The Shroud

Long before the Exodus, during a time when Earth’s nations were naively optimistic about the future, a global effort took place marking a new level of cooperation between public and private space agencies. Having successfully set up a small research colony on Mars, their collective colonization ambitions grew. They had their eyes set on Kepler-1649c, an exoplanet very similar to Earth, but a great distance away. They built a large generation ship, the New Dawn, and carefully chose the passengers and crew from a long list of volunteers. Individuals and couples that together represented a perfect cross section of humanity’s potential. Given the travel time to the exoplanet, they knew that in leaving, they would never again walk on the firm ground of a planet. They did it for their children, and for the glory of being Earth’s first interstellar pioneers. 

The entire mission was only made possible by recent breakthroughs in propulsion technology. The New Dawn was equipped with gravity sails, enabling the ship to harness and focus gravity fields to effortlessly allow it to exit Earth’s orbit and accelerate to incredible speeds while in space. Most involved with the mission were fuelled by the excitement of humanity setting sail into the stars, but the principal scientists behind the New Dawn had a more sober purpose driving their efforts. All data models pointed to the same conclusion; Earth would one day be exhausted of its ability to support human life, which would make deep space colonization a necessity. Of course, such a pessimistic view of the future would put a damper on public relations, political campaigns and funding; and so they kept quiet. The New Dawn’s departure was an international celebration. It made the world’s people believe that their futures could only be bright. Life on board was equally optimistic. They had purpose and a positivity that can only be attributed to a group of people that willingly chose their own destinies. Courage was in ample supply, but it would eventually be tested.

Several decades into the journey, the next generation of pioneers had already reached adulthood, and the original crew were entering old age after having imparted their knowledge, skills and ethics onto their progeny. That is when disaster began to set in. They were coursing through space at phenomenal speeds and began to accelerate unexpectedly. At first, it caused no concern. They were even glad to have increased their velocity with no additional strain on the gravity sails. Soon however, the ship’s increasing speed became questionable, and then eventually, alarming. The ship’s engineers could not explain what was happening with the propulsion systems, until they realized to look ahead instead of behind. A small, previously undetected, black hole was directly in their charted path. Panic took hold as they scrambled to save themselves. Decelerating was not an option as they would be upon the event horizon before they could come to a complete stop. Changing course was not possible either as the ship’s limited maneuverability would still put it in range of the gravitational pull. They were doomed. 

Then a couple, both propulsion system engineers, presented a plan; reconfiguring the gravity sails to focus the well generated by the singularity into a protective field around the ship. Using the black hole’s own strength against itself as a protective barrier, like two opposing magnets of the same polarity, it would theoretically eject them out to safety. It was an outside chance, but it was their only chance. With what little time they had left, they worked frantically to make the necessary changes to the ship. But there was a caveat, the system would have to be initiated at precisely the right moment, from outside the ship. The two engineers that proposed the plan volunteered for the task, knowing what it could mean. They prepared themselves and the New Dawn. It was as ready as it could be, but for what, they were uncertain. 

The families aboard embraced each other as they approached the event horizon. The officers on the bridge were monitoring their systems as closely as they could. They counted down, and before long the moment was upon them. Just as the New Dawn crossed the event horizon, the barrier was activated. The ship entered into an intense tug of war with the singularity. The walls were vibrating with a resonance that was simultaneously beautiful and haunting. Then the singularity, almost as if alive, began to pull harder; the New Dawn was being drawn in. The barrier was holding but the forces being exerted on the molecules of the ship and the passengers were incomprehensible. It was disorienting and agonizing, and became stronger with each passing moment that felt like an eternity. The black hole was winning. The passengers’ senses were ablaze as they began to witness anomalies on board. Objects moving in strange ways, light bending unnaturally, and a darkness that would emerge and dissipate randomly around them. The plan was failing, and the barrier was struggling to keep the molecules of their bodies from being torn apart. It was an excruciating way to die. 

The captain gathered what strength he had left, crawled to the control panels of the bridge, and diverted all of the ship’s power to the barrier. The ship went dark. The gravity sails surged, and the ship halted in place. The sound was deafening. It seemed as though the New Dawn was on the precipice of bursting when suddenly it shot out of the singularity at an incredible velocity, beyond the event horizon into the safety of space, and then vanished... 

...they are the Shroud.