#fridayflash : the last bit of news

I want to start by saying that I've been a writer my whole life, but I'm afraid I will do a terrible job with this. Our government asked me to write it like the news articles I made my reputation on, and already I have failed: I am making this a letter to the person or persons unknown who may someday read it.

Yesterday morning, millions of people came out to watch the launch of the five archive satellites from the Jakta plains, while billions more watched on projections at home or at work. As I write this, all five satellites are on their way to orbit Vanka, the next planet out from the sun in our system. Mission control reports that the satellites are in good condition, and all are on course and communicating with home base. There is every expectation that, two years from now, they will reach Vanka and commence orbiting it. Once orbit is established, they will shut down to save energy, and to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on their mechanical parts. If all goes well and there are not too many meteor showers, they will survive intact for millennia.

As I said, this is a difficult piece to write, and not just because of the occasion. Normally this is the part of a news article where I would refer the reader to the photo series included with the text, but what if you, future reader, visitors to our solar system, don't have eyes that work like ours? What if you don't have eyes as we understand them at all?

So let me break with forty years of journalistic habit and let me describe: the Jakta plains, as they stood when I wrote this, were formed approximately two billion years ago when a very large object — our geologists believe it was a small moon, but it may have been a large comet — crashed into our planet, flattening everything around for thousands of daywalks. Encircling the plain is a ridge, formed from the shock of the impact. Millions of people crowded around the security fence, which had been erected well away from the launch site. The crowds occupied the land right to and up the ridges. I got to see the sight from a heli-glider which flew circuits over the crowds. It was astonishing — I've never seen or even heard of a crowd that big — all surrounding this huge, empty plain, with its seven edifices near the centre. The launch pads and rockets for the five satellites, the assembly tower, and the control building itself.

Mission Control had launch clocks and bulletins projected around the edge of the fence, so people knew what was going on. They announced and explained every phase of the launch. What amazed me — what struck me — was how quiet it was. No-one was discussing anything, or pointing out some detail of the projection to their neighbour. They were just watching, listening, trying to soak up as much of the experience so that... what? I don't know. They all knew they'd never get to tell their grandchildren about it. All those memories will be gone in five years' time.

Understand, future finder of this text. In the past three years, ever since what was going to happen became clear, it's become a habit for most people to flash a scorn-mark — that's a rude gesture we make with our hands (do you have hands?) — at the moon Kala whenever it's visible in the sky. That is, usually in the afternoons now. Kala is the moon that is going to kill all of us. In about five years, maybe even less as the effects of gravity draw it closer — its orbit will decay entirely and it will smash into the planet, our home. My home.

Kala is not a small moon. In fact, our astronomers tell us it's a surprisingly large moon for a planet this size to have. Because of complex gravitational and orbital interactions with our other three surviving moons, Kala's orbit has destabilised.

Some of our scientists believe that Kala's orbit was first altered during the event which led to the creation of the Jakta plains. It's a strange comfort to know we were doomed to this fate long before our species even established itself. We have satellite technology, of course, and we have even sent scientists to walk on all of our moons. There's a thought. There are three people living right now who have walked on the celestial body which will annihilate this whole planet.

But we have no neighbour planets we can colonise, and we can't travel beyond our own solar system. We will be removed, not just from existence, but from history, unless someone finds one of our archive satellites.

There was a pause in my writing between the last sentence and this one. An official came to tell me that I only have about five minutes left before the transmission procedure must begin.

This disjointed bit of text is to be the last piece of knowledge to leave here and be recorded by the satellites. I have to finish up now so they can transmit. They're going to power down everything but the telemetry signals after this, to save energy. 

I've reported on the government for almost my entire career. All my contacts say it's expected there will be a gradual loss of order. Eventually, they say, most police officers and soldiers will abandon their jobs in favour of protecting their families, which will lead to things breaking down even more.

I don't want to believe that. This is the only home I've ever known, but I have a lot of pride in it. Still, I can see how they could be right.

Remember us as we were. And please, add our archives to yours. If you find this, you must have superior technology to ours, but perhaps there is something we can add to your store of knowledge in thanks.