The Children

A boot marches through thick red dust, leaving imprints as it slowly moves forward. An astronaut on a far away rock. He is an explorer; the first of a human colony on this planet. After a year on the barren surface establishing their base, his team had picked up readings of a structure far below. They had broken through the layers of rock and dust and found something deep in the planet's core. It was an underground bunker, preserved through the ages. Today was the day he would enter the structure and unlock its mystery. How is an advanced bunker here, on a planet unable to support life?

He trembled walking in, knowing he was the first living being inside the bunker since its inhabitants died thousands of years before. Maybe tens of thousands. He explored the bunker, slowly, carefully. It was enormous, much larger than the scanners indicated. He walked methodically room to room, hall to hall. It could have housed hundreds, and was set up to shelter them for years. However, there was not much left now. His flashlight scanned. On a counter sat a lone box. It was the only item in the room. He examined the surrounding area and moved cautiously towards the box. Clearing the red dust off, he pushed the lid open. Sealed inside was a device. A computer storage device? Here? It was preserved and kept safe, as if its creator knew this was the only key that would be left. The only key that would unlock this place, these people. He put the drive into his handheld. Miraculously, his device was able to interface with the drive and found a video recording. He hit play and a strangely familiar voice and image appeared...

Begin Communication:

“Final Journal Entry

Chief Scientist

Northern Alliance

Quadterra

Hope is fading. Our supplies are dwindling and our last contact with the colony means we have failed. If someone finds this archive you will see the history of our people and understand the fall of our civilization and the rise of another. It began nearly a century ago.

Our planet was dying. We denied it for a long time. It took too long to make everyone understand the truth, but in the end it didn't matter. There was little we could do to stop our apocalypse. We had known for generations that our civilization would die out, that this planet could not be saved. We were not sure why the planet was losing heat, we were not sure why the oxygen levels in the air were dropping. Had we dug too deep? Had we polluted the environment? We tried everything we could to save our home. We tried to warm our planet with carbon capture, hoping to keep the water flowing. We tried to bioengineer sustainable oxygen levels in our atmosphere. Without truly knowing what was wrong, we had no real hope of fixing it. Nothing we did worked.

So forty years ago I changed our course. Our home couldn't be saved and we had to accept that. The only hope we had was in finding a new one. A new planet that could sustain our civilization, preserve our way of life. That planet was so close. We could see it every night in a sea of stars, a small blue dot, so near but so very painfully far away. So I galvanized our resources to prepare for interplanetary travel. It had never been done before, we had only recently put satellites in orbit, only recently broken the sound barrier. But what choice did we have?

Twenty years ago we succeeded. Seven ships were launched. It was all we could build, all the fuel we could make. 7,000 men, women and children were aboard those ships. Less than one tenth of one percent of our people but enough to ensure a continuation of our race. The selection process was difficult. We had to choose based on biodiversity, intelligence, health, and family size. We needed to make sure there were enough children and adults of childbearing age. Enough to establish a colony, enough to survive.

One ship broke apart at launch. Another was compromised upon leaving the atmosphere.

As the five remaining took the year long trip, our planet's deterioration accelerated. Temperatures were falling, water was less and less accessible. Billions would die. The seat of government of our planet had to retreat below the surface, to these bunkers. Here, underground on our planet, a few hundred of us could sustain for a few more decades. Time to archive our civilization. Time to serve as silent guardians as the surface withered and died. Time to watch as the rest of our people dealt with annihilation as best as they could. But most importantly, time to help establish the colony. From this underground tomb we would give birth to a new world, far, far away.

We were in constant communication with our ships, with our only hope. The about 19 years ago they began their descent into their new home. Horrifically, as we watched, two crashed onto the Blue Planet and were totally destroyed, no survivors. However, the last three made it. They landed and our greatest achievement as a people was complete. Our civilization would live on.

Approximately 3,000 had completed the journey. The surviving population, here on Quadterra, rejoiced. Billions of people in their death throes, barely surviving the red dust and the cold, they clung to this last hope. The explorers made it to the Blue Planet.

Our best and brightest were there. They would use our technology and knowledge to establish our colony. From this bunker, we were coordinating their first days.

However, by the third day, we realized something was terribly wrong.

Our explorers on the Blue Planet were getting sick. Very sick, very quickly. We understood there were microbes on this far away rock that our people may not be able to tolerate. We prepared our them as best we could, but how can one prepare for that? The leaders of the colony were falling to the illness. One by one they were dying, there was nothing we could do. Nothing anyone could do.

We sat in our bunker and bore witness to the deaths of our people, both here and far away. Powerless to save any of them.

While the adults lay dying, the children were actually surviving. The younger they were, the less likely they were to become ill. We couldn't understand what was happening and it was happening fast. Each day the leadership of the colony was passing to someone younger and younger. By Day 10 no one older than 7 was alive. By Day 15 no one older than 5.

Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped.

I have no explanation for what happened. Maybe their immune systems were more adaptable? Maybe one child actually had the right antibodies and passed to the others? What I do know is, when the dying had stopped, there was no one older than 3 still alive.

They could barely talk and work the communication link. We tried to soothe them, we tried to guide them to use our tools, to use the technology designed to ensure their survival. But it wasn't working. They were just too young.

Communication from the colony ceased the next day. We would ping the system, scan the area, but the children were gone. Every day we would use the solar powered system and on some days we would see them, off in the distance. Crawling, walking, staying away from our machines.

Everyday for nearly twenty years we would scan the area. Every day hoping to find some trace of them. Every day for twenty years. We knew that they had all most likely died. How could infants and toddlers survive in a harsh wilderness on their own?

Then, yesterday, it happened, our final contact. Someone had walked by the communication link, triggering the motion sensors. The image sprang to life. It was clearly one of our people, but he looked more animal than man. He stared at the screen confused. He had a crude weapon, a club of sorts. I tried to talk to him, but the sound of my voice startled him. He jumped back, so very afraid. There were others there too. Naked, filthy, grunting to each other, with crude weapons but clearly these were our children. I spoke again, as the data scanner confirmed his name and identity. I nearly fainted when the computer confirmed what I knew in my heart. I called to him, "Magnus, your name is Magnus. You are my son". He looked at the screen, looked at my face, quizzically. He tilted his head, I think recognition in his eyes. Then he let out a primal scream, his weapon came flashing down and the communication link was destroyed.

They had survived. These children, our children had survived. Life had found a way through. But they had reverted to a primal form, devoid of any traces of our collective knowledge, of our advancements as a society. The scanners read nearly 100 of them, including small children. They had already started to procreate. They may not be ours in anything but genetic code, but they had survived.

However, we here on Quadterra will not. As our supplies run low and without any purpose left, our people on the surface long dead, and the red dust erasing any trace of our civilization, our colony on the Blue Planet failed, we have decided to speed up the inevitable. Tonight we will terminate our lives and all that remains of our way race on this planet.

Take these files and learn of our people and our civilization. We achieved so much as a society and this is all we have left.

Who knows, maybe those primal children on the Blue Planet will evolve back into an intelligent life form and make their own journey through the stars to find us here. Unlikely, I know, but it is a dying man, and a dying planet’s, final hope.”

End Communication.

The masked astronaut sat quietly for a while too stunned to speak, to move. As he gathered his strength he stood and began his journey back to the outpost. He arrived at the surface an hour later. His spacesuit covered in red dust. He wiped the dust from his suit, showing the flag of the United Nations proudly on his sleeves. Up in the sky he could faintly see the blue dot among the stars. He slowly walked back to mankind's first outpost on Mars.

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