This story has come in record time of a fifteen days. Also, I have written this story in a single part to avoid keeping readers in suspense at the cliffhangers over months :). Please do let me know if I have done justice to the story. As always do send me comments and suggestions - these have hugely helped me to improve.
You can also download pdf version of this story from http://tinyurl.com/3fw84fq
Lastly, an important announcement - Recently i realized that i need a bigger canvas for the sci-fi ideas i have. And perhaps blog is not the right place for the such. Hence, I will be diverting my focus of this blog from sci-fi stories to articles/stories/commentaries on socio-economic issues.
Also, I'll also be devoting some time to my first love (Chronologically. Just to clarify to Ranu) - astronomy :) . You'll hear about my new ventures also in this blog.
Looking forward for your support in future as well
Mirror, Mirror. Mirror on the wall.
“And that was our mistake I say” said the general Karl thumping the auto-tray with his heavy fists. He was wearing a gold medallion on his wrist awarded to him during the first inter-planetary wars. It was given to the most valor – and he was the only one to not to receive it posthumously.
The young senator stared at the medal as it made a clinking sound on the metallic auto-tray. He was one of those recent University grads who were called for mandatory planetary civil service after the war. Of course, he was amongst the brightest of humanity’s 5 trillion population to hold an OEC seat at such a young age - in fact, youngest after the legendary Prof Lowell.
“That’s something only time will tell my dear general” – he replied
“And time will remember it as humanity’s biggest mistake. I tell ya’. I have seen many wars kid..and even a minion space ranger will tell you that we would have easily won” – said General Karl with passion of a young soldier. His weathered face showed only a few signs other than aggression and this time a young OEC politician Shultz was at the receiving end of it.
“And what you would have done General “Crush”? I believe that’s the name they gave you during the first planetary wars. Isnt it? ‘
‘I would have beamed them and their planet till the last survivor’ – replied general raising his voice
‘Reptilians are not humans general. Literally. And they don’t understand the philosophy of “Everything is fair in love and War” either. They might be the most technology advanced species but their morals and ethics can put even ancient human civilizations to shame. Moreover, its very clear that we did not fight it fair.’
‘Since when you say Guerilla tactics aren’t fair? All planets used it during the interplanetary wars and it came to be expected even’
‘Well to begin with, we were the ones who attacked them. Of course, at that time it was our apprehension of their intentions and even OEC supported it. But then they are a peaceful species. They were not losing because they lacked anything technologically. In fact, their exploration vehicles like this one are at least thousand years ahead of us. They were losing because war to them is more like a religious ritual with its own sets of principles. We looked like savages against them. Inter-planetary wars were fought between humans settled on different colonies. But this….this was not the same’ – defended Shultz trying to finish off the argument.
He knew he won’t be able to convince a war-monger like the general but he still reasoned with him. Partly, to convince himself that a truce was the best way for mutual harmony between the two dominant species in the Universe.
‘And anyway, we got the better end of the deal with access to their technology like this.’ – said Shultz waving his hand at the ship which was now cruising at 3 light year distance from the solar system within a few hours of its launch from Lunar base.
‘I will agree to that General’ – said Carine who was overhearing the conversation while completing her daily scientific log. She then closed her visipad and swirled in her rotating chair to face both of them.
‘A ship like this which can withstand immense gravity and radiation from a black hole wasn’t even conceptualized despite all the technological progress we have made. And even before reaching Cygnus, me and Prof Waleton have already gathered two lifetimes worth of data. We can just imagine what wonders lie there once we get a visual contact with Cygnus.’
General Crush was not impressed. The truce with reptilians did not go well with him. When the diplomats were discussing the peace, he was at the frontlines about to blast through the last defenses of the reptilians. He knew how weak their weapons were and strategy non-existent. According to him – a peace treaty was no different than a defeat; Even if they were able to get a few privileges like anti-gravity hyper jump ships in exchange.
‘I bet you’d even sell your pride for these stupid machines. I tell ya’. He said while casually lighting his cigar now
‘…and speaking of Prof Waleton – where is he? I did not see him since we passed that asteroid belt in the morning.’- asked Shultz
‘ ..bet he is in his study still buried under his artifacts. Seriously, I never saw anyone using those before. Bringing in a history scientist is a waste of precious seat on this expedition is you ask me’ – said Karl while puffing the smoke of cigar into the air
‘Firstly, from where I stand- I can say the same about bringing in a military General on a scientific expedition. And secondly, those are artifacts are called books and it was a prime medium for transfer of knowledge in the dark ages.’ – said Carina irritated by General’s comments and smoke alike
As General was about to reply, announcement system came to life and mechanical voice of Ship’s computer echoed through the ship as announcement was made –
‘Degree three attention everyone. I repeat degree three attention. Hyperjump to the Cygnus sector. Jump in 120 seconds and counting…120…119…118..Please proceed to the control area and gear suit-spaces..108…107’
Everyone scrambled to their specialized suit-space as the countdown started. These were specifically designed for hyper-jumps – another gift from the reptilians.
‘Prof Waleton I hope you know how to gear yourself up’ General mocked the Professor who entered the control area at the last moment.
Shultz and Carine gave General a dire look as the hapless scientist struggled with his suit.
Before General could reply, a flash of light blinded all of them as the countdown reached zero. They got pressed against their suits as the ship reached super-optic velocities. Few minutes later, as the acceleration reduced, a familiar mechanical voice brought them back to their senses –
“Jump successfully completed. Distance to Cygnus – 1 light year. Distance from Earth – 6000 light years.”
“Whoa…that was quick. Only if we had a dozen of these ships during inter-planetary wars..” – said General unlocking himself from his suit-space.
‘Enough of the war general’ – said a visibly irritated Carine who was now helping Prof Waleton from suit-space
Waleton was a scientific history specialist and a Professor at Titan University . He was only few left in his specialization. As the pace of scientific growth increased rapidly more and more researched wanted to explore new territories and few focused on now ancient (and mostly irrelevant) scientific work. And even fewer cared about documenting and studying it. This practice itself evolved into a separate field called ‘scientific history’. It was deemed to be a dead end for aspiring scientists and very few ventured into studying of the science of dark ages of humanity.
He stumbled to get to his feet after Carine helped him with his suit. Clearly, Waleton was not ‘field-type scientist’ and mostly spent his time with his artifacts. Shultz gave a sympathetic look to the elderly scientist who was disoriented after the hyper jump.
‘Not a frequent space traveler Prof.? Just try not to move too much for a few minutes.’ – he said
‘I am alright Senator Shultz. Carine’s kindness is too generous for this old man. ‘ said Waleton as Carine rushed to help him to his feet
‘And anyway, now that we are merely 1 light year from Cygnus, I simply can’t wait to go to the deck’
‘Mother of all sights eh? Well...that’s what our news people were calling it. Well then, lets move to the decks’ – replied Karl
The group made their way through the alleys of the spaceship towards the viewing deck. It was a large domed chamber meant to give space travelers a view of surrounding space. Made up of transparent quartz glass, the deck could rotate on the hull of the ship to give nearly 3600 panoramic view. It also helped in alleviating the claustrophobic feeling that was common for travelers spending months in travel.
Soon, the group was standing in front of the main panel. Senator Shultz watched discontentedly as General Karl lit another Cigar and puffed the irritating smoke. Carine and Prof Waleton stood next to each other waiting for panels to open.
‘Computer, reorient the dock towards Cygnus and open the panels’ – ordered Carine
‘Request confirmed’ – replied the grating mechanical voice
Few seconds later, the panels opened to the greatest marvel the human eye had ever seen. A huge accretion disk of glowing matter rotated around a small black dot at the centre. Near the centre itself, the gravity distorted the nearby space. As the material from accretion disk fell into the black hole, attaining enormous velocities, burst of gamma rays several light year across, were ejected into the deep space. Though, most of them had read in the mission briefings on what to expect, the grandeur of biggest forces of nature humbled each of them. Even the general stood silently trying to grasp the enormity of the nature’s wonder.
‘This is Nature’s most powerful creation. That accretion disk would be touching Jupiter’s surface if this was be our solar system. You know Carine, each teaspoon of blackhole’s material is heavier than our whole planet. In fact, technically its density is infinite.’ – said Prof Waleton
‘Its pitch black at the centre. Isn’t it?’ – exclaimed Shultz
‘Because Senator, that thing at the centre has so immense gravity, that even light is unable to come out of it. Its not simply black in color but it is absolute nothingness. The ultimate singularity. In fact laws of physics do not hold inside that thing. ’ – replied Carine
‘And imagine General, humans would have taken another thousand years to build a ship that could sustain anywhere near that thing. Reptilians may not be advance in warfare but they put their resources on things that really matter – like this ship’ said Carine
‘Yeah whatever’ – General said while sitting on a corner chair at the dock and went back to puffing his Cigar
‘Don’t worry about him Carine. He simply can’t accept the fact that power of nature is something to be feared of. Its beyond him anyway. Moreover, I don’t think he will be able to ever accept the supremacy of Reptilians’ technology. You please focus on your readings’ – advised Waleton
‘You are right Professor, let me get started by environment scan. And by the way, don’t you have to take readings too?’- said Carine while taking out her visipad from her bag
‘I should learn to use one of those things sometime. But I guess I am too old for that now. Anyway, Historic Science studies do not involve taking readings from those modern instruments. So I’ll just make some basic observations and try to map those to ancient books and their civilizations.’ – replied Waleton
‘Thank You Professor. I’ll start on my readings right away then’- said now smiling Carine - ‘Computer, start a space scan on primary wavelengths. Direct all the other instruments at the core of Cygnus…’
As Carine and Waleton got busy with their readings, Shultz walked towards the general and took a chair next to him. As both men watched the majestic sight of the black-hole, senator Shultz reached for his visipad in his bag.
‘And what do you intend to do with it?’- asked general who gave a glance to the visipad and went back to smoking
‘We have our own assignments on this mission general. I may not be a scientist but I too have to do my analyses of the situation. Information is as important to politics as tractor beam to warfare. And you too should prepare a report – you’ll be a space hero for the news channels once we get back. First humans to see black-hole this up close’
Karl ignored him but continued to stare at the gamma ray bursts from the blackhole. Shultz went back to his visipad and started making some notes.
Suddenly Carine’s scream echoed through the deck and brought everyone’s attention.As the Karl and Shultz rushed towards her, she was looking at her visipad and screaming at the ship’s computer. Prof Waleton stood calmly beside her looking at her visipad.
“That is simply impossible Computer. There must be an error in your instruments” – said Carine at the top of the voice
‘I considered that Professor. And all our systems are working fine. All observations are verified.” – said an unperturbed voice
‘What happened young Lady?’ – inquired Shultz
‘Computer. Repeat your scan results’ – Ordered Carine
‘Cygnus system. Distance – one light year.
System classification – Black Hole
Mass – 8000 M0
Known Planets – None
Artificial objects – One hyper-drive grade B ship
Distance – 2 AUs'
‘How the hell there is another ship in the Cygnus system? Senator, did OEC approve another expedition to Cygnus’ – asked Carine
‘No. Not at all. We don’t send back-ups to the scientific missions. Though there were many planetary associations who wanted their representatives as well on this prime mission. But obviously, we can’t let everyone on these reptilian ships’ – replied senator
‘General. You know of any approved military missions in this area.’
‘Lady. I guess you did not hear the computer thoroughly. That’s a grade B ship – similar to ours and military has not yet given access to these babies yet. I tell ya’ these are reptilians ships ready to fry us off’
Carine and Shultz chose to ignore the last sentence of the General. Prof Waleton continued to stare at some old artifact (book) which he brought from his study room.
‘Carine, is there a way we can have a look at the ship and probably try to communicate with it? If the ship is similar to ours then surely they are also aware of our presence’ – asked Shultz
‘Hmmmm….i think that’s a very good idea Senator…Computer. Please deploy ATS (arrayed telescopic system) and focus on this ship. Display the output on screen 3.’
Few minutes later a large screen on the side walls of the deck came to life. It showed a small patch of the accretion disk in the background but the object in focus was what heightened the heartbeats of everyone. It was a hyper-drive enabled ship pretty much identical as theirs – the ship was oriented towards the black-hole and was moving away from them.
‘Carine, this ship looks identical to ours isn’t it. The good thing is that it is oriented away from us. Even if it is a reptilian ship it could be on a scientific mission just like us. And nothing should be alarming about it’
‘Actually, senator there is. I am not sure why reptilians would travel half way around the galaxy, which is 40,000 light years by the way, to study Cygnus when they can study dozens in their neighborhood. I hate to admit it but I think we should consider all the options including those of the General.’
‘So much for the peaceful reptilians eh? I am telling ya’ guys what happened - when reptilians gifted us this ship they must have planted a tracker onto it. This is where they take the revenge of their defeat. Now, if you all are sufficiently convinced then I will be in-command of this ship for the rest of the mission.’
Carine and Shultz looked at each other and realized that their peculiar situation demanded General to be incharge.
‘Fine General, but as long as you don’t do anything too fancy’ – consented the senator
‘Relax Senator, this is nothing more than a drill for me. And anyway, they are still oriented away from us. We still hold the element of surprise. Computer, this is General Karl and now I am the commander of this ship ’
‘Awaiting orders commander’ – replied the computer
‘Move towards 1 AU of the reptilian ship. Keep me updated about its position and arm the ship with whatever weaponry you have on board’
Carine and Shultz stared silently at the screen as the ship moved towards the reptilian ship. Prof Waleton was still immersed in his books seemingly oblivious of the whole situation.
Minutes later as the ship moved closer the Cygnus General ordered – ‘Computer, focus on the ship and tell me its coordinates’
‘One hyper-drive grade B ship, distance – 2 AU. Commander, the enemy ship is moving away from us at the same speed’
‘So they are keeping the same distance from us. I tell ya’ – I am gonna fry them out. Computer, enable the full thrust and double our acceleration. This time they won’t escape us’
As the ship’s computer steered towards the reptilian ship with increased thrust, everyone gaped in surprise as the reptilian ship simultaneously moved away from them.
‘This is quite peculiar. Isn’t it Carine?’ – asked Shultz
‘Yes it is. It looks as if the reptilian ship knows how much and when we are going to move. They must have some other advanced tracing technologies which we are not aware of. Probably, General Karl is right in saying that they have a tracer on our ship. But still I don’t understand how their maneuvers are so instant. Anyway, I really don’t know what General is planning now.’
‘Listen everyone’ – said Karl approaching towards Carine, Shultz and Prof Waleton – ‘We don’t have any other choice but to use firepower now. I am ordering the computer to use the plasma beam. It will rupture the hull and will not give them time to respond. I tell ya’ its gonna be all over before those slimy creatures even know it…’
‘General, I understand that you have the most diplomatic privileges on the mission, but being a senator, I can still enforce you to listen to the suggestions on those on-board. And of course, your final decisions will be reviewed in the OEC where you’ll have to defend all of your action. Your this act of aggression can jeopardize our relationship with the reptilians.’
‘Look Senator, they don’t have any business to be here. . This bloody black-hole is only 600 light years… that’s my back-yard on galactic scale for godsake. I know we have not decided upon our galactic borders yet but by any measure, I consider their ship to trespassing into our flight space. And I am in my full right to defend it.’
‘I am now ordering the computer to engage unless these science geeks have anything to say’
‘That won’t be necessary General’ – said Prof Waleton unexpectedly. He raised his head from the books he was reading. He rose from his seating fumbling to stand as he carried a visibly heavy book in one hand. Carine rushed to give support to him as he faced the other two man.
‘I know what is happening there.’ – said the professor with a confidence in his voice for the first time in the mission – ‘but to understand it, you all need to know some background first…a scientific history background’ – he said
‘Even you Carine, probably don’t know this. In fact, no modern scientist can explain all of this’
‘What do you mean? Don’t try to stall or anything old man and make it quick’ – said the general impatiently
‘Well…well…let me start from the beginning then’..said Prof Waleton…
‘You all might know about the dark ages of humanity….the time when humans only inhibited only one planet. Its only about 6000 years ago when we ventured out to other space colonies and planets. Now, all the technological progress and events after that time are very much well documented as the first settlers kept their daily logs religiously. Something similar to what Carine and Shultz were doing today. So, all the 6000 years of history of all the planets and progress of civilizations is very well documented. All planets except one – the Earth. Earth is the birthplace of all humanity. Though, not many people respect this and its merely reduced it to a scientific history fact. Afterall, who wants to waste their time in digging out a history of a single planet when one can easily go for other planets..and now even the asteroids. But few do…and even fewer like me try to dig out Earth’s history before the space age era’
‘I wonder if this history lesson will help us make any decision right now’ – said the General angrily
‘My apologies General. I am just trying to give you all a fact that much of Earth’s history before that of planetary colonies is unknown. But we can get a glimpse of that in these ancient artifacts called books. Only very people including me know how to use these books to gain more understanding of our ancestral single planet civilization. Even I am not sure about the exact progress of the mankind during those days but there is one thing which is strongly differentiates that from the current age.’
‘Carine, can you please tell us the normal scientific mechanism which is followed right now’
‘Surely Professor. Currently we have observation and experimentations colonies based on seven bodies in our solar system – including planets, asteroids comets etc. The scientists continually look for new observations and phenomenon using advanced simputers and robots. When any such new phenomenon is observed, exhaustive experiments are conducted to get all the data sets possible. Then new theories are devised to explain these observations and the process goes on.’
‘Very well Carine. So basically theories are followed by observation. And this is obvious as we have very advanced laboratories which can churn out enough data to keep millions of scientists occupied for centuries.’
‘But this was not always the case. In what we called dark ages, humanity did not have advanced enough technologies. This severely limited their capability to get any kind of observation they wanted. Hence, their scientific progress took the path other way round. That is, for them observations followed the theories. They used their own powers of deduction and following a chain of logical arguments, arrived at theories first. Then they tested these theories with the observations. It was a slow process of course, but it worked. In fact, some theories were so much ahead of their time that observation could only follow centuries later….and in our case well over 9000 years.’
‘I don’t see how any of that could relate to our situation right now and I am losing my patience Prof Waleton. Please tell us what you want to say at the earliest else you can continue giving your lectures to Senator and Carine while I blast that reptilian ship‘ –said a visibly irritated General
‘I hope you listened to what I just said General. I’ll say it again – what you are looking at right now was predicted more than 9000 years ago’ – Waleton said while pointing his hand at the screen which was now focused on the reptilian ship
‘Carine, remember when we discussed how strong the gravity of the black-hole is so immense that not even light passes through it. Well, that’s the reason it looks black. But one thing which we haven’t theorized, because of lack of observation of course, is that it can also bend light. According to the book I have here, an ancient scientist predicted that at sufficiently farther away from black-hole, light can be bent so much that it can go around the black hole in a complete circle’
“My dear General” he sighed as he now looked at the General
“…on that screen…we are looking at our own ship”