The Red Layer

The 9th Planet         Ricky Dragoni

The 9th Planet
by Ricky Dragoni

The Red Layer

The problem with living a very long life is that sometimes you outlive things no living being should. We were able not only to master our planet, but also the few viable ones in the system.  The problem was that our star didn’t want to cooperate anymore.  Not even the greatest minds could figure out how to stop the explosion.  The star would super nova and there was nothing we could do about it.  

Escape being impossible, focus quickly changed to how to protect the planet.  I was a kid then, only 20,000 or so of your human years.  That is when it was built. It was made up of two electromagnetic layers and inside of them we captured some of the plasma from the collapsing star.  I vaguely remember the sky anymore, but what I do remember is that it was beautiful.  The nights had become incredibly short; the sun had grown so much its light was almost ever present.  The stars in the dark night’s sky disappeared and all we were left was with the giant, dark orange, ball in the sky.

The electromagnetic shield collected plasma from the plumes angrily exiting the star.  Once enough was collected they closed the other side, encapsulating the planet in a protective, but imprisoning layer of plasma. That was the day when the skies turned forever crimson and the Red Layer was born.  

It wasn’t long after when the star met its violent end, and with it, we were launched into space.  The Red Layer protected us, as the super nova explosion launched us blindly through the cosmos.  We spun not knowing where we had been hurdled to and it took many years before we were able to get our first bit of basic telemetry.  It took nearly 30,000 years but we finally latched on to another star and a new system, barely.

We flew near the star, the momentum of millennia propelling us forward almost pushing us out of the system.  By the time we reached the apex of our now orbit, it was truly a 50/50 chance if we would swing back into the system or keep endlessly wandering through the cosmos.  We had very basic information about the star and the spheres around it.  Scientists had been able to modify the Red Layer field enough to get some data, but it was beyond basic.  

We knew when we would be flying near the star and had an approximation of possible spheres which we might be able to inhabit.  It took another 20,000 years but we were able to configure a small, temporary opening in the Red Layer.  As we made our second pass around the star, and first orbit, we launched a squadron of scouts.  Their mission was finding a new, suitable home and start preparing it for our migration during the next orbit.  

That was the last time I saw my parents. They were part of the elder collective who volunteered for the dangerous mission.  The way they saw it, if they couldn’t find a new home for me and my generation we are all dead anyways. The risk, although enormous, was well justified.  After a tearful goodbye they assured me I would see them during the next orbit.  I remember the day as vividly as if it had just happened.   A squadron of pods were filled by over 2,000 elders, all of them leaving families behind.  Tears and cheers filled the air as each of them rode the magnetic launcher, were propelled into the sky and slipped through the small opening in the Red Layer.  I stood staring up into the red, chaotic sky, holding my uncles hand.  I believed what my parents told me but as life would have it, nothing really goes according to plan.  

Orbit after orbit we flew by the beautiful orange star but received no messages from the scouts.  Each time, we would send more out, until pretty soon we had sent half the population out to their probable deaths.  Each time more and more people volunteered, the hope in their hearts was larger than the fear in their minds.  Maybe that or they were just feeling claustrophobic.  I felt as such myself.  After over 200,000 years seeing nothing but the red storm of plasma above, I was sick of the Red Layer.  I knew every shade of crimson there was and yearned for anything else.  

With over half of the population gone, and without any births since we were ejected from our system, we were becoming a scarce bunch.  My uncle left during the 6th orbit since I was old enough to take care of myself by then.  Every time a mission came up and the telemetry started to arrive, I hoped to get a message from my parents.  But each time I heard nothing.

The urgency of the, already desperate, situation grew exponentially when we discovered our 10th orbit would be our last.  The apex of our trip along the system kept moving further and further away with each orbit.  The numbers had been crunched, the scientists verified and the news was given to everyone that we would be sling shot by the star, but this time we would keep going not only out of the system but out of the galaxy.

Every able bodied volunteered as a scout.  Some did for honest reasons; others saw it as their last chance to abandon the ship.  In my case, I would say it was a little bit of both.  Everyone had accepted my parents were dead, a huge ceremony and statue was built to commemorate those first scouts.  But deep in my heart, in my soul, I knew they were alive.  

The training was rigorous not only for the body but for the mind as well.  The government prepared us to handle any possible scenario we might encounter once we left the protection of the Red Layer.  It got pounded and drilled into our minds, until our bodies would respond even when our brains had shut down from exhaustion.  I had never been more exhilarated and tired in my life.  I passed with flying colors, time and time again; it was in my blood after all.  My efforts and continued performance earned me the right to the most promising of the sphere’s in the system.  It was the one my parents had been sent to, so I made sure I would have a chance to reunite with them.

As we trained the ships were modified for the unique mission.  In previous orbits we had launched the pods once we had entered the inner solar system.  No need for powerful engines for the momentum of the magnetic launcher gave the ships all the energy they needed to reach their destinations.  In contrast, this time we would launch once we made it past the outer asteroid field.  The planet would not reach the inner solar system until 15 years after the launch. The idea was that it would give us time to find where our new home was, and also to figure out a way to communicate with the planet.  

The stakes were as high as they got.  Either we found a new home, or every scout would perish and everyone left back on the planet would float into the nothingness of space, soon to meet their lonely deaths.

Next Chapter: Into Red Skies