I recently got to know that I was missing some key basics in my story writing which were severely limiting my stories. To apply those learnings, i chose to rewrite one of my earlier stories. Mirror, mirror remains my favorite as it has all that I really like - be it sci-fi elements, strong characters, or a nice twist ending.
I really appreciate your comments and feedback and i do take it seriously (this story is an example to that :) ). So, please keep your feedback coming either through comments or you can also mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“And that was our mistake,” said General Karl and thumped the auto-tray with his heavy fist. 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 who hadn’t received it posthumously.
“That’s something only time will tell, my dear general,” said Senator Shultz.
“And time will remember it as humanity’s biggest mistake. 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 the passion of a young soldier. His weathered face showed only a few signs other than aggression and this time the young senator 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. Isn’t it? “
“I would have beamed them and their planet till their last survivor,” replied the general raising his voice and banging the auto tray again. Senator Shultz stared at the medallion as it made a clinking sound against the metallic auto-tray. Though he was one of the recent University grads who were called for mandatory planetary civil service after the war, he was the brightest of the lot. He now held the coveted position in OEC - One Earth Council, and even negotiated the truce with the Reptilians.
But now, even with all his diplomatic skills, he was struggling to make his point to the general. He tried again - “Reptilians are not humans, General - literally. They don’t understand the philosophy of ‘everything is fair in love and war’ either. They might be the most technologically advanced species, but their morals and ethics can put even best human civilizations to shame. Moreover, it’s very clear that we did not fight fair.”
“Since when aren’t Guerilla tactics fair? All planets used them during the interplanetary wars and it came to be expected.”
“Well to begin with, we were the ones who attacked them first,” said Shultz trying to maintain his calm. “It was our apprehension of their intentions at the time and even OEC supported it. But then they are a peaceful species. They were losing the war not because they lacked anything technologically. They could have evaporated Earth in a jiffy, if they wanted. But they did not. They were only losing the war because war to them is more like a religious ritual. They fight with sacrosanct sets of principles. We looked like savages against them.”
Shultz wasn’t sure that if his arguments cut any ice with the general. In fact, he knew that chances of that happening to the war-monger were really slim. However, he still tried to reason with him. Partly to try and convince the general and partly to convince himself, that truce was the best way for mutual harmony between the two dominant species in the Universe.
“At the very least we got access to the technology like this,” said Shultz waving his hand at the space ship which was now cruising at 3 light years from the solar system.
“That is true General,” said Carine who overheard the conversation while completing her daily scientific log. She closed her visipad and swirled in her rotating chair to face both of them.
“We are perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, years behind reptilians. Just in a few hours, this ship has put us farthest humans have ever been. I don’t know if you have visited the observation deck, but I can bet you a hundred credits that you won’t be able to identify our sun from here. Not only that, this ship can withstand immense gravity and radiation from a black hole. Do you know what that means?”
“It means that they have had hundred Einsteins and Newtons worth of revolutionary cycles. Having spent only hours on just one ship of theirs, Professor Waleton and I have already gathered two lifetimes worth of data. We can just imagine what wonders lie there once we get a visual contact with Cygnus. And if all that knowledge costs some bar table stories for a few generals, then I would happily sacrifice it hundred times over.”
“Whoa, big words for a young lady. I bet you’d even sell your pride for these stupid machines,“ General Karl said while lighting his martian Cigar. “Listen to me both of you – you were playing with space toys when I was blasting the rebel ships in the first inter-planetary war. So don’t tell me what we gained through this ‘deal’ of yours with the reptilians. I was at the frontline about to blast through the last defenses of those slimy animals. You and your senator friend here don’t even know what THAT means. So enjoy your little fishing trip while you can, for another war is not far and this time, we’ll show them who rules this end of the galaxy. ”
Shultz though of replying. And then changed his mind. General went back to smoking his cigar spewing a dense smoke.
“Speaking of Professor Waleton – where is he? I have not seen him since we passed that asteroid belt this morning,” said Shultz.
“I bet he is still buried under his books,” replied Carine.
“Haven’t heard of them before.”
“Oh sorry, sometimes I just forget that I am not in Professor Waleton’s scientific history class,” said Carine with a smile. “Books are ancient artifacts and they were the prime medium of knowledge transfer in the dark ages. They have to be physically navigated to be read. I have tried it once, but darn, that was difficult. Besides, Professor Waleton is one of the last few remaining people who can understand them. That was the reason he was chosen for this expedition. Not many are interested in scientific history nowadays though. I can understand why. It is kind of weird cross between ancient history, science and fantasy. Just the other day Professor was telling me about his ongoing research. It says that human civilization was very primitive once and we evolved from apes. He was mentioning all sorts of mathematics and folk-lore, but I find it hard to believe.”
“That would be an interesting read I am sure,” said Shultz
“Yes, interesting, even if they are just conjectures and theories. But as much as I find the subject of scientific history absurd, I just admire the passion of Professor Waleton. He is kind, knowledgeable, and works really hard despite his age.”
Interrupting their conversation, the announcement system came to life. The mechanical voice of Ship’s computer echoed as an announcement was made.
“Degree three attention. 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 your space-suits..108…107.”
Everyone scrambled to their specialized space-suits as the countdown progressed. They were specifically designed for hyper-jumps – another gift from the reptilians.
“Professor Waleton, I hope you know how to gear yourself up.” The General mocked the Professor who had just entered the control area.
Shultz saw a disapproving sneer on Carine’s face at those remarks. And he was also sure that same was also noted by the general.
Just about when everyone was geared up, a flash of light blinded them as the countdown reached zero. They got pressed against their suits as the ship passed through hyperspace at blinding velocities. Had it not for the space-suits, the tremendous g-force would have flattened them by now. The flow of time slowed to imperceptible pace in that metallic cocoon as its passengers fell asleep. 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. If only we’d had a dozen of these ships during the inter-planetary wars..” said General unlocking himself from his space-suit.
“Enough of the war general,” snapped Carine while helping Professor Waleton.
Prof Waleton stumbled to his feet. He was not a ‘field-type scientist’ and mostly spent his time with his artifacts. Shultz felt pity for the elderly scientist. Nuisances of space travel were perhaps too much for the Professor. He made a mental note to help him during their return journey.
“Not a frequent space traveler, Professor? Just try not to move too much for a few minutes,”
“I am all right Senator Shultz. Carine’s kindness is too generous for this old man,” said Professor Waleton
“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 are calling it at least. Then, let’s move to the decks,” said General Karl.
The group made their way through the labyrinth of passageways of the spaceship towards the viewing deck. The viewing deck itself was a large domed chamber meant to give travelers a thorough view of surrounding space. Made up of quartz glass, the deck could rotate on the hull of the ship to give nearly 360 degree panoramic view. It also helped in alleviating the claustrophobic feeling that was common for travelers spending months in space.
Soon, the group was standing in front of the main viewing window, which looked over the infinite blackness betrayed by the distant pin-points of light. Carine watched discontentedly as General Karl lit another cigar and puffed the irritating smoke.
“Computer, reorient the dock towards Cygnus and open the panels” – ordered Carine.
“Request confirmed” – replied the mechanical voice.
A 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, bursts of energy in form of electromagnetic rays, were ejected into the deep space. Some of the jets spanned several light years. Though, most of them had read in the mission briefings on what to expect, the grandeur of biggest forces of nature humbled each one of them. Even the General stood silently trying to grasp the enormity of the nature’s wonder.
“This is the Nature’s most powerful creation. That accretion disk would be touching Jupiter’s surface if this were our solar system. Each teaspoon of black hole’s material is heavier than our whole planet. In fact, technically it’s density is infinite,” said Professor Waleton.
“ pitch black at the centre. Isn’t it?”exclaimed Shultz.
“Because Senator, that thing at the centre has such immense gravity that even light is unable to come out of it. And since light is the fastest thing in the Universe, nothing gets out of the black hole. It’s not simply a dark region in space but far more than that. It is absolute nothingness. The ultimate singularity if you may. In fact, even the laws of physics, otherwise universal, do not hold inside that thing, “replied Professor.
“And imagine General, “ Carine interjected. “Our ships can not survive for a minute in these extreme conditions. Thanks to the reptilians, we are the first humans ever to watch a black-hole directly at such close quarters. Reptilians may not be advanced in warfare but they put their resources on things that really matter.”
“Yeah, whatever,” said General said while sitting on a corner chair at the dock and pulled out another cigar.
“Don’t worry about him Carine. He simply can’t accept the fact that the power of nature is something to be feared of. It’s beyond him anyway. Moreover, I don’t think he will be able to ever accept the supremacy of Reptilians. 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,” said Waleton staring at her visipad. “But I guess I am too old for that now. Historic Science studies do not involve taking readings from those modern instruments. I’ll just make some basic observations for future reference. I hope you won’t mind sharing those readings with me later in case I need them.”
“Of course not Professor,” said Carine smilingly. “I’ll start on my readings right away then.”
“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.
“And what do you intend to do with that?”- asked general who gave a fleeting glance to the visipad.
“We all 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 beams to warfare. And you too should prepare something – you’ll be a space hero for the news channels once we get back - one of the first humans to see a black hole this up close.”
General Karl ignored his advice but continued to stare at the fireworks at black hole. Shultz went back to his visipad and started making some notes.
Suddenly Carine’s urgent outcry echoed through the deck. As Karl and Shultz rushed to her, she was looking at her visipad and shouting at the ship’s computer. Prof Waleton stood beside her, trying to cope up with some numbers on the screen.
“That is simply impossible Computer. There must be an error in your instruments,” said Carine at the top of her voice.
“I considered that. And all our systems are working fine. All observations are verified,” said an unperturbed voice.
“What happened Carine. Is there a problem?” inquired Shultz.
“I think there is. Computer, repeat your results of environmental scan,” 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 on scientific missions. There were many planetary associations who wanted their representatives on this prime mission, but obviously, we can’t let everyone on these reptilian ships,” replied senator.
“General. Do you know of any approved military missions in this area.”
“Dear, dear. I guess you did not hear the computer thoroughly. That’s a grade B ship – similar to ours and the military has not yet been given access to these babies yet. I tell ya’ these are reptilians ships ready to blast us off.”
Carine and Shultz chose to ignore the last sentence of the General. Prof Waleton was already lost in an old book he’d brought from his study room.
“Carine, is there a way we can have a visual 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, deploy the ATS (arrayed telescopic system) and focus on our companions. And I want its feed on screen 3.”
A 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 concerned everyone. A few gasps were heard around the room. It was a hyper-drive enabled ship nearly identical to theirs – the ship was oriented towards the black-hole and was moving away from them.
“So much for the peaceful reptilians eh?” quipped the General. “They are gonna fry us here in space or take us hostage.”
“Just stop it general,” replied Shultz, “even if it is a reptilian ship it could be on a scientific mission just like us. And there is no reason for any alarm.”
“Actually, senator there is,” interrupted Carine. “I am not sure why reptilians would travel half way around the galaxy, which is 40,000 light years by the way, to study a black hole when they can study dozens of them in their own neighborhood. I hate to admit it but I think we should consider all the options including those of the General.”
“I am telling ya’ guys what happened. When reptilians gifted us this ship they have planted a bloody tracker on 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 this mission.”
Carine and Shultz looked at each other and realized that their peculiar situation indeed demanded General to be in charge.
“Fine general, but only 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 your orders commander,” replied the computer.
“Move 1 AU towards 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.
General ordered – “Computer, tell me the coordinates.”
“One hyper-drive grade B ship, distance – 2 AU. Relative velocity – zero.”
“So they are keeping the same distance from us. I think they know we are here. But I am gonna fry them anyway. 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.
“What in the name of space is happening,” exclaimed Karl.
The reptilian ship has moved in sync with theirs. It was as if reptilians were taunting them to follow them towards the black hole.
“It is indeed peculiar,” whispered Carine to Shultz. “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, the general 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 General Karl approaching towards Carine, Shultz and Professor 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 some diplomatic privileges on the mission, but being a senator, I can still enforce on you to listen to the suggestions of those on-board. And of course, your decisions here will be reviewed in the OEC where you’ll have to defend your actions. Your act of aggression can jeopardize our relationship with the reptilians.”
“Look Senator, they don’t have any business being here. This bloody black hole is only 600 light years from Earth… and that’s my back-yard on a 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 within my right to defend it.”
“And now I am ordering the computer to engage unless these science geeks have anything to say.”
“Wait general. That won’t be necessary,” 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 him support.
“I think I know what is happening here,” Professor continued 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. Even you Carine, probably don’t know this. In fact, no modern scientist can explain all of it.”
“I don’t have much time old man. Don’t try to stall me and make it quick,”said the general impatiently.
“Well…well…let me start from the beginning then.”
“You all might know about the dark ages of humanity….the time when humans inhibited only one planet. It’s 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 well documented, as the first settlers kept their daily logs religiously. Something similar to what Carine and Shultz were doing today. So, 6000 years of inter-planetary history and progress of their individual 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 it’s often reduced it to a scientific history factoid. Very few people pursue these subjects nowadays. Afterall, who wants to waste their time in digging out a history of a single planet when there are hundreds out their to explore. 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 decisions right now,” said the General angrily.
“My apologies General. I am just trying say that Earth’s history before that of planetary colonies is unknown. But we can get a glimpse of those ages in these ancient artifacts called books. These books give us some understanding of our ancestral single planet civilization. Even I am not sure about the exact progress of mankind during those days but there is one thing which is strongly differentiates that from the current age.”
“Carine, can you please quickly tell us the normal procedure pertaining to scientific discoveries.”
“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. In short, we observe a natural phenomenon, gather all data and try to devise theories which can fit those data sets. 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 that 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 the other way round. Scientists used their own powers of deduction and reasoning, following a chain of logical arguments, arriving at theories first. These theories remained untested as technologies sometimes took decades to catch up.
It was a slow process of course, but it worked. However, once in a while some theories were so were so much ahead of their time that observation could only follow centuries later.” Professor sighed. “…and in this case it took a theory to be tested only 9000 years later.”
“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 moment 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.
“Remember we discussed earlier that the gravity of the black hole is so immense that not even light passes escapes from 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 distance sufficiently farther away from black hole, light can be bent so much that it can go around it in a complete circle.”
“My dear General,” he weighed his words as he now looked intently at the neighboring ship on the screen.