The world is cheering. Air parted by clapping hands and screams of joy. I stand in the middle of the field along with so many others and stare as Muse soars for the celestial heavens.
A handful curse the ascent. A preacher has materialised from the wood work and is running a sermon on heresy. She’s got a crowd and they cluster round her like iron filings caught in a magnets grasp. Anyone who turns their eyes to the sky would see this was mans pinnacle achievement. Disbelievers be damned.
The Muse vessel is pushed by a billowing snake of hydrogen surging the ship into the sky and through the atmosphere. It was as if mankind had awakened some elemental being, born from the baked earth but destined to transcend.
A local production company had erected a huge screen in the middle of the field. It shows the Chosen Ones. Sixteen hundred colonisers sitting in rows. Cheers and smiles can be made out through faceplates. Tears of happiness and fear. Some raise their hands treating it like the single biggest and most expensive roller coaster ride the world had ever seen. Which, of course, it is. And why not? They have a ticket into the history books, they are going to have statues erected in their honour in every country on earth.
The first colonisers.
Lucy clasps my hand. Her eyes are skyward, her face a mask of anxious hope. Her sister, Freiya, is a Chosen One. Her name had been chewed over by the Muse mission databanks and ejected at the lottery. She had the right “genetic qualifications”. No history of hereditary disease in the family, no psychiatric problems. Good blood. Her father a Ghanaian athlete, her mother a diplomat for the Australian government. Mixed. Strong. My wife could have be one of them but they didn’t allow more than one member of any family.
I can’t imagine watching Lucy being shot away from me. To experience the frightful nothingness of space and to start anew on Tierron whilst I died here on Earth.
Muse is in its final arch. I can’t make out the vessel from this far down so I watch the new image on the screen. A zoom shot of the outside of the vessel. Sun shattering against the external mounted solar panels, friction scorching the outer hull. A diamond in the blue sky. My wife squeezes harder, the breath catches in my throat and I feel tears stinging behind my eyes. A voice comes over the loudspeakers.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. The Muse Project has le-‘
Explosion. Highly volatile fuel burns white across miles of airspace as if a star has erupted into being within our atmosphere. Stunned silence. A hiss of static from the dead camera feeds. A thud in my finger. Broken. But the pain is distant, as if it had happened to someone else.
I turn to Lucy. Tears tumble down her cheeks. I can see the quick intake of breath fill her chest before she screams. The sound is pure agony. I move to hold her but she drops to her knees.
Above, debris shoots to all points of the compass.
The screen changes. A face. Everyone knows him. He’s crying. His voice is coarse with pain.
‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ People’s screams and pleas and sobs ebb away as they turn to the screen, wrenching their eyes from the flower of debris descending back to earth. Lucy doesn’t look. She stays on the floor and screams into the dust.
‘The Muse Project…has failed.’ A hush blankets the crowd, a few whimpers that sound like wounded animals. The preacher on the far side doesn’t miss a beat and fills the stunned silence with a screech of laughter. I glance over, someone is moving toward her, shoulders hunched. I don’t care. I don’t feel anything. I turn back to the screen.
‘It is with a heavy heart…that I tell you now that this project was humanity’s last hope at survival.’
A ripple of confusion, a few exchanged glances.
‘You were told this was to be the biggest colonial effort that mankind has ever attempted, the next big step as humanity reaches into the galaxy. You have been told a lie. The Muse Project was an arc mission. A mission to send survivors to Tierron. A last ditch attempt to save humanity’s future…away from earth.’
A woman screams. A man next to her plucks up a camping chair and hurls it at a bank of electrical equipment. Everyone ducks as gunshots fire out. Pockmarks pepper the crying man’s face. He keeps talking.
‘The Agriculture Initiative has failed. The last remaining stocks—‘
Another man kickd the generator and the screen goes blank. I wrap my arms around Lucy’s waist and pull her to her feet.
We run for the treeline.
The world is about to tear itself apart.