The Sphere

NASA

Image: NASA, JPL-Caltech

Kahve Coffee in Boise, Idaho, Earth

“A Dyson Sphere? Are you out of your mind, Chris?”

Mike and Chris met every other Sunday afternoon at Boise’s only Turkish coffee and tea emporium for delicious caffeine and conversation. A wide variety of topics were bandied about between them, including the latest action and superhero movies, vintage comic books, and science fiction novels, as well as real science and technology news.

“Yeah, I know! But it fits the observations made of the dimming and flickering of Tabby’s Star.” Both friends were reasonably grounded and able to separate fact from fantasy, but of the two, Chris was far more speculative.

“Look at this.” Chris did some quick manipulating of his smart phone to pull up a webpage, and then turned the screen towards Mike. “Kepler’s been taking images of Tabby’s for four years now. Right here…” Chris quickly flipped the screen so he could see it, making sure he was pointing to the right part of the news story, and then flipped it back, “it says that not only does the star’s luminosity vary, sometimes by as much as 20 percent, but the total luminosity also has been reduced by nearly four percent.”

“But that could mean anything, from some massive amount of debris blocking the light to gravity darkening and spin-orbit misalignment.” Mike was fulfilling his role as the voice of reason. A task he felt was his calling within their relationship.

“But what about Bradley Schaefer’s findings at Cornell?” Chris emphatically tapped on the edge of his phone, still pointing the screen at Mike. This isn’t new. According to Schaefer, Tabby’s has been getting steadily dimmer over the past 100 years!”

“That doesn’t prove extraterrestrial beings are building a Dyson Sphere, and remember, not everyone agrees with Schaefer.”

“But wouldn’t it be great? I mean, a civilization that’s so advanced that it’s able to engineer the building of a giant sphere around their star…to be able to harness 100 percent of the sun’s output. It would sustain an enormous population and still never feel crowded.”

“I know the purpose of a Dyson Sphere. It makes for fascinating intellectual speculation, but the engineering knowledge needed to even design such a structure…”

“You say that because we wouldn’t have a prayer of pulling something like this off at our level of development, but if a race could live long enough, avoid all of the threats that could result in extinction, become advanced, not just technologically, but socially, learning to harmonize, to work together for a single, self-beneficial goal, it would be terrific.”

“Yeah, Chris.” He paused to take a sip of his thick, rich Lebanese coffee now that it had finally cooled down. “The probability of building a sphere isn’t exactly zero, but it’s way down there.”

“Aw, c’mon. Loosen up a little. Wouldn’t it be a blast to meet them?” Chris remembered he was still shoving his phone in Mike’s face and quickly put it down on the table.

“If they exist, Chris. If the Dyson Sphere exists. Maybe someday. If we can figure out how to keep from annihilating ourselves, if we can make something like warp drive practical. Maybe then.”

Chris deposited and then stirred another sugar cube into his cup of Cuban coffee and then tentatively took a drink to make sure it was sweet enough. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Sphere Construction Multiplex Station WU78BB
Somewhere in orbit around KIC 8462852 also known as Tabby’s Star

“The Krin team is still behind on heating vane construction of the 1511th section, southwest hemisphere.” Yint’nk was giving the weekly progress report to her superior Anssl’tl.

“I was afraid of that.” Anssl’tl sighed from two of her four ventral gills. Assign Tonn’ts’s unit to help Krin. They just finished the driver coil refit on section 1599 and are free for the next five minor rotations.”

“Very well.” Yint’nk made a note on her padboard and then paused to gaze wistfully at the design schematics of the sphere being displayed on main wall-mounted viewer of the conference chamber. “It’s really amazing that we’ve gotten this far, that it’s going to work.”

“I know.” Anssl’tl sighed again, also turning toward the large image of the schematic. The two colleagues shared the same wonder about their jobs. It’s part of what kept them from asking for periodic reassignment to other work collectives. They were never bored with watching the sphere slowly take shape.

dyson sphere

Image: Sentient Developments

“I have to keep reminding myself that we’re building the sphere not just as the ultimate monument of the achievements of our race, but for a much more critical purpose. Survival.”

“Indeed.” Yint’nk sagely waved her dorsal appendage. “The last report from the Department of Alien Observations and Projections predicted that…that hostile warrior race “humans” will develop faster-than-light drive and reach our space in less than 400 major rotations. We’ll barely have the sphere operational by then.”

“It will be enough, Yint’nk.” The whistling from her left upper ventral gill was meant to sound reassuring. “I’m confident that well before the first space vessel arrives here from their planet, what’s it called…Earth, isn’t it, that we will have the sphere finished and operational. Then, we will be the ultimate power in the universe with the only known totally solar-powered battle station.”

“I’ve always been fond of the appellation ‘Death Star,’ myself.”

Anssl’tl pulled herself out of momentary musings. “Well, back to work. Tell me how the Lael team is doing on the second blaster tube’s eleventh power coupling?”

The first half of this bit of flash fiction is a thinly disguised version of conversations between my friend Tom and I. We meet every other Sunday afternoon to chat about whatever, which includes comic books, TV and film, and yes, the occasional bit of actual science and technology.

Sadly, Kahve Coffee does not currently exist. It was burned down along with a number of other refuge-owned businesses nearly a year ago. I have heard some news that they are getting back together, so maybe Tom and I can have coffee together at Kahve’s in the near future.

I came across a rather whimsical article at HelloGiggles.com called ‘So, there’s some news about that “alien superstructure” and it just gets weirder…,’ and recalled reading about the matter of Tabby’s star before.

I did some link clicking and came up with enough information to craft my wee tale of speculation, and then decided to see what the other side might have to say, assuming there are aliens and they really are building a Dyson Sphere. My sources are below.

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