Dalmas, John – Yngling 02 – Homecoming
Dalmas, John – Yngling 02 – Homecoming
Nikko Kumalo seldom saw the bridge on night watch, and its beauty affected her. It was “night” now by the ship’s chronometer and their own circadian rhythms, and all passageway lights were muted accordingly. The bridge itself was lit mainly by the cool luminescent characters on the black computer screen and dim blue night lights in the bulkheads, with an overall effect of soft velvet. Ram had cut off the unobtrusive wake tone that kept the bridge watch alert in the dimness, and it seemed to Nikko that to speak would break a spell.
On the viewscreen were two other lights, gibbous demi-discs bright and prominent against a backdrop of black space. Her eyes fixed on them and she knew what they were.
Ram spoke quietly. “You said to call you.”
“They’re beautiful, Ram, just beautiful.” Her husband Matthew, standing beside her, said nothing, just looked at Earth and its satellite. After more than seven centuries, men from New Home were looking at the planet from which their ancestors had come. Back in normal space after weeks in jump phase, they could measure her distance in millions of kilometers instead of parsecs.
He shivered. What would they find there? Something drastic had happened—must have happened—long ago to have ended without warning all traffic between the mother planet and her then still infant primary colony. Blue and white showed on the screen—there were still seas and clouds. Perhaps a virulent disease or transstellar conquerors were waiting for them, as the geophobes back home had feared. Right now, he thought, we know no more than when we raised ship, except that Earth is still here, still blue and white in space. Later today we’ll begin to find out other things.
So many generations had lived and died since his many-times removed great grandparents had left Earth that he hadn’t expected to feel this much emotion. Briefly in the muted darkness, all four stared at the viewscreen, Nikko and Matthew hand in hand, Ram and the computerman in their duty seats, seeing what men from New Home had seen only in their imaginations since the last ship from Earth had left it 780 New Home years before.
The culture of New Home was basically agrarian, and its people in general were calm and methodical. So planetary analyses waited until general duty hours to begin. The analyses were much the same as those made by the ancient charting ships—the Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. But this time they were not being made routinely, impersonally, of new and unknown planets. The subject was the mother planet, Earth. Spectral readings indicated a planetary temperature approximately two and a half Celsius degrees below twenty-first century levels. The absorption spectrum indicated no significant change in atmospheric C02, and a reduction in water vapor compatible with the temperature change. Albedo seemed high, suggesting greater than old-normal cloud cover, but the existing level was not outside the limits of twenty-first century variability.
What everyone was really waiting for were exploration flights within the atmosphere. It was the northern hemisphere spring—the computer said May 24 by the Gregorian calendar—and as the shadow of night moved out over the eastern Atlantic, the Phaeacia began a close survey pattern 900 kilometers above sea level. Carefully she scanned for the radiation signatures of cities. And found none.
Pinnace Alpha launched at ship’s midday and began scouting the sunlit Americas from within the troposphere. She sighted villages reminiscent of early American Indian villages, in openings seemingly cleared by fire. Baby ice sheets glistened whitely in Keewatin, the Ungava Peninsula, and the Canadian Rockies, and forests covered the eastern half of North America from the Gulf of Mexico to north of Lake Superior.
In 2100 A.D. there had been more than 1.47 billion people in the western hemisphere. Matthew Kumalo radioed that there would hardly be more than five or ten million now.
“Duty days” yielded in part to the dictates of the solar day on Earth. Low-level flights followed the sunrise into eastern Asia and across the Eurasian land mass; its ancient cities were rubble or less, many grown over with forests. There were no new cities;there were only pretechnology towns.