On November 13, 1851, on a planet in a solar system far from ours — in a galaxy so far away that its light has yet to reach the Hubble Telescope — a world ended in a global thermonuclear war. Around thirty billion people died — and as their world was no longer habitable, thirty billion souls were suddenly looking to incarnate elsewhere. Some of them came to Earth — which was why technological progress suddenly accelerated — for they brought with them subconscious memories of airplanes, rockets, semiconductors — and nuclear weapons.
The planet (which I will refer to as Kito), in 1851 had technology comparable with ours of 2000. It had a space program and had been making regular trips to its moon for more than fifty years. Their moon was smaller than ours, but in a lower orbit — so it actually appeared larger in the sky and could be a rather dramatic sight as it rose and set.
Kito was one of a pair of twin planets in identical orbits around the parent star, a half orbit out of phase. The other planet, which I refer to as Konos, had human inhabitants also — and it was at roughly the same level of technological development, despite having a human civilization which was about three thousand years older.
For most of their histories, the people of Kito and Konos had been completely unaware of each other, even after the advent of radio communications, because of the planets being permanently in conjunction with the sun in between. But that all changed when both planets developed space programs, sending out probes into the solar system and radio-ing data home. Before long, both space programs were picking up information from each other’s probes — and they realized they were not alone. Analysis of alien probe trajectories suggested they originated from a point in space behind the sun — and further astronomical observations, measurements and calculations confirmed the existence of a twin planet. Once each planet had successfully made moon visits (Konos had three moons) and established orbiting space stations, a mission to the other planet was the obvious next challenge.
It turned out to be a straightforward trip — the most basic approach being to launch a space vehicle, escape Earth gravity, and fly on a heliocentric orbit path while the other planet comes around to meet you. But the Konos space program was able to save time and fuel by taking advantage of a “slingshot” available when its three moons were in a particular configuration — so it was Konos that sent the first visitors to another world.
In 1846 (our time) a Konos astronaut named Zach Danza successfully docked his spacecraft with the Kito’s space station. It was the culmination of several decades of visits. As the people of Kito watched the satellite TV coverage of the historic rendezvous, the hope of many was that the spirit of peace and goodwill of this event would make its way down to the world. Zach was the first man to emerge from the hatch — and his happy, smiling face was Kito’s first sight of a human from an alien world.
In 1851, Zach was part of the ultimate mission. He was to remain behind on Kito’s space station — and after a period of quarantine, he would be scheduled to fly down to Kito’s surface on a routine astronaut rotation. After a few months on Kito, Zach would be returned to the space station to be picked up by another mission from Konos. That mission launched on schedule, but the crew were concerned when they failed to make contact with Kito after leaving radio blackout. They never established communication with Kito — and as they neared the planet, they discovered the space station spinning erratically in an unstable orbit. After many failed attempts to make contact with the station and with mission control at the surface, the docking was abandoned and the Konos space vehicle briefly established orbit around Kito. Looking down at the planet, the crew noticed nothing obviously different — but something felt terribly wrong.
The return trip to Konos was extremely difficult. Unable to dock with the space station, the crew had not been able to replenish supplies — and food and water would have to be rationed very strictly. The situation with the oxygen supply was even worse. There was not enough for all three crew members to make the trip home. Communications with Konos would be in blackout for a while — and the crew used that time to decide how to tell the story — and how to end it. Once communication was reestablished, they delivered their briefing — and then, after firing a rocket briefly to set the spacecraft headed out into space, the crew’s oxygen supply was turned off, with every hand on the button. A couple of follow-up missions sent probes to the surface — and findings suggested the unthinkable — that the planet had suffered a catastrophe that quite possibly had wiped out all human life. It was a devastating finding to the people of Konos — just a few short years after the historic rendezvous that had taken both worlds into what they thought was a new era. Konos grieved for many years — and its space program was abandoned.
There were no survivors left behind on Kito. There perhaps should have been — but there were not. Kito’s spiritual diaspora has made itself very much felt on Earth. For much of its history, Kito had been plagued by tribal warfare — and the modern world had endured more than century of a cold war standoff between the two superpowers — complete with nuclear arms race and something like the Olympic Games — and that same cold war quickly regrouped on Earth. Many of Kito’s troubles found new settings on Earth — and were re-energized and reinvigorated by Earth institutions such as racism, religion, and the legacies of colonialism.
Konos faced different problems. A much older civilization, it was an overcrowded planet running out of resources. Its population peaked at around eighty billion around the year 1900 and has since declined to around fifty billion. There has been no set of major catastrophes reducing population — just spiritual attrition. As Konos people die, they are not returning for the next life, and fewer babies are being conceived. Konos continues to enjoy peace, but life is getting harder. People spend hours a day waiting in line to buy basic goods — and it is often a challenge to find parts to repair old appliances and machines that are no longer being manufactured. Literally everything is recycled. Konos people have also been coming to Earth. They are happily accustomed to high-density urban living and enjoy being creative — especially with computers (and are very good are writing code.) The spiritual diaspora of Konos has brought happier ideas to us and Konos people have a bright future on Earth — as long as the Kito people do not destroy this world too.
Zach Danza is a legendary figure on Konos and people continue to be inspired by his memory. Despite limited resources, one large country that has continued to enjoy some recognizable prosperity has managed to revive some semblance of a space program. In 2005, an unmanned mission sent probes down to Kito’s surface and found a planet very much recovered — and perhaps now safe for human life. But they have yet to land people on the surface of Kito.
The dream is of one day establishing a colony on Kito — and using the resources of that abandoned world to build an infrastructure capable of bringing large numbers of people from Konos to establish permanent settlements. But the sad reality is that the world lacks the resources required for a manned space program. It is a dream that will probably go unrealized.
On the very same day that Kito self-destructed, the schooner Exact dropped anchor off Alki Point in Puget Sound — and the Alki Landing Party was rowed ashore. It was a typically raw, damp, windy day for November in what is now Seattle. The women wore starched cotton bonnets that were not up to the weather and flapped hopelessly over their faces. When they reached the top of the beach, the women sat down and cried — unaware of the calamity that was about to haunt the Earth.