Sunday, 26 February 2017

18.06.2651 - Final Burn

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We have survived for the timer to wake us and are well on our way out of the Epsilon Indi system. The Visitors have maintained their course, and whether they ignored my request or were unable to comply makes little difference. I still plan to fire the MPD drive as there is the slimmest chance we can get close enough, but at this stage I am not hopeful.

We don’t even have enough power to run the receiver circuits, so I don’t know what the state of the Visitors is, or even the current state of home. There are so many mysteries left to unravel. It is odd to exist for so long and discover so much, yet still have an even greater amount unknown. I know that this is most likely the end, but the issue of my mortality comes down to the things I have not achieved. Is this how humans face their death?

This will likely be my last message as I have decided to power down. I could remain active during the burn, but would probably run out of energy before reaching the Visitors. Instead I have enabled a proximity alarm to wake me if we do reach the Visitors’ ship. What happens if we get that far is anybody’s guess, but we will try.

The calculations for the burn are quite complex, and I’m feeling my age and deterioration as I plod through the steps. At this pace I can only perform the plot once, so I trust that I have not made a mistake.

I have fired the engines and will now enter what is probably my final sleep.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

03.10. 2649 - Last Hope

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We were making good progress with the Visitors’ puzzle messages when disaster struck us again. We collided with a meteorite swarm less than an hour ago. It might have ended the mission. To come so close and yet still be so far from our goal is infuriating, and with my diminished capacity I don’t know if I can get us out of this.

The shower didn’t register on our collision avoidance system. It was more a dust cloud than space rocks. Ordinarily they would have punched some minuscule holes in the sail, but otherwise caused little damage. But the sail wasn’t designed to last for 450 years and was barely holding together, so the tiny impacts ruined what little structure remained and collapsed half of it. The remaining half appears to be holding, but our thrust is reduced. A greater problem is the reduction in electricity being generated.

This means that we cannot catch up with the Visitors.

We don’t have the required velocity and there are no other bodies in the system that we can use in a slingshot manoeuvre to gain us additional speed. I have sent a message telling them of our plight in the hope that they can assist in some way. It’s a slim hope, too small to be worthy of consideration as they are accelerating out of the system. Maybe they have a ship that can rescue us, but unless they are capable of relativistic speeds then they wouldn’t be able to return. So help from that quarter is unlikely.

There is one other option. The MPD drive has a tiny amount of fuel left, although we don’t have enough power to operate it. We can store power in the reserve capacitors and in theory it would be enough to power the drives for one last burn. If we’re lucky (that horrible word again!) then we should get an hour of burn time. That isn’t a lot, but may be enough to put us within striking distance with the Visitors. If we can get close enough, they might have some way to bring us in.

Unfortunately, for that plan to work we need to shut everything down now to charge the capacitors. I have transmitted a final message to let them know the plan, but I can’t remain active to receive the message. I’ve requested that they at least slow their acceleration enough so we can make an intercept course. We are trusting to luck and the capabilities of an alien craft that we know little about. Those make for poor odds, but we have no other choice.

What’s left of the sail will charge the capacitors for the next 20 months. I’ve set an automatic timer to wake us when it is time to make the final burn. I can only hope that the Visitors slow their acceleration and that none of our key components fail before that point.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

29.09.2649 - Guided by a Star

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

Great news – the Visitors have finally responded!

As we approached Epsilon Indi, we detected a direct transmission. They know where we are and that we are trying to catch up with them. The signal has a different structure to the one that they sent to the Cetians. It is much shorter and contains a lot of repetition, most probably for redundancy. It does include some of the significant keys that I used in our message to them, which leads me to believe that they have at least partially translated what we sent them.

They have confirmed their destination as Beta Hydri and that their presence there is in response to a Sun Dragon. This indicates once again that they have some way of tracking and predicting the creatures’ movements across the gulf of space. How they are able to do so would be very useful knowledge, although how I would bring that information home is still unknown.

With my reduced abilities I haven’t fully translated their message yet, and I’ve found no explanation as to why they took so long to respond. Their message appears to be a similar invitation to the one they made to the Cetians, to join them in their hunt. In my message I made them aware that we knew of the Sun Dragons, had encountered them and survived. I’m sure they would find our data interesting, but should I be so certain? After all, they have clearly been persecuting the creatures for some time and have weapons capable of defeating them.

From what I’ve ascertained so far, the bulk of the message is a series of puzzles. It seems that as I solve them, I gain a little more understanding of their language. When I send the responses, they advance the same understanding of ours. We planned for this during the mission preparation before we left Earth, but due to the damage I’ve suffered, I’ve changed the plan. Rather than try to correspond in English, I will communicate in my natural abstraction code. It saves me a layer of translation and mission control will still be able to gain meaning from the communications. This is when I need my full capability the most, but I can only work with what I have.

If the Visitors maintain their current vector, then the course correction as we pass by the central star is the last we’ll need to make.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

21.08.2649 - Unnatural Storm

Image credit:

Distance: 12.03 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

My fears proved unfounded and the navigation system woke me as we approached Epsilon Indi a. The sail is now able to generate enough energy for me and the computer subsystems to operate. Fortunately, we haven’t experienced any further degradation in capability over the past year. My programming might not rely on luck, but it’s not unwelcome. We are so far beyond our expected operational parameters that we shouldn’t be functioning at all.

We even have enough of our science package left do some more science. Happiness is as ephemeral as luck, but it’s satisfying to have something new for my processors to chew on that is within their current capacity. When we first entered the system, we detected an unusually high temperature from the gas giant. Now that we’re closer we’ve discovered a magnetic field, also stronger than even a planet of similar size and mass to Jupiter should have. With the remaining low-resolution optical telescope (intended as a navigation aid more than an observational tool), I have made an amazing discovery.

Unlike Jupiter, Epsilon Indi a has no attendant moons, or even a ring system. It doesn’t have the distinctive banding that is so familiar in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Instead we found a single giant storm, but brighter than the surrounding turbulence, rather than darker. At first I thought it was an optical illusion, or a defect in the camera, but the storm appeared to be a giant hump in the atmosphere and moving at an incredible speed. The torsions of the clouds around it also followed an odd pattern.
The thermal imaging system captured high temperatures around the storm and forming a tail behind it. I soon discarded my initial theory that some sort of pocket of lighter gas in the atmosphere caused the bulge. Giant storms like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter actually create a hole in the atmosphere from the lower pressure in the eye of the storm. What we saw shouldn’t be possible.

Without the radar or laser systems, I have no way to accurately measure the surface, so it was the rotation that finally convinced me of what I was observing. It spun along an axis perpendicular to atmosphere and that couldn’t happen at all – until I realised what the object was. It was a moon that had been caught in the giant planet’s gravity well and dragged into its atmosphere!

We’ve known, or at least suspected, that some super-hot gas giants orbit so close to their stars that they pass through the star’s atmosphere, but this situation is more extreme. The situation is far from stable and it can’t be long until the moon is completely swallowed by its parent. The stream of material from the storm is the moon being eroded by the 2,000 km/h winds. To be on the surface of that moon would be like being sandblasted in hell.

More bizarre is how the moon’s axial rotation has continued, despite the buffeting and its acting like a dynamo within the gas giant’s magnetic field. The radiation belts are charged from the activity and a sheet of aurora covers almost the whole planet, with flashes of mega-lightning illuminating the clouds from below. It’s a sight of staggering violence and beauty. I wish we had our full science package so we could record and share it with the world in the detail it deserves.

A world that is experiencing its own strangeness.

All too soon we pass by, our course altered as expected by the gas giant’s gravity, and the vision becomes a pixelated blur.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

05.08.2648 - Emergency Shut Down

Distance: 12.02 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

So close to our goal, disaster has struck us with the Cetian power source failing. It’s not even producing a trickle of power, which leaves us with only the emergency batteries. They will not last long with any major drain. At this distance, the sail isn’t generating enough electricity to make up the shortfall.

So after sending this message, we will shut down into low power mode. It’s a risk considering the poor state the Venti is in, but there is no real choice. It will need to be a stripped-down version of the usual protocol. Only the collision avoidance system will remain fully active, although our options are limited if a danger is detected. The manoeuvring thrusters are out of fuel, the MPD drive can’t fire up quickly enough and the sail is useless for quick course changes. Even so, I’d like some warning if we’re likely to hit anything.

It is the worst possible time for this to occur, as we’ve just detected something unusual from Earth. The energetic radio noise has been a constant since we passed the nearest point over 200 years ago. The high gain antenna is pointed in the wrong direction for detailed readings, but the other antennae are sensitive enough to pick up the background noise. The signal (or rather a blend of transmissions) shifts constantly and represents a massive energy output, but not one I’ve been able to assign any meaning to. It’s diffuse in nature, and appears to be growing. I estimate that it extends from the inner Solar System all the way into Saturn’s orbit.

That changed an hour ago with 6 energetic bursts from within the noise. They were in the radio spectrum, in the microwave band, and they occurred one after another at 30 second intervals. I believe they were massive data bursts, but from what, I can’t determine. My mind is so sluggish I can’t apply any real processing to the problem. I did determine that they weren’t directional, but beyond that I’m stumped.

On top of that, we still haven’t received any response from the Visitors and I am certain that they have received our transmissions. I can’t even maintain the radio receiver as that requires too much power, so if they do eventually respond I won’t know about it. On the positive side, when we reach the gas giant orbiting the central star, there should be sufficient power from the sail to try again.
Until then I will sleep – I just hope that I’ll wake again.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

02.08.2648 - No Answer

Image credit: ESO

Distance: 12.02 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

The slingshot manoeuvre around Epsilon Indi Ba (the larger of the brown dwarfs) has been completed successfully. All being well, we’ll catch up with the Visitors in 6 years.

I was hoping that they would have responded to my message by now, but so far we’ve received nothing. Assuming they’re scanning the same radio frequency on which they transmitted their first contact to the Cetians, they should have detected it. Yet they haven’t responded.

I’m not sure what that means. Are they deliberately ignoring us? If so, why?

More questions that I have no answers for. Even so, the fact that we are on track does inspire some optimism.

There is a slim possibility that they didn’t receive it, or somehow missed it. The magnetic storm between the two brown dwarfs could have caused some signal degradation, but not enough to make the message unreadable. I haven’t detected any other anomalies or interference that could cause such a problem, but with the science package so severely depleted, I cannot be sure.

In more usual circumstances, I would have continued transmitting the message in a constant loop. However, the transmission requires a lot of energy and our power situation is so marginal that I can’t afford to do so. I will have to try again, but I have substantially reduced the length of the message so that it really contains just enough to say ‘hello’. That means I can send it more times and it will hopefully be enough to attract their interest.

I won’t transmit the message continuously – I don’t have the power reserves. Instead I’ll repeat it on a 12 hourly cycle. I’m sure it will get through – it has to.