Under the Bridge – Part 2 of 4

Exploration: Three Days After Landing

“Do the inhabitants of that planet up there call their moon MAQS, or does the System throw random characters together and call it a name?” asks Rodhir, as he rides in a small personal rover that he assembled himself, and stares at the planet overhead. He seems to be having fun, but I need to keep a watchful eye over him. For his own sake.

We figured out what happened to the Backup Construct. A faulty copper pipe had developed a microfracture upon landing, and its function was critical to delivering refrigeration fluid to keep the backup Sero at the proper temperature. Well, so much for the most cutting-edge spacecraft that the “advanced” Tessian civilization has to offer. Or had to offer, a thousand years ago. As Steiya and Rodhir discovered, it ruptured. Of course it did, because nothing makes a forty-seven light-year journey more exciting than an explosion in a backup vessel. The Sero reserves chamber was flooded with cooling liquid. In all of their tests, the Tessian Exploration Agency never saw this coming? Or did they know, and just brushed it off as ‘statistically insignificant’? Pure Sero is notoriously volatile, and a quick temperature change will create a dangerously unstable situation. Only a small part of the sensitive Sero released its untamed energy, but it still tore through the Backup Construct. Actually, that is not quite true. Not only did the resulting explosion destroy the Backup Construct to the point where almost nothing remains of it now, but it also eviscerated the landscape and exhumed a massive chunk of the moon. Where the Construct used to sit, there is now a crater fifteen meters deep and almost a hundred and fifty meters in diameter.

In any case, we will be fine. We have enough Sero in all of our Pods’ cryoarcane preservers for a return trip, and I’m certain this moon must have more hidden away somewhere beneath the surface. Speaking of which, there seems to be small specks of daetrite sand here. There must be more nearby, but the terrain around here is full of deep craters. Rodhir’s personal transporter could prove useful for something other than driving stupid circles around me.

“Oh right, Rodhir, you asked about the inhabitants of the planet over there? Well, our sound probes have confirmed that they do indeed communicate by sound vibrations, just like us. Mezion is what they call their planet.”

“What does it mean?”

“Translation is a tricky business. We think it means ‘united’ or something along those lines.”

“Cute. Are they intelligent enough to start killing each other yet?”

“Yes, the usual sharpened sticks and other nonsense of primitive civilizations,” I said

“Amusing. So much for being ‘united’,” said Rodhir. In a few moments, the other three exochemists on our team arrived.

“Hello, gentlemen,” Foltar says, speaking for the group. “We’ve had a talk with Norak, and we suspect there might be a small potential site of Daetrite-seronotium about 1.2 kilometers due north of here. If our estimate is correct, there may be enough to power a large Selsteili city for thousands of years, and some leftover for lab work. We would need much more to justify this mission. Still, I remain optimistic, as the System chose this moon specifically as the only source of the stuff in our local star cluster.” The other two exochemists beside him sheepishly nod their heads.

That’s just not enough. We need Sero—metric tons of it. Our entire multi-planetary civilization runs on the thing. All the wonders of our technology depend on it. All of our space travel would cease immediately if we ran out, not to mention our high quality of life, and our power would erode to nothing. Not to mention the incredible abilities it gives to the individual who consumes refined, pure Sero. Lightning in your bones and fire in your breath, water, ice, and the winds around you and the ground beneath your feet, all under your command, at least for a short while. If we had enough, we would be gods. Theory has it that with a truly massive supply of Sero, we could command time itself. But who knows, such a supply may never be found, and the only source of Sero we have right now is one of the small moons on Selsteil, enough to sustain our civilization for a few more thousand years. After that, and we will be no better than the primitive beings on that planet up there. Millennia of progress wiped out due to dependency on these black crystals, and our Explorer group might be the only ones who may find more of them. It might be the only other source in the entire galaxy, it may not be enough, or not there at all… a miscalculation that would be devastating when the message arrives at the Capital. I have a slight hunch that keeping billions of people under control would become a tad bit difficult if all of our advanced technology ceased to function.

We were near the supposed site now, and the rocky bridges created by the AAE bots had completely transformed the terrain. Navigating the bridges is a bit treacherous, as the bots shocked the daetrite sand into place with high voltage, creating a wrinkled, sometimes jagged structure resembling thick, grey, petrified lightning. It feels eerie to have these entangling structures surround us to the horizon’s end. I can see them criss-cross, with some of them merged, large bridges and small, and yet still uniform in feature as the same algorithm and series of robots printed them all. Underneath, some of them covered deep dark fissures, while others only small craters—the latter should not have happened if the AAE’s worked properly. We would need to go under the craggy arches of these bridges to search the sand and dirt in the craters for our beloved resource, but from here, I could see no sight of the signature black patches of land that would indicate a source of unrefined Daetrite-seronotium.

“So, where’s the magic ice?” Rodhir asks. I search under the bridge, along with the other exochemists. An hour of our time burns away, and the sun is heading down. Soon all will be dark, but everyone is still searching for any signs that could justify this trip.

Nothing. Surely this mission could not have been a mistake?

“This can’t be right; the reports have shown that in the past this region has had specks of zero albedo and null radioactivity through our Foriro examiner. The terrain may look equivalent to the sand and dust on the rest of the moon, but the Jorrah-1 probe indicated that this must be fine, bleached daetrite sand, and…” Foltar went on talking at length, trying to defend his previous findings.

I cut him off, “I will take some of this sand for examination, and find out if it is truly daetrite. If it is, Seronotium could still have fused with it over the eons somewhere deep beneath the surface of this moon,”

I knelt down and began brush away large swaths of the dust by my feet, and I noticed small particles of sand that immediately caught my attention. I frantically started to sweep the grey sand away and found tiny black specks littered beneath the top layer. The other exochemists notice me, as does Rodhir. The soundless spin of the rover’s drill arm starts, and we quickly put to use the shovels stored the rover’s spacious trunk. Soon enough, we discovered large crystals of fused black ice and sand, each about the size of my hand. Our personal cooling systems are going to have a busy day, as are we.

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Under the Bridge - Part 3 of 4

The Incident: Six Days After Landing My excitement was booming. How could it not? After chatting with Zaria, I almost flew to Refinery Module One, ... Read more

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Under the Bridge - Part 1 of 4

Landing It’s been a long time. Four hundred and fifty-three trillion kilometers is quite the journey, even for me. Here we are, at the edge ... Read more

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