Outside of Earth, 40 Eridani is one of my favorite places to be.
I admit, I was late to the party. I was still on the (mostly) self-imposed ‘the Admiral stays home while the starships go off on missions’ restriction, so I missed out on the initial exploration.
Can you imagine if I’d been there?
Aargh! This is why I hate spoilers! I can’t say anything else without annoying Adam, and since he’s the one who lets me post here I’m going to have to stay on his good side.
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“Damn, this feels good.”
Kiri stretched back in her seat, looking about the bridge. The Endeavour was running at warp 7, on course for 40 Eridani, the first major exploratory mission they’d been able to take since their commissioning. 40 Eridani was just over 16 light years away, and at their current speed they’d arrive less than nine hours after they departed Njord.
“Exploring. Getting out of the patrol, patrol, patrol, rut,” she said to Sanzari. “Weren’t you getting bored with patrols, Number One?”
“A bit,” she allowed.
“Besides, won’t this be an amazing surprise for the Admiral if it turns out the way she hopes?”
“I’m not sure I follow, Captain. Besides the mission to drop one of Dr. Robert’s warp buoys in the system, that is.”
Kiri turned to address her science officer. “Dawn?”
Commander Zihal thought about it for a moment, trying hard not to access her ‘plant for the information, then brightened. “Vulcan!”
“Exactly,” exulted Kiri.
“Vulcan? As in the planet from the show?” Sanzari said incredulously.
“Yes. 40 Eridani A is the star that it’s supposed to orbit.”
“And is it really there?”
“We’re going to find out,” Kiri said.
“What do you know about the composition of the system, Commander?” asked Zihal.
“Trinary system, one primary and two secondary that orbit each other a long way away from the primary. Some number of planets, four or five, around the primary, and a few more stuck in a weird sort of orbit between the two secondary stars.”
“That’s worth a B plus,” said Zihal. “Five planets orbit Eridani A: one super-Earth at 0.23 AU, a binary planet system at 0.71 AU, a super-Jovian at 1.6 AU, and a Jovian at 6.4 AU. We’re going to ignore the planets between B and C; if they weren’t cindered when B went white dwarf, they’ve been sterilized by the X-rays that C throws off periodically.”
“A binary planet system?” asked Lieutenant Leard from Tactical. “Why is that familiar?”
“Technically the Earth-Moon system is a binary planet system; the two bodies orbit around each other, as well as the star. It just happens the orbital center of our system is a few hundred kilometers below the Earth’s surface,” Zihal said, settling happily into lecture mode. Kiri decided to allow it to continue; this was interstellar space, after all, and just about as empty as they were likely to get.
“Eridani A b and c, though, are much more nearly equal in size, both 1.25 times Earth, as near as we’ve been able to tell. They orbit each other in ten and a half days, tidally locked so the same sides are always facing each other.”
“Bizarre,” said Leard.
“Yes, but they should be a stable system, like the Earth and Moon but even more so. If there’s liquid water, there won’t be much of a tidal effect, for example. Seasons should be regular, too, if there are seasons. That’s not a guarantee, since they’re locked, though there should be some fluctuations.”
“Wait, are we really thinking there might be Earth-like planets here?” Leard asked.
“It’s a possibility,” said Zihal. “A good one. We’ll find out pretty soon.”
“Four hours, eight minutes to arrival,” said Ensign Furber from the helm.
“Note to self: schedule a planetary information session with Dawn for all bridge crew,” said Kiri, wryly. “Do continue, Lieutenant.”
In the next half hour all the officers on the bridge got a full briefing and quiz on the 40 Eridani trinary star system, at least everything that Zihal knew and supplemented by Castor’s occasional tidbits. At the end, Kiri took back control.
“Thank you, Dawn,” she said. “Very instructive. Castor, make the information generally available to everyone aboard.”
“Yes, Captain,” said the AI.
“Ensign, in light of what you’ve learned, what hazards are we likely to face upon system entry?” she quizzed Furber.
“Ma’am. In a multiple stellar body environment…”
“System entry in thirty seconds,” said Sanzari. “Check in.”
“Lasers on standby, shields ready,” reported Leard.
“Sensors on maximum sensitivity,” said Zihal.
“Two birds ready to launch,” added Ensign Jadwinski. Normally she would be at her station in the bay, but for system entries she occupied an auxiliary position on the starboard side of the bridge. From here she could still direct and control her people in the bay while easily accessible to the command staff. The Endeavour regularly carried Red Squadron on missions, and the plan was to launch a pair as soon as they had come out of warp. The fighters would provide an additional, longer-ranged set of eyes for the starship as well as providing cover against any hypothetical opposition.
“Dropping to sublight,” Furber reported. “Warp six. Five. Four. Three. Two. System entry. One. Exiting warp, sublight engines at one half.”
“Starting sensor sweeps,” said Zihal. “System composition, confirmed. Distance to Eridani A, fifteen AU. We’re below the relative plane of the ecliptic.”
“Maintain speed,” said Sanzari.
“Maintain speed, aye. Course, Ma’am?”
“Eridani A, Ensign. Commander, anything on b and c yet?”
“Nothing specific yet, Ma’am.”
Kiri considered briefly then decided.
“Set course for the twins,” she ordered. “They’re what we’re here to see, after all.”
“Yes, Ma’am. Ensign, set course for Eridani b and c system.”
Jadwinski sent the order to the bay and the doors at the far end of the engineering hull swung open.
“Red Leader, command transferred to you. Launch when ready.”
“Roger. Ready, Digger?”
“Combat protocols, on my command. Two, one, launch.”
‘Combat protocols’ meant their Direwolves went from a standstill to their maximum acceleration, 500 g, in the time it took the pilot to slam the throttle forward. It also hammered the pilot with a full six g as the inertial dampers struggled to compensate. The upside was in ten seconds they were putting an additional fifty kilometers between them and the starship every second and could throttle back to something more tolerable.
“Lords of Kobol, have mercy!” griped the AI. “Why did I have to get stuck with the crazy human?”
“Oh, shut up, Starbuck,” said Ashlyn. “You know you love it. Digger, check in.”
“All systems nominal, Skipper.”
“Good. Keep an eye out for little green men, or at least ones with pointy ears.”
“Vulcans, Digger. Vulcans.”
“Definitely some holes in your education, Admiral Kendra-style,” said Ashlyn. “We’ve got time, though.”
“Captain, your presence is requested on the bridge,” said Castor. Kiri was in her ready room, only a few steps away, but she wondered as she headed for the door what was so important to pull her away, and why it was the AI instead of the officer on the conn. They were still a ways from the planets, she was certain. Well, whatever it was, she’d find out in a moment.
Second shift had taken over as it was approaching ship’s evening. Commander Zihal was still manning the science station, but Ensign Kassidy Yager, one of her assistants, had joined her. Ensign Furber was gone, replaced at helm by Petty Officer Sterling Cox; Ensign Mark Cash had taken over at Tactical; and Petty Officer Mamie Murry was at Engineering, though Kiri knew Lorelei, the Chief Engineer and her wife, would still be on duty in Main Engineering. Lieutenant Paul Breedlove, the ship’s Second Officer, was the watchstander, Commander Sanzari having gone off-duty as well, and he rose to acknowledge her.
“Captain. Ms. Yager has found something.”
“We’ve got liquid water on both planets, ice at the poles. The atmosphere is reading as Oxygen/Nitrogen, with a bit of carbon dioxide and some other trace gases. Active vulcanology; there’s an eruption happening on c right now.”
“That’s not the best part, Ma’am.”
“It’s not good form to keep your Captain in suspense, Ensign.”
“Chlorophyll, Ma’am. On both planets!” The ensign was practically bubbling with excitement.
“Chlorophyll? You’re certain – no, you wouldn’t have gotten me if you weren’t.” Kiri dropped into her chair. “Okay. Chlorophyll means plants. What else? I need implications.”
“Chlorophyll is required for plant life as we know it, yes Ma’am. If there’s chlorophyll, then it’s possible there might be other forms of life.”
Zihal jumped in. “On Earth, it’s the balance between plants and animal life that is responsible for maintaining our biosphere. Plants couldn’t survive without animals to exhale CO2, pollinate, and die; animals eat plants and depend on the O2 they produce.”
“Wait. You said plants need animals to die?”
“Biology. Dead animals decompose and return organic chemicals to the soil.”
“Oh, right. Sorry, I just got the image of plants stalking slow-moving animals.”
“Captain, the point is, we just found the first extraterrestrial life!”
Kiri nodded. “That’s an excellent point. Castor, you’ve logged this?”
“Yes, Captain. Logged to Ensign Kassidy Yager with confirmation by Lieutenant Commander Dawn Zihal.”
“You get to name them.”
“Tradition. At least, tradition as defined by the Admiral.”
“Oh, wow. How about, oh, Freyja?”
“Good. I know that one. Norse goddess of sex.”
Yager actually blushed. “Among other things, yes, Ma’am.”
“And the other?”
“Freyr? Freyja’s twin brother.”
“Seems appropriate. Castor. Official log. By order of Kiri Stewart, Captain of TFS Endeavour, at the recommendation of Ensign Kassidy Yager, the planet known to astronomers as 40 Eridani A b is hereby designated Freyja, and 40 Eridani A c designated Freyr.”
“I think we need to drop that buoy and get it running. Ms. Murry.”
“Has the Chief Engineer determined the best drop spot?”
Since 40 Eridani was a trinary system the gravitational forces were hugely complex. The warp communication buoys were robust, and would largely be immune to such things as they would exist ‘outside’ the normal universe, but it wouldn’t do to place them where a stray planet would smash into them. That task had fallen to the Engineering department, with assistance from Science and the AI’s.
“Yes, Ma’am, I believe I received the notification.”
“Very good. Who’s on duty in the bay?”
Breedlove answered. “That would be Petty Officer Higbee.”
“We’re going to need the Al-Walid warmed up for the drop.” The Endeavour didn’t usually carry any Wolves, but she’d borrowed a shuttle from the Flying Tigers for this mission.
“Aye, Ma’am,” he said.
“We’re doing this. Holy shit, we’re actually doing this. Mutant, we’re going to place a buoy in the fucking 40 Eridani system!”
“Yes, K-Pop, we are. Now, will you get back to your goddam boards?”
Keith ‘Mutant’ Glass, coxswain of the Al-Wahid, really couldn’t stand his engineer. Glass had been a pilot for decades, first flying heavies for the Sonoran military. After discharge he’d done the same for an air transportation company before being recruited by the Federation. He was somewhere on the north side of fifty and, while he loved flying his Wolf, didn’t really get hyped up by all the ‘explore the galaxy’ kool-aid everyone else seemed to have drunk.
K-Pop, on the other hand, probably went back for seconds.
He was a True Believer in the mission of the Federation, which made him too gung ho for Mutant’s liking by several orders of magnitude.
Still, he knew his systems and did his job. It was probably enough to keep Mutant from shoving him out the airlock on this mission.
This was going to be a tricky bit of flying. The warp buoy was half the size of his Wolf and damn near the same mass, and while they had the power to spare, inertia was a bitch. He also wasn’t crazy about moving an active antimatter reactor fifty meters away from his Wolf. Oh, he realized why, and it even made sense if you applied the particular brand of logic the CO seemed to prefer. If you had to transport extra antimatter to power a reactor, you might as well transport it in the reactor, right? And have it running, albeit at low power, so that the magnetic bottle wouldn’t degrade.
At least he didn’t have to carry it inside his Wolf.
“Approaching deployment coordinates,” said the PO coordinating the mission, a woman who was young enough to be his daughter. Well, it wasn’t her fault, and Higbee was damn good at her job.
“Roger, Endeavour,” he answered.
The Wolf slowed even further; he’d barely touched the potential the shuttle could deliver for fear of jostling the buoy, and now they were crawling at bare meters per second.
“Lock is good,” said K-Pop, the music that gave him his handle seeping out from around his earphones. At least he wasn’t playing over the shuttle’s speakers; that had lasted exactly one flight when they’d first paired.
“Fifty percent power.”
“And on coordinates. Shutting down engines, OMS active, holding position.”
“Confirmed,” said Higbee. “Prepare to deploy.”
“On your count,” said K-Pop.
It wasn’t terribly complicated. He decreased the tractor’s power until the buoy was untethered from the Wolf while gradually increasing the distance between them. Mutant was still glad to have someone else doing that part while he did the flying. Then would come activating the thing.
“Three. Two. One. Power down.”
“Powering down. Forty. Thirty. Twenty.”
As the tractor released its grip, Mutant played with the OMS and put some extra meters between them. The sooner he could get clear of this the happier he’d be.
“Fifteen. Ten. Eight. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. Zero. Buoy is on its own.”
Mutant fired the engines as soon as K-Pop hit zero and really started to put some distance between them and the buoy. Once it was activated, its warp bubble would expand outward, simultaneously putting it ‘outside’ the universe and holding it in position relative to the local gravity fields.
If it didn’t just go boom.
He was not sticking around to find out.
“Captain, the warp buoy is active,” said Breedlove. “Engineer Stewart reports telemetry is good and the test signals have all checked out.”
“Very good. Message to Njord, attention Admiral Cassidy. ‘Does anyone want to take up farming? I have lots of land to sell you, cheap.’ Got that?”
“Send it, then everyone be quiet.”
“I think we’ll be able to hear the Admiral squeal in excitement from here.”