In the 23rd century, the children of Earth turned their attention to inhabiting a planet outside the solar system. Mars and Europa had long been inhabited (Europa only after the disappointment of finding no life in the oceans below its icy surface). Space stations were then established around Saturn and Uranus, with countless outposts throughout Gaia, the accepted name for a civilization that no longer revolved around Earth. But the Resilience was the first ship launched by anyone in Gaia to colonize a planet outside the clutch of Sol’s gravity.
It was a classic O’Neill cylinder – 4 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide, it rotated to produce the effect of Earth’s gravity along the inside. The interior surface boasted a full 42.195 meter marathon track in an oval stretching up and down the Ground Floor (GF), as its inhabitants came to call it. The track wound its way under two of the three cylinder-long agricultural platforms which rose above GF, equally spaced away from each other. This gave produce a lower gravity growth boost and divided GF into three full-g levels. The two full-g levels with the lengthwise strips of the marathon were the Port side and the Starboard side, even though they were only separated on one side by the one agricultural platform that lay outside the marathon track. The Center side full-g level opposite that agri-g level held either end of the track at the bow and stern of the ship.
The ship’s builder, Mohammad Yousif Rahman, was a secular visionary revered and despised by various factions throughout Gaia. Rahman had lived 175 years, a long life even by 22nd and 23rd century standards, long enough to conceive, design, and build the Resilience in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The coordination of the asteroid mining alone astonished observers in Gaia – the raw material arriving in a constant stream to feed monstrous decameter-wide factories which churned out the Resilience’s shell in concentric bands. The Resilience survived two major attacks from Rahman’s enemies, and countless other incidents and setbacks. But at last it was complete, and his most famous act, the one that cemented his legacy as a benefactor of Gaia, was to delay the launch window so that a contingent of 200 Martian elephants could join the crew. Some had been relatives of his chief engineer, Goodall Ondimba, true enough, but all were refugees of the most recent failure at terraforming the Martian landscape. “All of the children of Earth belong here,” he had said when announcing the delay. It took only three years to board the newest members of Resilience’s crew, but the next best launch time was a decade away. And even then he died before they could arrive to thank him in person, seven years before his magnificent ship would launch toward New Kepler.
Rahman’s funeral was a fitting tribute to the person: his coffin was brought aboard the Resilience and jettisoned into Sol as the ship pulled out of its slingshot maneuver around the star. Infinitesimal as it was, the momentum he gave his ship sped it on to New Kepler that much faster.
Three hundred forty-eight years later after Mohammed Yousif Rahman touched the face of Sol, the last transmission from Resilience returned to Gaia. Communicating over Gaia-wide distances was complicated enough. Information travelled at light speed, but it took light eight minutes to travel from Sol to Earth. The closest Jupiter ever got to Earth was almost 30 minutes by the speed of light. Messages between the two could take up to 45 minutes. Station Drogo orbiting Neptune took ten to eleven hours on average to speak to the home planet. Gaia had long ago learned to expedite information transmission by having ships or robots executing Doppler-adjustment maneuvers while transmitting. It helped messages arrive at virtual transmission speed no matter where you were in the system.
The Resilience had incorporated this in the messages it sent back to Gaia, using the launch of the transmission pod to execute needed course corrections. It could expect no response from Gaia, of course. But in a few decades, even those Gaia-bound messages took forever to be received. Content had quickly shrunk from news of the day to scientific experimental conclusions only within forty years of leaving Gaia behind. After a century and a half, Gaian scientists began to employ linguistic computers to ensure proper translations of the evolving language aboard the Resilience. After three centuries, those computers labored a couple of months before being sure of their exegesis.
In 2649 CE, Gaia received an update to several scientific inquiries and learned of new ones on the horizon. The next expected message did not arrive in 2672 CE. Disquiet led to fear in 2685 CE, the next missed transmission. The evidence of something of Resilience still on course could be seen from Gaia. Light from New Kepler’s star glinted off that smooth round surface before making the years-long trip to expectant telescopes. But the last of hope died out in 2700 CE. There was simply nothing to be known and nothing to be done. All Gaia agreed: the Resilience would never again attempt communication.