Terra Cognita: forgive me!
I leave thee for fifty millennia and more.
I would like to stay, but the ramjet calls.
Thy ground I have trod on,
Thy skies I have breathed of,
Thy waters I have bathed in,
O cradle of life.
But all children outgrow their cradles.
Terra Cognita: thou art known.
Thou hast taught me much,
But the Universe whispers.
Thou, with thy mountains of history
hast taught me:
I do not hesitate.
For human eyes, the Universe appeared empty.
Stay still for long enough, measure for enough time, and the cosmos would slowly glow, even in the visual wavelengths. With other instrumentation, it was full of whispers. There, on the edge of the Universe, at the dawn of time, two black holes merged, the gravitational scream diminished into an echo of greatness by the inverse square law.
Here, at the center of the Milky Way, the Sagittarius A* black hole raved and raged in all the frequencies known to existence. The small ship, halfway through its journey, finally at its reason for being, performed the moves it had practiced for five or twenty-five thousand years, depending on one’s frame of reference. Time dilation meant that the Eternal Blaze had but few moments subjective to absorb, observe, learn during its slingshot gravity assist.
The small ship stood on the shoulders of giants.
A whisper in the dark
A voice in the maelstrom
A whisper in the dark
A single ion of deuterium sat in the interstellar medium. Its kinetic energy was on the low side for interstellar medium – only a few thousand kelvin – and it was not going anywhere in particular when it felt the tug of a magnetic field associated with no star. It was pulled in, in, in, by successively stronger field lines, towards the fast-moving object, its drive-flame pointing in its direction of travel, attempting to decelerate from its near-light speeds. The ion felt the repulsion of others of its kind, but the magnetic fields squeezed them ever tighter, until it collided with a lone proton. As a result of the union, a positron and a neutrino were ejected. The positron annihilated itself with an electron formed by the vacuum foam, leaving the electron’s original positron pair pairless. The neutrino continued, unaffected by material reality, oscillating from one flavor to the next, towards the edge of the Universe, never to reach it. The formed helium nucleus collided with another, producing helium-4 and two protons for the cycle to continue.
The released energy of each step was directed forth to slow down the space ship.
Oh my child, my darling child,
Would you wish to be brave?
Wish to leave your mother’s side
Have all singing your name?
Do not do as sailors did,
Leaving us all behind.
Let me see your children’s crib
Let me be there for life.
Occasionally, someone on Earth would remember that their far-flung astronauts were still there. Even more occasionally, someone would send a message. Very rarely would that message survive intact through the redshift and then blueshift, after the kiloparsecs’ worth of attenuation in the interstellar medium.
The best that arrived was reduced to a staticky whisper in a language born millennia after departure.
In the furthest of ports,
The thing on my thoughts:
Will you come back to me?
I hope while I sing,
Those Bussard-drive wings
Bring you back home to me.
Once more you sail into port
Once more I get what I sought
Once more you tell me,
The story of them who come home again.
Once more in the country of dreams
I can hear you tell of journeys
Once more, my darlings,
You will come home to me!
I am the ship.
My squishy neurons, heavily augmented, are its heart. Its hull is my skin. The interstellar medium’s gentle caress. The reassuring hum of life support. The immeasurable power of the drive-flame.
All mine to command.
A single choice made me what I am. A single spark of passion – desire – yearning for better, novel existence.
A thousand generations made me what I am. A mountain range of culture and knowledge and human mistakes.
If I am part machine, I may avoid some. If I am part machine, I may make utterly new mistakes, not made by anyone before me. I am old and new. I am tradition and invention. I spun the wheel of fortune and learned to navigate.
I stand on the shoulders of giants.
My brothers and sisters within me may have made some different choices, but we are all but a choir full of longing for knowledge. We voyage into the endless ocean of the unknown.
I am the ship.
Come, rejoice, mortal!
Life is brief: enjoy its song.
As the river hits the water,
Both the same and different each time,
From floods to the drought-time death,
Notice how calming are the moments.
Embrace the moment,
For you and I are mortal,
So much to do before inevitable death:
Life is brief: enjoy its song!
Do not waste your time.
It flows through the seconds like water.
Embody the water:
It lives in the moment.
It does not waste time
waffling like us mortals.
So long ill-spent before we learned to sing!
So much to catch up with before death.
We all will greet death,
Like downhill is the destiny of water.
Raindrops hit the gravestones and sing.
Here we have but a moment,
For life is short and we mortal.
Spend well your time.
And how should you spend your time,
That short amount given before death?
Listen closely, young mortal.
When the sky blesses you with water,
Stop, pause, cherish the moment,
Dance in the rain and sing.
Life has no meaning: sing!
Have you better to do with your time?
Use wisely each moment,
For soon you'll be claimed by death.
Recall, rainwater is life-water
That makes us grow, mortal.
And, at the moment of death,
I shall sing the song of time immortal,
As the rainwater forgives my mortal self.
The interstellar medium thinned near Sol. The Eternal Blaze dimmed.
Eventually, the ship entered the region where Sol’s gravity reigned supreme, two light-years away from the star’s comforting yellow glow. Soon, on the galactic scale, they decelerated through the Oort cloud’s thin-spread small snowballs. One light-year away, the Oort cloud thinned, leaving only occasional distant detached objects in their path. Some 150 AU – a mere speck, compared to the thousands of parsecs already traversed! – away, the solar wind hit the interstellar medium, the termination shock momentarily lighting the drive-flame with new intensity.
On Earth, the current iteration of humanity desired to meet the time travelers from the deep past.
The ship blazed through the heliopause into the heliosphere, decelerating on the Sun’s particular ejecta. The scattered disc greeted it, before it sank into the Kuiper belt proper.
Neptune and Jupiter were in appropriate position for gravity assist deceleration. The Eternal Blaze flew against the direction of travel of first Neptune and then Jupiter, gifting the planets a small amount of kinetic energy, returning the debt taken on the way away. The craft used its Bussard drive in similar fashion, rigging the magnetic fields to slow down to Earth-speeds. It cautiously dipped into the edges of the atmospheres, dumping momentum as much as it dared.
The final insertion into Earth orbit was done with liquid propellant, carried in the ship, carefully conserved for either one or five thousand decades, depending on one’s frame of reference.
Earth celebrated the return of its children. The Eternal Blaze sang its songs.
Five billion years later, Sol fused the last of its core hydrogen. It gradually doubled in size into a respectable subgiant, before then rapidly expanding into a red giant that swallowed the lifeless Earth.
Terra Cognita: I arrive!
Thou art changed and the same,
Fifty millennia ante.
Provest that we are but mayflies to thee,
Whilst thou operatest in deep time.
I have sailed the stars
To the center of the galaxy
And wish to tell thee all I have seen.