The day had finally arrived. I looked at the culmination of three years of work and smiled. Out of the jumbled ruins of the ancient spaceport a small part of the archeological wonderland had come to life. It wasn’t much, just the control tower, a handful of small support buildings, the 12 kilometer long runway and the Heavy Vertical Landing pad, but they had represented the largest restoration projects in the last century.
Unlike some of the other large projects, this was going to be put to use, not just being used as a fancy museum showcasing humanities better day. A landing craft from the starship Intrepid would be using the runway.
Even though I was the world’s greatest expert on the ancient’s use of space, I knew very little about the starship program and even less about the last of the starships, the Intrepid. It had left Earth during the Great Collapse. Angry crowds had stormed every facility dealing with the starship within hours of it leaving orbit. How could hundreds of trillions be spent on this boondoggle as billions of people faced starvation? How could money be spent on going to the stars when the whole colony system was collapsing and people were returning to the overcrowded planet from cities spread throughout the solar system? The religious outrage over the genetic engineering was even louder than the fiscal, louder and far more violent. Every scrap of paper, every piece of equipment, and every storage array was destroyed, most vaporized.
I looked over at my assistant, Tharnty. Tharnty had the oversized chest of a Martian descendant. Someplace back in his family tree a member would have been able to survive up to ten minutes on the surface of the red planet, able to breathe the new thicker but still too thin atmosphere. Another team member must have had an ancestor from Ceres. I could see an ice-miner from Ganymede in another. Few have pure earthblood anymore, even though over 90% of returnees died within a decade. I know people ranging from under a meter tall to almost three. Before the collapse some humans did tower up to four meters. The variety of humanity had never been as great, and since many of “created” people could never return to Earth and so went extinct as supplies were cut off, humanity will never be as diverse again.
But the few words that have survived the destruction have said the genetic engineering for the crew of the starships was even more drastic than for the in-solar system colonies, particular the last few starships. The very last one, the Intrepid, had the biggest program with almost 50% of its budget on genetic engineering. It is an amazing thing to think about that building a ship that was half the size of Manhattan took less than half of the total budget. There must have been a massive amount of genetic work to make these colonists. The offspring of those colonials were called “Bears”. I imagined them as a hybrid of the radioactive resistant people from Mercury mixed with the cold, dry people of Pluto but no pictures exist.
Word came that the Intrepid had entered orbit. The ten kilometer starship had been visible by the naked eye for days.
Three years ago a message came in from deep space, the Intrepid was returning home. All of the world’s telescopes focused on the location. The huge plasma flare was easy to spot. Even with all of that power it only slowed the massive starship by a tiny amount. At its peak speed the ship had been traveling at over a third of the speed of light. The deceleration process had begun over a decade before they contacted us. The ship continued to slow until it was less than five million kilometers out. As it drifted in towards its home planet the ship made a second contact telling us when and where the landing craft would come down. We had been lucky in guessing that the large port in the southern California desert was the correct spot.
A few more days of lower energy maneuvering and the giant starship moved into a high orbit.
Another message from the starship, one that, as usual was in a synthetic voice using late 23rd century English. The landing craft was on its way.
We have only just begun to venture off of our planet again after almost a half a millennia. Since our first satellite entered orbit almost ninety years previously, we have not put as much mass off planet as was returning to the planet in this landing craft. Over 250 meters in length it created a tremendous wake as it tore through the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean. From my position in the tower I could see it when it was still many kilometers away.
The little spaceship that was bigger than our entire fleet came to a rest at the end of the runway, pivoted and slowly returned towards the tower. It was time for me to descend and meet these ancient astronauts from our distant past.
There was a hush as the door of the craft opened. I wondered what it would be like to finally meet one of these “Bears”.
Three creatures scurried down the platform onto the tarmac. They had four legs and four arms each. There was no nose or mouth, only a trumpet-like funnel.
Some of the references suddenly made sense. To face the harshest environment the genetic engineers used the Tardigrades, or Water bear, as the source of much of the DNA. No wonder there had been such outrage! These things were no longer human. I had seen references to them being able to stand the vacuum of space, of not being affected by high radiation, of being able to live with no water. Now I understood.
The creature in the lead stopped in front of me. It touched a box on its chest.
“It seems as if we have returned home just in time,” a synthetic voice said from the box. “We will need to restore order. We will begin to colonize this planet with our superior kind.”
Before I could respond, the Bears returned to their craft. We ran and only got to protected spot in time to not be vaporized as the craft departed.
The ship has been in orbit for nine days now. There has been no more communication with the Intrepid. We are waiting. All we can do is wait.