Traveler's Notes: Interlude in Space
   
Red Giant and black hole
Image from Steve Bowers
Fade to scene of an open field or meadow, tall golden grass swaying gently in the wind, rippling across the expanse of the field in ocean-like waves. A small baseline child, Human, about 3 or 4 years of age, wearing shorts, kid sneakers, and a white shirt with buttons up near the neck, walks up to a milkweed in the field. He breaks open one of the pods and watches the fluffy white seeds blow away. Behind the child, his mother approaches. She looks to be about 35. She is tall, almost Amazonian-tall, with long blonde hair and a long white dress both flowing in the wind. The child approaches his mother and hugs her warmly, his chin about on a level with her waist. She reaches down, picks him up, gives him a little peck of a kiss, and then hugs him affectionately, his chin resting on her shoulder. After a moment, she holds him away from her and speaks to him.

"We have to go," she speaks, her voice soft yet authoritative.

"Now?" her son asks. His voice still has the squeaking quality of early childhood, yet although he only spoke a single word, his voice betrays a deep intelligence and keen insight beyond what most baselines ever know.

"Yes," his mother replies. "I just heard from your father and your uncle a millisecond ago. That means ey've been waiting for us now for 750 years, with the communications lag between here and the system where ey've set emselves up. Bad enough it will take us an additional 758 years by eir reckoning to get there. It would be unnecessarily rude to keep em waiting any longer than that."

"Okay," the boy concedes, trying too hard to sound disappointed, though he's really only pretending.

Scene fades again to an immense red supergiant, larger than the orbit of Mars, in the backround. Nearby, almost imperceptible against the red behemoth, a flattened glowing disk with a bulge in the center, impossibly swings the star around, almost like a mouse swinging a brontosaurus it is dancing with. Except this "mouse" is a black hole, the remnant of the supergiant's companion, and is actually more massive. As the black hole swings its dancing partner around, like a vampire dancing with a mortal, the black hole feeds on its companion. A trail of plasma streams off the supergiant's corona and spirals into the hole, whirling around forming an accretion disk before disappearing forever into the hole's maw.

Against the backround of the star, two entities, each over a kilometer long and massing hundreds of thousands of metric tons, though appearing microscopic against the star even when viewed at close range, cruise along. The two entities are space-dwelling neumanns. Visually, each resembles a cross between a jellyfish or a hydra and a waterlily - an ovoid central body, with "tendrils" streaming behind the entity as it travels, and "petals" opening like a flower around its front end. On the commonly used toposophic scale, the two entities would each rate probably about SI:2. The two are mother and child, each at least a couple of centuries old (the mother more likely a millennium or more) as ey reckon time.

The two have spent much of the past few centuries (eir own time) travelling at relativistic speeds, each capable of cruising within a percentage point of the speed of light, and so haven't experienced as much time passing, by eir own reckoning, as other memebers of eir kind who have stayed put. It hardly matters. Eir species is basically immortal. At least none have died of old age as far as anyone knows. Ey are used to taking several centuries "growing up." Just frolicking and doing completely irrelevant things for no apparent reason. In short, just being kids. Parents usually stay with eir kids for half a millennium or so, making sure eir kid don't kick over any anthills (i.e. Raze a planet with an indigenous ecosystem, or especially a baseline sapient population on it), without understanding what ey are doing (Some of em might be your friends someday, parents usually tell eir children when asked why it isn't okay to slam a kilometer-wide asteroid into such a planet for target practice). It rarely happens anyway, but children always need to be watched to make sure ey learn respect for others, eir lives and property.

The two break orbit around the star and arc through space toward the black hole. Ey intend to use it as a slingshot to help shave a few years off eir journey and conserve some energy. The two follow the gas stream from the star as it streaks along toward the hole, before spiralling down into its maw. Diving through the accretion disk, the two bask briefly in the X-radiation (harmless to em, if ey limit eir exposure to only a few moments; Eir pico-rejuve systems are able to cope with most damage that isn't fatal outright, and the two have near-complete conscious control over what goes on in eir own bodies, so are certain to suffer no lasting ill effects in any event) emitted by the gas as it disappears forever, and then shoot out below the ecliptic of the accretion disk at 0.2c. The child swoops in slightly closer than its mother, and zooms away slightly faster, a couple of percentage points closer to c. She struggles to catch up.

"You cut that too close!" she scolds, sounding more annoyed than she actually is. She doesn't mind her child having fun. Just his timing, and his annoying habit of seeing how close he can cut things, is what annoys her.

"Sorry, Mom," he replies, nonchalantly, which demonstrates to her he really isn't sorry at all. "I guess old habits die hard."

The two continue on eir way to the meeting with others of eir kind in a distant star system.


By Mike Parisi


More Traveller's Notes