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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. 

Something had happened when Riss touched the fields in her cabin. Something that Cooper and Enoch probably sensed as well.

“Enoch, let’s shield,” Riss said, trying to appear composed. “And try to raise them on the comm, though it probably won’t matter.”

“Aye.”

This close to the Ceres Mining Station, she thought, the Artemis wouldn’t have to use quantum ping locators. Then again, their remote manipulation of the catcher system had no doubt already sent a message to the Mining Council.

The view screen dimmed as the solar radiation protector grid came online. 

“Passing over Ahuna Mons,” Enoch called out. The mining station entry port lay ahead.

“Adjust trajectory,” Riss ordered. “Straight at Haulani.”

“Aye.”

She glanced over at Enoch. The navigator seemed relaxed, confident. Happy, even. Not in his normally cocky way, though. From their brief connection, she knew that he had longed to match his ancestors’ navigation skills. Now he had surpassed them. Not even the Wayfinders could have claimed to become one with their ships as he had become.

At the same time, she knew his feelings for her. And for Sanvi. More like a childlike crush than deep attachment, but there nonetheless. Cooper was more complicated. His was a real sense of losing himself, in more than one way.

And Riss, herself?

She felt more conflicted than ever. Than she had any right to be.

But there was no mistaking it. They had shared something, something she couldn’t put into words. Her crew did trust her, completely, as she did them.

At least in terms of physical safety. After that…

Sam, she thought. Where are you?

More to the point, Where was she?

“Approaching the Sea of Salt,” Enoch reported. He sat up straight and swiveled his chair. “Somebody’s waiting for us.”

“What?”

Riss swiped the 3D imager on again.

The Sagittarius. The Corvus.

And the Pleiades. Plus at least two or three other ships she couldn’t identify at first. One didn’t seem to be a mining ship.

Sanvi cursed.

“Raise the Ceres Mining Council on the comm,” Riss ordered.

“Too late,” Cooper said. “Incoming.”

The familiar growling voice of Gennaji filled the command center.

“I will have my own, murderer.”

Riss felt her arms begin to shake, but with great effort controlled herself. “You have no authority here,” she said tersely. “I demand to speak to the Mining Council.”

Laughter, from another ship. A strong alto voice.

“You still don’t get it, dear.”

Ildico?!

Sanvi closed her eyes and began to breathe. Enoch had done likewise, then opened his eyes and dashed off a series of commands on his console. Sanvi’s fingers seemed to be dancing as well. The Artemis itself felt tense. Riss thought she felt a sudden panic inside her head, like a frightened animal facing a larger foe.

“Shielding up,” Sanvi said quietly. “Enoch has already plotted an escape vector.”

After fighting off the panic she felt rising within, Riss managed to find her voice. “What is going on here?”

“Riss,” whispered Cooper. “Somebody has ditrium on board. I can feel it.”

We are the Mining Council now,” Ildico’s voice purred. “And justice is about to be served. At last.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 27: Luna – Retired Captain Bardish finds himself at the center of things

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…

Mars has a really thick skin

July 28, 2021
MThomas

Well, OK, technically it’s the mantle, not the crust.

But it is thick. Super thick. And no gradations like the Earth.

Extrapolating to the known surface geology of the rest of the planet, this suggests an average thickness of between 24km and 72km. By contrast, Earth’s average crustal thickness is 15-20km.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-57935742

So what does this mean?

For one thing, it probably explains why there’s no breathable atmosphere on Mars.

Mars never developed a global magnetic field to block solar radiation. So it’s atmosphere was basically ripped right off.

And any terraforming attempts in the future would fail on a global scale. But maybe locally it might work…

Destination: Red Planet

June 27, 2021
MThomas

Like other nations, China “regards Mars exploration as the preferred destination for deep space exploration,” Wang said.

https://abcnews.go.com/amp/Technology/china-unveils-ambitious-roadmap-human-mars-exploration/

China’s plan calls for setting up a permanently occupied base and a fleet of interplanetary craft. Probably it’s a good idea to first see whether it can meet its goal of landing people on Mars in 2033.

Of course, China is “willing to join hands with our counterparts and partners all over the world,” but it’s unlikely NASA, JAXA, ESA, and the UAE and other countries not named Russia will “cooperate.”

The next space race is here. Just wait until multinats actually decide asteroid mining is worth the risk and expense.

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)

X-Rays from Uranus!

April 5, 2021
MThomas

Two-ringed and sideways gas giant

The gag practically writes itself…

…but seriously, this is neat. One source of the X-Rays is the Sun (it also bounces off of Jupiter and Saturn). But there may be yet another source…perhaps the rings of Uranus or the planet itself.

And no, it’s not really pink. That’s just a Chandra X-ray image.

Shame, really.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/images/first-x-rays-from-uranus-discovered.html

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