“I’m thirty years old, and I’d like another ten.” That’s how I put it to the doctor anyway. Calling him the doctor seems awfully formal for a man I’ve known since his birth, right here on Cordeus Cex. He’s probably one of the last kids I did get to know all through their lives. You only have to have a couple of generations and suddenly there are hundreds of new people. Anyway, his name wasn’t “doctor” it was Campbell Seuss, and he was a good man. He was a second generation, from loving parents who were part of the original founders of the colony, like me. Unless you count the robots and auto-assemblies who arrived well in advance of course, along with the two arobots who unfolded themselves on first touch down and coordinated the initial mild terraform and set up the town infrastructure. Only one them is still knocking about, and it doesn’t get out much, not since it was broken down and integrated with the communications relay.
Now, thirty doesn’t sound particularly old, not by Earth standards anyway, but Cordeus Cex is a good way further out from our sun, making our years three and a half Earth years. It was a nightmare trying to keep in time with Earth routines, but even so it took a couple of (Earth) years before we properly abandoned it. Why keep time with your old imperium? We all converted to CC time, which made me about eight and a half. Keeping track of both ages was a special torture, particularly when you’re also adapting to thirty hour day. It became pretty meaningless after a while, but if you really wanted to, there was always a computer around to do the maths for you. Still, I reckon forty’s not out of reach, not here on Cordeus Cex, where every indication from the second generations and upwards suggests they’ll be seeing ages perhaps double what they’d have got on old Earth. Not that they’ve seen it, I mean, we showed them pictures for a while. It’s good to get a sense of history, but Earth has millennia of history, most of which is interesting but irrelevant to them unless they’re big readers. Seuss’s mum preserved a lot of it as stories, the more interesting history tomes were written like historical fantasies, so you get a decent narrative. The odds of anyone going in search of them feel a bit slight. We’re rather busier expanding and adapting. And it’s further adaption that I was hopeful would take me up to forty.
It’s not that I want to live forever, but I was barely an adult when we left Earth, part of the big spiral wave, flinging colony ships out across the galaxy. Not all of them had a fixed destination, but luckily ours did – there’s only so much running on hope you can do. With Cordeus Cex as our destination we spent five years awake at either end of the trip on board the ship, plus forty in cold storage in between (Earth years – or fourteen and change in CC time – you see how confusing it gets). During that hibernation phase the automated builders were launched ahead of us, at terrifying velocity since they had no soft bits to get squished. By the time we arrived the colony was ready for occupation. A lot of work still needed afterwards of course, since one of the arobots had got it into their head that what we really needed were wild and sprawling monkey puzzle tree shapes to live in. No one managed to unravel that one, and since they were structurally sound we just moved in. Living in a miniature maze was a little strange, with the slightly reflective walls picking up sunlight and bouncing them all round in interior. Clever. Just… odd.
By the time we moved in, we’d almost forgotten how many people hadn’t made it. Cold storage had been tested by the companies designing the colony ships, but no one had ever had the product testing time to try them out for forty years. Maybe five of continuous use and probably less with healthy people in them. Lots of dark whispers about testing them on prisoners and the long-term bedridden elderly – Earth isn’t a bad place to have left behind. So a failure rate of thirty-eight per cent wasn’t surprising, but it was shocking. Redundancy is hard to build in when you have no idea who’s going to survive. We were recruited, hired or chosen by lottery and arranged into functional pods of fifty. Each with a fixed number of specialists in medicine, engineering, mechanics, science, construction, agriculture – basically everything, including teachers, cooks and so on. Everyone had a bunch of other interests, but we were all young. All under eight – dammit, twenty-eight – young enough to have the best chance of surviving cold storage, young enough to have a full life ahead of us, and young enough to have studied, learned and experienced something that would prepare us for life on another world. That included the two years of learning about Cordeus Cex and everything we might need to know when we arrived. They didn’t cover handling the loss of one hundred and ninety people, or suddenly discovering them when we got out of cold sleep. The ship had been automatically jettisoning them as they died to save power and weight, so when we woke up there were just gaps all around us. Only me and Campbell’s mum survived from our pod. My particular specialty was logistics, with a secondary skillset in theatre of all things. Campbell’s mum, Keala, was a top-flight biomedical specialist. It was all quite traumatic, but we had five years of being awake on ship while we decelerated to get used to it. By the time we actually debarked, it was just part of the journey.
CC, our common abbreviation for the place that is home, is a good deal warmer than Earth, the atmosphere naturally drier, but wetter on the ground. It hadn’t been entirely dead before we got there – you can’t add a biosphere to a world that has nothing. Not without hundreds or thousands of years to work on it anyway. Some of the others in the spiral wave were headed for such places. I shuddered to imagine how few of them might survive cold storage over centuries. We were lucky. We are lucky. The local bacteria that had survived a series of brutal extinction events like on Earth were more or less compatible, and nine or so CC years had been time for the arobots to seed the ground thoroughly with Earth contaminants and, with appropriate prodding, they’d interbred to produce something that wouldn’t kill us. No one expected the jellies though. Tiny translucent nets drifting through the air. They got stuck in your hair, your clothes, and worse – your skin and eyes. They hadn’t bothered the machines or arobots a bit, but all of a sudden we were crashing with respiratory failures. Keala and the others took a while to figure out what was going on. While the arobots had been merging the Cordeus Cex biosphere with ours, the jellies were doing it the other way round. A few people did die, but those who didn’t experienced something quite different. The jellies sank into their bodies, fragmenting and got busy breaching cell walls. It looked like an awful plague with all the inflammation and freaking out of the nervous system that you might expect. And you couldn’t get them out – not if they’d already gone through your skin. Then our people started waking up again, and they were fine. No, better than fine: stronger, more resilient, faster. Hell, even their hair looked shinier. The jellies had merged with the mitochondria in our cells, amping up every source of power in the human body. Once they’d done that to a hundred of our colonists, it started spreading by skin contact, breath, the works. In under a year we were all infected, though none of the rest of us had the same initial reaction. It was like a really bad cold for a fortnight (seventeen or so days to you…) and then I woke up feeling amazing.
We weren’t just going to survive, we were going to thrive. And we have. The younger kids – third generation and onwards are tall, dense and smart as hell. I just want another few years to see what comes next as we expand out of this valley and into the next, sprawling farmlands, a new closed loop hydro system due to be finished in the next year… and the theatre I set up is doing well. I’m it’s main patron, which means I just show up for the first performances and give occasional speeches and stuff. The old classics are still in use, but they’ve all been reshaped and recontextualised – the CC versions of Aristophanes’ The Frogs, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi are all but unrecognisable, bar the tone of the language. It’s nice to see us drifting further from Earth, becoming true Cordeusians. Campbell’s not even sure we could live on Earth again, not with the changes. So I’d like another ten, but I’ll take five.