Two years after Starfall, the community that would become Newer York experienced a rebellion that led to the the death of their last Rebbe, and the exile of thirty-one of the rebels. This story explores their side of events, on the day they began their exile.
The landing shuttle was new. Brand new. It was the first one they had built, from plans drawn up centuries before, and it had just completed its shakedown tests. The thirty-one passengers and eight crew--two pilots an engineer, and a rotation of security staff--were all justifiably nervous, though. Other than the pilots, who had also been on the shakedown runs, none of them--indeed, no one they knew--had ever landed on a planet, before. None of them had experienced real gravity before. They had all been training for it, in gravity simulators and so on, but this was going to be the real thing.
The passengers were apprehensive for an additional reason, of course, which was that for them, this was a one-way trip. This was exile, punishment for an opposition that had turned into violent rebellion. It had not been their intention when they'd begun it, but it was what happened, and there was simply not twisting away from the consequences.
The irony, of course, was that their sentence was also what they'd wanted in the first place. When the decision had been made to not make planetfall, but to instead build out an orbital infrastructure first, with planetfall to come much later, theirs had been the loudest voices for the opposite viewpoint.
Yes, it was true, Fourth, or Revi'i, depending on your preferred language, was not the human-habitable world they had hoped to find. It boasted most of what they had been looking for--a gravity of about 0.9G, liquid water, a nice range of temperatures, comprehensible weather patterns, a natural magnetosphere. There was vegetation and possibly insect life, although no evidence of anything much bigger, and the jury was out as to whether any of it would prove edible by humans.
The real problem was the atmosphere. There was simply too much hydrogen sulfide in it. The boffins were fairly certain it wouldn't kill a person outright to breathe the air without a filter, or to go about in it without a suit, but it wouldn't take greatly prolonged exposure to be fatal, either.
Even so, the pro-landing activists, like Richard Silver, had pressed their case. For Silver, who had the distinction of being both a chemist, and a rabbi of the Outbound Chabad, it was both a scientific challenge and a kind of religious imperative. The First Rebbe had led the community aboard Dream of Spring with a prophecy of a new home here. This was it. G-d Herself had led them here--not just to the system, but to the planet, to make it their own.
The current Rebbe--the chief rabbi of their community--and the Admiral, had disagreed, and a referendum of the ship had confirmed their judgement by a wide margin. The system, they said, would still be their new home, for certain. But they would build that home out in the asteroids, and eventually in orbit around the many planets and moons in the system. Eventually, that would include Fourth, and exploitation of Fourth's resources would certainly entail landing and possibly settlement.
Silver had not accepted the result of the plebiscite, even when the Rebbe endorsed it. Unable to give up the dream of living on solid ground, he and his followers--the survivors of whom now sat with him in the shaking shuttle as it hit atmopshere--had seized Dream of Spring's engineering section, intending to "enforce G-d's intentions for Her community" upon that community.
In the moment, it had seemed absolutely the right thing to do. His wife, Anna, was especially keen that they should act according to his vision. She was possibly more fanatical than he, a fact he saw for himself only in hindsight. She sat across from him in the shuttle, now, eyes burning with a mix of zeal and outrage for the mark of Cain upon her forehead. All of them had committed acts of violence during their brief uprising--the first real violence the ship had known since its launch, 250 subjective years ago.
But Anna's hand had been on the knife that had pierced the Rebbe's heart.
So now, they had what they said they wanted. They were landing on Fourth, with an abundance of supplies to construct a shelter, set up hydroponics, begin experimenting to see if the planet would otherwise support human life, despite the tainted atmosphere. The Admiral had even pledged regular supply drops, including equipment or designs for equipment as needed.
At their sentencing, which the Admiral had presided over as a court-martial, she had said, "You people committed acts of violence and murder to enforce your will upon the community. There's a part of me that really, really wants to space you all for that. But I am persuaded that the Rebbe would never have forgiven me if I did so. More, I am persuaded that the Rebbe would have forgiven you for your actions, even though it cost him his life. This, then, is the measure of our forgiveness:
"You will get what you wanted: the right to land on Fourth, and to make it a home for humanity, or at least, for your small slice of humanity. We will give you whatever material assistance we can spare from our own efforts, because despite everything, we want you to succeed, or at least to survive. But make no mistake: this is an exile, an expulsion from the Community. As Admiral, I deem you to be a danger to that community and invoke my responsibility to act in the face of that danger. You may never leave Fourth. You thirty-one individuals must find a way to live with the planet, even as you find a way to live with your violent actions and your consciences."
Before the court could be dismissed, young Tzvi ben Aharon, a biologist, had exclaimed, "You doom us! Thirty one individuals is nowhere near enough genetic diversity to sustain a population!"
The Admiral had just looked at him steadily and said, "You're just going to have to figure that out, too. If you were right along that G-d wanted us to land on Fourth, then surely G-d will lead you to a solution. If you were wrong, or if, as you know I believe, there is no G-d at all, then perhaps you will figure something out. Either way, this is what you get. This court is dismissed."
These memories and more ran through Richard Silver's head as the shuttle came to rest, and the weight of a real world pulled on his bones and made him ache, despite the weeks of preparation. Then the final "thud" of skids on ground told him they had come to rest, and his thoughts turned instead to the future.
It had taken surprisingly little time to set up the First Hab. After the shuttle had cooled, the guards and their charges proceeded to unload the cargo, starting with the materials for the Hab, which would house the 31 in somewhat cramped quarters while they built out the rest of their tiny village of domes. The process was not dissimilar to what was happening out in the inner Belt, as Dream of Spring began the process of bootstrapping the prevailing vision of a city of stations. Start with one thing, use that as a base to build more things. Everything big starts out small. The principle was well known.
Once the Hab was finished and the shuttle unloaded, the guards returned to the shuttle, and it lifted away. None of the Thirty One made any effort to force their way back aboard, to return from their exile. This was, after all, what they had wanted, if not the way they had wanted it. Even Tzvi, who was the most fretful about the long term chances of building a community under these circumstances, had come to terms with the choices that had been made.
Alone, at last, Silver's new Community all stepped into the Hab, doffed their skinsuits and breathers, and sat down to pray, with Silver leading, and Anna serving as cantor, as they had in their synagogue in the A5 district aboard Spring. Rather to everyone's surprise, the service Silver had sent to their tablets was the Rosh Hashanah service.
"We begin new lives, today, my friends. This is the first day of a new era for us. Our calendar starts today, and yes, that means in ten days, we will commemorate the Day of Atonement. Sukkot will coincide with the earliest quick-grow hydroponics being available, and then, on Simchat Torah, we will begin anew the cycle of Torah portions."
And so, they had prayed, and with fervor, focused and dedicated to their new life. The service was long, and for many it became a mind-clearing exercise. By the time it was finally done, everyone was tired, hungry, but also calm. They had many challenges ahead, but they were dedicated to them.
As they ate from the ration packs that would be their main sustenance for a while, they began to talk, in general terms about how they would proceed. They had already decided certain things while still upwell. Richard was still, unanimously, their rabbi as well as their leader, although he genuinely preferred to run things as more a first-among-equals. In this, as in other ways, Richard had never, and never would, cease to be a child of Spring.
They were an interestingly assorted group. Richard, as was said, was also a chemist. Anna was a medic, as were Jonathan, and Tzipora. Scott, Elana, Yosef, and Rivka were engineers, and were going to be in charge of setting up the physical plant. Tzvi and Jaime were biologists and Matthew a botanist. The specialties of the others were not as directly relevant to their tasks, but everyone knew they would have to learn some new skills to make this work. The software engineers, in particular, would not really be needed in that capacity for a while. But there would be plenty of things that needed doing.
Finally, with everyone in agreement about what the next few weeks would require, Tzvi spoke up again. He was calm about it, now, at least. "I know you all think I'm obsessed about this, but we really do have a problem and we need to face it squarely. Thirty-one of us would be an inadequate gene pool even if we did not include among us several who are monogamously paired already. We are also, bluntly, an inadequate work force for a long-term occupation of a planet. Even if we somehow managed to produce as many children as we currently have adults, it would be a long time before we had a large enough community... I am trying very hard to face this as a rational problem to be solved, but it's difficult."
Gregory, one of the software engineers who would now be doubling as construction crew for a while, spoke up, "And if we succeeded in solving that problem, we could eventually have the opposite one. We still don't know how well anything we have will grow here, or if we can eat what's already growing here. We can't outgrow our resource base or our shelter capabilities. True, we have the means to construct new shelters and machinery, and Spring has promised us additional resources if we need them, but at some point their patience will wear thin, I think. We should plan to be as self-sufficient as possible, as quickly as possible, and that means that, if we can solve the reproduction problem, we also have to control it, keep it in bounds of what we're ready to accept, even more so than when we were ship-bound. The ship had been built to allow the population to grow, after all."
Richard shared a glance with Anna. They had spoken of this privately several times. They didn't like the answer, but it was a workable solution. Or so they hoped. It was Anna who spoke up. "What about cloning?"
Richard had expected an uproar over the idea, but perhaps because everyone was tired, or perhaps because a day at prayer had put everyone in a contemplative mood, there was merely silence as people chewed upon it, along with their ration bars.
Tzvi spoke first. "It doesn't really solve the diversity problem, of course...but it solves almost all the others. We can plan for a 'class' of new children of a specific size, figure out ways to combine educational tasks with simple chores, so that they're...well...useful at a younger age...I mean, child labour is bad, yes, but we're not going to be able to wait eighteen years before we put our clones to work. That would be true for natural children, too, you understand."
Tzipora nodded vigorously. "Yes, and I have to concur about diversity. If this is the solution we choose...we have to commit to it completely. Bluntly, we may never, as a community, be able to reproduce naturally, safely, again. We might even need to make it impossible, to avoid...well, human nature. Let's not kid ourselves--sex is going to happen. Sex makes babies. If we're concerned about the long-term effects of inbreeding, we may have to change that so that we can only be cloned."
"Honestly," said Jonathan, "that choice may have already been made for us, at least, for our generation. All of us were born and raised in lower gravity. We trained and have medical supports to survive in higher G, but there's not a lot of science around all the effects. Back in Sol, when we left, nobody really lived long-term in space. They'd do stints off Earth and then go home. So we really just don't know, but it's possible that one aspect or another necessary for conception or gestation just won't work right, anyway."
Richard got the group's attention. He didn't want to cut the discussion short, but he did want to make sure they were focused. "Before we continue, let's make sure we're all agreed on one key point. It is my understanding, and certainly my intention, that we all mean to survive, and not just ourselves, but our community. We are not just here as someone else's idea of a life prison sentence. This is who we are, now. If anyone disagrees with that premise, and wishes to propose an alternative vision, now is the time."
There were no voices raised. Richard had not really expected any. There were no nihilists here. They had come here with faith in their G-d and faith in themselves and each other. What they proposed may not be possible, but they were going to try it.
Richard allowed himself a smile. "Good. Then let's start figuring out those details in earnest."