Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ross 128B - A MeanMesa Short Story

Light Reading for a Chilly Spring Evening
One "thing" leads to another, and then "things" become "literary."

A few weeks ago MeanMesa posted about a very interesting astronomical development which was just being published with observations [and conjectures] about an exoplanet called ROSS 128B. For the non-astronomical visitor, the "Ross 128" part of that name refers to a particular star listed in the stellar inventory prepared years ago by a British lens maker and amateur astronomer named Mr. Ross. The "B" part signifies that among the planets orbiting around this specific star, the planet in the "spot light" apparently occupies the "second orbit." This is a more or less standard abbreviation commonly used by modern astronomers.

This older post is a short one, and you may wish to read through it as a preparation for the short story which follows. [The post is titled:  Imagining NASA With a Real Budget - ROSS 128B/MEANMESA.] It is included here in its entirety to provide a reference which can introduce a little  helpful technical background to augment the fictional story.

Imagining NASA With A Real Budget
  ROSS 128B

ROSS 128B [image/SCI-NEWS]

How Are We Humans 
Doing With Space Exploration?
We've made some serious progress, 
but the further we go, the bigger the dreams become.

MeanMesa, no doubt just like most other Earth based creatures, has always gazed at interstellar distances with a very cloudy view of "what's possible." Setting aside the super light speed science fiction of the Enterprise, any distance greater than, for example, New Horizon's 3 billion mile junket to Pluto seemed to be permanently lodged in the realm of wishful thinking. [Voyager 1 finally exited our solar system after only 35 years at 39,000 mph.]

While promising visitors to the blog that this post will not plunge headlong "into the weeds" with way too many numbers for "palatable reading," ride along for a few minutes while we examine an "interstellar possibility." It may well be time to update our basic presumptions about a few exciting astronomical things. Let's take it "by the numbers."

1. Humans have been steadily working on rocket propulsion systems every day since Voyager 1 was launched in September, 1977.

2. Humans have been building spectacular advances to telescopes, too. These would be both elaborate terrestrial telescopes and quite impressive space telescopes.

3. Humans have been toiling diligently to reduce the cost of all parts of space exploration and exploitation.

Unhappily, there is also a fourth item which we will need to add to the list.

4. Humans have not begun to consider -- as reasonable -- space exploration projects which take a lot of time to complete. Recent probe missions have had notably longer duration than earlier efforts, but these extended duration journeys have been times in years so far. 

Although it spent a decade in orbit once it arrived, the Saturn probe, CASINI, took seven years to reach its destination. GALILEO took around eight years at 108,000 mph to reach the gas giant, Jupiter [Galileo/WIKI], and the more recent Jovian probe, JUNO, took five years at a slightly faster 164,000 mph.

In terms of typical, human appetites for "instant gratification," all these projects were reasonable enough to garner economic and political backing. In fact, a [discouragingly] small number of humans actually found these projects to be quite exciting -- even if it meant waiting for a while for the color pictures.

Since we have managed to "mature" this far, could we consider going a little further?

Time for a Paradigm Shift
Buckle up your seat belts.
An Interesting New Engine

Returning to the list above, we really have been creating some quite impressive new rocket propulsion systems. [Relax. MeanMesa isn't lurching into a wild narrative about the possibilities of an FTL drive. That discussion will have to come later.] There has been a literal "flurry" of designs for these new rocket motors, and to make the point here, we can look at an example. Take three minutes to watch a video explaining this engine.

The Aneutronic Engine [screenshot/YOUTUBE]

Aneutronic Nuclear Fusion Reactor Continuous Ion Thruster in Fusion Plasma Propulsion Engine

A Hybrid Aneutronic Deuterium Tritium Engine Might Make Interstellar Travel Possible

A few of the video's high points are very interesting. One claim made is that this engine could propel a probe to Jupiter in 3 months. That's just enough information to allow us to make a few rough calculations.

The distance between Earth and Jupiter is around 365 million miles at its closest and 600 million miles at its most distant, so we can average things a bit to arrive at 483 million miles. Perhaps this was about the distance the Aneutronic engine claimed it might travel in 90 days. A quick bit of arithmetic tells us that this would be done at an average speed of about 5.4 million miles per day, or about 224,000 mph.

Of course, that 90 days might include some "speeding up" and "slowing down" time, so we don't need to be "overly precise" at this stage. [Such an engine could be safely launched from Earth because no neutrons are emitted. It also wouldn't violate the international treaty to not use radioactive nuclear things in space. Here's another link about the engine: Fusion Thruster for Space Travel/SPECTRUM]

Okay. This might be somewhat interesting, but what about the "paradigm?"

An Interesting New [Newly Discovered] Planet, ROSS 128B

Well, thanks to these constantly improving, modern telescopes, we have also discovered a very interesting "Earth-like" planet, ROSS 128B. Although we have been discovering "Earth-like" exoplanets fairly frequently lately, this one is "special" because it is, apparently, significantly more "Earth-like" than those discovered previously. 

Here is an excellent article from TIME Magazine which details this discovery.

Scientists Have Discovered a New Planet Close to Earth. 
Here’s Why It's So Exciting. Nov 15 2017

When ROSS 128B is described as "more Earth-like," it's important to understand the difference. KEPPLER 186F was considered "Earth-like" when it was first discovered to be in an "habitable zone" in 2014, but KEPPLER 186F is not nearly as interesting as ROSS 128B. [KEPPLER Discovers Earth Sized Planet/NASA] And, KEPPLER 186F is 500 light years away. ROSS 128B is 11 light years away.

Even though the planet orbits its red dwarf star in 9.9 days, there is a tantalizing possibility that ROSS 128B may well have a 75 degree F surface temperature. THAT'S "Earth-like."

Now It's Time To "Mix It Up"
Watch out. Here comes the arithmetic.

The numbers aren't really all that tough.

The distance to ROSS 128B is 11 light years. Since a light year is around 5.9 Trillion miles, this means that ROSS 128B is roughly 65 Trillion miles from here.

The Aneutronic engine claims that it could reach Jupiter in 90 days. That suggests that the propulsion system could accelerate a probe to at least 224,000 mph. Because it would be constantly accelerating with its continuous ion thrust, MeanMesa assumes that an Aneutronic propelled craft could reasonably reach an even significantly faster speed on a long run through empty space -- after it had some time to really speed up -- eventually hitting a full velocity possibly as high as, say, 30% C [C = light speed].

Still, we can use the more conservative estimate from the video.

Distance to Ross 128B = 11 light years 
[11 ly X 5.9 Tn miles/ly = 65 Tn miles]
65 Tn miles / 225,000 mph = 29,000,000 hrs = 12,037 days = 33 years

Of course we would like to fly by ROSS 128B a bit more slowly than 30% C so our probe's science observatory would have a little more time to look at the planet. This would require some time to decelerate before its arrival. And, it will take 11 years for the data transmission from the probe to return to Earth...but...

If ROSS 128B looked promising once we had a better chance to observe it up close, we would have had another 45 or 50 years to keep working on an even better rocket engine. We might have even had time to straighten out our nutty political and economic priorities, too.

A MeanMesa Future Fiction

Part One

The Journal of the Father Traveler

1. My Mission Log

I had promised one of my Academy professors that I would attempt to keep a journal of my mission. My first objection to this idea was based on the almost inevitable fact that probably no one would ever see such a log, rendering any effort to keep one little more than a stubborn grasp for optimism and perspective concerning the quite uncertain prospects for my mission’s future. Further, MARUNA’s computer would be automatically compiling a far more robust record of that mission, limiting my own account to be much more oriented to my personal experiences.

Still, my professor was quite insistent. Reaching under his tunic that day he had withdrawn a finely made leather bound journal of a very old style and handed it to me carefully along with a pen while offering me this instruction, “Keep your ship’s log, and write it here rather than on 131’s main mission computer. Make it your own narrative of the experiences on your mission. It need not be a finely tuned novel, but it will help you to intimately remember the astonishing things you will have done.”

I had, actually, made that promise. The first fifty or so years of these personal “experiences” have turned out to fill very few of the pages in his gift to me, but my mission was far from completed.

Judging from this beginning, my journal would also clearly not turn out to be “a finely tuned novel,” at all. Instead, my admittedly limited talents for producing such a journal would much more likely produce a string of disconnected anecdotes, penned at what seemed to be decisive junctures at the moment during my time on MARUNA 131.

2. SNIP – Mid Course
Scheduled Navigational Interface Protocol

The sensation was unquestionably beyond what any normal homo sapien would have ever even fantasized in a strange, chaotic dream. Still, here I am. The tiny pricks of the gas driven IV needles into both of my arms was, in a sense, the “final straw.”

Prior to this “penetrating moment,” I had been dozing somewhat more comfortably in a cloud of detached, peripheral consciousness. Instantly afterward I could feel the eerie sensation of the “wake up” shot’s various effects, effects which inescapably arose, crowding their way into both in my body and in my mind.

My training was everything. In fact, in the academy we were all subjected to repeated episodes of hibernation and recovery. Without exception the narrative offered by the banal instructors for these sessions emphasized the importance of “remaining calm.” The series of these training sessions, while quite unpleasant, were designed to combat the agitation and panic commonly resulting from a return to all the sensations of conscious awareness after being frozen solid in a hibernation chamber for an extended period.

Nonetheless, those academy sessions were brief, usually inducing full hibernation sleep for no longer than a matter of a few days. On this occasion I was bolting back to reality after more than three decades in the chamber. My training kicked in, and my attention almost mechanically reverted to my mission.

There was plenty of time for my mind and thoughts to make this timid, uncertain redirection. As for this present moment, I still couldn’t move.

I was quite aware of the efforts of the sleep cell as it processed through the elements of reviving me. I could feel the microwave and ultra sound slowly liquefying the still frozen sections of the not yet thawed, icy tissue in my body. I could also feel the effects of the revival IV injections. The re-hydration chemicals were patiently making their way up and down my arms, and the stimulants were clearly beginning their course to my brain.

Although all of this was a promising beginning, I seemed to remain incapable of physically extricating myself from the cell. There would be at least another two or three hours before I began to feel physically competent to climb out and stand on my own safely.

3. The Reality of Being “Mid-Course”

Impatiently, I began to tease my thoughts with questions. “Where am I?” “How much time has passed?” “Is the mission on course?” The answers to all of these and more would be easy enough once I was able to move around the control cabin on my own.

Even though I was still staring at the cabin from the fist sized window in the cover of the hibernation tank, I could see that MARUNA 131’s life support systems were quickly converting the little room into a livable state.

Finally, the cell’s interior console indicated that my revival was completed. I could hear the tank’s thick door’s latches thud as they unlocked. The “access enabled” light flashed green, and I reached up cautiously to hit the interior “open” switch.

Not entirely unlike the sensation of being first born from a recently pregnant mother, I sat up and clasped the tank’s outer wall. I took up the flask from the little platform next to my tank, and downed the contents. That fluid would provide all sorts of restorative advantages, notably continuing the re-hydration process while boosting my blood sugar. Because this waking period would be a short one, it was not possible to actually eat anything. Even though my hunger was intensifying as I returned to consciousness, it would not be a good idea to introduce anything into my digestive system which would require another, subsequent “total evacuation” before I could make my scheduled return to the hibernation cell.

I would need to fulfill my duties for this phase of the journey relying entirely on energy from the blood sugar boost provided by the IVs. I should be back in total hibernation within a few hours at the most.

It felt strangely affirming when I had climbed out from the tank and was, once again, standing uncertainly on my own feet. MARUNA’s artificial gravity was less than a third of Earth standard, but I was quite accustomed to it.

Unlike the sleep cell, the air in the control cabin was fresh, almost spring-like.

MARUNA class vessels had a window, albeit a very small, very thick one. I stumbled a few steps to the front of the cabin to look outside the little ship. Even beyond the unsettling absence of all but a handful of visible stars, the scene was still one of almost complete, featureless darkness. Oh well.

There had never been so much as even a passing hint that I might be looking at some sort of deep space scenery at this point. It was time to go to work.

In fact, what time was it?

The little ship’s chronometer was a complicated sort of mechanism which could adjust the ship’s record of passing time to accommodate the relativistic compression resulting from such a high speed. It was, according to this somewhat adjusted record, July 11, 2097.

I had been in the sleep tank for 33 years, 11 months and 18 days. Because I had begun my mission when a bit over seventeen years, I was now officially over fifty. I was looking damned good for a man of fifty. Damned good.

4. Deceleration

Now that my senses were awakening, I could feel the faint pulse of MARUNA’s ion drive engine. It sounded like a snail humming a Christmas carol, but, importantly, it sounded very strong and reassuringly good. MARUNA 131, according to the control console, was traveling at 22,818 miles per second.

This respectable speed was the result of this admittedly small ion drive engine accelerating my little ship continuously for all this time. It was time to initiate the deceleration phase.

First, I needed to absolutely verify that I was on course. I needed to accurately locate the ship and accurately determine its current course. Following that routine duty, I needed to shut down MARUNA’s ion drive, accurately rotate the ship, verify that the deceleration course was correct and then reignite the drive in its deceleration phase.

I also needed to transmit a report to Earth. It wouldn’t actually arrive at Earth for around seven and a half years, but I was certain that it would be warmly greeted – if there were still anyone on Earth who might receive it – and anyone who might still be interested.

Conditions of the home planet had not been particularly promising when this mission began. Additionally, my message would arrive as one of many. The Earth Academy had built hundreds of MARUNA class ships and had launched them at every plausible destination which might offer any reasonable possibility of being a habitable world.

This meant that, at this very moment, there could be hundreds of fifty year old teenagers reporting their mission status. That was going on regardless of the wildly varied “time reference frames” of all the individual participants. The very alluring concept of my own “now” actually meant very little in the larger picture.

The home world had begun to make some respectable progress with the restoration of the planet, but even as early as my own departure, it was becoming clear that the effort had begun too late. Far, far too late.

Some of the worst conditions had never even been predicted. Perhaps most notably the sudden, violent “climate change cells” which had begun to materialize without warning, obliterating entire populations and also, importantly, destroying an entirely random collection of other, very necessary industrial resources vital to both the Academy’s work and all sorts of other priorities needed for civilization.

My own memories of Earth were understandably sentimental, but the future of the entire planet prospect’s was already looking more and more like a crap shoot the day I left. Those possible “sentimental memories” of my home world had been conveniently buffered by Academy scientists in preparation for my mission.

Everyone fully understood that this would be a one way journey. The Academy’s preparations for potential mission candidates such as me, personally, included a deep, hypnotic memory conversion which would shield me from the emotional burdens of such a solitary mission. I could remember the Earth, my family, my childhood and the rest, but not with enough clarity to incite any form of loneliness, abandonment or isolation.

Further, my internal “operating system” had been modified to prevent any emotional sensation of heart break which might result from the impossibility of a romantic relation. Although these “adjustments” were strangely confusing while they were being administered, the whole process was followed by a series of deep hypnotic suggestions designed to make these changes – all of which I was entirely aware of as they were being introduced – become my new reality.

At first this process created an eerie sort of unusual complacency in me, but that had passed long ago.

At first this was a joyless, eerie kind of complacent resignation, but over time all of the Academy cadets were gradually not only convinced of the program’s necessity, but also seemed gradually able to quietly reconcile themselves to the new form of thought. Teenagers had long demonstrated an unexpected appetite for military discipline with its stable order and inevitable fantasies about becoming actual soldiers. We were no exception.

5. Remembering L5

In the first days in the Academy we were a thousand 13 and 14 year old recruits enduring every conceivable kind of physical examination and training. But after the first few months that population was reduced to a few hundred. Those remaining were transferred to the Academy’s orbital L5 station for the remainder of their education.

Conditions on L5 were almost an exact opposite to conditions on Earth. The air was fresh, and there was plenty of equally fresh food from the station’s vast, on board hydroponics. After a year the population of remaining recruits had decreased again. Those of us still in the program began our training on the fleet of MARUNA exploration ships docked in clusters around the station. Although we had watched as our companions among this dwindling cadre routinely departed on their own one way missions, everyone remained strangely accepting.

I would spend the remainder of my natural life either attempting to reach Ross 128B or, should that be successful, attempting to live on it. The plan was to orbit the planet long enough to coax out as many of its geophysical secrets as possible, and, should the results look promising, to land MARUNA, set up camp, introduce a carefully designed collection of Earthly life forms and live there.

MARUNA 131 was a well designed exploration ship with a cargo hold packed with plenty of Earth life, primarily frozen in fetal and larval form, and equipped with a small, yet effective birthing creche facility equipped to “bring them to life” after MARUNA landed – if MARUNA landed. Although the ship was theoretically capable of landing on a planet such as Ross 128B, it would not be capable of ever lifting off again.

Still, once landed the ship could theoretically serve as a long term asset for my mission objectives. MARUNA was equipped with a potent little fusion reactor which could comfortably continue to provide power for centuries, and the supplies packed away in the hold were more than enough to create a suitably livable, permanent habitat.

Attention to the ship’s maneuvering and mission calculations console brought me back to the duties at hand. MARUNA 131 was, at this moment, 7.134 light years from Earth. The deceleration phase would unfold over another 5.61 light years. It would also require another hibernation period of 22 years to reach Ross 128D, the high mass giant which would ultimately provide MARUNA with the mission’s final gravity braking to slow the ship enough for initial orbital insertion around Ross 128B.

That final part of the mission would require only weeks. It was also the phase of the mission which would require some delicate piloting. That meant “awake time.”

Ross, himself, was a British lens and camera maker in the mid 19th Century. Ross 128 was a well behaved, standard sequence star slightly smaller than the Earth sun, and also somewhat cooler. Ross 128B was one of those “possibly Earth like” exoplanets closely orbiting the star with a 9-10 day “yearly” orbital rotation period The admittedly sketchy telescopic data about the planet had ticked off each requirement on the list. 128B was warm enough for liquid water, rocky with a somewhat similar mass to Earth, exhibiting a strong magnetic field and yielding a spectroscopic hint of significant oxygen in its atmosphere.

Because the entire Ross system was 11 light years distant, that frighteningly incomplete description provided the total evidence the Academy had available to justify my particular mission. Still, due to increasingly desperate conditions on Earth, many such mission had, apparently, been approved primarily based solely “on the odds.”

In 70,000 years Ross 128 would actually “fly by” the Earth’s solar system, but even then the star would still remain 4 light years distant. There was, at this point, simply not enough time to wait for the journey’s reach to be reduced.

Rotating MARUNA required delicate accuracy. Once the drive had been powered down, the residual, highly accelerated ion flow would continue briefly. Only when the drive was producing zero thrust and MARUNA was speeding ahead on pure inertia could the axis of the little ship be rotated to place the ion engine in position to decelerate the craft.

This process was complicated by the necessity of accurately determining the precise course MARUNA was currently following by sightings from the high precision navigation telescope. Due to the multi-light year length of the mission’s deceleration leg, even the smallest deviation at this point could place MARUNA literally in the “middle of no where.”

MARUNA’s flight course following the rotation also had to be exact before the drive engine could resume operation. Fortunately, all aspects of this maneuver had been programmed in MARUNA’s navigation system computer prior to launch. The fact that I found myself revived from the hibernation tank and wandering around the controls, double checking, attested to how critically important the maneuver was to the mission’s success.

Moments later, I, as well as the ship navigation system, were both confident that we were on the right track. The quiet pulse of the ion drive resumed automatically. Just as before, there was no sensation of motion whatsoever.

My final “protocol” task was to visit the medical pod prior to re-entering the hibernation tank. This feature of MARUNA’s equipment amounted to a web sling located within a transparent case. Once this case was closed the interior quickly filled with a sort of oxygenated gel. My first responsibility was to completely fill my lungs with it.

The medical pod would then begin an extensive series of tests. Any physical irregularities which were revealed during this phase were simply cured or repaired by the robotic surgery arms. I had trained on the pod’s operation, but my prehistoric instincts had always rebelled at the moment of that first inhalation of the pod’s medical gel. On a positive side the system as quite adept at immediately reducing one to complete anesthesia when necessary. Being saturated with the pod’s gel was also an excellent preparation for my reinsertion into the hibernation pod.

I vaguely remembered watching the lights in the control cabin dimming through the sleep tank’s little window and the subtle hiss of the atmosphere being removed for storage in the tanks below me. I was plunging into deep sleep, but MARUNA, once relieved of the duties required to sustain me during my waking period, returned to full automatic mode. With me tucked away in the hibernation tank, I watched as MARUNA’s control cabin returned to its cold, dark vacuum.

6. SNIP – Orbital Insertion Ross 128 D
Scheduled Navigation Interface Protocol

I have already described the awkward experience of emerging from hibernation. Now, I repeated the entire chain of events. Every feature of the experience from the unpleasantness to the full assent into consciousness seemed identical to what I had recounted from the previous time.

MARUNA's chronometer now indicated the mission’s “relative date” at November 20, 2119. The ship’s speed had been reduced to 408 miles per second. ROSS 128 D filled the entire view from MARUNA’s tiny window. It appeared as a gigantic smog colored orb.

While I had slept for 22 years, 8 months and 11 days, MARUNA’s velocity had slowly decreased to roughly two tenths of one percent of the speed before deceleration. However, even after slowing to this degree, the mission would now need to decelerate more. Even if the mission were to continue at this current reduced speed, MARUNA would still finally fly by 128 B, but that near visit would pass by in a matter of minutes.

MARUNA’s course called for a deflective encounter with 128 D, after which the massive planet’s gravity field would steadily decelerate the craft even more as it plunged toward the system’s sun. Within a couple of weeks MARUNA would be entering 128 B’s solar orbit.

This event would very likely prove to be less than dramatic. MARUNA’s navigation computer, now close enough to the mission’s destination to actually observe the physics of the Ross system, could now accurately calculate preliminary course corrections.

After finally slipping into 128 B’s solar orbit, MARUNA would chase the planet for another 12 days, continuing the ion drive’s deceleration, before the first view of my mission goal appeared in the window. At this point my “pilot’s duty” would require maneuvering MARUNA into orbit around my destination.

Even through the calming hypnotic fog, this prospect was still very exciting. As the planet approached, more and more of the trance like suggestions which had been hypnotized into my mind would release themselves.

Still, first things first. I would be awake for the remainder of this journey. That meant that I could, after decades of “abstinence,” enjoy an actual meal. Of course, patiently introducing food into my system after such a long period had to be in strict compliance with the established protocol.

MARUNA’s menu for my first “breakfast” amounted to a watery but nutritious, warm fluid somewhat akin to a smoothy. It was delicious. I also luxuriated in MARUNA’s somewhat cramped, microwave “shower.” It was all contained in a body sized bag which could be unfolded and hung up in the cabin, and the “shower” part of the process lasted only a minute or so. Still, the result seemed quite refreshing.

I took this opportunity to cut my hair, now quite long and shaggy. Although the sleep tank rendered its inhabitant unconscious quite quickly, it seemed that matters such as the growth of ones hair and finger nails continued at a reduced rate for some time afterward.

A human body develops a substantial stench after reclining motionless for several decades. I suspected that some component of my “refreshed feeling” following my “shower” might be the result of one of those hypnotic suggestions.

Oh well. The rocks come with the farm.

7. In the Ross 128 System

Now, a maze of navigational delicacies became the subject of my full attention. The somewhat clouded memories of my Academy classes on the subject seemed to leap forward. The final calculations for the retrograde gravity brake and the sizing parameters of my desired elliptical orbit insertion at 128 B needed to be fed into MARUNA’s navigational computers.

MARUNA had to be rerouted at this point with adjustments which could finalize my way into the final stable angular velocity. The ship’s chemical rockets must be reserved for the last minute compensation to 128 B’s equatorial velocity and my actual landing. I could trim this initial ellipse to a respectable planetary orbit once MARUNA was firmly in the grip of 128 B’s gravity.

The existence of an intermediate planet, 128 C, had been undetectable by the Academy’s long range observatory, revealing itself only as a “transient gravitational influence.” However, from the much closer vantage point in my course leaving the orbit of 128 D, the reality of 128 C and its somewhat mysterious gravitational influence on the orbital system became clear.

128 C was not, in the empirical sense, even an actual planet. Instead, it now appeared as an unruly collection of asteroids and other debris. It orbited the Ross 128 star in a fairly stable orbit, and the leading side appeared as a fairly stable, spherical “proto-planet,” but the trailing side was a long trail of apparently random, asteroidal masses which had, over time, simply gathered into a string of debris once trapped in the gravitational grip of the main section.

MARUNA was approaching its mission destination from “below” the plane of the Ross 128 system. Just as was the case with all the planets here, 128 C’s orbit was a fast one, completing one of its “years” in a matter of a few days. The length of the debris trail presented a clear danger to MARUNA as it maneuvered to 128 B’s inner orbit.

Although the proto-planet was disappearing in the distance as it followed its orbit behind Ross 128, scraps of its unorganized debris trail posed a possible threat to MARUNA. The only navigational response was a rapid transit through the collision dangers posed by the orbital zone. This was really the first instance in my mission where a feeble adoption of the shaky optimism of “dumb luck” emerged as the best choice.

While this situation was both threatening and breath taking, the transit through the danger zone would only require a few hours. MARUNA had decelerated to just below 300 miles per second, and even though a higher speed would have ended this risky exposure more quickly, the navigational necessities of the mission’s approach to 128 B demanded that I continue the maximum deceleration possible.

Happily, MARUNA avoided any collision with 128 C’s debris trail. Had this not been the case, this journal, along with the rest of MARUNA 131, would have “joined” 128 C’s orbiting debris field as wreckage, a few unusually shiny metallic scraps of old Earth technology.

8. 128 B
Orbital Insertion

MARUNA’s survival of the transit through 128 C’s debris field marked the beginning of the final navigational “race” to catch up with 128 B. It was ironic that it was necessary to slow MARUNA’s speed significantly to finally approach 128 B which was still rushing away at this point. MARUNA’s next navigational goal was to finally “catch” 128 B closely enough to initiate a long, elliptical orbit around the planet.

This awkward “orbital insertion” would provide a relatively secure “race track” for the final period of MARUNA’s long deceleration. None of these complications had been observable through the Academy’s orbiting telescopes during the mission planning. In MARUNA’s current position 128 B was barely visible.

Even the most accurate observations by the Academy’s telescopic spectrometers had very definite limits. The full body of such “confident observations” had actually provided only a very incomplete picture of what was now spread out before me. Now that I had “arrived,” MARUNA was rapidly filling in the gaps in these rather preliminary observations.

The same held true for the planet 128 B, too. Accomplishing a closer orbit would allow the ship’s significant sensor arrays to begin collecting all sorts of geophysical data on this distant world. MARUNA was jammed packed with automatic observation equipment. The main mission computer turned out to be insistently curious about this myriad of details now becoming accessible.

Hopefully, once my orbit had become more circular, I could begin looking for a place to land. MARUNA needed to be grounded on a site stable enough to sustain the ship’s total weight indefinitely, and, hopefully, a site which might offer a sustainable, permanent settlement from which I could begin the work of the MARUNA mission’s terra forming phase.

In the meantime I would be hurtling across a final few million miles, still decelerating, to reach 128 B’s solar orbit. Being confronted with all of this vital final navigating gave me a strange chill. I would remember every part of the calculations I had learned in the Academy – even if my own confidence in the process was, somehow, suspiciously firm thanks to the hypnotics.

My necessary, intense class work at the Academy had been greatly enhanced by the continuous hypnotic rigor applied to all the students there.

MARUNA’s navigation computer was buzzing, apparently, with as much confidence as I was sensing in myself, but reassuringly, I remained curiously confident with programmed physics and chemistry analytics accompanying all these murky hypnotic suggestions still emerging faintly in my own mind. I could occasionally sense these hypnotics, especially as the suggestions were being lifted when triggered by preset accomplishments as my mission progressed.

These deep suggestions often made it seem as if there were another passenger aboard MARUNA, except an invisible, furtive passenger entirely hidden among my own thoughts. I had an unsettling suspicion that by this point I would have become utterly insane from the experiences of my journey without this hypnotic assistance.

9. 128 B
Up Close and Personal

Once MARUNA had successfully completed the gravity braking at 128 D and survived the harrowing dash through the orbital debris of 128 C, I was finally making my first, formal entry into the star’s inner planetary system. The ion drive’s deceleration program was continuing at the highest rate possible, and, coupled with the gravity braking, MARUNA’s velocity had decreased to just under a hundred miles per second, but, importantly, this velocity was based entirely on what would have been the ship’s velocity had it been in the Earth system. In the Ross 128 system relative speeds had to be adjusted significantly if they were to be relevant to MARUNA’s navigational needs.

Although MARUNA was, at least essentially, within the orbital path of 128 B, these relative velocities still presented challenges. Although the ship was equipped with a limited capacity for pulsed rocket engine thrust to accomplish any required final deceleration, this resource had to be reserved for literally the very last moments prior to actually landing.

MARUNA – and I – would have only a single chance to get this right.

Nonetheless, I was feeling quite excited with the prospect of finally approaching my mission objective. Entering 128 B’s orbit was a landmark, but the planet, itself, was nowhere to be seen. 128 B orbited the star every few days, but MARUNA, at this velocity, was going to have to zip by it repeatedly before it slowed enough to finally be caught in 128 B’s gravity.

The navigation computer’s solution suggested that there would be at least five of these necessary fly-bys before even an awkwardly prolonged elliptical orbit around the planet would become possible. Although the time line for this maneuver would encompass several “days,” time for me had already begun to race by with the excitement. Further, I had noticed a very distinct new difference in this sensation. I reached a very certain conclusion that this feeling of “excitement” was, in fact, quite organic and not merely another result of one of my mission preparation hypnotics.

It took three days of chasing after 128 B before MARUNA made the first, brief encounter which was close enough to see the planet as it passed. I stared through MARUNA’s tiny window in a state of profound wonder. None of the digital analysis and reports emerging from MARUNA’s main mission computer had prepared me for what I was now seeing with my own eyes. For the first time on the long voyage I became hopeful and relieved with the idea that I could quite probably land on this planet and possibly live there permanently.

My thoughts returned to the Academy on L5. There were dozens of MARUNA class ships at that station, and there were dozens of Academy recruits in my class destined to make their own mission journeys to planets light years from Earth.

According to my professors, only perhaps one fifth of these fellow students would find a planetary destination as promising as the one currently appearing in my ship’s little window. The remainder would find their destinations to be utterly uninhabitable. With their MARUNA ships trillions of miles from Earth each of them would be confronted with the alternatives of either orbiting one of these foreboding places until they either died of old age or ending things more quickly. The hypnotics might serve to make that painful choice a little less crushing, but even with that advantage their fate saddened me.

I could see their faces.

I had tried to avoid thinking about the desperate nature which had justified the risk involved with my mission and the checkered possibilities that it might succeed, all willingly accepted by all those in my classes. Every time these thoughts crowded into my reality, I felt a sense of relief that I was, at least, not doomed to what my likely future on Earth had represented.

It was an uncomfortable state of mind, indeed. I would have had the choice of simply remaining where I had been or accepting the Academy’s proffered alternative, resigned to the real possibility that matters might well become even more dismal at the conclusion of my mission’s journey. Being confronted with these options, admittedly a matter for heavy lifting for a teenager, I had decided to “jump out of the sinking life boat.” Probably with the unseen assistance from the hypnotics, I seemed to be grateful that I had accepted the challenge.

Strangely, I felt this gratitude the most strongly, perhaps, just at those moments when matters on MARUNA seemed to be approaching some grave crisis in the mission. This feeling was especially noticeable, for instance, while MARUNA was threading its way through the fast moving, rocky debris in 128 C’s orbit zone.

Now, I was staring at 128 B. Although there were still millions of miles to travel before I could slow down enough to orbit and land, the lingering fear that I would spend the decades until my death circling alone in a mindless drift had been quieted. I knew very well that I could very likely face all sorts of difficulties after landing, and that any of them might bring my end, but if I were destined to die, it would be on this strangely green planet rather than after excruciating months or years of imprisonment in MARUNA’s cramped control cabin.

10. Orbital Observations of 128 B

When MARUNA finally achieved a more or less circular orbit around 128 B, many of the planet’s features became clear. Of course, MARUNA was scouring all sorts of information all the time now, but I was somewhat limited to what might be seen through the small window in the control cabin.

My first glimpse of the planet was quite consistent with the Academy’s telescope observations and, importantly, with many of the speculations which had been proposed about the planet.

The atmosphere was exactly what the astronomical spectrometers had suggested. The oxygen levels were even higher. Further, there was water – everywhere. 128 B had a somewhat rosier planetary atmosphere than Earth, but there were abundant white, puffy cumulus cloud banks. Although all of these factors eliminated the worrisome prospect of dying of old age endlessly orbiting in this space craft, there were more than a few other, unsettling “dissimilarities” to old Earth, too.

128 B was tidally locked to the system’s star. Although there would be no days and nights, 128 B did, in fact, wobble rather precipitously as it pursued its orbit. My initial estimate of six to ten degrees turned out to be too small for the actual angular shift the planet experienced every eleven or so Earth hours.

This was important. Running around 128 B in a vertical ring was a band of lush green made possible by the conditions found there. This band was somewhat wider near the equator of 128 B, but although still uniformly green, it grew noticeably thinner as it approached the planet’s poles. In its widest portion the ring was eighty to a hundred miles in width. At its narrowest southern and northern stretches this reduced to perhaps thirty miles.

While most of entire planet was clearly uninhabitable, conditions in this green area were quite promising.

Toward the face which constantly pointed toward the star, 128 B was permanently hot – too hot for a permanent residence. MARUNA’s scan estimated the consistent temperature in this “bright zone” at around 150 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

The opposing side of 128 B was correspondingly cold. In the center of this perpetually dark area the steady temperature was around 270 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

The green band which circled the planet abruptly tapered off to raw black rock on the shadow side and to what appeared to be a rocky desert on the sun lit side. There was a longitudinal stripe, covered with green plant life, separating the two extremes, and there was no visible evidence of anything similar to this anywhere else on the entire planet.

MARUNA’s orbit remained at an altitude of several thousand miles. Fortunately, the path over 128 B slowly rotated, providing MARUNA an opportunity to thoroughly scan almost the entire planet. After just a few of these slowly shifting orbits, MARUNA’s computers had amassed a gigantic file of analytical planetary geophysical data. The main computer – the one designed to communicate directly with me – would take some time to consolidate all of this information into an accessible form. The entire computer system was designed to provide me with answers to as many of my questions as possible.

It turned out that MARUNA’s main computer was also designed to “guess” about matters for which it lacked data to provide these answers. While this unusual situation was quite rare, I learned, over time, that even these were exquisitely, exceptional “guesses.”

My time on the L5 station had shown me and my fellow students that the Academy was not satisfied with shoddy technology. Not satisfied at all.

MARUNA’s landing site had to be centered in the longitudinal band. Aside from selecting a position somewhat central to the planet’s equator to take maximum advantage of the wobble, the ship’s choices for a final parking place seemed to be largely already “baked into the cake.”

11. 128 B
Selecting a “Parking Spot”

My orbit around 128 B had grown much more circular and manageable after MARUNA had completed the final deceleration maneuver. I had generally determined that my landing should occur more or less in the center of the longitudinal strip of green vegetation and roughly somewhere close to 128 B’s equator.

My lingering concerns about the soil conditions on the planet had been resolved with the results of MARUNA’s look down radar. There were, apparently, no soft spots incapable of supporting the ship once landed. Everywhere on 128 B seemed to have a rock like coating. This was even the case on the green band of plant life as well as in the centers of both the “hot side” and the “cold side.”

Advancing from these general guidelines to an actual “candidate location” for landing was, consequently, rather easy.

I was understandably concerned about MARUNA’s state of readiness for this final step of the mission. Of course the main mission computer had been continuously monitoring all the critical systems, but I still felt compelled to double check everything possible. It had been fully eight decades since these systems had been initially installed, and the ship had completed a journey of several light years to reach this point in the mission.

MARUNA could successfully land on around 60% of the basic reserve of reaction fuel, and I had consumed only 15% decelerating in the approach to my final navigation to planetary orbit, so the landing propulsion system seemed to be as capable as the main computer’s inventory had reported.

12. 128 B From 30,000 Feet

MARUNA’s final, controlled descent took the ship on a low altitude trajectory over both of the tidally locked extremes of 128 B. Aside from the relatively narrow inhabitable strip of surprisingly lush plant life, the remainder of 128 B actually appeared quite hellish. Both the frigid and heated portions were surprisingly flat, offering no mountains, canyons or other geological features whatsoever.

This descent also offered a much closer look at the weather of 128 B. The longitudinal green strip hosted an apparently permanent toroid of cloud cover. From MARUNA’s observation window this appeared as a “rolling doughnut” of dense, rotating, cumulus rain storms. These clouds were forming over the edge of the planet’s hot side then slowly migrating into the green zone. When they approached the colder side, the rains began.

From orbit MARUNA’s telescope also revealed an almost uniform network of drainage on the surface – no larger than streams – carrying the runoff from this rain back to the heat of the cloud creating desert just beyond the green strip. The fully rotating Earth had accomplished this hydrological task using, primarily, the contrasting temperatures of day and night. This meteorological phenomenon on 128 B appeared to be apparently far gentler but reliably consistent.

13. Landfall on 128 B

The ship’s self-leveling supports had been stowed on MARUNA’s external plating for all this time, but all four of them appeared to be functioning as designed. I, personally, was to be firmly tucked away within the sleep tank during this exercise, although I was scheduled to remain quite awake during the process.

During MARUNA’s final orbits around the planet to achieve the orbital position required by the navigation computer’s landing solution, my mind was racing through every possible difficulty while I laid there.

MARUNA’s computer controlled landing amounted to little more than an unusual, gentle bump. I could sense a number of the Academy’s old hypnotic suggestions being gently released, all triggered by this landmark accomplishment.

I scrambled out of the sleep tank’s confinement and rushed to the tiny observation window. Although I was excitedly prepared to have my first glimpse of the planet’s surface, all that was visible was the pale pink sky. The little window had been designed for my use during space travel. It was located at the top of MARUNA’s control cabin, and it offered little more than the view upwards from near the top of the ship.

I made a short, cursory verification of the main mission computer’s analysis of the breathability of 128 B’s atmosphere. Happily, there was to be no last minute surprise.

The ship’s main hatch was located at least eighteen feet above the ground at the landing site. Although there were “toe holds” set into the ship’s hull, any attempt to descend this way would still leave a ten foot drop to the ground. With 128 B’s gravity 30% higher than what I had been accustomed to on the Earth, such a jump seemed to be in-advisable. I decided to wait for the main computer to deploy the ramp.

Although my sensation of MARUNA’s actual planetary landing had been almost imperceptible, the impact caused when the ramp dropped to 128 B’s surface produced a shock which reverberated through the ship. This thud was followed by a monstrous clank. This rattled me a bit. All through the decades of this journey there had never been any sort of sound this loud.

At this point I abandoned my commitment to record everything in my journal, activated the hatch release and made my way down the ramp. I had little doubt that these journal entries might well become somewhat more intermittent now.

Standing just outside the hatch, I felt strangely vulnerable. It seemed as though I had failed to bring something essential with me, but I had nothing to bring. I began a conscious attempt to reconcile myself with the idea that I was, at long last, home.

The atmosphere on 128 B was a balmy and humid. Although I did not succumb to the impulse, I had a strange, distinct desire to remove all my clothes and greet this unusual place entirely naked.

13. Why 128 B’s Indigenous Plant was Named “Kappa”

My first glance at the luxuriously green longitudinal band stretching around the tidally locked plant suggested that I was about to descend into a thriving ecosystem of plant life. Once having landed, I was able to stand amid vast fields of these unusual plants. They extended like a fine carpet for miles, leaving the “border” with the uninhabitable “sun side” as a reddish glint of a distant horizon visible only as a thin line from ground level.

Any possible similarity to Earth style plant life faded quickly. A closer examination revealed that every example of this plant was shockingly identical. Further, there was no evidence in recent history that any of them had ever actually died. There were no cases of any gradual decay into an organic layer below them. Not a single waxy leaf among all these millions of plants seemed to have ever decomposed in any similar pattern to Earth’s biology, and there was absolutely no evidence of any new plants sprouting anywhere, either.

Even more interesting, there was no evidence that any of these plants had ever been damaged or even bruised by the normal misadventures experienced by Earth plant life. With respect to the needs of these plants, 128 B amounted to a finely tuned green house. 128 B provided rain every few hours, and the photosynthesis of these strange plants returned the favor by providing copious amounts of atmospheric oxygen.

All through these immense, uniform fields variously sized streams seem to run almost as a network of webs, and small ponds dotted the entire area. 128 B’s tidally locked rotation produced showers almost a regular as clock work. The streams evaporated quickly after entering the planet’s hot side, producing great billowing clouds of water vapor. When even the slightest hint of cold air from the planet’s cold side wafted in as a gentle breeze, a foggy, windless rain storm resulted.

The physical planetary crust below the plants was strangely similar to that of a bowling ball. 128 B had no mountains or even hills. The slope on the slow moving streams was very slight and disorganized. The root structure of the plants themselves amounted to nothing more than a thin, tough film which merely coated this rocky base without ever actually penetrating it. Although this arrangement no doubt provided both water and nutrients, the precise process remained somewhat mysterious.

I submitted a picture of this plant life to MARUNA’s computer. It responded with photographs from Earth’s biological past, namely pictures of workers clearing between rows of sugar cane. A weed appearing quite similar to the plant life on 128 B required these workers’ constant labors to maintain the irrigation rows of these sugar cane fields. They called this weed “kappa,” and I borrowed the name from this ancient record.

My mission on this distant world was to introduce various types of Earth life, all currently held in various forms of frozen stasis in MARUNA’s cargo hold, with the ultimate goal of producing a food supply capable of sustaining a permanent presence here. This would not be possible without significantly altering the existing organic system and especially the rocky base upon which these plants thrived.

Sooner or later I would need to create dirt. And, I would need to create it from the bowling ball rock which 128 B was offering as raw material to its newest resident.

14. Resolving the Kappa Problem

128 B’s “bowling ball” land mass posed a problem. MARUNA’s cargo hold held not only seeds for food and grains, but also an almost overwhelming – and quite thoughtful – collection of a wide variety of all manner of other Earth based life forms. Among these were a potent collection of creatures in the microscopic realm, bacteria, amoebas, paramecium, worms of all sorts and, of course, thousands of strains of insects.

My challenge arose from the fact that practically none of these choices could even possibly be expected to thrive on the hard rock surface which the kappa had found so inviting. The kappa was not causing any degradation in 128 B’s surface. There were nothing similar to roots which might have, over time, served to fracture the “bowling ball.”

There was also no decomposed plant tissue which might, again – over time, built up any sort of organic layer in which Earth seeds or life forms could have found a foot hold.

I attempted to break open this rocky surface with a pick ax, but the meager results were not promising. It didn’t really fracture. Even if it had, I would never have been able to produce more than a few square meters of future, potentially arable land in any reasonable time.

I consulted MARUNA’s computer. At first it didn’t seem to really understand my inquiry, but after a few efforts at reworking my questions, it produced a possible answer.

The cargo hold supplies included two crates of what had been labeled “seismic recording explosives.” These were intended for use in a search for sub-surface water if it became necessary. Although these explosives were small, they were designed to “echo” against such water reserves to pin point favorable drilling locations.

Even though I had no need to drill for water, the computer posed the possibility that these small, shaped charges might serve to fracture 128 B’s hard crust, pulverizing at least limited areas of it into new form which could then accept MARUNA’s soil building, Earth micro-flora.

I located a gently sloped [everything was gently sloped…] area near the site at which MARUNA had landed. Next, I gingerly placed half a dozen of the little charges in a line along the higher side, setting the timer on each of them to its maximum delay of roughly six “Earth minutes” before vacating to a safe distance.

The experiment was a success. Once the surface began to break apart, the cracks quickly spread in all directions. I would definitely need to set more explosives to prepare a good sized garden, but it was clear that they could be placed much farther apart. The total inventory of four hundred explosives would be able to convert a far more substantial sized area than I had thought.

My experiment also delivered a second break through. In an unexpected large radius around each of these blasts the kappa had literally collapsed. It looked quite dead. A layer of dead, decomposing kappa resting on the pulverized rock created by my explosions would, very possibly, be the equivalent of a five star hotel to my bacteria and fungus.

Of course it was necessary to submit all of this to MARUNA’s well equipped laboratory for analysis. The conclusions of this on-board research designed exactly what course this effort should take, but here and in these conditions, it was becoming increasingly clear that human risk taking might become a critical addition to this more empirical approach.

15. The Matter of Time on 128 B

I spent seventeen years of my childhood and youth on Earth. This meant that, to me, a “day” had always been an “Earth day.” A day consistently lasted 24 hours. It was consistently introduced with a sun rise in the East, and it equally dependably ended with a sun set in the West.

Life’s days on 128 B were quite different – in an alien, innocent way. 128 B’s “wobbles” were noticeable every eleven of so hours, but these regular occurrences were far more subtle than Earth’s day and night. “Night” on 128 B was simply a slightly dimmer version of “day” on 128 B. Further, every time the cycle emerged from a dim period to a brighter one, the misty rains began.

It took me some time to begin to accept the inevitable, permanent reality of this new arrangement, but the schedule presented an inescapable structure for life on 128 B. Although terms such as “week” or “month” retained little relevance, I found my thoughts continuing to habitually refer to such periods.

Happily, once landed on 128 B the schedule of my mission duties required almost constant work, continuing periods of repeated, intensive, hard labor which made sleeping on such an alien cycle an easy adaptation. I divided the periods of work into two sessions with a third dedicated to less demanding duties. This arrangement seemed to very comfortably “fit into” what 128 B was doing on its own.

I considered creating a new set of terms which might more clearly coincide with 128 B’s schedule of wobbles and rain storms, but after a while, I dismissed these attempts, and with an essentially incomprehensible stubbornness, continued to refer to my “days and nights” in terms congruent with my long ingrained habits.

My work seemed to progress unhampered by my automatic references to the conditions on distant Earth. That is to say, I really didn’t “lose any sleep” dealing with the contradictions. Still, after a few “weeks” of this effort I was beginning to feel like a hay sack farmer trapped in Alice’s Mad Hatter Wonderland.

Nonetheless, there was work to be done. Plenty of work.

I very gradually adopted the equivalent of two sleeping cycles synchronized with these “dimming” periods.

16. Fungus, Slime and Creepy Crawlers

MARUNA’s cargo hold was packed full of frozen life forms, and, happily, the collection was far from a random, helter skelter load of what could be quickly gathered by Academy agents roaming around the Earth. In fact, a large proportion of these life forms had been genetically prepared for just this mission, even though those in the Academy had not enjoyed the benefit of a precise idea of what conditions might prevail.

Although the process and sequence of unloading the hold had been carefully programmed into MARUNA’s main mission computer, it was clear during these preparations that I would need to add what I could to the process once these conditions became better known.

The fact that my seismic explosions had resulted in circles of apparently dead kappa strewn about over patches of pulverized rock amounted to a spectacular breakthrough. It was finally the right time to introduce the first Earth life to these tiny parts of 128 B. If revitalized fungi and bacteria from MARUNA’s cargo were able to infest these little circles to initiate organic decomposition, the entire experiment could be scaled up rather quickly. I would officially be in the farming business!

Reorganizing the necessary equipment for this revitalizing process took some time. Both the sleep tank and the medical unit had to be repositioned outside the spaceship close to the cargo bay hatch. The hold itself was equipped with a motorized transfer arm which could recover specific packages from the intricately packed cargo inside. This was an exceptional process by itself. The contents of the hold appeared to fill every possible place without so much as a crack or a shadow.

Although this was the first time I had actually seen inside the hold, it was not surprising that the Academy techs who had prepared MARUNA for this mission had done so with such mastery. The entire cargo bay was divided into two sections with the cryogenic storage in the interior and mission equipment surrounding it.

The mission equipment was very well designed by the Academy engineers, but we students had always referred to it jokingly as “some assembly required.”

With the massive cover removed the sleep tank separated into four sections, each of them was barely movable by a single person. Lowering each of these components from MARUNA’s main hatch to the ground was anything by graceful, although a good length of steel cable made it possible to bump each piece along the ship’s hull plating.

The medical unit was even more challenging, a fact aggravated by the delicacy of some of its internal equipment. It required four “days” of laborious work to place all of this on the ground. The cargo hold’s mechanical arm then effortlessly positioned everything. Even though the ship’s computer system had “no eyes” watching this work space which might serve to direct the arm, it had long ago been programmed to accomplish this task.

Connecting the sleep tank and medical unit required very little additional work. The conveyor system which had been stored in the cargo hold also extended itself automatically to meet the re-purposed medical unit’s inlet. Lowering the sleep tank’s cover was simple enough, and once it had been replaced, all the interior equipment seemed to be operating normally.

In terms of my own situation amid all of this, I had officially lost my “bed” which had previously been a few blankets strewn in the open sleep tank, and I no longer had the reassuring possibility of crawling into the medical unit if I were to be injured accidentally while performing this phase of my mission assignments.

These factors become very present challenges. I erected the “mission habitat” which had been stored on board and inflated the sleeping pad inside it. Although I had, to this point, exclusively inhabited only MARUNA’s control compartment, I would now begin living on 128 B in a quite unmistakable fashion.

On the positive side, however, the frozen parcels from the cargo hold’s cryogenic compartment could now be moved directly to the medical unit where they might be defrosted, revitalized and nurtured into living replicas of Earth life. Once the medical unit’s works had been accomplished, the “babies” could mature into their adult states in the warm nest offered by the sleep tank.

The “first crop” of my new “family” were ready for distribution in the pulverized sections of my new garden in a few “days.” Admittedly, the exact state of what had come back to life during this initial phase in the sleep tank was anything but exciting, being comprised primarily of a preplanned collection of a variety of fungus spores, bacteria and a few other invisibly microscopic creatures.

Although the end product appeared only as a brownish, granular powder, I particularly noticed that the recently hatched fungalmycelium already seemed to be quite aggressive, that is, at least it appeared to have developed a “good appetite.”

Before the start of my daily “sleep cycle” I had gingerly placed a small spoonful of this in each of the little circles of the “treated” kappa patches. Right on schedule 128 B’s routine rain showers gently irrigated the small valley immediately upon my completion of this part.

Not surprisingly, I made my way directly to these seeded spots as soon as I awoke, but my somewhat overly optimistic expectations were flattened. The powder I had placed seemed to have washed down into the pulverized rock, and the fractured kappa left after the seismic explosions seemed to have not changed at all. I returned to my scheduled work still quite uncertain about whether or not these first gardening efforts had been for nothing.

Four “days” later, however, the condition of this previously destroyed kappa had changed considerably. A close examination revealed that tiny fungal growths had begun to appear on the crushed kappa.

It had begun to rot. Even more promising, this decomposition was progressing at an amazing rate.

Of course I described this biological breakthrough to MARUNA’s main mission computer, and I could hear the cargo bay arm almost instantly moving the next collection of frozen crates to the equipment positioned outside the cargo bay hatch.

I was now officially in the terra forming business.

Within a “week” an unmistakable slime – along with its wonderful organic odor – was setting up shop in every single patch. The fungal nodes were spreading beyond my little patches to ravenously consume some of the kappa which had not been close enough to be involved in the explosion sites.

The next “crop” of Earth creatures already in the revitalization equipment turned out to be a wondrous variety of eager thallaphyta destined to be introduced in a few of the small ponds. I selected three of these little “puddles” directly downstream from my successful slime patches for this algae. The run off from the slime into these little puddles would, hopefully, provide these new inhabitants with enough nutrition begin their own cycle.

In no time at all the bottoms of my little puddles were covered by a lush green carpet of algae and a few other “things” – small forms of underwater flora which I was unable to immediately identify.

Meanwhile, the re-purposed sleep tank had already been filled even more Earth life forms. My little garden was soon to receive a staggering collection of microscopic worms and other creatures. Although I had been utterly unaware of this level of life while walking about among it all on Earth, its progress on 128 B now seemed astonishing.

Strangely, even though the results of most of these preliminary accomplishments were much too small to even be seen without the aid of a microscope, I could feel my old sensations of being alien and alone here slowly but steadily easing. Naturally, I wondered if more of the old the hypnotics were once again in play.

17. Introducing the “Tugger”

The work on 128 B was progressing at an irritatingly slow pace, although, more or less, well within the parameters of my mission schedule. My somewhat unrealistic fantasies of quickly creating an actual “Earth garden” had been quite firmly tempered by the unavoidable facts of material progress.

The revitalizing process continued to produce literally buckets of “creatures” to be distributed in my “patches” of decomposing kappa, but the entire product of this work still amounted to little more than small isolated regions of pungently odorous brown slime. While all of this was consistent with the scheduled goals of the mission’s over all plan, I was feeling a strangely rebellious impulse to “really get things moving.”

My attention was drawn to an item on the cargo inventory list. Somewhere in the cargo hold was a tracked “tugger.” It had been included to provide a means for an individual human, in this case me, to move objects too heavy to move by sheer human strength alone. The little machine was powered by a “perpetual” battery which could last for several “years.” Geared to accommodate these heavy loads, the tugger was designed to move at, literally, a “snail’s pace.”

When the cargo bay’s arm deposited the machine in its unloading zone, the tugger’s control panel was already activated. More importantly, the weight of the tracked devise had very efficiently crushed the kappa growing in the spot where the arm had placed it.

I targeted the tugger’s control system as best as I could toward the shallow valley where my “slime crop” was growing. Given the tugger’s very limited maximum speed, the short distance from the ship to the valley would take at least a “day” or two, but once it had arrived, it would be able to crush the kappa stubbornly inhabiting the “unmodified” area surrounding my “patches.”

There was no way to program the tugger to autonomously crush row after row like a farm tractor, so I spent the next “week” manually turning the machine each time it had completed a pass through the area. Although the process was tedious, the arable portion of the garden grew at a highly promising rate. The slime, gaining access to more and more of the crushed kappa each time, also progressed at an astonishing rate – almost faster than the tugger!

18. New Arrivals “Daily”

During this time the revitalizer continued to produce more and more Earth life to be added to the effort. Although the production of a more or less constant flow of bacteria and fungus continued, these loads began to also contain other, more visible creatures such as earthworms, beetles and flies. Even though those which were large enough to be seen as I scooped them out of the modified sleep tank seemed to be of a normal size, the effect of 128 B’s increased oxygen levels seemed to be enlarging the size everything as they reached full maturity.

The mission computer’s schedule was being modified based on the progress I carefully reported. By the time the tugger had crushed most of the valley which was to hold my “garden,” the speed as which additional life was being provided by the revitalizer was clearly increasing. The “garden” was now a very smelly puddle of the slime populated with an astonishing variety of insects and other creatures. The decomposing debris of the kappa had virtually disappeared below the surface of this brown, odorous goo.

The revitalizer produced a couple of loads of aquatic eggs, larvae and “wigglers” to be added to the rainfall ponds, but these seemed to almost immediately disappear in the now flourishing moss which carpeted these wet spots. After this, however, the process seemed to slow noticeably.

Peering through the sleep tank’s little window explained this pause. Inside the incubator there were six small, synthetic pockets of birds’ eggs nestled among the more routine collection of less identifiable life forms. There were clearly six different varieties. Sometime later I also found that the mission schedule had already processed seeds for a number of low bushes and a few actual trees.

MARUNA’s main mission computer was, apparently, quite aware that birds, even newly hatched small ones, would need bugs to eat and at least some sort of a place for nesting. The cheerful sound of a few chirping birds would make a welcome addition to this utterly silent landscape.

The tugger experiment was a great success. I extended the borders of my “garden” substantially, section by section. The extension of the organic slime matched my efforts. It seemed to literally rush in as the kappa in each of these areas was crushed. It also became clear that the main mission computer was accelerating the schedule based on my reports of this progress.

The modified sleep tank produced bucket after bucket of newly reinvigorated seed and “earthworms” – millions of “earthworms.” These busy, industrious little creatures would require a new name.

In the first patches which I had pulverized with the seismic explosives the goo slime was slowly dehydrating. What remained after this was beginning to resemble dirt. It was fantastic. More importantly, a healthy crop of tiny green sprouts was beginning to emerge. Although it was far too early in the process for me to identify precisely what was sprouting, I suspected that much of this new life was comprised mainly of a variety of durable grasses.

19. Negotiating With the Main Computer

The Academy professors had repeatedly emphasized our almost complete reliance on the programmed schedule in the main mission computers. The scope of this reliance naturally included plenty about the necessity of both cooperation and compliance with the Academy ideas as these mission computers might express them. I assumed that this priority had been incorporated in the hypnotics, as well.

Nonetheless, even before the first of these birds had hatched and matured sufficiently for release, I had experienced a growing impulse for a strange style of “rebellion,” in this case an impulse to request development priorities which contradicted the process.

At various stages I had made “suggestions” and, in fact, offered my own more or less spontaneous ideas for enhancing the progress of these programmed goals and schedule. In some cases these had been adopted with fairly beneficial results, but none of these interventions had been contradicting critically important aspects of the mission plans.

I had been reviewing my developing case of “fleeting loneliness.” Understanding full well that I had only begun to feel this unusual loneliness as a result of the triggered releases engineered into the hypnotics, it remained a potent distraction.

I wanted a dog.

I approached the mission computer with this idea rather sheepishly but still managed to spell out some details which might serve to validate my request.

The mission programming responded with its expected detachment. MARUNA’s life support system could provide the nutritional requirements for both me and a dog for “years” without jeopardizing the mission plan. The food system had been designed to support me even in the case where I might face a lifetime stranded in orbit. Adding a dog’s requirements for nutritional support to this would not materially alter this capability.

The computer noted that, although progress had been good on the tasks designed to actually start growing a sustainable food supply for myself, it could still be perhaps “years” before I would no longer rely exclusively on the ship’s systems. The addition of a dog – even a small one – might extend that period even more. At this juncture the main computer informed me that a small number of dog fetuses of various breeds were, in fact, in the cryogenic inventory.

As things continued with this discussion, the main computer also conceded that my psychological well being was a critical mission factor, and that my attraction to having a dog’s companionship deserved an “open consideration.” Still, once this idea had processed through the mission data bank, MARUNA’s computer surprised even me.

It had apparently extracted and examined the files relevant to my request and concluded that, at least with respect to such a dog’s well being, it would be preferable to extend this preliminary population of such animals to at least three. Dogs, I was informed, would function better in small groups rather than as single animals.

This conclusion initiated another lengthy analysis by the computer. The entire interchange seemed to be suspiciously similar to a conversation between a young boy and his father about the prospect of acquiring a pet. The computer unceremoniously rattled off a litany of responsibilities and arrangements.

I would be tasked with all of these.

This wasn’t really a problem. There was absolutely no one else on this planet who might even conceivably be involved with the care of such pets. In any event most of the potential difficulties which might have been encountered by the young boy and his father on Earth did not transfer to conditions on 128 B.

The mission computer never responded to any of my ideas with “We’ll see.”

Having completed the “decision making” phase of this process, the computer added a final note. The revitalization of these dogs would fully occupy the equipment for an extended period, in this case the equivalent of two weeks or more. During this time the programmed schedule would be interrupted. Additionally, the puppies emerging from this process would require, in the terms used by the computer, “significant nurturing,” during which period progress on my other mission duties might suffer.

The ship’s computer reserved for itself the decision as to the choice of which specific breeds and gender would be selected. I had already begun considering names.

Anticipating this, the computer added that my choice of names should primarily be those with “plosive pronunciation sounds” which a dog could hear clearly. Although this complicated the process a little, I soon had a list of what I considered to be “great choices.”

20. Bashan, Callista and Leto

It is needless to add at this point that I was soon the proud “father” of three fine puppies. The revitalizer had required a significantly cycle to nurse the “new borns” into a viable state, but when the process had been completed, I was able to move the little gang to my habitat immediately.

Still, there was the matter of selecting names for them.

I chose “Bashan” for the male, a name from my favorite Thomas Mann story. Of the two females one seemed especially affectionate. I named her Callista in honor of the beautiful Titan goddess who had seduced Zeus himself. Even as a young puppy, the other female was constantly exploring, rummaging through everything she could reach. For her I chose Leto, the Olympic Greeks’ famous huntress.

Each one of these animals demanded the classification of “mixed breed.” Although they were all roughly the same size, all similarity seemed to end there. I had never actually been around pets such as these. By the time I departed Earth for the final time, only the extravagantly rich had owned such animals.

I had certainly never physically touched one, but these three didn’t want to remain “untouched” for a single minute. Everything I had read and every video I had watched about dogs referred to this strange practice of cuddling. Even before these puppies could leave their “nest,” I had experienced the spectacular reality of this!

In no time these little dogs enjoyed “full running rights” to the entire planet. They also seemed to be growing as an unusual rate. 128 B’s high oxygen level was, no doubt, the culprit. Everything being introduced to this new world appeared to be growing larger and larger, also – even the “earthworms.”

The puppies also tended to developing into unexpectedly strong dogs. Again, this could be explained by 128 B’s higher gravity. I wondered if I, too, were destined for these changes.

The plant life developing in my garden did not particularly benefit from the increased oxygen but still noticeably responded to the higher gravity. At first everything seemed to be somewhat stunted in terms of height and rate of growth, but 128 B’s daily rain and unbroken “days” of warm light soon compensated for this. Every plant was soon showing signs of surprising root and stalk strength as it grew to maturity.

The mission computer, no doubt in consideration of the puppies, had begun revitalizing a wide variety of rodents – rabbits, mice, squirrels and so on. Within no time the “chase was on.” To me it seemed as if everything now alive here was suddenly and perpetually chasing something else.

21. The Main Mission Computer

I have tried to write about my personal experiences here. Still, “day by day” there has been another critically necessary “player” in this story.

When MARUNA 131 had begun this mission, the main computer had been loaded with essentially every scrap of data and information currently stored anywhere along the networks of data and files for all of Earth. In terms of actual weight and size, the storage arrangement for all of this probably represented one of the smallest weight and size loads among all of MARUNA’s equipment, but when coupled with the Academy’s programming, the role played by this system was inspiring.

Obviously, the system had navigated MARUNA though light years of space travel while I slept, but during the time after landing on 128 B this computer system had provided a constant, ongoing education and problem solving resource. There was a certain “cycle” of information which drove this dynamic process of continuously adjusting the original mission plan.

The code writers at the Academy had done their job well.

It’s worth noting that although this system had been transmitting reports routinely to Earth, there had been only a single response. This was somewhat discouraging because this single response had been generated automatically by a system on the L5 station after receiving information on MARUNA’s mid course navigation changes to first initiate the mission deceleration. This had taken place years ago.

After I had begun my work on 128 B, a circular system of analysis and reporting had continued continuously between me and the mission computer. On the “computer side” there was an incredible file system containing essentially everything which had ever entered a computer – ever. However, my part in this process was to fill the role of the mission computer’s “eyes” on the progress of the mission.

MARUNA had a compact but still quite impressive analysis station complete with the best equipment the Academy could have provided. At every step along the way I had brought the latest samples of 128 B’s reaction to the steps taken to convert the planet into a livable state. The results of all these samples and observations had been meticulously entered into the mission data banks, and the mission computer’s “assignment of duties” had always been tailored carefully to the latest information.

While the constantly expanding garden might, at first, appear to be an unruly hodge podge of “blind” farming and animal husbandry, it was, in fact, a very carefully constructed effort with very few missteps or other mistakes. This was the result of the mission computer’s dynamic programming which, although it began its participation in the progress with plenty of “experimental” steps, had fairly quickly become extremely well targeted.

Although those first buckets of revitalized bacteria and fungus might have seemed a rather pathetic first step, when the process was well underway, the mission computer’s steady responses to changing conditions was impressive. Still, had an experienced farmer observed the product of all this work, he would have instantly concluded that it was the product of an utterly incompetent agricultural effort.

The planet itself had been surprisingly passive to my arrival. There were no shocking surprises lurking on 128 B. In fact, the longer I lived on the planet, the more certain I had become that there was absolutely nothing living here beyond the kappa.

The only “misadventures” which had occurred since my arrival were minor. In one case a young goat had strayed beyond the garden to graze on some nearby kappa. It had died almost immediately. Importantly, all the other livestock seemed to have made note of this immediately.

It turns out that the only creatures capable of eating the stuff were the tortoises, and they clearly never developed an appetite for it. Thanks to the guidance of the mission computer, there were plenty of other grazing opportunities. In fact, there seemed to be plenty of everything needed for every element of the entire ecology. The trees now ringing the original garden area were full of birds – each of which found abundant grain and bugs for a more or less normal diet.

The cattle and horses were the size of small elephants. All the air breathing species had grown huge in 128 B’s generously oxygenated atmosphere. Even at birth the off spring from these species were now huge in comparison to the size of their Earth sized counterparts.

Even the now flourishing fish species showed this same remarkable increase in size.

22. A Few Notable “Firsts”

After consulting the main computer for instructions, I prepared my first “local meal.” Even though using the electric stove top was a little awkward for such a task, I plucked and seasoned a grouse the dogs and I had managed to corner in the garden. The cooking process made an incredible mess, and the poor bird was far from “deliciously beautiful” in its final form, but all four of us found it fantastic and exciting.

A campfire would have added a great deal to this effort, but 128 B had absolutely nothing which could serve as a fuel for such an enterprise. The trees around the garden were growing quite well, but they amounted to no more than promising saplings at this point. I had no interest in cutting one just to burn it.

The garden had also begun producing ripe grain, probably a random collection of barley, oats and other species selected by the main computer. I had little interest in this, lacking any experience of its preparation. But, scattered among these plants, there was also a phenomenal crop of ripe, yellow corn. That was easy to prepare! We all ate corn on the cob at almost every meal. The dogs did their best to look enthusiastic, but their appetites remained unconvincing.

Although the garden provided a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables, it was completely disorganized. To prepare any sort of meal it was necessary to search through the area first. There were even a good number of promising fruit trees, but the mission computer had advised me that these would require the cycle of one or two early crops before they would begin to be suited for harvest. The first of these to reach this mature state were a booming thicket of cherry trees.

I seriously considered the possibility that I should begin calling my “garden” a “farm.”

While plenty of species apparently would never prosper in 128 B’s climate and conditions, many others not only survived but flourished. This cornucopia of edibles occasionally led me to imagine that my garden patch was suspiciously similar to that of Eden as described in the ancient mythology of Earth.

Following an intensive “learning curve” with the mission computer, I proudly produced my first tub of beer from these grains. It was awful, yet effective.
With the continuous help of the mission computer, I was able to gradually improve my beer brewing expertise. Cooling this beverage was another story. It took some time to become satisfied with warm beer.

Still, I had a growing interest in consuming “local food” when possible. Both the dogs and I had been eating exclusively rations provided by MARUNA, but there were a promising variety of meat sources available now – all of which would have been much more palatable when prepared over an open fire. It turned out that the plentiful surplus of corn cobs, once dried, would solve the fuel question. They burned voraciously in 128 B’s high oxygen, but a little experience with moderating this gradually perfected my cooking skills

Partly driven by my own appetite’s call for something beyond MARUNA’s food rations and partly driven by a strong desire to finally feed the dogs something beyond their own food rations, I slaughtered a lamb. 128 B’s growing herd of cattle, horses, goats and pigs was a collection of domesticated giants, and the lamb looked to be the only choice small enough for my admittedly amateurish field dressing skills. Even this lamb, much like all the other animals on 128 B, stood shoulder high to me.

I was quickly becoming an equestrian enthusiast. There was no more sensible means to get around the ever expanding “farm.” The task of gathering fresh vegetables which might have matured somewhere in the chaos was much easier from horse back. However, the horses which were now thriving on 128 B showed the clear result of the planet’s conditions.

They were huge. The full grown horses were basically too large to mount without the aid of a ladder, and once mounted, too wide to actually straddle. I found that a young colt was small enough to be quite serviceable.

The cattle all showed the same planetary influence, too. My initial ambitions to slaughter one to feed myself and the dogs with the remainder being frozen in the cryogenic chamber seemed like a good idea until the reality of the challenge of logistics forced me to consider smaller animals. The lambs were delicious, but the goats remained very gamey regardless of how carefully I prepared them.

The dogs and I had been routinely eating birds – predominantly delicious, wonderfully naive, pheasants – and rabbits which we hunted with my bow. The fire roasted lamb turned out to be a great departure. I even convinced the mission computer to store the substantial excess from the slaughter in the cryogenic section of the cargo bay.

I can include here the construction of 128 B’s first “street lamp.” MARUNA’s cargo hold had contained a very small, prefabricated water turbine generator. Happily, it was designed to function in a very slow moving steam. I had to gather what “rocks” I could find from 128 B’s original, crusty surface to build up a low catchment dam. The shallow stream was typical to those in the area, and my new dam construction only increased the water level to less than a foot.

Still, the little generator set clicked into action as soon as the water began passing through it. Lacking anything which could have served as a tower, I mounted the electric light near the ground. Its light switch had not been designed for 128 B’s subtle dimming cycles, but the faint change in the light still managed to turn it on during both these fade periods and during the heavier of the daily rain storms.

It was very comforting to sit in my habitat with the dogs during these rains and see my light on the distant side of the garden.

Another first which should be included was the great “expedition.” I had fallen asleep during one of these rains and carelessly neglected the trip to the far side of the garden to turn the tugger. It had simply continued its steady crawl far beyond the cultivated area. When I finally reached what would have been its normal limit and turning point, it was long gone. Only the line of crushed kappa marked the course it had taken as it ambled toward “sun side.” I followed the trail for a ways, but concluded that the machine had moved farther than I was prepared to follow at the moment.

I returned to my habitat and collected the dogs along with a back pack full of food. Together we marched ahead to find and retrieve the tugger. We were soon farther from MARUNA and the camp than I had ever gone before. The dogs found the seemingly endless expanse of kappa to be an invitation to immediately launch into some serious, long distance running.

We had continued through another entire “day” cycle before we reached the far edge of 128 B’s green zone. There was still no trace of the tugger. Once it had emerged from the kappa and entered the essentially featureless region beyond, it was no longer leaving its track. Assuming that its course had remained a straight line, we continued for a while, but we finally abandoned our efforts because the sun side heat was rapidly increasing in ferocity.

On a positive note, I later observed that the flora and fauna now flourishing in the garden almost immediately followed along the tugger’s single track to oblivion, creating a newly terra-formed strip running for miles to the edge of the green zone. This strip began widening as it passed through the developmental stages even more quickly than had my garden, which itself also continued to expand.

The arable portion of 128 B was now well over three or four square miles. My light, first erected at the very far edge of this arable section, was now located nearly at the middle of it. The place was teeming with animals.

Just this much of an experience with 128 B’s hot side was enough to firmly convince me that we would be staying in the temperate zone. I consoled myself with the possibility that the tugger would simply continue around the planet, perhaps someday reappearing after its long trek.

Finally, there is one more first to be mentioned. Although I had not “discussed” this with the mission computer, I knew that the cryogenic section of the cargo bay contained no fewer than two dozen human fetuses. Even though most all reference to Earth time had long ago become irrelevant, the computer reminded me of my 29th birthday.

For some reason this had led me to thoughts of another, inevitable task which was approaching. So far my “reverse Noah’s arc” had been continuously introducing all varieties of Earth life. At some point the mission schedule was going to begin introducing little humans to the collection, and this meant that my own role would change from farmer and zoo keeper to parent.

Unlike the goats, horses, cattle, birds, bugs, rodents and others which were now comfortably living quite independently in the ever expanding garden, little humans were going to require most of my attention for an extended period. This prospect didn’t particularly intimidate me. I was quite sure that the presence of my dogs had helped a great deal in preparing me to become more domestic.

It is fitting that I have arrived at this point as I fill the final pages of my journal. This seems to literally represent the “turning of a page” in the conduct of my mission. I was committed to continuing with my mission log, but at the moment I have not solved the obstacle of having only this single book for my note taking.

Part Two
Graduation and Inclusion
Citizenship for the 484th Marunian

The giant wagons had gathered up all eleven of us for the big day. Naturally, this group, essentially the passengers of the second wagon, included the families and other well-wishers who had joined the group for the festivities. The entourage had patiently visited each of the three villages to collect all these excited participants along with an impressive mass of food prepared for the celebration.

Although the wagons had been constructed for transporting hay, for this excursion, large rolls of fresh straw, arranged in long rows, served as seats.

We had all risen quite early this morning in order to complete our daily tasks of caring for the livestock and crops, but the tedium of all these duties had been instantly washed away by excitement by the time the wagons had appeared. The journey to the old space ship consumed most of the rest of the morning, but, finally, here it was. All the accoutrements of the initial camp left by the Father Traveler remained in a carefully maintained condition. It was as if the ship had only just now landed on Maruna.

The little ship still proudly displayed its service identification in bold, yet fading, black letters, MARUNA 131.

The Arbiter was clad quite formally in his official robe. He waited patiently for us to disembark, surrounded by three of his official aides. Everyone, including the Arbiter, was smiling broadly. Two of his assistants launched into a lilting tune played on long flutes as the third joined the effort with a large drum.

Even though there were only eleven of us and we were well known to all the planet’s inhabitants, the Arbiter had prepared a list of those scheduled to graduate. When we had all gathered for the actual ceremony, he very officially read the names. Each of the celebrants stepped forward to identify themselves. The remainder of the group maintained a respectful silence.

When the music ceased, all graduates formed a line to follow the Arbiter into the ship. Of course we had diligently rehearsed this numerous times in preparation for the event.

Once inside the ship’s cramped control cabin, the Arbiter took his place next to the main mission computer, while the remainder of us quietly formed a line corresponding to the order on his list.

As each graduate stepped forward, the Arbiter asked if the required schooling had been successfully completed and if each of us had studied the first book of the Father Traveler’s log. Of course, we each, in turn, answered yes.

At this point the Arbiter took the left hand of each candidate and placed it firmly on a small screen mounted on the main mission computer’s analysis station. As my own turn arrived in this process, the Arbiter spoke my name aloud. The mission computer repeated it back to him. My hand was placed on the screen, and a tiny drop of my blood was sampled by the needle there. The computer responded in a strangely distant tone, “Perrote. You are registered as the 484th member of this family. Welcome to full citizenship among those of Ross128 B.”

This ritual had been repeated 483 times in the past. The current living population of this world numbered more than eighty souls, and now I was officially one of them! I was a fifth generation ancestor of those first people to have ever walked on Maruna so long ago, and now my genetics and name had been officially entered into the files of the main mission computer.

As I filed out of the little ship, I took just a moment to gaze around at all the equipment. The Father Traveler had existed in this cramped little space for decades on his long journey. Now, all these years later, our planet was named after this little space ship, even though the main mission computer still referred to this world as Ross 128 B.

When we emerged from the ship, those who had joined us for this important day had laid out a magnificent feast for the celebration.

Life was good.

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