Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 18

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Planet Ho!

 

The cosmos, as per its definition is an infinite expanse. To equate it with the Milky Way, which quite a number of people aboard Noah Two still did, once again showcased how little general public at the time knew about space travel. Because the Milky Way, no matter how incomprehensibly big it is, is still infinitely small when taken in comparison with the boundless cosmos.

 

Therefore to be able to have Noah Two’s first warp landed near a galaxy that housed a planet had a probability that was so low that it was numerically impossible to explicate!

 

This simple observation was clear to Yao Yuan’s crew, the many scientists and even most of the citizens onboard. Even without a deep understanding of space-warping technology and space traveling, the straightforward fact that space warping was a dangerous ordeal was lost on no one.

 

Unbeknownst to everyone outside of the close circle of Black Star members as well as the scientists that did the calculation, department of energy’s initial calibration allowed Noah Two three chances at warping before they ran out of energy. This was a closely guarded piece of information, not even Zhang Heng knew of this, because they were afraid of the news sending waves of dissent and despair across the masses.

 

How else would the public react to knowing they only had three chances, three chances that were each infinitesimally small to succeed?! They knew it was dangerous but they don’t need to realize that it was actually also hopeless.

 

Nevertheless, perhaps it was the collective prayers of everyone aboard Noah Two that had touched the gods because somehow inexplicably, luck had smiled upon them!

 

Even Yao Yuan couldn’t remain his usual collected self as he double and triple checked the russet-colored planet before his eyes. He could feel his heart leaping out of his chest.

 

He might even in a paroxysm of joy allow himself to cheer aloud but before he could do so, the rest of Black Star including Zhang Heng had him beaten to the task. After that, through the intercom, they could hear similar outbursts of glee reverberating across Noah Two. It sounded as if the twelve million people aboard were simultaneously cheering their good fortune, and that might not even be that far away from the truth.

 

A planet meant a chance at landing and subsequently a chance of it being conducive to human survival. Admittedly the chance was still low overall but it was already much higher than what they were initially willing to give themselves.

 

What was supportive of this optimistic diagnosis was the lack of an asteroid belt around the planet. This signified that the gravity of the planet was stable enough to be free from falling meteor strikes and could sustain an atmosphere. This also allowed the expeditionary crew a better chance at navigating landing. Secondly, even if the surface turned out to be inhospitable for man, what lay at its core could prove invaluable to Noah Two. Based on its size, shape, and color, the planet was most likely a type of terrestrial planet1. The chances of it having radioactive materials like uranium underneath its core were statistically high.

 

Noah Two’s store of energy would allow three warps for a number of twelve million passengers. That, however, was a number calculated with Noah Two having three nuclear energy generators. If they could increase the number of generators and replace most of the inner partitions from their current steel to a lighter aluminum, the amount of warp they could do would dramatically increase. A safe prediction put the number to increase to the range of hundreds!

 

Therefore, even if the planet’s atmosphere didn’t support human life, it would be fine. The year was already 2030, man had advanced far enough technologically to be able to support extended exposure to alien terrain. In fact, Noah Two had enough supply of spacesuits to allow construction of a mining rig on the planet. With newfangled technology like solarponics2, Noah Two could technically last for about three to five years mining on the planet. After that, Noah Two would have enough energy supply to conduct more instances of space warp, exponentially increasing their chance at survival.

No matter how you see it, the planet was a lifesaver!

 

“Central communication, relay the order to dispatch all long-distance surveillance devices. Train them all towards that planet closest to us. I want a reading on it in the next twenty-four hours. I need details like its gravity scale, weather pattern and everything else that’s relevant. Also, broadcast across the ship the information that we’ve discovered a planet…” said Yao Yuan into the intercom, and even though he tried to cover it, everyone could hear the smile in his voice and that inadvertently lifted the spirits of everyone onboard.

 

[Could be that our prayers are heard? There’s someone still looking out for us? If that’s true… then please don’t abandon us, keep humanity’s last flame alive!]

 

One day later…

 

Jay Wales groggily woke up from his slumber. As he opened his eyes, he was greeted by the light blue color of a tent’s underbelly. It took him awhile to register his surrounding, to realize that he was… in space, or rather in a spaceship. From whisperings around him, he found out after the party had left earth, the warp had been successful and now everyone was waiting for the captain’s next series of orders.

 

Jay was no scientist or a technician, in fact, he had not even attended college. He was furthest from what one would call society’s elite for he was really a professional con artist. The Harvard education and multiple doctorates that the military had found out about him were all fabrications.

 

In a twist of fate, the extra security he acquired a few years ago in a con job had saved his life. It had helped him again into conning a ticket, a VIP ticket at that, into Noah Two.

 

Jay readied his bed, put on his clothes and left his tent. He walked right into a bustling crowd, and as the crowd milled around him, Jay couldn’t help but give a self-deprecating laugh at the fact that he too now belonged to this bunch of elites.

 

At that moment, a voice lifted from his side. As Jay turned, he found an eighteen to nineteen-year-old girl addressing him in a continuous stream of sibilant sentences.

 

Unfamiliar with any language other than his native English, Jay awkwardly replied the girl in her mid-sentence, “Can you speak English?”

 

Stopped by the sudden request, the girl paused and stared blinkingly at Jay before resuming, “Oh, I’m sorry I thought you speak French. What was your major in university? Never mind, now is not the time for chit chat, what I was saying was, mister, could I bother you to help me fetch a pail of water? I wanted to give my tent a good scrubbing; it has mud splattered all over it from the rain we have had before boarding. I’ve wanted to clean it before that but the time of boarding got suddenly pushed ahead that I haven’t got the opening to do so.”

 

[This is why I hate foreign languages…]

 

Jay smiled in reply, “Of course, I am willing to help. But could you tell me miss, where would I find the nearest washroom? I’ll help you bring back the water you need when I come back.”

 

The girl stared back at Jay again with her pair of watery eyes. While he waited for an answer, he couldn’t help but notice that the girl was in the pompous ways she carried herself was quite cute.

“Oh, you must have missed the dinner yesterday night. During dinner, everyone was given a map of the district they were in and points of interest nearby have all been marked out. Could it be that you don’t read Chinese? Because the map was all in Chinese and it’s not attached with a translation, this probably means that the authority’s Chinese huh… Why don’t you wait here for a bit while I go get you the map, I’ve translated the Chinese words on it but it French though…”

 

[Then what use would I have with it?!…]

 

Out of chivalry and respect, Jay merely smiled but as soon as the girl turned around, he breathed a sigh of frustration.

 

Some time later, the girl returned with a piece of paper in her hand. As she walked, she was busy scrawling something on it. When she reached Jay, she handed the paper over and then stretched out her hand.

 

Jay accepted the map and based on visual cues and the girl’s hasty translation, which was what she was doing as she walked over, was able to discern that near their district was a communal bathroom with six shower stalls, four laundry rooms and further away was two communal canteens, and…

 

Right then Jay noticed the girl’s still outstretched hand and confused by it, he asked, “Don’t you need me to help you fetch water? I’m going, or is there anything else you need?”

 

The girl tilted her head and replied in a serious tone, “What I need is my map back, I’ve helped you with the translation but it’s still my map, I need it back. It’s because you don’t understand foreign languages that I’m helping you here.”

 

Jay was silenced by her unassailable logic and thus could only smile dumbly in return…

 

[THIS IS WHY I HATE FOREIGN LANGUAGES!]

 

There were overall three water supply depots near them, one for drinkable water and two for water for everyday usage. Based on memorization, Jay soon found the location for one of the depots for everyday water. When he arrived, the line was already hundreds of people long but because everyone was part of an educated crowd, there were no petty acts like line cutting or the like. Also helping with maintenance of discipline were six soldiers on duty. With arrangements as such, the line moved rather quickly.

 

When it was Jay’s turn, he swiped his keycard on the adjacent panel and one of the soldiers handed him a water bucket and said, “Everyone is given only one bucket so be careful not to lose it. If there’s damage, remember to report to the maintenance committee that will do their rounds every week. Everyone is entitled to two pails of water for everyday use each day, so be economic with your usage. Okay, next.”

 

Just like that, Jay lugged two pails of water back to his camp… The place was before a carnival but the attractions had all been removed by the logistics committee to make space for an area housing five thousand plus noncommittal tents, and Jay resided in one of them.

 

The girl had her tent next to Jay and she appeared to be alone and without family. When she saw Jay approaching, she leaped up and ran towards him with a huge smile lighting up her face. As she took over the pails of water, Jay suddenly felt a black curtain dropping before his eyes and without much warning, he collapsed forward…

 

He felt a fever burning up within…

 

As he slipped in and out of consciousness, Jay could sense viscerally the people, the objects and finally the spaceship around him melting away as he got jettisoned into space’s enveloping darkness…

 

It was crushingly lonely, desolate and unsettling…

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Footnotes:

1.A type of planet, of which our solar system has four, i) the terrestrial planets, eg. Mercury, Venus, Earth; ii) gas giants, planets composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, eg. Jupiter and Saturn; iii) ice giants, planets composed mostly of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, eg. Uranus and Neptune; iv) dwarf planet, eg. Pluto.

A plant cultivation technology using mainly solar energy. The word itself is modeled after hydroponics, it’s a combination of the terms, solar for sun and ponics for plantation.

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