The crew would be in a type of cryogenic sleep. It was true that their nanocircuits, metallic tendons, and actuators could run on low power, but the central processing unit of each crew member; the living, pulsating, calculating brain, still needed nourishment. The brain still aged, could be damaged, or suddenly shut down. It could interfere with the mission by projecting those pesky emotions. It was fallible, but it was still the soul of being alive. Its curiosity and imagination were the essence of discovery.



By J.R. Kost



The wormholes were each the size of an atom, but Si’s neural energy would make it through fine. As long as the wormholes stayed open. That was the tricky part. If either the black hole on the “in” side or the white hole on the “out” side were to be disturbed, the wormholes could collapse. That would be the end of the mission. If there was feedback through the neural interface connected to Si’s brain, that could be the end of Si. The mission was risky, but Si was willing to risk everything to find the answer. He was going on an interstellar road trip, through a two-way wormhole super highway.




Forty revolutions earlier, Si, like so many his age,  dreamed of traveling to the stars. He wondered what existed beyond the four planets of his solar system. Beyond the gravity well of his home world's binary star system. He wondered, was there life out there? Did his ancestors come from the stars? The questions engulfed him like a planetary nebula filled with so much, but yet so poorly understood. The answers seemingly always just out of sight, out of reach.




Si graduated from the academy at only 10 revolutions old and was head of the world’s leading university exobiology department just 3 evolutions later. Not long after his appointment, the tiny radioactive source was detected. A tiny blip with just enough fissional half-life left for the deep space network to pick up. It wasn't a naturally occurring source. It was a spent energy generator of some kind. An energy source that could only have been created by some level of intelligence.







As head of the exobiology department, Si was first in line when the rendezvous mission was first announced. His brain was still young enough and sharp enough for space travel and he was an obvious choice for a mission of this nature. He was going on the mission. He was going to find answers.


The alien energy source was heading in the general direction of the home world, but would soon get an unwanted gravity assist from the fourth planet in the system. That, in turn, would swing it toward the binaries. The Elders, with their advanced processing power, had calculated the high probability of the alien source being swung off into deep space, if it didn’t burn up first.


It took several revolutions to build the fusion reactor that would take the rendezvous ship to its target. But the orbital infrastructure was already in place and mining the helium-3 from the moons was given top priority from the planet’s governance. The occupied section of the ship was tiny compared to the isolated reactor, but the crew was going to be asleep for most of the mission.


The crew would be in a type of cryogenic sleep. It was true that their nanocircuits, metallic tendons, and actuators could run on low power, but the central processing unit of each crew member; the living, pulsating, calculating brain, still needed nourishment. The brain still aged, could be damaged, or suddenly shut down. It could interfere with the mission by projecting those pesky emotions. It was fallible, but it was still the soul of being alive. Its curiosity and imagination were the essence of discovery.




It was so very small. Si could hardly believe his eyes. Through mental adjustment he zoomed his eyes in on the craft now just several meters from the hull of the ship. He was surprised they could have detected such a small thing. Whatever race created this probe certainly couldn’t be or have been very advanced. All the instruments were so rudimentary and the power source was using an obsolete form of fission.



They soon had the probe on-board and began their analysis. It consisted of sensors, communications, and the power source. A pretty simple design. Si thought it amazing that it had lasted this long in the harsh reaches of space. From the fissionable material and its half-life, the crew calculated it had been in interstellar space for hundreds of their planet’s revolutions.


Then they found it. A strange disk with recorded sounds, pictures, and something very interesting. Pulsar information. An identified set of neutron stars. All pulsating at specific frequencies. The probe's creators had included this information for a reason. One could identify the location of a solar system by using the relative positioning of the pulsars. Unfortunately, there were billions of pulsars in the galaxy. It would take Si another 25 revolutions before he would finally figure out where the pieces of the puzzle fit. Where the address was.




It was so far away. Si had determined the location of the solar system indicated by the specified pulsars, but it was out of reach of their best star cruiser. Even accelerating near the speed of light, which was doable at current technology levels, the solar system in question was too far away for a crewed mission. Of course that begged the question of how in the galaxy did that probe get so far? Another puzzle for another time, Si thought.


Then the wormholes were discovered. There wouldn’t be a crew traveling great distances to discover who sent this probe. The time needed for a crewed ship to reach the target would be too constraining. No, something better. More practical.


It was discovered that neurological energy could be sent through wormholes. Short-cuts through space. In this case, through a pair forming an energy conduit, like a two-way interstellar highway. Energy moving at the speed of light. Electromagnetic energy is emitted or reflected by almost everything from rocks to living organisms. Each with its own signature. The energy interaction information would be sent back through the return wormhole via Si’s neural response energy. With Si being physically light-years away.





The address was for a solar system some 200 light-years away. Even so, when Si first pinpointed its location he and other scientists could determine certain properties of the most suitable planet in the system. Their advanced telescopes could “see” some signatures of atmospheric gasses and surface composition. It had a mostly nitrogen atmosphere, but with some oxygen. The important thing relating to possible life was the water. There seemed to be a lot of it. A good omen.


But as the work continued on the wormhole technology and mission requirements Si began to notice change in the planet. Carbon dioxide was increasing and temperatures along with it. Nothing too serious at first, but the rate of change in the trend was alarming.


Si monitored the world in the revolutions it took to get everything ready for the mission. It was getting harder to determine what was going on through the increasingly thick clouds of carbon dioxide. Si wondered, what will this place look like when I get there? He wouldn’t be able to communicate with the outside world once traversing through the wormhole. So much time will have elapsed between the start of his trip through the wormhole and his last observations.



Hundreds of electrical conductors, only a few micron in size, crisscrossed Si’s head eventually coalescing into the pre-processor, the Hub. The Hub was essentially a connecting point for the primary cable harness, which ran on the floor to mission control. A room-sized system designed specifically for processing, amplifying, and transferring neurological energy into space and through the distant wormholes.


Si reclined in a chair hooked to life support (intravenous fluids for his brain), body maintenance cables (his battery would need to be kept charged, among other things), and the neurologic signal pre-processor. The chair would be his home for the duration of the mission. Estimated mission time? Twenty revolutions. Most of which would be spent in effective hibernation as his neurological energy traversed the galaxy.






When Si regained consciousness he was many light-years from home in what was, quite literally, an out-of-body experience. He had made it through! His neurological senses were intact. He could “see” the stars in front of him. He adjusted the energy signal direction toward the target solar system.


The yellow star burned brightly at the center of the solar system. Si traveled past the outer planets made up of gas giants and rocky fragments from failed planet formation. Then he saw what he was aiming for, but it wasn’t the life friendly world he had hoped it would be.


What Si found was worse than expected. A thick carbon dioxide atmosphere engulfed the planet with an atmospheric pressure and temperature high enough to melt lead. The water had disappeared. While some form of life could possibly still exist here, microorganisms had proved to be relatively common throughout the galaxy, microorganisms weren’t the level of intelligence Si was looking for. While disappointed, Si knew there were still things to be learned from this mission. Was there still some form of life here? Could there be any evidence remaining of past, intelligent life?


He headed through the thick atmosphere for what seemed to have once been a coastal region. There may have been an ocean here once, but no more. He scanned the surface for anything. Anything at all that might tell him of past life.


The white rock was strange. It seemed to have grooves and other characteristics that one wouldn’t expect in a natural forming environment. Si moved in closer. As he scanned the rocks and rubble he saw it. A larger slab, broken apart, but with pieces still close to one another. He saw the diffused return signal from his ocular senses. He knew something about this. He’d learned of it by studying that small disk on the small probe.  He knew what it said,








The End


Cover image modified from:

Willy Jackson, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Submitted: January 12, 2023

© Copyright 2023 J.R. Kost. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

Facebook Comments

More Science Fiction Short Stories

Other Content by J.R. Kost

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Science Fiction

Short Story / Science Fiction