Astrid in the Asteroids

The world was gone.

What was once a vibrant planet of life and fortune had been replaced with ninety three million miles of scattered rocks in a loop around the sun.

Do you know what it takes to kill a planet? There’s any number of ways to cause an extinction or two. Humans have been doing that for centuries, but the destruction of an actual planet?

There are any number of things that could lead to an extinction level event, so much so that scientists would commonly abbreviate it to simply an ELE. A meteor hit was a popular subject for a while, that being what took care of the dinosaurs.

People were terrified of climate change bringing on a new ice-age or razing the atmospheric shell from the planet leaving nothing but a burned arid wasteland. This was argued endlessly by environmentalists, scientists and special interests with each side getting angrier and angrier at the ignorance and lobbying of the opposition. Nothing was ever proved though because the world ended before anything could have been decided.

There were any number of ways that life could cease on the surface of the planet, but each of those would have left the world in tact, in whatever shape or temperature for another wave of life to come along.

What people were unprepared for was destruction from within. Something happened within the core, and what was once a liquid centre of molten rock suddenly cooled, solidified and started to break up. The effects on the surface were nearly instantaneous. Earthquakes and volcanoes started appearing and growing in magnitude.

For once, the scientific community worldwide was in agreement, and they had only one message to make everyone understand, that the earth was doomed, and it didn’t have long to live. The estimated varied, but not by much. Some declared that life would be untenable in twenty years, some in only ten, but stability would be virtually impossible in that time with the movement of the tectonic plates.

There was no such thing as a solution to this problem, it wasn’t like someone could journey into the centre of the earth (past all the dinosaurs) and re-ignite the core with nuclear bombs or any such thing.

Humanities only possibility for survival was escape. Running away to the moon, to mars, possibly further and humanity needed to make its mind up fast. There was even a scattered few that believed in the existence of a second earth on the far side of the sun, one that could sustain human life if we could get there.

That was the problem, getting there. It was a work of wonder how humanity could pull together in the face of global destruction, all global spending was channelled into lifting as many of the population of the planet as possible into space. Space agencies hot only had more money than they could spend, but all technical knowledge was focussed on the project. Military, education, healthcare, everything was put into the creation of ARK vessels to lift people into safety. Money no longer had meaning, and the curing of disease meant nothing if humanity couldn’t survive this apocalypse.

Metallurgy, propulsion, aerodynamics, power, all saw massive leaps forward as every bit of ingenuity and knowledge were focussed. Within five years we had the plans for ships that could make it out of the atmosphere, within six they were being built. Natural resources were squandered like never before, sometimes turning the skies black for months as they were built. What did the state of the planet matter once the project was done, there would be nothing left once catastrophe finally hit.

Any country could build one or as many as they felt they were able to, and there were two possible designs, colony ships built to go beyond the solar system and out into deeper space looking for a new earth, and smaller ships built to get to other planets within the system, primarily mars.

As time grew short, all boundaries were abandoned between nations as people hurried to the launch locations to add what they could to the building and the hopes of the world, but still after ten years humanity had the ability to lift barely twelve million people off the surface, and more than half of them would be cryogenically stored in hopes they would be revived at some later date.

With only twelve million tickets, it was necessary to announce a lottery. With a global population of over seven billion, it would only be possible to save one in every six hundred people. The rules were simple, to get a ticket you had to be able to get to a launch site, you had to be healthy and you couldn’t be over 50 years of age. If you could manage all three of those then you could get a ticket for the lottery. Then, barely a day before the launch, tickets would be drawn.

Winning tickets were stolen, sold for ridiculous amounts of money and fought over. They were given to more deserving people, and many gave their tickets to their children but no child under ten was allowed aboard without a parent or guardian who also had a winning ticket. Though riots were common, all but three of the ships launched on time, and of those three two launched the next day citing technical troubles, though the final truth was down to massive personnel changes at gunpoint. The final ship exploded on the launchpad two days after its launchdate with no explanation ever given, dooming the final five thousand that were due to escape on it.

More than half of the fuel was used up on the launching, so beyond that the ships were slow and steady on the way to their differing destinations. It would be a while for the first ships reached Mars, and the colony ships would be in view for decades to come.

Two of the ships decided that the moon would be a good new home, hoping that even with no earth around, the moon would be able to keep it’s orbit, and even if not then it would be a galactic adventure as the moon took on it’s own galactic adventure.

Only one ship went exploring for the alternative earth on the far side of the sun, hopeful that they were. Maybe they felt they would be lucky and find a way to coexist with the dinosaurs and dragons that would obviously be living there.

-

Astrid bounced out of bed. It was always easier to do such things when you didn’t have a schedule and you lived how you wanted to. It also helped if you lived in a mansion with as much room as you needed all to yourself. Loneliness wasn’t an issue for her, she had her job because she was a loner, able to deal with problems and come up with solutions without the need to be surrounded by other people.

Astrid wasn’t fond of other people, which was good because her nearest neighbour was a few thousand miles away as the dust span. Her mansion was larger than she could ever use, but she had the pick of asteroids to set up her home, and this place, large as it was, was mostly intact and needed very little maintenance to turn it from a house on a broken rock into her personal space station.

A gravity grid took no time at all, then throwing up a sealant net and deflectors over the top and she had a new place to live out here in the rocks, though it was a miracle so many of the windows survived. She looked out of her panorama windows over the asteroid field to watch the play of the light swimming through the rocks and dust out there in the world.

She could never figure out where in the world the mansion came from, it could have been Malibu or Dubai, even somewhere modern and European, the only clues she had was the abundance of Japanese art and books lying around, but with world culture being as it was in the final years, that could be anywhere on the planet. She hoped that the original architect might, wherever they were now, be happy to know that the house was still standing and even had someone living in it after the destruction of the earth.

Breakfast was an issue, this far out. Eggs were always an option, she had enough egg powder to live beyond the next apocalypse, she even got a fresh gallon drum of the stuff in every drop, but there was only so much reconstituted egg a human body could consume before shutting down on principle. A much better option was cereal, the only problem was which one. Breakfast cereal was never in the drop, but while scavenging she had found thousands of different boxes over time, and new ones were always in one hidey-hole or another. Milk and water were harder to find than cereal. She loaded herself with something sugar-frosted and headed out into the void.

Astrid was a professional scavenger, in as much as ‘professional’ meant anything anymore. She got into her rock-hopper and bounced from her homebase out into the endless miles of rock and dust. Bouncing from one asteroid to another meant she barely had to spend any fuel beyond life support in the pod, so she could afford the power to run a misc system full blast.

In space, it might be impossible to hear a scream, but if you were near enough you might catch a whiff of the Foo Fighters as she tore past.

She kept her own hours, not that time meant much out here. The clock everybody was used to was based on the rotation of the earth, and its orbit around the sun. Although the sun was still there, the earth hadn’t been for nearly three decades, but still clocks served a purpose, even if sometimes all they had to say was that Astrid had only been out for over 30 hours without a rest.

Astrid returned to the city she had found the day before yesterday. Giant structures of glass and concrete floating gently in the endless night, sometimes colliding with asteroids, sometimes connecting with each other, but always giving off impressive displays of fountains of glass when more of the windows shattered under the impacts. Without the effects of gravity, the sprays could be impressive.

A few flicks with the thrusters and she brought herself to a halt next to a large octagonal building still hanging onto an acre or two of ground. She could tell from the markings on the tarmac that it used to have a sizable car park once upon a time, and that seemed the obvious place to put down. Then into the personal suit and out into the sunlight.

When the survivors left the earth, they took with them everything they could carry. Every ship carried huge databanks full of as much of the collected worlds wisdom as they could. Some of them carried animals, but most had genetic samples of huge swathes of the animal and insect populations. A few ships were lucky enough to carry vegetation, but again the genetic codes for every plant life from fungi to ferns went with as many ships as could carry them.

That did leave a lot behind, and so Moonbase Armistice created the hoppers and sent people out to scavenge what they could from the new asteroid belt. Her instructions were vague and open-ended, to find what was useful and sent it back.

She found old food stashes, because nothing kept food better than the absolute zero of space, and nothing excited the folks back home than uncovering a stack of books. She was proud to have discovered numerous libraries, far too many books for her to pod so she called in the coordinates and had Armistice send a team out to gather everything they wanted.

What made her happiest was when she found discs. She had no use for the cases, so whenever she found a new collection of music or games or best of all films she could just strip out the discs and so far she considered she personally had possibly the best remaining collection of films the world has ever offered at over seventeen thousand discs so far.

She hadn’t watched more than a dozen or so of them, though the Wizard of Oz had lived through a few hundred screenings so far.

Cracking open the door, she threw in a flashflare to illuminate the inside. As she swung in through the doorway, she had to brush a few blobs of oil out of the air as her eyes got used to the gloom before the flare kicked in.

Down was that way, so she had to orient herself. It was obviously some sort of shopping centre, and the floor was tiled so she could use the traction footings. As they locked on, a brief red flash in the air above her gave her a second to close her eyes. The flashflare flared, and even with her eyes closed she could see the momentary brightness through her eyelids.

When she opened her eyes again, she found a palace of tools in front of her. Aisle after aisle of gardening supplies and tools, all floating in front of her, shovels and axes and rakes and everything you could even need to make your garden grow. A smile crept across her face as she pondered the uses. She knew where all of this would be useful and she needed to look for just one more thing to make it perfect.

It took her barely a minute swimming around the walls before she found it. Racks and racks of plastic sacks, hundreds of them untouched, and some even still encased in plastic on pallets wrapped in more plastic. Grow bags and compost. She touched a few, and they were as she expected, frozen solid and hard as concrete but possibly still worthwhile when they defrosted.

She felt a light tap on her helmet and turned herself quickly, the last thing she needed was an accidental brush with one of the floating blades of which there were many.

A face looked back at her.

She screamed and fell backwards, losing her grip on the racking for a second. The face was drained of life and the eyes were white and lifeless. She swore to herself as she looked up and saw the corpses. For some reason they had clustered up in the cavernous ceiling, but there were many of them, a couple of hundred at a guess.

They had presumably chosen to face the end here, though the logic that led them to that decision as the world disintegrated around them was beyond Astrid.

She opened the comms box at her hip and requested a link to the Moonbase.

“Armistice here. Connecting with Unit 2-11, what have you found Astrid?”

“I’ve found a garden centre. It seems to be intact with a shed-tonne of supplies. There’s even a tonne of compost and bags, all sealed up and ready for transport. I was thinking Mars colony could use them in their domes.”

“Sounds good, how much is there?”

“Far too much for me to pod with what I’ve got here, probably best if you send a team out with one of the larger cases to bag it all up.”

“OK, I’ll have one sent out in the next couple of days. Anything else to report?”

“Yeah, there’s some people here. A lot of them. Protocol one I should think. Can you send someone out to take care of them?”

“Oh. Do you know how many?”

“Again, too many for me to count, but I’d estimate a couple of hundred.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll make sure they get to where they need to be. You heading out?”

“The day’s just started for me, I’ll move on from here though.”

“Roger that. Armistice out.”

Astrid took a second. Finding bodies was never pleasant, and she knew she would never get used to it, but she was glad that they would be taken care of.

She nodded to the bodies and headed back out the way she came, though as she reached the door she gave a brief laugh as she noticed something new. Next to the checkouts was a rack of toys, and there she spotted something she could never resist.

A minute later she was back at the hopper stuffing all the soft toys into the storage bay and a couple of hours later she was at her favourite asteroid. She had discovered this hollow asteroid in the first few trips out that she had made. An almost perfect sphere with only one hole to its hollow middle, she was so used to manoeuvring into it that it was child’s play  to drift into the very middle and hit the eject button.

A rain of teddies, penguins and rabbits flopped out of the hold and joined their fellow plush menagerie. The volume had dropped by more than half since she started doing this, and it felt worthwhile, though she would have difficulty explaining why.

A giant rock easter egg filled with millions of soft toys just waiting to crack open and spread their soft huggable joy across the remains of the earth? How could that not be worthwhile.

Two stops and already she felt some good progress on the day. The only thing that could make this day better would be to find another landfill of America OnLine discs.

She had been stockpiling them for years now, just waiting for the day she could take them and nail them to an asteroid and make the biggest disco ball in history.

That would be a proud day.

  1. Big Bad Jon’s avatar

    Story 1. Astrid, Asteroid

    Anyone got any suggestions for B?

  2. Enjoyed reading that!

    Oh, and Billy, biscuit.

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