So, I wrote this story as part of an assignment I used in the Geology of the Solar System class I taught Spring 2018. Hope you enjoy it.
Everything, it seemed, had gone flawlessly.
The small light sensor installed in the grand ice shield (or at least what was left of it) that was affixed to the front of the Copernicus collected just enough photons to send a message to the central computer. Time to wake up, it called. The AI, or as we called it, Rawiri, began to run through the procedure to bring the Copernicus out of its long hibernation. Banks of sub-computers sprang to life, sensors turned on and began self-diagnostics, the ion engines began to turn, slowly at first but accelerating with every minute.
The first question Rawiri asked was “how long has the ship been travelling?” Far in the rear of the ship, near the nuclear reactors that provide all the power to the vessel was an atomic clock that would keep precise timing for millennia, because, well, you never know. The Copernicus passed the Tezcatlipoca Station on the outskirts of the solar system on March 11, 2453. A quick calculation showed that, at least based on old Earth time, it was the morning of January 22, 2935.
After about an hour of testing and calibrating, Rawiri decided things were ready. So, after almost 500 years, I opened my eyes. Of course, I had to pause for a moment after I realized that no, these weren’t my eyes, not the same ones that I looked through when I travelled by Santiago for the last time. For one thing, these eyes didn’t blink. Yet, I could perceive all the same things I remembered from touring the Copernicus before launch.
No one really knew how long our mission was going to last, even if we were travelling at nearly 50% the speed of light. As much as our best scientists tried, perfecting long-term cryostorage of humans tended to end, well, in a sloppy mess. Instead, it was the computer scientists who figured out a way to store the contents of an entire mind in vast data banks. So, the decision was made to send not the bodies of explorers, but their minds, locked in the Copernicus’ crystal drives, to be downloaded into new, machine bodies when we arrived … wherever we were. I was Dr. Diego Montañez when I left Earth, age 63 (I had been terminally ill, so an ideal candidate for the download). Now, I think I’m still Diego, at least in mind, but now in a new body … well, 500-year-old body that’s new to me.
The choice was made to keep our minds locked in the crystal drives in stasis for the duration of the journey because no one, not even our best cyberpsychologists, could predict exactly how a human mind would handle hundreds of years of waiting as data. There was much debate about whether our minds would be able to handle the transfer into our new bodies or just fundamentally reject the notion that we were, for all intends and purposes, reborn as a new lifeform. However, at least for me, things didn’t seem that different.
I stepped out of the storage slot that my body was positioned and took a few steps. Yup, just like my old body … well, before it started to break down. These new bodies were designed as bipedal and symmetric, just like human bodies, partially to help with adjusting to our surrounding and partially as a tribute to their makers, if and when we contact whatever is out there. We all were allowed to choose the colors of our chassis so we could tell one another apart (I choose red, blue and white for the old Chilean Republic) but beyond that, the RT765 bodies we know inhabited were all identical.
“Diego”. Something echoed in my mind. “Diego, behind you”. I turned my head and there was Toshiko, body festooned in brilliant yellow. OK, that was going to take some getting used to. Rather than have vocal communications, we were all connected across the ship’s comm to talk, for lack of a better word, telepathically. We couldn’t read each other’s minds, not with the personal firewalls, but we could talk to each other even if we weren’t in the same room, heck, same planet.
“I’ve been asking Rawiri where we are. From the best calculations, we’re approaching HD 101364. I think that’s 208 light years from Earth. We’ll be slowing down and entering the system in about 2 days.”
“Yup, HD 101364 is about a billion years younger than our Sun, but I didn’t think it had any planets?” We both looked around to see where that voice was coming from, forgetting our newfound skills. “Sorry, it’s me, Freema. I’m still in astronavigation.”
“Why’d Rawiri steer us this way you suppose?”
“Beats me” Freema replied, “maybe we just ought to ask them.”
Although Rawiri was an AI rather than a human mind, they were actually about as close to human as you could be without being born of a human parent. Their job was to keep an eye on systems and stars that the Copernicus would pass and if anything promising appeared, then head that way, waking up the ship fully when it was close to the star.
Before any of us to could ask Rawiri, an alarmed Freema called us all down to astronavigation, “You all might want to see this.”
Although, with our new synthetic bodies, we could have all just viewed whatever was being shown in astronavigation, human instinct lead to us run down the hall to the dark bridge of the ship. What greeted us was unlike anything we could have expected.
“Wait, HD 101364 isn’t a double star, is it? Is Rawiri mistaken about where we are?”
Two suns blazed in front of the Copernicus, or any least what looked like two suns. From this distance, still at least 47 hours out, they were both brilliant yellow discs that happened roughly the same size.
“Yeah, that’s 101364. I’ve checked and doublechecked and then checked again because I couldn’t believe it.” Said Freema, continuing to read the complex datastream.
“Could Earth have missed that 101364 was double star?” asked Toshiko, “I mean, it is quite distant and the stars seem awfully…”
Before she could finish, we all fell silent. The star on the left started to, well, it looked like it was starting to fall apart. A cascade of brilliant shards fell away from the bottom of the star and then disappeared. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask the question that was on all of our minds.
“Rawiri, why did you wake us? What did you find at HD 101364?”
“Diego,” the AI replied, “I found nothing.”
“Then why are we headed to the star?” followed Freema, clearly frustrated.
“Freema, I found nothing at HD 101364,” said Rawiri, “However,” the AI paused, “I was invited to visit the system.”
Freema was already scanning through the logs and sure enough, six days ago the Copernicus received a message from the star in front of us that merely said “come.”
We all fell silent once again, finally realizing what had happened and what we saw as the star had released those splinters. 500 years ago, we set out to find if there was life in the rest of our galaxy and HD 101364 just sent out its greeting party.