Story: Landing on Tau Ceti b

TIMELINE

2034
Telescopes detect animal life on Tau Ceti b, a nearby extrasolar planet. Plans for an exploration mission are drawn up, but are soon abandoned because of the immense cost.

2080
An asteroid strikes the Atlantic Ocean, killing around 500 million in the subsequent natural disasters.
After rebuilding, Earth’s nations agree to prevent a possible extermination of humankind in the future. They decide to create a backup of the human species by starting a colony on Tau Ceti b.

2080-2129
Earth’s nations collaborate to construct a starship and develop new technologies such as hibernation and self-replicating machines.

2130
Building of the starship Exigence is complete. The Earth celebrates its space pioneers: 2100 of the best and brightest have been chosen. They board the ship and enter hibernation as they begin a century long journey.

2130-2238
To eliminate risks of natural or man-made disasters, Earth gradually develops a high surveillance society. The Solar system is intensely monitored as well as each individual’s thoughts and actions. The concept of labor loses its meaning as robots fulfil people’s needs so they can live a life of leisure.

2238
The Exigence reaches Tau Ceti b. However, news of its arrival is received with indifference on Earth. During the long voyage the mission has lost its relevance and Earth’s populations are immersed in virtual worlds. The pioneers realize that they are alone in facing the tasks ahead.

 

THE LANDING

The starship Exigence entered orbit around Tau Ceti b on the 15th of August, 2238. It had been underway for a century, carrying 2100 hibernating colonists from Earth. Upon arrival, the ship computer automatically deployed a number of satellites and began mapping the planet. Meanwhile, it woke up a select group of specialists from hibernation. To reduce the risk of a catastrophe caused by unknown dangers on the planet surface, an exploration mission would take place before the main landing operation. This mission was conducted with great caution. All landing vehicles were one-way capsules: Once on the ground, they could not get back in orbit.
The exploration mission consisted of 6 teams of scientists and security experts, numbering 60 in all. One by one, over the course of a month, the teams left the Exigence. Each team landed in a wingless vehicle which, upon landing, was converted into part housing, part aircraft. The teams set up base within 1000 km of each other. They used the 6 aircraft to investigate each zone. Their objectives were:

  • Evaluate natural resources on the proposed landing sites.
  • Examine soil, air and water for poisons.
  • Assess dangers posed by indigenous lifeforms from the microscopic level and up.
  • Prepare strategies for defending against threats in the environment.
  • Select final landing site for the main colony.

Once a suitable landing site had been found, the mothership would wake up the remaining 2040 colonists who would board 2 heavy drop ships and leave the Exigence vacated.
The expeditions revealed a diverse range of life forms. The scientists gathered a wealth of information and the heavily armed teams grew in confidence as they found that their weapons were more than adequate to deal with the planet’s predators. Threats from microorganisms proved manageable as well.
Eventually, the teams would agree on a suitable place for the landing of the remaining 2040 colonists and the first settlement. They compared their data gathered from all across the world, and chose a place which had benign weather, plenty of natural resources and land that was ideal for farming. It seemed like the perfect spot. The teams all met there and started preparing installations for the colony.
They signalled for the Exigence to wake up its passengers and start the landing procedure. But as the slightly dazed settlers walked towards the landers things started to go horribly wrong on the ground…

Catastrophe
Ward Conlan dragged his limping colleague to the skimmer. The two scientists inside kept the aircraft hovering slightly above the ground. As Conlan stumbled up the bay door another survivor joined them and threw himself inside. The skimmer climbed vertically and then headed north.
Through the window, Conlan saw the once beautiful seaside camp turned into complete chaos. A ferocious species swarmed the area, making  people, vehicles and buildings resemble beetles in an anthill. No more gunshots and explosions were heard; the battle was lost before it even started.
Towards the horizon he saw the local wildlife losing similar battles, with flocks of herbivores surrounded and overrun by the horrible swarm.
The aircraft accelerated away from the catastrophe while the passengers observed the damaged engine, knowing that eventually they would need to go down. Hopefully out of reach of the vicious species.
Conlan transmitted his last messages to the Exigence as the aircraft crash landed in the wilderness.

***********

On the mothership there was complete confusion. Thousands of people had been ready to disembark when Conlan sent his warning message and caused the mission to abort. Watching in horror at the live feed from the ground they had no way of helping the doomed exploration teams, because no small landers remained, only the 2 heavy dropships were left. What next? Now that they had been awakened from hibernation the ship’s life support could only sustain them for a short while. They could not be put back in hibernation either, they needed to leave the ship immediately!
The settlers decided to land on a continent on the opposite side of the planet. This continent showed no signs of the alien swarm that ravaged the other part of the planet. There were fewer natural resources and the climate was cooler, but these were minor drawbacks, to say the least. Since no preparations were made for them on the ground, they would need all their resources to set up their colony and it would take a long time before they could afford to search for Conlan and the other survivors.