Although the almost opaque cloud cover foiled most direct observations, notable features were observed before near orbit of Chiron was achieved. Dozens of large metallic artificial satellites were in geosynchronous orbit around the planet. At first this was thought to be an error since surely these would create at least small energy discharged or leakage that could be measured, but it was confirmed. The scale of some of the objects – some were nearly a kilometer long – was astounding because objects this large should have been observed at a much greater distance. It seems many of them have some sort of stealth system that actively masks their presence until they can be physically observed. This was the first positive evidence that human colonists had reached and successfully colonized Chiron! This only highlighted the larger question: where are the colonists, and why is there no communication or passive evidence of their presence on Chiron? The Fleet had to wait another two weeks at near maximum burn to achieve high Chiron orbit to answer this critical question.
The Fate of the Chiron Colony
At the approach to Chiron the Second Interstellar Fleet achieved high orbit and a defensive perimeter of pickets was established per pre-launch protocol. Optical and electromagnetic sensors were partially realigned, and a series of probes were sent out to the orbiting satellites and to penetrate the dense Chiron atmosphere. The images and data that these efforts yielded were startling.
The probes quickly established that the satellites were indeed of human origin. Some were clearly marked with ancient variants of English and one or two other First Empire languages, and the size of ports and docking bays seemed to be similar to those found on the Mars moon Phobos. Based on their configuration at least two different types of satellites were found: military and economic. Of most concern were satellites that were clearly of military nature. Projectile and some sort of energy weapons were pointed at the planet surface and possibly to near orbit – in other words, these weapons were trained on other satellites. There seemed to be at least five different construction types of these satellites, which was the first evidence that suggested that there were at least five competing political or economic entities on Chiron. The economic satellites were apparently harvesting resources. These economic satellites ranged from beautiful hydroponic gardens, some of which were still lush and green with disturbing hints of red, to satellites that were still tight-beaming enormous amounts of energy into the atmosphere and to specific locations on the planet surface. The satellites had been in orbit for at least 190 years based on estimates of micro-meteor impacts and the density of small particles in this portion of the solar system. This level of technology was, in the opinion of the Fleet scientists, astounding and far beyond anything the First or Third Empires has achieved.
That was only the first of many surprises. The first probes that pierced the thick veil of cloud cover found a planet of lush green and red landmasses and deep blue oceans. Dotted on the landmasses was clear evidence of human cities. Some were metropolises with great, tall buildings that reached to the sky and were reminiscent of the few remaining semi-intact First Empire megatropolis buildings that survived the decay of time and resource miners. Others were disturbing somewhat organic interlocking towers that seemed to grow from the land and were colored in odd greens, blue, and reds. Great low-slung cities appeared to be fortified mounds that sprawled out to a scale never dreamed of in the Third Empire, much less the First or the blighted Second. The oceans had brilliant white floating cities that seemed to defy gravity, and there were partially submerged dome-covered cities along the coasts. All the cities may have been small by the scale of First Empire mega cities, but they are enormous by comparison to any Third Empire cities – even our glorious capital at M’va La in the S’an Province. Each city had roads and other transport systems that radiated in all directions, some of which crossed land and sea. Even after long abandonment the land surface bore the signs of human modification – broad, flat plains and sheared off mountain tops. This culture was technologically advanced and completely interlinked in the manner of the First and Third Empires, having obviously rejected the city-state model of the Second Empire.
But all the cities were dead. There was evidence of horrible warfare, and the center of some of the radial transport lines had gaping craters that were kilometers across. It was as if the sprawling city that had existed there had been simply scooped out by a great hand; the amount of energy needed to vaporize a city and the ground upon which it stood defies comprehension. Most of the great shining cities were mere skeletons, like eerie gaunt fingers pointed to the key – windowless, broken, and burned. The odd organic cities looked partially consumed with enormous portions sheared away and shattered, with vacant and yawning black interiors. Some of the sea cities were partially sunken, or their majestic domes were shattered and open to the deadly embrace of the waves.
And across all of the cities a red infestation raged. Sad, gleaming cities had encrustation of red that seemed to crawl up the sides of the towers, and low-slung mound cities were completely overrun. Enormous mats of red life forms surrounded sea cities, and portions of the elaborate transport systems vanished under the virulent red mats. Our observations first noticed the odd red and blue likely native life forms in the sky hydroponics satellites, and then on approach to the terrestrial cities. That Earth vegetation is present there is no doubt for great forests of trees and grasses were found on all continents, some of which were dominated by Earth-genome forests and ecosystems. However, most land and sea areas are dominated by the strange native life, and its form resembles more of a bulbous fungal growth than normal Earthly plants. The Earth and native life seem to be in competition or a war for dominance: some native life is pocked with green and brilliant green forests have scars of red. Some Second Interstellar Fleet commentators called the merging of terrestrial and Chiron life forms ‘unEarthly’, and others simply called it ugly.
The realization that the First Empire colonists had achieved so much and had been eradicated shook Fleet Command to its core. Nothing in the Fleet’s planning had prepared the command structure for this shock. In truth most of the Command staff had expected to find nothing since the stories of Unity could have been apocryphal and similar to the sort of fanciful fiction that was so prevalent in the First Empire in its decadent last days. Moreover, these stories could have been magnified by the weak minded Second Empire dictators that longed for glory they could never hope to achieve. It was also deemed possible that a colony had been established but that they struggled with low population and never-ending struggles to adapt to an alien world. After all, humanity had to adjust to the devastation of the Great Spasm, and that rebuilding effort took well over 100 years just to recover the basic trappings of civilization and hundreds more to redevelop any sort of technology. That the First Empire colonists could rise to lofty heights only to be brought down so totally was mystifying, and terrifying.
Of course there was no practical way for Fleet Command to contact Earth for instruction. Any communication would take years. After a full week of conference the Command decided that more data was needed and three pickets were dispatched to investigate a few of the biggest cities and a fourth was sent to investigate the tantalizingly close and amazing satellites that had somehow remained operational and in orbit. All data and their quite correct decision were, of course, sent on tight beam to Earth.
At first the manned missions went well. The satellite investigation team had little trouble documenting one of the remaining operational hydroponic satellites. Growth inside was lush and manned by robots. After due consideration an attempt at docking was rejected as too dangerous since the docking structure of the satellite was nothing like what was available on the picket. A direct docking was also a potential hazard due to defensive mechanisms that may still be operational. Therefore, a team of two was sent to investigate the structure and obtain information. The team obtained entry without incident and were able to cycle the intuitive airlock, which still worked flawlessly. The interior was confirmed to be what had been observed from outside – lush, and full of what were clearly foodstuffs that were even packaged and ready for shipment. As they entered an older shipment was being disassembled and recycled by dutiful robots. The hydroponics systems were immense and great solar collectors cycled sunlight to the plants at all times. It was not apparent how the systems maintained themselves so perfectly, but this hinted at a deep understanding of biology and engineering. While investigating some of the strange looking plants one of the team members screamed. Almost as quickly the other started babbling before having her vocalizations cut short in a wet gurgle. Data from the investigation team’s optical and sound sensors ceased abruptly. It all happened so quickly that all the remaining crew in the picket could do was observe through the transparent panes of the greenhouse structure as a pulse of red engulfed the suited exploration team. The picket crew was calm for a while, but had no time to reflect on what they had seen. Then the pilot lost his composure and started to ask frantic questions and contradicted the junior officer in charge of Picket One. Panic swelled the pilot had to be physically removed and restrained. The command officer piloted the picket to the mothership.
The largest city was the target for the second crew. Its tall, shining towers looked beautiful at a distance, and it was only at the approach that it was quite clear that the city had suffered from both war and its long abandonment. It was quickly nicknamed The Gleaming City by Picket Group Two. A series of flyovers showed crippled towers with great rents, and others that showed horrific blast damage that was painfully obvious even after hundreds of years of weathering and decay. The eastern side of the city was engulfed by debris from a great crater and buildings in this area were being slowly consumed by the virulent bluish red native life form that seems endemic to Chiron. A large central building seemed somewhat intact and the crew landed at what was clearly an aeropad. Per protocol the crew donned breathers and had independent light sources and flechette projectile weapons. After several hours of search and data collection they quickly deduced that this was a government building. Furnishings were opulent, if decayed – the tattered remnants of a failed empire. The building itself was thoroughly dead, and nothing alive other that small scurrying creatures were found. No human remains were identified. Two people can hardly explore a city in a few days, but the team did find several intriguing artifacts and a few likely data storage devices, none of which could be interrogated with the resources available at the time. After learning the fate of the satellite picket team and Picket Team Four they were justifiably cautious and departed at the end of the day to ensure their data could be investigated by the Fleet scientific team.
One of partially blasted cities was selected as the target for Picket Group Three. This city was along the equatorial region and was situated amid a riot of green growth. At first the team thought it was Earth-based vegetation, but that initial observation was quickly dispelled. The green growth was a variant of the bluish red fungus-like growth that infests most of Chiron, and the city was placed in the center of it. Why the First Empire colonists would place their city in the center of virulent and likely alien life was beyond the understanding of the investigation team or any of the scientists with the Fleet. The city itself was architecturally different from The Gleaming City. Its towers were rather short and squat and capped with sliver domes. At the center and radiating both east and west was a swath of destruction that largely leveled the city. There was a blast area that radiated from this linear feature, and evidence of great heat – entire buildings were both demolished and melted. The Blasted City was also in the process of being engulfed by the green native life, and already much of the city had been consumed. At the center of the destruction was an enormous raised mound – a central complex of some sort that partially survived. A long tube-line structure reached vertically up from the complex and curved to the west. This tube was fully 50 meters in diameter and had partially survived its fall – somehow. What was amazing was that this tube stretched to the horizon and far off to the west. After traveling over three kilometers the tube started to fragment, and eventually it disappeared into the western sea. With every kilometer away from The Blasted City[/i] the destruction around the thick tube increased, and as it reached the sea it was clear that this tube had fallen from the sky. Later analysis showed that this linear feature stretched all the way around the globe – almost twice! This tube must have been long enough to reach far outside of the atmosphere of Chiron and into hard vacuum of space, and its fall had wrapped around Chiron and shattered the Blasted City. It staggers the mind how such a structure could be built, or even what it could be used for.
Picket Group Four had the most disturbing encounter by far on the blighted world of Chiron. This team investigated one of the rounded and organic looking cities on the northern continent. The city was completely surrounded by bright red native growths, but yet it was only partially infested with it. The city itself seemed to be like great rumps of tree trucks that were carved into fantastic shapes. Even so, the city was clearly dead. The entire northern side of most of the towers had been shorn off, and a great crater was present to the north. Evidently a high-energy weapon of some sort had been exploded, but somehow the city had survived. Other sides of the towers showed dark windows and terraces, and there were even some green trees that somehow still flourished at the city center. The eerie city itself is not what caused the Picket Group Four such distress, however. At regular intervals all around the city were reddish brown structures that stood 40 meters tall. The team tried to investigate the city towers but could find no easy way to enter, so they decided to document the obelisks instead. The obelisks formed a perfect ring with the city within its center. Whereas the city looked decayed and damaged by the ravages of time, the obelisks that ringed the city were untouched. Strange symbols covered the surfaces of the obelisks, and each pulsed with energy; the air fairly crackled proximate to the structures, making the brave investigator’s hair stand on end. No energy had been detected from orbit, and there was no explanation why the startling structure’s signature was muted and invisible from orbit. As the team approached two reported feeling…odd. A third reported hearing barely audible voices that sang to her, but that she couldn’t quite understand. A fourth touched the obelisk without hesitation or apparent forethought. Energy pulsed at this touch, and images from other team members show a wave of blue energy washing over him. His gray hair turned brown and his skin returned to the health of a 20 year old – and then he arched his back and opened his mouth with a silent scream. He fell backward with vacant eyes. After being attended by his teammates his eyes refocused and he tried to get up and run north toward the red growths that surrounded the strange city. He was subdued, but was violent and kept shouting, “She to me! Me! LET ME GO!” over and over. In a surprisingly calm audio commentary the team speculated that the obelisk was clearly either mystical or the result of a very high technology.
Picket Group 4 reported they were retreating to their picket. As they made their way across the low hills there were shouts and frantic calls. One orderly voice reported swarms of pink organisms that almost flowed out of the bluish red growths that surrounded the Disturbing City. There were incoherent screams, and the final voice was that of the man that touched the obelisk: “She’s coming!” Transmissions and even the carrier wave from the picket abruptly ceased. Later commentary from the Fleet science team noted that the obelisks had nothing in common with the nearby city, and its symbols are not like anything ever seen on Earth. The technology spoke for itself. No other Fleet team was able to investigate, and the tentative conclusion of the Fleet Command was that it was an anomaly among anomalies, and they suggested it may even be of alien origin. To that time everything the teams had observed had been understandable or clearly of human derivation – but not the obelisks.
All the remaining pickets were recalled to the Fleet as a result of the loss of team members from Picket Group 1 and the loss of the entire Picket Group 4. Fleet Command sent a data squirt to Earth that indicated they were considering their options, but they commented that they were poorly equipped to deal with the threats that they would have to confront. After all, they had plenty of weapons to subdue and pacify a human population, but there were no humans – only hostile and unknown native life forms and malevolent artifacts. After a day of deliberation Fleet Command revised its contact protocol and decided to continue investigating Chiron. More pickets were sent to major cities, and others were sent to observe and gather data on the native life – at a safe distance.
That was the last communication that was received from the Second Interstellar Fleet. After four months of silence we can only assume that they have suffered a catastrophic failure or been the victim of an attack by unknown forces. Based on the findings of the Second Interstellar Fleet and their dutiful transmissions and final sacrifice, the Advisory Council of Science and Warfare advises the Privy Council that the Third Empire is in grave peril. Some force eradicated all human life from Chiron and the most likely completely destroyed the Second Interstellar Fleet, and as such this is a threat to all of Earth and humanity. At this time we can only speculate as to the cause of the destruction of the First Empire colony and the Second Interstellar Fleet. More data are required. A better armed and more robust Third Expeditionary Fleet is needed, as well as a Sol Defense Force. The Third Empire will not fall into decadence and chaos like the First Empire, nor will we allow our weakness to consume us like the Second Empire. We will do what must be done, even if it means eradicating every artifact, ruin, and life form in the Alpha Centauri system. Such is the recommendation of the Advisory Council of Science and Warfare to the Privy Council.