Short Story: The Cradle

The caverns of ice had originally been carved by meltwater, but the servitors had widened and straightened them to accommodate the prefabricated shelters and equipment. They had installed lighting, set up generators, even laid down decking to insulate the feet of those coming after them.

The vaulted ceiling that arched overhead shimmered with refracted colours sometimes. Condensation misted the air, and sometimes became a drizzle when the cavern’s ambient air temperature raised too far. As for the original meltwater stream, that still ran through the centre.

Sometimes it was visible, either where aesthetics had suggested it, or where materials were being conserved. For the most part though it was buried beneath the swathes of decking. That had presented a sufficiently flat surface that vehicles and buildings competed to use the new real estate.

The servitors had done their best to prepare the way and secure the site. It wasn’t perfect, but then you couldn’t expect even sophisticated automatons to be able to adapt to everything. Nonetheless, the habitat on this new world conformed to specifications well enough that stage two had been set in motion after a mere five local years. The incubators and soil reserves had been deployed, along with a tailored selection of biodiverse microfauna to create a reasonably stable biosphere and the conditions for a form of agriculture to be an option.

The clone banks swung into action after that. The new world was too far for a crew to survive the journey, and generation ships had proved a difficult sell to many. A seeding approach was deemed statistically effective, especially given the state of the origin planet at that stage. Panspermia had seeded the Earth, so why not use it to push back into the void? It wasn’t the only option, but it did offer a chance that the scattered worlds may find each other at some point in the future. Records of their cultural heritage, and technical templates and tools would allow the clones to bootstrap their societies so that they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The failure rate would be immense. No one would know if the effort succeeded, but the risks were worth it. Would this cavern bring forth the heirs of empire, or would it be a tomb for the ages?

The clone banks are ripening now. We’ve read their files and media, and we’ve analysed what we can of their systems. They’re a strange race, these humans. Shall we see what these newborn invaders of our world have to say for themselves?