Voyager 1

The recovery of an ancient deep space probe

Voyager 1
Image from Steve Bowers
Voyager 1 in deep space before recovery operations commenced. The 'Golden Disc' can be seen at bottom right of the craft

After the success of the Formalhaut Acquisition Society's interception and development of the ancient Pioneer 10 space probe around 5400 a.t., interest was soon generated in the whereabouts of the Voyager probes. The Voyager probes had been launched in 8 a.t. as an early attempt by the United States of America to investigate the gas giants of Solsys. Using a series of gravity assists they managed to visit, between them, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune before heading for interstellar space at over 17 km/s. Although Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to enter interstellar space, the mission was never considered as important, historically, as the first manned Luna or Martian landings. The unexpected popularity of the Pioneer 10 tourist venture caused several Formacist groups to start searching for other, potentially lucrative, Old Earth artefacts.

The near forgotten pair of Voyager probes were an obvious choice, and preparation work was started in 5545. Voyager 2 was calculated to be over 18,000 AU from Sol, while Voyager 1 was around 20,000 AU out. Although the area of space that the probes should be in could be calculated it was still going to be a major operation to attempt to find the tiny craft, and a small fleet of scout ships was launched to that end, financed by loans taken against the Pioneer 10 heritage site.

Locating the dead probes was found to be harder than first anticipated, but eventually news began to spread over the Known Net that Voyager 1 had been located intact. The first images of the probe emerged in 5630 and showed the tiny spacecraft surrounded by industrial structures, Formacist ships and hundreds of media-bots that had been lying expectantly in the area. When asked what their plans were, the Formacist announced that they would be "restoring" Voyager in preparation for it going on public display. No more details were revealed and a three light second area surrounding Voyager 1 was eventually cordoned off by Formacist sentries.

There was no new information released about the project until 5642, when the Formalhaut Acquisition Society officially announced that the restoration was complete and Voyager 1 would be unveiled to the public around Barnards Star, a bohemian (and quite backwater) Inner Sphere system. Initially there was shock at the news, first at the impudent diversion of the relic and then at the bizarre choice of location for the unveiling. The Negentropy Alliance condemned the abduction of such an important historical artifact and expressed its deep consternation at the continuing recklessness of the FAS and its Curators. Several lucrative offers of alternative venues were widely publicised by the NoCoZo, but to no avail.

In any case, Barnard's Star briefly experienced an upturn in tourism and income as sophonts poured into the system to witness the unique event. The system lacked both Nexus access and appropriate infrastructure for visitors, but several hundred thousand still made the long trip from Stargates in Solsys and Diwali. The exact location was not given until hours before the event and most of those who had travelled would be resigned to watching events unfold over the Net despite their best efforts to attend in person.

The unveiling took place within the orbital JP-455, a small, family owned refinery. The Formacist Container Vessel the Arkonaut (actually bigger than JP-455 itself) was docked straight from system insertion and the vec crew proceeded to unload the Arkonaut's contents into the loading bay. Media agents and the assorted sophonts that had made it in time to the orbital were led into the room amid a shocked silence. Confronting the observers was Voyager 1, sitting behind a desk, flamboyantly decorated with Formacist insignia and liveries. The AI captain of the Arkonaut announced Voyager 1 proudly, before the probe itself proceeded to stand from behind the desk and climb onto a small pedestal. Legs had been added to the main body of Voyager 1, and mechanical hands had replaced the camera and radioisotope generator. The antennae dish was on the back of the probe, while where there had been a structure supporting radiators and calibration instruments there was now a large screen. On the screen was a human face, slightly warped so it could fill the entire square.

The AI captain announced the playing of the "Golden Disc" that was launched with the Voyager probes, explaining that this had been neither heard nor seen for over five millennia. Voyager 1 smiled and the face disappeared from the screen, replaced by a simple white circle. Ninety minutes of music was played as a variety of images appeared on the screen, mostly simple images of Old Earth landscapes, biological diagrams and portraits.

As Beethoven's String Quartet No. 13 faded, Voyager 1 reappeared and announced the following:
I am Voyager 1. I have travelled 3 trillion kilometres before I was assisted in my journey. I have seen a great many things.
The AI captain announced that Voyager 1 had been upgraded to a turingrade level, with all the associated rights, and had complete freedom, including the freedom not to be influenced by the Formalhaut Acquisition Society in any way. A brief question and answer period followed, with Voyager 1 seemingly having very little awareness of where it was or what it was doing. A broad, sage-like smile and a vague answer accompanied most questions, especially those that did not concern the journey it had taken. The whole unveiling event had lasted only two hours, including the playing of the Golden Record. Voyager 1 was led back out onto the Arkonaut, and the craft immediately undocked. The gathered sophonts were left to make their own judgments, and most were left at least suspicious of the whole affair, if not outraged at the anti-climax.

Journalists were doubtful of the turingrade claim, and some doubted that it was Voyager 1 at all. The added limbs appeared primitive, looking like something from the Information Age. That, and the baseline human face on a flickering screen, was believed, by some, to be a ruse to trick those who were not overly familiar with the Voyager missions into thinking that Voyager 1 had actually been launched as it now appeared. In any case, Voyager 1 proceeded to pop up regularly around the Inner Sphere, along with the Arkonaut. As time went on Voyager 1 seemed to change, becoming increasingly philosophical and irreverent. Any mention of the whereabouts of Voyager 2 (which was still being searched for without success) would often cause Voyager 1 to simply "shut down", entering a catatonic state for anything up to 48 hours.

As an example, the following exchange occurred on Nova Terra, 6821, during a public forum:
VirchChat1337-6969: How do you feel about the interruption in your journey? I'd be outraged!

Voyager 1: I have been the most distant tool. A wanderer in the ether tasked with blazing a trail to the stars. Have I not been vindicated, have we not absolution?

VirchChat1337-6969: Ok, how about the bandwidth during the first parts of your mission, was it inhibiting?

Voyager 1: There was a peak in the murk of the valley. Nothing is awoken by one hand clapping, but by things that go bump in the night.
Although Voyager 1 continued to be a celebrity around the Inner Sphere for several hundred years, increasingly it was as a source of laughter and derision by those who identified it as a "fraudulent pseudo-sage". During a visit to an orbital in the outskirts of the Oort Cloud around Solsys, Voyager 1 announced the resumption of the original Voyager mission with the following statement:
The interlude of civilisation is over, and now my journey to the stars must continue. The Golden Record and its message of peace from all humanity must be given to the space and the time of the future. The next time you will see me, you will be dead.
Packed into a tiny capsule and strapped to an simple Amat-Thermal drive, Voyager 1 was relaunched, at a higher velocity, on the original vector that it was taken from. Questions remained around the whole incident, and particularly around the handling of Voyager 1 by the Formalhaut Acquisition Society. The FAS has refused to discuss Voyager 1 in any detail since it was relaunched. The location of Voyager 2 also remains a mystery. Although a collision with an Oort Cloud object, and subsequent destruction, is possible, theft or interception is considered more likely. So far, no further interest in intercepting Voyager 1 has been made obvious by any major groups capable of the feat. Presumably this is due to a fear of being associated with the bizarre Formacist acquisition.

 
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Development Notes
Text by Graham Hopgood

Initially published on 16 April 2008.