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Report to the Privy Council

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  • RJPugh
    Cool vignette. It sounds like the bulk of the Chiron colonists achieved transcendence, packed up, and left. They left behind their tech, which fell into disrepair, and some stragglers, who fought among themselves. It also sounds like Planet is saying: "Oh no, not THESE fools again..."

    Any chance for more?

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  • Hydro
    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.

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  • Hydro
    started a topic Report to the Privy Council

    Report to the Privy Council

    There always seems to be room for new points of view in good ‘ol SMAX. Here is one I’ve been experimenting with. This short story was partially inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke’s short story Report on Planet 3, which I read a long time ago.



    Report to the Privy Council

    As the august members of the Privy Council are aware, the Second Interstellar Fleet left Earth in Third Empire (TE) year 185. Their mission, granted to them by the Imperator of the Third Empire of Man herself and fully authorized by the Privy Council, was to determine the fate of the First Empire colonial Unity fleet that departed Earth just before Great Spasm that violently ended the First Empire of Man. Records from the Second Empire and especially the First Empire are fragmentary at best, but surviving data show that the colonization fleet was not sent by the degenerate Second Empire, as weak minded and vainglorious historians from that era claimed, but by the backward and fractious First Empire. It is still unknown how and why this effort was made during the last thrashings of the ill-fated First Empire, or why the prestigious resources required to construct the fleet were not used to subdue the elements of chaos that conspired and succeeded in razing their society. Regardless of the opaque motives of that bygone but hardly lamented era, after due deliberation the Advisory Panel of Science and Warfare determined that the threat of a human colony outside that existed of the control of the Third Empire was unacceptable.

    This Report to the Privy Council and the Office of the Imperator documents the findings of the Second Interstellar Fleet and its mission to the Alpha Centauri star system. A continual data stream with full multi-sensory immersion and contextual cortex image enhancement has been received from the Fleet by the Advisory Panel. The findings of the Fleet scientists and historians have been augmented by the analysis of the Advisory Panel of Science and Warfare. A brief review of the known history of the Unity colonization fleet is provided for context.


    Historical Background: The Unity Colonization Fleet

    The Unity colonization fleet was constructed in the last 50 years of the First Empire of Man. At the time of its construction the entire First Empire was fracturing into civil war as minor political entities were subverting the rightful rule of the United Nations. The armies of the UN proved ineffective in forcibly reinforcing their empire, and one by one the sphere of influence of the UN diminished as its human, technological, and natural resource base diminished. The natural power structure of the UN was sapped as the minor nation states collapsed into war with each other and, eventually, with the First Empire itself. Resources were consumed at a alarming rate as each nation state forsook the rightful rule of the UN for their own short-sighted and petty interests.

    Against the backdrop of rising disruption the First Empire chose to neglect its military forces and to construct a colonization fleet to subdue the planet Chiron in the Alpha Centauri solar system. The motives for this effort are unclear; however, regardless of their rationale the colonization fleet named Unity was constructed and was launched. The ships of the fleet were moderately well armed with a likely picket force of corvettes and destroyers, which protected the aptly named but lightly armed Unity mother ship. The arrival date at the Alpha Centauri system is not known, but using the primitive ion drive technology of the First Empire it would have taken approximately 50 years to traverse the 4.2 light years between the Sol and Alpha Centauri systems.

    The First Empire came to an abrupt end in the Great Spasm shortly after the launch of the Unity fleet. The Great Spasm was the largest calamity the human race has ever experienced. Never before or since has a combination of factors aligned to stress the political, economic, social and ecological systems so far beyond the breaking point. The population at the end of the First Empire has been estimated as an astounding one-half billion people, which has never been attained by the subsequent Second Empire or Third Empires. This population level was disbelieved by the Second Empire and by a majority of the historians and scientists of the Third Empire until recently when a the footprint from razed First Empire cities were analyzed in terms of size, number, and likely city population; this analysis yielding the current First Empire population estimate. The many ruins range from glassy blasted plains to 400 square kilometer fields of debris that have been mined for raw materials for centuries. All surviving ruins show evidence of warfare and some are now submerged by the sea, indicating significant climate change since the First Empire. Moreover, there is evidence that the vast lifeless tracts of land in equatorial areas and sea continental shelf deserts were once rich ecosystems a mere 500 years ago. It seems likely that at the very least the collapse of these ecosystems hastened the collapse of the First Empire, and it is possible the First Empire caused some or all of these systematic collapses.

    The Second Empire emerged approximately 130 years after the Great Spasm. Although largely incompetent and corrupt, their Primus Forum did hold sway over much of the Earth and at their zenith and they controlled up to 80 percent of the human race. There was a brief period of 30 years during the last third of the Second Empire when they may have collected scientific data, but in general they were fragmented, ineffective, myopic and backward. There is no record of communication to, from, or between the Second Empire and the Unity fleet or a Alpha Centauri colony. There was no spasm at the end of the Second Empire; the empire simply disintegrated by degrees over a period of 50 years. Ruins from the Second Empire are insignificant.

    Interstellar communications were neither made nor received during the extended period of chaos prior to or during the formulation of the Second Empire and the Third Empire. Moreover, the Second Empire was notoriously inept technologically. But it is likely that at least informal records of communication with the Alpha Centauri colony would have survived and, to date, no information has been found. There is no record of communication between colonists from the Alpha Centauri system and the Third Empire.

    Our own Third Empire, while glorious, has not had the resources or interest to pursue interstellar adventures until the last 100 years. As the august Privy Councilors are well aware, our multi-decade military campaigns to subdue the Pan’xu region and continuing exploration of First Empire and selected Second Empire ruins have consumed a good portion of our finite but growing capabilities. Pan’xu has been firmly under our control for many decades and the riches of data and technology we have gained from the two dozen First and Second Empire archeological sites allow us the luxury of far off – yet important – concerns in the Alpha Centauri system.

    Mission Summary

    The First Interstellar Fleet as not strictly interstellar since its mission was to explore the ruins on the fourth planet in our solar system – Mars. That mission was a resounding success technologically since it led to the development of the advanced fusion-ion drive and demonstrated that our technology can be fully integrated with the mathematics that the scientists of the First and Second Empires have left us. From a practical point of view the mission was less than successful. All that was found on Mars were a few frozen and desiccated bodies and rather primitive habitats that that had been subject to mild erosion from several hundreds of years of wind-blown dust. All of the ruins were from the First Empire. The only minor material treasure trove was the ancient rockets and chemical synthesis factories that were nicely preserved in the oxygen free and low pressure environment. Some of the First Empire researchers evidently went to great lengths to preserve their data records before their deaths, and these historic and scientific archives were the greatest find from the First Expeditionary Fleet since all other records on Earth and the moon were either fragmentary at best, corrupted by time, or cloaked in myth. Indeed, much of what we know about the First Empire comes from these dutiful but doomed Mars soldiers from the First Empire. Likewise, artifacts and technology found on the Martian moon Phobos was highly useful to determine the technological level of the First Empire, and for reverse engineering useful components. All such technology on Earth had long since been destroyed or decayed, and there were only fragments of space-based technology and data on the shattered and thoroughly radioactive First Empire moon bases. By dating the last of the Mars corpses we were able to determine that this colony perished shortly after the Spasm. Evidently the colony was not close enough self sufficiency to survive the collapse of the First Empire on Earth. True to form, the Second Empire never made it to space, much less Mars.

    The Second Interstellar Fleet left Earth Orbital Station Two for Alpha Centauri with much fanfare, and the Empress Herself decreed a day-long holiday for all citizens and indentures of the Third Empire. All acknowledged this most generous gesture to both the citizens and evenly lowly indentures, and this act was a symbol of the good grace of the Empress and her office. The Empress’s public statement was that the mission to Alpha Centauri was to explore and colonize our nearest star system. The true mission, however, was much more primal: to discover the fate of the First Empire colonists and, if they still exist, bring them fully into the fold of the Third Empire. Our history is long and hard and the Second Interstellar Fleet was fully prepared to use all available force to achieve its ends. The Empress suffers no dissent outside of those few Full Citizens that have earned her trust.

    Continual communication was maintained with the fleet during its 30-year transit to the Alpha Centauri system. All but a small rotating caretaker crew was in hypersleep, and the fleet arrived without serious incident. The fleet decelerated at 45 AU (Earth-Sol standard) from the Alpha Centauri suns. At that time the ships formed a defensive perimeter, revived the command staff, technicians, combat troops, engineers, and scientists, and started their detailed survey and reporting on the Alpha Centauri system.

    Report on the Alpha Centauri System

    The configuration of the suns and planetary bodies of the Alpha Centauri system were established long before the mission departed Earth, and the Second Interstellar Fleet quickly confirmed these evaluations. Of primary importance are the system’s trio of suns – Alpha Centauri A, B, and diminutive C. These suns orbit each other and create a relatively complex orbital dynamic for the system’s asteroid belt, planetoids, rocky planets, and gas giants. There were no significant navigational hazards that would prevent the mission from entering the system besides the expected solar flares and an expansive asteroid belt. Per pre-departure protocol, the Fleet entered the system to establish an inner system perimeter for further observation of the primary target – Alpha Centauri planet 2, known as Chiron in First Empire records. No hostile forces were encountered.

    All known forms of electromagnetic radiation were monitored during 30 year flight to Alpha Centauri, and high-definition arrays were deployed after initial deceleration into the Alpha Centauri system. During this time no signals that could be attributed to an artificial origin were detected. As the fleets approached to 10AU of Chiron full spectrum detectors were trained on Chiron and, as with the electromagnetic sensors, no evidence of passive or broadcast energy was identified. The night sky of Chiron was mostly obscured by cloud cover, but appeared dark.

    Further analysis of objects orbiting within the Alpha Centauri system did find an anomaly. One of the greatest hazards to any ship in space is rogue objects in a non-standard orbit. Automated sensors were programmed to identify any such objects and conduct a threat analysis to ensure the Fleet was not placed at undue risk. One such object had a highly unusual orbit that was elliptical to the plane of the solar system, and the orbit was decaying toward the suns of Alpha Centauri. This in itself would be of no great interest except that the albedo of this object was higher than all but the purest ice, had no ice tail like a comet, and that it seemed to rotate in a predictable pattern, resulting in a ‘flashing’ effect. High definition images showed that this object was clearly artificial and, upon further analysis, the team determined that it was the command section of the Unity mothership. This was the first indication that the Unity mission had arrived at its destination, but it was now quite clear that there had been some catastrophe either during or shortly after the arrival of the fleet. There was no evidence of the support craft the Privy Council inferred must accompany the mothership. The orbit of the debris from Unity was plotted and, although there is significant uncertainty, it is likely that the mothership passed near Chiron. At this time Fleet Command determined that although it would be instructive to investigate the wreck that it was a lower priority than investigating Chiron – and a possible human colony that may exist there. The wreck’s orbit was unstable, but it will take at least 50,000 years before it would be consumed by the suns of Alpha Centauri. Simply put, the wreck of Unity could wait.

    As might be guessed, the captain of the Second Interstellar Fleet was pleased that there was finally proof that the legendary Unity mission actually existed and that the First Empire fleet had at least reached its destination. Now the primary goal was to determine the fate of the human colonists.

    The fleet took over two months to arrive at the planet Chiron. As the Second Interstellar Fleet approached they made note of the location of key resources that existed at or near planetary bodies and in the large asteroid belt. Per the mission plan volatiles and low atomic weight elements would be required for reaction mass for the return to Earth, and the fleet reported these materials existed in abundance in the asteroid belt. This extended period of flight time was also used to train for ground assaults and for Fleet Command to update their pre-launch decision matrices and mission plans to account for new data.

    Several reports and conjectural theories that were used to update the decision matrices and these speculations were dutifully sent to Earth during the approach to Chiron. The first and most prevalent theory was that the ship and its fleet suffered a catastrophe that incapacitated the Unity mothership and its support ships. A likely cause was passage through the asteroid belt, although the theorists found it hard to imagine how a single or even multiple asteroid strikes could so much damage the entire Unity fleet. If such a strike was severe enough then the entire mission would have failed, resulting in the dead ship in a long-term decaying orbit around within the solar system. This theory was supported by the apparent lack of all higher technological activity and the absence of passive or active radiation on Chiron. Even modest low technology cities would yield light pollution in the night sky, but to that time none had been observed.

    Other theories postulated an evacuation and subsequent landing of the colonists on Chiron after damage to Unity. This would account for the lack of the rest of the fleet near the wreck. Less likely theories were that the colonists found Chiron to be inhospitable and attempted to return to Earth, and that they faced a disastrous fate as they attempted to slingshot around the suns of Alpha Centauri. Such a slingshot would be crucial – and was a key element in the return flight of the Second Interstellar Fleet – in order to get a gravity assist to reduce the need for reaction mass. This scenario would account for the lack of human occupation on Chiron, which is the only planet in this system that could conceivably support human life without significant terraforming or technological support. An interesting theory was that the colonists landed and, after stripping the mothership, sent it on a decaying solar orbit to ensure that its decaying orbit did not fall to Chiron and damage their new home. This would account for the almost perfect slow decaying orbit the wreck has, with a further speculation that the damage was due to a collision after the ship was sent on its death spiral. This theory was roundly criticized by the Fleet engineering staff since the refined metal of the mothership would be infinitely valuable to the colonists, any collision that caused the severe damage observed on Unity would have disrupted its decaying orbit, and that a high orbit around Chiron would be stable for thousands of years at least.

    All these speculations were put to rest as soon as the fleet was close enough to get high-resolution optical images of Chiron.

    Report on Chiron

    Initial images of Chiron were obscured the thick atmosphere and by a surprisingly opaque cloud cover. One frustrated commentator in the fleet likened it to the dense cloud cover on Venus, although the atmosphere of Chiron is not nearly that that thick or hostile as that of our sister planet. This frustratingly opaque atmosphere is surprising for a planet like Chiron and to date none of the meteorologists in the Fleet or on the Advisory Panel for Science and Warfare have found a reason for this anomaly. After finding the wreck of Unity the scientists were anticipating positive proof of human colonization, but all they received were tantalizing and hazy images through gaps in the multilayered atmospheric envelope and overlapping horizons of water vapor. These odd and vexing weather patterns persisted for months during the Fleet’s approach.

    What we knew of Chiron at the time, and even long before entering the star system, was that the planet had an oxygen atmosphere and that it was roughly similar to Earth in its orbit, rotation, and composition. As such it is an oasis in a desert of planets and the hard vacuum of space that are hostile to human life. This is the only planet humanity has found that has an oxygen atmosphere and, by definition, an ecosystem capable of supporting human life. It is not known if the Unity mission knew this before leaving on their mission, but the fact that Chiron had an oxygen-based biosphere would be quickly apparent as they reached the Alpha Centauri solar system with even the most basic observation.

    We have confirmed that Chiron has two moons that are little more scraps of rock than anything else – nothing like the large and bright moon (relatively new radioactive craters not withstanding) of our own Earth. As expected, Chiron has a mass and gravity that is 1.8 that of Earth, which would be a hardship to new colonists and would be the likely cause of increased mortality. The Chiron solar year and day are roughly similar to that of Earth. Likely temperature ranges are similar to those of Earth, although the interaction of the Chiron orbit with the trio of suns of the Alpha Centauri system may cause greater short and long term variation then what is known in the Sol system.