Over the next few centuries I focused my efforts on astronomical studies, with occasional involvement with the exploration of the 40 Eridani A system by our colony on Carna. For two centuries now they had been very active, sending probes to all of the larger planets and moons of the main star, as well as its two dwarf companion stars. They had sent manned missions to two of the planets and had a permanent colony on one of them, and they had even visited our ship on several occasions. They now had very little reliance on our ship to provide them with information on their stellar environment. They were becoming truly self-sufficient, and were even planning an interstellar mission similar to our own. I and the six other Immortals continued to be impressed by our colony’s progress.
Every few years I turned my instruments towards Earth and the Solar-System. I found it impossible to accept that there was no one left there. There must have been survivors who could re-establish some form of civilisation. But more than a thousand years had passed since war consumed our home system. If there had been survivors on Earth the devastation of the eco-system would have kept population levels to a minimum for centuries and prevented anything but basic survival tasks from being carried out. Reluctantly I had to agree with the other Immortals that the best that could probably be hoped for by now would be a medieval-level society, and that it would be another thousand years at least before a detectable technological civilisation developed.
But still I watched and listened. And still I hoped.
I detected a faint intermittent signal a century later.
The signal was so weak that it was almost impossible to glean any information from it, but it was a signal, all the same. At the very least it seemed that someone on Earth had built a radio transmitter, one of reasonable power, and directed a signal into space. And they had directed it in our direction.
I presented my findings to the other four Immortals and then to scientists on Carna. Within days dozens of radio telescopes across the 40 Eridani A system were directed towards Earth. The signal was amplified and cleaned. It contained a voice that spoke a distorted and heavily accented version of English. The repeating message was simple: “Come back. We need you. We need our King.”
And then it mentioned my name.
The memory of hearing that message for the first time will never fade. For my name to be mentioned in a message from a devastated planet almost seventeen light-years away, and more than one-thousand eight-hundred years since I had left it, was quite remarkable, and shockingly difficult to accept or believe. But it was confirmed as genuine.
The message sparked long discussions between me and the other four Immortals, and as I learned later, intense speculation by the media networks on Carna. And it was the part of the message, “We need our King.”, that was the focus of the speculation. I must be, so everyone seemed to be assuming, a relative of King William VII, and, as the only known surviving member of his family, the heir to the throne of Great Britain. And it seemed that someone on Earth knew that and was asking for me to return and claim it. It did not take long for calls for my DNA to be compared to King Williams to be made. The other Immortals agreed.
For quite a while I did not.
I demanded that the body of King William, my friend, remain undisturbed beneath the monument in Londinium. But eventually I bowed to public and political pressure, if only to put an end to the matter. The King’s body was carefully exhumed and tested, and then so was I.
It turned out that I was indeed a relative of the King, most likely a first cousin.
The news was treated with great joy on Carna and amongst the crew of our ship. I was overwhelmed, and a little disturbed, by the whole thing. After all, the British Monarchy had ceased to exist as an institution well over a thousand years ago when King William had died on his ship. Even if I was the only living heir there could be no real kingdom to claim.
But of course the message from Earth suggested that that was not the case.
It was not long before a return mission was proposed. The construction of the colony’s interstellar ship, very similar to our own, was nearing completion. There were many on Carna that insisted the government redirect that ship to Earth, instead of its original destination of 74 Orionis, but that was dismissed. What was proposed instead was that our ship should be the one to return. It was something I had never considered before, but the idea excited me. I already knew I would be spending the entirety of my life on our ship and I was comfortable with that so long as I could continue my astronomical studies. I could not see a problem with that as it did not really matter where the ship was. I supported the proposal, and so did the other immortals.
Of course, our ship was in poor condition for such a journey. It had been designed for the trip to 40 Eridani A and nothing more. It would need extensive repairs to its shielding and anti-matter propulsion system, as well as a replenishment of its ant-matter store. And more than half of the ship had been abandoned for centuries. Those areas would need to undergo a complete refurbishment or even a rebuild. All of that work would take a considerable amount of time to accomplish, many decades at least. And the mortal crew would need to reach pre-colonisation levels, thousands more than the eight-hundred that currently lived onboard. We immediately removed their breeding restrictions, but we would also require additional crew members from Carna to top up the numbers. We made such a request to the Carna government and it was accepted. As soon as the request was made public more than a million volunteered. That surprised me, especially as those that came onboard would more than likely die of old age before our ship was ready to depart. But I guess it was no different to the original crew that boarded our ship two millennia ago. Over many years, and following a strict set of selection criteria, three-thousand were eventually selected.
The other Immortals and the Carna government decided that it was time to send a message to Earth, and that it should be from me. With more than a little trepidation I recorded and transmitted a response, indicating that I was alive and well and that I would be returning. I wished them well on Earth and asked for more information on conditions there, particularly in England.
Over the next forty years our ship was readied, a process that became an obsession with much of the population of Carna. Several of the planet’s media channels ran regular documentaries on our progress, and many dramatisations of our eventual arrival at Earth were screened, each one more ridiculous than the last. Even the launch of its own interstellar ship, a vessel far more impressive than ours, a few years after our ship’s repairs began and with a crew of almost ten-thousand, failed to divert their interest for more than a few months.
Just as the repairs and modifications of our ship had been completed we received another message from Earth. It provided some encouraging information. London was thriving again, although its level of civilisation was barely beyond that of early Victorian times for most people. There was a population of several hundred thousand surrounding the Tower of London – the only surviving royal historical building in the city. It had been maintained to a reasonable level, too. I was told that the White Tower at the centre of the castle would be kept in a suitable state for my arrival and that it would be my main residence. A monument to welcome me was being constructed from rubble taken from the other royal buildings in the old London. I was pleased to hear that a significant part of Windsor Castle had survived and that it would be repaired and maintained for my use.
The message also provided some information, although very little detail, as to how England was being governed. There was a ruling council, known as the Royalists, who were, in their words, ‘maintaining order and progression’ until my return. It seemed they were quickly ushered into power when my message was received. The Royalists were custodians of what was known as ‘The Old Technology’, which seemed to amount to an electricity generator and some powerful radio equipment. Generation after generation had kept it working for almost two millennial – a phenomenal achievement considering the devastation and hardship all must have suffered during and after the war. The person that sent the message, and the original message, was a Royalist Minister named Jansen.
It seemed that the rest of the world had not redeveloped in the way England had. Over the last century, since London had finally re-established itself, exploration ships had made hundreds of voyages to all the other continents. From the east coast of the former USA to the islands of Japan and the horn of Africa there had been no signs of civilisation re-emerging. Wherever humans were found there was usually barbarity, and at best proto-urban bronze-age societies. Minister Jansen said that there had been plans for many years to set up colonies in Europe, Africa and North America to re-establish civilisation but nothing had been approved as yet by the Royalist Council. It seemed that England’s current government was as indecisive and bureaucratic as any that had been in place before the war.
With the approval of the other four Immortals I sent a response informing Minister Jansen and the Royalists that we were about to commence our return journey. I encouraged them to go ahead with their colonisation plans and to try and establish civilisation around the world once more.