Sunday Serialisation – Back Paige. Chapter one, part one.

Back Paige


The crew of C-pill has successfully identified a planet where up to a third of the human population of an overcrowded Earth can potentially relocate.

Commander Paige Boyle must leave her post to take up a vital task on-planet. Supported by Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson and Commodore Ishmael Al-Kawazi on board the vessel, Paige’s job is to create a civilian structure, physical and political, based on the best humanity can achieve, a structure that must ultimately be scalable for a substantial human population.

How will she deal with what her colleagues learn from the past (and current) occupants of the planet? Will the new knowledge help them to settle – or unsettle them? What is this new knowledge? What are these new challenges? And who or what are the Xhwntradin and the Ringans?

Image credits: Doorway: (c) Can Stock Photo / WDGPhoto, Politician: (c) Can Stock Photo / yuliang11

His Majesty’s Deep Space Vessel Clive Pillmore (grudgingly renamed, at his insistence and following an extensive battle in the civil courts, after the founder and leader of Pillmore’s Pirates, the venture capital firm that funded the craft’s refit and operating costs) had been orbiting high above Earth-2 since the mass upload of data from the computer centre the archaeologists had uncovered on the planet. A team led by Dr Katja Tuukkanen was engaged in the analysis of the data.

Lieutenant Anusha Nambeesan, Head of Administration Services, had administrative responsibility for the group and requested a meeting at which the teams would present their preliminary findings. Project commanding officer Rear Admiral Andrea Smithson and ship’s captain Commodore Ishmael Al-Kawazi studied the report that would form the basis of the presentation and agreed that the meeting should go ahead, subject to certain specific information being held back.

In the days before the meeting, C-pill was abuzz with chatter. The data analysts were sworn to secrecy on pain of punishments that were not disclosed and the more terrifying for it. The small amount of information that had leaked out was non-specific and without value, but nonetheless gave rise to a level of speculation that was so high and its variety so great that everyone had a theory, but no-one really had any idea what to expect.

The meeting coincided with one of Admiral Meredith Winstanley’s routine visits to the ship, and she jumped at the opportunity to learn first-hand what had been discovered.

Including the senior staff and visiting dignitaries, more than fifty officers of the Royal Space Regiment were assembled in the conference room. There were no empty seats and standing space behind and around the table was at a premium. The room was abuzz with speculation and expectation but became silent as Andrea and her party entered.

Bidding as many as had places to be seated, Andrea opened the meeting with a background outline of the discovery of the planet and what had been found there. Once she had reached the point where the data discovered on the surface had been uploaded, she handed over to Dr Tuukkanen.

“What we have found in the datasets we obtained from what we’ve called the ‘London’ site,” she began, “is both surprising and disturbing.” She looked across to Andrea for approval, which she received by way of a nod. She then directed everyone to look at the screen nearest to them. For those who were standing, three large screens around the room replicated what was on all the smaller screens. “Let me be clear now; the charts you will see are built using raw data extracted from the files retrieved; no calculations, no extrapolations, no assumptions and no inferences. This first chart displays, over a time-period equivalent to a little under one century on Earth, relative fertility in the human-like population. The blue line shows average sperm count in males from puberty to late middle age; and the red line shows female fertility averaged over a wide range of measures. As you can see, they run pretty much in sync and, taking the start point as one hundred percent, fall by about ten percent each five years, reducing to one eighth of the start value at the end of the study period. The population curve on chart two is similar, although advances in geriatric medicine resulted in a remnant population surviving for fifty or sixty years longer than the earlier figures would predict. It was this remnant population that assembled and recorded the data we recovered.” Katja stopped for a drink of water. Farid Levrentiev raised his hand.

“Dr Tuukkanen,” he said, “is there any indication what caused this collapse of the reproductive rate?”

“Indeed there is, Mr Levrentiev. Chart three, which is on your screens now, shows the environmental concentration of what they’ve termed reprotoxic substances increasing over time. According to the data, many of these substances are so-called ‘forever chemicals’. They don’t break down either in the environment or in the human body. They just accumulate, doing more and more damage. That explains why, although the increase of these chemicals is linear, their effect follows a second-order curve. And because these compounds were used in a large number of everyday objects, their influence was global. No continent or country was spared.” Katja sipped at her water.

“I say,” Tarquin said, “If these chemical thingies upset the old reproduction applecart in humans, what about the animals. Didn’t we see rather a lot of them on the planet?”

“Thank you, Captain Stuart-Lane. The data indicate that forest, woodlands and plains animals were affected but that dense greenery absorbed much of this pollution, so they were spared the worst effects of it. As to marine life, although we don’t have the capability of scanning more than about fifty metres below the surface, we believe it safe to assume that deep-water marine creatures would also have been spared for a similar reason; although evidence shows that creatures of the shallows were not. The reports note that many species of flora were able to use something in this type of pollutant as a catalyst to aid photosynthesis, resulting in re-forestation in years rather than decades. Obviously, we’ve only looked at data from one small part of the planet, but aerial surveillance indicates that the entire land surface has reverted to its state prior to the rapid expansion of the human-like race.”

“What do we know about these chemicals? Are there any parallels on Earth?” Joop Wijnans asked.

Meredith Winstanley got to her feet. Most of the seated officers followed. “No, please,” she said, “resume your seats everyone. I have to tell you that recent studies on Earth have shown that we are potentially in the early stages of an identical problem. Sperm counts in some parts of the world are down by about forty percent in as many years and female fertility is tailing off at a similar rate. I propose to pass the data you have uncovered back to the relevant authorities in the hope that the same fate can be avoided at home.”

“I thought there were too many bally people on the planet. Doesn’t that mean that these chemicals will help the situation?” Tarquin said in a most undignified manner.

“That is an argument,” Meredith said, causing Tarquin to beam with pride and wobble his head from side to side, presumably because its weight was too great for him to hold steady, “but one that is without merit. Uncontrolled, this has the potential to depopulate the Earth completely; and before you say any more, Captain, current science knows of no method by which it can be controlled. The choice, as previous generations faced with carbon emissions, is either stop it or let it run rampant.” The wind having been knocked out of his sails, Tarquin slumped back into his chair.

“Thank you, Admiral,” Andrea said, rising to her feet, “Unless there are any more questions?” She looked around the room. No hands were raised. She pulled up the attendance screen and selected a number of those present. “Okay, people,” she said at last, “this meeting is adjourned. Those indicated please remain seated, otherwise we are dismissed. Thank you all.” The population of the room immediately fell from more than fifty to twelve.

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