A universe 350 years in our future.
A tale spanning 1,000 years.
Five teens, lost in space on a living starship.
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CHAPTER 5 - Acrab Star System, 400 AU from Target Planet -- Ship Year 540, Day 27
Peter's chin rested uncomfortably on his chest with heavy eyes partially closed. They were four days and forty-eight billion miles from their destination. With nowhere on the ship to go, or friends to talk to, Peter fell into the habit of living in the command chair, taking catnaps as the mood struck. He looked as though he had not combed his hair in days--which was understandable because it was true--and had Henrietta been around she likely would have reminded him that a shower might be something worth considering too.
The ship was still too far away from the planet to see any surface details, but their distance was closing enough now to obtain firm data about the planet's atmosphere. That would provide the keys for finding life, and if the data looked bad, they would turn around and head for the other set of stars. Temperatures would need to be moderate, as almost guaranteed by its distance from the hot Beta-C star, but nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide would be needed, and ozone and water vapor, and a million other little things.
Peter sprang to life. His dreams--once again--were infected by Wasatti Marines breaking into the flimsy walls of an unfamiliar home. His dad, as usual, was lying motionless in the driveway, arms bent unnaturally under his broken body. He heard the usual thunder rumbling in the distance. "Huh? What's wrong?" Peter looked around, searching for further threats. Had the Wasatti finally broken in? He always woke up before they made it through.
"All is fine, Peter," Perry reassured him. "I thought you would be interested in knowing that the planetary spectrum is now being drawn up."
Peter brought up his sensor screen. A squiggly line started forming on the chart as Perry's spectrometer sniffed the distant atmosphere. It was not flat-lined like Mars or Venus, which was a good sign. Peter was getting excited despite himself.
"We have water, and ozone, and carbon dioxide indicators. Ozone is coexisting with methane."
"That's good?" Peter asked.
"Very good, Peter," Perry replied. "It is strongly indicative of the planet possibly being inhabited."
"Unknown. It might be plant or animal life." Perry paused for a moment. "This is looking very good, Peter."
Peter stared at the graph, hoping that every peak and valley in the signature of the planetary atmosphere was going to point to something good. Most of the peaks were unfamiliar to him, but he knew their exact placement along the chart would be critical.
"We also have chlorophyll. Definite plant life is indicated. Peter, for green plants to have evolved here, that is a very good sign."
"What?" Peter made Perry repeat what he had just said, still not believing the news. I can't beleive it!!!
"How could that have happened? I mean ... this star is too young, eh?"
"Well, however it occurred, Peter, it appears to be true. Our understanding of life-sustaining planets is very limited. But as additional cases are found, we will have a better handle on how to find life. And this, Peter, is a definite data point that will expand our knowledge base."
"You're sure? Should you run the analysis again?"
Perry hummed. "I could, but the numbers would not change."
"I--I didn't mean to question you, Perry; I'm just surprised, is all."
Perry purred, "I too am surprised. It appears that hope has worked yet again, despite the low odds."
Peter was asking if there were any signs of radio transmission signals. Had Jimmy been on duty, it would have been his job to search for them and report his findings. That would show that intelligent beings were communicating; even if not into space, their signals would leak from the planet like water through a sieve.
"Natural sources, Peter, but no, there are no artificial signals."
"But green plants ...." Peter just wanted to hear the news again.
"Yes, Peter. That conclusion should not change no matter how many times I repeat it."
"I'll be right back!" Peter rushed out of the bridge and ran as fast as he could to medical, five decks below. He ran up to Henrietta's booth. "Perry, bring them out!" ...