Catchup Mission

It is the year 2079 I am floating in the void. This is a mission of great historical relevance. I am 350 Astronomical Units removed from earth. My signals take over two days to reach the inner solar system. I am flying solo in a private fusion-propelled yacht by the name of Stross IV. For dozens of astronomic units in all directions there is no object greater than a small hill.

My synthetic aperture radar captures several small frozen clumps of ammonia ice, but all of these are months removed from my current location, and besides I am moving with a radically different velocity relative to any nearby debris. Space is empty here. I occasionally use my programmable spectral laser to push away some small objects. Closest I came to a stray Kuyper Belt Object was about 2 million kilometers, and the people back in the solar system treated that as a near miss. I subtly change my position in space to skim past larger objects, and anything bigger than a snowflake and smaller than a basketball I burn away and evaporate with my laser from a few million miles distant. Target is one week away and as a consequence I am sending frequent updates to traffic control on Luna and Ceres. I have been on this voyage (depending on how you define the start of my trip) for earth 14 months, or more than 36 million seconds. Returning to the inner system will take me 18 months, and halfway I’ll have to connect with a deceleration fuel pod that will be launched from Ceres a few months from now. Without that pod I’ll shoot straight through the solar system and into interstellar space. No way to decelerate without that fuel. I am paying for that pod with rights on my current media exposure, but I have already paid for the expense twice over so I might as well order me a second fuel pod from the scientific base on the Jovian Greek asteroids and shave off some travel time.

I am mostly human. Sure, my body has been radiation hardened and for any human from half a century ago I’d look more like an alien than anything human. I am a cyborg, and there isn’t much natural skin exposed. My skull is bare and naked, my eyes are big and black, and my body is all colored in reds and greens. This invasive level of adjustment is necessary – several years in the interstellar medium means a firm dose of galactic radiation. My body is already crisscrossed with scars from the Iron ions blasting through, but redundancy and self-repair and the occasional printed replacement allow me to last a decade here without appreciable loss of function. During my trip weather control has warned me – the big one at the center of the galaxy gobbled up a few icebergs and I got one months dose of Ions in a few minutes.

My travel speed has been a steady 0.2 mean Earth gravity for most of my trip. My vessel was assembled near Ceres, but I entered the main habitation hull in a high Lunar Orbit a few month early. The trip from the inner system to Ceres was done with boosted sail propulsion at a somewhat higher acceleration, and the good people on Ceres launched my main propulsion some months early so I could catch just inside the orbit of Jupiter. Then it was coasting time, at a gradual efficient acceleration.

My target is silent. I can see the targeting blip in my cross-hairs and my ship clock is counting down for the moment I will catch up. I have already been the furthest human being from Earth and Sol for a month, depending on how you define “human”. There are some uploads conducting science experiments on Sedna, and they are further out but those aren’t human.

[adesense2]

My vessel is radiating as little energy as possible and making a tumbling motion. The target is frozen, and any engine exhaust particles would in theory damage its pristine state. I can see the little speck now, at a few hundred thousand kilometers. I’ll be making my final breaking maneuvers a few hours in advance and coast in gentle for a few days. Space around me is boring as hell. I run a few statistically interesting science observational experiments (mostly parallax observational adjustment instruments, mostly pulsar observations) but since my propulsion system is a loud roar in all parts of the visible spectrum (and I am purposefully radiating a lot of waste heat from my radiator panels) I couldn’t take along any sensitive equipment. So the last year I spent most my days in hibernation. Nothing much to do.

Target is getting close. I can spot it like a bright orange flake. It looks badly burned, like the old Russian Venus landers. Orange and browns as if dipped in industrial tar. The little thing got beat up by cosmic background. I get closer. It is deep frozen cold, non-responsive. All instruments shut down. I am under instructions to not change its direction, but I fail just a little. The heat of my vessel wobbles it a tiny bur perceptible amount, more than the project planners expected. So I leave the main hull at several hundred meters distance and send the adjustment package (which is itself deep frozen) to intercept, on a cable, inching closer at a snails pace. I climb along the strand in my space suit and go and have a look.

It’s amazing. The little machine has been here a century. It’s a tough little piece of metal, beautifully archaic machinery. I open it up as planned, with minimal interference. The plutonium housing is very hard to reach, but I replace the plutonium cells with a new batch. Then I add a dozen or so Columbia built instruments. Historical relevance and all, Columbia nation used to be part of the historical union of North America. The new instruments will have some minor scientific relevance, but the point is pretty much that the little Victorian era spacecraft has some science left to do, and beam back something significant with its upgraded antenna array. The new plutonium cells will last substantially longer, at least centuries, and its emitter will act as a beacon. Legacy of human history and all that.

My mission in the presence near the Voyager 1 spacecraft takes me a few weeks. Then I have done all there is to do. I hang in space, looking at the quaintly antiquated piece of junk, and allow my neurology to marvel at the occasion in a distinctly emulated human emotion, and I throw in a little alcohol enervation algorithms for good measure. I actually feel human for a while there, drifting in the interstellar medium for a while, several tens of meters away from this little piece of history. All the time, during every moment of the transaction all parts of my ship, and myself, stayed respectfully behind the Voyager 1 spacecraft, as seen from Earth. Wouldn’t want to catch up on history, bad luck.

Mission done, I turn my engines around with my gyroscopes and I slowly start coasting back to the inner system. Long way to go, lots of media stuff to do. When I get back on my vessel my inbox is overflowing with several billion congratulations. Mission has become a financial success. Time to go home. I glance back in to the void but my cybernetic can’t even see the little Voyager probe any more.


If there’s any scientific inaccuracy in this short post please email me and I’ll add the corrections. It isn’t excessively researched, just a bit of spontaneous writing.

First published here.