Wednesday, July 09, 2014

From A Work In Progress

This is from a novel I'm working on:

So why are we here?  Why did we escape the Solar System and settle on the planets of Alpha Centauri?

The fact is that we live in a dynamic universe.  A universe whose internal material components are subject to change by entirely natural means.  Life, including human life, is the result of a series of an entirely natural processes.  The process of life is also a localized acceleration of the process of entropy, the conversion of matter to energy.  Simply by living each of us is accelerating the ultimate decline of the known universe.  Oh, please don’t tell the environmentalists.

For simple forms of life survival is simply an accident of nature.  For Humanity survival is the result of the function of the active mind.  And we will think and do what is necessary to live what is properly a human life.

Believe it or not there were people back on Earth who objected to our escape from extinction and actively worked to prevent it. 

I am not kidding.                           

Some of those people believed that our lives were the result of the will of a being commonly known as God.  And that the event that would ultimately destroy all life on Earth was also the will of God.  They believed that the extinction event was brought about because of our collective sins.  The primary sin being the  constant refusal to obey the commands of God as transmitted  through his self appointed spokesmen.  The vilest of our sins being the persistent habit of actually thinking on the basis of the actual facts of reality.  The believers in the God Premise deemed us guilty of these crimes and wanted us to sit down without resistance and die for our sins.

Absolutely not, we decided.

The idea that God could eliminate Mankind at a thought and did not require an actually natural event to kill off our species simply did not enter their minds.

This assumes of course that those who believe in the concept of God had actually functioning minds.

There were also those who believed in the concept of material equality.  That everyone had to be materially equal regardless of the actual amount of productive thought and labor.  They believed it was unfair for us who could build starships to escape the Solar System.  We who could should not do so because it was unfair to those who could not.  That the truly fair course of action was to do nothing and for all of us to die together.

This view, which was purely emotional, was also clearly wrong.

And finally there were the self-appointed elites.  They believed that only they had the best of the collective interests of Mankind in mind.  And that only the best and the brightest members of the Human collective, as defined by themselves, should be allowed to escape extinction by the means available.

That the elites have always lived off the thought and labor of those they deemed inferior and invariably made decisions for their own benefit was never, ever, mentioned by them or their willing servants.

The fact was that we would not sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of what was in fact a mob of lazy and mindless losers.

The fundamental moral value is life.  But human life is not simply physical existence.  The human mode of life also requires an active mental existence.  In order to live as human beings we must see things as they are and act as we conceive as necessary.

Live with it.

So what actually happened?  How did we come here?

Our father’s last big project when he was alive was the Niven Deep Space Observatory.  It had been placed in an orbit that took it well outside the plane of the ecliptic in the Solar System.  For those readers unfamiliar with orbital dynamics it means that the orbit of the NDSO was at an angle above that of the planet and other bodies of the Solar System.  The primary mission of the NDSO was to detect and observe neutron stars.

So what’s a neutron star?

A neutron star is simply the dead body of a star at the last stage of decay.

Some stars are so massive that at death they collapse into a black hole, never to be seen again.  But some stars lack the mass to fully disappear and they collapse into a white dwarf.  A remnant made purely of neutrons giving off the residual energy of it’s collapse.  But eventually even an ancient white dwarf will fade out.

A neutron star still has gravitational attraction and still pulls in matter from the space that surrounds it, gas, dust and the occasional large body as an asteroid.  When this stray matter impacts on the neutron star it’s converted to neutrons and emits energy across the electromagnetic spectrum in the process.  It was the emission of this energy--the screaming matter--that the NDSO detects and tracks.

The Astronomy Department at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California was the prime contractor on the NDSO.  Our family firm having built the NDSO now had the contract to maintain and upgrade it.  I made a rare visit to Earth to speak with the program director, Dr. Robert Peterson, about the next series of upgrades.

At his office we shook hands and I began the conversation.

“So Bob, what did you want to discuss?”

“Well there’s an very odd series of readings we got on one of our objects.”

“And you want to eliminate the possibility of a fault with the platform before you publish a paper on it?”

“Yes.”  He said.

“So what is it?”

“One of our objects, designated Niven Sixty Nine, is very close to the Solar System.”

“How close?”

“Well within a light year.”

A light year was the distance that a photon, the theoretical particle of light, would travel in the time of a year.  It’s a distance of just under ten trillion kilometers.  In interstellar astronomy that distance was very close.

“Possibly?”  I said.

“We haven’t done a full parallax reading on it but the screaming matter signature is also the strongest that we’ve seen with any object.”

Parallax is a method of determining the distance of an object.  From opposite positions in the solar orbit of observer the object is located against the stellar background. With the known distance of the two observation points serving as the base of a triangle the distance of the other two sides  of the triangle is worked out as simple geometric math.

At least it’s simple to astronomers and engineers like me.

I then had a question.

“So what is its lateral movement?”

“There isn’t any.”  He replied.

I was stunned, I’m sure of it, it took time before I could reply.

“Bob,” I said, “is the screaming matter signature getting stronger over time?”

The screaming matter signature is the energy given off by the dust and gas normally found in interstellar space as it is gravitationally sucked into the neutron star.

“Yes, it appears to be.”

The conclusion was obvious.

I sat in stunned silence.

Bob spoke again.

“We don’t know if it will hit anything yet.”

“It doesn’t have to.”  I said.  “We both know that an object with the mass of a star will radically alter the orbit of every body as it passes through the Solar System--including the Earth.  It may even cause some bodies to be ejected from the system altogether.”

Then I had another thought.

“Have you spoken about this to anyone outside the project?”


I thought for another moment.

“Bob, my next stop is the JPL next door.”

“What about?”

“To report on the Daedalus.”

“How is Daedalus?”

Daedalus was the unmanned interstellar probe our firm had just completed for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The original version was proposed by the British Interstellar Society back in the late Twentieth Century.  We had followed the original BIS concept of a two stage system in the design and construction of the probe.

“Apart from uploading the latest version of the operations software and fueling the ship we are ready to launch.  I think you should have a word with them, the committee still wants to send her to Sirius.”

Bob nodded.

“Yes, I’ll come over there with you.”  He replied.

My next meeting was scheduled with the Daedalus Committee.  In the lobby of the JPL we walked by the display of Mariner II, the first successful American interplanetary probe.  It had been recovered and brought back to Earth.  When we arrived at the conference room they hadn’t sat down yet.  Bob and I made straight for the chairman of the committee, Dr. Douglas Siekmann.

“Doug,” I said, “I believe you know Doctor Peterson?”

“Yes.”  He replied and they both shook hands.  “So what brings you over here?”

“We think you should change the destination of the Daedalus.”

“Not likely.”  Siekmann replied.  “But I think we can find time for you to speak on it.”

I spoke.

“Doug, we’re serious, dead serious.”

I’m certain that he saw that we were serious.

“Okay then.”  He replied.

At this point we sat down and went through the normals rituals of a board meeting.  Then it was my turn to speak.

“First, Im here to report that apart from fueling the ship  and updating the software package we are ready to launch.  Second, I want to request that we change the target system to Alpha Centauri with the goal of finding a habitable planet.

A board member spoke in reply.

“Why,” he said, “the only point to finding a Goldilocks world is to colonize it.  And who’s going to fund a colonization mission?”

I replied.

“Everyone on Earth.”

At this point every board member was speechless, and then Doug spoke up.


“I brought along Doctor Peterson of the NDSO to explain.”

Bob stood up and spoke.

“Basically we found a neutron star that is within a light-year of us and appears to heading straight into the Solar System.”

A woman wearing glasses who was about my age spoke up.

“Will it hit anything?”

“It doesn’t have to.”  Bob replied.  “The gravitational effects alone will disrupt the orbits of everything in the system, including the Earth.”

Another board member spoke.

“And the change in Earth’s orbit will radically effect the environment?”

“Yes.”  I said.  “And as a result it may possibly render the Earth completely uninhabitable.”

After a about a minute of silence Doug spoke.

“Bob, we have sensor platforms across the system, we will have to verify your data and we will also help you to nail down the trajectory.”

“Not a problem.”  Bob replied.  “No problem at all.”

Doug then spoke to the committee.

“I move that upon confirmation of the neutron star being on a collision course with the Solar System that we make the necessary alterations to the Daedalus for the planet finder mission to Alpha Centauri.  Does anyone second the motion?”

The young woman who first spoke up did so.

“All in favor?”  Said Doug.

Every member of the committee raised their hands.

“It appears to be unanimous.”

The young woman raised her hand and spoke.

“Mister Boatman, what will you do next?”

“After launching the Daedalus?”


“Start work on designing the colony transport.”

“What will it be like?”

I thought for a moment before answering.

“Apart from using the pulse-fusion system from the Daedalus I have no idea.  I wouldn’t even try to do a back of the envelope calculation on it at this point.”

“Um, yes.”  She replied.

And then after the meeting was formally closed I walked up and spoke to her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall being properly introduced.”

She nodded and replied.

“Susan,” she said, “Doctor Susan Barrow.”

“Doctor Barrow, I’m glad to have that issue resolved.”

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