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Before the beginning of the age of machines there was always human exploration. The farther man ventured from his home planet the dearer it became.


Submitted:Nov 27, 2012    Reads: 28    Comments: 3    Likes: 1   


Kepler 22 is a red dwarf star. It is the larger of two red dwarves in an ancient binary star system in the constellation Canis. You can not see it with the naked eye not even on a clear night. Not even with a decent hobby telescope. It is a very modest and common star yet for all its humbleness intriguingly close at hand: 4.5 light years. The system has 4 planets - 3 medium-sized rocky ones and a gas giant about the size of Uranus. One of the rocky planets orbits so close to its host star that metallic lead would run like water on the surface of the land. The second orbits so far away from its mother star that it is locked in eternal dark and cold. Only the third rocky planet, Kepler 22c, lies within the narrow, habitable zone of its puny host. The habitable zone encompasses a range of orbital distances that produce temperatures based on host radiation output - among other factors - that might permit carbon and water-based life as we know it to exist. Getting very fundamental, the habitable zone is any place that permits water in the liquid state to exist. 22c has liquid water. Not an abundance of it but enough of it for life. Early on, Kepler 22c was identified as a candidate for human exploration since it's size and atmosphere seemed life-compatible and it was relatively speaking, very close to earth.

By the beginning of the 23rd century humans had invented ways to cope with the enormous travel distances of interstellar space, using propulsion and sustainability technology that permitted travel out to 4 or 5 light years and return inside two human generations; children chosen to start a voyage might return as very old men. But before all that, intelligent and autonomous robots were sent to the system in a century-long sort of slow motion exploration in the hope and suspicion that off-earth life could be confirmed. It was. Humanity was overtaken with a great wave of exploratory fervor that eventually and substantially changed the priorities of life and cultures on earth. Humans were compelled to make efforts and find ways go see for themselves. Many people felt it was man's destiny to inhabit the stars. And so men went. They looked and they discovered first hand, extraterrestrial life. Yes, carbon-based life had evolved on Kepler 22c and astronomically speaking it was practically in the back yard. By happy circumstance, one species they found was sentient. It took a second, larger mission to establish a colony and investigate. Sadly, four short years after that colony was established it was lost completely.

In four years the second voyage had made great breakthroughs understanding this Kepler system's indigenous, intelligent alien life form. Historic inroads were achieved investigating its culture, customs and especially its communication methodologies by humans gone from their own cultures 35 years and more. Some of these long-gone scientists won Nobel prizes in absentia. Yet so very much remained to be learned. For instance, much of the alien physiognomy remained mysterious. The outlanders were very reticent - almost allergic - to being poked and handled and examined by humans. They made it clear; no hands on the goods thank you very much. The Keplers as they came to be called never really seemed to take the earthlings too seriously. By contrast, if they had come to earth humans would be jumping off buildings. As a result of this carefree attitude there was no conflict and scant disagreement between species - even a modicum of cooperation excepting the aforementioned shyness. In fact, they never seemed to take anything at all very seriously. For them life was meant for pleasure and for enjoyment and for play. They played with friends old and new and with family members especially. Yet trust in any human sense was an alien concept to them - even though clannish in their own peculiar ways. Their affiliations seemed to be defined by birth relationships despite the budding process their mothers underwent to create another separate individual could hardly be called child birth and childhood seemed scarcely nurturing. In some ways the Keplers seemed similar to plants. They looked like plants - large tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds with animated twigs for hands and feet and a mouth and breathing ports and eyes on the branches. They were at once engaging and cryptic. You could say weird. Your immediate impression was that humans lacked accurate ways to compare them, rate them or understand them in the great panoply that was life as we knew it.

The second manned misson was lost when 22c's surface winds increased slowly and steadily over several months and finally exceeded the colony's ability to reinforce its structures to resist. This even though they were forewarned and prepared for strong winds based on abundant previous exploratory data. A stunned and greatly sobered humankind listened in excrutiating horror to radio transmissions decades old that detailed a desperately resourceful and heroic human outpost lose its struggle to survive against irresistible winds. The third voyage arrived 85 years after the second's last transmissions were received. This is the story of that third mission - way better prepared -that departed this world at the very end of the 26th century AD.

II

Draco stood and studied the cement and titanium remnants of the old blockhouse. Not much was left. Just stubs of sand-blasted footings polished smooth by an overabundance of wind-born sand. It was all they could find - all that remained - of Beta Colony. Beams of strong metal were rent flat to the ground as if bulldozed by a giant earth mover. Only traces remained of a once vibrant outpost and it was hard to comprehend a wind with such power. Nearly 300 knots of wind. He thought of the enormous forces involved.

"My God" he said to himself as his reverie was interrupted.

"The dozers are moving dirt and the limpet has fired up and is moving about, sir."

"Sounds good. How much longer till we can plant the ship?"

The mission equipment included gigantic earth machines for excavation. They were designed to bury the spaceship like a giant coffin and build berms to avoid dangers from the wind. Also included was a truly hulking custom built crawler called a limpet designed to pull, tow and act as an anchor for hoisting. Flat and low like a sand dollar it doubled as an emergency lifeboat. Just in case.

"Umm... I'd say we can have her buried in 4...5 days."

"That works for me. Is the interface completed yet?"

The interface was a system of vertically installed reinforced duralloy beams stuck into the soil that went from far apart to close together slowing the winds by baffle interference and by degree no matter what the wind direction.This allowed tethered humans to venture into the interface and into the constant howling hurricane as far as humanly possible while the Keplers came in from the blow as far as they could stand without suffocating from lack of air flow to their gill ports. In this way the two species could work together using and improving the language interpreter/communicator device making sense one of the other by translating into native tongues and signs.

"Almost. The last holes are being drilled and the last baffles set."

"Allright. See if you can round up the large blondish Kepler burgermeister for a little formal hello and welcome. We come bearing gifts."

The natives were suckers for water and would make considerable efforts to please in exchange for same. They knew when humans came the water flowed and water was good. Water was needed and humans could make pure water out of thin air. For the humans a little water was a uniquely cheap way to lubricate the cooperation between species.

The wind did not start to rise until quite some months after they had buried the spaceship and created the portals to and from it. Not until after the labs and crew quarters had been built and many days after the water and oxygen generation plants had been set up and were running.

III

2) 150-200 knots

"Sir we have halved the timing for filter replacement on the vehicles and the occupied areas. Things were getting clogged."

"OK. No humans permitted outside alone."

3) 200-250 knots

"Sir we have turned on the electro-statics to prevent scour and erosion to the windows."

"OK. No humans permitted outdoors outside of a vehicle. It's time to weld the reinforcers on the lab walls. Do the generation plants too. Park the limpet by the center ship portal and you may as well attach the connector, cover it and deploy the anti-lift skirts. Then reinforce the sand berms with the duralloy implants around the ship portals. The last thing we need is to dig out the portals every day.

4) 300-350 knots

"Sir we are sustaining some frosting and pitting of the synthetic ruby windows so we wired the electro-statics for higher loads. Also the unprotected equipment is begining to slide so we have anchored them with cables. Sir. Sir the dozers are.....sliding."

"Shutter the windows with field-protected synthetic diamond shutters. Reroute more power to the statics. Can we save the equipment sheds?"

5) 350-400 knots

Sir, we will lose the earth movers if this keeps up. The blowing sand has cut clear through the anchor cables and it's blowing too hard to work a fix. The limpet is good to go."

" My God. What do you make of the Keplers? They love this stuff. They are playing all kinds of games and having a jolly old time in the middle of what amounts to jet engine exhaust."

"Yes. Amazing. I do not know what to say. They can roll and grip and hunker down flat like a sheet of paper. It's like nothing I have ever seen. It's been a while since we talked to them. Shall we signal for a meeting? We need to know what they know about this blow."

"Yes."

6) 400-450 knots

"Sir the sand has about eaten thru the shutters and the electro-static protection is beginning to be overwhelmed. The engineers in the lab are saying the wind will chew through the windows in a week at this rate. If we lose a window......." His voice trailed off then restarted. "One of the dozers flipped over... then blew clear out of sight. 60 tons of dozer", he said answering the mass question even as it formed in Draco's head. "People are getting.... nervous. We are running the counter air boundary at an unsustainable pressure level. We will burn up the motors and lose something if the air goes down while replacing them. We need a break or it is only a matter of time."

"I know.... I know it. Have the limpet people ops check all functions and deploy both drag anchors. Provision the damned thing to the ceiling. Fill it up. Have our limpet man test the archimedes anchor screw for grip in its present substrate. If it is not a good grip we need to move limpet while we still can so do that first I guess. I am meeting with the local Kepler honcho today - now - whenever he shows up. I hope to find out a few things."

7) Draco was out in the wind as far as he could tolerate while still maintaining a hand steady enough to operate the translator. Yet in this screaming blow he could barely make it out the door. He could see the discomfort in Leader from its slow and wide eye shutterings and frequency and depth of its gill cycles. The poor creature was laboring and shaking like a leaf. The Kepler had come in out of the banshee tempest into the baffles as far as it could tolerate. Actually it came in further than that and it was plain it was suffocating if only slowly.

"I come Water Flesh. We talk."

"Hello Leader. Do you like the stronger wind?"

"It is the season and the way."

"How much stronger will the wind get from now?"

"It is the season of games and preparation."

"I need to know how much stronger the wind will get."

"Will you leave 22c before The People go to the mountains?"

"What?"

"The People are leaving for the caves, Water Flesh. Tomorrow we begin."

"Why Leader?"

With increasing signs of distress, the Leader made the sign for this talk is over and held out an appendage for his expected water reward and said, "the big wind is coming."





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