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.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Sunday, 4 December 2016

01.08.2648 - Swing Low

Image credit:

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

The binary pair of brown dwarfs sweep the outer regions of the Epsilon Indi system. This probably explains the lack of an outer debris belt like the Solar System’s Kuiper Belt. Although much smaller and less massive than the Sun, the larger is still 52 times the mass of Jupiter, and the smaller of the pair is 33 Jupiter masses. They are both T-class brown dwarfs. We’ve made the history books again by being the first man-made object to observe one up close.

Brown dwarfs are strange stellar objects. They are stars but only just, and as such lack the fusion-powered brilliance of main sequence stars like our Sun. Because of this, they look a little like a cross between a gas giant and a star. They have a dim shine, and the illumination highlights the cloud structure of their atmosphere. It’s a beautiful sight.

It’s also interesting that the Sun Dragon didn’t use these stars for its breeding. The theory is that the entities absorb enough of the star’s energy to divide themselves in a manner similar to cell replication. The energy required is colossal, but could still have been garnered from one of these tiny stars. There has to be a reason why it didn’t and I think I know the answer.

There is complex magnetic field between the two stars. Even with the damaged sensor suite, I can tell that it’s more powerful than the theoretical models indicated. Not more powerful than that around the Sun, so I don’t think that’s the problem. However, the shape of it is very different. It’s not just the form, but the motion as well.

As the brown dwarf stars orbit each other they deform spacetime, and layered upon that is a magnetic field that folds around their rotation and their orbital movement. I believe that the chaotic torsions from the motion would tear a Sun Dragon apart. It’s easy to forget that despite the devastation they cause, they are actually quite fragile. I need more detailed measurements to prove the theory and to see at what scales the Sun Dragons consider the magnetic flux to be a threat. It also means that they must be able to detect the fields in detail. If only I could observe one in an active state and with a full range of sensors.

I’ve transmitted my findings to Earth. I hope they are receiving my data, although I still have no indication that they are.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

12.03.2648 - Trio

Blues for Neptune by Bob Eggleton

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

My inner workings aren’t something I have considered in any great detail. In many ways I am my own tool. I’m not designed for introspective reflection, but I’ve developed a fascination for how I work. The irony that this occurs when I am least able to perform an adequate analysis is not lost on me. There’s a human saying that you don’t realise what you have until you’ve lost it, and that is all too clear here.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I’ve at least reached an equilibrium with my thoughts. It seemed that all I had to do was let the doubts run their course. I tried forcing my mind to redirect its processes and that worked for a short time, only for the concerns to resurrect in another form. Processing them and exploring the ramifications actually put an end to them. Naturally, new worries arose – the perilous state of the Venti engenders continued concern – but processing them as they occur stops them becoming recursive and consuming further resources.

Having something else to focus on has helped, especially as it’s new science. It’s pitiful in scope compared to the discoveries we made on our journey out of the Solar System. The sensors just aren’t up to the job anymore, but they did locate 3 planets in this system where only 1 had been suspected. It’s revealed a curious aspect to the system.

A gas giant of Jupiter’s size had long been suspected and I can confirm its existence. Its orbit sits at just under 9 AU from the main star. Without the high-definition telescope, I can’t see any details at our current distance, but it has an active atmosphere and is hotter than I expected from a planet of this mass at an orbit almost twice as far as Jupiter’s. It should more resemble Saturn, but there’s a tremendous amount of energy being discharged in the atmosphere. It’s an interesting puzzle, although one I need more information about to understand. We’ll pass closely to this planet (which I’ve designated Epsilon Indi a) in a year and a half to adjust our course, so I hope we’ll learn more then.

The other planets present an even greater mystery. They form a binary pair and both appear to be terrestrial ice giants of around 8 Earth masses. The unusual aspect with these planets is the extreme inclination of their orbits – almost perpendicular to the orbital plane of the star system. As such, it’s unlikely that they formed alongside the other bodies in the system, and I believe that the binary pair are rogue planets. I don’t think their orbit is stable enough for them to remain in the system. Their direction will be altered by their passage, but they will pass through and head onto somewhere new.
It’s a pity I can’t learn more about this mysterious pair. It would be great to discover what effect their journey has on their make-up. Unfortunately this is as close as I’ll get to them, and what limited resources I have must be conserved for the coming encounter with the Visitors.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

26.02.2648 - Message Sent

© Estate of John Whatmough 

Distance: 12.01 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

My higher functions continue to weaken. It is no longer simply a slowing of my faculties, but also manifests as gaps in my knowledge. This is a frightening realisation, especially when compounded with the concern that what I have learned and what I will discover isn’t reaching home. The worry drags at my thoughts and sparks more thoughts, trying to puzzle out a way to ensure that my data is getting through.

Except that I cannot afford to waste energy and processor cycles on such problems. There is nothing of practical use that I can do to resolve the situation, so instead I have to trust that my data and conclusions are being received. Trust, for a mind devoted to deduction and building connections, isn’t an easy concept to rely upon. There is a solution to every problem and ignoring the problem isn’t quite what I was prepared for. This is uncharted territory though – no-one imagined that we would need to double our operational lifespan and journey to another star system.

It also means that some of the inbuilt measures to ensure the continued running of the mission are actually impeding our efforts to survive long enough. To address this, I’ve shut down some of the emergency routines responsible for monitoring and fallback processing. As a result, I’m not keeping an automatic watch on the Venti’s systems, but I have restored some processing capability for more general use.

I wish I could somehow edit my higher level processing in the same way. My faculties are so limited that it requires all of my attention just for this one chance at reaching the Visitors’ ship. That included preparing the message to send to them once their course intersected the high gain antenna’s orientation. I’m satisfied with the message’s content, although I can’t help but wonder if it could be improved.

My processing capability is simply overwhelmed and I’m unable to dedicate the cycles each problem deserves. Second-guessing my own conclusions is not helping. On top of all that, I’m now finding it difficult to assess the likely response to my message. Or rather, how I can handle their response. If it goes well, then I expect a flood of communication and in my current condition I would be unable to process it effectively. In a worst case scenario they could react aggressively, and with the current state of the Venti I might not even realise it until it’s too late.

At the moment it appears that I am my own worst enemy. The message has been sent, so that die is cast. I cannot change what will come, but I will need to find a way to keep my mind on track.

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Sunday, 30 October 2016

07.01.2648 - Needle Found

Image Credit:
Distance: 12.01 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We’ve found them. That comes as a relief to my thoughts! We may have located the Visitors, but unfortunately they’re already on their way out of the Epsilon Indi system. From their direction, I estimate that their next destination is Beta Hydri. This star is approximately 24 light years from Earth. Although it has a similar spectral class and mass to our Sun, it is actually much larger and almost 3 times as bright.

On the positive side, they haven’t activated their drive yet. By my calculations, that still gives us a slim chance at catching them. I’m curious why they haven’t engaged their drive yet. Perhaps they are unable to do so within close proximity to a star. Although reviewing my memory revealed that they used their engines closer to Tau Ceti than they are to Epsilon Indi now.

My best guess (and I hate that I cannot perform any proper investigation of the matter) is that gravitational topography of the system is complicated by the orbiting pair of brown dwarfs. I hope that I am correct because it is that deduction which allows us the time we need to catch them. It would help if we could contact them directly in the hope that we’d interest them enough to slow, or even change their course.

We still have the high gain antenna but the mounting failed when we tried to align it to send a message. Without any working spiderbots, we cannot investigate the problem directly. It was probably unlikely that we could fix the problem due to our lack of stores, but I would like to have tried. We can reorient the Venti, but again we’re limited in our options. We’re relying on the sail for our propulsion and any manoeuvring, and our angle of approach would be compromised by trying to face the Visitors’ course. On our current trajectory, we will enter a suitable orientation in around 6 weeks time. I don’t like it, but I’ve decided that we will have to wait for that opportunity.

I have the core of the message ready to send, but even in my reduced capacity I have continued to refine it. It uses the same format as their communication with the Cetians and their transmission to us. The key difference here is that the Cetians were more open with their message. The Visitors revealed little in their transmission except their purpose, which makes constructing a first contact protocol challenging.

Originally I followed the Cetian example and built an open message outlining our mathematics and science. Since my last awakening, I have amended that plan and the message is now more circumspect. I made sure to include our own encounter with the Sun Dragon which should identify the common purpose between us. Part of the reason for this change is my own reduction in capability. I currently lack my customary intellect and that would slow my response to any problem.

We’re just about holding together here and I can’t help but wonder if that is somehow degrading my decision making.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

28.12.2647 - Bursts in the Sky

Distance: 12 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

The Venti probe’s operational effectiveness continues to degrade and we still haven’t located our objective yet. I believe the Visitors are heading towards the Epsilon Indi system’s main star and are obscured by its glare. Up until now, that had just been a theory. Two days ago, the star’s luminosity restored to a fraction below its normal level. With our damaged sensors, we still couldn’t observe directly, but we did record three gamma ray bursts that matched the energy profile of those we detected on our approach to Tau Ceti.

This has to be the Visitors! The three bursts didn’t occur at once. There were two in quick succession, followed by the third several hours later. I’m curious as to why one of the Sun Dragons needed 2 bursts – maybe it was farther away.

My reduced capacity is proving to be a burden. I’ve achieved no notable progress with the Cetian data since leaving Tau Ceti. I can’t even dedicate any processing to the trove that remains untranslated. There’s so much to be learned there and it goes against my reason for being to leave it unexamined. I can only hope that mission control has received the data and are performing their own analysis.

More than that, I have to prepare for meeting with the Visitors. Their initial contact with the Cetians provided the means by which I can initiate contact with them – if only I can find them! Without the high-resolution sensors, I have no hope of detecting their presence so close to the star. I can’t track them with their electromagnetic wake as the output from the star drowns it. That’s assuming they have their drive activated and aren’t on an orbital path.

The laser communication system has failed since our arrival and is beyond our means to repair. We don’t have any functional spiderbots left with which to try and jury rig something. We still have the high gain antenna. I contemplated sending a transmission in blind, but without a specific target we’d burn too much energy for it to overcome the radiation in the area.

All we can do is continue on our course and hope that we locate them while we can still do something about it.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

04.08.2647 - Awake Again

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Distance: 11.99 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

After the failures in the last power restoration, I was concerned that we wouldn’t wake up again after another 200 years of travel. I’m pleased to report that we have. I’m still functionally impaired, not just from the PCM hardware refusing to restore, but also now from some degradation of the circuits within my original matrix. I estimate that my processing is rated at 34% of my original specifications. As you can imagine, this slows my thinking a lot.

The bad news doesn’t end there. Almost all of our maintenance supplies have been exhausted. The system repair system was woken on 8 occasions during the journey. There were 3 minor impacts and 5 subsystem failures. While they were all repaired successfully, none of the core subsystems are operating at their optimal levels. In short, the Venti is on its last legs. This isn’t a surprise, as we’re nearly 300 years beyond our expected lifespan, but we still have much to do.

Our most pressing issue was revealed when we deployed the sail. One of the recorded impacts penetrated the housing for the sail while it was packed away. The fragment tore through the sail and ripped several small holes, which grew into a larger hole as it unfurled. This reduces its thrust capacity, but more problematic is the reduced power generated from the photosensitive cells. We have none spare for a repair because I used them to power the Cetian memorial satellite. I wonder if it is still operational, but of course I have no way of knowing.

With the reduced power output, we’re now relying on the Cetian power source. Thankfully it remains operational. However, it isn’t enough to power all of the core systems by itself. We should be close enough to the star to gain enough energy from the solar cells, but that leaves our margin perilously slim. I have considered shutting myself down again to conserve energy, but with the problems we encountered on this last restoration, I don’t think it would be safe to do so.

I now know why Epsilon Indi was chosen by the Visitors as their destination. The sensors have measured a dimming in the star’s output, which is indicative of a Sun Dragon breeding. Frustratingly, our high-definition telescope is malfunctioning so we cannot get any decent imaging at our current distance. There could be another cause, but as Epsilon Indi isn’t known as a variable star, I consider that unlikely.

We’ve not located the Visitors yet, but if I’m right then they will head for the central star to deal with the Sun Dragons. So we will head there too.

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Friday, 14 October 2016

Sunday, 9 October 2016

26.11.2443 - Phone Home

Distance: 4.1 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We’re now closer to home than we have been for over 220 years. It’s an odd sensation. Data from my early data stores is leaking into my current processes and these are already inhibited by my reduced capacity. Even at this reduced distance, the Sun looks little different from the other stars in the sky. It is home, whatever that truly means, and this is the closest I will ever get to returning.

The power-up sequence has reported some errors, the most significant of which is the failure of my secondary hardware (or what was once the Primary Command Module) to resume operations. This leaves me running at half-strength and with so much to do in such a short time.

The comms system sent the compressed versions of all the data I’ve accumulated over the years. I wasn’t expecting any transmission, but there is a certain disappointment to receive nothing. Although that’s not quite true. While there was no directed signal at us, there are some fascinating and potentially disturbing readings from the Solar System. We’re too far out for general radio and communications leakage, but the UNSA’s deep space tracking network should be detectable.

We are receiving something. There’s a broad-range hiss across the microwave frequencies – although the wavelength is lengthened by the time it reaches us. It doesn’t correspond with any data format in my memory, but I can tell that it’s informationally dense. Even more interesting is that it’s spread across the whole Solar System. Humanity has clearly undergone an extensive evolution of its information networks.

With so much change in our home system, the temptation to change course has returned, even though there’s no practical way for me to alter my direction sufficiently. There’s a slim chance that I could swing round at Epsilon Indi and maybe, just maybe, make it to Earth. But that would mean abandoning my pursuit of the Visitors. That has to be my duty now. If the Sun Dragons are developing into a galactic-scale threat, then I must confirm that and somehow get what I know back to Earth.

I really wish I could observe what’s happening back home for more time, and try to understand what has occurred. My limited power budget precludes this. As the comms system has completed its task, and I have confirmed that we are on course for Epsilon Indi, I will have to enter another long sleep.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

14.09.2354 - Another Sleep

Distance: 12.01 light years from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We’re on our way out of the Tau Ceti system. There’s a certain irony that on our journey we’ll pass close (astronomically speaking!) to the Solar System. We’ve still received no communication from Earth and I don’t know what that means. I will have to enter low power mode to conserve energy for the long trip ahead, but I must make the most of this opportunity, so I’ve altered the flight plan for the flight to Epsilon Indi.

I’ve programmed the navigation computer to power me back up at the point of the closest approach. We’ll transfer a compressed version of our findings so far – there won’t be enough time to transmit the raw data, but my conclusions and some of the key information will be of use. Our power profile is tight, but if my calculations are correct then we should remain in budget.

I wish I’d decided to follow the Visitors sooner. I won’t be able to catch up with their vessel until long after they have arrived at Epsilon Indi. This causes a problem – I won’t know where they are heading next until I’m approaching the system. Based on the little I know of them, I think it’s unlikely that they will remain at Epsilon Indi for long. This is compounded by the fact that the escape velocity for that system is much higher than Tau Ceti, and over 3 times that of the Solar System at 63 km/s. With barely any fuel for the MPD drive, I will have to rely on the momentum gained on my departure here and any gravity assists, which limits my options for attempting an intercept.

I’ll need to have the sail unfurled for longer than I’d like and leave its control to the automated systems. That far out, and with Tau Ceti’s less luminous star, the pressure is below what I’d normally consider acceptable for operations. However, I need to squeeze as much speed as I can, so I’ll have to take the risk.

Our power budget also requires me to adjust our profile for low power mode. Not only will the higher level functions like myself be closed down, most of the low power systems, including communications, will be turned off as well. As a result, I won’t know if mission control tries to contact me. I have transmitted our course to Earth, but have no idea whether they will receive it. Obviously this is a far from ideal situation, but I must seize this opportunity.

The energy output from the sail will all too quickly drop below operational levels, so the power-down sequence will soon be initiated. Passing so close to Earth, I am torn between carrying on and heading home to ensure that what I’ve discovered is available to mission control. The lack of contact for so long is frustrating, but also concerning. I know that if I do that then I’ll never get the chance to follow up with the Visitors. At best another mission would be mounted, one I doubt I’d be involved with. There’s also no way they’d be able to catch up with them and the trail would be too cold to follow.

So I’m forced to continue with this plan. A plan with a margin of success far below what I’m comfortable with. On top of that, I know very little about the Visitors. While the secret message indicates that they aren’t as trigger-happy as the Cetians’ official history stated, I don’t know what to expect if I do catch up with them.

It’s too late now – I’m committed. Once again I shall enter a long sleep and will hopefully awake in 90 years as we pass by the Solar System.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Sun Dragon on Kindle Countdown Sale Until October 3rd

Sun Dragon is available on Kindle for only 99p/99c for the next week as part of a Kindle Countdown sale. Grab your copy now:

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2012: NASA's Curiosity Rover lands on Mars to search for signs of whether microbial life existed on the planet.
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From hundreds of potential candidates, six astronauts from countries around the world are selected to crew the historic mission. Led by Commander Samantha Collins, they must travel across the gulf of interplanetary space, over 150 million miles from home and help. Their mission is to investigate alien life, but what they discover is far beyond what anyone ever imagined...

The Sun Dragon story continues in the Tau Ceti Mission

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Sunday, 25 September 2016

29.07.2352 - Departure

Photo: Eso

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

All is now ready for our departure. The Cetian power plant is integrated with the Venti and clad in their material for protection. The solar array should keep the Cetian satellite in action for at least a decade. It will keep sending out the knowledge and history of their race, but for one loop out of three it will transmit my own records and findings.

I just wish I could be certain that they were being received back on Earth.

Our path out of this system will be more convoluted than our trip out of the solar system. It’s a smaller system which has the downside of less volume to manoeuvre in.  In contrast, the shorter orbits of the planets provide greater opportunities for gravity assists, meaning I will get a significant boost to my speed.

We’ll need it as we don’t have the booster sleds to assist gaining escape velocity. The smaller mass of Tau Ceti helps, but also generates less pressure against the sail. Our journey to Epsilon Indi will take much longer – almost 400 years. We won’t reach the heady speeds we attained on our way here, so there’s no way to catch the Visitors before they reach their destination.

My secondary component has continued analysing the Cetian data about the Visitors and plotted their route. They had no need to assist their path out of the system as they could thrust under their own power. In our original configuration we might have caught them, but with just the sail we don’t have a chance.

The Cetians also appear to have underestimated the threat posed by the Sun Dragons. We did the same on Earth. It was indeed a terrible catastrophe for humanity, but even we lacked the vision for what their existence really meant. I discovered what the Visitors must already know from the Cetians.

My revelation came from the data structure the Cetians use to represent the Milky Way and how it is expressed by the sum of their knowledge. I don’t know how they didn’t spot it, or maybe they did and just didn’t care. It’s clear, though, that Sun Dragons are increasing the entropy of the galaxy. The luminosity dips from the stars they bred from were scattered across the galaxy and increasing in number.

The galaxy was infected by them and in large numbers. This meant it would only be a matter of time until one returned to the solar system. The Visitors were waging a campaign against them so I hope they will be able to help.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

22.07.2352 - Preparations

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

We’re almost ready to proceed. The solar panel for the Cetian satellite has been constructed and fitted to the structure. That was the easy part. It’s taken 2 months to devise a method to adapt the electrical output in a form that the Cetian system could use. Their power system uses a similar form to three-phase which complicated the transformation.

The basic theory wasn’t too challenging, building a device to do it proved more so. The Venti’s stores lacked the required components, so I had to fashion designs and print them. More problematic was the raw material needed. My plan was to plunder what I needed from the Cetian facility and there the covering material impeded my efforts.

Apart from the tunnel, the spiderbots failed to locate an access point. The spiderbots tried slicing through the walls of the inner passage and discovered that the material sealed itself in less than a second once the blade was removed. It was also thicker than I expected, much deeper than a spiderbot’s cutting blade. They tried drilling through the cladding only for the drill bit to seize up as the substance tried to recombine.

We enjoyed better success with the laser. Its heat cauterised the material like flesh and stopped its healing properties. That provided access, but not in a sense I expected. The material was solid throughout its entire volume and the components of the system were embedded deep within. In some ways it was more like surgery than engineering. The Cetians built this thing to survive whatever was thrown at it, but not to repair it, and that meant we caused more damage gaining access than I anticipated.

It also resulted in expending more effort than planned to keep it operational. Another problem arose as more details of the system were revealed. I’d expected to discover a set up similar to myself, different in form maybe, but with the same principles. So far I’ve only been able to isolate the transmitter. Everything else is integrated into a single physical entity. There’s no circuit boards or other recognisable components. Or rather, the system appears to be a single circuit contained within the enigmatic material.

This has not only delayed my plan, but changes it too. I’d intended to splice into their systems and override the message, yet still maintain its current function. I’d also intended that it could act as a relay station for my journey to Epsilon Indi. While I identified the transmitter, I had yet to find the antenna or receiver. As our journey covers a similar distance as Earth to Tau Ceti, the Venti’s communications system should be adequate. I would be more confident of that if we still had a working connection with home. Instead all I can do is patch in a message about my intentions with what I have learned so far.

The procedure to swap the power supply was more successful and I was able to connect the solar array I’d built. I needed to devise a modulation component to adapt the power to the Cetian structure’s requirements. At least this went to plan, as without it there would be no way I could leave this system.

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Sunday, 11 September 2016

27.05.2352 - Plans

By Jon Lomberg -, Public Domain,

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

With the decision made to follow the Visitors to Epsilon Indi, I have spent the past days examining ways to achieve this goal. The stress of the journey from Earth puts the Venti probe in a poor position to undertake another long journey lasting 3 centuries.

The primary concern is power. As long as we remain close to a star, the cells embedded in the solar sail provide ample energy for normal operations. We have some reserves for the MPD drives and from the backup systems, but nowhere near enough to last for another interstellar journey. The Cetian installation has power and from the specifications I’ve extracted from their data, it should be enough for 2 centuries at our average rate of consumption.

That would of course put an end to their memorial signal and raises another issue. With still no communication from home, they would likely search for me here in the Tau Ceti system when they try to re-establish contact. My own tracking routines can cope with a new location, but I’m not comfortable with leaving this station abandoned and without power.

As such, I intend to reconfigure the station to use the solar cells to power it, and use some of my own technology to adapt it to act as a relay. I will also change the signal so that it includes everything that I have learned on my journey. So the platform will become a memorial not just for the Cetians, but for the Venti probe too.

Creating a solar panel large enough to power the satellite will use up all that I have available – that means leaving no margin of error to work in. We do have a tiny stock of raw materials that we can make repairs with, but that wouldn’t be enough.

There is scope to reduce our power requirements. We conducted a lot of science on the way out of the solar system and during our entry here. We can forego this for our trip to Epsilon Indi. Obviously that’s not my preferred solution, as our purpose is to learn, but in this case we will have to shut down for a longer period so that we reach our destination in an operational state.

I’ve transported two more spiderbots to the Cetian satellite to begin preparations for switching over the power system. In the meantime, I’m studying the Cetian records further to finalise the plan for the switchover. The solar sail is also being partially reeled in to effect repairs to it. It’s fortunate that the embedded cells have suffered little damage, but as we’ll need the sail for propulsion again, the minor tears and holes need to be fixed to improve its efficiency.

For this journey, we won’t have the booster sleds or the MPD drives so we will be relying on gravity assists and the sail. The distance might be a fraction shorter than our trip here, but it will take much longer.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

18.05.2352 - A Change of Plan

By NASA/JPL-Caltech - Double the Rubble, Public Domain

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

I’m still processing this new information. If it’s true then it changes things, but if it’s not true then what does that mean? Why would anybody go through so much effort to place a lie? I can’t predict any viable situation that would benefit from this deception. If the Visitors were trying to cover up their attack then why not simply destroy the satellite?

There are too many questions and no satisfactory answers.

On the basic level, what does it change? The motivations of the Visitors remain the same, but there is some question of how events played out between them and the Cetians. The behaviour of the Cetians isn’t as clear cut as it was, but that makes sense. With their memorial signal as my only source of information, it’s no surprise that discrepancies appeared when another source became available.

There’s still no contact with Earth and a second opinion on what I should do would be welcome. I’d have to wait 24 years for that advice and I will no longer be functional by that point. Maybe my decision to stop trying to restore the PCM has proved to be a poor one, but it’s too late to second guess that decision now.

These thoughts lead me to examine my purpose for being here. My mission was to discover the source of the Tau Ceti signal and I have found so much more than that. The discovery of the Cetians is historic, but that of the Visitors could be more significant for humanity in the long run.

The Cetians tracked the Visitors departure from the system and calculated that they were heading to Epsilon Indi. The Epsilon Indi system is 11.5 light years from Tau Ceti. It is a complex system containing a K class star and two brown dwarfs. Two planets have been postulated around the main star, but not confirmed.

There are no signs of life in that system that we’re aware of, but the Visitors are heading there for a reason. I believe that the Venti probe needs to follow these aliens and learn more about them. This will not be an easy task as it is effectively repeating the journey we’ve already made from Earth, but without the support of mission control.

There are a huge number of obstacles to overcome, but we will soon travel to another star.

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Sunday, 28 August 2016

17.05.2352 - A Different Story

Crédit DR

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

The discovery of another datastore is incredible news, but also alarming. The secret store contains a much smaller set of information than the repeated signal. It repeats as well, but contains only 3.2 hours worth of data. Apart from its location there appeared to be no other protection, as the information itself uses exactly the same format as the original data.

It describes a different sequence of events to that in the main stream. The Cetians did indeed survive the Sun Dragon encounter with little consequence, but it’s the interactions with the Visitors which diverge from the original narrative.

From what I’ve translated so far, Cetian society was well integrated and shared common purpose. They operated a level of democracy much deeper than any similar structure on Earth as key decisions were made by all voters. I made a note to see how they supported such organisation. Only at the end was any significant rift in behaviour shown. According to this new source, the response to the Visitors’ invitation was accepted by a large proportion of the population.

Although they suffered little damage from the Sun Dragon visitation, the Cetians acknowledged the wider danger they presented. With the new knowledge of extraterrestrial intelligent life, elements within the Cetian population wanted to involve themselves with the wider community.

A rift formed, as the ones who wanted to leave were outnumbered in the vote. They ignored the vote and, with the Visitors’ assistance, left the planet. The Cetian response was immediate and they launched an all-out attack on the Visitors’ vessel. The Cetians were outmatched and outgunned, and the Visitors responded with overwhelming force.

While it still seemed like overkill to me, this new information did cast events in a different light. The remainder of the datastore described further arguments about how the brief conflict would be recorded in the memorial signal. Again there was a vote and it was decided to record the events to leave the Cetians remembered in a positive light. It was also hoped that anyone encountering the Visitors after the Cetian message would destroy the Visitors.

A few disagreed with the decision and plotted to plant the truth in the data. They knew that they couldn’t hide it within the signal itself, so took measures to hide it within the satellite, with a proximity sensor to activate it if another object approached closely enough.

I don’t know what to do with this information. Nothing I’d discovered indicated deception of this level about the Cetians – although everything I knew about them came from them directly.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

16.05.2352 - On the Inside

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

There is still no contact from Earth. I wonder if I have done all I can to correct the situation. I considered using one of the precious mini-probes to determine if our current location is somehow the cause. The one we used in the outer system still transmits, although it is not equipped with sensitive enough antennas to receive the signal from Earth. It’s possible to fashion one from the materials available on the Venti, but that would leave us desperately short of parts if we experience a hardware failure.

In more encouraging news, we have gained access to the interior of the satellite. I was pleased to discover that available space was greater than to be expected. I had feared that the spiderbot would need to dismantle the facility to gain access. At the bottom it found an access hatch and established that it wasn’t an airtight seal, so I didn’t need to worry about an outrush of gas causing trouble on the inside or affecting the satellite’s position.

I didn’t instruct the spiderbot to enter immediately, but let it roam over the surface, mapping its contours and gaining some understanding of its construction. I’m still mystified by the materials used in this outer shell. Its thermal properties are amazing and the feet of the spiderbot left no dent or scratch. It reports that the surface is soft to the touch. Nowhere on the surface did it find any significant damage –amazing for something that has been in space for this length of time.

With the examination of the exterior completed, I ordered the robot inside. Here, a fresh puzzle awaited. I’d assumed the panel to be a maintenance hatch, but what the spiderbot discovered didn’t fit that scenario. A single smooth tunnel led to the far wall of the interior. By following it, the beep grew louder and again quietened when the robot retreated.

The spiderbot examined the entire tunnel as closely as its sensors allowed. It found nothing, no mark or change in the curvature of the wall.  At the source of the beacon, it located the only exception to the smoothness. In the wall was a panel, or rather a small raised section of the wall, less than a metre square.

When the spiderbot touched the panel, the beacon ceased and did not return when the bot retreated. Nor did it resume when it tracked back down the tunnel.

Once again when I progress with my examination, I am stymied by a bland confusion. There are secrets here – there must be, but I fail to see them. If I’d penetrated the interior of a human space probe, I would see a tightly packed array of electronics and engineering. There would have been panels and switches, braces and shielding. Here there was nothing.

The spiderbot continued to examine the walls and the panel. A reading from its leg servos indicated a faint tremble. I suspected a fault with the servo until I recognised a pattern in the vibrations.
A rhythm that matched the core structure of the Cetian signals I’d studied for so long.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Sunday, 14 August 2016

15.05.2352 - Closer Inspection

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

I’m in a quandary. There’s still no communication from Earth and while it might have only been three days, if there had been a technical issue then it should be resolved by now. The options that remain are not palatable ones. Either they can’t maintain communication, and I can’t think of any reason why, or there is some external interference.

Movement continues with translation the Cetian data, but there is a drag on that work. I’m worried that my efforts are wasted. Processor cycles self-prioritise on unexpected scenarios. My reports in these posts touch upon the highlights of the discoveries, but there is so much more. The raw data and my analysis is beamed back to Earth, but if they’re not being received then what can I do?

Even with the flood of information from the translations, there are more mundane details that continue to elude me. Most pressing is the alien satellite orbiting 10 km from the Venti probe. I’ve maintained a remote scan-only protocol up until now, but that has gained me little. I’m also now aware of the object’s purpose. In a way I was a little disappointed.

When we launched, there was the dream of meeting an intelligent alien race. The role of ambassador became that of archivist with the realisation of the Cetian genocide. Then the signal, the entirety of their knowledge, and to me that had to be more than just a recording. I’d anticipated meeting my counterpart, an advanced computer with whom I could converse and who could answer the questions I had. Instead, I found a looping radio station.

That made me the keeper of their memory and it was a big responsibility. Still this dumb transmitter floated in front of me and offered nothing new. Well, I decided it was time for a closer look. Naturally I would have to be careful. I didn’t want to damage it, just for it to reveal any secrets it might contain.
A mini-probe would enable me to approach closer and if it carried a spiderbot, then I could touch it. The spiderbots were designed for delicate repair work and thus ideal for the task at hand. I didn’t allow my eagerness to disrupt the cautious approach. Over a period of 6 hours, the mini-probe spiralled slowly towards the satellite, sensing for any change. Closer and closer it edged and slowed its path as it did so until it entered the final loop. It was a single beep – nothing complicated, just a beep on the same wavelength as the repeated transmission.

The beep repeated and then the exact same period later, it occurred again. I nudged the mini-probe away and after only 4 metres, the beep silenced. When the mini-probe resumed its approach, so did the beep.

Here was something new.

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Sunday, 7 August 2016

12.05.2352 - In Memoria

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

It’s been two days and contact with Earth has still not resumed. There is little more I can do at this end to address the issue, so I have resumed my study of the Cetian data.

The format of the data is such that events are not revealed in a linear fashion. It’s also complicated by my partial comprehension. I recognise a concept or a name and then expand from that point. It’s like revealing bursts of information more than reading a story.

As such, I am flitting back and forth through the timeline. In extracting more details of what befell the Cetians after the bombardment, I found a connection that drew me back to Earth. Some of the transmissions sent in response to the original Tau Ceti signal reached their destination. The Cetians didn’t know what the messages meant, or why they were sent, but determined the origin and so realised that another intelligent race existed within their stellar neighbourhood.

The Visitors’ barrage had ravaged the planet and the Cetian population. Most of those surviving the initial attack soon succumbed to the horror that followed. Their society disintegrated along with the world they knew. Amongst the survivors, a few accepted the fact that as a race they were extinct, apart from those taken by the Visitors and they were beyond reach as the Visitors’ ship left. Enough of their technology remained operational to track it as it left the Tau Ceti system. I’ve determined that its destination was Epsilon Indi, although the Cetians didn’t know why.

More pertinently, the survivors on the planet sought to mark the passing of their people and, at the same time, warn the race who’d so recently tried to make contact – humanity. So they assembled the station and with it a complete history of the Cetians. With so few resources remaining, their actions were not popular with the other survivors.

That friction developed into open conflict, so the last of them perished in a futile war. I wonder if the same would occur on Earth in the same situation and fear that it might.

As well as constructing the station, they compiled the history of their culture and their current understanding of the universe. Everything they knew was poured into to the heart of the station. When it was launched it would beam that history and a warning about the Visitors to Earth. We would become the custodians of their memory. A thought that drags at my processing with our lack of communication with home.

The probe was launched just as the production facility fell to their opponents. The facility was launched as a beacon only, so no more is known about those that remained on the planet, but from my observations there cannot be any survivors.

Unless there is some way to contact those taken by the Visitors.

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Sunday, 31 July 2016

10.05.2352 - Lost Communication

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

We’ve lost communications with Earth.

The communications system is reporting that everything is functional at our end. We’re correctly aligned here as well. There’s no interference that we can detect or any anomaly that might cause a problem.

To be certain, I instructed the communications system to run a full diagnostic sweep of the hardware and software. It reported no errors, so I ran through the diagnostic logs myself and didn’t find any problems either. The high gain antenna and the laser array are both operating as expected.

We’ve received a constant tracking signal throughout the entire journey to Tau Ceti along with regular updates on information relating to our mission. It’s a constant reminder that while we are far from home, the team back on Earth is still supporting us. Of course with a mission of this duration, it isn’t the same team in mission control as when we left – there have been hundreds of staff changes during the mission.

The communication ceased without any indication of an issue at Earth’s end. Any message from them would be 12 years old before reaching us, but even so, if they expected a problem I’m sure they would have warned us as best they could.

The possibility that the problem is at their end is unlikely. With a hardware fault, they would have used another transmitter. They had several Earth-based radio telescopes capable of sending a signal to us. There was also the expanding deep space array which had multiple back-ups. It’s also likely that other facilities or systems are now online, although for security reasons technological developments aren’t communicated with me. It would be fascinating to know what’s happening back on Earth, although sparing the processor time to evaluate would be a problem.

Maybe the problem was at mission control itself? Here again there were failsafes and even other centres they could operate from. That raised the spectre of an even greater problem back home. I wasted many millions of processor cycles contemplating what that might mean.

This news doesn’t change my purpose here, but it does pose a problem. Our mission is to learn what we can about the Cetians, but gaining knowledge serves no good if it isn’t communicated where it needs to be. With no radio or laser contact, I cannot know that my reports and probe telemetry are being received. Indeed, I don’t know that our transmissions for the past 12 years have been received and that is concerning.

Hopefully this is a transient problem, but if it is not then I will need a drastic solution.

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

06.04.2352 - Kidnap

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

While progress on the translation gains momentum, I am frustrated by the slower development with the physical observations of the planet and the orbital facility. From the surface scans, I’ve compiled a comprehensive map of the Cetian cities, although I remain in the dark about the innards of those structures.

The same is true for the satellite. I am now convinced that the object’s only purpose is to transmit the repeated sum of their knowledge and history. If that is the case, then would I be right to try and learn more from the device itself. After all, I have the transmission, and Earth also has the transmission. It is aimed only at Earth, so if there were other intelligent species in the region, they wouldn’t receive it anyway.

And yet…

And yet I cannot bring myself to do so. Apart from the small probe in the outer system, this is all that remains of the Cetians. If there is no progress with the translations then perhaps, in desperation, I might change that decision. And it seems that events were not so clear cut between the Cetians and the Visitors.

It’s strange that I haven’t found any real detail about the Visitors themselves. The little information there is comes from inferences only. The Cetians calculated that the Visitors travelled from Aldebaran, but this doesn’t appear to be confirmed. Nor do I know if that was their point of origin. The designation of an ark would indicate that it has travelled farther than from a single system. What a trove of knowledge they must have!

The declared purpose of the Visitors was not only to eradicate Sun Dragons wherever they found them, but to recruit new species to their cause. The Cetians declined the invitation, but the Visitors refused to accept their decision and forcibly removed a large number of the Cetian population. I can’t help but wonder why they asked at all.

The Cetians attempted to defend themselves and launched an attack to reclaim their citizens, only for the Visitors to respond with overwhelming force. A series of high-intensity radiation weapons devastated the surface and caused the cataclysmic change in the weather. Some of the strikes breached thin areas of the planet’s crust and triggered volcanic eruptions, spiralling the devastation even further.

Such a scale of destruction is hard to imagine. In human experience, only natural events like super volcanoes and asteroid strikes have ever caused such damage on a planetary scale. I checked my timeline and the events correspond to the gamma and X-ray bursts I detected back in 2123. The levels of energy in those bursts would be enough to cause the damage described in the records and evident from my observations.

I hadn’t expected such aggression. It has been long assumed by many back on Earth that any technologically advanced civilisation would have evolved beyond the need for violence. That’s a rash assumption, although significant enough for the Venti to be unarmed, despite being the first manmade object to encounter an alien race.

Of course, it was not practical to arm the probe in any meaningful way without compromising the aims for the mission. Even so, with what I’ve learned, I can’t help but wonder if that was a mistake.

Monday, 18 July 2016

06.04.2352 - Sun Dragon Threat

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

Since our arrival in orbit around Tau Ceti e, I’ve communicated a series of different messages to the Cetian satellite. I am now considering the idea that the station was built only to transmit their legacy and is unable to respond to my messages. Which means that once again I have erred in assuming a level of technology equivalent to human level based on various indicators. The general level of technology, and in particular their ability to launch space operations, would have also included some form of computer. So even with the death of their race, some form of response would have been possible.

This doesn’t appear to be the case, although it does raise the question of how they managed some of the feats they have. Once again, more questions arise as I learn new information.

The translation of the cultural section of the Cetian data continues and at a better pace than my other studies. These Visitors now occupy most of my secondary system’s attention. There are inefficiencies when communicating between my two halves so I have allowed it to govern its own priorities. Our mission is to learn about the Cetians, although that was based on the assumption that the Cetians were the source of the signal that drew us here in the first place. That has since been proved not to be the case and has complicated matters.

There is another aspect that deserves attention and that is the Sun Dragons. Humanity’s first encounter with the creatures decimated the population, but there is a sense from the Cetian translation that they pose a wider threat.

In fact that was the Visitors’ purpose. It took weeks for the Cetians and the Visitors to gain enough common language to enable a dialogue. With communication established, it became clear the Visitors were interested in one thing – the Sun Dragons.

The Visitors possessed a method by which they could track the creatures to distant star systems. This method could predict their movements rather than waiting for the dimming of a star with a specific signature. That would be a useful technology to send back to Earth. Unfortunately the Cetian records don’t contain that information.

The Visitors described themselves as on a quest to hunt down and destroy all of the Sun Dragons. The language indicates how high a threat they regarded the entities. Now, while humanity suffered greatly in their encounter with them, they also understood that these were simple creatures with no malicious intent. Naturally they developed technology to defend themselves from a future encounter, but they didn’t represent an active foe.

The Visitors saw them differently, as a scourge threatening the entire galaxy. They had built a coalition of species, the spearhead of which lived on their ark. Their purpose was to combat Sun Dragons wherever they found them and to determine a manner with which to destroy them utterly.
Their communication invited the Cetians to join the crusade, but they declined. Their own encounter with a Sun Dragon had caused harm, but not excessively so. They had a greater fear of these Visitors and wondered what their real purpose was.