Our launch back to Earth was a long and drawn out affair and consisted of an initial trajectory change burn of our chemical thrusters, which took several days to complete, followed by a close flyby of 40 Eridani A six-months later, which provided a significant amount of gravitational assistance. It was long after that manoeuvre, almost a year after, in fact, that we were finally in the correct position to activate our anti-matter drive – something that had not been done for more than a thousand years. The drive started without problems and would remain active for seventy-years as an almost imperceptible but constant acceleration took our ship up to its cruising speed.
For the first few months of that acceleration phase a ship from Carna kept pace with us, and for no other reason than to send back media reports to satisfy the colony’s appetite for information on our ship, and especially on me. I was known simply as ‘The King’ to them, despite not having any formal coronation. It was all rather bizarre to me. I would be asked for an interview almost every day, and usually I would comply, if only for a few minutes. The topics ranged from the important - my hopes for Earth and what my first act as King would be on arrival, to the particularly mundane – such as my bathing and sleeping habits. I seemed to be offered very little privacy for someone thought of as a king, and for someone of such apparent importance. I was a victim of the invasive celebrity culture that had developed on Carna. I was pleased and relieved when that ship eventually headed home and real-time communications beyond the confines of our ship became impossible.
By the time we were decades beyond the completion of our acceleration phase the current generation of the mortal human crew, and indeed their parents, had known nothing but life inside our ship. They were working well and seemed content with their routines and activities which meant that I and the other four Immortals needed to pay them little attention. They provided for our needs and their own which meant that we could concentrate on our intellectual pursuits.
As we had progressed well beyond the outer reaches of the Eridani system I found myself relishing our isolation. I immersed myself in my astronomical studies and looked forward to the approaching centuries of interstellar flight and the darkness it would offer me. Memories of our colony on Carna were fading. It was beginning to seem more like a dream. We had been making annual broadcasts to them for several decades after our launch, but those diminished. By the time we completed the second century of our journey even the requests from them for information on our progress stopped. We had very little, if anything, to tell them. Because of that I think the population of Carna, once almost obsessed with the idea of my returning to Earth to claim the throne of England, lost interest completely. We were virtually forgotten.
We were not forgotten by those on Earth. Although Minister Jansen, whom I had had contact with, had died over two centuries ago his descendants within the ruling Royalist Council sent reports every few years. It seemed that my encouragement to Minister Jansen for England to colonise the other continents of Earth had been a great motivator. Now there were large and well-established English colonies in Europe and North America, and others growing fast in China, Japan, Africa and Australia. What was known as the English Kingdom was rapidly spreading around the world.
The atmospheric climate, though, was very different to the one I left. The war had ushered in a new ice age which was why it had taken so long for a sizeable population to re-establish itself. The ice caps had spread rendering the likes of Scotland and all of Canada uninhabitable. The Antarctic ice sheet now extended to the southern coast of Australia. Winters were harsh almost everywhere, which made food production a constant problem. In England the only useable farmland was in the southern most regions. Better farmland was available in France, now just another part of the English Kingdom, with produce being shipped over regularly to London’s now bustling ports. And there were determined efforts underway to re-establish wheat and corn production in the vast agriculture areas of the former United States of America.
Considering the harsh conditions the reports were very encouraging. Human civilisation, despite all it had been through, was once more flourishing. Most of the cities now had mains water supplies, proper drainage and sewerage systems, and electricity. And radio communications was becoming commonplace. It would still be almost seven centuries until our arrival so I had high hopes as to what could be achieved by the time we got there.
Content that Earth was developing well I focused my attention on more distant targets. With 40 Eridani A many light years behind us the darkness and ‘quietness’ of deep interstellar space provided my instruments and telescopes with the very best conditions. Over the following three centuries I studied thousands of star systems, cataloguing more and more planets to add to the thousands I had studied on our initial journey well over fifteen-hundred years ago. I was looking for signs of life – intelligent advanced life that had created a technological civilisation. It was a discovery that had been coveted for millennia. I was in an almost unique position, as far as I could tell, to conduct such a search. I was in a deep space location with little interference on my instruments, and I had centuries of time due to my significantly extended lifespan. The only people in a similar position would be those travelling on Carna’s interstellar ship to 74 Orionis, but there were no Immortals on board. It was likely that there was now little interest in what lay beyond the confines of their ship. They would be well into the ‘Planned Ignorance’ phase of their journey. Only when their ship began its deceleration phase would the education systems on board begin to teach that generation of the crew about the external environment and their colonisation mission. It was an interesting experiment in human social and societal behaviour that I was keen to know the outcome of. And I would hopefully find out not long after we had reached Earth. Despite 74 Orionis being more than three times more distant, the ship from Carna would arrive not long after the time we arrived at Earth, its more advanced and efficient engines having provided for a much longer acceleration phase.