An Excerpt of a Story Currently in Development!
The Wolf 1061 Star System,
81 Trillion Miles from Earth.
Like tiny little chinks in the canopy of heaven…
Countless microscopic beams of light flicker on and off to recreate a small-scale 360-degree view of the galaxy as I stand in this dim room. I always have the same strange feeling when the hologram boots up, an uneasy mixture of sadness and amazement as the imitated stars rapidly come to life one by one. Our current position, highlighted in a deep red, quickly becomes indistinguishable from the billions of façade dust specks that make up a 3D image of The Milky Way.
There’s something inherently shameful about this display and the same thought always flashes across my mind just before the hologram finishes, surely there’s more to see. The galaxy is bigger than you think it is, the Universe bigger than you can think it is, yet despite this we like to think we’ve got everything figured out. Every known place in the Galaxy has been categorized and no ambiguity remains, even if it would take multiple lifetimes of travel just to get to some of these places. You would awake from cryosleep to find the world you knew before a distant speck, another dot on the void’s horizon forever out of reach.
If I could just look out a window it wouldn’t feel so bad, it wouldn’t feel so insignificant, an entire galaxy of wonder reduced to a cramped room, sectioned off into viable and non-viable sections marked for possible expansion. But then again there are no windows on the ship for fear of structural integrity. If a window gave out during a jump between systems there’d be nothing but an empty husk arriving at its destination, either that or we’d implode into oblivion, cheerful.
I’ve heard stories of Earth, the famous ‘cradle of humanity’, but I’ve never been there myself. To my knowledge no one on the ship has. The ancient astronomers there named this particular constellation ‘Ophiuchus’ or ‘Serpent-Bearer’, apparently because from Earth it looks like a man holding a snake – a sort of long stringy animal that either eats or spits poison, I can’t remember. It’s strange to think that these ancient stargazers had no starships of their own, instead having to rely on eyesight and a pinch of imagination to make sense of their night sky. Funny, if I were asked right now to point out their star cluster I wouldn’t know where to begin. Hell, even if I did it would be near impossible to distinguish it from the billions of other specks lighting up the room.
“Enhance our coordinates, room-scale, include relative velocity overlay on nearby astronomical bodies.” I issue to the room. Talking to yourself is easy when the computers are always listening. Almost immediately the hologram responds by re-rendering the image to my specifications, a quiet electrical hum indicates the processing work of the holo-table. The billions of dust specks are now reduced to a trio of planets, the system’s host star, and various tracked anomalies – objects too small to be classified, most likely space rocks and the like.
So, there it is, Wolf 1061c, the planet we’re headed to. It looks remarkably plain, a reddish-brown world of mostly rock and crater. Why in the Galaxy would anybody set up base here? This is going to be one of those rare occasions where I’d rather stay on the ship than go traipsing about some empty rock. But then again, we’ve a job to do and the core isn’t paying us by the hour.
The observation module is unique to this class of starship, a massive 9th-gen FTL Starjumper. Originally designed in the early days of mankind’s extrasolar voyages, the Starjumpers’ were primarily meant for research and exploration of distant star systems as well as deep space, this one has been designated ‘The Shadow of War’ and repurposed for military use, specifically covert operations and reconnaissance. Our state-of-the-art engine cores give us a decently large jump range allowing us to easily move in and out of conflict zones or respond to crisis events. I’ve seen quite a few worlds prosper and many more burn aboard this ship, often playing my own part in the destruction. Where there is life there is conflict. Be it resources, territory, or ideology, people will always find excuses for killing each other.
My fanciful musing is interrupted by the mechanical hiss of a door opening behind me. In walks Lieutenant Frakes, my second-in-command, with a datapad in hand and with his trademark abruptness.
Frakes is a level-headed sort with a fair complexion and an unkempt head of brown curls that surely violates regulation. Smart as a whip and reliable, he’s our resident weapons’ expert. You need some fine-tuning work done or modifications on your gear that our core worlds would deem ‘unethical’, you talk to Frakes.
In a somewhat unimpressed expression and calm voice he says, “Commander, we’re ETA eight hours out from the drop zone,” he looks up from the datapad, his brow never losing its stoicness, “the rest of the team are waiting on the briefing, LOTUS will run them through the basics, but we’re all anxious to know what we’re really doing here.”
“In due time Lieutenant,” I reassure him, “the core has deemed this a Terse-X operation, it’s all need-to-know, even for me. I’ll be down momentarily.”
He gives me an affirmative nod before returning through the door. I take in another minute or two of the holograph before taking the service elevator up to the Operations Deck.
The Operations Deck, as per usual, is buzzing with activity. A never ending stream of information flashes across terminal screens, some of which is relayed to the flight crew and various technicians onboard but most of it is pumped into the Low-Orbit Telemetric Uber System or LOTUS, the ship’s on-board super AI responsible for managing tertiary subsystems as well as coordinating ground teams. LOTUS is essentially our eyes and ears on the field, capable of providing real-time updates on everything from battlefield layouts to changes in weather conditions. In an operation such as this, the ship remains in orbit as a team embarks on a planets’ surface, the AI and crew can then communicate with that ground team via the ship’s long range antennae, keeping track of where they’re at and how they’re doing.
I find my team, as well as our ship’s Captain, Val’ Kareem, crowded around a projection table showing the undulating surface of Wolf 1061c. As I approach, the Captain’s grizzled voice greets me, “Commander. Been stargazing again eh? You’ve spent so much time in that observation module lately I’m beginning to think you’re avoiding the rest of us.”
“Just trying to get one last view of our galaxy before your driving plows us into a comet or some such, sir.” I smile with an appropriate amount of humility.
“Glad to see the isolation has no bearing on your disregard in manners towards your dear old Captain, so what are we looking at?” I can tell by his tone that he means this in jest. After spending the better part of a lifetime embroiled in one warzone or another, humour helps to alleviate some of the horror that is naturally witnessed.
I let out a slight chuckle before signaling Frakes to begin the briefing.
At once the Lieutenant swipes across his datapad, bringing up some geolocational data on the planet to the projection table. After clearing his throat he motions to the table saying, “LOTUS, what can you tell us about the rock?”
A warm feminine voice washes over us, seemingly from everywhere at once, “Of course Lieutenant. Wolf 1061c is a terrestrial planet, one of three in this system that orbits its M-class red-dwarf host star.” Various infographics and overlays display on the holo-table as LOTUS speaks, a holographic representation of an audio wave pulsates in accordance with her voice…
Copyright Giuseppe Gillespie. All rights reserved.
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