Behold Motherlode. The behemoth. The prodigal moon. The satellite with no sun. A craft of wonder and desperation. An ark heaved at the stars. Behold as she pulls through the gloom. A glittering sheath pulsing silently, billowing at her back. A faint sheen surrounds her, an electro-magnetic shield deflecting the trash of space, harnessing disparate hydrogen ions from the near-vacuous interstellar medium. These minor collisions providing Motherlode its most precious and sustainable energy source. The reactive mass. Behold the lustrous, glittering cape, feeding on the still-present radiation of the sun, even as it propels Motherlode through the celestial miasma.
Motherlode is immense. At 3,450 kilometers long, her circumference measures just under that of Earth’s old moon. At 6.93×108 km3, her volume is more than vast enough to sustain the generations of diasporic homo sapiens to come. The absorbent field that encompasses her protects the craft’s smooth outer surface, still flawless after the great distance traveled. Wall-high screens cover her bridge of burnished metal and transparent glass, all pointing to a raised platform at the fore, astride it the captain, Roan Oake, her second, Ben Cromartie, and behind them, their crew—a rota of engineers, pilots, and technicians. They who work tirelessly to track Motherlode’s accelerating course through the depths.
Captain Roan Oake. She of straight lines and flinty resolve and young, harsh features. Her deep-set and ancient eyes, twin blue beacons wearying under the strain of scores of sleepless nights. A stark contrast with her dark skin. The trapped monsoon within swirls in her gut as she plummets… as they all plummet, headfirst into the impossible. Headfirst into the slow death of hundreds of years and light years traveled. Headfirst into the knowing that their children, and grandchildren, would be born in their graves. Knowing that they themselves were buried there even now.
Captain Roan Oake and her crew, a queen and her hive, working in well-oiled tandem. Kept alert by necessity and by mandated doses of stim, Roan’s competent operatives monitor Motherlode’s multitude of functions: those reporting the hull’s integrity, the fluctuating accretion of hydrogen and the output of energy, Motherlode’s growing velocity as it creeps bit by bit toward c, lightspeed (an elusive siren that, while growing ever closer, would always dance just out of reach), those searching for potential obstacles (black holes, relativistic fields, asteroids and dead planets, the densely packed nebulae which might overwhelm the ship’s pervious forcefield, antimatter that would blink Motherlode and her inhabitants into dimensions and universes unknown) that could threaten the success of humanity’s attempt to promulgate among the heavens.
The astronomers pore over their charts, their calculations dancing across constellations, delineating confirmed exo-planets, and rumored planets outlined therein. They argue the merits and risks of each potential destination—listed by distance, by type of star, by the likelihood of a suitable match—pacing back and forth in a conference room adjacent the bridge.
“Will no one even consider 186f for a moment? It may a little further than other potential sites, at 500 light-years, but it’s the first, and most concretely confirmed Goldilocks planet…”
“GJ 682 is the obvious choice here. Only 16 light-years away, it could be reached in the next lifetime provided we maneuver through enough matter! Our children could set foot on solid ground!”
“Your hopes delude you, Brennon! We all know exos orbiting red dwarfs can’t be counted on…”
Their bickering is a dull cacophony to Roan when compared to the roaring needs of Motherlode, mankind’s ship, her ship. So much was unknown, so little guaranteed. Even now, they were further from their home, now merely dust and shadow and memory, than any man or woman had ever traveled before. Roan, even on the bridge surrounded by her grim yet capable crew, feels isolated fear creeping, hears her own doubts whispering.
You will fade. You will die. Alone and adrift in the cold.
Space, the formless dark, Roan shivers at the savage wasteland. She can feel her hands shaking, the breath choking from her as dread pours through her, tearing into her at a cellular level, crying out in anguish at the vacuum that encircles and dances around her charge, a species seeking to be reborn. When she closes her eyes, she can see herself floating through the void. Icy blood aspirating through crystalline skin. In her nightmares, in the brief flashes of dreams between blinks, she lives on suffering the absolute chill, her crackling bones, her eyes imploding in their sockets, choking on the vast nothingness. She lives on, and all she knows is pain, and yet it is nothing compared to the anguish of her failure. When she opens them again, she is back at her post. With dozens of lives, and countless bleak futures, weighing on her soul. She is back, Roan Oake of the Motherlode, mankind’s greatest triumph. Motherlode, a vessel of hope, a refuge from oblivion. Motherlode, the planetship sepulcher slithering through space.
Roan can sense it in her bones. Her trials, and the trials of her ship and of the men and women who might follow in her footsteps, were only just beginning. Who knows what man will become to survive? Who knows if what remains at the end will have been worth the saving?