The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet) (10 page)

BOOK: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet)
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From the hilltop, Inge Visser and Peter Overmyer look down on a field of rockets. A circular area of the plain below them, five kilometres in diameter, is filled with boosters held upright by one-shot gantries. Each launch vehicle has two LOX/kerosene stages, and two solid fuel boosters strapped to its sides.

It has taken ten years to build the two hundred rockets.

We’ve got five more coming online next week, says Overmyer. His voice is muffled by his breathing mask.

Visser asks, Is it enough?

Overmyer nods, and adds, Eight people per module. Should be.

There are just under two thousand of them on this moon of Iota Draconis b, one hundred and three light years from Earth. Visser and Overmyer were born here, members of the colony’s fourth generation. People have been on this moon for one hundred years, mining the surface for metals, lanthanides and non-metals, and sending it all back to Earth.

Visser and Overmyer turn from the field of rockets and descend the hill towards the brightly-coloured prefab buildings of the colony. The gas giant this moon orbits sits above the horizon, a brown banded globe too large to cover with a clenched fist. Beyond it, Iota Draconis itself approaches one edge, a disc of roiling red and yellow, close enough for prominences to be visible. It has almost twice the mass of Earth’s Sun, and twelve times the radius. Soon it will disappear behind Iota Draconis b, and eclipse-night will fall. Later, as the moon rotates, and Iota Draconis reappears, it will be true-night. Visser and Overmyer are used to days with two nights. It is all they know.

They have never been to Earth and will never be allowed to do so. They don’t mind. Neither would be able to cope with Earth’s eight billion population. The thought of so many people scares them in a way their imminent departure does not.

Despite being born, growing up and entering adulthood on this lifeless moon, it has never really felt like a home. Everything is temporary since everything will be lost when they depart. Much of the colony is automated, the mining equipment all robotic. The fabbers were brought to Iota Draconis b from the previous colony on an exoplanet orbiting Tau Boötis, and they have already been sent ahead to their new home, 79 Ceti, 127 light years from Earth. Overmyer and Visser are quite excited at the prospect of setting up a fresh colony on a new exoplanet.

In nine months’ time, there will be a great celebration, a week-long party. Afterwards, everyone will work towards the departure. People will be assigned modules and launch dates. A fleet of Serpo cyclers will arrive in orbit and, over a period of weeks, move the entire population to 79 Ceti. Visser and Overmyer will be among the last to leave.

This is what humanity does now, moves from exoplanet to exoplanet, exploiting each one for an Earth now entering a post-scarcity age. There are twelve such colonies, connected to the Earth—but not to each other—by a fleet of FTL Serpo cyclers, ferrying the raw materials for the industries of humanity’s home world. The colonies hop and skip from lifeless world to lifeless world—all worlds are lifeless—each time moving further and further away from Earth, each time being allowed to stay just a little bit longer on their new home. This is the only way to exploit the riches of the universe, settling worlds and then moving on before the information of their arrival, carried by photons at lightspeed, reaches Earth. They ride the wavefront, trapped within successive quantum states, adrift from the cosmos of the people back in the Solar System.

This is why they will never meet aliens. Engineered quantum spacetime is the only way to circumvent the speed of light restriction… but it also means they can never interact with the universe observed by Earth.

Yet they know there is life out there somewhere. They have evidence it exists, and they found it on the first alien world they visited…

One hundred fifty million miles from Earth.




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BOOK: The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself (Apollo Quartet)
12.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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