Silent Running

STORY: In the future the Earth has experienced an environmental disaster on a staggering scale – what remains of the planet’s open green spaces are preserved in geodesic domes carried by giant cargo ships orbiting near the planet Saturn.

Onboard the spaceship Valley Forge, the four-man crew await a transmission from Earth. Freeman Lowell, a botanist who has been with the forests programme for eight years, hopes the message will be the recall of the ships to make the Earth green again. Sadly, when the transmission is received, the order is given for the ships to jettison the domes and self-destruct them with nuclear charges, the ships are to be put back into commercial service.

Lowell, distanced from his crewmates, tends one of his beloved forests as the domes explode all around him, seeing his dream go up in nuclear fire, he snaps, killing crewman Keenan in a struggle and trapping crewmen Baker and Wolf in one of the domes before it is jettisoned and explodes some distance from the ship.

In the fight with Keenan Lowell injured his leg, losing blood, he re-programmes three “drones” – maintenance robots who wander the corridors and surface of the ship, to operate on him.

Informing the captain of the spaceship Berkshire that he is experiencing technical difficulties and that his three friends were killed when one of the domes exploded, Lowell heads the Valley Forge towards Saturn, where radio contact will be lost with the fleet. Over the radio, Lowell’s boss Anderson tells him the ship will pass through Saturn’s rings and that he might want to consider committing suicide before he is almost certainly killed by the trip through the rings.

As the ship heads for the rings Lowell sleeps, only waking when the ship starts experiencing turbulence as it passes through the rings. On this perilous trip, one drone is lost, blasted into space when it does not make it back inside in time due to getting its leg trapped in the surface grating on the hull. Despite this setback, the ship makes it through the rings of Saturn.

Lowell informs the drones, now renamed Huey and Dewey (Louey being lost in space), that they will now work for him, doing their usual jobs but doing more to maintain the one remaining forest. One of their first jobs it to bury the body of Keenan, which Lowell oversees on a monitor. Expressing regret for his actions, nevertheless Lowell reconciles himself to what he did.

In the days that follow, the lone botanist goes on about his duties and often thinking about his dead friends, until one day he goes to the dome and discovers that the forest is dying, and he doesn’t know why!

Heading towards the dome in his buggy after conducting some tests, Dewey is crippled in a collision with the buggy. Lowell does his best to repair the drone but his functions are badly impaired.

The Berkshire interrupts the silence of Lowell’s trip informing him that they conducted a search and rescue mission when they lost contact with him after he entered the dark side. This gives Lowell the answer to the malady affecting the forest – the plants and trees are not getting enough light!

Setting up powerful lamps to light the dome, Lowell informs the drone Huey that his job from now on is to just maintain the forest, Lowell realising that time is running out because the Berkshire will soon be docking with the ship and the truth will be discovered about the events he has set in motion.

Lowell jettisons the last dome into space with Huey onboard, the injured Dewey looks on as Lowell triggers the remaining nuclear charges, blowing himself, the drone and the Valley Forge to kingdom come.

The dome containing the last forest from Earth sails on through space, tended by its faithful guardian, a small blue drone named Huey.

– written by Peter Noble