Chapter 4

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The Facem rumbled through the starry black, its engines shining with a ferocity greater than the sun's. Vast radiators extended around the searing azure of the exhaust, like great rosy petals of a blinding flower.

Yan Liu gaped at their vast extent, spreading gracefully far below her. They already glowed with the accumulated heat of constant acceleration, and their light blush framed the far away Earth nicely. The planet itself had been receding at an ever-increasing pace as the flight progressed, and was now no bigger than the full moon. Currently, it was a crescent, the atmosphere a gleaming sickle of blue and white. On the dark side, the dim, dirty yellow of human habitation outlined the continents with surprising clarity.

Liu was a biologist, one of an extensive team onboard. Her passion was what drove her to join the mission. The distant planet was the most likely candidate for alien life anywhere near Sol, orbiting snugly within the Goldilocks zone of its parent star. Spectral analysis had revealed that the atmosphere was largely nitrogen and oxygen, with enough trace carbon dioxide to keep the planet warm. It was already almost conclusively proven that the planet was alive and thriving. Of course, none of the details could be divined through the telescopes. The variety of life on the planet could range from a few photosynthetic bacteria to a full biosphere of animals and plants. There was even a slim chance of intelligent beings.

Yan Liu lingered for a moment before turning away from the observation deck window. She walked out of the spherical room, away from the bubble of quartz glass that protruded out of the smooth skin of the Facem. She passed the massive blast doors that separated the observation deck from the rest of the ship, their grey and yellow a welcome deviation from the white that covered everything else. She emerged into the main chamber.

Liu lived on the third tier of the habitation module, a fair two hundred meters above the 'bottom'. She took residence here because it was on this floor that the vast collections of biological specimens were stored. There was a plethora of organic samples, from petri dishes of bacteria to entire terrestrial ecosystems, all enclosed within a few hundred square meters. All the material was there mostly for research; the effects of interstellar travel on living things were not well understood.

She walked on, to the edge of the platform. Liu leaned against the glass railing, and looked down at the main plaza far below. The palms made a merry circle around the court, embracing the swaying clusters of people arrayed across the beige surface. The buildings that dotted the plaza were plastered with corporate colors and logos, ranging from general stores to restaurants, to entertainment venues. Coupled with the flowing crowds, the sight was wholly disorienting.

She stepped away from the railing, and made her way back toward the towers. She moved toward one of the multitude, almost identical to all the rest. It rose smoothly out of the white plastic of the ground, and stood in the same shape and height of all the other towers. It had the same grey-black color. The only characteristic distinguishing it from the rest was the maroon strip that stretched from the uppermost spire to the base.

This was one of the buildings that housed the biological specimens onboard Facem, one of five. It had been cooperatively paid for by multiple universities across the solar system, including her own, University of Copenhagen. It mostly contained preserved gene vaults, a record of millions of genetic codes, enough, in theory, to replicate all of Earth's biosphere. There were, however, large stores of plants, animals, and other whole organisms, either living normally in small terrariums or chemically frozen in tubes of thick preservative.

As one of the biology staff for the mission, Liu was one of the few onboard who even knew what these buildings were for. The rest of the passengers assumed it was another residential structure. Even those who knew that biological samples were stored in the towers were not fully aware of their deeper purpose. While there was certainly scientific knowledge to be had in studying animals and plants as they completed the interstellar voyage, most of the space within the towers was occupied with gene banks and artificial fertilization machines. Most of the remainder was taken up by billions upon billions of seeds and spores, collected painstakingly from plants throughout the globe, to ensure that genetic diversity was achieved. Anyone with the full inventory of the bio-towers would find it easy to guess that the primary purpose of the structures was not pure scientific study.

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