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Independence One called us asking if we can spare any food, said Robinson.
The commander looked up from his log with a pained look on his face. Several awkward seconds passed in the small, sparse, dark room that served as the commander's quarters as the two men faced each other in silence.
They asked us two days ago. They know we don't have enough and are on rations, the commander said. He returned to his log.
They are starving...
Yes, I know, the commander said without looking up. Tell them we regret we cannot spare any food and are worried about our own crew. Anything new on the Russian ship?
In the last communication, they said they had three more months of food and oxygen.
Thank you. That will be all.
That will be all.
Robinson looked down at the commander and was surprised to see tears streaming down the man's face. The hard decisions were getting to him and the man's hardshell, unemotional, stoic facade was slipping.
Good night, sir. Robinson quickly exited the quarters giving the commander his privacy. He decided not to tell anyone of the plight of the Independence One or the captain breaking down and crying. Things were bad enough and it would be bad for ship's morale.
As he slowly made his way to the control room, his tortured thoughts were interrupted by a child bumping and running past him. It was his son.
Brandon! I told you no running in the halls! he scolded. The child slowed to a jog and disappeared around the corner into the ship's greenhouse.
He's just a child stuck in a tin can. Where do you expect him to run? came the irritated voice behind him. Robinson turned to face his wife.
This is near the control room. This isn't a playground.
We're all stuck on this tin can, she said in disgust as she brushed by him. Suddenly she stopped and turned.
I'm sorry. Lookyou're the scientist and you have a role on this ship. What you don't realize is that I was a lawyer, and I had a life before we got crammed into this prison. Everyone else is like me. We're happy to be alive, but it's been two years in space. We're all stir crazy, and no one knows how long we are going to be stuck in this prison.
OK. Forget it.
She turned and walked into the ship's massive greenhouse.
Robinson sighed. He knew his bitter wife had a point. They had been stuck on this cramped spacecraft for two years and there was no end in sight. Everyone's nerves were on edge. The massive ship, named the Iowa, was a greenhouse-like geodesic dome originally designed for eight people and the long-term exploration of the moon's of Jupiter and Saturn. Because the Iowa contained plant life for food and oxygen, the ship could sustain human life and remain in orbit as long as the high volume of plant life could be maintained. When NASA gave the warning that life on Earth would come to an end in six months, the greenhouse spacecraft was expanded to enable 25 people to live in orbit around a dying earth. He and the commander's family had been selected due to skills necessary to the mission. A national lottery was done to choose the lucky ones to fill the remaining 19 spots. The ship's numbers were now down to 24 after a sudden suicide last week.
Nine months ago, communications from earth had ominously cut off. Everyone on earth was dead or dying and the Iowa was on it's own. There were two other ships that had left earth for a lonely exile in low orbit. The Russian ship, the Peter the Great, carried 15 people and a small greenhouse. The privately owned Independence One carried a billionaire and six family members. When the other ships exhausted their supplies, they would have to return to earth and attempt to survive on a dead world.
Robinson used the palm scanner to open the door of the ship's control room. The small room had space for only two people but controlled the entire ship. He sat down in front of the myriad of dials and switches on the ship's control board, but procrastinated contacting the Independence One. How does one deny starving people food? He looked out the side window at the earth below. It was once a beautiful blue-white world. Now the dead planet was covered with ugly dark clouds. He idly wondered if any people were still alive on the surface.
Robinson always thought it was ironic. For years, mankind had feared self-destruction from an insane nuclear war. However it was a natural disaster that had destroyed that planet. The seven mile wide asteroid that hit China dead-center was traveling at 30,000 mph and had a billion times the power of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. The impact ejected hot vaporized particles of rock into the atmosphere causing global firestorms. When the impact mega-fires were finally put out, it appeared that mankind might have a chance to survive. However the impact dust clouds and the injection of sulfuric-acid aerosols into the stratosphere blocked 40 percent of the sun's light. The decreased sunlight led to the global dying off of plant life, and with it, the dying off of planetary animal life. The big question now was how long would the dust clouds linger? Robinson had read scientific estimates that the dust clouds during extinction of the dinosaurs lasted a hundred to a thousand years.
Fidgeting with the communication equipment, he decided to put off radio contact with Independence One and complete his monthly cloud cover calculations. He turned and punched up the computer program. Every month he had dutifully done a computer analysis of the planet cloud cover and every month he was disappointed to record an increase in cloud cover. This month, as he finished his calculations, he received the shock of his life.
The cloud cover had dropped by 1 percent since last month! This was the first time he had calculated a decrease. He nervously double-checked the calculations. Then he triple-checked the calculations. The 1% figure stubbornly remained.
Robinson smiled. That meant that the cloud cover would drop to normal within 2 years. With shaking hands, he entered the projected Co2 levels into his computer climate model and estimated that Co2 would fall to normal levels within 10 years. The planet temperature would spike due to the increased Co2 and the Greenhouse effect, but would fall to normal levels within 15 years.
It was the turnaround sign they all had been hoping and praying for! Mother earth was slowly healing herself and would be able to sustain animal life in 10-15 years. The human race would survive and have a new dawn. He knew that he would live long enough to return home and walk on the new green fields and the lush forests of earth. Quickly turning around, he almost bumped into the commander as he entered the cramped control room.
If the Independence One can hang on for a month, the commander half-mumbled. The algae projections show we may be able to spare some algae...
The cloud cover is decreasing! blurted out Robinson. I inputted the climate trend into the model and the earth will support human life in 10 to 15 years,
10 to 15 years? I thought it would take a thousand years to return to normal.
No! We aren't going to be extinct and we aren't like the dinosaurs and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel! said Robinson.
There were several crazy seconds in the small control room as the two happy men did not know what to say and faced each other in silence. Then the commander flopped into the pilot chair. The heavy weight of the command decisions suddenly seemed a little lighter to the speechless man.
Robinson started to think about his family. Robinson now knew his son and the other children and their children would soon be able to start rebuilding civilization and reclaim the lost heritage of their home world. Bursting with excitement, he turned around and ran out of the control room and into the greenhouse to tell his wife and his son, or anyone else he could find, the newsthe rebirth of the earth had started and mankind had escaped the fate of the dinosaursfor now.
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