I wish you luck," she said, standing up, the other two with her doing the same. "When we next speak in person it will hopefully be aboard the ship."
That took him by surprise. "What do you mean?" he questioned.
"We need people who understand how the cryogenic pods work. You and your family, as well as others on the cryogenics project, have been selected. If you want, we have facilities far better than the ones here. You could use those to find a way to perfect your cryogenic pods if you so wish."
Willis found himself speechless. He had been thinking over moving the family here to the Michigan Harbourage. Now he had the prospect of getting off of the planet to go in search of a new home. Now that he thought about it, it seemed like a ridiculous notion, but considering the state of the Earth, there wasn't really much choice.
Jennifer held out her hand. "It was a pleasure speaking with you, but there are others I need to speak with, so I really must be going."
Willis shook it. "The same. And I promise we'll try our best to figure out how to extend the period to two hundred years."
"I know you will," she said as she reached into her pocket. "One more thing. Take this." She handed him a thumb drive. "This has more information on it. Please keep this quiet."
Willis nodded. "I understand."
"Until we speak again," Jennifer said before she and the other two stepped out of the room leaving Willis and Jackson alone.
Jackson leant back in his chair with an amused expression. "Told you it was crazy."
"Maybe, maybe not," Willis replied. "No more or less out there than trying to reverse what's happened to the world. Or freezing people for two hundred years."
"It's to be seen whether anything over a hundred years is even viable."
Willis shrugged. "We'll see."
"One thing I will say is that them having better facilities is a real boon. I suggest that we take them up on that offer."
Willis shrugged again. "I really need to head home and talk to my wife about all of this," he said.
"You promised you'd spend two weeks here working with us in person."
"And I will," Willis told him. "But I think moving here is now off the books. If they really do have a better facility, then we need to use it. No offence about the setup you have here."
"No offence taken. Our energy limits are a huge burden and she was right. We don't have the space or the resources. You should hear the arguments I have with the governor. Always complaining about us using too much energy."
Willis glanced at the door. "Listen, I'll spend the week here seeing what we can do. Then I head home. First, though, we need to see what's on this thumb drive she gave us."
"Of course," Jackson agreed. "I have somewhere we can go and view it in private."
Willis followed Jackson out into the corridor. His thoughts were on what the woman had said. Could it be possible? Could they leave Earth on a generation ship and find a new home?
Maybe it wasn't possible that they would find a new Earth, but trying was better than waiting for the human race to die. That much was certain.