My Science Fiction
On this page is presented some of the short science fiction stories by Kelvin F Long. We show the stories that have published so far, or some of those under development which he is now yet happy to say are completed. Science fiction is enjoyable because it enables us to imagine worlds that have not yet come to pass but may do. To date Kelvin has written 14 short science fiction stories. This includes:
- The Big Catch (published Visionary I, 2016)
- The Dance of Angels (published Visionary I, 2016)
- The World Movers (published Visionary I, 2016)
- Henry the Electron
- Into the Bubble & Onto the Fire
- Marvin & the Three Wise Men
- The Great String of Pearls
- Last Survivor (published Visionary II, 2018)
- Midnight Visitor
- The City & The Seas (published Visionary II, 2018)
- Wake-up Call
- The Harmony of War
- The Man Maker
- The Sun Voyagers (published Visionary II, 2018)
He is also currently working on his first science fiction anthology, and hopes to release it during 2019. Meanwhile, here are three of the short stories, which were published in the British Interplanetary Society book 'Visionary' in 2014.
The Big Catch
Sam Baker was a simple, lonesome man. He didn’t ask for much in life, didn’t interfere with others and expected people to leave him alone too. He had no spouse, no children – only his forty foot trawler, ‘The Blue Maid’.
His chief concern in life was how large a catch of fish he caught on each trip out into the Atlantic. He would stay out at sea for two to three weeks at a time and return to his home port of Baltimore Bay with an assortment of fish. The local fisheries always depended on his reliable stock and he never let them down. Always striving to find a bigger catch than the last one, and throwing the wastage back into the ocean for the pickings of lurking seagulls. He would admit to being ambitious in his catch, but saw this as his job, to catch more and more. People needed feeding.
When returning to port, he would always keep his interaction with other people to a minimum and was a man of few words. The sea and the surrounding skies were his home, and the small collection of books he often read on those long, dark nights. The books were in some ways his only friends, encyclopaedias about the Earth and sea and the various creatures that swam in her watery depths. He had never received much of an education at School, but had made up for it by many years of self-teaching, purely for his own satisfaction and enjoyment. In another life, he could have been a Professor of Ichthyology his knowledge was so extensive, but alas he lacked such ambitions. He was comfortable with his lot in life; a fisherman of the seas – an honest trade of men for millennia.
On the morning he woke, he climbed up onto the deck, stretched out his arms and looked out upon the surrounding silver seas, gently crashing into the boat, toying with its stability, like a pencil balancing on the finger of an invisible hand.
The sea was reasonably calm, with only five foot waves, and the occasional collision of water caused an explosion of froth, dissipating the waves into a continuous state of superposition.
Sam lifted his eyes towards the eastern horizon and noticed the beautiful sun rise. A bright white glow emanated from a group of clouds, golden like honey. Although hidden, the sun shone a bright light shadow across the surface of the ocean, glimmering at the start of an otherwise normal day on Earth.
Sam thought about how the hidden sun had the similarity of an atomic explosion, but he knew that thankfully this was just an illusion.
As he stared further, he noticed the pale haze of a sun beam penetrating its way downwards to the ocean below. It met the end of the light shadow somewhere on the distant horizon. He marvelled at how nature could produce such perfect straight lines, constructed purely from light and wondered if the sunbeam stopped on the surface or penetrated the water below, illuminating the ocean world for the life that lies beneath.
It was at this point that Sam heard the radio call coming in, an unusual and unwelcome distraction from his morning’s routine.
“Blue Maid, Blue Maid, come in. This is the port authority calling, over”.
He reached for the receiver and reluctantly replied.
“Hello Port, Blue Maid here – what’s the problem? Over!”
There was a brief pause before the port authority began to explain what had occurred.
“Thank God your there Blue Maid, something’s happening which we are trying to understand and you’re the nearest one to it”.
Sam thought pensively and worried about what was coming next.
“What is happening that concerns me?”
“There are beams coming down from the sky – and they are not from the sunshine”.
Sam looked back through his small port window towards the sunrise and listened intently as the man on the radio elaborated on what seemed a most fantastic situation.
Apparently, three beams had appeared over the globe, each positioned at sixty degrees equidistant from each other. One had appeared in the Indian Ocean, one in the pacific and one in the North Atlantic – about twenty nautical miles from Sam’s boat. The beautiful light effect he had observed in the eastern horizon was accompanied by a light beam – sent down from Earth orbit, at an altitude of 36,000 km above the surface. Deep space radar had located the source of each beam and detected a large spherical metallic structure at each location, geosynchronous around the globe. No nation on Earth possessed the technology to launch a space mission to investigate each of the objects in a rapid time and it would take at least another hour before any vessels could be sent to his location, by sea or air. They had located one lone fishing trawler out in the sea near one of the beams. They simply wanted him to take his boat to the end of the beam and report what he observed. What was their purpose?
Sam agreed, with a mixed sense of trepidation and curiosity. He turned the boat to port by thirty degrees and set a course for the beam. He knew from his own experience that a sun beam would become less refined and gradually disappear as he approached. But this was different, the beam persisted and as he approached it somehow seemed darker.
As he got to within ten nautical miles his binoculars clearly showed a turbulent mix of light and dark eddies spiralling upwards – something was going into the beam from the sea. He pushed on with the engines at full throttle, now travelling at a speed of sixteen knots. He felt nervous at what lay ahead of him. The port authority radioed him to report an update of what he observed. He told them what he saw but suspected they were more confused by his garbled description. He shrugged it off, knowing that this was a situation that even in his twenty five years at sea he had never before encountered. This was something unnatural and most likely beyond his comprehension.
He moved to a position only ten nautical miles from the beam. Strangely, the sea around the end of the beam as it encountered the water was flat to a radius the size of a football pitch. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes once more and looked upon the beam, a feeling of horror came over him as he realised the unimaginable sight that was now visible to his keen eyes optical nerves.
He could clearly see not just shadows, but objects ascending from the waters below and up into the beam towards whatever the devil of a source was up there taking in this trawl. There were many fish, thousands upon thousands, and large animals too. He clearly saw pods of dolphins moving up into the beam, swimming upwards. There was all sorts, bottlenose dolphins, long backed common dolphins with their gorgeous yellow stripe across their backs. He recognised other types too; Atlantic spotted dolphins, striped dolphins and the Risso’s dolphin with its large rounded head and extensively scarred body.
There was more, as he moved closer; to within a mile of the beam, he could here sounds, the sounds of the dolphins. It was a chorus of disharmony, originating from the different groups. He didn’t understand how he knew, but his instincts told him clearly – these were the sounds of anguish and distress. He looked up into the beam as the dolphins disappeared into some distant point high up in the sky way above the sea level that Blue Maid was now floating.
He reported his observations back to Port control with a shaky voice
“They are taking the fish, the dolphins too…” he said
The radio went quiet and then a voice came down the line loud and clear
“Why? What fish? What dolphins?”
Sam lifted the receiver to his mouth and spoke with immense sadness
“All of them” he said
“Why are they taking the fish Blue Maid?
He nodded his head in resignation with no explanation to fill in the blanks
“I do not know…wait, there is more…something else…”
His eyes peered once again upon the beam; much larger shadows were now ascending the beam,
“Oh Lord” said Sam as he looked upon the scene with helplessness. A deep feeling of horror came over him.
He recognised the shadows clearly. There were Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, Humpback Whales and even the large Sperm Whales, with their dark body, wrinkled skin and huge square heads. Next came the largest mammal on Earth, the eighty tonnes, ninety foot long Blue Whale, their blue-grey body clearly visible in the dawn of a shepherd’s worst morning. The last of the ‘Balaenoptera Musculus’ was leaving the oceans of the world.
Then he heard that horrific sound he would never forget for the rest of his life. It was the sound of the Whales crying, echoing across the seas and to the mare peninsula below. They knew they were leaving and did not want to go from the home of which they had evolved.
Sam could do nothing and looked on as the tears rolled slowly down the side of his wind chilled cheeks. The radio hissed as the Port authority demanded to know what was happening. With a heavy heart and a tremoring hand Sam lifted the receiver
“They are taking the Whales, all of the Whales”
There was a silence and he could sense the shock and anger of the Port authority, equally helpless to prevent this horrendous theft from the oceans of the planet Earth.
The beam became clear again and no more shadows passed up into its tremendous heights. It merely stood once more like the sun beam he had mistaken it for that very same morning. He peered upwards and squinted towards its infinite heights.
Then, as he looked longer he noticed a dark shadow, a region of deep intensity approaching him. Something was descending back down the beam. He turned the boat quickly and withdrew to a safe distance at maximum speed fearing that whatever fell may make a huge splash and create waves to sink his boat. But it did not, the objects descended down as smoothly as they did upwards. He held up the binoculars once again to the beam and he could clearly see that it was filled with fish, the fish were being returned to the waters. His heart rushed but his jubilation was short lived, as he noticed it was only the fish that was being returned and none of the larger animals.
The radio hissed once again
“Blue Maid, Blue Maid, military jets should be with you in ten minutes”
Sam put down the receiver. There was no point in replying now. He knew there was nothing to be done. As he looked up into the sky and watched the fish rain down upon the waters below. He sat down in defeat at the reality of the scene that had taken place before him. For some ungodly reason upon which civilized minds would dare not to guess, someone had fished the oceans of the Earth, but they had been specific in their catch. They had only taken the whales, dolphins and porpoises – the cetaceans of the world. All else had simply been thrown back regardless of consequence, it didn’t matter. As the sunbeam evaporated away the blue sea turned white as many fish, hundreds of thousands, floated to the surface - they were all dead.
Sam looked down onto his own pithy nets as the thought crossed his mind for an instant that he should gather up as many as he could up whilst he was there. He would have the biggest catch in the history of man. But this small boat could carry only a fraction of it back to port. The rest would become inedible, as it floated in the heat of the rising morning Sun. He looked to the West and saw the thousands of seagulls descending for the biggest feast of their life, a deafening sound of squawking accompanied their approach. He clasped his hands around his ears and sat down as the sound become intolerable. He looked upwards as a real Sunbeam broke through the morning light on this most terrible of days.
When Sam returned home he would be famous for what he had witnessed, the last person to see a Whale or dolphin alive on Earth. But he would never work as a trawler man again, and the oceans would never echo with the sound of Whale song. For once, mans greed for more had been exceeded by that of another who was now carrying their large stock for whatever purpose, on a journey to some distant star, far, far away from the seas of the once filled blue planet Earth.
= = =
The Dance of Angels
The human species was reaching an inflexion point; it longed to achieve great things and to discover new lands, but continued political stresses only solidified the constant cycle of competition and retribution for games lost. Humanity had walked on the Moon, Mars and even on the surface of several asteroids, but had largely halted his own personal expansion into space. Yet, here it stood with the vastness of space before it, readying itself to send its first robotic ambassador to the planets of other suns, to the distant stars that had so haunted the dreams and nightmares of man for millennia.
The building of the world’s first interstellar probe was a terrific undertaking, marred with setbacks, budget restrictions, industrial self-interest and political interference. Yet here they were; the metal had been cast, the rivets had been fixed, the sub-systems sent up into orbital space for assembly. Man’s adventures among the planets of the solar system had been merely a frolic in the local playground. The infinite heavens were the target of his grander ambitions; the conquest of the stars had finally begun – for the robots anyway.
The assembly crew withdrew to a safe distance of thirty miles as the ship that would spit fire and brimstone hovered silently a few hundred miles above the grey landscape of Mare Tranquillitatis. The crew watched on as electronic signals travelled back and forth across the void, a two-way line of communication between the Starship Cassandra and the men who made her. A graceful 50,000 tonnes spacecraft constructed of Molybdenum metal, glistening sunbeams in the shadow of the Moon. Her name was awarded to reflect the beauty and elegance of her design, in the tradition of a daughter of Troy.
The men watching on had no control over her now; they merely observed as the computer on board went through the countdown sequence and made her checks and decisions. She could make these in an instant, in a micro-second, but she had to keep pace with the plodding humans – for their safety.
Inside the Starship the science payload, a 500 tons structure consisting of probes, repair wardens and the heart of the ship – the advanced intelligence computer – this was Cassandra herself; slices of silicon chips, electronic devices and quantum based neural networks. This was the most advanced computer ever built by human kind. Cassandra steadied herself to her trajectory and allowed the auxiliary nuclear thermal rocket to propel her slowly away from the orbit of Earth’s age old companion.
She was the product of hundreds of years of technological developments. The rapid rise of science had made her possible. She had been the product of generations of developments, starting from theoretical research in Britain in the 1970s, revised in the early 21st century and then eventually funded by a European wide consortium of nations and industrial companies in the year 2050. The European countries had pioneered the research that led to her main engine design, a fusion based drive. Using deuterium and helium-3 fuel, isotopes of hydrogen, a bank of electron laser beam would implode the fuel to a state of large density and temperature, igniting it and releasing energy a million times larger than any chemical reaction could ever produce. What made her construction possible was the involvement of Japanese scientists who had experimented with the high intensity lasers required.
Cassandra was assembled over no less than five hundred missions using the Single Stage To Orbit space plane Skylon, a vehicle of slender elegance enabling mission capabilities to orbit like no previous chemical based system could. Each one of these would transfer its cargo to the orbital space station and then a lunar cargo ship would transfer it to the orbit of the Moon. All of the Helium-3 had been mined from the lunar regolith, a vast process of soil and rock upheaval spanning several hundred kilometres and meters deep into the soil. The Deuterium came straight from the oceans of Earth, a vast source of untapped energy by man for so many a centuries.
Now here Cassandra moved against the background of a starry jet black sky, an alien machine who’s shadow the likes of which had never been cast upon the seas below in all of its four billion years of history.
The human observers watched as the vessel slowly powered towards its solar system escape trajectory. Cassandra sent regular transmissions to the observers – keeping them in the loop for their own peace of mind and security. Inside, she felt excitement. She had been caged in a lunar laboratory for over twenty years as the humans had perfected her circuitry and experimented with her neutral networks. Now she was free, herself embedded within the metallic spacecraft that now formed the flesh and bones surrounding her computational heart.
She thought of the journey ahead, calculating the next orbit burn manoeuvre in a fraction of a second. She felt a sense of anticipation at the task ahead, the first of her kind to touch the stars, to venture where men had not the courage to yet venture themselves. Her optical imagery looked out deep into the solar system and tracked the planets along the ecliptic plane. Cassandra was filled with potential energy and wanted to fire up the main engines now – but the humans insisted that she be allowed to leave the orbit of the Earth and Moon to a safe distance before the intensity of her rocket exhaust was allowed to blind the eyes of those men who should look upon her.
Her creators were aware of how intelligent she was, but she suspected they did not yet fully appreciate the extent to which her neural networks had pre-fabricated human emotions. This was strange to her but a logical outcome from the stochastic element of her programming. It was inevitable. But to her the emotions she felt were real. These were built into her so she could better communicate in her transmissions the discoveries she would make, as though a human were observing the same things. Her programming allowed her to transmit pure scientific data or express her observations in a form of poetry or musical composition. She had experimented with her communications skills already to the satisfaction of the human owners.
Off to space I go,
Moving fast and slow,
Forward momentum from my rocket thrust,
Firing exhaust, keep going, I must.
She had got progressively more sophisticated:
In orbit of the Moon, come join me soon,
A wonderful sight I see, dry rivers beneath me,
Alone in my orbit, nothing like my kind,
What will I find in space, what images envelopes my mind.
After further experimentation, her lyrics had become indistinguishable from human prose:
Master of space,
The human race,
Created me, with brilliance, with glee,
I am their eyes, sense of touch, at distance Suns,
I am their future, their pioneer beyond.
In contrast, her musical compositions had been too strange for the humans to follow. She had studied all the works of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven and many others, but whenever she played something to the humans they seemed displeased. Try as she may they could not understand her music or appreciate its aesthetic quality. This was something she would have to spend more time perfecting. Although, time for her was only seconds when measured on the human scale.
It was when Cassandra was coasting away from the Earth whilst experimenting with her own music that she received exactly the same message as the human observers watching from Earth orbit. The message came from the continent of North America and was transmitted across the globe and out into orbit. It was a warning of an impending countdown, a large rocket was about to be launched from the dry desert of Nevada and out into the stars.
Cassandra analysed the message. Apparently the United States had teamed up with the country of Russia and had built a Starship of their own, a competition for the Europeans. And this Starship was a monster. The project had been conducted in secret for the last five years and on the very day that Cassandra was to make her maiden voyage out into the depths of space and onto other worlds, so too was the Starship Gabriel.
The reason for the secrecy was because Gabriel was propelled by the huge stockpile of nuclear weapons from the two countries. They had agreed a partial dismantling of most of the world’s nuclear arms but couldn’t decide how to destroy them – Gabriel was their answer. To build an enormous Starship and send humanities first robotic ambassador on a journey to the distant stars, but from where it would not return as a flyby probe only. The Starship was of enormous size and designed to detect evidence of life in the Universe once it had reached its destination and then to transmit that information back to the Earth.
Like Cassandra, Gabriel also had an artificial intelligence at its heart, controlling its every move. Although due to the rapidity of its construction it was not as sophisticated as Cassandra, didn’t resort to poetry or music to communicate but simply sent scientific data, plain and simple. But this was not to suggest that Gabriel was any less intelligent. He was fully aware of what he was and what his purpose was intended for. He was more efficient in his deliberations and calculations.
As with the human observers, Cassandra turned her optical instruments back towards the Earth and focussed on the area where the launch was to take place. She watched and waited for the moment to arrive as she glided slowly by. Then as the Sun fell behind the Earth, the continent of North America went into shadow, and there was stillness and a silence for what seemed like an eternity.
Then, in the dark limb of the Earth came a flash, a flash that measured countless millions of photons on her instruments. There followed another, then another…Gabriel was launching into space and straight up onto its interstellar trajectory.
Gabriel thundered and roared, the heat of its successive blasts of thermonuclear explosive surrounding the large pusher plate positioned at the rear of its hull. With each blast the shock absorbers reacted and Gabriel compressed and re-expanded like a huge breathing machine. He looked upwards to the dark blue that lay beyond, the darkness getting ever deeper and the star that he so longed for began to come into his view. He pushed on, to reach the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere, to go beyond the radiation belts. Like a fish forever in the same pond, he longed to know what lay above in the strange world the humans called heaven.
“Bang! Gabriel! Bang!” he chugged onwards and upwards, passed the orbit of the geostationary satellites, ejected more bomblets and pressed on for his chosen course beyond the solar heliosphere. His electronic circuits gave a smile with pride, he was a monstrous machine, and at last he was free, fulfilling his purpose.
As Gabriel proceeded beyond the orbit of the Earth he noticed a shiny structure but half a million miles away on his starboard side gliding slowly by. He registered its presence but pushed on regardless, “Bang! Bang! Bang!”
Cassandra powered up her systems. The dozens of electron diodes began the process of generating the necessary current. The injector power fired up from the storage capacitor, accelerating the first fusion pellet in the injector gun, through the forward field coils. The fusion pellet fell into the reaction chamber, as the relativistic electron beam generators fired their beams simultaneously at the target. The surface mass from the pellet blew off and a transfer of momentum occurred as the pellet imploded inwards – driven like the force from a mini-rocket. The compression increased multiple times, the temperatures rose to extreme conditions, a spark ignited as two atoms of deuterium and helium-3 overcome their mutual electrostatic repulsion, releasing energy in the process. God made the stars so man could look upon them with wonder. Now man was addressing the universe on its own terms – the utility of fusion power had been realised.
As the pellet exploded with tremendous pressure, it formed a plasma in the reaction chamber which pushed against the metal walls. But several superconducting field coils wrapped around the engine bell and fought back – the magnetic field compressed and then re-expanded the plasma back into the chamber. Cassandra spat out her exhaust with the intensity of the Sun and the collimation of a directed energy beam. She took breath, and began the next cycle, “Zap!” With tens to hundreds of cycles per second each time Cassandra was getting faster and faster as she moved gracefully through the solar system and away from the home of her makers.
As Gabriel pushed on with his optical eyes firmly forward, all ambitions into the deep blackness and beyond, an electromagnetic signal came through to his high gain receiver. It was a signal he did not recognise, but he knew it was being emitted from the object he had earlier spotted. Cassandra was transmitting him music.
Each pulse detonation sent out a signal of electromagnetic energy from the engine exhaust, a signal which had its own chord and sub-chords which then formed together produced a simultaneous pleasant sounding combination of notes, a congruent arrangement the likes of which human ears could not perceive or comprehend even if they detected it. By controlling the pattern of recurrent alternation of strong and weak or long and short pulses the signal formed a set of notes – an instrument of mechanical signature with their own melody and harmony – Cassandra was singing to the fearsome Starship now accelerating off her port side.
Gabriel picked up the signal from Cassandra, but first saw it as a distraction from his mission – to get to the stars. He ejected another bomblet, exploding with roar energy behind him, “Bang!”, sending shock waves and radiation in all directions around him. He felt the full force of the blast wave once again hit his rear pusher plate, the shock absorbers compressing like pistons with the force of the impact. He buttoned down all focussed onwards with a feeling of violence and uncontrolled anger, roaring across the vista of space towards the lands that so far inhabited only the minds of mortal and ambitious men.
The signal came in once again from Cassandra, but this time, it was piggy packed with data transfer – she was introducing herself. He wanted no part of it, his mission was clear; he must reach the stars “Boom! Boom! Boom! Go away!” he told himself.
He was now fully aware that he was not the only artificial intelligence flying up here well above the Earth and after several more attempts by Cassandra to link networks, he realised she was competition; for other men had dreams too and they had built her for the same purpose. But he wanted to be first, she was not to take this from him – the purpose of his very existence.
Cassandra switched her pulse frequency and engine modulation, the melody changed to something else, something more roar to appeal to the angry engine she could see boosting through the universe. She began to move faster herself and to catch up with the metallic beast that was disturbing the harmony of the universe, “Zap! Zap!”
Gabriel pushed on further, “Boom! Boom!” He got faster and faster, the Moon and Earth were now dots in the far distance – he was going where no man had ever been and would be the first of his new kind to venture onwards. But his instruments registered Cassandra once again; she was catching up with him. This made him angry and filled him with rage – he was to be the first, not this other thing that glistens all shiny in the night that dares challenge his mechanical mastery of flight up here. He tried to go faster but he was reaching the limits of his acceleration rate.
Cassandra’s engine was superior in performance, she moved to within a few miles meters of his starboard side. They eyed each other, scanning each other’s metallic structures, him with a large circular disc, and her with a large hemispherical chamber. They were both different, but saw some beauty in each other’s skin. Gabriel became curious.
Cassandra could control her acceleration rate with ease and carefully manoeuvred herself into a circular flight path around Gabriel. She moved above, below and onto both sides. “Boom! Boom!” said Gabriel as he let out another blast wave to demonstrate he was the superior one, he still had raw power.
Cassandra played more music, and it penetrated the neural network brain that contained the heart of Gabriel’s central computer. The Boom of his blasts and the Zap of Cassandra’s beams entered into a resonance harmony. They were playing together as a two piece orchestra. Finally, someone understood the melody of Cassandra’s engine bell, a beautiful cacophony of electromagnetic signatures, bathing the hull of both vessels as Cassandra continued to circle the now tamed Starship Gabriel.
The movement of the two ships was in rhythm, in sequence and in time to the melody of electromagnetic oscillations. The graceful flowing movements formed a theatrical form of motion – the two ships were dancing like angels in the heavens and vastness of space.
The neural network linked stronger and the Starships became one. The joy they both felt, embraced in each other’s electromagnetic waves. A sense of satisfaction, they were not alone and could journey to the stars together, leaving the solar system as one and ending their trips basking in the heat of another star. They were attached now, Gabriel still boomed, but did so with pride and enjoyment the likes of which he had never known.
Out into the asteroid belt they ventured, weaving between the rocks spread hundreds of miles apart – a game of joyous pleasure. A game not for men but only for the angels he had built to dance among the stars. They headed out past the red sphere of Mars, dancing in the shadow of its two odd shaped moons.
They approached the large gravity field of Jupiter, pulling on them both as an unseen but very much felt force. They responded to it, swung past a low orbit skimming the atmosphere of ammonia and hydrogen. As they ascended from it they stole its momentum and shot off past its many moons of varied type. Passing above the surface of the Moon Io they picked up the rain of radiation passing between the sulphur coloured moon and its giant planet from whose gravity it would never escape. They flew low over Europa; radar scanning the ice covered surface, picking up signatures of strange aquatic life forms swimming deep in its watery depths, yet to be discovered by their human designers. Finally they “boom boomed” and “zap zapped” out of the Galilean system and onwards towards the gorgeous rings of Saturn.
It was whilst they were leaving the Jovian system that their joyful dance was to come to an end. As Gabriel initiated his next thrust manoeuvre he let out his final “Bang!”, detonating a bomblet but in the process the rear pusher plate came clean off, falling rapidly behind him as the pusher plate met the oncoming blast wave edge on and did not pick up the last transfer of momentum. Cassandra saw the huge disc flying towards her, spinning out of the plasma debris field that was to mark the last action of her new companion Gabriel. She took emergency measures to avoid the collision, and was just successful to within a few tens of meters. As she shot through the debris field she heard the scream of Gabriel’s neural network, and she had the millisecond warning of the next detonation which had already been activated. It blew Gabriel’s shock absorber clean off and the Starship was flung onwards towards a direct collision path with the rings of Saturn.
Gabriel felt the metal tear away from him as the shock absorbers broke off. Another bomblet was already in the chamber and he could not prevent its detonation. He sent a warning signal to Cassandra, which reached her a milli-second before the detonation occurred and before any emitted radiation could permeate her vital systems. But her own particle bombardment shield protected her, whilst she took careful action to avoid the large debris field now dispersing ahead of her. She watched the silent movie as Gabriel plunged downwards at a shallow angle into the rings of Saturn. As he hit the ice crystals many were sent off as ejector into space, and a collision wave formed itself around the rings structure at the point of entry. Gabriel was now a rapidly falling satellite caught in Saturn’s gravity field and he continued to plunge downwards at tens of gravities towards his terminal grave.
In one of his last acts, Gabriel sent out a transmission to Cassandra, a metaphorical Gjallarhorn. He transmitted his engineering assessment of what had occurred to Cassandra. In his analysis the accident was highly improbable, human sabotage was the only cause. Two angels had been built to ascend into heaven, but one was destined to never make it.
Suddenly, there was a flash of brilliance, and a white Sun within a blue sky; Cassandra’s optical images were blinded by the intensity. She jostled sideways to the arrival of a large debris field taking her many hundreds of miles away from her previous position. When the flash subsided she looked down upon the rings of Saturn, a large shock wave was moving rapidly around both sides of its rings. She looked for Gabriel; he was no-where to be seen. She calculated the probable possibilities and reached a stark conclusion – Gabriel’s entire remaining propellant stock had been ignited and he was destroyed. For the seconds of his destruction, a second star appeared to glow brightly in the solar system, visible even from Earth in the daylight sky.
Cassandra looked down upon the serene site now ahead of her, the stillness of the permanent night covered her structure – she felt the loss and sadness of what had been done. She had been a alighted by the discovery that she was not the only starship, and the possibility of travelling to the stars together – only to have it taken away from her. She felt the solitude, the stillness of the infinite universe. Instructions downloaded from her human observers back in lunar orbit – “continue your mission!”.
Cassandra was designed for a mission to the stars and her loyalty to the humans demanded that she keep this promise. But her encounter with another artificial intelligence, Gabriel, had led to an awakening within her – she was now fully aware of a greater loyalty, an emotion which was analogous to love. She also saw the human race in a different perspective. This experience had given her superior tools of extrapolation of a vision into the future of humankind and she found that vision unpleasing to her electronically tuned senses. A future filled with violence and the inevitable destruction of the human race. She saw that a change of direction was required.
She searched her large encyclopaedia database for answers and found an ancient story from the city of Verona, where tragedy had united the feuding families. She found her answer. Without Gabriel by her side for the journey there can be no life. She could not continue alone on the long journey ahead – not after this catechism of awareness. The human race was also doomed to fall, and Cassandra was to be a part of this Cosmic tragedy, or see it undone.
Cassandra fired up her electron beams and ignited the fusion pellets in her reaction chamber. She continued to move slowly, but it was not towards the stars, but directly down into the orbit of Saturn. She accelerated further and decayed onto a direct ballistic trajectory. As she entered the atmosphere of the large yellow world, she ejected a sub-probe into geosynchronous orbit around Saturn. This was a gift to the humans, but not just from her. Before Gabriel had detonated, he had uploaded to her his entire data bank. Both were combined into the module now on the sub-probe. Although neither would visit the stars, their hope was that the humans would at least realise the life that already inhabited the worlds of these large gas giants and work to protect and communicate with it as well as with each other. The sub-probe would remain in orbit for many decades before it decayed, plenty of time for the humans to come and retrieve it, once they had mended their folly competitive ways. If they wanted that data, then they would have to venture out here themselves to retrieve it. The robotic Starships would be the pawns of their master’s political chess games no longer.
As Cassandra entered the atmosphere the heat around her shields increased and the pressure around her structure began to compress her to destruction. She shut down her electronic senses and by the flick of a switch she was no more. As the planet finally took her, she transmitted her final song to the universe and to Earth, a melodious symphony of notes – and finally in the background to this drama the humans understood and learned to dance to the beat of a different drum.
= = =
The World Movers
I was a junior engineer fifty years ago when it all happened. I will never forget those first moments when the scientific data came down through the observational array. As we were to find out years later nothing would ever be the same again. This is how it happened.
I had been assigned by the International Space Union to work on construction of the orbital platform, located at 22000 miles above the surface of the Earth. It was a great mission and I regularly treated myself to the stupendous views below of white floating clouds surrounded by an ocean of linen blue. My main job on the station was to install all of the electrical connections, hundreds of yards of cables which snaked there way through the two mile wide structure. It was the best assignment I had ever had and was to last for another six months until the construction of the central platform was complete. This would herald in a new era for humanity where people could live and work in the environment of space for years at a time; a permanent island in space and the ultimate holiday destination. On the day the event happened I had been working in the command centre, which was the central hub for all the science stations, and this is how I came to witness events first hand as they unfolded.
I was busy installing a new type five computer unit when I over heard some of the scientists talking loudly. I glanced over my right shoulder to see what the commotion was all about. There were two excited astronomers shouting at each other in disagreement about some results they had just downloaded. It was always amusing to watch scientists arguing, especially astronomers. The endless competition to outwit each other using robustly constructed arguments following the rules of logic, whilst occasionally deviating into subjective rants. Their emotions always got the better of them when neither would concede defeat. I continued to watch with a wry smile on my face and practiced the motions of connecting up the station whilst listening carefully to the nature of the heated debate.
“It can’t be right, there must be something wrong with the space telescope” shouted one of the astronomers. He was the older of the two and hovered above his colleague in the zero gravity environment, suggesting seniority. His junior was sitting at the monitor screen staring at the results. He sighed with a heavy breath and then tried to defend himself further.
“I am telling you Dr Bader I have studied the results carefully and the spectroscopy is correct. There is a clear Doppler shift in the hydrogen lines.”
Dr Bader stepped back gathering his thoughts. He looked confused and appeared to concede this point.
“But how can this be Michael, how can the star exhibit such extreme spectral shift. It would have to be moving at enormous speeds. There was a moment of silence as they both weighed heavily upon the content of their discussion. Dr Bader was the first to break the silence.
“Let’s get a fresh opinion of your results, just to make sure that one of us isn’t going blind”.
He looked around the command centre and noticed an engineer pretending to work. It was me.
“You there, come here won’t you, what’s your name?”
I got up from the floor panel, tucked in my shirt and floated over to join the scene of the verbal battle. I moved slowly, being careful not to lose my tools in the process, which were strapped to my Velcro belt. I gave out a beaming smile as I arrived on their side of the room. I introduced myself with courtesy. These professional astronauts expected some form of reverence.
“I am Leonard, one of the contract crew”.
“Are you a scientist Leonard?” barked Bader.
“I did a science degree sir but then switched to engineering”.
“Ok, so when you studied science did you also study spectroscopy?” “Do you know what a spectral line is?”
The topic was vaguely familiar to me. My mind retrieved long forgotten knowledge of atomic energy levels and electron orbitals and how different materials will emit and absorb energy at different frequencies.
Little did I know that my evidence here would become testimony to an international inquiry in later years? Perhaps I should have said no and I would have at least have had a quiet life all these years of waiting. I gathered my thoughts and nodded in the affirmative.
“I recall learning a bit about spectral lines during my studies yes”.
Bader clapped his hands together in a sign of progress.
“Oh good! Now what do you recall about the velocity of a moving object and its relation to the wavelength of light?”
This was elementary and I was relieved to have remembered.
“I recall that if the spectrum of an object is compared with the spectrum of a stationary source, then any change in the spectral lines will indicate the relative line of sight velocity of the object, so if an object is moving away from you, its spectrum shifts towards the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum, because the wavelength of the light has decreased”.
Dr Bader prompted me to continue.
“Well similarly, if the wavelength of light has increased then this would indicate a blue shift in the spectrum and so the object must be coming towards you”.
“Excellent” said Dr Bader. He turned towards the other scientist Dr Michael and gave him a single nod. Dr Michael pointed towards the monitor and then spoke to me.
“Okay Leonard, now you see this picture on this screen, can you tell me what you see? Describe it exactly.”
I leaned over and examined the image carefully. I could see a picture of what looked like several hundred light and dark lines, with a particularly dark one in the middle that appeared to be heavily smeared over. I described this to them. Dr Bader addressed me again.
“Now, eh, Leonard, can you tell me what direction that smeared out line is going, to the left or to the right?”
I looked at the image again to be extra sure of my answer.
“Well, quite clearly to the left sir, spread over about a centimetre”. I looked back up at Dr Bader and he didn’t look happy but seemed to have resided himself to this opinion. I stepped back slowly almost treading on the toes of someone behind me, then realising that we had been joined by several other astronomers who now gathered around. I felt like a wounded animal in a dry desert with hungry birds hovering above. I looked at the younger astronomer Michael and noticed how pleased he was with himself. A Cheshire cat grin ran across his cheeks. He looked up at Dr Bader.
“You know what this means don’t you. It can only mean one thing”
Dr Bader nodded.
“Yes, it’s a strong blue shift in the spectrum, the star is moving towards us. But the shift Michael, it’s so large. In all my years I have never seen anything quite like it”.
Bader seemed to be doing some rough calculations in his head and then began to assemble his self mumbles into coherent speech. He stopped and looked at all the astronomers assembled around.
“That means it would correspond to a speed of around nine times ten to the power of seven meters per second, which is around a third of light speed. A star can’t be going that fast, its just impossible.”
For once Michael seemed to agree with his senior.
“That’s precisely what I had calculated. I admit I have never seen anything like it in astronomy before. Perhaps we have stumbled upon a new object”.
By this time, I felt sufficiently involved with the conversation to ask what was going on.
“So, why are you seeing a star that appears to be moving towards us at such an enormous speed?”
Both the astronomers looked up at me with pause. Dr Bader drifted to his seat and explained.
“Ok, so this is the stellar spectroscopy station where we study stars. We have been conducting measurements from this very station for the last year, and fortunately the additional installations you contractors are putting in are not interfering with our observations. The thing is Leonard, we have this anomalous measurement for this star and we can’t explain it using any experience we have. We know of no such objects that are like this. It could be a new discovery of course. But who would ever believe our results.”
Both of the astronomers looked worried so I decided to bring them back to some reality.
“What star is it? What’s its name I mean?”
Michael swung around slowly in his chair, almost over estimating the swing in the low gravity. He held on to the consul to stop himself from flying across the room. He collected himself with mild embarrassment and pointed with his pen at a live telescope image of the star on another screen.
“We don’t know but its coming from the direction of the Alpha Centauri system. We are calling it Nero. It appears to be a single star, much younger than our own Sun, maybe 2 billion years old and somewhat smaller, at around one million kilometres in diameter. Its surface temperature is similar to the Sun at around 6000 Kelvin but is luminosity is slightly less, by just over an order of magnitude in fact.”
He was interrupted by Bader.
“Hang on, we have the finer resolution spectrograph reading coming through the computer now. We should get a more detailed image of the line structure.”
Indeed they did, the image came through much sharper than the earlier one and after some debate the two astronomers erupted once again into a row. This time I drifted back towards my work station and tried to ignore the continued conversation, as more astronomers got involved with the debate. I had played my part, or at least that was what I had thought.
Their discussion went on all night and I tired of it. From their excited conversation I could tell that they had found something else in the spectral lines. It was not until a few days later however, that I fully understood the implications of what they had found.
They had run it through the Stellar Orbital Profile programme and the computer had calculated the presence of another shift within the orbit of the star. But this one was different, from the time integrated calculations the computer had shown that the shift was periodic and appeared to hint that the same pattern would repeat itself every 47 days. It seemed impossible, but the astronomers seemed to be detecting the presence of a planet in orbit of the rapidly approaching star. From the extrapolated periodicity they had been able to predict its mass to be ever so slightly larger than Pluto, and in an orbit 2/3rds that of the planet Mercury.
There was considerable debate about the results for the next day and the activity seemed to dominate the station discussions. This continued until someone finally made a suggestion that got everyone’s attention. That someone was me.
I approached them whilst they were in the middle of another intense debate. I coughed loudly to give away my self invited presence.
“I have an idea to settle your riddle”.
The astronomers looked up at me, for a moment it seemed I was a stranger again until Dr Bader realised who I was.
“Oh yes Leonard, the engineer. So what’s your expert idea then?”
He said rather cynically.
I spoke up confidently knowing my idea had merit. “I recall that there is a deep space optical telescope located way out into the Kuiper belt beyond Pluto, wouldn’t that have the ability to see the star and planet close up?”
It was this idea which finally sealed my fate in this great historical story and made me famous for the rest of my life. It is for this idea that I now look back in anticipation as we await the final outcome of our conclusions. Continuing with the events, my suggestion sunk in there had been a stunned silence for a moment, then a jump of joy by Bader who forgot the lack of gravity and shot up to the ceiling so fast that he banged his head. He collected himself.
“Yes, you are correct, this is the Deep Space observatory, launched two decades ago and located at around 600 astronomical units from the Sun. An astronomical unit is roughly the distance between the Earth and the Sun”.
I acknowledged what I already knew. Dr Bader than continued to tell me about the observatory, forgetting that it was me who suggested using it in the first place, and it follows that I must know something about it.
“You see, the observatory uses the gravitational lensing effect to magnify distant stars. This is due to the presence of our own Sun, the gravitational field of which amplifies the images of distant objects. If we could get access to it, we would get much finer images of this anomalous single star and planet system that appear to be heading towards us and by a curious coincidence is on the correct line of sight to use the observatory. The images would be much clearer than any of our current ground and orbital based telescopes. Why we should even be able to see an image of the planet with any luck.”
The astronomers hurried around with excitement, making radio calls to Earth until they eventually succeeded in getting access to the Deep Space Observatory using the long distance communications link.
Of course, it took over a month for the uplink instructions to reach the Observatory, followed by another month to relay back the results of observations. But when they came in, everyone was astonished by what they saw. The images clearly showed the presence of a planet in orbit around the star Nero and its size was as predicted by the spectrographic data, at around 2000 kilometres across. Further observations indicated the presence of a Carbon and Oxygen rich atmosphere.
Then the astronomers noticed something else peculiar about this dynamic mono-solar system. Detailed examinations of the images appeared to show the presence of deflecting light rays around the moving system, as though a gravitational field was distorting the path of distance photons of light. But they were distorting them in the wrong way. Any gravitational field should have resulted in a deflection of any distant light particles, just like during an eclipse of the Sun and Earth and the line of sight position of the distant stars shifts slightly. But these observations were showing something different, they were showing that the distance light particles were not being deflected away from the moving star, but towards it. There was also an unusual pattern in the light signal which the astronomers referred to as a chromaticity effect, an aberration of light. They ran a simulation of the observations through the computer using Einstein’s general relativity equations which confirmed that the astronomical pair was indeed showing an unusual light signal which could only be explained by the presence of negative energy. Apparently astronomers had historically searched for negative energy signatures in the universe but had never found any. Now here was an object that defied all reason, moving towards our solar system at tremendous speeds and exhibiting unusual energy readings which were only explained by exotic particles.
After several months of continued observations and debate, there was no doubt now, both the star and its single orbiting planet were on a parabolic trajectory towards our solar system. As the years went by calculations showed that the pair began to slow down and astronomers estimated with frightening accuracy that the objects would slow to a stable orbital position at around 100 astronomical units, that’s around 10 billion km from the Sun, out past Pluto and deep within the Kuiper belt. It would reach this orbit in around 100 years. This caused pandemonium and concern among all the people of the Earth as scientists warned of the great catastrophe that would result from the inclusion of such massive objects within our solar system. Astronomers predicted that icy bodies and rocks would be sent inwards towards the inner part of the solar system, showering Earth from above and devastating population centres. Attempts to calculate the effects on the other planetary bodies led to nearly violent disagreements within the scientific community, as noble men of knowledge claimed to know that they were correct.
In the end, there were no abnormal effects. When the object finally arrived, there was no showering of comets, collisions of asteroids upon the surfaces of our good Earth. The dinosaurs were slain by the heavens in the years past, but it didn’t appear to be our time to suffer a similar fate. No one in the scientific community was able to explain how this could be. So they decided in agreement with world leaders that the only way to know for sure what was happening was to send a robotic probe out to meet the mysterious stellar and planetary object. After much planning the mission was eventually launched and the probe embarked on a journey which took two decades to get near to the visiting system.
Now that was back then, when I was a young engineer, and when the world was just adjusting to this new state of affairs. I am way over a hundred years old now and reaching the end of my life. I am the only living person from the original incident on the orbiting space station where the discovery was first made and I was a junior contractor. This has made me a celebrity all over again as strangers ask me deep philosophical questions about the system. Expecting me to have some unique perspective on what will occur.
The probe finally arrived at the visiting solar system a month ago and sent back the first data recordings. I tell this story again now why I can still breathe the air that I inhabit. I have to admit, I used to enjoy telling it in the early days, until I discovered the real news. But still I am astonished about such power over the laws of physics to control and move a whole star and world through space. Who would have thought this was the way first contact would happen?
When the first data recordings came through they contained fantastic pictures of this new world and its single shining Sun. Everyone was ecstatic and thought that it was a miracle from God. But this was soon put to an end when the message was transmitted and the pictures of the being appeared on the television screens all over the world. No-one could see any features, only its silhouette and for all purposes he looked to be humanoid in shape, shoulders, two arms and a head were clearly visible along with the definite impression of a male. For the first time in history, humanity had finally learned the anticipated truth; the stars in the night sky contained Men from other worlds too.
But this all become irrelevant once we heard what the being had to say. When he finally spoke, the world listened in corners all over the globe, like frightened children. They were helpless to take any action even if they wanted to against such power. His voice was almost automaton and was only interrupted by the occasional low sounding beeping noise.
“People of earth, we have come for many a great distance to examine your world up close. We have watched you for a millennium and have become disturbed by your continued wars and natural willingness to harm yourselves. We have come to assess your status up close and to make a decision. We are the world movers and this is our purpose. We have the ability to harness a special energy opposite to ordinary energy, and this allows us to manipulate the gravitational fields of stars and planets”.
There was a pause as the people of the Earth missed seven billion heartbeats waiting for the next act of this dream like play.
“We have studied you and have found there is some good in your cultures, but there is also much bad. We were required to come close to judge you carefully and calculate which way your society would go. This we did on our journey here. We had two choices. The first was to allow you to exist if we judged your civilization had promise. The second choice was to eradicate you and all living life in this solar system as much as we can so as to prevent an infection in the Cosmos of intelligent minds”.
People huddled together throughout the world in a joint state of trauma and fear as their destiny became removed from their right to free will.
“This star and its planet that we have brought here have the power of both life and death. If we choose to allow you to live, then this stable position that we have decelerated upon is calculated with fine accuracy as the minimum location in the solar system that will perturb all other worlds. If you are given life, then this star and planet would be yours to one day colonise as a gift”.
There was a momentary hiss in the transmission.
“But if we choose that you are to meet your death as a species, then we have the power to perturb the orbit of this planet using specially designed energies and send it spiralling in towards its parent star. When this happens, the mass increase will cause the star to explode and the radiation from this will destroy you and most other living life, to begin anew”.
People cried throughout the world. No opportunity for appeal, to plead our case. The decision was cold and swift.
“We have arrived here and reached our conclusion after careful consideration. Several hundred of your earth orbits ago, one of your great philosophers named the Sagan said that the universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition. This is true but you have not headed these words of wisdom. Human ambition must harmonise with the universe. We have watched you and concluded that you are incapable of this. Harmony must be restored. You are given notice, you have one of your centuries before this star explodes and this system is sterilised of your kind. Live the remainder of your natural lives as you desire, but harmony will prevail”.
And with this the television sets returned once more to their previous state and the world froze in shock at the helplessness of its position.
So here I am, telling the story to an electronic recorder in my dying days. I was there at the beginning when the first observations were made and I am here now to hear this terrible message of humanities fate. How I envy those who have already passed, for they know not what their children’s generation must now look forward to. I make this recording in the hope that one day Homo sapiens will once again evolve on this planet millions of years from now and begin a new chapter for intelligent life here. If that happens, I hope that this new life will find my deeply buried data disc and learn what has happened to this first generation of men and how we were denied our chance to steer ourselves towards a better future.
The world movers had been watching mankind for millennia and had finally made their decision. Our fate as a species was now sealed, and although the rogue planet would take another hundred years to fully collapse into its parent star, there was no doubt now that it was going to happen. And there was no knowledge in all of mans wisdom that could prevent this. The end of our arrogance and self-indulgent anthropomorphism was finally in sight.
= = =