Curiosity the Space Rover

Curiosity, the Mars rover, had been transmitting images and data steadily now for several months. The analysts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena had started to dive in to the treasure trove, excited by all the new things they were learning from it.

To some (not the scientists), it had been somewhat disappointing that at first when the rover had started to transmit imagery from its landing zone in the Gale Crater, Mission Control had received the very same bleak images of a red desert world the humankind had become familiar with ever since the Viking missions.

Where the Viking landers had been stationary, the mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity – that had come before had been able to move around. The most optimistic commentators had even argued that if you shot a probe to Earth and landed it smack in the middle of Sahara or the Gobi desert, you’d see almost exactly what the Vikings had seen. To shoot a roving probe to the Red Planet might finally help us to have a good look around. Maybe there was something more where the desert ended?

Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity had uncovered just more of the red. Curiosity, however, was a great deal more powerful than its predecessors. So far, though, no little green men, no Marsoom Warrior Princesses, not even any sight of microbial life. But the mission had only just started.

A few months into the mission, it was clear that there were no quick winnings in sight. Curiosity had been roving around but most of the imagery and data just kept on adding to the bleak image of the red desert.

Of course, there were some at least anecdotally interesting pieces the rover had found, especially for what Jeff called “the UFO loons.” Such as the Pyramid. Jeff’s team was pretty sure it was just a natural rock formation. They knew nature could erode rocks into the most extraordinary shapes, such as the hexagonal rocks at the Giant’s Footsteps in Ireland. So one pyramid-shaped rock wasn’t that big of a deal.

But of course as the image had been published – something some NASA comms managers deeply regretted afterwards – the UFO loons had gone all kinds of crazy in rejoicing that the ancient aliens the Egyptians and the Aztecs had worshipped had made it to Mars first. (Or maybe it was the lizard people or the little gray men.) No amount of common sense, such as the fact that the damn thing was only about a foot tall, would of course throw the dedicated crazies off their crusade.

But internally too, there was some debate as to the nature of the Pyramid. After all, it was a little too perfectly shaped to be accidental, even if accident and natural erosion could essentially explain it adequately. To put a stop to the speculations for once and for all, Mission Control decided finally to send the rover back to it to investigate.

What better way is there to resolve a mystery than to throw some good science at it?

Sie the Mystery Girl

“Hey Brenton,” Sie shouted as she walked into the hangar. Brenton was standing on a scaffolding and using a complex looking tool to fix something inside a small compartment he’d opened on the outer hull of his skeetship. The ship was a dirty, brownish gold disc that could fit maybe four, five people. In front, it had a shielded screen through which Sie could barely make out a very small cockpit for two pilots.
Brenton turned around, his face and hands sooty from all the tinkering, his black and greasy hair grown a little too long.
“Sie. Long time no see.”
“Long time indeed. What you up to, old dog?”
“Fixing the boat. I got into a nasty fieldstorm flying in. It fried a lot of comms circuits. Mostly fixed now, but I still get some damn static on long distance comms. I think this relay here is the one that’s bust.”
“That boat still fly?”
“What do you think? This beauty will stay in the air or the space or the phase space for at least another two thousand years.”
Sie whistled.
“Two thousand? Well it’s been around.”
“Yeah. Done my fair share of subluminal legs with it too back in the day. You know how it is with phase jumping without starjocks.”
“Yep. But your math’s still good?”
“As good as the next guy’s. You want to go somewhere long-distance, I can crack the figures a-ok. May just take a while. Sometimes a longer while.”
“Good. Good. Look, Brenton, it ain’t a courtesy call.”
“Didn’t think so. When would my sorry old ass be interesting enough for the wonderful Sie to just come say hi to?”
“Seriously. I need a favor.”
“Ok. Not big on favors, but shoot.”
“I need to get to Pan Caravel.”
“Pan Cara-what?” Brenton said and broke down laughing. “Pan Caravel? You lost your marbles?”
“No. I need to get there.”
“Pan Caravel? A junction city? You want some fairy dust and a pair of fire breathing dragons with that while you’re at it?”
“Brenton, I’m serious. I need to get to Pan Caravel. Discreetly.”
“Come on, Sie. It’s fiction. Pan Caravel is a fairy tale some dewy eyed optimists tell their kids to put them to sleep when the neighbours dog’s gone through a nanite meltdown. Through all the millennia of navigating the phase space, nobody’s come out anywhere else but this side of things. Everybody phases back. You know it.”
“It’s not fiction,” Sie said. “I know where it is.”
“Really? Oh really?” Brenton said and walked down the ladder from the scaffolding. “Look, Sie, if it was anybody else but you, I’d just laugh it off. But seriously, you think you know where Pan Caravel is? You think it’s real?”
“I think so, yeah,” Sie said.
“Well wouldn’t that be something,” Brenton said then. “Ok. Show me.”
Brenton accessed his ship on his AR layer and a small doorway opened on the side, extending a brownish gold ladder that whirred until it touched the floor. “Come on,” Brenton said, wiping hid hands on a grey towel. He climbed the ladder into the skeetship. Sie followed.

Pan Caravel the No-Place

Pan Caravel was located in the outermost corner of the Laniakea cluster, on an intergalactic backwater piece of rock. If a starjock happened to chance by the exact coordinates, she would simply see a bunch of rocks. But if you knew where to look, Pan Caravel was one of the most powerful places in the universe, smack in the middle of cosmic faultlines that could allegedly lead to an adjacent bubble universe.

For most people of Intergalactica, the asteroid city was a legend. And why wouldn’t it be? While phase jumping was pretty much everyday in Intergalactica, junctions – connections between bubble universes in the cosmic multiversal froth – were thought of as purely fictitious. Everybody phases back. All higher dimensions connected eventually back to the three macroscopic dimensions of the known universe.

Brenton landed the skeetship. He stayed behind while Sie got out to get the lay of the land. She’d sent the message to the people The Librarian had introduced to her to meet her. They’d just told her to find the local bar. Given how small the little habitat was, she suspected that wouldn’t be much of a problem. The whole thing could have only a handful of inhabitants, a few thousand at most.

Sie stopped a heavily augmented person to ask the way. He or she, as it was hard to tell which, raised their drawn bioluminsescent pink eyebrows and pointed the way. Sie nodded a curt thanks and followed the directions. She came by a dirty saloon not unlike those on the lower levels of the Souk she’d seen pirates and smugglers frequent when they were off duty. She’d been to the Souk only once, but somehow this place reminded her of it. It smelled the same.

Lyra the Cosmic Space Pirate Queen

The silver pirate flagship rushed through space to intercept the hapless prey that had sailed through the stars for ten thousand years. A cloud of ice blew away, like ocean foam, in front of the massive pirate spaceship as it cut through spacetime.

The pirate flagship’s silver hull rippled and foamed and coursed like a living thing or perhaps like a living ocean made of quicksilver, constantly adjusting to the variables in local spacetime geometry, blocking off debris and other collision threats, quickly heating back to the ambient outer space temperature of 2.7K after being cooled down to almost absolute zero to perform the phase space jumps that had got it here.

The prey was an ancient ramjet launched from a Lost World ten thousand years ago. It was massive, spanning two miles from bow to aft. Yet the pirate flagship Night Wing dwarfed it, making the ramjet look tiny compared to the flagship’s majestic thirty miles of quicksilver hull.

On the command deck of Night Wing stood its captain, the commander in chief of a vast pirate crew, one of the most feared pirates in the galaxies, the terror of known space and beyond. The pirate captain stood on the bridge, legs wide, arms folded, watching at the massive display screen as the little ship, marked by a red dotted circle on her Augmented Reality layer, grew larger on the display as the flagship approached it.

She wore a crimson knee length flowing jacket that moved in the still air of the command deck like it was blowing in the wind. Attached to her shoulders was a long, smooth, gold-embroidered red cape that also flowed, probably powered by some microscopic robots, if not even nanites. Her large eyes glittered in otherworldly hues of gold and the deepest of blue due to the visual augmentations she had had installed over the millennia.

In her eyes there was a twinkle of pure joy. The joy of expectation, of the hunt. A wide grin grew on her face as the pirates approached their hapless prey, now almost within boarding distance.

By now the target ship was aware of the presence of the hulking pirate vessel, the ancient ramjet’s crew engaged in speculation of whether the newcomer was friend or foe. In forty five minutes all speculation would have come to a conclusion. In three hours, the last remnants of an entire civilization that had lasted for more than ten thousand years would be eradicated.

For now, however, the pirates had work to do.

“Good job, boys,” Lyra, the Cosmic Space Pirate Queen, said to her crew, smiling widely. “Let’s go get ’em.”