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Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Psyche! It might not be as heavy as we thought

March 4, 2022
MThomas

A new study suggests that 16 Psyche, one of the most intriguing and most valuable asteroids we know of, could be covered in iron-spewing volcanoes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamiecartereurope/2022/02/24/the-iron-giant-asteroid-worth-more-than-our-global-economy-may-have-an-explosive-secret-say-scientists

Psyche is an asteroid that was probably once the heart of a planet in the early system, one that didn’t survive the violent process of planet formation.

Yep — that “worth more than the global economy” rock in space.

But we’ll have to wait a few years to find out if it’s “less metal and more hard rock” — the Psyche Mission rockets off in August 2022 and the probe won’t arrive for four more years.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 32: United Mars Colonies

January 22, 2022
MThomas

Unaware of events on Ceres or Lunar Base, Martin Velasquez is finding out that the “united” Mars colonies aren’t so united at the moment…

Things on Mars had gone from bad to worse. Riots had broken out all over the Colonies. The water supply was dangerously low. The hydroponic farms were about to give out at any moment. The UA forces were still on their way from Earth, and Martin still hadn’t figured out how to hack into the UA ice factory’s electronic lock systems.

And now the settler factions wanted a conference.

With the sounds of fighting in the background of nearly every speaker, Martin found it nearly impossible to hear what the leaders were saying.

“—can’t control your own people, let alone—”

“—five dead already, our children starving and running around half-mad. What are—”

“—anything at all. The situation is insane!”

YES!” Martin shouted at them. “It is insane! I completely agree!”

“Then do something, Overseer!” the speaker from the Central African Alliance bellowed.

He looked at her. “I’m sorry, who are you? Where is Mr. Mbutu?”

“He is…otherwise occupied. As are most of my staff!”

“Mine, too!” the speaker from the Greater Indian Empire interrupted.

“Yes, here, as well.” The European Consortium.

They began to squabble again. The noise rose to a deafening pitch.

A button glowed under Martin’s left hand. He muted the conference and answered.

“Martin.”

“Overseer, an incoming message has been attempted. It has been blocked as ordered.”

“Incoming? From where?”

“Three ships on a trajectory to intercept Mars Colonies orbit. ETA three months.”

“Thre—Where are they from?”

“The message claims they come from the United Americas.”

He calculated. No, it couldn’t be troops. The UA forces would reach them much sooner, which is why he had taken the precaution of guarding the ice factories in the first place.

Then who?

“I’ll take it in just a minute. Remove the communications block temporarily and tell them to hold until I finish the conference call.”

“Yes, Overseer.”

He hesitated, covered an ear, and depressed the mute button. The deafening noise burst back into the speakers.

“Gentlemen,” he tried. They continued unabated. Some gesticulated at his direction, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“Gentlemen,” he tried again. No change. Louder, if that were possible.

Oh, hell.


WILL YOU ALL SHUT UP!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.

That seemed to have got their attention. For a moment.

“Overseer! How dare—”

“The UA is coming.” Martin said slowly, loudly, enunciating as clearly as possible.

He let the words hang there for a minute, letting the implication set in.

“I do not know what they want, but there are three ships,” he said in a more normal tone of voice, trying desperately not to let a note of panic in.

“What,” the Brazilian leader began. “What does the UA want with us?”

The Islamic Nations representative laughed nervously. “Perhaps they come with water we can actually drink without losing our minds.”

Martin glowered. “I don’t know why they are here. I don’t know how to stop the riots. I suggest you increase your own security, obey the water restrictions and food rationing. We are at a critical juncture. The UN appears to have failed. I will contact you again after I have found out what the UA ships want.”

He closed the session to somber, blank faces.

Martin rubbed knuckles into strained eyes. No water for washing. No water for tea. He dare not drink the contaminated water supply. Even using it for electricity seemed to have nearly drained what was left.

What chance had they got? Weng and Gen had not contacted him yet, so he had no idea when they might arrive with the supplies from Luna.

He sighed. Nothing else to lose, at any rate.

He clicked on the comm. “Patch through the UA ships. Visual if possible.”

A haggard white, bearded face topped with unruly dirty blond hair appeared on the aging console. The man appeared to be wearing the uniform of the UA from about two decades prior. An old Earthside airline pilot, Martin guessed.

“This is Dirk Prosser,” the man said in an exhausted, strained tone. He seemed on the verge of a breakdown. “Former Captain in the United Americas Airforce, now representing four hundred refugee families, requesting permission to dock at United Nations Mars Colonies orbiting station.”

“Refugees?” Martin asked quizzically. Not military?

“Yes, sir. Fleeing war zones in northeast UA, New York, Boston, Montreal, Halifax. Everything’s on fire.”

“I see.”

On the one hand, Martin felt he could relax. But on the other, this was the last thing they needed. More people. At least they weren’t invading marines.

But he had no choice.

“Go back,” Martin said curtly. “Or go to Luna. Our water and food supplies are critically depleted, and there is a medical quarantine in place throughout most of the settlements here.”

“Sir,” Prosser said, his voice quivering. “We have taken several months already. Several families are experiencing space sickness and we have virtually no medical supplies to treat them. Lunar Base is in chaos. We have nowhere else to go.”

“Go back,” Martin repeated in a calmer voice. He tried to remain emotionless, but an ugly thought entered his memories. Something from his family’s past. Something passed down to him.

“You don’t know what it’s like back there!” the representative pleaded. Martin could see the terror written on the man’s face. “Are you so heartless? We have children, infants, even. Starving! Being beaten, murdered!”

“Go back,” Martin repeated, his voice raising. “They will starve here, too. Didn’t you hear? Even if by some miracle we get new supplies, we do not have the electricity to operate enough gravity generators. The low gravity of Mars will deform the children. What kind of parents would make their children suffer so?”

“Don’t you think we thought about that?” The man seemed on the verge of hysteria. “Do you think we had any alternative?”

Something in Martin snapped.

“You should have thought of that when you denied entry to my country’s people,” Martin suddenly spat out. 

“I, I don’t—”

“When the UA denied entry to refugees fleeing war and hunger. Arresting parents and returning them, separating them from their children and selling them off to the highest bidder. Leaving infants to die of thirst and hunger on the desert border. How dare you come to Mars now and ask for the same!”

“Sir! I was only a child myself at the time. How can you—?”

“How can I!” Martin shouted, slamming his hands on the console. “How can I?!”

Another beep on the console. He abruptly cut the connection to the UA ship and swore. “Dammit! What now?”

“Overseer, a message from the shuttle.”

“What shuttle?”

“Gen and Mr. Weng, sir. They say they will arrive in two days.”

“What?” Martin cycled through the incoming records and known trajectories. “I don’t see any sign of incoming ships aside from the UA refugee ships.”

“They say they will arrive in two days, sir,” the Martin Colony Council receptionist robot repeated tonelessly. “They say to let all in. Everything is under control.”

Martin sat down, stunned.

He couldn’t handle this any more. With a barely suppressed giggle, he toggled the comm. The inside of the refugee ship appeared. Children crying in the background. The captain’s hand first appeared, then his bedraggled face as the man dragged himself back into view. “Yes? Yes?!”

“Mr. Prosser,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Continue on your course to Mars. I’ll see the docking station is open to you.”

“Thank you! Oh, thank you, sir!”

“Don’t thank me, Mr. Prosser,” Martin replied. He cracked his knuckles and shoved his chair away from the console and spun himself around slowly. “Enjoy your final few days in space. We may all very well die together!”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 33: Ceres – Weng. Star-crossed lovers begin their final journey on February 5th

The DART has lift-off

November 24, 2021
MThomas

twitter.com/nasa/status/1463315612042678279

Technically, the two asteroids the DART is aiming at are a “binary” (they orbit each other).

The BBC’s explanation is pretty good.

They don’t even mention Bruce Willis until the final sentence.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59327293

Procrastinate, work, repeat

November 12, 2021
MThomas

Where’s the Artemis?? What’s up with Mars? And Ceres seriously…?

Sorry I haven’t kept up the story posts, everyone.

I know it’s been almost a month since the last Bringer of Light episode. Work just got dumped on me, and I can barely find time to give my writing students feedback. We switched back to face to face classes…with live streaming on Zoom for students who couldn’t or wouldn’t go back to campus…which is definitely NOT a teaching style I would recommend to anybody, anywhere, ever.

It’s been like laying down tracks in front of an oncoming train. Every day.

There is lots more good stuff for Riss and her crew, I swear. I’ve got drafts up to Chapter 42, and plots to the end after that. Let me see if I can get the next one up for you all in a day or two…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres

October 16, 2021
MThomas

The Artemis is home – to an unwelcome surprise.

Riss opened her eyes. The Ceres mining station lay beyond the horizon, just outside the physical limits of the view screen. But not outside her awareness. Nor her crew’s awareness, she knew with conviction.

She suppressed a yawn, and rubbed her forehead with the back of a hand. Tiring, but not as much as the previous two times. Perhaps working together mitigated the effects.

They had changed. But to what degree?

Her crew gazed at the surface of Ceres above them. Cooper coughed, wiped an arm against a sweat-covered forehead. Despite all that had happened, he still felt uncomfortable approaching planetoids and ships while “upside down.”

“We’re,” he croaked, “we’re not dead.”

“Yeah, we noticed,” Enoch said. He languidly splayed his arms over the console as if hugging the ship in reassurance.

“Sanvi,” Riss asked. “What happened? I thought we were just going to try to make Artemis go a little faster as a test.”

Sanvi shrugged. “It looks like we passed the test.”

“Passed it all the way to the catcher,” Enoch said. He grinned. “Man, what a trip!”

“Riss, shall I take us into orbit?” Sanvi asked.

Riss nodded. As Sanvi slipped the Artemis into geosynchronous orbit around Ceres, Riss cast her eyes up and down the pilot. Something had passed between them, hadn’t it? Before they had combined to move the Artemis. Sanvi briefly glanced back at Riss. A look of longing, desire, hope. 

Continue Reading

Bringer of Light, Chapter 25: Transit – Transjovial to Happy Hunting Grounds

September 25, 2021
MThomas

Riss and the crew of the Artemis have experimented with their strange new understanding of the universe – both physical and emotional. Still far away from Ceres or Mars and unable to contact those who may have been similarly affected by the asteroid, the crew has to find a way to traverse the vast space that lies ahead…

The banging on the door came again. A muffled shout from the corridor side.

Enoch?

Riss opened her eyes. Her feet were firmly stuck to the floor of her cabin. Having forgotten to remove her magboots. She was standing, swaying in place. Yawning, she stretched her arms over her head.

“Open.”

The geist practically fell through the opening doorway. Caught from behind by the navigator.

“Riss, are you, are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine, fine, Coop.” She turned to the fridge unit. “Water.”

The fridge rolled out, door opened. A pack of water came to her hand.

Cooper’s eye widened slightly. He straightened himself, brushing off Enoch’s grasp. “You seem to have everything under control.”

She laughed. “Sorry to make you all worry. Did I oversleep?”

“The opposite, actually,” Sanvi called out. Riss could see her now, leaning against the corridor wall with her arms crossed. 

Sanvi nodded at Enoch. “Somebody has been demanding that we try the pitaya experiment again.”

Enoch shrugged. “I got hungry.”

Riss looked between the two of them. Suddenly she felt an enormous bond among them. Her friends. Her crew. It was as if she could see a glow around their rough edges.

Especially Sanvi.

She took a deep breath and smiled.

“I have a different idea. Let’s try to make the Artemis go faster.”

“Faster?”

Continue Reading

Sigh.Way behind. Again.

September 18, 2021
MThomas

OK, I readily admit that I am once again waaaay behind on my scifi blogging.

At some point last week, I looked up from the mass amounts of work I had left to do and went, “Uh. August 21st? Was that really the last time I posted?”

Uh. Yup.

😣

I’ll do my best to get the rest of Riss’s story online on a biweekly basis, like I promised I would.

But promises…

Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Artemis

July 29, 2021
MThomas

About a month overdue! Sorry once again. But life has a way of…etc etc.

Weng and Sam were on their way back to Mars but took a detour to Ceres, having realized that a conspiracy involving asteroid hunters and possibly even retired Captain Sergey on Luna has entangled the clones’ plan for an independent Ceres. Meanwhile, the Artemis continues its long journey home, and the crew decides it’s time to test out their newly acquired abilities…on some fruit.


Riss stared down at the table in the mess galley. A dozen fruits and vegetables floated above it, gently bobbing up and down.

“How did you do that?” she demanded.

Sanvi shrugged and then yawned. “I just thought about what I wanted to eat. Made me feel a little tired, though.”

“I saw you do it, and I still don’t know how you did it.”

Cooper leaned forward and plucked out a mango. He paused, then took a small bite. “Delicious,” he said, devouring the rest.

Enoch shook his head. “I don’t know what half these things are.”

Sanvi picked up some of the fruit and passed them around, naming each.

“Purple mangosteen. Ambarella. Star fruit.”

“What’s this one?” Enoch asked. He gestured to a yellow fruit with twisted fingers stretching out in a cluster.

“Buddha’s hand.”

He made a face. “You expect me to eat this stuff? I’d rather have rations.”

Riss laughed. “Eat or not, the more important fact is that Sanvi was able to make them at all. What did you use?”

Sanvi tapped a finger on the panel next to her. “Some of the rations, of course. I reasoned that, if we can manipulate matter, we need something that’s already physical.”

Enoch sputtered. “Some of the ra—“

“So,” Riss cut in, “even though there are atoms all around us, it’s not as if we can just create something from nothing.”

“It’s not creation, is it?” Cooper said. “Nothing is new in the universe. Everything is merely one form of something already existing.”

Riss nodded. “Nothing is created; all is renewed. From either a mystical or a chemical standpoint.”

“Wait,” Enoch protested. “Are you saying that any of us — all of us — can do what Sanvi did? Make some disgusting fruit?”

Sanvi gave him the finger. 

“If you’ve never heard of Buddha’s hand,” Riss said, “I doubt you’d be able to manipulate the atoms of a ration tube and turn it into one.”

“But if I know what something is,” Enoch said dubiously, “then as long as I can imagine it, I can make it?”

“Rearrange it. Not create. That’s what I must have done with the doll in my room.”

“Doll?”

Riss briefly felt herself reddening. “Save it.”

“OK, Wiseman,” Cooper said, giving Enoch a tube. “Here’s your tube. Let’s see you turn it into something else.”

Enoch held the tube and concentrated. At first, nothing happened. After a moment, the edges of the tube began to fold in on themselves. The object became rounder, and redder, with slender green strips like fingers emerging from the surface.

Enoch gasped and nearly dropped it.

“My god,” Riss said. “What on earth is it?”

Pitaya,” he whispered. “Dragon fruit. I’ve never eaten one. Only seen pictures from my grandfather.”

He turned it over in his hand, then placed it on the table. He took a knife out from a nearby drawer and cut the fruit in half. The inside was off-white, with tiny black seeds throughout.

“It looks like vanilla chocolate chip ice cream,” Cooper said. He stuck his finger into the pulp and licked it. “Doesn’t taste like it, though.”

Riss picked it up and took a bite. “It tastes like a bland food ration,” she said.

“Not bad for a disgusting fruit,” Sanvi said with a smirk. Enoch returned her finger to her.

“So,” Riss said, “We can’t rearrange things without direct, previous knowledge of what it is we want to make.”

“Would this also work for inanimate objects?” Cooper wondered aloud. “You know, like minerals or metals.”

“Do you mean, could we extract ore from an asteroid just by thinking about it?” Riss asked. She recalled the mask, then shook her head. “I’m not all that anxious to find out, to be honest.”

“No, no,” Cooper said, shaking his head. “I mean, how do we stop the ship? Can we, uh, rearrange part of to slow us down?”

“That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” Riss replied. “But imagine if we could somehow remotely control the catcher on Ceres.”

“I could hack the system,” Enoch said.

“No, too risky. Also probably too difficult, especially if they refuse to communicate. They probably already shut down any external grid access.”

“What if,” Sanvi suddenly said. “What if we were to combine our thoughts. You know, think about the same thing, simultaneously?”

“Here we go again,” Enoch snorted. “Voodoo magic. Ow!”

Sanvi had punched him on the shoulder. Hard.

Cooper darted an angry look at Enoch, Riss noted. She decided to distract him. “Sanvi, if I understand you correctly,” she started. “You mean, we should, individually, try to concentrate on the catcher as we approach. And then, we sort of, ah…”

She waved her arms around, at a loss for words.

“Our minds are growing closer,” Enoch intoned, holding his hands up in a Levite blessing. “Nanoo, nanoo, I bless you all, shalom, shazbot. Ow!”

“Riss,” Cooper said, shaking his head. “This is all getting just a little too, you know.”

“Mystical?” she said.

“Ridiculous?” Enoch said, rubbing his shoulder and glaring at Sanvi. She stuck out her tongue at him.

“Just roll with it. Everybody ready?”

Riss looked around the galley. Her crew stared back at her blankly. Enoch took another bite of papaya. “For what?” he said between chews.

“Ready for the next step.”

Cooper narrowed his eyes. “Riss, I hope this does not mean what I think it means.”

“I have no idea what you think it means,” Enoch said. Cooper rolled his eyes.

“If none of you think we can move the thrower,” Riss said, “why don’t we try to move something smaller first? As a test.”

“A test?” Enoch repeated. “I suck at tests.”

“Call it a trial, then. A practice. But as a group, working together.”

They all looked at Riss. She looked at each of them, then back at the table between them. 

“Let’s concentrate on moving one object,” she said. “Slowly.”

“The dragon fruit,” Enoch suggested, putting the rest of the pitaya down.

Riss nodded.

“Sure. Do what I say. Lift it to eye level. Turn it around once. Aim it at me. Move it two meters, then turn it around and return it.”

They stood around the dinner table, alternately staring at the fruit and each other. A few minutes passed.

“Um,” Cooper said.

Another moment of silence.

“Well, this is awkward,” said Enoch.

“Alright,” Riss said. “This obviously isn’t working right now. Why don’t we, uh, take a break and recharge or something.”

“Wait,” Sanvi said. “Let’s try again. This time, every one should shut their eyes.”

“Shut my eyes?” Enoch said. “How can I concentrate on moving the thing if I can’t even see it?”

“Why should you need to see it?”

“Well. Ah.”

“What is the fruit made of?” Sanvi persisted.

Enoch shrugged. “Molecules of a ration pack that I changed into something I only…”

He stopped, then continued, “…only had imagined in my dreams.” 

And closed his eyes.

“The fruit is only molecules,” Sanvi said softly. “Only atoms like everything else around us. I can feel them. I can see them.”

Riss closed her eyes and concentrated. Nothing.

No. Wait. She could sense something. She could see it. The pitaya.

“Can you see it, Coop?” she said aloud. He turned to her. But his eyes were closed. So were hers. How could she see him?

“Riss,” he said.

“Steady, people,” Riss said. “Concentrate. Lift it up.”

In her mind’s eye she saw the dragon fruit wobble. Then one end lifted off the table. Then the entire fruit.

“A little higher.” It rose to head level.

“Now. Gently. Let’s spin it around.”

The fruit hovered over the table. It jerked to the left, then back to the right.

“Clockwise,” Riss specified.

“Riss,” said Enoch. “I’m getting a little winded.”

“Same here,” whispered Cooper.

“Relax. Just a little longer.”

The fruit slowly swiveled, turning clockwise. It began to move closer to the edge of the table.

“Towards me,” Riss said.

She could feel the fruit strain to move. Something was wrong. Tension. Fighting? She opened her eyes. Enoch and Cooper were sweating. Sanvi had her eyes half-opened but otherwise appeared as if in a deep trance.

“Slowly.”

The pitaya jerked towards her. Then Enoch, then Cooper. One end began to swell.

“Slowly!” she said again, a little more forcefully. “Middle of the table!”

The fruit rose again, above their heads and began to spin wildly.

“No!” Riss shouted.

The dragon fruit burst apart, spraying chunks of fiber across the room.

Sanvi opened her eyes and laughed. She was, as Riss then noticed, the only Artemis crew member not covered in the remains of the exploded dragon fruit.

“I think,” Riss said, somewhat annoyed at Sanvi, “we need a little more practice.”

She scooped a handful of pulp from her shirt.

“And a shower, too.”

Cooper sighed and yanked a handkerchief out of a shirt pocket. “Riss,” he said glumly wiping pitaya juice from his face, “I think we need a break.”

Enoch grimaced and dragged his hands through his hair, yanking out dragon fruit seeds. “I agree with the geist,” he said. “For once. I feel, I dunno, drained?”

“All right,” Riss said with a sigh. “Let’s, let’s all sleep on it for now. We’ll give it another try in a few hours.” 

Her crew left the galley one at a time, headed back to the sleeping quarters corridor. Enoch loudly yawned before Cooper smacked him on the back. The two tussled, but it was a friendly shoving match, ending with arms around shoulders. Sanvi followed, arms crossed, silent.

“And don’t forget to check the physical fitness schedule and take your calcium pills,” Riss called after them. “Some of you are beginning to get lazy.”

Sanvi paused at the doorway and looked back. For a moment, Riss thought she saw something new in Sanvi’s face. Something attractive. Reluctant.

Resisting, Riss realized. Maybe even a little scared. She felt it, too.

“Riss, all you all right?” Sanvi said hesitantly. “I—”

“I’m okay,” Riss cut in. She stopped, then nodded her head. “Sanvi, I, ah. I’m just a little tired.”

“Well, if, if you need to talk.”

Riss looked down and bit her lip.

“Thanks.”

As she watched the pilot leave, Riss hugged herself. They had all changed somehow. She could still feel the ship pulsing, like a thing alive. Sensing her fears, hopes. Desires. Things about her she barely understood, herself.

But what of Sam?


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 23: Luna – in which Sergey becomes an unwilling participant in a coup.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 18: The Artemis

April 17, 2021
MThomas

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Riss and her crew. What’s going on with Riss’s Rock, and their reactions to it? (and each other?)

Back in the command center, the four resumed their positions as if still on an asteroid hunt. Only this time, they were hunting for something else.

“Right,” Riss said. “Let’s find out where this came from. Coop, run a comparison analysis with some other extrasolar object. Like Phoebe.”

“Saturn’s moon?”

“Yes. That’s supposed to have originally come from the Kuiper Belt. A centaur captured by Saturn’s gravity well.”

“All right, I’ll give it a shot.”

Riss waited silently as the computer ran the analysis.

“No,” Cooper finally said with a tone of resignation. “There isn’t enough data to make a meaningful comparison. At least, that’s what the results indicate.”

“So it’s not a centaur?” Riss said, surprised.

“I can check it against our information on Chiron and Enceladus.”

“I thought Chiron was a dwarf planet, not a centaur.”

“Debatable. But anyway…”

“OK,” Riss said, clapping him on the shoulder. “You’re the geologist.”

She turned over her shoulder. “Enoch. Pull up that trajectory chart again.”

“Roger.”

The 3D image hung in the space between the captain’s chair and the navigation consoles. Riss ticked her tongue as she gazed at the chart.

“I don’t see…ah, there.” She pointed. “We didn’t follow the origin line.”

“Yeah,” Sanvi said. “We were only interested in where it was going, not where it came from. We just figured – ”

“- just figured it was a centaur,” Riss concluded. She sat down in her chair and ran her fingertips over the console. “Let’s hypothesize.”

In a few moments, her best guesses appeared in an updated version of the chart. A thin blue line emerged from behind the red trajectory line and extended well away from the original chart.

“Computer, zoom out,” Riss stated. The image shrank. The red line turned into a curve. The blue line still extended out of the image.

“So it’s not a Kuiper Belt object?” Brady said.

“Oort?” Sanvi wondered aloud.

“Computer, zoom out again,” Riss ordered. “Maximum.”

The red curve became an elongated oval. The blue line remained a line. Riss was stunned.

“Coop, is this what…what I think it means?”

The geologist’s fingers flew across his pads. He switched pads and checked again.

“ES-71107 is extrasolar, all right,” he confirmed. He put the pad down slowly and looked up. “It’s from outside our solar system entirely.”

“But it was so large!” Sanvi protested. “When A/2017 skipped through, it was tiny.”

“Yes,” Riss said. “I remember reading about that during training. It was fast, too.”

“Like a pebble skipped on an ocean,” Enoch put in, mimicking with a gesture. “Scooooon.”

“Weren’t there a couple of other planetoids that people thought might be extrasolar?” Cooper asked.

They turned to him.

“Hey, I’m into rocks,” he said, shrugging. “I just don’t know the history.”

Sanvi snorted. “So much for the ‘astro’ part of ‘astrogeologist.’”

“No, no,” Enoch said, jumping into the discussion. “I think Coop is on to something.”

He looked back and forth between consoles, searching. “Ah. Here it is.”

An image of Jupiter and its moons appeared behind him, next to Riss’s chair. It began slowly rotate. More objects appeared in Jupiter’s orbit, some trailing and some preceding.

“Jupiter has a lot of Trojans,” Enoch said. His hands continued to move over his console. “Over 6,000, actually. But this one…BZ509…it isn’t a Trojan. And it goes around the Sun the wrong way.”

“The wrong way…” Cooper said. “Retrograde orbit. So…”

“That means it’s probably from outside the solar system,” Riss said. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Enoch affirmed. “But also probably billions of years ago. Just happened to get snagged by Jupiter’s gravity well.”

“But can’t Centaurs also be from outside the solar system?” Sanvi asked. “They rotate around the Sun, right? So what makes Riss’s Rock so special?”

“You mean, isn’t it just another Centaur, like we thought?” Cooper asked in return. He fiddled with his pads again. “Enoch, can you expand the Centaur’s…I mean, Riss’s Rock’s trajectory? Even further. And superimpose Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune’s orbits for scale.”

Enoch nodded. “I’ll give it a try.”

The rotating model of Jupiter and its Trojans seemed to shrink. Saturn appeared with its moons. Neptune and its oddly tilted ring. The rock appeared, its blue line trajectory once again trailing out into space.

“Maximizing,” Enoch said softly.

The three gas giants shrank. The Kuiper Belt appeared. Still the blue line stretched into the beyond.

“Inputting hypothetical location of the Oort boundaries.”

The model shrank even further. Jupiter was a tiny spec. The Oort appeared like a cloudy, partially transparent globe. The blue line began to curve, ever so slightly.

“Enoch,” Riss said. “Can you get us an image of the heliopause?”

“Not sure. The old records from the Voyagers only recorded the termination shock boundary. But I’ll see.”

The planets completely disappeared from view, and the solar system now appeared as a series of elongated bubbles. Just outside the front of the bubbles lay a wide ribbon of fuzzy orange.

“Is the bow shock really that color?” Cooper said, eyes wide.

“Um. No idea,” Enoch said, slightly embarrassed. “Nobody’s ever been out that far, and the only info was in black and white so I borrowed the color from a vid game.”

Sanvi started to laugh, but Riss pointed at the image. “Look at the trajectory.”

The blue line clearly extended through the heliopause. The opposite side from the bow shock. But the line ended once it left the bubble.

“Enoch, can we extrapolate a starting point? Based on the current vectors.”

He grumbled but set to work. “I need Sanvi.”

She stopped laughing. Paused, and raised an eyebrow. Cooper turned slightly red.

“Ah, I mean, Sanvi’s better at the calcs than me,” Enoch stuttered. “That’s all I meant.”

Riss smiled and raised a finger to her lips. She should pay more attention to her crew, she thought. Something had happened that she hadn’t caught before.

“Right,” Sanvi replied coolly, swivelling back to her console. “Let’s just see…ah. Enoch, on your console now.”

“Got it.” After another moment, the holographic image of the solar system drastically shrank. The trajectory line arced. The arm of the Milky Way containing Earth flickered, and then that also shrank. Another cloud came into focus. The blue line began to trace a vague oval.

“This is just a best guess, you know,” Enoch warned, fiddling more with his console. “There’s a whole lot of empty space between us and…wherever this came from.”

“Why is the trajectory showing up as an orbit?” Riss asked. “There seems little chance it’d be a frequent visitor.”

“That’s the way the program works,” Sanvi said. She tapped her console to confirm. “Comp’s just not able to track normal astronomical events. We’re hunters, after all.”

The holograph slowed its transformation. The Milky Way on one side. Satellite galaxies and clusters surrounding it in the local neighborhood. The blue line entered a cloud and came out the other side, tracing its path across deep space.

“I should have guessed,” Enoch said softly.

Riss glanced at him. The navigator had turned pale and seemed to shake. She had never seen him act this way. 

“Feet of Canopus,” Cooper whispered. “Al-Sufi was right.”

She turned to him. He also looked pale, if that were possible. To Sanvi. She also looked odd.

“Well, I was expecting Andromeda,” she started to quip light-heartedly. “So…”

She stopped herself. It didn’t seem to fit the mood.

Riss leaned back and crossed her arms.

“OK,” she said, “What is it?”

“The Magellanic Cloud,” Enoch replied. He touched his console, and the image zoomed on a particularly bright star. “Canopus is the second-brightest star in the Earth sky. The Magellanic Cloud shows up just beneath it, but only seen from below the equator.”

He held his right hand out as if touching the sky, then turned around to face the image.

“One finger at the north unchanging star, the thumb on the south unchanging star. Straight to morning,” he intoned. “Thus did Hawai’iloa find our land.”

He dropped his hand. “We called it Ke-alii-o-kona-i-ka-lewa. The Chief of the Southern Expanse. The Wayfinders used it to get home to Polynesia.”

Riss felt a slight chill run down her spine. What?

“In the Vedas, it is a cleanser and calmer of water,” Sanvi said, although without much conviction. She tossed her head. “Agastya. A superstition from Hinduism.”

“Wait,” Riss said. “Canopus is in the Carina constellation. That’s only 300 some odd light years from here.”

“Yeah, ‘only,’” Cooper said. “But the blue line shoots underneath that. Into the Cloud.”

“How far is the Cloud?”

Enoch checked his figures. “About 160,000 light years. Give or take.”

“And how long would it take the rock to reach us from there?”

“Well, let’s see the calcs…160,000 light years is about 10 trillion AU, and one AU about 150 million kilometres, so…”

“Enoch.”

He paused, then shook his head.

“Calcs must be off on the trajectory. It’d take about 10 million years for this thing to get to us, even assuming maximum speed.”

“And if it came from Canopus?”

Enoch glanced down. “Not even a handful of years.”

He leaned back, thinking. “The real question is, why?”

“Why what?” Cooper said. “I don’t see how any of this is relevant.”

“Sure, it’s relevant,” Riss said. “I agree with Enoch. Why did this rock suddenly appear? Was it ejected?”

“Probably,” said Sanvi. “Let’s stay rational.”

“It’s tempting, though,” Riss replied, “to think of alternatives.”

She paused.

“Like whether it was intentionally sent or not.”

Enoch laughed, then stopped.

Cooper closed his eyes. He seemed to be praying. Sanvi, likewise, had assumed a meditative stance, but quickly opened her eyes and stared into the distance.

After a moment, Riss broke the spell with a clap of her hands.

“Right. Interesting intellectual exercise, but Cooper is probably right in the end.”

“I am?”

“Yes,” Riss said with finality. “Whoever sent it, if it was sent, or whatever it is, we’re stuck dealing with this rock now. Who knows what’ll happen once the settlers on Mars drink this water?”

“I can make a couple of good guesses,” Enoch muttered, toggling the navigation controls. “We’re picking up speed as estimated, but still a few days out.”

“Damn. Sanvi?”

“Sorry, Riss. Still no way of contacting Mars or Ceres. They’re just broadcasting the same message.”

Riss sat back in the command chair, steepling her fingers. She surveyed her crew. They seemed strangely subdued, but an underlying tension lay palpable in the air. The Artemis also felt somehow tense, as if it were alive, sensing their feelings.

She pondered. Maybe it was. After what they had all apparently experienced separately, who was to stay the ship wasn’t alive in a certain sense? It was made out of the same atoms, the same subatomic particles as themselves, just in different proportions. Particles that never touched. Held in covalence and nuclear bonds by the laws of physics. Full of space, no substance.

The ship breathed. Riss breathed. What was it she was breathing? Other particles of the universe, all part of the same field. The same threads, same patterns.

“No more pings,” she said suddenly. The crew reacted slowly, almost as if they had expected her to say it. They looked at one another and nodded. The Ceres Council and any other hunters around would hone in on their location if they successfully got through anyway. No need to broadcast their whereabouts until they were close enough to contact through regular comm channels.

“Riss,” Enoch said eventually. “How will we slow down? Without a response from a catcher, I mean.”

She stood up, stretching her shoulders.

“I have a couple of ideas about that. In the meantime, who’s for some tube food? I’m famished.”

“You know,” Sanvi replied, as they all made their way to the corridor. “I have a couple of my own ideas about that, too.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Sagittarius (in which Gennaji faces an old friend/foe and a dilemma)

“Potentially hazardous asteroid” approaching Earth

March 22, 2021
MThomas

This is how I’ll get a photo of 2001 F032 for its next pass in 2052.

Hazardous asteroid!? Call out Bruce Willis!

No worries. “Close to Earth” in this is 1.25 million miles. But it’s a great chance to find out more about the early solar system.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/potentially-hazardous-asteroid-come-closest-earth-sunday-n1261689

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