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Saturday, January 20, 2024

Starstruck: Phase Two (Part III)

Generated by Google Workspace Labs text-to-image Duet AI software
The year: 2283. After traveling at maximum reframe speeds for 33 years, they were at the new antistar. Like the first one, it was located in the intergalactic void, which was the safest place for it. If any particle from it encountered any particle of regular matter, they would annihilate each other. Fortunately, there is really no such thing as an antiphoton, or simply seeing the light emanating from an antistar would destroy you. They were orbiting at a safe distance, but keeping their EM shield up at all times for safety. They sacrificed less essential systems, like lighting and life support. Belahkay could survive by limiting himself to a small section of the ship, and he was posthuman enough to manage with less than an OG human. The other three didn’t need much at all.
Photons were not the only particles that came out of stars, and those would be quite dangerous. That was why the antistar was so lonesome. Any one that tried to form closer to other celestial bodies would end up being annihilated sooner or later. Being that the universe was created over fourteen billion years ago, the chances of an antistar surviving inside of a galaxy were low, and the probability would only decrease.
During the ride over here, all four of the crew stayed in VR stasis pretty much the whole time. This left their normal substrates in dormant, energy-saving mode—or in Belahkay’s case, metabolic suspension—but their minds active. They spent most of that time constructing new simulated worlds in a shared virtual environment. They could theoretically connect themselves to the quantum grid, and interact with other people in the galaxy, but they didn’t want to risk leading people to this region of the Milky Way. Yeah, anyone capable of traversing these vast distances in any reasonable amount of time would almost certainly be a part of the time traveler underground anyway, but there was no reason to put anyone in any unnecessary danger. The Exins had the ability to form portals between stars, like the one they used to maintain a connection between the original antistar, and Alpha Centaurus B, so that was another reason to leave everyone else out of the line of fire.
As far as the Exins themselves went, the crew tried to learn more about them, and how they came to be this far out from Earth, but they were not able to learn much. They tried to hack into their communications system, but there didn’t appear to be one. Surely their escort vessel has some way to maintain contact with the rest of their empire, but their means of accomplishing this was not readily apparent. That escort ship occasionally pinged the Iman Vellani to make sure that it was still on course, and of course, it always was. They made no attempt to escape, and that was partly due to the fact that none of them had seen an antistar before, and this may be the only opportunity to get up close and personal with one. One thing that their escorts did decide to tell them was that both of the two antistars they managed to locate were incredibly unstable. This could be for any number of reasons, ranging from the possibility that antimatter itself was inherently unstable in mass quantities, to just the fact that some stars were less stable than others. On cosmic timescales, a star dying out after a few millions years would certainly be something to write home about, but it could be quite common in the world of anti-celestials. There just wasn’t enough known about them.
“Yep. That is an antistar,” Mirage said admiringly. “I can’t believe I’m seeing one. She’s beautiful.”
Belahkay pointed to a blip on the screen. “What’s that over there?”
Sharice stepped forward, and zoomed in. “Holy shit, it’s a planet. It’s a gas giant.”
“That’s so unlikely,” Mirage noted. She looked through the data as well. “I think...I think it’s made of antimatter too.”
“An antiplanet,” Brooke mused. “In every sense of the word. You could send that hurtling through space, and completely annihilate any target you wanted.”
“By you,” Mirage figured, “you mean these Exins.”
“We should be quite worried about that,” Brooke confirmed. “They might be able to do it with the star itself anyway, but it’s so powerful, I think they probably want to keep it on hand for their regular needs. An antiplanet might seem like a tolerable sacrifice as a single projectile against a major enemy. It could decimate an interstellar-based civilization. How would you stop it once it was on its way?”
“What are we talking about here?” Sharice asked. “Are we going to destroy it?”
“We could throw it into the sun,” Belahkay suggested. “We would just be adding to their antimatter stockpile, not taking anything away. They appear to be more interested in staying hidden than picking a fight with outsiders. If we do this, and they argue, how might they explain why they’re so mad about it if not to use it as a weapon?”
“As Mirage has pointed out, they’re holding the cards,” Brooke began. “They may not feel obliged to explain why they wouldn’t want us to destroy the antiplanet, or they might go ahead and admit that they would like to keep it as a weapon, because they don’t think there’s anything we could do to stop them.”
“They’re wrong,” Mirage declared.
We know that, but how could we convince them that we’re not just going to roll over and do whatever they want without making any decisions?” Brooke questioned.
Mirage nodded slightly as she was thinking about it. “Destroying the antiplanet. That will send the message that, just because they’ve demanded we do something for them, and that we’re actually going to do it, doesn’t mean we’ve lost all agency.” They spent much of their time during the last 33 years debating whether they would go through with this at all, and they settled on doing it, instead of running. Again, this might be a once in an eon opportunity, and while the Exins may have control over it now, that might not be so true in the future. Based on Mirage’s once-godlike knowledge of the future, other, far more powerful civilizations, would be stepping on stage relatively soon. The Exins were probably still nothing compared to the likes of the Fifth Division, and the Parallelers.
“The Iman Vellani is impressive,” Sharice admitted. “But I’ve been up and down its systems, and it can’t move a planet, let alone an antiplanet.”
“This isn’t something that’s going to be done tomorrow. While we’re constructing the containment rings, we’ll also construct a modified stellar engine, fitted with a forward-facing EM generator to push the planet.”
“Ah, it’s a test,” Belahkay realized.
“What? They’re just testing us?” Sharice asked him.
“No, moving the planet can be a test. It’s small, we can argue that it’s insignificant. We need to make sure that it’s both possible and feasible to engineer the rings, and one way we could do that would be to build this modified stellar engine first. So when they ask us why we’re doing it, that’s our excuse.”
“They already know that it works,” Mirage explained. “They devised the rings in the first place, for use around the first antistar.”
“We didn’t see that,” Belahkay contended. “They didn’t send us any data from the operation of the original rings. All we have to go on are the specifications for the rings themselves. Nothing about that proves that they actually function properly. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to let us test the technology out with a prototype first. It shouldn’t take up any extra time. Like you’ve said, this is all going to be automated. It’s not like we’re building it brick by brick. We’ll program some robots to build the rings, and others to build the prototype simultaneously.”
A call came in. It was Ex-10. “That’s enough gawking. Now that you know we’re telling the truth about the antistar, please proceed to the nearest regular star system for your raw materials, and begin processing immediately. You only have about a century to get it done.
“We have a hundred and fifty years,” Mirage argued.
That’s not what we agreed upon.
“The time hasn’t started until now, upon reaching the star for initial inspection and observation,” Mirage insisted. “You’ll agree to this, or you’ll have nothing. We’re prepared to die on this hill, and we’ll take as many of you with us on our way down. Then you’ll have to build it yourselves. Sounds like a lot of work. You’ll still be over two hundred years ahead of schedule, so stop complaining, and let us do what we do.”
There was a long pause before Ex-10 replied. “Very well. Be finished by 2434. I tacked on an extra year as a sign of good faith.
Mirage took a beat before responding too. “We appreciate that.”
Sending you the coordinates to the nearest second star system. We recommend you cannibalize it for your self-replicating machines. We assume that’s how you’ll gather the reset of the raw materials for the rings. That’s how it was done the first time centuries ago.
“I’m sure we’ll do something similar,” Mirage agreed, “but faster.”
We look forward to it,” Ex-10 said before he hung up.
“All right!” Mirage clapped her hands together. “Do work, son.”
It took them about three weeks to get to the staging star system using the reframe engine. The yellow dwarf that was not unlike Sol was located on the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy. It was here that they built more than two thousand nanofactory ships out of an orbiting asteroid field. Each of these ships had their own reframe engine, so they could go out to other nearby star systems. Some of them had to travel as far as fifteen light years, but that only took them around a week. Bringing all of the materials back was going to be the big chore here. The reframe engine was not something that could be scaled very well. It wasn’t constrained to a single size, but there was still a limit to it, and the mass of a terrestrial planet was well beyond that limit. Even so, each was only responsible for that one system, so the automators only had to build celestial thrusters for themselves. These were giant rockets that propelled the planets through space. While they couldn’t get back to the crew in only a week, they were able to accelerate to high relativistic speeds. The whole second phase of the project only took 50 years, which wasn’t too bad considering. This would leave them with 100 years.
Since the specifications for the rings were already done, this plan was decided upon over the 33 years that it took them to arrive in this region of space. Everything was correct, and ready to go. Those automators worked smoothly on their own, sending back periodic updates, and error reports. In the meantime, they learned that they needed something else. There was one component that could not be found around any old star. In fact, it was only on one planet. And that planet...was inhabited.

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