Here There Be Dragons

By Mike Parsons

The Earth was all but dead, mineral resources virtually non-existent, water polluted to the point where it failed to sustain life and where it generated ever more pollution to purify it and generate liveable atmospheres in man- made domes.

There was only one place to go, not just off the planet, but out of the solar system and up the spiral arm into the star rich areas of the milky-way and pray that a new home could be found for mankind.

After much deliberation, the decision was taken to send out thousands of one-man ships in a scatter gun approach to cover as much as possible of the vast area to be searched. They would each be equipped with the best communication equipment available and would be capable of exceeding light speed until their sensors indicated the presence of suns that may have earth like planets orbiting them. Obviously orbiting telescopes and cameras gave indications of the most potentially fruitful areas to concentrate on, but it would of necessity be pot luck.

The Moon provided material and manufacturing facilities, with a relatively easy escape into interplanetary space before the light-drives were engaged. Earth would provide the pilots with the necessary training and psychological testing to ensure they could endure operating alone for years on end. After eighteen months the first three thousand craft were nearing completion and a similar number of pilots were ready to ship up to the Moon for familiarisation and then, to embark on the great adventure.

On the appointed day, following a hope filled pre-embarkation ceremony the launchings began, one every five minutes, each with a microscopically different flight plan in its software and its pilot in synthesleep for the first three years of their mission. With allowances for snags this was roughly two thousand ships, or ‘bugs’ as everyone involved in the project called them, each week, which also roughly equalled the output from the Moon’s manufacturing plants. There was always a surplus of men and women ready to train as pilots.

It was nearer five years before the first of the ‘bugs’ found itself in a region of space with planets which just might sustain human life and the bugs slowed from translight speeds to give their scanners and survey equipment time to check properly for just the right planet. Soon there were several thousand tiny ships cruising at well below light speed and thoroughly checking each and every sun and its planets before sweeping onward, always searching.

The first bug flicked off into nothingness three weeks after the first scans of the system of the sun-like star S457. were completed. There was no warning and nothing from the pilot to indicate a problem it just suddenly ceased to exist. There was no real concern among the other pilots who could hear or sense him, everyone knew that theirs was an extremely hazardous mission and that losses were inevitable. Adjustments to the flight plans of following bugs were made to further cover the area the vanished ship was in when last heard from.

Within a few minutes of each other, they all flicked out like lights being turned off, one second all was normal then, nothing.

While this was happening those bugs still operating were reporting two earth-like planets in the system known as S457 and they slowed even more to carry out in-depth surveys of the planets, but still they flicked out one at a time until only one bug was left and that was in close orbit around the first of the two planets and sending back ever more hopeful reports.

Mankind had to survive, so yet more bugs were zeroed in onto the system.

The time was counted in millions of years since they had left the Earth. Millions of years drifting in deep hibernation, clustered together to survive or die in the vast emptiness of space, until they found the twin worlds where they now lived, bred on the rare occasions when they met other than in battle, and hunted.

One of their number from high planet, the furthest from their star, encountered the first of the space seeds, pursued it, cracked it open and found a small but very tasty grub inside. Soon the whole clan was on the lookout for more and they kept coming in ever increasing numbers. The hunting was good and though they were never going to grow fat on the pickings, the grubs were very tasty indeed.

The bug which had been in low orbit over the planet closest to the sun in system S457 had completed all the surveys and had even dipped down into the atmosphere to scoop up samples before, the first to do so, heading back towards the solar system and home.

It was then that he saw it coming towards him, no radar blip had betrayed it but there it was heading straight for him on a reciprocal path.

His last transmission was not at first understood until a historian clarified its true meaning.

“Here there be Dragons”!

‘So that’s where they went’. Pondered the historian.

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