Professor Coyle gently keyed an authorization code into the main console of the sterile room. Replacing equipment while sailing through space was difficult and after so many trips, this vessel was far from prime condition.
“Today’s lesson will complete your required decade of educational service. Tomorrow, we begin the return voyage to Eden, where you will all assume your hereditary roles as members of the Federation Congress. In time, you will shape all the laws for our people.”
Coyle studied the respectfully listening youths for a long moment, hiding his concerns about them and the future. He wasn’t impressed with this generation. “Before you go on to fulfil the roles that reproduction provided, you will be given details about the HOP worlds. You cannot decide the future of this program without first understanding what it is.”
Coyle motioned toward the screen where a blue and green planet hung in space without any idea that its sole existence was only as an experiment. Now that it had outlived the usefulness that had allowed such a creation, the test subjects had to be disposed of. “Hop-17 is a failure. There were no signs of Origin, other than what we had previously documented on other experimental worlds. Though this planet maintained isolated eras of peace through its history, the inhabitants now exist in a constant state of warfare. The true nature of humanity has once again smothered all hopes of an enlightened society forming. None of the religions implanted here were successful, but the field was contaminated by piloting errors, rebels to the Federation, and space criminals who abducted the inhabitants for their own experiments. Most of the technological and medical advances on this world have been attributed to extraterrestrial influences. During the last cycle of our Congressional voting, Earth was officially scheduled for A.R. The asteroid that these so-called Earthlings named Apophis will be employed for this duty. You are the last Learners who will ever have this view.”
Many of the twenty-one students murmured quietly at the revelations. Some also leaned forward to peer in fascination at the vivid ball in the magnified window of their ship. Only those about to assume roles of importance in their society were taken to the far reaches of the universe. Over the last decade, this group of children had visited untold solar systems to fulfill the requirements for their careers. Some of them had gone the full decade between parental visits, which meant their young minds had been formed by Federation guidelines and it made Coyle uneasy. He also didn’t like all of the stiff black and white uniforms glaring at his own pale gray mark of the sterile scientists. All of these kids were breeders and Coyle tried not to hate them for it as he continued.
“Asteroid Removal is an efficient, merciful method of ending these experiments. It clears dangerous or contaminated worlds from the universe before any of them can become a threat to us. It does this without revealing our presence, as required by Federation law. So far, Congress has chosen to remove sixteen such planets over the last forty thousand years. This will be next, thus the sub-title of HOP-17. The Human Origin Program does not end these experiments lightly. It now takes more than a century of deliberations and billions of examples as proof of their unfitness to exist.”
Professor Coyle switched carefully to the next slide. “This is the small group of people from 17 that have been chosen as re-seeders for the next HOP world. These specimens will be cleansed of physical flaws and dropped onto a fresh planet, where nature will allow them to mate and populate that planet. Due to laws passed by Congress after the near destruction of all Asian subjects through genetic defects, it is no longer legal to clone seed couples for Origin experiments.”
“Excuse me, Professor?”
“Yes, Amanda?” Coyle was a bit surprised to be interrupted. None of the other classes had ever questioned him. These HOP lessons were supposed to be unmonitored, but parents usually warned their kids to be quiet. Things had gotten ugly between the two ruling factions of the Federation. Scientists, who held an equal share of the ten judicial seats, wanted the HOPs to continue until answers were found. The Legislators, who held a powerful advantage in their ability to breed, didn’t. They wanted to launch a new program where all station inhabitants, American and other, would resume living on planets.
“Will they remember anything?” Amanda inquired. “The reseeders, I mean.”
“Only an incredibly bright light, and then a large bang. They won’t be harmed during the transfer.”
“Will they be trained or educated? Given anything to survive with?” the girl insisted.
“The pods self-activate during the first stretch of good weather and can be used for shelter. When opened, they also begin to grow a native fast-garden unit that will produce food indefinitely in the climate they were placed.”
“Nothing else?” Amanda pushed.
“No.” Professor Coyle frowned. “Congress has decided that our interference is what has caused the program to fail sixteen times. The next planet will not be given any technology or advanced presences to contaminate the field.”
Coyle waited impatiently for the most inquisitive of his class to ask the next logical question for someone in her position. Amanda would follow her outspoken parents into legislative affairs and disrupt things there, many assumed. Coyle simply wanted her to come away from his class understanding that there were two sides to every story, and one of them was almost always a lie.
“What do you think?” the professor guided. The other students were mostly still eyeing the frozen pods on the screen, but this was a lesson for all of them and they were listening.
“I’m not sure,” Amanda answered without shame or defense. “I support all life being left alone to die or flourish on its own, as my family always has. I also agree with the Scientists that we must have answers to have true peace. But I also think the rebels are right about it being hurtful and a lost cause to try to control human nature at all. I was sent here to be educated on those things, but all of those views have only grown stronger.”
“Yes,” Coyle agreed, turning the screen off to give them a star-filled window into space again. “It has taken much longer for Congress to declare Earth the seventeen extinction planet. We had reason to believe, at first, that the results here would be different.”
“Because the others were done without consideration for the subjects?” Amanda confirmed.
Coyle was impressed to see that the girl’s repeated questions were drawing the other students back into the conversation. She had her father’s magnetic personality, but without his need to wield it so heavily.
“No, though the first few were destroyed sloppily. We developed the asteroid removal system to be more merciful when it was time to end an experiment.”
Professor Coyle hadn’t missed the implication that he alone held the responsibility of convincing Amanda of which choice to make. He’d known that when he found her name on the class registry. Amanda would be joining the Coalition council as her father’s heir when this trek was over. Two years after that, she would fill his seat and likely be the most powerful person to ever control the universe. Like her parents, Amanda was expected to push through reform that the scientific half of the council didn’t want. Coyle’s job as ranking scientist on the program was to convince the girl to keep going with the next experiments that would happen under her reign. The professor had been trying the entire time they’d been visiting these HOP worlds, but with each lifeless planet, the girl’s eyes had only grown more glazed with hatred. No matter what came from her mouth, she had already made up her mind and he knew it.
Coyle had also. He believed they needed answers, but by teaching their kids to search for them this way, Coyle often felt like he was carrying a weight that he could never remove. If there were a God or Hell, he would surely burn for his participation in something so inhumane. Until then, he owed his life to the council, and he would do his duty. “Please turn to page 1 in the restricted guides. They’ll open with this code: Ex16.”
Hop-17 by Angela White