"We are not required to finish the work; neither are we permitted to desist from it!" --Ethics of the Fathers
"So...what do we do, now?" The Rebbe was, to say the least, agitated.
The Admrial replied evenly, "What do you mean?"
"I mean...we kind of counted on finding at least one planet in this system that we could actually use."
"There's a dozen. Not to mention some moons, the two asteroid belts. We can use them all."
"That is not what I meant, and you know it. We can't land anywhere. We can't live anywhere."
"We planned for this."
"Well...'we' is a funny word, I suppose. You seem to have missed those meetings."
"Was I invited to those meetings?"
"Actually, you were. But you kept insisting we didn't need 'landfall alternatives'. Something about G-d not leading us astray, I think?"
"Oh, sure, throw it in my face. Bad enough I'm going to get lynched..."
"I'm just saying, while you were busy counting on divine guidance, some of us were remembering that G-d helps best those who help themselves."
"I thought you were an atheist."
"I am, but does that make the proverb wrong?"
"...no. OK. Go ahead. What's the plan then?"
"Well, first of all, in addition to geological and astronomical surveys, we've been taking surveys of people. A significant number of our passengers have made it clear they're anxious about the idea of living on a planet. Seven generations have grown up shipboard. None of us has ever seen a real sky, or walked on real terrain, or any of that. Very few are unwilling, mind you, but most would be secretly relieved if it was something postponed for a later generation to get used to."
"Really? I mean...you'll forgive me, I hope, if I want to see those numbers for myself."
"I expected it. I sent them to your inbox an hour ago. There will be a few fanatics we'll need to deal with, but I have some ideas for them, too--and no, before you get all puffy about it, not bad ideas. Useful ones that will satisfy them. They won't be overjoyed, and yes, you'll probably bear the brunt of some of that, but I don't think there'll be any lynchings."
"OK, but the ship..."
"...is showing its age, yes. We always had plans for that, too, if you think about it. Right from the beginning. Even if we'd found a Gaia, we were going to need to bootstrap an industrial base, fabricate buildings, machinery, and so on. We're not even carrying landing ships. The plan was always to build most of what we need here. This system is abundant with material. So, we use what we brought, to mine the material, to build what we need, to make the stuff, to refurbish the ship, and convert it into the core of..."
"...what? A station?"
"Call it a station. Call it a city. Call it whatever you like. Really, Rebbe, stop pouting. It’s unbecoming. Think about this: when our ancestors left home, nobody had ever lived for more than a few years at a stretch anywhere but Earth. Nobody was sure human beings really could. Our great-great-greats believed we could, though, and did the math and did the research and learned all the lessons and did a lot of praying...and here we are. We've already survived nearly 300 years in this tin can of ours, and managed to avoid all the worst nightmares the literature imagined."
"With G-d's help."
"Maybe yes, maybe no. I'm not absolutely denying credit if it's due, mind you, I'm just saying that's not how I see it. But it doesn't really matter either way. Point is, we did it. We can keep on doing it. We can make it better, bigger, more comfortable. Keep expanding it, build big rings out from the core, so maybe our grandkids can grow up in closer to normal gravity..."
"...at which point we can start thinking about terraforming the fourth planet down there..."
"...which isn't all we hoped. But is in the sweet spot and has an atmosphere that we might be able to figure out how to transform. Certainly a better chance of it than Mars ever had. Or, maybe we'll decide to modify those grandkids--yes, I know. Don't start. I don't actually like it much, but it just might be easier to change the human genome to breathe what's down there than to change what's down there to fit our lungs."
They stared out the window at the planet in question, which the ship had been orbiting since this morning. It was a pretty enough planet, certainly. Just not easily inhabitable by humans.
"Doesn't it make you mad?" The Rebbe suddenly exclaimed. "You seem so calm about it. I mean, we came so far, and...really, the only thing holding me together right now is the belief that G-d has a reason, some good reason, to have led us here. And between you and me and the bulkhead, that is pretty weak glue right this minute."
"You should have seen me when the first atmosphere reports came in," the Admiral replied with a sympathetic smile. "Except then you would have scolded me for all the swearing I was doing. I invented new curse words, I think. Then I broke a few things. It was cathartic. And I expect sometime later in the week, when it catches up with me, I'll probably do it all again. And maybe many times again in the future. But it's not going to keep me from doing what I committed to do. We're going to make a new home for the human race. It won't be a perfect little suburb with picket fences and lawns and whatever from the old movies. It won't be as easy as we hoped. But it'll work. And it will be ours."
After another long silence, the Rebbe again spoke first. "It will take a long time."
"Did you have anything better to do?"
Surprising them both, the Rebbe laughed.
And so, it began.