I suddenly sit down very fast, it is time to announce the itinerary for the next few weeks.
The computers have discovered a very interesting rocky planet just ten days’ travel away. I’ve set course for it. Very interesting means that the observations don’t add up right – something is odd, very odd. But we’ll have to get closer to find out what. All the details are in the travelogue database as usual.
We shall also be passing quite near to a gas giant which is not orbiting a star, it is also odd, it’s big enough to be a brown dwarf, why hasn’t it ignited? Details are in the travelogue database.
Your captain, William Birdsall.
By “quite near” I don’t mean near at all, I lied about that. I’m not going anywhere near a gas giant planet ever again, not after the last time.
I’m the captain of the Dragonfly, but it’s no big deal, the Dragonfly is quite small, I’ve got ten scientists and their equipment on board. The message won’t appear very large on all screens on the ship, just “You have mail.”
We’re on a two year cruise to explore and get data on rocky planets on the edge of the galaxy. The ten scientists land on the planets and measure everything. I stay in the ship – I’m in charge.
We’ve seen a small rocky planet with no atmosphere and covered with black dust; a small rocky planet with no atmosphere and covered with grey dust; and a small rocky planet with no atmosphere and covered with red dust. All totally boring, but no, all the scientists are rocky-planet fans to a man.
Life on the Dragonfly is very quiet, except when the landing craft are docking or undocking. There are loads of videos to watch. There is an android for each person to perform minor activities: cleaning, washing, preparing food, sorting big data and so on. It’s just like a big restful holiday – the scientists can do their thing and I organise everything.
The androids are really useful, they all have the persona nursie, the scientists like that, but it’s only a mode switch in the software which I can and do change when necessary. I have an android too, but it runs the unofficial software granny.
Since I was a kid I always wanted to command a Dragonfly – they were something special and in those days very revolutionary.
Every cabin can configure itself and reconfigure itself as a propulsion unit, a power supply, a computer resource, a human support space and so on. So if the ship gets damaged it can reconfigure and continue – even with 65% damage.
The ship has no landing ability; this makes the ship simpler – small landing craft are used for transport to and from planetary bases. The ship is designed for deep space and is built and maintained in space.
It’s not a freighter (too small) and not a military ship. Regulations say that each Dragonfly has to be armed with two working star-powder cannons. However they are useless: big enough to annoy, but too small to cause much harm.
I have to test the star-powder cannons once a year; this is not easy as you can’t just shoot up any old asteroid or so, you’ve gotta find some spaceship junk somewhere.
No, the best way to get out of trouble is to engage full power and get the hell out of the place – Dragonflies are the fastest ships we have. They are still being made or being refurbished like B52s.
The Dragonflies were designed to ferry small groups of politicians, diplomats, scientists etc. around the galaxy and fast. I could go on about ‘em, but...
The first pictures of the gas giant are in the travelogue database.
Your captain, William Birdsall.
I try to stay friendly with the scientists and explain everything to them, but it ain’t easy. There was a bad incident on the last rocky planet, yeah the one with the red dust. There were two landers on the planet, each with five scientists and five androids.
The scientists in one of the landers fell in love with their red heaven and wanted to stay on the planet for ever. No amount of me telling them that the lander could only support human life for three weeks and that they had no license to colonise had any effect. No, they were going to stay.
No chance, I was supposed to bring back ten living scientists, it was in the contract. I told them that, they laughed, I switched their androids to persona policeman and they were back on the Dragonfly pronto. They don’t speak to me now. I can live with that...
Two days later we discover why the gas giant hasn’t turned into a brown dwarf, a small pale star.
The reason why the gas giant hasn’t turned into a brown dwarf is that there are two of them – a big one with a smaller one in a highly eccentric orbit around the bigger one.
We will be passing by tomorrow. I’ll launch two automatic probes to make closer observations; they will catch us up at the odd planet next week. Please get your software ready, gentlemen.
A complete orbit takes an estimated four hundred years. They are at the moment very close. There is a chance that the bigger one will suck material from the smaller one. Maybe enough to ignite – a star is born. Or perhaps not – come back in four hundred years time. Details are in the travelogue database.
Your captain, William Birdsall.
Last week we got near, very near, to a gas giant – I though it would be a bit interesting to the scientists. Gas giants are very pretty you know.
Oh yes, they loved it. They wanted to get closer – one wanted to land the Dragonfly on it. I told them, get close to a gas giant and you will be pulled in and crushed. I told them, a Dragonfly can’t land on anything. I told them if they went down in a lander they would not come back. Why didn’t they believe me?
And why was my granny android getting very upset? The control screen looked OK, only the rate of orbital decay was a bit high, in fact very high. Why had I not noticed that before and why was there no loud warning and why have I no control over the ship now?
There was something very evil down there in that gas giant trying to pull us down and destroy us.
What could I do? I told granny to engage full power and get us the hell out of it.
It worked – I’m never going near a gas giant again.
We got closer to the odd rocky planet and saw that it was a protoplanet – a swirl of rocks of all different sizes rotating around each other. Even I found that interesting – one of the scientist nicknamed it “mixed grill”.
We are arriving at the odd planet tomorrow. The Dragonfly will not be parked in a close orbit around the planet which we usually do, as that could cause the planet to destabilise and fall apart. Remember we have no mandate to perform planetary engineering.
I’ll park the ship at the planet’s and star’s Lagrangian point L2; that is in an orbit around the star just outside the planet’s orbit around the star. The Dragonfly will stay close to the planet but hopefully not upset it.
I’ll launch an automatic probe to make closer observations in a few hours; please get your software ready, gentlemen.
If and only if it is safe will you be able to explore with the landing craft. Do not try to land on the smaller rocks – use the harpoon and tether. It will be dangerous – trust the guidance computers...
The lights went out, sunshine poured in through the windows, I saw five smiling faces watching me from the other side of the table.