2535 An Interstellar Tragedy

The first interstellar colony fails. Due to alien life forms and hostility among humans.

In the beginning the settlement on Cobol is far from being self-sufficient. However the settlers have all kinds of high-tech equipment, from autofabs to fusion generators. Nevertheless it takes time for them to produce enough food and until their fabs produce everything they need from local resources. Support from the Solar system is planned and financed by the wealthy Cobol Foundation. For the first 20 years at least one supply flight is scheduled every year.

Unfortunately, after the "Dilan Incident" in 2532, the interplanetary economy of the Solar system undergoes a severe crisis. In the chaos produced by people trying to flee the Solar system, many business processes are interrupted and economic values destroyed. Business partners vanish, supply chains brake down, and assets are lost when the stock markets crash. The financial situation of the Cobol foundation gets tense.

So, the supply flights to Cobol must be suspended for 18 months. Two flights are cancelled. Then in early 2534 they can afford to send a supply ship to Cobol. Unfortunately, the ship is lost. FTL propulsion systems are still very sensitive to perturbation masses at high FTL factors. It is assumed, that the ship hit some matter aggregation in interstellar space, a rogue planet or a dark matter pit. Whatever hit the ship, it never arrives at the colony.

Lacking interstellar communication beyond FTL travel, the Solar system is oblivious to the fact that the supply run failed. Only a returning ship could bring the news. The next supply ship starts a year later. It returns to the Solar system after three years with bad news. The settlement on Cobol is destroyed. There are signs of violence. About 100 dead bodies have been found. There are only few survivors in the ruins of the settlement.

The crew of the supply ship finds records from which they can reconstruct what happened:

The biosphere of Cobol is basically compatible with that of the Earth. However, it lacks many proteins, vitamins, and carbohydrates. The settlers must produce all food themselves. This is done in modern greenhouses on artificial substrates with nutrient solutions just like any orbital food production in the Solar system. In addition, they build up earth-compatible biomass, so that they can later grow their food in soil and humus in a traditional way. Nine years after the landing there is still not enough biomass to simply grow food outdoors.

The colony's situation becomes problematic in 2532. A fungus from Cobol is destroying seals and irrigation hoses. It also produces poisonous metabolic products that kill many plants. The food production collapses. Reserves last only for three months. The settlers fight against the fungus to save the next harvest. But the fungus nests in water tanks re-infecting repaired pipes from there. The next harvest also fails and the food must be rationed. Trying alternatives to hydroponics the settlers use the available earth-compatible biomass as a substrate in greenhouses. But the fungus, persistent and adaptable, infests the valuable biomass.

The colony management and leading scientists are accused of having made mistakes. According to the statutes of the Cobol Foundation the leadership of the colony is elected every year. In the third year of the crisis the election campaign is very polarized. The action alliance *TRUTH* narrowly wins against the electoral list *ScienceRulez*. The new leadership orders a state of emergency. They create an armed security force. TRUTH critics are removed from their jobs. Three months later, the new leadership changes food rationing in favor of people important to solve the crisis. A class system is introduced where the leadership, security and indispensable engineers receive full rations. The status of scientists and other settlers is being downgraded. Maintaining order by all means is the top priority. Half of the people are starving. Then critics of the new order are exiled from the settlement. Some are dropped off far away from the colony with minimal equipment. Among them are even families with small children. Nobody can survive long in the wilderness. So, exile is tantamount to a death sentence.

These draconian measures are met with resistance. Both sides manufacture firearms in autofabs. These kinds of fab designs had been banned by the statues of the Cobol Foundation. Though they are not supposed to exist on Cobol they somehow appear in the local network. Insurgents are trying to arrest the TRUTH leadership. This leads to a fierce battle between insurgents and security forces. Firearms and improvised explosive devices damage the settlement and the greenhouses. The clashes drag on for weeks. Finally, the insurgents succeed in ousting TRUTH and their paramilitary security force. Denying access to the fabs, the they manage to cut off their opponents from supplies. But shortly thereafter mines explode in the headquarters, in workshops, and in the living quarters.

Forced to leave the settlement TRUTH members had taken survival equipment and the remaining food with them. They set up holdouts in scientific outposts of the colony to wait for the next supply ship. However, life in the wilderness of Cobol is more difficult than they had imagined living in the well-protected central settlement. The people in the outposts become victims of the aggressive fauna. They are attacked by strange animals as soon as they leave their stations. Being not well protected food supplies stored in the outposts suffer from insect infestations. Unfortunately, the next supply ship comes much later than expected.

During the battles 90 settlers die. The targeted explosions after TRUTH was ousted cost more 40 lives. 50 people who had been dropped far away before the fighting began died trying to reach the settlement on foot. The remaining 120 adults and 60 children try to survive under terrible conditions. 15 months later the supply ship saves 31 adults and 25 children.

Twenty years later Cobol is settled again. The new colony is better prepared for the challenges. The fungus that caused such hardship to the first settlement is biochemically neutralized. From the beginning, earth-compatible biomass is built up on a large scale to create enclaves of flora and fauna from Earth as living spaces for the settlers. Over time, terrestrial species displace the original biosphere. Much later, only remnants of native ecology remain in protected areas while the planet is almost completely terraformed.

After the "Dilan Incident", the "Tragedy of Cobol" is the second serious sign that interstellar expansion is dangerous. Humans have settled their own solar system. That has not been easy the Solar system being vast and dangerous. Humanity had to solve many problems to establish an interplanetary civilization.

Now humans meet alien life stumbling into new dangers. However, the biggest danger lies in the reaction of man to these challenges. The "Tragedy of Cobol" might have been triggered by an alien life form. But in the end the actions of humans in the crisis proved fatal.