The Charred Tree

Diaspora: Motherlode

Probe XP-42816 coasted into the Adjan 172 system at .9997C, just under the speed of light. The onboard artificial intelligence was advanced enough to navigate and make survival, information gathering, analysis, and report decisions but that was all; it was not advanced enough to need any name other than the probe’s designation. Self-diagnostics of the various systems aboard the probe indicated everything working properly with no damage suffered during it’s interstellar voyage. The sensors reached out to sample the probe’s surroundings. No planets or dangerous bits of matter were detected in the immediate vicinity—XP-42816 had arrived safely.

XP-42816 awoke from hibernation when the automated sensors measuring the angle of the solar disc indicated the probe had reached the outer edge of the system. The probe quickly located the planets in the system and compared the data to the information known prior to its launch. The three gas giants were in the orbits expected although on the opposite side of the primary from the probe’s position. Sensors indicated three inner planets—the first, designated Adjan I, very close to the primary and Adjan II and III in the estimated habitable zone—as well as a rogue planetoid a significant distance below the orbital plane of the rest of the system. XP-42816 labeled the rogue Adjan R1. The telescope surveys had not indicated the rogue and the AI focused all sensors on it to begin plotting its orbit for the report. It would take another reading again when it crossed the orbit of the outermost gas giant and begin to plot the planetoid’s orbit.

XP-42816 computed the navigational adjustments needed to safely accomplish its long fall into the system. The AI calculated the best trajectory to brake its speed by using the gravity fields of the primary and the gas giants. The multiple passes by the giant planets would result in a stable orbit between Adjan II and III from which the probe could complete a full survey of both planets in the habitable zone. The maneuver would also fully recharge the drive system for XP-42816’s next mission. Directional thrusters fired and the probe glided toward its first rendezvous with the system’s outermost planet.

It took the probe more than four days to achieve the orbit it had plotted and by that time the AI had gathered enough information to determine that Adjan R1 was likely a recently captured body with a highly elliptical orbit that diverged 52 degrees from the orbital plane of the system and did not cross the orbits of either of the habitable zone planets. Sensor readings indicated a very high probability that it contained high levels of heavy metals as well as methane ice.

Both Adjan II and Adjan III had thick atmospheres containing primarily nitrogen and oxygen, although in different proportions than Earth normal. Liquid water was visible on the planets, although it was much more plentiful on Adjan III which displayed large oceans between it’s continents and ice caps covered the poles to 27 degrees. Adjan II was drier and only small oceans were evident in the southern hemisphere while its poles were bare.

XP-42816 launched a small barrage of probes at each planet as it passed. Several of the probes were rovers the AI could control remotely to explore the host planet. While the rovers had general visual, chemical analysis, and magnetic resonance sensors, most of the other probes were designed to find the specific requirements for human habitation and report the results back to the AI for analysis. A very few of the probes were dedicated to find rare elements.

Thirty-seven standard months later, XP-42816 completed its survey of the inner planets of the Adjan system and began its journey to the next closest star. The gravity drive spooled up and pushed it out of its orbit around the star and out toward the edge of the system.

XP-42816 had imaged the surface of both planets early in the mission but it had taken much longer to complete the requisite survey of 25% of the land mass by rover. The AI transferred its data on the Adjan system to one of the three-meter long Earth return drone. The drones were equipped with a miniature version of the gravity drive that drove the probe. It repeated the process twice more and added its analysis and report to each of the three message drones.

The analysis for the system was favorable for colonization. A single habitable planet in a system was good—two was exceptional. While air from the atmosphere used for breathing would have to be modified for the first few generations due to the different gas ratios, the colonists’ progeny would adapt to the changes and eventually be able to breathe unaided. Each of the planets in the system held resources that could be developed and utilized by a colony. While the seas of Adjan II did not support life due to ultra high salinity, it held large deposits of heavy metals and ores useful for manufacturing and construction. Adjan III boasted a wide array of plant and animal life. Food production would not be a problem for a colony due to the extreme fertility levels of the soil.

Adjan R1 was an unexpected bonus. Since the planetoid came from outside the system it contained resources unique to it—heavy metals, precious metals, and some elements XP-42816 could not identify. If the orbit remained stable a permanent outpost could extract the resources for use in the colony or to export back to Earth to offset the cost of the expedition.

The AI would launch each of the drones during the eight standard year journey to its next mission. Each would take a slightly different route and thus increase the likelihood of at least one returning to Earth safely. The first would be launched as XP-42816 emerged from the system’s Oort cloud in approximately eighteen standard months.

Just as the data transfer on each of the drones was complete, a small sub-routine in the XP-42816’s programming inserted a very short message to be broadcast when the drone passed through Sol’s Oort cloud. As quickly as the sub-routine executed its function and inserted the message, it erased all record of it from the AI’s logs and memories.

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