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An Alien Legacy: The Cygnus and Pictor Connection
Time is of no consequence to the Celestial Watcher, for I am an omnipresent entity that observes the unfolding of this universe and the others in the multiverse. I was conscious at the beginning and I will witness its inevitable end. I am not the only one of my kind, for we share awareness of the overlapping boundaries of our domains. Many different species develop intelligence; build civilisations, spread out amongst the stars. Entities empathize with certain species and observe them more closely. Mine are the human species. Perhaps I was once mortal and had that indomitable spirit they possess, so much to accomplish in so short a life span. I have observed the progress of one such species and act now as narrator to tell their story that has taken aeons and will not be at an end at the conclusion of this narrative.
1.64 million Years ago an ancient race of sentient hominids populate a predominately water planet, orbiting a G-type yellow dwarf star in the Cygnus constellation. Their world has six small island landmasses, being the only visible surface evidence, when viewed from space, of the planet's rocky core. The total population of all islands number no more than 15,000 and they live in subterranean cities with protective force-bubbles, which protect their citizens when the elongated orbit of the planet moves towards the outer region of the habitable zone.
These people have long held a distant race memory that their species originated far across the other side of the galaxy. Indeed, if records still existed from those earlier times, they would know that their ancestors had chosen this apparently utopian world and set down a seed colony. That colony would flourish over a period of 10,000 years, great cities rise and elegant buildings be erected, until catastrophe struck. A rogue comet collided with the planet, affecting the angle of its axis. Changing its then stable orbit, to one that was highly elliptical and elongated, which meant that for only a fraction of its solar year it was habitable on the surface. Worse still, was the residue icy tail from the comet that raised the ocean levels, submerging cities, and annihilating civilisation. The survivors clung to the few remaining outcrops of rock, in time made primitive shelters, and burrowed down into the subterranean depths for protection and self-preservation of their kind. In the course of millennia, their harsh environment caused evolution to change their physical appearance slightly. They had always been tall beings; males on average were 12' tall, whilst females were 11'. Now their eyes developed opaque lens to cope with poor light conditions, their skin evolved and become covered in a velvety fur as protection against cold, more subtly, were evolved neck gills to permit them to breathe in underwater foraging.
* * * * * *
The Oceanids (for that is the name they call themselves) have now developed space travel. They have visited Chara, it being a rocky world in a nearer orbit to their sun Quaestor Minor. The gas giant world of Kloudeffe is in a more distant outer orbit. None of the planets has moons, this being the form of their three-planet solar system. They have ventured out to nearby star-systems in a radius of 1-2 light years, but no habitable planets had been found.
For two decades now, dissenters in their society have lobbied the six City State Councils to refocus the core objectives of their Space Program to building star-ships, their destination, to explore the source of their origins in the Pictor constellation 642 light years away.
Generations of their scientists had long theorised that to travel faster than the speed of light was impossible, but sub-light speeds did seem feasible. The use of chemical rockets was a distant memory in the advancement of space hardware technology. Now with authorisation given by all the City State Councils, design for Catalytic Nuclear Interstellar Ramjet propulsion units to power the star ships was the decided option. Each City State would build, equip and crew their own star-ship, in near orbit around the planet, in a spirit of competition, until a fleet was assembled and ready to set forth into the unknown.
Excitement was growing in the six principal cities of Hakena, Clymene, Athwor, Gui Xiu, Nova Tausoi and Oria. Talented, multi-specialist disciplined, young, interstellarnauts were required, with no illusions that they might spend centuries in cryogenic suspended animation in the course of the voyage. Certainly all the people they knew in their present day would long since be dead by the time they reached their destination. Therefore, another requirement would be no close family ties, being a loner was a pre-requisite in any chosen candidates. In addition, a competition was proposed and suitable candidates with the right qualifications and personal attributes put their names forward.
* * * * * *
In near geosynchronous orbit around Oceanid, structural framework was emerging, surrounded by attendant robots, manipulator tugs, heavy engineering matter transmuters, supervising humans in force-field space suits. Cargo ships brought in raw materials, robotically mined on the near star system asteroid belts. Force-field elevator corridors connected the planet below to the growing construction entities in space. Orbits calculated to hover over each of the sponsoring City States, would allow important officials to visit. Some of the smaller precision components produced on designated transmuters in the cities could also be brought up using levitation trucks with their robotic drivers, via the corridors. For the citizens who owned telescopes below, they could clearly see the progress taking place, but this would not be for long. In its 290-day orbit, Oceanid had only 2 months of summer. Then the planet would move out towards the periphery of the habitable zone, the warmth from its sun would diminish. Extreme storm systems frequently emerged with turbulent wind vortices and when these had blown themselves out, the oceans would freeze over in sub-zero temperatures of -450 C. The force-field domes over the cities' parks, air cleaners and hydroponic field systems had been projected out long before then, protecting the citizens, leaving them to go about their everyday subterranean existence.
The constructions in space would of course be unaffected by the climatic deterioration. Human eyes looking down would see a beautiful turquoise globe from space, flecked with the brown of the small island states, the glint of city domes. To be marred in a short time by storm weather patterns, cloud vortexes, and eventual white out freezing.
* * * * * *
The city of Oria, like all the other cities was autonomous, but had cast its net everywhere to crew its funded star-ship. Not all the selected candidates resided in the city. Indeed the final selection included specialists living in Clymene and Athwor, whose births had originally been registered in Oria.
Malon Endar stood on the balcony of his apartment building, his eyes scanning the city around him. His apartment was several blocks from the central plaza of Oria City, where the O.I.S.A HQ was the dominant structure. Surrounded by other smaller, hive shaped buildings, some with extended towers, others with ornate cupola roofs, bulbous side protrusions, or ringed unsupported balconies. They all gleamed with iridescent blues and greens, with parks and low foliage around their bases. Malon was agitated waiting for an anticipated video call.
The artificial sun was now at its 10:00 hour’s position and levitation bubbles, some with single occupants, others with groups floated across the airspace, conveying people about their daily business.
As his mind drifted back over the past decade of his life, his thoughts dwelled on his time spent as a pilot, first on the asteroid runs on commercial mining transports. Then later he had signed up for the exploration missions to the solar systems of their neighbouring stars. He had pursued studies with the then fledgling 'Cities Collaboration Space Initiative' (C.C.S.I) and qualified at the higher level in astronavigation. This experience had culminated in his current application to the newly formed Oria Interstellar Space Administration (O.I.S.A.) and consideration for the Pictor Mission.
The bleeping of the video console jerked his mind back to the present, as it announced an incoming call from Malory Binyon, the Chief Mission Administrator of O.I.S.A. Malon pressed the accept call button and the face of a middle-aged executive, with grey-streaked facial fur appeared.“
“Am I speaking to Malon Endar?”, the executive enquired.
“Yes”, stammered Malon. “Concerning your application for the position of pilot with O.I.S.A., I would like you to attend a meeting at our Plaza Centre office within the hour, if you can make it?”
Malon nodded his agreement, adding, "Certainly sir!" “There will be three other Mission Scientists sitting in on the meeting, if you have no objection to their presence?”, the voice intoned. Malon said that would not be a problem.
Within the hour, Malon took a levitation bubble and arrived outside the imposing City Centre building of the former C.C.S.I. Above the entrance had now been erected the new O.I.S.A. insignia. He ascended the few steps and as he approached, face recognition sensors opened the automatic doors. Inside the foyer, an attractive female receptionist sat at a desk and Malon approached her to ask where he might find Malory Binyon’s office.
“He’s located on the fifth floor, please use the vacuum elevator over there”, she gesticulated. He thanked her, turning and striding across the room, but couldn’t help noticing several officer ranked men in O.I.S.A uniforms in a group engaged in muted conversation. As he passed the conversation stopped momentarily and they glanced quizzically in his direction. Malon wondered if they might be potential interviewees for the Pictor mission. He found the office marked ‘Chief Mission Administrator – Malory Binyon’, knocked and the door was opened and he was ushered inside into the office.
Three men were already present, sitting the opposite side of a desk. Malon was invited to sit in a seat so positioned as to face them. One of the men stood, smiled and introduced himself as Dr Chausson Quinet and indicated that his colleagues were Drs’ Marcel Cambrensis and Titus Margam, all of whom were appointed to the Pictor Mission. For awkward minutes, they made polite conversation revealing nothing of their intentions.
Then Malory Binyon entered the room with dramatic effect and seated himself, making some preliminary comments, before getting to the point of the hastily convened meeting.
“We are impressed with your background and experience and after considerable deliberation have decided to appoint you as pilot and astronavigator on the Pictor Mission”, Binyon announced. Malon was stunned for a few seconds, before asking whether the other crewmembers had been selected. Malory Binyon assured him that a selection process had been gone through. Three men (including him) and three women were appointed and he would meet them in the fullness of time.
‘The considered specialisms vital to the success of the mission were deemed to be Doctor/Surgeon, Engineer/Maintenance, Computers/Technical, Communications/Languages & Ancient Cultures, Biologist/Geneticist. In addition, they would be assigned a GCP-750 MSP artificial intelligence mechanoid, with expert specialism plug-in modules, to supplement the diversity of skills that the limited number of human crew could bring to the mission. As some of the crewmembers had no experience of space travel, they would undergo 8 weeks of training on ground simulations.
After graduation, those successfully completing the training would be given the rank of Interstellarnaut and given a silver pin. The pilot will be assigned that entry-level rank from the first date of appointment with O.I.S.A.
The training of other 'silver pin' crewmembers, and by this, we envisage that the Engineer and Computers/Technical appointees will take on additional training, promoting them to 'gold pin' Chief other ranks. The pilot will ultimately hold the rank of Commander.’ Malory Binyon had now divulged all of the information he wanted to at this point, and handed over chairing of the meeting to Dr Quinet.
Dr Chausson Quinet was an expert in Interstellar Propulsion Systems and launched into a technical description of the type of craft Malon would be piloting.
‘Basically, it is a Catalytic Nuclear Ramjet that scoops the interstellar gases of hydrogen to use as a fuel, initially ionising neutral atoms with a forward bank of lasers, before approaching the 'rammers' maw. The ionised interstellar hydrogen fuel is then be passed through a catalytic chamber, where recycling tanks of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen would inject the fuel flow, before being passed into a heavy ion fusion reactor. The energy of the combustion reaction would produce thrust, out of the exhaust, with the expectation that the star-ship would attain 98% sub-light speed. The problem was, that with xenon ion propulsion thrusters being the only other motive system, with their design intended for manoeuvring, precise, short distances, rotate about an axis and achieve course correction. The main catalytic nuclear ramjet engine needed to be travelling at 6% the speed of light, to begin scooping in its interstellar fuel.’
‘There was a solution, but it involved using old technology, chemical rockets. It was intended that the star-ship would leave Oceanid’s orbit, with a trajectory to pass around their sun and use Quaestor Minor's orbit, and that of the gas giant Kloudeffe, to slingshot it out beyond their solar system. In the vacuum of interstellar space, the electro-magnetic field scoop would be projected to gather in its limitless supply of free fuel. The chemical rocket boosters would be ejected at the point of maximum momentum, when their chemical propellant was exhausted. Other information given to Malon covered the crew's living module and artificial gravity, maintained by rotating extended arms, to create centrifugal force.’
Where their subjects overlapped, Drs’ Chambrensis and Margam explained the provision of stasis chambers located behind the Bridge area, and life-pods that could be used to escape a stricken star-ship, if the mission had to be aborted. The principles of using time-dilation drugs and prolonged suspended animation in a voyage that could last hundreds if not thousands of years and the psychological ramifications were explained at length, before the meeting reached a conclusion.
It was arranged that Malon would accompany Dr Margam to Clymene, to pick up Dr Arobella Daxuphor, the appointed ship's doctor. Then carry on to Athwor to meet up with Engineer Attor Ciroryn and bring them back to the accommodation block within O.I.S.A. Oria City, to enable introductions and social interaction of the team members. A time had been arranged two days hence.
At 9.00 hours on the appointed day, Malon met up with Dr Titus Margam. They sat on a bench in a small park, aside from the city centre plaza. Titus Margam explained that his function within the O.I.S.A Pictor Mission was to calculate the celestial mathematics necessary to achieve the sling-shot manoeuvre around the sun. With this in mind, he wanted to meet his colleagues at Athwor Science University to discuss final planet alignment calculations. After introductions were made between Dr Daxuphor and Engineer Attor Ciroryn, he would leave them to become acquainted and he would stop over in Athwor and return a few days later.
During their conversation it transpired that neither Malon nor Titus Margam had visited Clymene and this oversight was quickly resolved with a quick call to Arobella Daxuphor. Dr Daxuphor was more than happy to act as a guide around Clymene. She would arrange something when they arrived at the transit station.
They walked together to the Oria transit station and within a few minutes a driver-less, gleaming, MAG-lev cylinder appeared from the tunnel and slid silently to a halt. Doors opened with a hiss, they stepped into the capsule and seated themselves. There were no other passengers, and no windows inside the cylinder. Wafer thin screens on the walls however, showed tranquil scenes of shallow seas teeming with aquatic life. Multi-coloured fish, playful miniature plesiosaurus darting back and forth, flickers of sun-light filtering down through crystal clear water. The effect was soothing as it was calculated to be. Although Clymene was hundreds of miles away, the journey would take twenty minutes at most.
After a few minutes had elapsed, Titus remarked 'that there were millions of tonnes of ocean water pressing down above them, that despite the exploration taking place with robotically piloted deep sea submersibles, they knew less about the ocean depths than they did about interstellar space'. This was a sobering thought to Malon and slipping into a mood of retrospection, he asked, 'why in all this time had they not found historical artefacts from the civilisations of their ancestors, remaining from the time of the global catastrophe?' 'Perhaps the few artefacts that have been found are from what would once have been mountainous regions before the great flood. These would have been less densely populated. The meagre finds from city foundation excavations and tunnel boring, reveal too vague a picture of our dim and distant past to speculate on', Titus offered by way of explanation.
'Archaeology is a new science and one I was never tempted to study. All the sciences have had to be re-learned with no documented knowledge base on which to add our discoveries, we have had to start again from first principles. I myself in my own field believe our ancestors had achieved faster-than-light travel. To achieve this, they must have been able to warp the space-time continuum, but even here in the wildest theoretical speculation, pent-up energies with an emerging star-ship could destroy the destination civilisation.
What we have developed now with the catalytic nuclear ramjet propulsion system, with ion propulsion thrusters, is the cutting edge of our science. I have every confidence that these star-ships we are building will reach their destinations, but you people who will fly them into the unknown have my greatest respect and admiration'.
They both fell silent taking in the ramifications of their voiced thoughts.
Within no time, they felt the sensation of slowing down and coming to a stop and a recorded voice announced their arrival at Clymene Central Station. The cylinder doors hissed open. On alighting on the platform, they looked around and the smiling figure of Dr Arobella Daxuphor came to them and hugged them both like old friends. Dressed in a smart tailored tunic, she was 35; Malon remembered from the records he had been allowed to see. A doctor, who had served in Oria Community Hospital for a number of years, she had moved on to specialise in surgery at Clymene Research Hospital.
“So you want to see our city?”, Arobella announced.
“We'll take a group levitation bubble; you may find the city a little different to Oria!”
They exited the station, levitation bubbles carrying people drifted across the sky. They found a stationary bubble, walked straight through its force-field shell that enveloped them with a 'pop'. The bubble drifted up, Arobella was right, the architecture of Clymene was distinctly different.
Tower structures of city buildings were in ziggurat forms, stepped pyramids with no pointed pinnacles served by ramps to higher storeys. Their walls were coloured in terracotta browns and pale umber colours. Some buildings were like inverted saucers standing on a mono-leg. Shallow pools intercepted the buildings, giving shimmering reflections of the rural colours. Every so often, peculiar shaped trees were planted; their appearance was like balls of sea sponges stuck on the branch endings, the foliage being in reds, yellows and greens. Arobella instructed the bubble to fly over Clymene Research Hospital and she pointed out where she had worked until recently. Malon looked at her and could detect sadness in her expression, realising she was turning her back on her former life to commit herself to the Pictor mission.
They wound up the tour and after some refreshments all three of them boarded the MAG-lev system again, Arobella carrying all her possessions in an oval shaped trans-bag. The journey continued on to Athwor. Titus had called ahead and spoken to Attor Ciroryn, their designated Engineer crewmember, to meet them. There would be a brief opportunity to see Athwor, after which, Titus would leave them to go to the Science University, then Malon, Arobella and Attor would travel back to Oria together, giving them time to settle in Oria City, O.I.S.A. accommodation for the evening.
On arrival at Athwor they met up with Attor Ciroryn, he was carrying a similar trans-bag, but unlike Arobella, his career had been nomadic, having made many excursions into space with the former C.C.S.I. Malon surmised that one city would be no different to the rest for him, he would have few possessions and they would both have much in common.
Titus was right, in saying their goodbyes outside the transit station, Malon had but a brief glance around Athwor. It was the fourth city he had now seen of the six City States, his first view of Athwor and probably his last. Beyond, the cityscape was distinctly different, one of apparent worn down mountain peaks with ridged spines and veins (the buildings had been designed this way, although they looked like natural features). All in stark metallic black, the structures showed lights in a peppered sprinkle of windows. Only occasionally did there appear spike-like towers, with angled doughnut rings near their tops, with dotted window lights and some dome structures. Malon felt it dark, depressing and unfriendly.
With Attor Ciroryn now part of their group they made their journey back to Oria City. It gave Malon the opportunity to add finer detail to the mental impression he had formed on Attor's career as an Engineer, on studying his record beforehand. Attor was 32, his character was brash, outspoken, and he 'didn’t mince his words', but Malon felt he was more than competent working around engines and an excellent choice as a member of the team.
On arrival in Oria City they left the transit station and took a group levitation bubble directly to the O.I.S.A building. They proceeded to the accommodation block, where Malon ensured his fellow crewmembers were settled comfortably into their allocated apartments. He had the weekend to attend to his own personal business, then the following week the training programme would commence in earnest. Malon said goodnight to Arobella and Attor.
He decided to walk back across the Plaza to his own apartment building. The artificial helium/hydrogen sun was sinking down in its tracks and the pink chromatic filters of twilight were beginning to glow across the canopy of the city dome. Android gardeners in the city parks were beginning to collect their tools and return to their depots for overnight recharging.
Back in his apartment, Malon looked around at his few possessions. As a spaceman he had picked up a few trinkets, like his mineral collection. These he would pack up and leave to his only sister. He had already said his emotional goodbyes to her, several weeks before on a visit to her home city Nova Tausoi. All that remained now was to relinquish his apartment and check in with the others, in the O.I.S.A. provided accommodation. He would meet the other three members of his team at the commencement of their 8 weeks training.