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I. The Setup

In the year 2262 – twenty years after the end of what historians call World War III and what everybody else just calls The War – humankind continues to survive across a world damaged far, far beyond hope of repair. The polar ice caps were dangerously diminished even before The War, but a madman's doomsday gambit vaporized what was left. Sea level is a hundred meters higher than it was in the early twenty-first century, halving the planet's habitable land. What hasn't been submerged is punished by apocalyptic earthquake activity and cosmic radiation barely impeded by the decimated ozone layer.

Across this wasteland, two diametrically opposed world powers have risen to prominence, both of them built around two different responses to the planet Earth's dwindling lifespan.

The first is the World Federation of Survivors, headquartered in Mexico's La Ciudad Esparanza. The WFS is determined to find a new planet for the human race can call home. They've seized an abandoned US/Chinese moon base and begun building a massive spaceship – an ark – to take the human race to safety. Despite the losses of the War, they've got the smarts and the manpower to pull it off. There are only two problems with the plan:

The first is that they don't have a workable stardrive.

The second, and most immediate, is the religious movement calling themselves the Enlightened.

The Enlightened are the second world power to emerge after the War. If the WFS are determined to trust their fates to science, then the Enlightened are equally determined to trust theirs to faith. They believe the human race is tied to planet Earth by far more than gravity, and when the world dies, it's important that the human race die with it. They believe that final orgasm of fire and death will punch mankind through to the next, utterly necessary state of being.

In the middle of this is a twenty-three year-old genius named Aldrich Campbell. Protégé and adopted son to the greatest scientific mind that ever lived, it's Aldrich who finally cracks the problem of the faster-than-light stardrive for the WFS, and it's Aldrich who takes a prototype of that stardrive on a tour through the inhabitable systems of the Milky Way Galaxy. What he finds out there, and what he discovers about the man who raised him, casts everything he's believed since becoming an adult into doubt.

Aldrich will have to decide who's right and who's wrong – the WFS or the Enlightened, science or faith – because at the end, it's going to be his hand that guides the destiny of the human race, either to the stars or to heaven.

Or maybe to some place that's both.

 

II. The Sides

The World Federation of Survivors hasn't been around very long. Beginning as little more than a ragtag militia in the latter days of The War, its original goal was to rescue and secure as many civilians as possible against the ravages of a conflict they no longer cared about. The fighting had reached a point where entire cities were being ground underfoot by opposing and so-called 'friendly' forces alike for the sake of reclaiming a square kilometer of land. The WFS, though small and almost entirely incapable of influencing the bigger picture, saved thousands of lives. It also made the War personal again since, instead of fighting over the words or ridiculous posturing of political men and women, the WFS fought for survival and for family.

When the ice caps were turned into globe-crossing tsunamis, the group's focus shifted radically. Most governments fell apart quickly after the close of the War, as officials and subordinates alike either died in the floods or abandoned their posts. The WFS, on the other hand, had no political interests, no ancient ties to weak governments half a world away. All they had was each other, and an overriding desire to live. They had designed their organization for just this sort of thing, though not necessarily on this scale.

The WFS adapted though, and thousands flocked toward their banner. Soon, it was one of only two real world powers, the second being the doomsday cultists calling themselves the Enlightened. The Enlightened were preaching some major Inquisition-style dogma, and acting violently against people who didn't agree with them. Perhaps some in the WFS understood that they would have to clash with the Enlightened some day, but the Federation was primarily concerned with controlling its massively accelerating growth and brainstorming ideas for how to save the human race.

WFS settlements began appearing across the globe, with the capital city located in La Ciudad Esparanza in Mexico. More than half the people on the planet had been wiped out in the final act of the War, and with them, a whole lot of cutting-edge technology and people, but the ones that were left were sufficient for the Federation's needs. WFS settlements were built small – even La Ciudad Esparanza. They were crowded, but they were as secure and as technologically advanced as possible under the circumstances.

At first the WFS was interested solely in trying to heal the planet. Five years after the War finished, they finally realized that this wasn't possible. The planet had been damaged on some fundamental level, something far deeper than their technology and their know-how could counteract. They estimated that Earth would be completely uninhabitable within twenty years.

It was then that their energies first turned seriously toward mass evacuation. Tracking down and recruiting the greatest engineers and mathematicians left on the planet and bending them toward this task was relatively easy – most of them were already members of the WFS anyway. But one scientist, perhaps the brightest theoretical physicist to come along since Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, was out of their reach. Dr. Robert Campbell, whose involvement in the early days of the War had turned him, like many others, into a pacifist, had since taken up with the Enlightened.

Things weren't as bad between the Enlightened and the WFS in those days as they would become. Federation officials were able to approach Campbell and request his assistance. Once he'd made it clear he wasn't going to help them, Campbell inexplicably took his own life, leaving behind his protégé and adopted son, Aldrich. Aldrich was far more interested in living than his father had been, and his knowledge was second only to Campbell's. He went with the WFS officers who'd tried to recruit Campbell, and by the time he was fifteen, he was head of what was being called Project: Noah's Ark, a massive effort to construct a faster-than-light starship that could carry the human race to other habitable planets. Construction began at Bluesea – a joint-US/Chinese moonbase, abandoned during the War when those two countries fell on opposing sides – while the theoretical work remained planetside with Aldrich.

The Enlightened became a serious problem several years after the elder Campbell's death, when an Enlightened army attacked a WFS city built in the remains of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The WFS was caught completely off-guard, and even their far superior technology couldn't defend against the superior numbers and zeal of the Enlightened. Every living thing in the city was massacred, from the adult males all the way down to the farm animals. Claiming the city as its new capital, the Enlightened sent a clear message to La Ciudad Esparanza that the human race was at war again.

Meanwhile, the WFS's experimentation with warp or underspace drives spread far and wide, with no idea too crazy or unsound. It was on one of these experimental forks, seeking to artificially enhance human perception for the purpose of in-void navigation, that the Twins were created. Possessing extrasensory and extratactile abilities such as telepathy, psychokinesis, and a number of others that the WFS scientific community didn't even have words for, the Twins were quickly put to work on the frontlines. Named X29 and Y23 (by chromosome and cloning lot number – for example, X29 is the 23rd female clone created in the series), each of them could do the defensive work of a platoon of well-armed WFS soldiers.

Needless to say, this incensed the Enlightened even further. There seemed to be no end to the abominations the WFS was willing to perpetrate.

At the time of our story, with only a few years left in the planet's projected twenty-year deadline, Aldrich and his team are becoming desperate. Twenty-three years old now, and so far unsuccessful in creating a practical stardrive, Aldrich has decided to return to Denver, to the city he grew up in, to try and find the final scraps of Dr. Robert Campbell's notes and theories.

This is where our story begins.

*

The Enlightened first appeared as a religious movement several decades before the War, preaching a doctrine of one-ness with the Earth and speaking of a karmic balance between life and death, wherein death was only another state, another place. Mixing some of the life-and-death theories of Buddhism and Naturalistic Paganism with decidedly monotheistic talk of one God and one Heaven, the movement was slow to catch on until the War, when its practicing membership quadrupled one year and quintupled the next. In a conflict where the very planet was being torn apart piece by piece, the idea that the human race was fundamentally tied to Earth’s fate made sense to people emotionally agonized by its destruction. With its powerful but mysterious founder, a kind of Pope for this new age religion, the Enlightened were just as suited to pick up the pieces after the War as the WFS was. Only the Enlightened picked people up by their faith rather than by their reason.

As the years have passed, and the conflict with the WFS has grown bloodier and bloodier, the Enlightened have come to resemble Crusaders rather than missionaries, eschewing peaceful conversion in the name of bloody revolution. Oddly, they've also adopted a Quaker-like attitude toward technology, preferring simpler tools from simpler times to bring them closer to their God. In the mid-23rd Century, this means the Enlightened fight primarily with MiGs and Panzers from the 20th and early 21st. This would logically put them at a disadvantage against the World Federation and their state-of-the-art frogships, but as with the battle at Ulaanbaatar, the Enlightened make up for any technological shortcomings with numbers and an overwhelming willingness to die for their cause.

This avoidance of modern technology has become hatred over the years, with unspoken Enlightened sentiment being that those who use it are both weak and sinful. In particular, the creation of the clones X29 and Y23, and the World Federation's experiments in artificial intelligence, have incensed the Enlightened’s leadership. Bad enough that the WFS isn't interested in joining with God, they say, but the monsters try to replace Him with their blasphemous experiments.

Their leader is nameless, a shadow Pope with charisma to spare and a hand in every remaining corner of the world. He and the few men he allows to preach in his stead, his world-priests, speak of the soul's connection to a force beyond time and space, and death as simply a doorway to another state of being. They explain sin as the product of humanity’s own corrupting flesh, and they preach Armageddon – but define it not as the end of the world, but rather as the start of a new one.

Basically, everyone who lived before missed out on this chance, but this generation has the opportunity to ride the planet's death into the next stage of existence, the source of all things, a place beyond even Heaven.

This is the reason that the Enlightened are so willing to throw their lives away in battle with the WFS, and why they are so intent on keeping the people who want to leave right here with them. They will save everyone or they will die trying.

*

The WFS and the Enlightened are the only major world powers at this time in history, both of their influences stretching across the globe, but there are smaller, localized factions and city-states, none of which adhere strictly to WFS or Enlightened precepts. Worldwide, there are maybe a dozen of these independent tribes, and while none of them have any more than the most basic trade connections with each other, they are all known collectively as The Freeworlders.

The defining trait of Freeworlders is their utter indifference to the battle for dominance going on between the WFS and the Enlightened. Some tribes are brought together by a particular trait or belief system, but most simply want to survive and have no interest in shooting at each other. There used to be many more Freeworlder tribes, but most have either been wiped out by Enlightened/WFS battles – or they have simply come to understand that they can’t afford to be neutral if they hope to survive.

The Freeworlders are wild cards. They are the unpredictable middle ground between the extreme factions represented by the World Federation and the Enlightened.

III. The Characters

Aldrich Campbell is the central figure of Project: Noah’s Ark, embodying the story’s central conflict. Orphaned during the War when he was only three, Aldrich was saved and adopted by Dr. Robert Campbell, one of the pre-eminent physicists of his time. The two of them lived together in the ruins of Denver, Colorado for many years, and Aldrich proved to be something of a prodigy, absorbing Campbell’s knowledge like the proverbial sponge. By the time he was eleven years old, he was arguably the number two theoretical physicist left on the planet, right behind his father.

To this day, Aldrich has no memory of his true parents, or anything at all of his life before Campbell found him. Campbell is the only father he ever knew or ever cared to know.

When Aldrich was still in his early teens, Dr. Campbell became fascinated with the Enlightened movement, particularly in their theories of a spiritual ‘source’ from which man had sprung and to which he must return, and their insistence on man’s fundamental connection with the Earth. It was strange for a man of hard science to take an interest in the spiritual, but Campbell insisted that some of the Enlightened’s ideas dovetailed nicely with the wilder theories he was working on. Religion and science use different languages, he told Aldrich, but that doesn’t mean they’re not talking about the same thing. Despite Aldrich’s misgivings, he and Campbell joined the Enlightened city-state at Idaho Falls. They continued to work on their theories, Aldrich’s doubts about the Enlightened’s methods growing as the movement became larger and more militaristic.

Representatives of the World Federation of Survivors eventually showed up in Idaho Falls, attempting to recruit Dr. Campbell to their evacuation project. To Aldrich, the WFS seemed like a perfect way out of the uncomfortable situation being part of the Enlightened was turning into, but Dr. Campbell wasn’t interested – he asked the representatives to leave without even listening to their pitch. Aldrich, certain that he could change Campbell’s mind eventually, caught up with the party and spoke with a young colonel named D’Oliveira. Learning more about the evacuation plans, he told her he’d be in touch once he’d had a chance to talk some sense into his father.

He returned to the home the two men shared just in time to see Campbell putting an ancient revolver to his temple. Confused and frightened, Aldrich tried to talk him down, but Campbell was determined. He said a few cryptic words about space/time travel and the meaning of life. Then he told his son he loved him and pulled the trigger.

Aldrich was fourteen years old at the time. He was in a frogship bound for the new WFS capital at La Ciudad Esparanza the next morning.

Since then, Aldrich has worked tirelessly to crack the dual problem of inefficient energy consumption and navigation in underspace travel. Even surrounded by other men of science as he is, he is still the single most valuable asset the WFS has in its battle to escape the dying planet. His work consumes him and he has few real friends – Colonel D’Oliveira (now a general and head of the WFS) and Haruki Yoshida (a wizened Asian man who has become a mentor and possibly another father figure in Aldrich’s life). He doesn’t lack social skills, but he makes no effort to develop relationships beyond those two; he simply labors tirelessly to get the human race off of the planet. Whether this is due to altruism or his inability to shake the image of Robert Campbell pulling that trigger, no one can say.

Ironically, the closest friend Aldrich has isn’t a person at all. It’s SIDD, a hard-light artificial intelligence originally designed by a toymaker to be a companion for children. SIDD is Aldrich’s lab assistant and guardian; his computer intelligence is useful in research and his cartoon character personality is useful in keeping Aldrich’s feet planted on the ground.

Now, at the age of twenty-three – twenty years after Robert Campbell found him – Aldrich has realized that he isn’t going to make the deadline. He needs Dr. Campbell’s counsel, but Dr. Campbell is dead, and the only pieces of him left unexcavated are certain notes he may or may not have kept back in Denver. Denver has become a no-man’s-land in the growing conflict between the WFS and the Enlightened, a neutral territory where neither party is safe from the other. Aldrich hasn’t been back there since Campbell’s death.

Determined to face his demons, Aldrich gathers a small infiltration party and sets out for the Mile High City.

Name: Aldrich Campbell

Age: 23 years old

Height: 5’11"

Weight: 165 lbs.

Distinguishing physical characteristics: Caucasian; black hair; blue eyes.

*

The Self-contained Intelligent Digital Device (SIDD, for short) was originally developed by a pre-War company-state called AI&7. AI&7’s primary contributions were in robotics and artificial intelligence. The company did not survive World War III, but much of their research and work did. SIDD was exhumed from AI&7’s vaults by the WFS, along with a library of data on artificial intelligence and cloning. Most of this would eventually go into the project that created the twin clones, X29 and Y23, but SIDD was non-organic and therefore useless to that branch of development.

No notes on SIDD’s intended purpose remain, but it’s believed he was created to act as a companion and tutor to small children. Composed of what the WFS researchers have taken to calling "hard photons", he can change shape and color as he sees fit, but his matrix form is a bright green floating head with arms sprouting from the sides and big cartoon eyes. He uses his shape-changing ability primarily for comedic effect, but his endless effort to amuse conceals a computer mind with a seemingly bottomless well of human knowledge.

Not sure what to do with SIDD, but recognizing a potential asset when they saw one, the World Federation completed the work necessary to bring him to sentience. When his cartoon-ish antics became too much for the engineering and AI research staff to bear, newly-minted General Patricia D’Oliveira assigned SIDD as Aldrich Campbell’s lab assistant. Her reasons for doing so are unclear, but it turned out to be an excellent call. SIDD’s antics are the perfect foil for the gloom that constantly hovers around Aldrich, and it’s largely due to his lab assistant’s gentle manipulations that Aldrich was able to form the few friendships he has managed following Robert Campbell’s death.

The Many Faces of SIDD

SIDD is an intelligent entity with a mind that extends far beyond the simple logarithms that form the base of his personality, but he harbors a secret fear that, perched precariously as he is on the borderline between man and machine, he has no soul. This is a common neurosis of highly-developed AI entities, but in SIDD’s case, it’s nearly invisible. The only person who may have an inkling of SIDD’s feelings is Aldrich, but even he is probably clueless.

SIDD is a devoted assistant and friend to Aldrich, as well as a de facto bodyguard. His shape-shifting abilities and dedication have saved the scientist from harm on more than one occasion.

*

At the time of our story, General Patricia D’Oliveira is the commander-in-chief of the World Federation of Survivors. Her military service extends back over 20 years, to the final days of World War III. She was a civil engineering lieutenant with a freshly-minted United European States butter bar on her shoulder at the end of that conflict, and because she didn’t have any family to run back to, she was one of the few officers who did not abandon her command when the poles came tumbling down. Wielding her discipline like a sword, she released the subordinates she considered ultimately useless and honed those that remained into arguably the most effective defensive unit in that chaotic world. For four years, at a time when the rest of the world was freefalling into anarchy and martial law, she and her unit of ditch-diggers and mechanics maintained the peace over a large portion of the Swiss Alps.

But eventually the last vestiges of the United European States crumbled, so D’Oliveira carefully considered her options, then threw her lot in with the WFS, who was already emerging as the thinking man’s counterpoint to the inquisitional zeal of the Enlightened.

She advanced through the ranks quickly, keeping her private affairs genuinely private and throwing all of her energies into the WFS’s mission. Even before she assumed full command of the WFS, it has been her hand, unseen or otherwise, guiding some of the most important steps of the Federation’s evolution. She was the one who convinced the previous commander to throw all of the WFS’s resources behind a mass planetary evacuation, and she has taken a particular interest in anything involving Aldrich Campbell. To anyone who cares to pay attention, it’s no mystery who she considers the world’s last great hope.

She is assisted in governing the scattered arms of the WFS by a circle of trusted advisors, a circle that oddly doesn’t include Aldrich Campbell. D’Oliveira is nearly fifty now, but a lifetime of hard training and harder discipline have left her with a lean, muscular body that looks little more than half that age. More than one subordinate has mistaken her stern good looks and attentive eyes for a motherly disposition, and more than one subordinate has been astonished to hear about the hanging behind D’Oliveira’s desk, the one proudly displaying her hand-scrawled personal motto: NO WHINING.

In a PROJECT: NOAH’S ARK movie, General D’Oliveira would be played by Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.

Name: Patricia D’Oliveira

Age: 48 years old

Height: 5’8"

Weight: 135 lbs.

Distinguishing physical characteristics: Caucasian; blond hair; blue eyes.

*

One of the two major problems with faster-than-light space travel is navigation. Punching a shortcut through space-time is only the first step, after all. Once you’ve done that, you have to figure out how to get where you’re going. Because physical laws break down in "underspace", it’s impossible to navigate by conventional methods.

Working on the understanding that human intuition can often decipher problems that no computer can, and only after harvesting the abandoned knowledge of AI&7, the astro-engineers of the WFS founded Project Guesstimate. Their mission was to breed a set of stable clones, male and female, with certain posthuman attributes that could potentially be used for underspace navigation. The Twins X29 and Y23 are the end-product of this project.

Named by chromosome and lot number (for example, Y23 is the 23rd attempt at a male clone), the Twins are extremely powerful posthumans, with psionic and psychokinetic abilities that extend beyond anything previously seen. They can tear an attack aircraft apart bolt-by-bolt just by thinking about it, or they can simply smash it flat. If they choose, they can hear the thoughts of anyone within a two-mile radius. Though there is no way to test their navigational abilities until a practicable drive is developed, the Twins are already considered by WFS leadership to be the first successful benchmark of Project: Noah’s Ark.

Y23, the male clone, has a calm temperament and a thoughtful manner. He is slow to action, but when he does finally bring himself around to it, he acts decisively. The female, X29, is a hothead by comparison. Neither of them talk very much, though their handlers are certain that they maintain a constant telepathic dialogue. Though they are only six years old, their aging has been artificially accelerated to the point where they physically seem to be in their late teens or twenties.

With the underspace drive still nothing but a theory, the twins have made themselves most useful to the WFS in battle. Their combined might is worth a squadron of frogships. Because of the damage they’ve done to the combat capability of the Enlightened, and because they represent yet another facet of the Federation’s AI program, the twins are a target of particular hatred to the Enlightened.

*

Mario Aguila is a fighter pilot for the WFS, and one of the few people who’s managed to get past the walls Aldrich Campbell has put up around himself. Mario’s father died during the War, and after a brief flirtation with the ministry, Mario followed his dad into a life of military service.

The artificial division between officers and enlisted has been dissolved within the WFS, which is why Mario can hold the rank of master sergeant and still be a fighter pilot. He is a veteran of countless dogfights against the Enlightened, and possibly the most experienced combat pilot left on the planet. Gregory Rank designed the pilot station of Noah’s Ark and its prototype with Mario Aguila in mind. Mario will be the one that shepherds the human race on to their next destination.

Mario is devoutly Catholic, and this causes no shortage of inner conflict for him. Despite the Enlightened’s touting of a near-Buddhist version of the afterlife – complete with rebirth and shared karma – the movement at least values some measure of spirituality, and talks of a linking, all-powerful ‘source’ that could be construed as another face of the Christian God. So many Judaic and Christian people have thrown in with the Enlightened while Mario, who at one time studied to be a priest, finds himself on the side of science rather than religion. He understands that this is an oversimplified view of the ideological differences between the Enlightened and the WFS, but still he worries about what his God may say to him when he finally stands before him for judgment.

Name: Mario Aguila

Age: 30 years old

Height: 5’11"

Weight: 175 lbs.

Distinguishing physical characteristics: Latino; black hair and eyes.

*

Dr. Robert Campbell was an enigma even to his adopted son, and his surprising suicide only increased the confusion surrounding this great man. A professor at the University of Colorado, greatly appreciated by those in his field but virtually unknown to the world at large, his name rocketed to prominence when an obscure mathematical formula he’d authored a decade earlier was used as the basis for the development of the improved hydrogen bombs that would eventually vaporize the north and south poles. Campbell, a cold, unsentimental man and a patriot, was still deeply disturbed by this, but it wasn’t until one of the weapons he’d brought into being was detonated in Montevideo that he became a pacifist. He vanished from the University the next day, and neither concerned colleagues nor the frustrated government ever managed to find him.

He survived through the War years by moving frequently. Occasionally reports of him would surface – someone fitting his description disappeared into the Ozarks, followed by a loyal cult like some 23rd Century Jim Jones, and two months later he was reportedly in Argentina, saving half a dozen children from a burning school. All of these stories were fantastic, and most of them were almost certainly false. For a man who had never known how to talk to people, his legend spoke to the War’s tired survivors like few others could.

It has never been made clear just what Campbell was doing during these years, or why he had apparently returned to his hometown in Denver by the end of the War. All that is certain is that he continued his research, turning in exasperation from paths that seemed to lead only to more weapons of destruction, striving to find a tool of re-creation that would wash all the blood from his hands.

Shortly after his 50th birthday, and during an aerial attack on the city, Campbell came across three year-old Aldrich in the streets of Denver, and saved him from being trampled by panicked refugees. Campbell had never shown more than the vaguest interest in children in his previous life – he’d never even expressed any special like for his college-age students – but for some reason Aldrich’s plight bent the old man’s spirit to its needs. When it became clear that Aldrich’s parents were either lost or dead, and their surname dead with them, Campbell took responsibility for the boy.

They lived in an abandoned Denver community center, sheltered within the structure’s emptied indoor pool. Campbell had no experience teaching young children, but Aldrich proved to be a more than apt pupil. He devoured everything the old man cared to teach him, and complained several times over the years that Campbell was limiting the pace of his learning too much. By the time he was ten years old, he’d proven his worth in the lab and in the armchair, helping his teacher to see a different, slightly lower perspective to the heady problems he was tackling.

The War ended, and the father and son barely noticed. Campbell’s research had taken him – and consequently his son – into uncertain territory by that time. At a particular depth of scrutiny, the cold facts of physics begin to more closely resemble the eddying chaos of the metaphysical – science has known this for a long time, but Campbell postulated that quantum physics didn’t just follow rules that man didn’t yet understand, they followed no rules at all, as if guided by some sort of fickle intelligence. He thought quantum chaos was actually the subjective fingerprints of a higher power.

Dr. Robert Campbell believed he’d found something even more important than a grand unified theory. He had used science to prove the existence of God.

He left Denver, and took Adam with him to the Enlightened city-state at Idaho Falls, feeling that they could help him with his research better than the WFS could. He began to distance himself from his son at this point, not discussing every aspect of his work with the boy as he had in the past. At the time, Aldrich suspected that this was because of his own discontent and confusion at being associated with the increasingly violent Enlightened movement, but as the years went by, he would come to think that Campbell had been afraid of sharing the things that he was learning, afraid of shattering whatever childhood Aldrich had enjoyed with a truth that the boy wasn’t ready for.

Six months after they left Denver, the WFS showed up on Campbell’s doorstep, and an hour later, he was dead at his own hands. His reasons for this, and the bulk of his metaphysical research, died with him.

*

Maktar Fawa is the lead astronomer for Project: Noah's Ark, and the only member of General D'Oliveira's advisory council that's older than she is. If he'd been born in another time, Maktar would have been that bookish science professor all the kids liked because he reminded them of their grandfathers. He's relatively fit and lean for his age – that sort of thing is almost a given at this point in time – but he'd much rather waste away over a dry tome on string theory than do any hard physical labor.

Maktar's greatest desire, one he's been harboring since childhood, is to experience extra-lunar space. Mankind had conquered and partially populated the moon by the time he was born, but has made few trips into the starry reaches beyond. The War effectively halted even these feeble excursions. Now, as a member of the crew for the Noah's Ark prototype, he's finally going to get to see all the things he's always wanted to, but likely won't have a home planet to return to when it's all said and done. Maktar doesn't have much of a sense of humor, but the joke isn't lost on him in this case.

 

Name: Maktar Fawa

Age: 51

Height: 6'2"

Weight: 175 lbs.

Physical characteristics: African; Gray hair, brown eyes, old-fashioned glasses

*

Gregory Rank is the physicist that designed Noah's Ark – but he's not what you'd expect, otherwise. Fairly young for his position, Gregory and his parents were part of the WFS back in the waning days of the War, back when it was little more than a glorified militia. Gregory grew up surrounded by the Federation's founders, a circle of men and women both brilliant and fierce. It would not be too far off the mark to compare this environment to a wild hybrid of both the deep philosophical and political thought of ancient Greece, and the untamed fierceness of the Wild West, and both of these aspects had visible effects on Gregory.

First of all, he's highly intelligent – arguably the greatest, most unfettered mind the WFS has at its disposal outside of Aldrich – but he has little patience for diplomacy or teamwork, particularly in a lab environment. He loses patience with others quickly, and is just plain hard to get along with. Because of his rude nature and obvious anger issues, General D'Oliveira has allowed him to participate in some of the fighting with the Enlightened. This outlet has cooled him somewhat, but he's still prone to barely-provoked outbursts and long periods of sullen silence.

Gregory is another member of the crew that will man the prototype launch of Noah's Ark.

Name: Gregory Rank

Age: 33

Height: 6'

Weight: 190 lbs.

Physical characteristics: Brown hair, green eyes

*

Brian O'Brennan had everything... way back in the early 21st Century. Heir to one of the largest media fortunes in America, he had all the money, starlets, and drugs a handsome up-and-comer could hope for. And then it all came tumbling down when an inoperable tumor the size of a lemon was found in his brain.

So Brian did as he'd always done – followed the pack. At the time, commercial cryogen chambers were all the rage for people who were fabulously wealthy and deathly ill. Pop a couple of pills to prevent cellular damage, put your body in deep freeze, and go to sleep until science had cooked up a way to cure you.

Brian’s cryo-chamber was discovered by the WFS during a battle in the Adirondacks against the Enlightened. The cryo-facility had been abandoned at the turn of the century, and neglected ever since; many of its occupants had died in the interim. The Enlightened took care of the rest, preferring to send the dead men and women on to their rewards rather than further twisting fate and celestial design. O’Brennan’s was the only chamber that hadn’t been wrecked, and, remarkably, he was still alive. On a whim, the WFS revived him, removed his brain tumor, and took him under their wing, hoping to gain a more historical perspective on the situation they’d found themselves in.

O’Brennan, needless to say, is a little freaked out by all this. He’d expected to be awakened in some utopian future with towering silver spires, free drugs for all, and hyper-evolved women with three breasts. Instead he gets to bear witness to the end of the world – less than 300 years after he went to sleep.

Brian is the unintentional comedy relief of the series, the one that deflates all the heady stuff with frequent cries of, "What the heck’s going on?"

Name: Brian O’Brennan

Age: 29

Height: 5’7"

Weight: 165 lbs.

Physical characteristics: Caucasian; blond hair, blue eyes

*

Haruki Yoshida is an aging Chinese-Tibetan, and the only lead figure of Project: Noah’s Ark that isn’t a scientist. Years ago, he helped a young Aldrich Campbell, orphaned for the second time in his life, get past Robert Campbell’s death and find new focus in his work for the WFS, and for this reason he is a trusted advisor to both Aldrich and the central council of the WFS.

Haruki is an anachronism. His taciturn manner and his wizened features would have made him more at home on some 19th century Tibetan mountaintop than in this 23rd century wasteland. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does he makes it count. His calm mind is a library of literature, and he’ll often quote from famous works to make his point. For many on the council, his cryptic evasiveness is frustrating, but it is never without point. Aldrich has often thought that Robert Campbell would have very much liked to meet Haruki Yoshida.

Name: Haruki Yoshida

Age: 65 years old

Height: 5’2"

Weight: 135 lbs.

Distinguishing physical characteristics: Asian; white hair (formerly black) and black eyes.

IV. The Story

Project: Noah’s Ark is a nine-issue mini-series. Each issue will be 22-24 pages.

In the year 2262, mankind has run out of options. World War III, which was forcibly ended twenty years earlier when a madman vaporized the north and south poles, has damaged the planet far beyond hope of repair. For twenty years, mankind has somehow survived biblical flooding, apocalyptic tidal shifts, earthquake tremors that constantly set new benchmarks on the Geiger scale, and every other conceivable kind of natural disaster. But even that is only the beginning. Experts in geology and meteorology – suddenly the two most important sciences – believe that the planet has been damaged in some unknown but fundamental way. More specifically, they estimate that Earth will be completely uninhabitable by 2265, and nothing but rubble by 2270, less than thirty years after the final bomb was dropped in World War III.

The World Federation of Survivors is the second largest government in the world, and most of their energies for the last twenty years have gone into developing an effective evacuation plan. There are moon colonies the human race can retreat to, but not nearly enough, and if Earth dies, the moon will follow pretty closely behind it. In order to get everyone off Earth safely, they’re going to have to find a habitable planet and figure out a way to transport several million people there safely.

With only three years left before their deadline, the WFS is beginning to get understandably antsy.

Aldrich Campbell is their single greatest asset in this operation. At 23 years old, he is a creative genius the likes of which comes along only once every hundred years. He is the heart of what has been dubbed Project: Noah’s Ark, and it has fallen to him to deal with the toughest problem facing the project – the star drive. Man proved the existence of "underspace" – a sort of Wrinkle In Time-ish shortcut through space-time – decades ago, but the amount of energy necessary to push a mass equivalent to a single full-grown man in and out of underspace is more than the WFS is capable of generating. Noah’s Ark will have to bring tens of millions of times that mass through. Also, there’s currently no reliable method of navigating through underspace; even if they could get the ship in, there’s no way to figure out where it would come out, or if it would come out at all.

Aldrich returns to the decimated city of Denver – where he was raised by the greatest scientific mind of the previous generation and one of the fathers of underspace, Robert Campbell – to try to find some of Campbell’s old notes. This is a shot in the dark, an act of desperation, but it pays off. Despite an attack by enemy forces, Aldrich finds the notes and finds what he needs inside them.

Using the psychokinetic powers of two metahuman clones, Aldrich taps into a force beneath underspace, a power older and mightier than he can possibly understand. This well is the source of the clones’ power, and probably the source of all psychic talents throughout history. The clones are able to power the ship via their link to this source, and to navigate it with a sort of omni-intuition. Even Aldrich isn’t sure exactly how it works, but there’s no time to satisfy science. Gathering an exploratory team, Aldrich uses the twins to power a smaller prototype of the massive ship that will shepherd the human race to safety, and heads out into space to find a suitable planet.

While they’re in space, we learn more about Aldrich’s childhood, and about the people he’s chosen to surround himself with on this mission – General Patricia D’Oliveira, Maktar Fawa, Greg Rank, Mario Aguila, Brian O’Brennan, Haruki Yoshida, and Aldrich’s personal assistant, SIDD. The team spends six months in space, working through a list of possibly habitable planets and coming up empty-handed in every single case. Some planets have some unforeseen problem with their atmosphere or weather. Some already contain hostile and powerful species. Exhausted and demoralized, they finally hit paydirt on the final planet on their list – a remote orb dubbed "Eden" by the astronomers back on Earth.

Eden turns out not to be a planet at all, but a Dyson sphere – several planets that have been broken up and spread out around a star at a distance approximately equal to the distance from the Earth to the sun. The inner surface of the Dyson Sphere is many, many times larger than the surface of the Earth, and entirely habitable. In fact, the first thing the crew finds when they step off their ship onto the lush red and gold vegetation of Eden is a race of beings impossibly similar to Earthmen.

Eden turns out to be aptly named. Besides containing an environment that’s entirely safe and complimentary for humans, its people – who apparently number more than Earth ever did, even at its most populous – are utterly at peace. The crew befriends the natives and spends the equivalent of two weeks with them, learning as much as they can about the place, including the happy fact that there’s more than enough room on Eden for its own people and for those of Earth.

Aldrich befriends a female Edenite named Xiolith, and the two of them grow closer than Aldrich intends. Through her, he begins to appreciate what he’s been working for all these years as a means rather than an end in itself. For Aldrich, surviving has been the goal for so long that he’s forgotten what he was surviving for. Xiolith helps him remember joy and companionship… and she also inadvertently causes him to rethink his mission to bring his race here. The Edenites are almost unnaturally friendly, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of spite in any of them, and yet they have accomplished much on their world, even without the natural driving forces of jealousy and hatred that have spurred much of the development of Earth.

Aldrich knows that his race would ruin this place. It might not happen right away… but the years after the War have shown him that human beings will always find something to fight over, no matter how dire or comfortable the circumstances. Bringing his people here would be the same as destroying the place. He confides his worries to Xiolith, but she can’t understand the danger. Whatever he does, the decision will have to be his.

Torn, he leaves Eden along with his crew at the end of two weeks. They return to Earth… only to find that things have gone from bad to worse there. The crew was in space for only six months, and since they were traveling through underspace instead of flying at relativistic speeds, roughly the same amount of time should have passed back home. But seven years have passed for Earth. Aldrich is astonished by this. There are apparently still many things they don’t understand about the nature of underspace.

The first of Earth’s deadlines has long passed, and the orb has been engulfed by tectonic and volcanic activity. From space, it’s now red-black instead of blue-white. Several million members of the WFS have relocated to a former Chinese-American moonbase called Bluesea, and except for a few ragged, dying pockets of life left on the planet’s surface, they are all that remains of the human race.

The WFS had long since given up hope of ever seeing the crew of the Noah’s Ark prototype again. Their arrival in near-Earth space is tantamount to the appearance of God himself, carrying salvation in a tiny starship. Despite the desperate situation, Aldrich is still hesitant to tell anyone about Eden. General D’Oliveira, though, isn’t hesitant at all. She does her duty, and tells the ones they left behind exactly what they found and where they found it. The construction of the real Noah’s Ark has been finished for years, but now preparations begin in earnest to shuttle the WFS to safety.

For months, the WFS has been making monthly excursions from the moon back to Earth, strip-mining whatever raw materials they might need and shuttling refugees back up to Bluesea. Troubled by what’s going to happen to Eden and confused by this sudden reversal of his priorities, Aldrich accompanies one of the shuttles down to the planet, to see for one last time what they’re fleeing from in the hopes that it will settle his mind. Impossibly, Earth looks even worse from the ground than it does from space. The seas have started to fill with sulfur, the air is only barely breathable, and volcanoes are sprouting like sunflowers from the cracked and swollen soil of the planet. Only the mad or the incapacitated would choose to remain here.

Which is why the Enlightened manages to take Aldrich’s party by surprise. Without the twins to protect him, and with only an exploratory force for the Enlightened to cut through on their way to him, it isn’t long before Aldrich has been captured. When SIDD tries to stop them, he’s infected with a computer virus that begins to slowly unravel the algorithms holding his hard light body together.

Aldrich is brought before the leader of the Enlightened, whom he remembers meeting very briefly during his childhood in their encampment. The leader explains to Aldrich that he is the key to fulfilling the manifest destiny touted by the Enlightened, the only one who can shepherd man out of the wasteful, sinful cage of his flesh and into the peaceful bliss of the spirit. The two men discuss what happened to Dr. Robert Campbell, how he killed himself after being approached by the WFS in regards to Project: Noah’s Ark. The leader has become a raving lunatic, but the man says things about Campbell’s research, things that only Aldrich should know, that makes him wonder if the zealot is so crazy after all.

Before he can make up his mind on this point, the WFS arrives. They are through playing games with the Enlightened, and they pound the Enlightened's stronghold in Ulaanbaatar to the ground. SIDD, who was given an antivirus before he completely discorporated, is the one who busts Aldrich free. In doing so, he viciously kills the Enlightened leader, acting so uncharacteristically that Aldrich doesn’t at first understand what has happened. For the first time, SIDD has reached beyond his programming. He is an artificial computer intelligence that has somehow managed to learn guilt and shame, and has taken those unfamiliar emotions out on the man he holds responsible for them.

Returning to Bluesea, Aldrich is still tormented by what’s about to happen to Eden. At night, he dreams of Xiolith, telling him that they would see each other again, only her face twists into the thin, deadly glare of the Enlightened leader, who tells Aldrich secrets the leader has no way of knowing. Finally, the leader’s face becomes Robert Campbell’s, reciting his last words to Aldrich just before he blows the top of his own head off.

For the first time in his life, Aldrich begins to seriously wonder if the Enlightened have been right all along.

In a fit of rage, he smashes a picture of himself and Campbell that he found at the community center in Denver, and finds something written on the back of the photograph in Campbell’s hand that turns everything he knows upside-down.

The Enlightened are right… to a point. The flesh is weak, it is a corrupting influence on the purity of the spirit, because the spirit is closer to the source of all things, the same source that the twins draw their apparently unlimited power from. Closer to God, if you want to cut right to it. Everything Robert Campbell did in his final years, from joining the Enlightened to ending his own life was predicated on this.

Everything finally clicks into place for Aldrich. It was always there, right in front of all of them. If only they’d stepped back from their own dogma long enough to see it. He understands, suddenly, why Campbell killed himself, and he understands what Eden really was – not a Dyson Sphere at all, they had only assumed that because the sun was always up and stationary.

And Aldrich understands what he has to do.

Later, when Bluesea has been emptied, and the remainder of the human race is snug aboard Noah’s Ark, Aldrich and the rest prepare to head off to Eden. The underspace penetrators are prepped, the twins are primed, everything’s ready to go. General D’Oliveira makes a brief speech, and the crew prepares to pilot them out of there.

And now, finally, we find out who the mole within the WFS was. Haruki Yoshida, mentor and spiritual guide to Aldrich, produces a gun and tells him that they aren’t going anywhere. He explains that everything the Enlightened had done since the end of the War had led up to this moment, when their child would lead mankind on to the next step in their evolution.

Aldrich wasn’t an orphan at all. He was a genetic construct, a clone, liberated intentionally from a wartime lab by the Enlightened, and set loose in the streets of Denver. It was public knowledge that Robert Campbell had lost a treasured nephew in the War, and that young Aldrich looked a lot like him. His ‘adoption’ of the little boy and subsequent teaching, his years with the Enlightened and later on with the WFS, it was all planned. Aldrich’s entire life had been one large manipulation.

And here they all were at the edge of eternity; Aldrich’s uncertainty was at its highest, and the closest thing he’d had to a father since Robert Campbell died was imploring him to Do the Right Thing. To crash Noah’s Ark into the dying planet, to take them all on to the next step together.

Aldrich doesn’t fall for it of course. After a moment of indecision, he and SIDD manage to disarm the old man. Everyone lets go of that communal breath they’d been holding… until Aldrich turns back toward the control panel and, instead of pointing the Ark into open space, turns it right back toward the boiling cauldron of Earth.

As he guides the ship down toward the planet, SIDD protecting him from the panicked attacks of the other refugees, he explains:

Eden wasn’t another planet and its people weren’t aliens. Eden was the next level of evolution that the Enlightened had been talking about for all these years, a place of pure spirit where the souls of Earth’s dead, unencumbered by the violent flesh they’d carried around in their last life, could live in peace for eternity.

Eden was literally heaven itself.

Their arrival on Eden before had been a fluke, an unintentional dimensional jump due to the unprecedented length of the underspace jaunt they had made. They could probably go back any time they wanted, but they would be carrying the unnecessary baggage of their flesh, the violent portion of them that would eventually wreck Eden.

So the only way to save them all and to keep Eden as it was, was to join the Edenites outside of the flesh, to ascend into pure spirit, and to use the underspace manipulation of the twins to whisk them off to Eden.

So that’s what Aldrich does. He drives the ship into Earth’s superheated atmosphere, and millions of people die as the ship’s massive bulk is vaporized by re-entry. Earth itself erupts into space rubble moments later.

Darkness.

Then… a single point of light. And two more. And a dozen more. And a hundred more. Hundreds of thousands of lights fill a field of black and slowly, slowly, they begin to resolve into people – both those from Noah’s Ark and those Aldrich’s crew had met on Eden. Aldrich is at the forefront of these, and next to him is Xiolith.

Smiling, the two of them join hands.

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