The Second Coming… Again CHAPTER 2

 CHAPTER 2

The Homecoming

Slightly more than 7,000 years after the Anunnaki’s settlement, a long, shiny shape hauntingly slides out from the edge of the Oort cloud. Starlight reflected from its walls and a gigantic ball of deeply frozen ice is firmly anchored by cables on the front of the ship. The ship’s name is Osiris and looks like a giant medieval club.

Captain Brato, very experienced and highly resourceful, is the oldest and most experienced of three captains altering shifts. In the muted light, his White face reflects and looks like a ghost in one of the display screens, pale after a lifetime on board. He glances at his co-captain, “You’re right, the star is causing us to accelerate. We have a very busy time ahead of us.”

Like the others, he is excited, but the anticipation is still mixed with a degree of uncertainty and tension. This generation has never actually penetrated a planetary system completely, nor have any of the previous generations according to their knowledge. The systems that had been investigated so far, with such high expectation was at a distance. Unfortunately they are not suitable for colonization and are already occupied with intelligent life. The ship would  be sent out on a different course, where they will finally decide whether to return to where their ancestors came from and to determine if their mother planet might once again be viable.  The library discs provided the recommended approach procedures and warnings to fall back on. The daily routine of mandatory exercise to keep muscles and optimal blood circulation, servicing of ships, systems maintenance and the need to remain constantly alert, which has become a way of life, is not so dull after all.

Crew numbers are continuously kept as constant as possible, with births selectively awarded when deaths occur, because room for expansion simply does not exist. Through all the years on board, the need to stay constantly vigilant for long periods of time requires a special discipline, especially self-discipline which has been drilled into them from childhood and has become second nature. Especially when it comes to general health, because an epidemic on board would be fatal. The crew’s physical fitness also must be maintained meticulously for the day they meet ‘real gravity’ and a possible biologically aggressive environment presents itself. Due to the total isolation, their language changed very little through the generations and so the old ship’s logs are still quite understandable.

So far their mission’s finer details have not been paid any real attention to by the rest of the crew. Senior staff members are well aware of what they are heading into: “Everyone outside the bridge crew in the meeting room please,” came the command over the intercom. “You can eavesdrop on the intercom, but do not lose your vigilance.” In case of urgent meetings, the drivers have specific orders and assignments.

The shuffling and soft intermittent humming  of pumps restoring equilibrium automatically by means of fluid displacement sounded through the ship. As the conference venue and other modules run on magnetic laser bearings on the ship’s central axis, mass displacement takes place when the crew moves around, disturbing the equilibrium balance.

The area where the residents gather is divided into three, with one part an exercise room, an archive room and the other a meeting hall. All meetings take place at the meeting hall with seats oriented to the center. Captain Brato takes his place in the cathedra which is attached to the central corridor’s connecting outer wall, where he is automatically strapped in with slight weightless discomfort: We are nearing our destination quickly. The experience will make us all much the wiser. Those of you who are familiar with the records can inform the other crew to the nature of the other planetary civilizations so that we can communicate or connect easier if we should encounter someone else there. Our aim is the third planet from the star down, a fertile planet with abundant water and dry land, where our ancestors lived. As most of you probably know, a collision with an object from space long ago almost obliterated all life on the planet, if not everything. You will find surveys of this event on the archive disks… unfortunately crucial  finer details are missing. It will be clear that none of us have ever encountered such a thing before. We will determine whether it has become viable again in our absence. We will as far as possible synchronize our speed with that of natural matter’s general orbit of the the star for now and stay as far as possible beyond the planetary level, avoiding as much harmful material and dangerous evasions as possible… Any questions or concerns? “

A signal flashes above a young man’s seat. Brato recognizes him as one of the younger engineers: “Yes, Kast?”

“We must get rid of the extra burden, captain. We may have to change direction on short notice.”

“We will keep it for now. It protects us against smaller collisions that can damage our radiation protection or our shield and cause damage to several other vital components, especially now that we can expect more wandering material at higher speeds and stronger radiation from the star as we get closer. As you know, the comet also provides essential fuel for the melting reactors and the high thrust outlets, and also fills our water supply for personal use. It will hide our arrival from possible intelligent life. If the planet is occupied it will make our approach appear as a natural phenomenon. In any case it will degas quickly, become smaller and will eventually be broken up by tidal forces despite the net we have stretched over it. We will keep it as long as possible and temporarily stay away from large masses. If it is necessary to perform quick evasions we can use our explosive links to quickly get rid of the comet.”

A different signal flashes. Brato nodded for him to continue: “How sure are we that the old civilization was wiped out, Captain?”

“The last report from the planet was very traumatic… actually a farewell. The large object did not collide with the planet, but a few of its satellites did so… unfortunately they were large enough to wipe out almost all life on the planet. Firstly if it fell into the ocean it would have tossed water into space and because of rapid evaporation in the airless void together with the rotation of the planet below a vast ice sheet would have tumbled down to the planet; then volcanic eruptions, seismic disturbances, acid rain that would kill most plant life; and then the cold would follow in any case because little of the star’s light would penetrate through the thick smoke and vapor clouds. It would be obscured for a long time and herald in an ice age killing off most life, especially larger animals. Many volcanic and seismic disturbances would have occurred, even on the other side of the planet from where the collisions took place by shock waves that travel through and around the planet, merging with each other and causing extreme tidal forces. Wind speeds at that time would already have started to increase with estimated winds at the equator that likely exceeded the sound barrier, and gigantic tidal waves that swallowed entire islands and continents penetrate far into the interior. It’s highly doubtful that many people, if any at all could survive. The best chance in such a case, as in the previous extinctions, would be underground. As we get closer we will see what life is on the planet and in what condition it is now. “

Breen is still not satisfied: “Captain, I’m still of a mind that we monitor for possible broadcasts. If people on the planet survived there would by this time perhaps be another civilization, developed and possibly at a scientific and technological level almost equal to ours. “

“Of course,” answered Brato, “We would have to do it anyway because other wanderers like ourselves could have in the meantime occupied the planet… and our ancestors have encountered enough of them, as you know. At this distance, however, I do not expect to receive any as yet, even if there are broadcasts… Anything else? “

“What if other life forms already occupied the planet, Captain?”

“We have an agreement with the other explorers we have encountered… apparently there is an established general principle throughout the galaxy… that species occupying a planet may not be transferred or replaced. If our ancestors survived, or the planet is unoccupied, we get preference. If others had occupied it we continue our search. I really hope it will not come to that.”

There is a moment of silence. “Then we adjourn. If something comes to mind or you have any other questions… you know where to find me or captains Dant or Klem.”

The next few shifts go without incident.

According to earthly standards the ship is enormous, as it was built to sustain a sizeable permanent crew indefinitely. The front view is as small as practically possible, which makes it long with the main propulsion situated at the back, drive thrust in front and at the rear, a fortified walkway as the spine and the rotating residential areas and other venues in between.

The separate units, service and construction venues have shiny flat surfaces on the outside that is connected in groups of three and is actually an independent, detachable and smaller spacecraft. Each with its own propulsion, air supply, survival equipment and food for an emergency like an epidemic, accident or fire, which people aboard could survive until recycling, recovery or disinfection can take place. Thus far no such action has ever been needed. The big piece of ice in front was a small, unusually compact comet they found in the Oort cloud, the almost gravity-free region between stars, recovered and anchored for protection and water supply. This was only the second comet of its kind they had to use. Long telescopic arms equipped with sensors and radar dishes protrude past the comet to explore and provide navigational information. Long term economic ion rocket propulsion is used to accelerate the ship gradually and almost imperceptibly, but when greater propulsion is required for a short period of time, the rotating units lock and the comet is heated into extremely overheated steam and blows out at high pressure. Double fusion reactors in the ship’s rear and close to the front ensures propulsion, steering, and general power supply. The extra burden makes quick evasions frustratingly sluggish, but objects to be evaded are larger and can be detected earlier, allowing time for meaningful rate changes. Within the Oort area, where most items are free floating and relatively slow, the trip was much safer. As long as the ship’s speed stayed within the limits of the sensitivity of the ship’s sensors the ship’s evasive capability held.

The task is not only to evade larger objects but to trace all objects in their immediate environment and to determine their paths as well as process, record and store all the relative information. This has now started in earnest and is keeping the crew and computers fully occupied. The Captains deliberate and decide on a course which will bring the ship gradually within the same distance from the star as the bigger planets, but in a different orbit so as not to collide with any of them. They will then slowly tighten their orbit and move closer to the star. As soon as they reach this point the star’s radiation started melting the comet in front and for the first time a fine cloud became visible and later changed into a more expansive, curved “tail” resembling a bridal veil. The telescopic sensor arms must now be stretched further to explore the way forward. A small hole was burned through the center of the comet with a laser beam for reconnaissance and defense equipment. Brato now recommends that the hole be enlarged for additional sensors and to avoid the gas cloud’s ionization.

“I think we are receiving something through the background noise from the third planet’s direction, Captain”, reports a crew member.

A shiver goes through the bridge crew. Dant’s,  eyes widen: “If you can confirm this, it will make a big difference to how we approach the planet. Do your best to confirm contact. Use maximum gain and sharpen focus. Get another sensor aligned next to the planet and let us see the difference between the enhanced and the original signals.”

The initial observation is confirmed a little later. As they get closer to the planet and can distinguish between individual broadcasts, the broadcast’s nature became apparent. Some wavelengths are amplitude modulated, others are frequency modulated and some even coded, possibly for telecast. There are clear signs of intelligent life on the planet.

“Call captain Brato!” Dant commands. “They were perhaps tougher than we thought, or very lucky, or someone else entirely beat us here.”

Quicker than ever before, a breathless, excited Brato enters the control cabin.

“Ato says you found signs of intelligent life …?”

“Yes, a multitude of different types of broadcasts on many frequencies,” said Dant, “maybe some of our people survived, or else other beings occupy the planet.”

Brato rubbed his beard: “Yes, possibly others occupy the planet. Remember, we found other species. The more advanced candidates could not be evaded, but they also had a responsible approach. It is they who informed us of the global agreement. Others, however, we must be careful of. They will not necessarily be peaceful and could perhaps be aggressive.”

“You’re right,” said Dant, “We must be careful not to let our presence be known before we investigate more.”

He turns to the crew at the reception equipment, “Bret, let us hear the broadcasts again.”

An incomprehensible, intermittent babble with many disturbances are heard over the sound equipment. It turns into a clear voice, but in a foreign language. Other wavelengths are tried, as more unrecognizable languages and even music emerges.

“Some still sound somewhat familiar,” says a hopeful Bret.

Brato remains skeptical: “Yes, but it can also be your imagination. We must nevertheless act as if they are going to be hostile. We can not assume that we will be received with open arms. “

“Yes, and keep in mind that if they are so advanced, they will have astronomers,” said Dant, “We must be careful how we maneuver. We can expect to be seen soon. Hopefully, they regard us as a small, insignificant comet. “

“Try to analyze the broadcasts and decode them so we can understand what is happening there,” says Brato, “Let the electronic engineers and communications experts see what they can accomplish. It can not work much different from our own equipment and the signals are stronger.”

It takes longer than he wanted to, but finally, with amplification and processing, broken images are displayed on some channels. Others now join to see the spectacle with great interest.

The planet is anything but peaceful. There are many crime scenes and war. Especially the advanced nations, their morality is at a particularly low level.

“If we ever end up there, we have some serious re-educational work to do,” a female member of the crew remarks.

“Yes, we should consider how, where and with whom we are going to interact on this planet,” said another. “Clearly they are much like us and some of our ancestors might have survived, but I doubt if they know anything about our Green ones.”

A part of the ship’s crew are genetically modified clones. Long ago, before the start of the trip, they were developed with special characteristics in mind. Their skin photosynthesizes and is the reason for their strange green color and they are equipped with a metabolic oxygen supply, making it possible for them to survive considerable lengths of time without air and are also able to empty their lungs during very extreme accelerations. This also has the collateral benefit that they can use the released carbon dioxide the others exhale and through photosynthesis produce oxygen, which eases the burden on the ship’s air filtering system. Their partial dependence on ultraviolet light, which continuously burns at low intensity in their living quarters, necessitates special filters over their eyes. This makes them appear strange with big black eyes. The photosynthesis sees to it that they require little carbohydrate intake and need mainly water, proteins, some trace elements and vitamins. They have been developed for investigations into a planet’s airspace, where they may escape easily through their acceleration tolerance during possible missile and other weapons attacks. However, they are sterile, so they constantly have to be supplemented by further cloning, and are therefore pleased to live in symbiosis with each other, having a place and duty in the small community. Duties are of course strictly allocated on a skill and ability basis. From time to time, when the immediate environment was free from wandering objects, they were trained outside the ship with landing craft and some of the modules as substitute landing craft.

According to the annals, the first crews were horrified to recycle dead bodies into the food production division, but eventually it was viewed as a normal, necessary procedure as alternative sources are rarely come by in space. It was pointed out that this happens in nature biologically, albeit at a slower pace. When suitable materials are encountered in space, really slow recovery and purification procedures are required to separate the elements from each other. Among other things sometimes ionization and separation through acceleration in a vacuumed magnetic field is required to separate elements from each other. Fortunately a vacuum is no problem in space, and with fusion reactors, ionization is not a problem, but it’s still a time-consuming, energy-hungry process that requires the ship to be in a stable free fall through the whole process with no change in direction whatsoever.

The artificial gravity produced by the counter rotating living quarters is vital for reasons essential to skeletal health and to keep muscles strong. It also keeps biological processes and secretions normal, especially for preparation to land on a planet. The ship itself, due to its size, is designed to self land. Special landing craft are available, which so far have never been used before. Maintenance staff now receive instructions for servicing and preparation of these vessels in the storage space.

Osiris is now in its second elliptical path and has long since passed the large planets and is getting closer to the star.

“I have selected our orbit’s lowest point from the star but on the opposite side in terms of the planet’s position and planetary level. There we will do the next orbital change. They will not see our exhaust fumes when we brake,” Brato explains to his staff. “The one after that will unfortunately be clearly seen because it will be at the orbit’s lowest point and the next orbit’s highest point. Fortunately we will be between the planet and the star, so the star will be behind us making it very difficult for them to see us. We will need to examine the broadcasts thoroughly so we can choose an opportune moment when the most underdeveloped and least populated part of the planet will be safe to make contact with.”

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