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Mankind's urge to explore and expand its frontiers finally caused another push into the vastness of space - first interplanetary, then interstellar. By the 23rd Century a great migration wave was spreading from Old Terra to inhabitable worlds which had been discovered orbiting nearby stars. During the next hundred years colonization ships of all types and descriptions went out to the stars, bearing seedling colonies seeking a better life. Many found their new homes - for better or for worse - but for one reason or another, scores of these starships never reached their destination. This story is based on just such an event, the fate of a colony ship which became lost...

The starship Warden was created from the designs used in the United Western Starship Cartel program, and it was laid down in the Trans-Plutonian Spaceyards in 2277. The design was the most ambitious ever attempted, the blueprints calling for an oval spheroid of tremendous size using a new metal alloy of tensile strength previously unknown. The ship was an incredible 80 kilometers in length, with a width of 40 kilometers, and a height of just over 13 kilometers. Additional levels above and below the central one brought the total number of decks to 17. Warden required 11 years to complete, and it did not leave the Sol System until 2290 because of the effort required to outfit the starship. The vessel contained complete Terran environments, and the colonists were not rigidly screened for the expedition, for it was held that Warden's accommodations would place few physical or psychological stresses upon colonist or crewman.

The vessel was given over to large, open areas, with a simple system of electronic locks used to insure that colonists did not stray into command or possibly harmful areas. With its cargo of the flora and fauna of Earth, 1.5 million colonists, and 50,000 crew members, the wonder of the Interstellar Colonization Age set forth to found a new world many light years from its old home.

Some one-third of the way to the planetary destination which had been selected for Warden stretched the very fringe of a cloud of space radiation. This cloud had been charted and analyzed, so that Warden�s captain was aware that he was to plot a course to avoid any possible danger. Somehow the vessel came too close to the radiation, and the cloud contained disaster. The energy given off at the fringes of this celestial hazard was foreign to all previously known radiation types. It passed through every one of the ship�s protection systems and defense screens. The effects on the ship itself were startling. Those hit worst were the colonists, and most of the human beings exposed to the radiation simply turned to piles of calcium with no advance symptoms. Hard hit also were the flora and fauna which underwent mutation if they even survived at all. Even some of the vessel's systems were affected, and unstable, radioactive areas were created from the cloud's radiation. The humans who survived the initial exposure discovered too late that life forms in their natural setting - such as the ecologically prepared forest areas and the like - seemed to have the greatest resistance to the effects of the radiation. A few of the crew and colonists then took to living in the huge parks of Warden. A handful remained who tried to restore sanity and order to the starship. They failed.

Life became a struggle merely to survive for those humans that were left. In this struggle, all knowledge of the ship�s mission or even, in fact, that the humans were on a ship, was lost. Ship�s systems were maintained in a minimum operative state by the vessel�s main computer and the robots that were operating at the time of the cloud's entrance into the starship. Later generations of humans lost all sense of identity with the ship regressing into a state of savagery. Life quickly stabilized (as life has a habit of doing) with new life forms created by exposure to the unknown radiation. The humans settled into a tribal way of life and those few that traveled and came back told of areas where the animals walked like men and plants were able to talk and move. The vessel traveled on past its assigned planet with its safety systems preventing the ship�s destruction by crashing into a planet or burning up in the sun. It is only a matter of time until even those almost perfect systems fail and the starship dies. Until that time, life continues to flourish and the Warden travels on, much changed from what it once was.

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