Chapter 2 - Age of Cosmic Exploration

Chapter 2: Hope!

Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation

The evolution of human civilization has always been a fascinating phenomenon; from its humble, primate beginnings, to the miracle of language, the invention of manufacturing, the division of labor, proliferation of fiber optics, and beyond. One would be hard-pressed to find a similar philosophy across these vibrant and wondrous eras. However, there is but one that has remained present through them all, and that is the ideal of progress. After all, the only unchanged thing will always be change itself.

Though progress has never been a constant; it's always in flux, influenced by factors such as famine and war or renaissance and prosperity. That's why periods of enlightenment are always alternated with dark ages. Nevertheless, through the highs and the lows, humanity has dragged itself to this historic day, the 21st century, the era of cosmic exploration…

It was the year 2027 when America finally solved one of the greatest mysteries of the 1950s and initiated mankind's first step towards space exploration. History stated that in the fifties, an unidentified flying object had crash-landed somewhere in the state of Tennessee. Officials even managed to discover decomposing remains of extra-terrestrial beings on it. Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the crash had been classified as a state secret and kept out of the public eye. American scientists had spent days and nights deliberating over each of its excruciating details, but, probably due to the difference in scientific knowledge, there were no notable breakthroughs for decades… until the second millennium that is.

Since its inception, scientific technology has enjoyed exponential growth. It benefitted from multiple industrial revolutions and theoretical contributions of pioneers from multiple fields and showed no signs of slowing down until the end of the twentieth century where it seemed to have plateaued.

It was, however, in this period of progressive lull that the Americans had unlocked the mystery of the alien spaceship. Perhaps more than a mere coincidence, it was in that same year that they announced their mastery of space-warping technology. The promise was to warp the first human outside the confines of the solar system by the end of the year 2027. It was easily the biggest news of the century!

Back in the present, Yao Yuan carried on with his explanation, "I've received a mail from a senior of mine around the month of April 2028. It contained an encrypted series of codes. Considering this senior is a key decryption expert, it wasn't much of a surprise. Our relationship goes way back to when I saved his daughter during an international crisis, and we have been mailing correspondents since then. Around the time I received the mail, I had just returned from a trip to his place. That was when he introduced me to this newly-created decryption key of his. Thinking that was his way of getting me to try his keys, I solved the code without giving it much thought. As you might have guessed, the results of those codes are these sets of numbers and letters."

Facing his companions, Yao Yuan carried on gravely, "Perhaps it was wrong of me to dismiss it as one of his decoding trails, because not long after that, apocalyptic rumors of every kind started festering around the interwebs. It was then that I intuited these were probably more than a mere trial run. To clear things up, I flew to Italy to visit his family, but when I was there, they were already under heavy surveillance. Based on my observations, I could tell that the surveyors were of American or British intelligence. It was fortunate that I had the foresight to be in disguise then or else it would have been impossible to slip away from the scene without drawing their attention. Nevertheless, their presence did confirm my suspicion that these letters and numbers are more important than I previously thought they were.

Nevertheless, for the life of me, I was unable to fathom their significance then. My wildest guess was that they referred to some top secret intel that was of note to both the US and the UK, thus explaining the situation I encountered. That was back in the summer of 2029. All of my attention was concentrated on saving this old friend of mine…

Just as the preparations for the rescue operation was going into its final phase, which was more or less a month ago, I’m pretty sure you guys are familiar with what happened then. Important personnel and all the rich and powerful suddenly disappeared overnight. What's more frightening is that none of the country’s officials reached out to release any sort of statement; the world simply went on like nothing had ever happened. It was then that I realized that we're in deeper waters than I thought."

Here, Yao Yuan paused. When he carried on, his brows were in knots as if in pain. "As you guys may know, I consider myself quite familiar with European myths, and when I saw the text part of the code, I immediately thought of the tale of Noah's Ark… The story goes that because God saw how sinful the world had become, he decided to punish man by summoning an endless storm. The punishment was meant to literally and figuratively cleanse the world. Only one man managed to survive the ordeal: Noah. Before the storm, Noah received an omen from God; he was to build an ark and corral pairs of animals of opposite sexes onto it. And because of that, Noah and his family, as well as those animals on board, became the sole survivors of the apocalypse. The survivors were said to have repopulated into what we know as the world today, and the ark that was responsible for saving the world was named Noah, after its builder."

Wong, who was beside Yao Yuan, piped up. "Captain Yao, if we were to connect the story you've just told and these sets of coordinates, you don't think…"

Yao Yuan nodded his confirmation. "That's exactly what I thought! If I'm not mistaken, these coordinates triangulate the location of our Noah, the spaceship that will save the world just like in the story! This might be our only hope of escaping extinction!"

Since a month ago, when the upper echelons of human society started disappearing, the world was thrown into a state of unease. There were small protests and inquiries, but overall civility prevailed. It was a period of contained anarchy as people waited for a new order of hierarchy to arrange itself.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, when speculations of conspiracies started flying across the masses. As expected of unverifiable sources, there were variations to the story, but the gist was that when the Americans did their first space-warp experiment in 2027, it disrupted the space-time continuum. The result was that astronomers all over the world started to discover an anomaly in space. There appeared to be a rogue asteroid that was hurtling at lightspeed towards the solar system. The asteroid, suspected to be a fragment of a much bigger neutron star, was low in volume but high in mass, thus making it incredibly dense and therefore dangerous. Astronomers calculated its density to be multiple times that of earth. They also deduced that based on its trajectory and speed, it would come into contact with the sun around the summer of 2030. The impact would be unimaginably bad. The solar nova would eclipse the whole solar system but not before charring everything to crisps. Without the higher-ups to dictate order, the news plummeted the world into an apocalyptic frenzy. People wailed in despair or went attacking others in some sort of widespread lunatic high. Situations got so bad that the army staged a military coup, which unfortunately quickly spiraled into an indiscriminate massacre. It seemed like the apocalyptic gloom had broken everyone's minds.

It was indeed the end of the world!

The degree of annihilation rendered it so that it wasn't something that could be avoided by hiding and living underground for decades, nor could it be deterred by moving to Mars. This was going to be a complete eradication of the solar system! There appeared to be no way out.

The Hail Mary pass would be the culprit that started it all: space-warp technology. One could theoretically use it in a spacecraft to warp over vast distances to beyond the solar system and hopefully locate a hospitable planet in outer space and survive.

Nevertheless, this information would have been privy to the rich and famous as well, and one could surmise that that was the reason behind their mass disappearances. Various covert intel operatives confirmed that these people were, just like the plot of the sci-fi film ‘2012,’ building a spacecraft in secret, behind the prying eyes of the public. It was a literal survival of the fittest! They had colluded among themselves to seek survival on their own and leave the rest of humanity to their own devices.

The lack of scientific knowledge and leadership was acting against the chance of survival for the roughly seventy billion people that were left behind. Furthermore, for humanity, time was running out. It was already summer of 2029, so the speculated end was less than a year away. Mankind was on its final lap.

The combination of despair and devastation from abandonment twisted humanity back unto its ugly, basic instincts. The world became a cesspool of iniquity, dominated by death, famine, pestilence, and war. The first victims to fall to the Apocalypse were the unfortunate influentials that were left behind, or the scapegoats. Their families were subjected to unspeakable horrors before being granted the sweet release of death. The next to succumb were the women, who were then followed by the children. With no weaker targets to subjugate, the men finally turned upon themselves.

"But, let's not lose hope!" stressed Yao Yuan, with a punch on the table, denting its metal surface. Between gritted teeth, he declared, "Brothers, have hope! If these codes have a merit of truth, then we mustn't lose hope! This Ark could be our last hope for survival!"