This was originally planned to be a short story for Here Be Monsters. If I do complete it, it may end up being on the long side of that format. Or perhaps I can find a way to establish a sci-fi universe in just a couple thousand words.
Anyway, here it is so far:
At first, space was filled with young people. It was the bold, the foolish, the restless that felt Earth was too constraining to really find yourself. It would be hard to blame them, then, for not keeping up proper records of what was going on at home. Certainly, many of them had that nostalgia of an emigrant, but did any of them bother to write more than a few wistful blog posts to be archived onto the ship computers? It seems the first travellers were unconcerned with where they came from, almost desperate in their attempts to establish themselves as the new humanity, one that was untethered from the nations of old and belonging only to their ship, or their colony, or perhaps nowhere at all. And this generation raised the next, the first humans that were born on other worlds, looking up at different suns. They were told of Earth, but I don't believe they understood it as an actual place. It was a land in the mists of history, a world of societies perpetually frozen at whatever time their parents left it.
It seems some wished to see their true homeworld, and made the dangerous and long journey back, but there were very few. After all, what discoveries could be found on a planet that had been painstakingly mapped for centuries? Most were finding ways to push themselves beyond the limits that even their parents had come up against.
A third and then fourth generation were borne to the star-faring humans. And, in the slapdash society of shipmates and survivalist colonies, there was little schooling, and almost no one became what would have been called a teacher. By the time I was growing up, the Earth was impossibly far-off and mystical. It could not really exist, we thought, not as our parents spoke of it. I think we would all have wanted to go there given the chance, but its location was in only the most archaic of databases. Even then, no one had bothered to map it to the new navigation systems. It wasn't quite a lost planet, but it was certainly hard to find.
All this, I suppose, is just a listing of excuses. Because, when the time came that it was imperative – absolutely essential – that we get back to Earth, we could not or would not. I wonder now, if it was because we were deeply afraid. What had become of the planet in our absence? And what would they think of us, the descendants of the young men and women that abandoned them?
-- From the journal of Anthony Ipswich
It's one of those last phrases there that has been repeated by the social-viruses since The Call. It was often paraphrased into “What has become of Earth? And what will they think of those who abandoned them?” It was a kind of anti-anthem to the Returners, whose bravado-tinted nostalgia was urging people to join their convoy back to Earth. But, even those that were willing to go back had been tainted by that crystallization in Ipswich's now-public journal – we'd already missed that boat. The goal was simply contain the damage before Earth's infected masses could follow us out and stumble upon our oldest cities.
The thought of Markhesh being bombarded by the un-spliced humans of Earth was enough to make my skin crawl. Some Returners were hoping to reason with them, but I was certain of what awaited them.
Once, I'd touched down to help some people out of a colony that was being overrun by an aggressive spore-thing. At first it was just one family, but then another came aboard. Even as I realized what was going on and rushed to lift off, more and more piled into the hold. I shouted to back away, but they were already past reason. They were just stampeding with the absolute terror of those on a dying planet. It is a special panic when you know that there is no place in the whole world where you can be safe. I started the engines while they were still clambering on the hull from the outside. The shockwave killed most of them instantly, I hoped, because that was better than the creeping demise of the spores.
People like that is all they would find in the Sol system. They would hear no reason. They would simply beach themselves upon the shores of Markhesh or Asp and spew their plague onto our people.
There were scientists working on a splice to protect us, but we knew that the Earthlings would have worked on that as well. And, having failed, would have made the disease nearly impervious to further attempts.
Others tried to determine the origin of it. The feeling was that it was no accidental creation, though whether it was made on Earth or another planet wasn't clear. But even studying the disease was a kind of concession to inaction. After all, unless you were prepared to go to Earth and get proper samples, how much headway were you going to make?
I took advantage in my own way, ferrying people from the baseworld of Asp to points further out. For two months, I spent every day in transit, never staying in port longer than it took to fuel up and take supplies. It was gruelling but lucrative. And, part of me felt that moving people away from the dangerous zones was all I could do. I was simply a transport ship. Some of my colleagues had signed on as Returners, but that was a one-way trip as far as I was concerned.
“Do you ever wonder what it will be like after the Earthlings hit Asp?” I asked Cassidy.
“I don't even know what it will be like when they get there. And I plan on being far away from Asp when that garbage rolls in.”
“Well, exactly. The only people getting off-planet are those with ships, and the rich people we're hauling. Imagine it, Cass, Trellis is going to be full of managers, business owners, and theory-cranks from the uni-collective. Who the fuck is going to feed them? Or build their homes?”
“Ha, can't say I'll be sorry to see a few of those Viva-Tech guys get their hands dirty for once.”
“I know what you mean, Cass, but if they don't get spread around -- hell, maybe even if they do -- they're going to drag the planets down just the same as the refugees. I get a feeling there won't be much reason to haul once that hits.”
“Oh, shut it. You're always waiting on the next thing that's going to ruin your business. You should keep a blog about it: “How to run a successful shipping company by being a total fucking pessimist.”