Captain's log: galactic date 1034 2-20: Third Engineer Queng Ji and his family failed to board. Two servo bots were
also missing. We dispatched a probe to scan the landing site and located them and their camp. It appears they have
mutinied. How can I be surprised? We have been in space some fifty years and we encounter a pleasant and quite
establish colonies wherever possible, this far out in space? It is not our mission directive, but we cannot remain on this
ship for countless generations. At the same time, I cannot tolerate an open challenge to my authority as captain, as
this will endanger the ship, its crew and its mission. I have decided to keep this event between my first officers only.
We have taken the opportunity to establish a colony and I have requested volunteers to colonise the planet.
Forty-one crew members volunteered. Now do I let so many go? I need to give these people a chance to leave as they
may cause trouble in future, but that is a substantial portion of our crew. I have decided to select twenty, by lot, in
addition to merit - the colony will need certain skills to be successful. We have also provided a number of bots to help
agriculture and construction. Maybe, if they succeed, the other 21 crew members will be allowed to join them later.
Indeed, it would be reassuring to know that we have some sort of home base to fall back to, so far from home. They
are officially still under Starstrider's authority and must maintain regular contact and provide detailed progress
reports. What else was I to do? This seems the best option, as it appears that no mutiny occurred and we could do
without those whose hearts are no longer in our immense and difficult task. The normal laws of social duty cannot be
rigorously applied under these circumstances without resulting in greater problems. I only hope that the majority are
content to continue, as I am.
This incident does raise the question of the ultimate fate of Starstrider and her crew. Since the galaxy-gate was closed
down I have had sole command and Starstrider now only answers to the UGA by choice, as we constitute a 'lost
vessel' under galactic law. With the re-opening of the galaxy-gate, adventurers and colonists have again re-entered
this colony, replacing those colonies annihilated during the Robot Wars, and re-establishing contact with stranded
outposts. Despite the great length of our voyage, our course has been a winding and zig-zag one. We could turn back
and, flying straight, we could reach these new settlements in about twenty years. They may even close the gap behind
us, as they follow in our footsteps. Perhaps, even, some bold adventurer will yet overtake us.
Captain's log: galactic date 1034 4-08: Whilst completing an engine overhaul at the UV JEN 7468 SB star system, we
detected a very weak radio signal coming from the nearby JEN 658204 star system. I have set course for this system,
which is 11.3 light-years away.
Captain's log: galactic date 1034 4-20: We have arrived at JEN 658204 and located the source of the radio signal to
the largest member of a binary planet system, sixth from the parent star, which is a solitary spectral type KO star. This
planet, JEN 658204 Zeta 1, is a medium-sized icy world with a dense nitrogen and hydrocarbon atmosphere (pressure
1.4 atm, gravity = 0.64g, daytime surface temperature about -180 degrees C). We have dispatched a probe to the
source of the radio transmissions. The planet's surface comprises mainly oceans of liquid hydrocarbons with islands
of frozen hydrocarbon which wax and wane according to time of day and season. These oceans are a rich soup of
prebiotic carbon-based molecules. The planet has been warmed by its own radioactive and volcanic activity. It is part
of a double sister.
Zeta 1's sister satellite, Zeta 2 (shown above) is a smaller colder world. Hydrocarbons have been completely frozen
onto its surface and its atmosphere is very thin. However, the surface of this smaller world (JEN 658204 Zeta 2) is
covered in curious enormous chimmney-like vents. Sensors indicate that a tenuous and largely dispersed plume of
primarily ammonia ice originated from one of the chimneys (we ascertained this by following its odour trail, taking into
account the planet's rotational dynamics). We have dispatched a probe to this planet also. The thin atmosphere and
low gravity of Zeta 2 will make it easy to deploy a hovering probe powered by ion engines, whilst to Zeta 1 we
deployed a lander capable of roving the surface. The surface of Zeta 2 is coated with material both from its own
cryovolcanic outgasing and from hydrocarbons ablated from Zeta 1's atmosphere by the rays of the parent star. This
star system is estimated to be 4.8 billion years old.
Captain's log: galactic date 1034 6-31: We have located the radio transmitter on Zeta 1. It belongs to a space probe!
This probe transmitted its signals 11 years ago, when we detected it 11 light-years away, but is now silent. The probe
is powered down and half-buried in hydrocarbon snow, but was capable of interstellar flight and we predict that it
probably came from a star system within 20 light years of here. We may be very close to a hitherto unknown
technological civilisation! We are within 1000 light-years of worlds from which ancient signals were detected many
light-years from here, and could it be that they have spread to this sector, or is this another civilisation? The probe
displays a much lower level of technology than our own, but is still advanced.
The probe on Zeta 2 has descended into the chimney that gave rise to the most recent significant cryovolcanic
eruption. The chimney walls appear to comprise ammonia, and phosphorus-rich ices, deposited from prolonged
outgasing in the planet's past. It would appear that tidal friction caused by its proximity to Zeta 1 has greatly heated its
interior. Descending some 1000 metres, the probe reached the bottom and discovered a series of tunnels penetrating
deep into the planet's crust. Descending one of these tunnels, etched by ammonia vapours, the probe reached a
reservoir chamber. The chamber was sealed off by a wall of ammonia ice, through which the probe melted its way (the
ammonia refreezing behind it meant that we lost all signals from the probe, and had to wait for it to resurface). Inside,
the probe encountered a shoreline to a liquid ammonia lake. The shore was covered by huge masses of foam.
Examining the foam with its microscopes, the probe discovered prebiotics - microspheres of phosphorus and nitrogen
polymers and something else even more exciting, as shown in the micrograph below:
Above: the JEN 658204 Zeta planetary system, as seen from Zeta 2. Zeta 1 can be seen setting above the horizon.
We have dispatched probes to both worlds. Faint but regular radio signals have been detected from Zeta 1.
A simple form of subcellular/acellular life, phosphorus and nitrogen-based and largely lacking in carbon. This is
valuable scientific evidence to help formulate theories of biogenesis. Click here for a more detailed report (pdf
format)! These forms are tiny, around 100 nanometres in diameter. Nothing of this complexity was discovered on Zeta
1, where our alien probe touched down, though we can't rule out that life-forms exist beneath the planet's crust where
a warmer ocean of ammonia or water might exist. It would be unfortunate, for them, if our alien colleagues never
probed beneath the surface of Zeta 2 as we have done! Interesting questions remain, such as: did these forms
originate further down within the planet in warmer lakes or oceans? Why have they taken so long to evolve to such a
comparatively low level of complexity? Fortunate for them, their parent star is low mass and so should be extremely
long-lived and so they have many more billions of years in which to make the evolutionary jumps that our ancestors
made. Who knows what they will become.
|Starstrider Voyages, page 6: Biogenesis.