The Pleiades Mystery

summer

© Sue Vincent

Elio Hudson let out a deep breath as he looked at the idylic scene on the small console monitor. It was a photo he had taken of a field of wildflowers last Spring in southeast Texas, a hundred miles from the Houston Space Center and his other life.

“Hey, you might want to save that for later. Where we’re going has a much broader canvas.” Eledoro Salazar tapped Elio on the shoulder while sitting in the co-pilot’s chair. Although the mission leader and Naval Commander had only met the Spanish computer scientist eleven months ago while they were training for this mission, they had become fast friends.

Hudson removed his restraints and lifted his muscular frame from the pilot’s seat. “Routine systems check complete, Eledoro. Let’s go join the others. Our mission update from Houston is scheduled to come in about five minutes from now.”

“Right you are. Let’s go.”

The thin, perpetually cheerful Spaniard followed the African-American former football player out of the command module hatch, and using hand holds, navigated down the primary corridor to the main crew hub, which served as galley, lounge, communications and control bay, and what chemical and electrical engineer Cyrus Woods called “the bullpen,” much to Oriana’s and Soleil’s dismay.

“Good. You two are just in time. What held you up. Stargazing again?” Elio’s wife Oriana spoke English with a charming Italian accent.

“No, your husband got lost in those photos of flowers he keeps in his personal virtual drive.” Eledoro nudged Elio playfully in the back as they maneuvered into their assigned seats and buckled up.

“Who left you in charge of communications?” Elio winked at his wife as he pulled the restraint straps around him.

“You did when you and Sal went up to the command module to hold hands.” Physician and exobiologist Ravi Burman always made fun of Elio’s and Eledoro’s friendship, joking that since both of their first names began and ended in the same letters, they were destined to be very close.

“Quiet. This could be important.” The mission’s astronomer and solar expert Soleil Roche was the youngest member of the crew at 28, but her waif-like appearence belied a personality that was almost all business, and what she considered excessive frivolity made her nervous. Then again, she had every right to act that way, since the entire mission might hinge on her skills.

“Here we go.” The 51 year old Cyrus was the only other American onboard besides Elio. Completely bald, he wore an impeccably trimmed salt and pepper beard, and Hudson perpetually teased him that the glare from his pale, bare pate threw off a glare that rivaled the Sun, and it was the Sun that concerned them all, that and the Pleiades Object.

“Argonaut, this is Mission Control Huston. Please be advised, the object has made an attitude adjustment and reduced its velocity five percent. Sending you course and telemetry updates now.”

“I’m getting them.” Eledoro was tapping swiftly at his console’s keyboard and scanning the readouts on the screen in front of him. “Feeding adjustments into the navcom.”

“Holy shit, it changed course again.” Cyrus stared at the mission commander as if he could somehow explain it.

“Just another confirmation that it’s manned.” Ravi smiled as if pleased by the news.

“Piloted, not necessarily manned. It’s only 1,000 meters long with a 200 meter radius. A manned interstellar ship should be much larger.” Soleil shot back at Ravi. “It could be an automated probe, which means it’s up to Eledoro to figure out an interface.”

“And Oriana to come up with a translation matrix. Who knows what sort of language differences we’re dealing with, both computer language and species?” Elio nodded his head at the linguist and archeologist.

“Okay, I’ve got a new intercept point and velocity. We’ll rendezvous with the Pleiades Object in just under twelve hours, relative velocity will be five meters per second.” Salazar was still punching buttons, confirming his estimate for the third time.

“I can make that work. We’ll match velocities with the Object…how fast is it traveling now, Eledoro?” The pilot was checking on the Argonaut’s fuel reserves.

“102,000 kph. We’ll reach our intercept just inside the orbit of Venus.”

“Do you think it will hit the Sun?” Soleil sounded pensive.

“Hard to say. It’ll be close. Could be a skimmer, but I can’t be sure at this distance.”

“A probe from outside our solar system. There can’t be life on board, not if it’s going to get that close to the Sun. All the radiation…” Ravi had dreamed all his life about making first contact with an alien species. He never imagined he’d get this close.

“I’ll acknowledge the update with Houston.” Elio opened a comm channel. “Then in about twelve hours and some, we’re going to get our answers.”

Okay, I’m playing fast and loose with Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt: Summer #writephoto prompt, but I’m trying to work out a story in my head, and needed to “play” with the characters and the situation a bit.

East Texas has fields of wildflowers, which is what the photo made me think of, but it also has the Houston Space Center, which made a perfect setting for what I wanted to write.

Let me know what you think of it so far.

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16 thoughts on “The Pleiades Mystery

  1. So far, it has implied a significantly larger story arc. Such an arc would have to include description of the object’s initial appearance and why it attracted sky-watchers’ attention from amongst many other space objects. Perhaps it indicated earlier non-ballistic course corrections. Presumably it was first noticed in the sector where the Pleiades constellation appears, hence its name. There had to be some justification for sending a contact team out to investigate, though the story has so far not indicated any signals emanating from it. Perhaps at some point its course might have seemed to intersect with earth, though the present vignette has it headed close to the Sun — presumably not intersecting with any other object. For some yet unexplained reason, its approach seems to have remained within the plane of the ecliptic rather than from any other direction, though the story so far has not suggested that it could have been probing any of the planetary objects within our system, nor has it ventured any guesses about reasons for the observed course corrections. One might expect this or some other team to have plotted the object’s course, including such corrections, trying to analyze where it might have been headed, what it might have avoided, where it is currently headed, and even to infer whether it might be operating with an AI autopilot and some sort of navigational algorithm or if it was being directed ad-hoc by an intelligent ET.

    Projecting what might happen next would need to consider the object’s possible reactions to the approach of another object (containing the contact team) or to any signals emitted by that object. I’m remembering a film “Space Cowboys” in which simple radar ranging signals were mis-interpreted by a Russian satellite as a hostile act that triggered defensive mechanisms. Would this object evade an approach? Would its response depend on the rate of closure between them? Would it deploy weapons or some sort of defensive system? Would it respond to EM signals of some pattern and in some frequency range? Would it emit any signals of its own? Would it echo our signals, or initiate its own patterns? Some kinds of responses would tend to imply an AI controller; others a live ET. The story development possibilities are wide open — which then pose the question about what sorts of “what-if” considerations the writer would like his readers to explore.

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    • As you have surmised PL, this is a “snippet” of a much larger story I’m going to write for submission to an anthology. I find it helps if I “try out” the characters and situations in other, smaller tales, so that’s what this one is about.

      To the degree that the object has been observed changing course and speed, that is sufficient reason for an exploratory team to be quickly assembled and launched in a research craft fitted with experimental engines that will allow them to rendevous with the object just inside the orbit of Venus. From there, they will have weeks or perhaps only days to complete their mission of attempting an internal survey of the object to determine if it is an alien spacecraft, and if so, does it contain intelligent life.

      Of course, as I develop the story, anything can happen.

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