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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?”

“Yeah. We’re still two days out. Let’s see if we can make the ship go faster first. If we can make it go faster, we should obviously be able to make it go slower. Or order the catcher to grab our quantum signature and slow us down.”

The crew looked around at each other. Sanvi looked almost completely at peace to Riss, whereas Enoch appeared typically bemused. Cooper still seemed a bit uneasy.

“Coop,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. He began to pull away, but relaxed. “Coop,” she repeated. “We are all friends here. All in the same boat.”

“Ship,” Enoch put in. He smirked, then put his own hand on Riss’s shoulder. “Captain. Riss. I still think this is all crazy, but crazy and me go back a long ways.”

He looked at Cooper, then Sanvi. “Let’s give it a try,” he said. Both nodded. 

Riss gazed at Sanvi. The pilot appeared as if she were surrounded by what Riss could only think of as an aura.

She passed her glance from Sanvi to Enoch. Then Cooper. They all seemed to glow, ever so faintly. 

Like the rock in their hold, she realized. Sanvi’s aura shone brightest of all. But even Enoch and Cooper glowed, ever so faintly. Almost as if she were seeing all of them, who they truly were, for the first time. She wondered if they saw the same of her.

“All right,” she said quietly. “What do we do?”

“For starters, I think we ought to sit down,” Sanvi replied. “In our chairs in the command center. Just to be safe.”

“Good idea,” Riss said. “Let’s not take any chances. We’re still new at this, after all.”

Enoch shook his head. “This is nuts, man.”

“For once, we agree,” Cooper grunted. “But you said we should give it a try.”

“Yeah,” Enoch said. “Surprised myself. But I’ll try anything once.”

Firmly strapped in her chair, Riss called up the 3D holomap and checked their coordinates. Still on course for Ceres. No sign of the ship slowing down.

“What’s our ETA, Enoch?”

He leaned forward over his console. “Just under 44 hours.”

“OK, let’s see if we can speed up just a bit and get there in 24 hours instead.”

Cooper squirmed in his seat. “Riss,” he said hesitantly, “I’m not so sure about this. Isn’t this, I don’t know, kind of—”

“Like sorcery?” Sanvi finished.

He nodded.

“We’re simply going to meditate,” she reassured him. “Every belief system has its meditation style. This no different.”

“But we’re different,” Enoch pointed out. “Who knows what will happen?”

“If anything strange happens,” Riss said, “Just concentrate on the ship. Our position in space. Your position in it. And yourself.”

She nodded at Sanvi. “You’re the expert at this. Tell us what to do next.”

“Hold your hands clasped just beneath your waist. Like this.”

She demonstrated. They all copied her.

“Now close your eyes. Gently. Keep your shoulders relaxed. We’re going to breath in and out slowly.”

Eyes closed, Riss heard Sanvi’s continued instructions.

“Breathe slowly. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Feel the space around you.”

Breathe.

In.

Lungs filled. The air seemed stale. Cold.

Out. The hum of the engine rose. Heart beat, pounding.

“Relax. Accept.”

Breathe. In. Hold. The air contracted, then expanded.

Her body remained still, yet seemed to grow, extend. 

Out. Hold. 

She could see the command center, even with her eyes closed.

Breathe. In. Hold.

From a great distance, Ceres came into view.

Contact.

She saw her navigator spread his wings, become the ship.

The geist flowed like molten rock, became a geode, lava cooling into pumice, crystalline shapes cascading.

The pilot enveloped the ship, pointing ahead.

The Captain’s heart, slowing, rhythmically, matching the engine.

Space opened.

The Cosmos.

Within her. Without her. In-between and among.

Part and whole. All and nothing. All in one. One in all.

Who was she? 

Who was Sanvi? Enoch? Cooper?

Were they separate or the same? Sharing the universe, or the universe sharing them?

The ship spoke. They listened. Heard no words yet heard everything.

There was no ship. They were the ship. There was no space. Space and the ship.

The Artemis pounced.

The Hunter. Her arrows, sharp and pointed. They hunted the stag. It bounded in front, behind, below. Just out of reach. It came into view.

The catcher of Ceres. The part of the Artemis that was Riss reached out to the part that was Sanvi. Mutual understanding. No borders. No boundaries.

The Pilot and the Navigator reached out. The catcher turned.

The Geist withdrew, trembling.

Riss felt his fear. No, she heard herself urge. Stay with us. We are one.

His panic spread. The ship shuddered.

Calm, she thought. Stay. We’re almost there.

The part that was Cooper felt his heart beat, skip, start again.

Breathe out. Hold.

The ship that was Enoch slowed, feeling an end.

Breathe in. Hold.

A great wall arose. Translucent. Shimmering.

Pure silver.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 26: Ceres (coming, hopefully, on October 9, 2021)

Bringer of Light, Chapter 24: The Artemis—Transjovial

August 21, 2021
MThomas

She was floating, feeling free at last. Unbound by any restraints, in control of herself. She finally knew who she was…but something tugged at her, something she had been searching for. Something calling her. 

“Clarissa…Clarissa, honey…”

“No, no, I don’t want to go!”

Strong arms, gentle arms holding her. A needle pricks her upper arm.

“It’s okay, you’ll be safe. I promise.”

“Papa! No!”

Shadows, sad shadows are all she can see. So sleepy.

“We’ll see you soon, varobushek.”

Mama…

Riss suddenly sat up in her bunk.

Or, rather, tried to sit up. The sleep restrainer harness yanked her back down with a jolt. Feeling foolish, she pulled at the velcro and the straps floated harmlessly next to her. Rubbing her arms where the strap had dug in, she sat up again, slowly, and pulled her magboots on.

After her experience the previous night, she had decided to take no chances. The Artemis was beginning to slow down as they approached the Happy Hunting Grounds, returning the microgravity closer to its normal low. She should have used the harness every single night, but to tell the truth, she hated it.

Hated being restrained by anything.

What she couldn’t give for a gravity generator. Not feasible on a ship this size, given the energy consumption. In the meantime, time for her calcium supplements.

She touched a panel and removed a sealed pack of tablets from the drawer that popped out. She grabbed another pack of water, hesitated momentarily, then popped it open and inserted the straw.

Oh, well, she thought, downing the tablets and taking a big sip. Far too late to worry about what was in the water.

She leaned back in her bunk and took another long sip. The patterns suddenly came into view, dancing across the surfaces of the room. Then they faded, but she could see them. 

Almost imperceptible. Everywhere.

The walls, the floor, the ceiling. The desk. The pad and its charge port in the wall. Her magboots.

Herself.

The doll.

She paused and rested her gaze on the motanka. It hadn’t changed back to its original color, still green with checkered red, white and yellow patterns on the skirt. The yellow hair had turned brown. No, red-brown.

The color of her own hair, she suddenly realized.

She drained the water pack and let it float to the ceiling. Maybe it was time to do some more experimenting.

She stretched out her hand and concentrated.

Nothing at first. Then she relaxed her hand, thinking of the motanka. As if in response, the doll lifted itself from the desk and floated across the room to her hand.

She nearly dropped it in surprise.

Telekinesis?

Just like the dragon fruit.

What else could she move?

She glanced at the pad, in its charger. It came tumbling across the room, straight at her forehead. She ducked, and it bounced off the wall behind her, falling onto the bunk.

It should have fallen up or floated. She thought again, and the pad floated upward, then into the middle of the room. She could see the patterns around it, the lines guiding it and molding it into shape. Gently she coaxed it back to its charger.

Could she open the door?

With a metallic clang the answer became readily apparent. The lights shut off, then on. The fridge moved toward her, opened up and flung a water pack, then rolled obediently back to its port. The door closed, softly this time.

She sighed. Didn’t even feel tired this time, unlike after the pitaya explosion incident in the mess earlier. Maybe with time they wouldn’t get tired at all. Or maybe it was just little things.

Or if they worked independently or together.

Together.

She looked at the doll in her hands.

The no-face still looked back. The colors—she could change them back to the way they had been. Yes, they did. Blue with yellow flowers and golden, flaxen hair.

No. She didn’t like the hair. Changed it back to brown, but a darker brown than before. Shorter, slightly wavy.

Mother.

A memory spoke again to her.

“Why are you crying, moya kroshka?”

“At school, Elke called me a bad name. Right in front of the others.”

“A bad name? What kind of name?”

“Pig! They called me Russian pig!”

“You’re not a pig, kroshka. But you are Russian. And German, too.”

“I don’t wanna be Russian! I want to be just like Elke!”

Just like Elke. Just like the other kids. Not special. She clutched the motanka.

Dreams of a six-year-old. She couldn’t even remember where the school was, or what Elke looked like. Only the pain, the hurt was real. Even now, two decades later, it still hurt.

Who was she?

She wasn’t Russian. She wasn’t German. Barely remembered her mother, hardly any memories of her father at all. Just the last few moments as they made her go to sleep in the life pod.

True to his word, Sergey had helped her to find out who her birth parents were. At first. He had retrieved their passports from the life pod and was able to search for their names in the UN database. Her father was a chemical engineer, her mother an exobiologist — maybe she had even known of Coop’s father, who knows. Her parents apparently met in Italy at some sort of international conglomerate-financed exhibition on terraforming. In fact, that’s where Riss was born. But she had no memories of Italy, and few of her childhood.

Before the accident.

They had been in the midst of a family move to the Moon, to join the terraforming team, when their shuttle experienced a sudden power failure. Riss was the only survivor. A dozen others were never found again, presumed dead following the spaceship’s violent decompressive rupture.

But that hadn’t told her who they were.

German father, Russian mother. But those were just names of countries, just nationalities. Who were they? What were they like?

What did that make her?

“You can see any face you like on motanka,” Sergey told her, in the months after he gave her the doll. “That way she will grow with you, as you also grow.”

Any face?

She looked at the doll. The crossed-out visage began to shift, softening features. Textures like slightly darkened skin, high cheekbones. Proud smile. Eyes…

Lena.

She stifled a yelp and the doll leapt back to the desk.

The cross returned. Staring back at her from across the room.

She relaxed and exhaled, just then realizing she had been holding her breath. 

The doll. It was just like her. Featureless. Easily changed. Controlled.

Was that why these new abilities scared her?

Or was it something that she was afraid to face?

She closed her eyes and stretched out a hand. The fields seemed to interact with her fingers, slipping between them. Around them. Through them. It was as if all she had to do was touch the fields, tease apart the threads of atoms and sub particles. Expand into the space between quarks and bosons.

The space holding the stuff of the universe together in delicate harmony.

Is this what they all were? What she really was? Empty space?

No. Not just space. A tension. A balance between matter and energy. 

Light and dark. Being and not-being.

She (who was she?) stretched her fingers (what were they?) through threads (were they really threads? streams? filaments of subatomic connections?), touched another searcher, seeking answers like herself (self? unself?). 

A familiar feeling, part dark part light, laughter and sadness.

Sanvi? Who was that? Riss? The same? Different?

Aspects of the same universe, elements and combinations of energy condensed, vibrating, expanding, contracting, interacting.

Aware of itself / herself / themselves.

Separate but together. Connected. Sharing space.

Combined. Intertwined. 

Joy. Pure bliss. Beyond the physical. Beyond…

A shock of recognition.

The room came back into focus. Her outstretched hand briefly glowed, luminescent, fingers trembling as if by a sudden jolt.

Lungs remembered to breathe.

Inhale, exhale. Eyelids blinked.

Riss. She was Riss. Sanvi was another person.

But connected.

Riss sat back on the bunk, brushing back tears with the back of a hand.

Why was she crying? The experience hadn’t been painful. She tried to recall the sensations, but came up blank.

Only the separation remained. And a dim perception of the separateness of others in their own compartments.

She could no longer tell whether her crew were asleep or awake. The Artemis whispered to her. The autopilot stayed steady on its inbound course. Two more days, at least. Space was vast.

Physical space, between solar objects. Perhaps not so vast between people.

A wave of exhaustion came over her. Sleepily she beckoned for the pad again. It came to her. Programmed a wake-up alarm. Returned it. Fell back on the bed.

No restraints this time. A brief smile lingered on her face.

She had no more need for restraints.


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 25: Transit—Transjovial to Hunting Grounds. The Artemis comes home…to a surprise.

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.

Ion engines are no longer sci-fi

June 19, 2021
MThomas

The inclusion of an ion propulsion system in a long-running, Earth-orbiting space station will give researchers a chance to test out the tech while astronauts are still close to home — and if it works as hoped, it could one day ferry explorers to Mars and even more distant destinations.

https://www.freethink.com/articles/ion-propulsion

That’s a big “if.”

Another is what the price will be, since no doubt this neat new tech won’t easily be shared among nation-states.

Just yesterday Chinese astronauts entered their new space station for the first time. They weren’t allowed into the ISS. Now they don’t need the ISS.

The old rivalries will follow humanity into space…but for how long will the rivalries remain…

“Wright Brothers’ moment” – helicopters on Mars

April 19, 2021
MThomas

“We together flew on Mars. We together have our Wright brothers moment.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/04/19/nasa-ingenuity-helicopter-mars/

Yeah, yeah, I know. Technically, a German immigrant in Connecticut flew a plane before Orville and Wilbur.

But PR counts. Kudos, NASA!

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

“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

Still, they persevered!

February 18, 2021
MThomas

Great job, NASA! Landing on Mars is always a tricky business.

Now all Perseverance has to do is find traces of life, save it without contamination, and then wait for another rocket, another rover, and a satellite to get in orbit so the samples can be sent back to Earth.

Piece of cake, right?

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56119931

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