An Homage To 1951 Movie “When Worlds Collide”
The astronomers first noticed the approaching star and its one planet on February 10, 2043. How this caught them by surprise was never explained to anyone’s satisfaction, because we were told that it would ruin our whole solar system within a year. I don’t know if the conspiracy theories about giving more lead time to important people to prepare, while leaving the unwashed masses at the mercy of a shattered earth, were true. I’m an agnostic on the various stories.
At the time I was working on the NASA mission to Mars which had been scheduled for 2025, but had been postponed many times because of subcontractor failures, overly optimistic schedules, bad management and politics. At least when the news of planetary destruction was delivered, we were getting close to ready for our original mission. Necessity intervened, and our new mission was to land on the invader planet, Rover as it was called. A highly placed group of physicists, chemists and astronomers had determined two things about Rover – it was a Goldilocks planet suitable for human life and it would not be destroyed as it and its sun wandered through the solar system. I was a propulsion guy and not fluent in any of the areas covered by the experts, but it seemed highly unlikely that everything would come to pass as predicted. It all seemed like a bad science fiction movie in which some Einstein has exactly the right solution. Even given my skepticism, I couldn’t just hope for the best and ignore the conventional wisdom.
Our change of project was supposed to be a secret, but somebody tattled. Within days of being given our new marching orders, Jason Wilkie sent out recruitment letters to everyone on what had been the Mars mission, and every other rocket scientist in the world. The letters mentioned a private enterprise space ship project, but everyone at Mars Mission could read between the lines. Wilkie was going to have his own ticket to ride to Rover.
Jason is the son of Mike Wilkie, the founder of Gold Software in Portland, Oregon. When Jason found that running the company after his father retired had bored him, he started his private rocket company outside of Bend, Oregon. He promised a profitable company eventually, but so far it had been a rich man’s plaything.
Maybe I’m biased, but I didn’t want to stick with the devil I knew. Sure, you can find a myriad examples of private enterprise screw-ups, but I didn’t think that they were ever as bad as government cluster humps. There were a couple of other things suggesting that I go with Mr. Wilkie. His company had a sterling track record, and everyone that I talked to said that his project was ahead of the Mars Mission. I jumped ship and headed for Bend.
When I got there I could see that his pitch had gotten some first rate personnel and the project was moving along on schedule. One of the real pleasures was working with the brilliant and beautiful Sapphire Hendrix. She was rumored to be a relative of Jimi, but she said no. She was my boss on obtaining the right fuel in the right amount. Other teams were recruiting the five hundred to take the flight and supplies for the short journey. Other scientists had determined that Rover had lower gravity and more oxygen, so if we had anything to be happy about it was that we would seem more athletic on Rover.
After working long hours, Sapphire and I had a few drinks and commiserated. I’m a born complainer and whined about my divorce and what I thought of as an unfair world. Finally after I wound down, she said a little about her abuse as a child and the difficulties of finding a guy anywhere near her level without him just wanting a quick hookup. We just looked at each other for awhile and without a word went to her room. After the hookup, I was hooked. It seemed so perfect that I looked for something wrong. Eventually I had the good sense to just accept that I was about the luckiest guy ever.
Our preparation proceeded apace, and we felt that we had a shot at getting to Rover and surviving. News from the former Mission to Mars was not as good. We gave a good faith effort at helping them, but it didn’t look likely for them.
Sapphire and I knew that we were going, but there was one surprise. At the last minute Jason said he was giving up his seat so Fred Halley from the construction crew could go. Fred said “Listen Mr. Wilkie, everyone here knows that you are far more valuable than me. Shut up and get on board.” I swear, there was not a dry eye to be seen.
I’m happy to say that when the day came, our trip to Rover was boringly smooth. The experience on Rover was both better and worse than expected. After we landed we saw buildings in the distance. As we got closer, there were signs saying “Foreigners Unwelcome Here – Aliens Will Be Deported.”
Deporting us would have to wait until we passed another habitable planet. In the meantime the Azari (people in their language) had us clean their houses, landscape their yards and haul their refuse.
Even for me it was hard to complain, and complaining is one of my best talents. Seven billion had died on earth, and we never found out about the Mission to Mars. Maybe they landed on an uninhabitable planet. Even with menial chores and substandard housing and food, life with Sapphire is sweet. The best part is that I’ve heard that we’ll be put on a planet where the primitive inhabitants will worship us as gods.
Banner Image: By NASA; ESA; G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch, University of California, Santa Cruz; R. Bouwens, Leiden University; and the HUDF09 Team [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons