Journey to Ariadne – Part 1: Standby (revised)
March 17, 2163
Ariadne Project Mission Control
Hellas City, Hellas Basin, Mars
A quiet alarm sounded in the mission control of the Ariadne Project and the main screen turned on.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 24:00
Without looking at the screen, Ben Taylor, the system specialist working that night, turned off the alarm. He drew his thin lips downward in a frown and rolled his blue eyes. He quietly grumbled, hoping it wasn’t another false alarm. He turned toward the main screen and stared at the message. Ben hesitated a moment before finally tapping the intercom icon on his screen. “Gianni, you better get in here,” he said briskly.
“What’s going on?” a man said over the intercom.
“We have a message.”
“What kind of message?” There was a hint of impatience in Gianni’s voice.
“Endurance. It looks like it’s the real thing.”
“Shit. Are you kidding me? This better not be a joke.”
“No joke, Gianni. Get over here and see for yourself. It’s the standby message with the twenty-four hour countdown.”
“Got it. Be there in a moment.”
Ben looked at the screen again. TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 24:00. It was a static message. Standby. It was giving them twenty-four hours to prepare for the deluge of surveillance information.
Gianni Marino, the night-time supervisor, strode into the room with heavy footsteps and fixed his brown eyes on the screen. His typical unkempt hair gave the impression that he had just woken up. He nodded at Ben and sat at the command terminal in the centre of the room, swiping the screen with his hand to unlock the security program.
”Status on the receiver?” he asked Ben.
Ben accessed the radio antenna network and called up the status report. “Fully operational. Directing all available receivers toward Beta CB.”
His eyes scanned the data as he scrolled down. “Forty-seven percent. Well within the expected range.”
“Incredible. Almost thirty light years away and we can hear it call home.” Gianni’s mouth slowly curved into a smile. “We did it, Ben! We’re going to another solar system!”
Gianni’s elation infected Ben immediately. Their ancestors’ dreams were being realised. Ben curbed his celebration before it started and went to work on the system checks.
“Data encryption key confirmed. It is Endurance. I’ll try get the signal strength above seventy-five percent by the time data starts coming in. I can’t guarantee it, though. I need to clear up some noise from satellites and other radio sources. The interstellar medium is likely to give us some data loss, but not significant.”
Gianni nodded. “Next transmission will be in forty-eight minutes. I’ll wake up Paolo and Mari. They’ll want to see this immediately.”
* * *
Ben had never imagined that he’d meet with the project’s head scientists to participate in a briefing of the mission status. He followed Gianni to the conference room’s plain door, wondering glancing around at the walls. He couldn’t think of what he was going to say when spoken to. The night shift suited him, as he worked alone.
“Are you ready?” asked Gianni with a lopsided smile.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” said Ben.
He’d met the scientists on several occasions, but had never had to speak with the entire group. He felt like he was about to enter an interrogation room.
Gianni opened the door and Ben followed him through. He glanced around at each of the scientists sitting around the table, talking with excitement. He recognised each of them. The conference room was a modest room with grey walls and a large white table in the centre. There were ten high-backed chairs around the table and a large view screen on the wall at one end. A window on the opposite wall was dark, but would have provided a view of the vast Hellas Basin during the day. At the head was the project leader Paolo Fernandes, a middle-aged man with greying hair and a neatly trimmed moustache.
“Thanks for joining us, gentlemen,” said Paolo as they entered. “Have a seat.”
Ben and Gianni sat next to each other, across from Malika Said, the head botanist. Ben glanced at her quickly, noticing her black hair was done up in a tight bun. She had olive skin that hinted at her middle eastern heritage.
“I’d like to start this briefing off by thanking Ben and Gianni for their tremendous work and patience on the night shift. It’s a lonely job while the rest of us are sleeping. It paid off very well.” Paolo looked around the room at the project members that attended the meeting. “Let’s get down to business. As you all know, we have received a message from Endurance. That was three hours ago.”
Ben looked around the table at some of the other scientists. Seated next to Malika was Gary Fitzsimmons, the exobiologist. He was a short man with round features. Ben found the man friendly in his past conversations with him. Gary briefly returned Ben’s gaze and smiled. He turned his attention back to Paolo.
Paolo turned the view screen on and switched to the feed from the control room’s main screen.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 21:00.
“As you can see, Endurance transmits a standby message every hour. In twenty-one hours, we will begin receiving the main transmission from the probe, starting with an overview image of Ariadne. Then the real science begins,” said Paolo. “For now, if you have any updates that we don’t know about, please share what you have now.”
“I have something,” said the head astronomer. Mari Watanabe stood up and walked to the screen, her long black hair barely moving. She brought up a computer-generated animation of the system on the view screen. “I’ve been studying some recent observations that presents some very exciting information. I hope it’ll be confirmed tomorrow when we receive the data. It appears it may have a large moon.”
“Any idea how large?” asked Gary, his eyes wide with interest. “The size could have a large influence on how life could have evolved.”
“Sorry, Gary, the error in the data gives us anything between twenty-five percent of the size of Earth’s moon to fifty percent larger.”
Gary nodded. “Thanks. I’ll have to wait until the surface probe data.”
As Mari sat down, Paolo asked, “Anyone else? No? Okay, here’s our timeline for the next few days. In twenty-one hours, we’ll receive our first picture of Ariadne. I want all of you in the control centre an hour before then so we can prepare for analysis. Endurance will still be a couple days from orbit, but we should have plenty of data for everyone except Gary.” He nodded in the biologist’s direction. “Once it’s in orbit, the surface probes and weather satellites will be released. There are three probes, a high altitude flier and two low altitude hover-fliers. We should begin receiving data from those probes within a week, while the weather satellites will all be in position in three days. That’s a bit of waiting, and I’m sure you all want to discover something new right away. Do you have any special requests?’
“I’d like any solar data from Beta CB, as well as pictures of the moon as soon as possible,” said Mari.
“It’s likely we’ll see that moon of yours in the first few pictures,” said Paolo.
“Pictures would be nice,” said William de Boer, the lead geologist. “I’d also like to get some atmospheric data. We’ve already confirmed that there are volcanic gases, but some direct evidence would be great.”
“Same for me,” added Malika. “It should be easy to see the plant life from pictures. Since the star is similar to the sun, I’m assuming they’ll be green.”
“Me too, obviously,” said Jean Fourier. The meteorologist had a permanent smirk on his face.
“I’ll be very happy when the surface probes return pictures of animals,” said Gary.
“The first few days will just be observation for you,” said Paolo. “But I’m sure it’ll be exciting nevertheless.”
“It seems most of us want more direct atmosphere readings,” said Carol Parent. Ben saw the openness in the oceanographer’s smile.
“All right, I believe we’ll want pictures and atmospheric data first,” said Paolo. “Those will be our priorities. Now, on to some brief personnel matters, then we can be done for the night. Anything else?”
Silence. Gary and William shook their heads.
“So, our final business for the night has to do with Ben and Gianni,” said Paolo.
Ben looked up at the project leader. He’d anticipated giving a status report of the facility’s systems and the readiness of the antennas.
“Gianni, I’d like to move you to the daytime shift to aid with the operations of the mission control centre. It will be a very busy time, and we need all the help we can get,” said Paolo.
“It would be my pleasure,” he responded.
“And Ben, for the outstanding and reliable work you’ve done as system specialist on the night shift, you will now be working with us in the daytime. You’ll be a lot busier,” said Paolo, smiling.
“I look forward to it,” said Ben with a small smile. He wasn’t good at working with large groups, but he would share in everyone’s discovery.
Paolo smiled at everyone and said, “Well, let’s get some sleep. We have many months of hard work to do, but we need to be rested. See you back at the control centre in nineteen and a half hours.”
Ben stood up and walked to the door. He looked back at the screen. It showed the the countdown screen again.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STANDBY. 21:00.
He felt a tingle in his spine and understood that he was going to be part of a historic mission. A member of the Ariadne Project. A colonist of the first Earth-like extrasolar planet ever explored. He smiled.