Prison Earth

Year – 2250

Sheer weight of constantly rising human population is crushing Earth beyond its breaking point. All natural and man-made resources are already exhausted, basic necessities like water and food are running on a thin line. World economy is on the verge of collapse with the exponential demand and tending towards zero supply. Mass depression created paranoid people who are finding solace in renouncing their religion and faith. Hope was experiencing a painfully slow and anguishing death along with the omnipotent God.

Amidst of all this chaos, group of scientist and engineers from space agencies across the globe working day and night collectively to find a solution. Desperation of finding a viable alternative was driving them crazy. After 5 years of efforts and hard work, they all are anxiously waiting for some good news. It’s time for the news.


ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network Centre – Byalalu Banglore

Vikram squeezed his eyes concentrating on the monitor at 0400 hours. He prefers working in this shift just to track one particular AELP. He was sure that some day he will intercept the signal relayed from AELP-46. It is one of many probe sent into deep space to look for exoplanet which have capacity to sustain like Earth, hence the name of the probes – Another Earth Like Planet (AELP). Vikram specially looking forward to number 46 because once a legendary man by the name Valentino Rossi rode bike of the same number in MotoGP championship. Now an extinct sport event. Vikram was crazy about him and often consider that number 46 brings good luck to him. Today is the lucky day.

AELP-46 found something. Vikram punched in commands to established the connection with AELP-46 and constant stream of data flooded his terminal. He quickly routed the stream to main computer for data crunching.

‘Eureka!’ Vikram screamed and sprang from his chair as soon as he received the processed data from main computer. AELP-46 found a star system identical to ours. Fifth planet from the star was fulfilling all conditions as a potential alternative of Earth. Vikram anxiously waited for the complete processing and prepared a final report. He then quickly broadcasted the message to main council. He named the planet ‘Rossi’.


First thing he noticed while entering into council chamber was grave face of Shri. He looked back at Vikram but his face has no expression not a slightest sign. Vikram was expecting at least a nod from him today, after all he was now the harbinger of hope. Shripati Venkat, Director General ISRO representing India in world council. He stubbornly lived his life only on logic and facts, devoid of any existent emotion. He looked around to other members, cheerful faces of council member lighten up Vikram’s mood.

Vikram located his seat at the other end of the long oval meeting table. He was wearing his favorite tie, today is the important day. He was attending the legendary council meeting. Members of the council are the sharpest mind on Earth. They will decide fate of AELP-46 and next course of action.

‘Council is aware that you are requesting to bring AELP-46 back on Earth, which was anyway a standard procedure. However, we want to know if it’s possible to extract core data while keeping AELP-46 in High Earth Orbit (HEO) or worst case in Middle Earth Orbit (MEO)?’ Council head casually said what he himself knew was impossible.

‘What kind of question is this?’ Vikram looked at council members in disbelief.

‘It is not possible, not today not in next hundred decades and I believe council members already know that.’ Vikram continued,  ‘Yes, I designed AELP series probes but I received the specifications from the council. As per the specification, final set of data can only be extracted from AELP drives manually, it is too large to handle wirelessly. Even if we try doing it, transferring data alone will take more than 7 years, processing it will take next 5 years and we all know the current situation of our planet. We no longer have luxury of time, Earth is now damaged beyond repair and if we don’t do anything now, I am afraid, human race will get extinct.’ Vikram was getting impatient as the temperature of the council chamber started rising.

‘Do you know me Vikram?’ One of the council member interrupted him after getting a nod from Shri.

‘Yes. You are Dzmitry Leonov. Director Russian Federal Space Agency (ROSCOSMOS). Youngest astronaut in the world and an accomplished astro physicist. You also spear head Inter-Agency Debris coordination committee (IADC) and actively voiced your opinion on how to mitigate the risk of space debris in Orbital Debris Co-Ordination Working Group. You along with your team is responsible for creating first effective laser broom prototype.’ Vikram felt goose bumps with every word.

‘That’s an overwhelming introduction. Thank you for the honor.’ Broad smile appeared on Dzmitry’s face.

’Now, what I am going to tell you is a classified information. You in any case shall not divulge a single strain of this information in outside world. Is that clear? Shall I continue?’ Dzmitry said in deep voice. His face was steel again.

‘Yes. Please continue.’ Vikram settled uncomfortably in his chair.

‘Council wants you to send on a space mission. Mission that can save dying human race. You shall be required to go into space, onboard one of our space station. We will make sure you will get everything you need along with AELP-46 on the station. Your primary objective will be to process the core data of AELP-46 and relay the information to base station. You can come back afterwards and resume of regular work.’ Dzmitry added, ‘I must warn you Vikram that the journey will be dangerous and full of challenges. You have to decide whether you want to sign in or not. I suggest you to take a minute or two, let this information sink in and then tell your decision to the council. Fate of our world rely on your decision. Choose wisely.’ Dzmitry put both his elbow on the table, rested his chin on interlinked finger. He looked intently into Vikram’s eyes for a moment and then looked away.

Vikram was confused. He thought that today’s meeting was about the plan to bring AELP-46 back on Earth. Now he understood that he misjudged the council but what he is not able to understand is the reason behind such a meticulous plan, investing unnecessary effort on such an easy task. What confused him more is the information coming from Dzmitry. Definitely, the idea of going into space lure him. It was Vikram’s childhood dream but his instincts told him that something was not right. He can’t put his finger on it but he knew that he is missing something very important.

Suddenly, something clicked. Something Dzmitry said. He told Vikram that he was about to share some classified information. Going to space station is not a classified information, it’s a plan. Plan, which somehow relates to this classified information. Story is not yet ended. He looked at the council members. All 24 eyes were on him.

‘I am ready for the mission but…’

‘…But you want to know the complete truth. Yes, you deserve it. In fact I would have suspected your capability if you didn’t asked for it.’ Shri interrupted him.

Vikram just nodded. Technically he didn’t ask anything. It was Shri who wanted him to act like he wanted to know. True to his nature, Shri never believed that Vikram will realize that there is any truth, let alone demand it.

‘Tell me Vikram, do you know about Kessler Syndrome?’ Shri started again with a question which Vikram knew he himself will answer.

‘Yes, obviously. Kessler Syndrome is a scenario…’ Vikram started talking but he knew that Shri will interject him any moment.

‘Kessler Syndrome was first hypothesized in 1978 by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler. It is a scenario in which density of space debris in lower earth orbit (LEO) reach to an extent that collision between large space debris create a chain reaction. A cascade effect where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.’ Shri concluded.

He continued, ‘It is scary. Isn’t it? One space junk hit another, which in turn hit another junk and another and in less than 8 minutes your one small impact will hit you hard from behind traveling whole earth’s orbit.’

‘This is theory, now let’s talk about some facts. My friend Dzmitry here warned us couple of months ago that we are on verge of experiencing Kessler effect. One more mistake and we are gone. Forever. This is exactly why we are requesting you to go on this mission. You understand AELP probes better than anyone here and by on boarding you and AELP-46 on space station will cut the risk subsequently. We are walking on a double edged sword here, it is imperative that we must find another earth to sustain but on the other hand we also have to make sure that while doing so we don’t lose this one.’ There was a sadness in Shri’s tone as if he already accepted the inevitable.

‘What about all programs we were running to tackle this problem? What space debris coordination committee did to avoid it?’ Vikram was shaken to the core.

He looked towards Dzmitry, ‘What happened to your laser broom? It was suppose to be clearing out the space debris as we speak. I thought you finally cracked the funding taboo and did something not for the benefit of capitalist pocket but for our planet.’ Vikram finished the whole sentence in one breath.

‘You Dzmitry Leonov sir became my role model when you announced that your laser broom is now operational. The timing was impeccable, Envisat satellite just collided with Russian jumbo satellites. All eyes were on you and you heroically saved Russia from global shame and embarrassment. What happen now? Or was that just a political gimmick. You neither had the laser broom nor the intention to do something worthwhile for your planet.’ Vikram’s eyes turned red with anger.

‘Back-off Vikram’, Shri hissed, ‘Dzmitry did all he could. In desperation of finding another earth-like exoplanet, all council members decided to put hold on all unnecessary projects and concentrate our energies on finding viable solution to the problem in hand. Where do you think we get all money for your beloved AELP probes?’

‘Now stop whining and tell us if you are ready and want your chance of redemption or not?’ Shri started showing first sign of his famous anger.

‘Yes, I will definitely go there’ Vikram crashed hopelessly on the chair. He knew nobody can do this job better than him. He will not miss the chance of doing something like this. His morals were too high.


580 Days later.

Space shuttle carrying Vikram and his equipments docked on Kalam space station (KSS). Largest space station ISRO ever launched. AELP-46 was scheduled to be docked in 3 days. Vikram was like a new flesh and bone toy for the crew. They were living on KSS for more than 4 years now and almost forget the smell of wet soil and cold winter breeze. There was a carnage when he opened box of his personal items. Life was tough on them but they all were satisfied being an instrument to find new home for mankind.

After setting up all his gears, Vikram went into main module to meet station chief. He already met Hannah 5 years ago when she was getting trained to handle signal from AELP probes. Back then she was an over excited woman who wants to know all. Vikram was excited meeting her after so many years.

‘Hi Vikram, welcome aboard. How was your travel?’ She was looking much older than what Vikram imagined. Working in such a hostile condition took a serious toll on her.

‘I am good. Travel was scary but I like being here.’ Vikram floated towards but went pass her to barge on the side wall.

‘I heard about your council meeting from Shri. How are you holding up with the information?’ Hannah continued in casual tone, ‘he asked me to show what we are doing to combat the situation here.’

‘Dzmitry’s team helped us installing 7 short range laser sweeps which automatically locate space debris ranging from 2 cm to 10 cm and destroy it before it reaches to our station perimeter. Frequency of laser blasts are increasing everyday, it’s like a Star Wars out there. The only difference is that the dark side here is created by humans.’ Hannah kept her humor alive.

‘What about larger space debris, more than 10 cm? What will happen then?’ Vikram already know the answer but he hoped that Hannah would say something to prove him wrong. She didn’t say anything.

Vikram looked at AELP-46 with admiration. Little soldier didn’t let him down. It now holds the key to human salvation. He gave a pat on the display panel and started hooking his equipments into the probe. He wanted to go back on earth as soon as possible. Vikram was missing gravity the most.

Vikram hadn’t slept for more than 18 hours. He fixed some of the initial glitch in the interfacing but stuck in power module. AELP-46 went into hibernate state operating only the beacon signal to preserve the data. Now, the difficult part was to get it back online. Vikram would have done it in few hours back on earth. Here the story was different. He was forced to manage with whatever little resources available to him.

‘Auxillary power is not sufficient. I need main power supply if I have to make this damn thing make work.’, Vikram finally snapped. He looked at Hannah frustratingly.

‘Vikram, KSS is already running on full potential. I cannot give you any more power. You don’t have the faintest idea what it takes to feed 7 laser dragons.’

After 7 hours of heated discussions, rounds of pleading and negotiations. Hannah finally agreed to find way to route more power into AELP-46.


Vikram was elated looking at the message. He at last managed to send all raw data extracted from AELP-46 to ISRO Telemetry center. Even the processing started back at the data center. By the time he will reach back on earth, all answers will present itself. Hannah managed to shutdown 3 of her laser sweeps to satisfy the energy requirement. She was also happy that all this is over. She took a huge risk shutting them down. It was not safe, KSS took some serious hit and her team had to work around the clock the fix them. She was never happier to send somebody back to home.

‘Destiny play cruel games sometimes Vikram. It will give you hope, send you to all the right places, make you do all the right things. Make you believe that you are very near to your goal. Answer is just before you, you just have to take out your hand and grab it. When you do, it slips away. Away from you. Then you start over because it does not let you abandon your dream. It will give you another illusion to play with. We are trapped in maya Vikram. Maya makes you see things which are not there in the first place. It gives you sense of accomplishment and rejection. What do you see now? Darkness, nothingness. This absence of maya is the absolute truth. Darkness is not end of the road it is portal to the new. You found a new world, you will give all your effort to reach there. Nothing can stop you. Nothing can make you stay back but you forgot the rule of Shiva. Law of Karma. Even your precious maya will not be able to save you from your karma. All chances are exhausted Vikram. You have to break the cycle. You have to wake up… You have to WAKE UP…’

Vikram felt chilling sensation in his spine as he woke up from his nightmare. He cleaned sweat beads and closed his eyes again. He was confused between the reality and dream. He opened his eyes again. He was tied to the seat in a spacecraft going home. Satisfied, he closed his eyes again.

‘It was the weirdest dream I ever saw. Someone familiar was talking to me. Asking me to wake up.’ Vikram’s wide opened his eyes as he realized that the person in his dream was himself and then he realized the blunder he made.

Vikram untied himself and swiftly glided towards the pilot.

‘I want to talk to Hannah on KSS. It is urgent that I speak to her now.’

‘Sorry sir, we are in a blind zone for 5 minutes no communication is possible. Go back to your seat, I will let you know when the lines are open again.’ Pilot tried shaking off Vikram.

‘No, you don’t understand. It is imperative that I talk to Hannah right now. She is in danger. Whole KSS is in danger.’ Vikram’s face was filled with horror.

‘Give me a moment. Let me try.’ Pilot started panicking too.

After 3 long minutes which seems eternity to Vikram the communication panel sprang into action. He quickly grabbed the headphone and signaled pilot to patch him to KSS.

‘Yes, this is KSS chief Hannah. What is so urgent that you send SOS signal. What happen?’ Hannah was irritated.

‘Hannah, listen to me very carefully. Send someone to my workstation as fast as you can. I think I forgot to remove the auxiliary power channel from AELP. I am sorry, it slipped from my mind. I was distracted with the data transfer and my desperation to leave for earth.’

For the next 2 minutes Vikram didn’t received any response from the other end. However, he can hear Hannah screaming on top of her voice, barking instructions to the crew members. He can also hear the static, Hannah was personally going to the workstation.

‘Vikram’, she responded in a deep cold voice after a long pause, ‘Make sure you visit my home and tell my son personally to never come to space. Never.’

‘What happen Hannah?’

Vikram’s headphone filled with a deafening noise followed by a complete silence. Noise left his brain numb for some time. He looked around, pilot was shouting something. He can’t hear him, his voice was fumbling. He closed his eyes to focus his disoriented mind, glided to the left window. He can see the explosion. Crimson white array of flashes filled his small round window. Vikram was trying to look beyond the explosion into the space. He wanted the dark void to engulf him, he knew that this will haunt him for the rest of his miserable life. He single handedly not only killed hundred of people aboard KSS but also destroyed the future of his planet. Explosion of this level will set off the Kessler syndrome in motion. It is now out of human hands to leave earth. He forced his mind to throw this dreadful thought out of his mind. Ironically, his mind start echoing with something Prof. J. Oppenheimer quoted from Bhagavad Gita when he invented the atom bomb: “Now I am become the death, the destroyer of worlds.”


Vikram locked himself in his room for eternity. His shuttle was the last to land safely on earth. All operational satellites were wiped out in matter of minutes after the explosion. There was a utter chaos everywhere, all communication systems were destroyed, no mobile phones, no internet. It’s the inception stone age. Humans are trapped on dying earth. Trapped till the doom of the human race. Revenge of the nature was finally served, cold and brutal and Vikram was her instrument. Thought of committing suicide often come to him. Just like Shri he also wanted to die. To find solace, find peace but he was not sure what’s on the other side. May be Shri’s soul is screaming at him right now in agonizing pain. Pleading to set him free. Vikram sometimes look out of window in the sky and wonder if Hannah’s soul is free now or she is also trapped in this Prison Earth.

The End