Week One: Brave Souls
A factory had appeared overnight. Fully automated. No humans necessary. The eight billion people of Earth could go on living and procreating and paying taxes and dying. Nothing had changed, except now there was a factory.
"Wake up, Howard Smith."
Grey clouds and rain. Days without end stretching back in memory in uniformity. What ever happened to childhood? The unending drudgery of the daily slog weighed on his mind, pulling his head deeper and deeper into the pillow. Live. Procreate. Pay taxes. Die.
"Wake up, Howard Smith."
He told his spouse that he was 77% happy, and she replied that she was 25% more fertile because of it. What did it all mean? The treasury ran a huge surplus, even at full production, and a factory had appeared overnight. One week: no factory. The next week: factory. Incomprehensible.
"Good morning. Time for a look at the top news stories. The government reports that the first interstellar spacecraft of the Terran Confederation left Earth orbit today. One, a mining craft, is headed for the asteroid belt beyond Mars to begin extracting ore to assist in production of additional craft and industries here on Earth. The second craft, dubbed the Terran Confederation 'Flagship', has been ordered to explore nearby systems for habitable planets. The third craft contains the millions of volunteers who will found Earth's first extra-Solar colony, based on the discoveries of the Flagship. The best wishes of all humanity go with these brave souls.
Best wishes, brave souls. Brave volunteered souls. Picked by lottery, all entered, all having a chance to lose and volunteer. 77% happy for not having won. But out there, in the orbital shipyard, another monstrosity was being assembled, another lottery germinating. Another chance to lose.
"In more terrestrial matters, our Dear Leader has commissioned the building of another modern, fully automated factory. As ever, a sure hand at the helm of State! A guide for us all as we expand into the universe! 30% of funding for social programs! All hail our Dear Leader!"
Howard Smith, Protagonist, finally got out of bed, did the morning routine, kissed his wife and left for his job at the Ministry for the Development of Knowledge of Weaponry, also known as MinDKoW. He walked in the shadow of the new factory, sat on a bus that drove in the shadow of the new factory, and finally arrived at MinDKow, now dwarfed by the new factory.
One of the big, big bosses (as opposed to his boss or his boss's boss, who was a big boss - this was his boss's boss's boss - thus 'big' squared, or 'b' to the third power, b3) was standing in the lobby as he entered the building, obstructing any reasonable path to the elevator that led to the anonymous safety of Howard Smith's cubical. There was no dodging him, so Howard did his best to become invisible and pass by this formidable obstacle. No such luck.
"Ah...," b3 intoned as Howard approached, "Jones, is it?"
"Smith, sir," replied a very much visible Howard Smith.
"Rrrrriiiiiggghhht." The word stretched, elastic, snapping back on the 't'. "Smith it is."
Howard had stopped walking and waited for whatever b3 wish to say. And waited. The silence grew somewhat awkward.
"You... were, uh - saying, sir?"
"Yes, I was, wasn't I. Listen Jones..."
"Ah, Smith, yes - there's been a change of direction. A CHANGE OF DIRECTION. Yes indeed! Orders straight from the top, you know. Terran Confederation stamped and approved, signed in triplicate, etcetera, etcetera. Hand of our Dear Leader all over it. Specific directions for the further pursuits of the Ministry for the Development of Knowledge of Weaponry that came straight from his puissant lips. In other words, a Very - Big - Deal." b3 paused again, seemed lost in thought.
"V.B.D.!" b3 said. "Yes indeed! That's what we shall call it."
"Of course, sir.!"
"We are to begin immediately, and you, Jones..."
"You, Smith, and to head it up. Now get to it!"
"Of course, sir. Right away, sir. But may I ask exactly what the project entails?"
"The one we were just discussing, sir."
"Come, come; use its name. Yes indeed." Slowly: "I want to hear its name."
"V.B.D., sir," Howard said, trying his best not to become impatient.
"Ah, yes, THAT project. Or should I say, THE project. THE ONLY project. Yes indeed! Here it is then: we are tasked with developing 'New Propulsion Techniques'. How do you like that, Jones?"
"But, sir, we develop weapons. And it's Smith."
"Look, Smith. If Dear Leader says we develop 'New Propulsion Techniques', exactly what business do you think we are in? Huh?"
"Propulsion techniques, sir."
"Right you are! Yes indeed! Now stop thinking and get to work!"
His cubical was on the twenty-third floor. Only a few hundred feet above ground. Millions of miles above him, the brave souls slept in a cryogenic embrace as the colony ship hurtled into the unknown. Best wishes, brave souls! Best wishes!