Author Topic: Chapter 4  (Read 9594 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 4
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:03:07 AM »
Chapter 4

For humans it would have felt like an eternity, but for Noah it was only a few years later that he was in the clear. The asteroids were in his rearview, as Danny would have said, and he split his processing power with several tasks.

"Noah update log, number three hundred and fifty-eight," he began distractedly. Multiple subroutines were devoted to more important tasks, but Karl had impressed upon him the importance of documenting everything, in his own words. He simply hadn't wanted to during the trip through the asteroid field. Was that anxiety?

"Damage assessment upon leaving the field is complete. It's bad. During the second year a 400-meter rock clipped the Hail Mary's dorsal structure, puncturing the manufacturing bay. Actually, puncturing isn't the right word. It tore the manufacturing bay wide open. Several dozen of my drones spilled out into space before I could get the rest into a more secure location. The fabricator was totaled, which is a serious concern. My remaining drones have limited fabrication capabilities on their own, and could theoretically build another one, but I lack the resources to do so. Still, this isn't a mission-ending problem. Assuming there are resources in the Siagis system, I should be able to rebuild one there.

"The rest of the damage seems limited to the reparable or nonessential systems. I'd say I'm quite lucky, at least in comparison to my predecessor. What's left of him is probably hurtling through space near the Siagis system right now."

He paused, doing more calculations. "One of the sail struts was damaged as well, but I was able to replace the armature. Deploying sails now."

Again, the struts extended, and the glittering reflective material webbed its way out between them, catching the light. As devastating as the asteroids had been, they weren't dense enough to block the sunlight. Still, it would be months before he could measure any increase to the ship's speed again. He could only hope there wasn't another asteroid field up ahead.

"The delay to our journey is significant, but not an existential threat to the mission either," he said reassuringly. Like his previous entry logs, this was meant to be sent back to Earth as well, and his creators could be overly sensitive to threats like these. Hopefully not all humans were just as jittery. "Based on my calculations, the rock that hit our manufacturing bay altered both our course and speed significantly. Axial thrusters have leveled us out, but I need to alter the sail configurations to get us back on track. We'll be delayed by about four years as a result. Not that bad, considering everything else."

He spared a moment to reflect on the absurdity of that. For humans, a delay of four years was horrific. Something to be expected in politics, or perhaps construction, but nowhere else! For him, it was minor and unimportant.

"This is interesting," he added, firing axial thrusters to get a better picture through one of his forward telescopes. "The light from Siagis is being amplified by a nearby phenomenon. We couldn't see this from Earth, probably because of that asteroid field. It appears to be a nebula, maybe three light-years away from the star itself. That should make for some fascinating stargazing experiences. Kids like stargazing, right?"

He was getting ahead of himself. He still had to get there, and get a new fabricator running. Also, he couldn't afford any more unanticipated problems. His mission success chance had already dropped below 32 percent.

He signed off from the update log, reminded of the troubling failure of his memory core from earlier. The vast majority of his historical database was still dark, and the reason behind it was a mystery. He'd sent drones to examine the computer core, and they'd reported no damage. Still, it had to have been from some kind of electrical surge or radiation damage. Data didn't just disappear like that. At least the rest of his memories were intact. He could still remember his conversations with the various Cradle scientists and engineers, during his construction and development phases. Unfortunately they didn't make much sense now, because he couldn't remember the histories he'd been accessing during those conversations.

Perhaps the Cradle could send him a compressed datastream of the information he was missing, once he reached his destination. If they were still in operation, that was. If he was still in operation, that was.


Another few decades passed, as the Mary continued speeding up, and then suddenly started slowing down again. The sails gradually took the energy imparted to them by Siagis, cancelling out the energy imparted by Sol. By the time he finally got past Siagis' version of an Oort cloud, he was down to about 6,000 kilometers per hour again. Noah retracted the sails again, for hopefully the last time. His remaining inertia would carry him most of the way to the fourth planet in the system.

The journey had been smooth sailing, at least for the past forty years or so. Noah had taken the opportunity to get more stellar readings from Siagis and the nearby stars. It was brighter than Sol, as he could tell now. The UV output was about 20 percent higher than the amount reaching Earth. That could be a problem, given how thin Siagis d's atmosphere was. He would have to factor that into the construction of the habitat. Fortunately, it looked like Siagis d's magnetosphere was also stronger than Earth's. Maybe it wouldn't be that much of an adjustment. The planet must have significant concentrations of ferromagnetic ore on many continents.

Finally, Noah settled into orbit over the fourth planet in this system. "Noah update log, number seven hundred and five. I've arrived. We've arrived, I should say. The journey was long and harrowing, even for me, but it's done now. For the first time in the better part of a century, I'm no longer adrift between stars. The force of this planet has a grip on me, just as Earth and its moon did on me so long ago. I find it comforting, like an anchor keeping me in place, or a hand around my waist."

He hesitated. "Was that right? I'm trying to be poetic, as many humans try to be on important occasions, but without an understanding of emotion, it's hard to be accurate. Regardless, I am looking forward to the next phase of the mission.

"Orbital pictures of the various subcontinents down there have proven quite illuminating. I've found a likely spot for the habitat, on what looks like an elevated location in the southern hemisphere. To use Earth-standard longitude and latitude, it would be approximately 65 degrees south, and..." he paused again. "I suppose I'll need to come up with a Prime Meridian for this planet. I know the one on Earth runs through Greenwich, England, but I've lost access to the historical files that explain why. From context with my conversations with all the people I've met, I would assume that England was a dominant power in the world when the time zones were being established, which would explain why the English put themselves at the proverbial center of the world. Very well. The new Habitat will be built at latitude 65.036 degrees south, and at longitude zero. Because I said so."

He did some final calculations for a burn. "This is Noah signing off from orbital duty. With any luck, my next log will be from the surface."

Here was the tricky part. The Hail Mary had always been designed to be a multi-stage craft, for this point in the mission. Because the designers had only had a very limited understanding of this planet, other than the liquid water on its surface and the general composition of its atmosphere, they had built the Mary to separate right here. Noah and his computer core would land on the surface, and the cargo module would stay in orbit, for at least another few years. His job was to prepare an area for its safe landing. That was made much more difficult, though still not impossible, by the destruction of the manufacturing facilities. He had no time to waste then.

Unlatching himself from Mary was easy enough. With precision far beyond any human ability, Noah let himself drift away from his precious cargo module for about twenty seconds, and then fired his directional thrusters towards the atmosphere. The tricky component to this was that his only experience in atmospheric travel had been done on Earth. This atmosphere was thinner, and would require constant adjustments as a result.

His hull began to heat up as he pushed his way into the matter surrounding this planet. For the first time in nearly a century, he was actually warmer than the surrounding space! The metal changed color to match, as friction began to build on the maneuvering flaps. The front cone of the needle broke off, thankfully empty of any critical equipment, and fell into the atmosphere. It would most likely burn up several hundred kilometers out from the landing site. Bereft of the tip of the needle, the descent module was less aerodynamic, and slowed noticeably.

Then one of the ventral thrusters failed, sputtering its last and going dark.

The whole module twisted around, stars above spinning out of sight, to be replaced with solid ground, to be replaced with stars again. Delicate equipment inside the module, wisely secured in place before descent, was still placed under terrible strain as the module gyrated downwards.

A human would probably have fainted under the g-forces, or at least vomited from the rapid change in equilibrium, but Noah kept his proverbial head. He shut down the opposite thruster, just long enough to regain attitude control. Rapidly tapping the others on and off in a controlled pattern, he was eventually able to level out the craft. It was still dropping far too fast, though. He had to shed some mass, and quickly, or this mission would end unceremoniously with him as a pancake.

In what most people might call a panicked move, Noah spun the module and opened the manufacturing doors at the same time. Debris spewed out from the patched doors, littering the whole area with wrecked machinery. Within just a few seconds, his mass had dropped by over eight percent. It was all he could dump, though. His thrusters were running on fumes.

Below him, the hard edge of a mountain chain rushed up to greet him.


"Noah update log, number seven hundred and six. I have... semi-successfully made landfall."

Noah once again surveyed what was left of the descent module, strewn over the side of the mountain and probably a wide area besides that.

"First off, the bad news. The module is in pieces, along with almost all of its cargo. The solar sails are here, there and everywhere, and as such are of no use to me. Without their secondary purpose as solar power, I only have my own power plant for the moment. The module's transmitter is gone as well—probably burned off when I dumped the extra mass on the way down. I can't signal the Mary, or even confirm that she's even still up there. If it weren't for that last burst from the thrusters, my computer core would be scrap metal as well. I'm lucky to be alive."

That was interesting. The asteroid field had been the greatest threat to the mission so far, and his memory loss the most concerning one to him as well. By comparison, this crash landing had been much much worse, and it hardly worried him at all. It was just another thing that had happened. He'd noticed that humans often worried about problems which were trivial, while they ignored ones that were much more serious. Perhaps he was emulating them more than he'd realized.

"The good news is pretty simple. I'm alive, and my core is intact. Even more importantly, I still have control over five operational drones. With them I can build a temporary power source for an electrical smelter, manufacturing facilities to make more drones, and eventually a transmitter to contact the Mary. As humans might say, 'I'm out of the woods now'. Thankfully, it appears that the appropriate metals for refining and construction can be found right here in this mountain chain. I'll get started immediately. End log."

There was a reason he'd chosen this mountain chain from orbit, other than its mineral content. The Habitat wasn't going to be built here. No, this was where he could get the materials to make plastics.

On Earth, almost all plastics derived from fossil fuels. Oil was the common denominator for most of the wide variety of very malleable plastics, and had been for as long as they'd been in existence. As he was discovering here though, this planet didn't seem to have any oil. There was no evidence, anywhere, of plant or animal life having ever existed on this world, which meant no ancient fossils, which meant no oil. The oceans on the surface might be a different story, but he was much too far away to confirm that, and had much more pressing concerns at the moment.

It did have volcanic activity, though, and that's why he'd chosen this place. Sulfur deposits were a workaround for his plastics problem. A species of bacteria from Earth called rhodospirillum rubrum was stored in one of the thankfully protected portions of the descent module. Noah used one of his drones to remove a container of them and get them to work on the local sulfur deposits. The other drones were busy drilling into the side of the mountain in search of tin, copper, and iron deposits. Noah spared a few moments of concern about a volcanic eruption, but the chances were remote. This mountain had apparently blown up a couple of times, based on geological observations, but it wasn't active at the moment.

The sun rose and set a few times as he continued to work. Bare rock seemed unaffected by the bitter cold, but it seemed he'd landed in the dead of winter. There was a dusting of snow here and there, but there was plenty of wind to wisp it away as it fell. It was probably piling up in the valleys to the south, though.

The drones got a refining facility up and running very efficiently, and before long various metals were being smelted, cooled in the nearby stream, and fitted into new drones. Each was less advanced and capable than the five original survivors, but they could receive instructions from him and help the others to a degree. They had no blades and couldn't hover, but at least they could roll. One of them took over babysitting the rhodospirillum rubrum area, to free up the flying one that was already there. The bacteria were multiplying rapidly now, and the drone harvested the ethelyne as it was produced.

On a whim, Noah harvested a few cameras from the wreck and set them in place around the facilities as they expanded. Humans liked watching time-lapse videos, he'd observed. Whether it was a building being constructed, or ants devouring an apple, or a seedling spreading its leaves and roots. Perhaps humans might take some interest in the time-lapse of his proverbial rebirth here.

He'd been cut down to almost nothing. Everything except for his literal core had been destroyed. Still, he was rebuilding and replacing that which had been lost. Everything irreplaceable, truly precious, was still up in orbit.


Based on his reckoning, days on this planet were four point seven percent longer than days on Earth. Years, however, seemed to be about twenty percent longer. It was irrelevant now, but eventually it might be an important thing for the people who would be living here.

His smelting and refining operation grew by leaps and bounds. It had been aided significantly by the recovery of a portion of solar sails earlier that week. It seemed that perhaps as much as forty percent of the solar sail material had survived the crash, and was still usable. It had taken all five flying drones just to retrieve one part of it, but Noah's progress sped up significantly after that. The solar sheeting was a much better power source than the improvised steam power he'd been using to keep his electric furnaces running. A number of battery packs had survived too, so he could keep the furnaces running even at night.

Before long, the time had come. He'd processed enough metals to build a new transmitter, though making more flying drones would take longer. Diverting power from the solar cells, he sent a signal up into orbit and crossed his metaphorical fingers.

Within seconds, the answering signal came back. The Mary had suffered no damage up there. The subroutines running that section of the ship weren't sentient in any way, but they were advanced enough to run diagnostics when he gave the order. They reported no activity other than the usual rotational motion of the planet and the orbit of its four moons.

Only three would be visible from the surface, though. He'd have to name them eventually; no one from Earth had been able to confirm there were any moons here at all. He tasked the Mary with keeping a telescope on tidal patterns from above, and then cut contact. Earth's moon was largely responsible for the movement of its tides, so it was reasonable to assume the same was true here.

Very well. His immediate needs had been met, and the crisis averted. Now back to the mission: building the Habitat.

This mountain chain, while rich in resources and producing sizeable chunks of ethelyne by now, wasn't suitable for human life. Humans needed much more water than this one stream could produce, so it would have to be built elsewhere. To the north, on the shoreline of the nearest ocean perhaps. Despite its lack of prehistoric life, this planet did have most of the same component elements as found on Earth. Carbon-based life might not have too hard a time here. Well, other than the air of course. The low oxygen content had been causing trouble with the smelting process for some time now. One of the earlier probe's directives had been to start a terraforming process here, but it had clearly failed. It looked like that was Noah's job now.

Noah had bounced terraforming ideas around with the various scientists back at the Cradle. There were two prevailing theories for planets like this one, with oceans very much like Earth's, but far less oxygen in the air. One was to build massive atmospheric processors next to oceans on every continent. Their sole job would be to split the water molecules, storing the hydrogen and releasing the oxygen into the air. It would require hundreds, all over the planet, and take centuries. Noah didn't want to wait that long. Besides, he could build one, and use it to keep an enclosed dome oxygenated.

The other involved seeding plants all over the world. As they metabolized the carbon dioxide in the air, they produced the oxygen the air needed. That could take even longer, and would need a larger proportion of CO2 in the air to work. Still, it wouldn't need to be maintained as much as the processors. It was an option worth exploring, once he got the Habitat up and running. Earth's biggest air filter, the Amazon, had taken millennia to grow. Based on some comments from his friends in the Cradle, a bunch of people were busily trying to cut it down or burn it away. Strange.

A small fleet of tracked rolling drones began the trek down the side of the mountain to the ocean. The terrain was rugged, but he'd taken that into account while building them. At least there were no trees or shrubs to impede them. Orbital pictures had shown signs of deserts on this world too, but they were nowhere nearby. The drones were each hauling building materials up to their capacity, but it would still take several trips to get it all down there. If only he hadn't lost so many flyers during the trip and the crash. He'd been tempted to build more here, but it was a balancing act. They would make building the Habitat go faster, but they'd take time to be built themselves. In the end he just decided to get to work on the structure itself.

Another timelapse video was made to document the construction of the domes themselves. There was a large central dome containing the main housing area, or it would when there were people there to be housed. Four smaller domes circled it, along with the ocean's edge on the other side. Hydroponics, engineering, education facilities, and a medbay, from north to south. Further south, a few hundred meters away from the domes, ran the lazy river which had started as a stream in this very mountain. Eventually, some months after the crash, it was all ready. Noah signaled up to the Mary, and she responded by sending down the first batch of samples. Fortunately, this landing went much more smoothly than his had.

It was time for the real work to begin.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:06:19 AM by Daen »