Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 45

Night mode

A Cradle of Stars

It was the deepest sleep Yao Yuan had had in a long time. He dreamt of a great many things.

From his childhood years to his new recruit days, from mundane paperwork to dangerous gunfights. Finally, he dreamt of her…

“You silly oaf, promise me you’ll stay alive. No matter how tired you might be, you are not allowed to surrender. The most I’m willing to allow is a short nap, like the one you’re taking right now…”

“But… I’m so tired.”

“I know… but you can’t give up. You are not only my hope, but the hope of a lot more people, so don’t give up, don’t let these people’s hope die with you…”

“I promise you, but please don’t go… I know this is a dream, but I want you to stay with me…”

Yao Yuan gradually lifted his eyelids, hoping to see her eyes staring back at him. Alas, what greeted him instead were the lights dancing on the room’s metallic ceiling. Resigned to the cruelty of reality, he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.  

He sighed inwardly. Dreams will be dreams…

When he woke up again 15 minutes later, he felt more like himself as he started instinctively observing his surroundings.

Yao Yuan knew that the room he was in was part of the Barracks’ infirmary. He remembered falling asleep after giving his orders, so he assumed that some medical units had transported him here afterwards.

Yao Yuan noticed that the scars and wounds on his body had already begun to heal and the pain had lessened significantly. Based on the degree of convalesce, he figured he had been asleep for about one whole day.

The steady flow of light from the room’s lighting meant that there had been no issue of short-circuiting. That combined with a lack of noise and commotion told Yao Yuan that the last space warp had been successful, or at least nothing momentous had changed within the Hope.

Then Yao Yuan sat up and pushed the emergency button by his bed.

Following that, sounds of footsteps could be heard coming from the outside corridor. A group of doctors and nurses came into the room and Yao Yuan was glad to spot a familiar face among them. The leading doctor that had been assigned to him when he first came to after the shuttle crashed appeared to be leading this crew of medical personnel as well. With a kind countenance, said doctor strode to Yao Yuan’s side and started to pore over the medical apparatus that had been set up by Yao Yuan’s bed.

“Major, you appear to have recovered nicely. Apart from some minor abrasions and cuts, there is no evidence of bone fractures or a concussion. Remember to apply this balm over the wounds and make sure to stay away from water. You’ll be back to top form in no time.” The doctor smiled as he handed Yao Yuan the medicine.

After the nurses removed all the tubes attached to his body, Yao Yuan swung off the bed to give his body a stretch, then he remembered to ask, “How about Zhang Heng and Jay? Are they doing well?”

The doctor kindly replied, “Both of them are doing fine. They collapsed from fatigue, nothing serious.  They left the infirmary after they awoke from their rest. If I’m not mistaken, Lieutenant Zhang Heng is still somewhere around the Barracks, while Mister Jay has returned to the civilian campgrounds.”

“That’s good to know. In any case, I would like to thank all of you for your service,” said Yao Yuan as he approached each doctor and nurse to shake their hands. “I have to take my leave now. There are still many things that remain to be done. Thank you again.”

The leading doctor pulled him in for an embrace. “No, Major. We should be thanking you and the two young heroes. Without the three of you, we would have been stuck on leave Planet Sahara… So please accept our gratitude, hero of the Hope!”

Yao Yuan patted the doctor on his shoulder and removed himself from the embrace. When he finally left the room, he was surprised to find two black-star close guards standing by. They saluted Yao Yuan and stood squarely in position.

“Fetch me an electromobile and get me to command central,” ordered Yao Yuan after he saluted the pair in return.

On the electromobile, Yao Yuan started asking about the things that had occurred while he was asleep.

“According to the doctors, I’ve been out of it for about 36 hours… What have happened in that time? Have there been issues with the space warp? And where is our current location? Has the Academy found any hospitable planets nearby?” Yao Yuan asked in quick succession. He was particularly emphatic about the last question because its answer would decide the fate of twelve million people.  

A concerned look passed between the two guards before one of them spoke up. “Nothing worth reporting has happened in the past 36 hours, sir. The one thing of note is that a petition has been gathering support among the civilians. They want to have a large-scale carnival to celebrate the Hope’s successful escape from Planet Sahara. There has also been a growing request to have a memorial for the lives that have been lost. The people wish for their families’ and friends’ sacrifice be recognized and honored.”

“We can proceed with the carnival as long as it is not too demanding of the Hope’s store of supplies. And of course we will be honoring the lives of those who have fallen; it is the right thing to do. However, since most of the bodies were lost on Planet Sahara, planning a memorial will be a bit tricky. Perhaps we can have a symbolic burial. We can discuss the details after we have secured the permission of the family members…” Yao Yuan explained before adding, “Is that all? How about the space warp? Which star system have we landed in? And are there any visible planets around us?”

The two guards started to stutter; they were trying but failing to provide a sufficient answer. Right then, the electromobile passed through a long corridor. It was a walkway that bordered the outer perimeter of the Hope and had a transparent wall that allowed one to view the scenery outside. Yao Yuan unconsciously turned his head to take in the view…

Instead of the gloomy star-scape that he had come to expect, he was greeted with a luminous band of twinkling stars… Against a deeply cerulean backdrop, multiple light novas exploded across the space as stars came in and out of existence…  

The majestic view made Yao Yuan’s jaw drop to the floor. He had so many questions, but he knew had to keep them in until they reached central command. After all, there was no telling who might be listening in. When they finally arrived at their destination, the rest of the Black Stars and about ten scientists were already waiting. Without preamble, Yao Yuan launched into his questions. “What is happening outside the Hope? Have we warped into some weird dimension? Or are we stuck in some gas giants? No, that’s not possible because if that were true, the Hope would be crushed by its high pressure by now… Then what exactly is going on? Wasn’t space supposed to be dark? Why is it almost as bright as daylight out there?”

The gathered scientists were mostly astrophysicists. They were led by Alan, who volunteered to answer Yao Yuan’s questions. “No, we are most certainly still in space, and we have not crossed the wall of dimensions… To suggest that is preposterous because how could we as three-dimensional creatures even possibly survive in other dimensions? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that space-warping will not warp us across dimensions. We are still in outer space and definitely not in the body of some gas giant. As a matter of fact… according to our analysis and discussion, I highly suspect that we have somehow found ourselves in the middle of a nebula.”

“A nebula?” echoed Yao Yuan incredulously.

Ever since they had located the Hope, Yao Yuan had spent plenty of time furbishing his space knowledge. He felt that it was necessary for him to be familiar with entities that the Hope might one day stumble across. In the course of his study, he had learnt about neutron stars, white dwarfs [1], red giants [2], supernovas, and black holes.

Incidentally, he had also learnt about nebulas…

“That can’t be right! Nebulas are supposed to be expansive. It is because of Earth’s extreme distance from known nebulas that we got the impression that they are compact, bright, and hold a shape. In reality, if we are in the middle of one, it still should look like normal space. Or to be specific, nebulas are so big in size that we should not be aware that we are in one, because it would not look any different from other stretches of the cosmos! In fact, parts of it shouldn’t even have stars because they are spaces of vacuum. Isn’t that right?” Yao Yuan queried.

While the group of scientists was hamstrung by the complexity of the situation, a young girl shuffled forward. The girl was Bo Li. She sidled up to Yao Yuan and explained in a soft voice, “Indeed, Major, you are right. For normal nebulas, we would not have this spectacle. However, if you take out the other possible explanations, this is the only logical explanation left.”

Yao Yuan looked askance at Bo Li for some time before adding, “Let’s say you’re right. Then how would you explain this anomalous nebula we are witnessing?”

Bo Li answered stoically, “There is only but one logical explanation… This nebula around us is collecting itself to form a new galaxy. And based on our readings, there is a high possibility that a newborn star has already been created. Our spectrometer had detected two distinct spectrums of light from this nebula. One of them is red, which we have found to correlate to the radioactive waves of the nebula itself. The other color is, of course, blue. And since only a star’s light could be bright enough to overwrite that of its nebula, we could safely assume that a blue, newborn star has already been born…

In other words, the nebula, or nebulous matter, that you see around us is the cradle for a new stellar system…”

  1. A white dwarf is what stars like the Sun become after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel. Near the end of its nuclear burning stage, this type of star expels most of its outer material, creating a planetary nebula.
  2. Red giants are stars that have exhausted the supply of hydrogen in their cores and have begun thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen in a shell surrounding the core. They have radii tens to hundreds of times larger than that of the Sun. However, their outer envelope is lower in temperature, giving them a reddish-orange hue.

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