Journey to Ariadne – Part 2: Transmission
March 18, 2163
Ariadne Project Mission Control
Hellas City, Hellas Basin, Mars
The tension mounted in the room. The head scientists, technicians, and specialists occupied all forty terminals while facing the main screen. A three metre tall main view screen and forty smaller touch screen panels for each terminal crowded the large Mission Control centre. The lights reflected off the screens and the air recycling system hummed. Everyone focused on the main screen. Ben checked the antennas, trying to calm himself down.
TRANSMISSION INITIALIZED. THIS IS ENDURANCE. STAND BY. 1:00.
Another smaller screen counted down the time until the end of the stand by phase. Three minutes and forty-two seconds.
Paolo stood up at the front of the room and turned to face his colleagues. “In less than four minutes, we should be seeing one of the most amazing images we’ve ever seen. Following that, an incredible amount of data should be flooding our systems,” he said. “The data comes when it comes. We have no control over that. Gianni assures me that the computer will send you your requested data when it comes in.”
Ben’s heart raced and he wiped his sweaty palms, nervous, but anxious to see what Ariadne truly looked like. One minute and ten seconds.
The low hum of the air recycler dominated the room, broken only by the occasional throat clearing. A beeping terminal resulted in many heads turning in Ben’s direction.
“Incoming transmission,” said Ben. “Identity confirmed to be Endurance.” He paused before continuing. “The transmission is a single image, as expected. I’ll put it up on the main screen.”
Ben selected the received file and displayed it on the main screen. There were several sharp intakes of breath as they viewed the planet. Blue and white. “Beautiful.” “Incredible.” “It’s so much like Earth.” The comments continued for a few seconds until Paolo addressed the team.
“It’s a beauty,” he said with a touch of awe in his voice. “If I’m not mistaken, there’s a bit of green there.”
“Let me zoom in,” said Malika Said. Ben switched the main monitor to Malika’s. The image zoomed in on a cloudless patch of land in a tropical region that featured a large inland sea with a central island. “Confirmed. It’s green. Without a better image, I can’t be certain if it’s moss, grass, or a forest,” she said. “But it’s got to be plant life.”
Ben’s terminal began receiving more data, and he noticed that the others had focused on their own work.
“Initial data from the probe confirms the atmospheric content to be seventy-seven percent nitrogen and twenty-two percent oxygen. Slightly higher oxygen content than Earth,” said Jean Fourier.
“There are two moons!” said Mari. “One is about ten percent larger than the Earth’s moon. The other is only one hundred fifty-five kilometres in diameter. Based on their orbits, the mass of the planet is two point eight percent greater than Earth.”
“This is incredible! We have a continent that stretches from the Arctic to the Antarctic regions. It almost entirely fills the view,” said William de Boer with amazement. “There’s a major mountain chain along the centre of the continent and a large inland sea. I can see rivers!”
“There’s a hurricane on the eastern edge of the continent,” said Jean. “It appears to be summer in that hemisphere. Which way is north, by the way?”
“Based on the spin of the planet, north is in summer now,” said Mari.
“Are there any apparent hazards?” asked Paolo.
“Stellar activity looks normal,” said Mari. “I need to see more observations about comets and asteroids, though.”
“I”m not seeing any recent craters,” said William. “I can see a couple of volcanoes that are easily identifiable, but I’m sure there are more. Nothing unusual from what I can tell.”
“The higher oxygen content is interesting,” said Gary. “I don’t know how that would affect anything. I’m more worried about the age of Ariadne. If what Mari says is correct, it’s only three billion years old.”
“But would life evolve on another planet at the same rate as on Earth?” asked Carol. “If I’m not mistaken, the conditions on Ariadne seem perfect for life now. It’s even green.”
“That’s true. I’ve never dealt with exobiology in practice, so I can’t say if animal life is primitive or not,” said Gary.
“As far as the oceans go, I don’t see anything unusual,” added Carol.
Ben stared wide-eyed at the image on the screen as the discussions continued around him. A beep brought him out of his inattentive state. He looked at his screen and found an error.
“Gianni,” he whispered.
Gianni looked over at him. “What is it?” he asked.
“One of the satellites is no longer transmitting.”
Gianni cocked his head to the right. “Which one?”
“Mars Orbital Radio Telescope,” Ben answered.
“MORT? That one’s owned by the Earth government,” said Gianni, his eyes widening. “What did we lose?”
“Just two percent signal strength.”
“All right. I’ll tell Paolo.”
Ben watched Gianni stand and walk to Paolo. Through the buzz of the scientists’ chatter, one thing stood out. “MORT?” Paolo exclaimed, then shook his head.
Why is the MORT satellite so important? Ben wished he’d paid attention to the business deals of the project.
* * *
Paolo walked around the control centre and visited each scientist. He tried to keep himself busy, but his mind kept going back to MORT. Why did it suddenly stop transmitting? It was fully operational, but didn’t accept their access codes. This moment should have been awe-inspiring, but this problem nagged at him. The data came in steadily in the past six hours. Four major continents, ice caps, immense mountain ranges, and a breathable atmosphere. It was so much like Earth, but it wasn’t.
Gianni rushed up to him. “Paolo, there’s someone that wants to see you,” said Gianni.
“Who?” he asked. Who could be here at this time?
“It’s the IEF Ambassador, David Martin.”
“MORT,” said Paolo.
Paolo entered his office, a modest room with faux wood panels, a mahogany desk, and a flat screen on the wall opposite the window overlooking Hellas City.
Paolo smiled. “Dave, what brings you here?”
“Good to see you Paolo. I wish I were here under different circumstances,” the ambassador replied. “The International Earth Federation wants to know what you’re doing.”
“Why?” said Paolo, studying David Martin’s grave frown.
“They want to know what you were doing with their telescope.”
“Under our agreement with the IEF, that is none of their business, Dave. You know that,” said Paolo, unable to hide his irritation.
Dave paused a moment, brushing his hands through his brown hair. “I hate to bring you bad news, but the IEF no longer recognises any contract or treaty with any organisation on Mars. They’re planning a takeover.”
“What?” said Paolo, his hands shaking. “They can’t do that! Mars is an independent world. The UN recognised our independence seventy-four years ago. The IEF didn’t change that. What gives them the right now?”
“I know that, Paolo. They’ve decided not to honour the UN’s decisions. And they don’t want you to use MORT.”
Paolo and pulled up a file on his computer. “Look. Mars agreed to allow Earth to have MORT orbiting Mars in exchange for our organisation and any other on Mars to use it, no questions asked. You’ve seen this, right? What does the Mars Assembly say?”
“I haven’t spoken to them yet,” said Dave. “I came to you first because I know what you’re using it for. I didn’t tell the IEF. I’m not sure I will.”
“You’re defying your government?”
“Ever since the change of government two years ago, I’ve seen a significant shift in attitudes there. Honestly, they’re becoming desperate. Resources are extremely low, major coastal cities are being flooded, desertification is advancing rapidly. The people are becoming restless and want answers. They want the government to do something. The IEF has begun widespread police and military control. It’s a police state now. There are protests everywhere, people dying. Paolo, the government wants Mars. They want Ariadne.” He looked Paolo in the eyes. “They want your technology and this world you plan to go to.”
“They can’t be serious,” said Paolo.
“It’s all falling apart. The environment is ruined. They want a new world to shape.”
Paolo shook his head and closed his eyes. He opened them and looked at Dave. “How long do we have?”
Dave paused, then said, “With the current position of the Earth and Mars, they’ll launch a ship, maybe more, to Mars in about three months. That’s when the best launch window is. They’ll arrive here within a month. If everything goes smoothly there, including installation of weaponry to their ships, stability of the government, and barring any difficulties, they could be here in as little as four months.”
“That doesn’t give us much time.”
“Is your ship ready?” asked Dave.
Is he trying to get information? Paolo thought about his past with Dave. We’ve been friends since we were on Earth. Can I trust him completely? “Our first ship is ready for launch at any time,” he said finally. “But we need time to study Ariadne before we know if it’s habitable by humans.”
“The second ship?”
“Set to launch a year later,” said Paolo.
“That’s not good. There’s no telling what they’ll do if the IEF gets it.”
“Dave, is there any chance that they will be delayed?”
Dave thought a few seconds. “Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“You have to do something to stop them. They can’t jeopardise everything we’ve worked for. I left Earth because I was tired of dealing with the bullshit that goes on there. I don’t need it here.” Paolo sat down and put his face in his hands. “This has to stop.”
“Paolo, I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything. They’re going to come, and you’ll need to get this project going very fast,” said Dave.
“Why are you helping?” asked Paolo. “The IEF won’t like this.”
“I’m on your side.”
“Would you consider joining us?”
“Right now, I can’t answer that.” Dave smiled. “But it sounds nice.”