Copyright © 2015 Jason Sergi
For My Readers Past, Present, and Future, may we have many more years filled with fun, knowledge, and creativity together
I’m probably the only one who remembers my Crystals these days. Even now, with decades long gone, and these tubes and wires running from my body to keep me alive, I can still see their faces. Memories never die, but bodies do. With all the technology available to humankind, we are still unable to find the cure for death.
Not even my Crystals were immortal.
I’d been the chief engineer, designer, and consultant charged with the creating and manufacturing of a new explorer probe. As part of the Farreacher Program, I’d already lent my services to its last two projects and the director of the USA—United Space Agency—had liked my work so much that he wanted me in charge of the current one.
He couldn’t have picked a worse time.
My life, at the time, was in shambles. Six months prior to me joining the Farreacher project, my wife Crystal had died as the result of a vapor leak in our high-rise mansion. I’d been busy at work on that very night so the authorities probing the incident thought to make me the focus of their investigation, trying to root out foul play.
They had plenty of fodder.
Crystal and I hadn’t been getting along for months; a result of my long hours at work and a short temper at home. Combine that with the dual insurance policy I’d just recently opened on both of us and you very well could’ve had the makings of a murder plot. But the authorities eventually cleared me of any wrongdoing, finding that Crystal’s death was contributed to a pair of faulty air filters that’d been improperly installed by the contractor. But the damage to my reputation had been done, and my children—who’d all been grown and married at the time—refused to have anything to do with me, convinced that I had murdered their mother, my loving wife. Even my once friendly neighbors looked upon me with a suspicious eye, and invites to any social events dropped off drastically.
To escape the mourning and the loneliness, I threw myself into my work. I’d loved my wife and family dearly, and now that I was without them, a vast void had opened in my life.
My job became my life, and Crystal became my wife…but I’m jumping ahead a bit there.
The Agency wanted their new Farreacher probe to be bigger, better, and go farther than any of its previous incarnations. The technicians were reporting strange frequencies coming in from their outrigger communication buoys, but the latest Farreacher had surpassed their networks months ago and was lost somewhere in deep space.
My first order of business was to figure out how big the probe could and should be, delivery methods, available fuel, and mission goals. When my team and I were finished calculating all these variables, we came up with a shell one hundred and sixty-six meters tall and two hundred wide. I knew it would also have to be expandable in order to fit within the third stage of a Goliath V rocket.
I went home that night, put pen to easel, and began to sketch out a feasible design.
The first design I came up with was that of a star-shaped craft, where the points could fold in during launch and fold out upon deployment. I knew the design would cause controversy among my contemporaries since there were and have always been only two acceptable spacecraft designs: box-shaped and cylindrical. But I figured that if this new probe was to be special, it should look special.
To Hell with the traditional norm.
As I continued to sketch, making the proper corrections as I went, I noticed that the design was taking on a more bipedal form, more human-shaped. I went with it, writing in the margins where potential hardware could be stored, fuel tanks, and generators. When I was finished, a depiction of a beautiful woman was staring up at me from the easel.
I checked the work over, making sure all was in order. When I was satisfied, I rose from my workbench, thoroughly tired. I needed my energy to deal with the committee in the morning since I knew that this wouldn’t be an easy proposal to push through.
Before heading off to bed, I wrote a name in the upper right margin of the sketch—Crystal.
Of course everyone at the proposal meeting thought I was insane and moved to instantly reject my design. But after I’d explained at length on how the probe would work—and threatened to pull out of the project all together—the committee approved the design and gave my team and I a hefty budget, along with a list of material suppliers and contractors.
From there it had taken exactly one hundred and sixty-nine days to build Crystal.
Her life began at The Miracle Labs in Osef, Texas. I supervised every detail, great and minute: from the bendable superstructure, to every rivet, to how much pressure per square inch her delicate skin could take.
I also spent a lot of time in the software lab, designing and writing all the programs she would need on her mission. Crystal would be truly unique. As opposed to the previous Farreacher probes and satellites that had taken pictures of points of interest before then sending them back to base, Crystal would be taking live photos and videos in real time, thanks in part to the new parsec transmitter devices that were being developed. She would also be able to communicate from farther away and much faster than her previous brethren.
A true beauty.
Her last unique feature would be her ability to “talk”. Previous probes sent back digital reports and received digital commands; Crystal would have voice-to-voice audio capability, saving time and energy.
On launch day, I watched nervously as she was carefully loaded onto the rocket—the Goliath V, the largest in the world at the time—and rolled out to the launch pad. I sat up in the control tower, which would also double as Operations Control during the mission, while I impatiently waited out the pre-launch procedures.
After an eternity, the countdown began: ten…five…three…one…IGNITION! The length of the rocket shook violently as the hydrogen/oxygen fuel mixture exploded down onto the pad, causing massive chunks of cooling ice to fall from its tower-like body. With a vociferous roar, the rocket lifted from the pad and into the air. SCRAM jets, flying high overhead, filmed the entire event, a live feed coming in directly to the monitor before me.
The rocket climbed, rotating slightly. 10,000 feet, 50, 000...still it climbed, gaining speed.
When it reached the appropriate altitude, the main engines of the first stage cut out, the first stage then separating from its siblings in a violent explosion, the second stage following suite soon after.
The third stage continued on for seconds more, a colossal white bullet scudding up towards the heavens. Then its own main engine ignited, pushing its massive load further from the Earth’s surface. Before breaking free from the last vestiges of discernible atmosphere, the capsule burst open, fragmenting, its pieces burning up on their fall back to Earth, and a large, silver sphere was propelled out into the darkness of space.
The live feed transferred from the SCRAM jets to that of the Space Complex, which hung three hundred and twenty miles above the Earth’s surface. The sphere uncurled, revealing a woman-shape, her arms and legs spread wide, her head held high, as if she were coming to the end of a sophisticated dance. A tear had rolled down my cheek at the sight of her; she was so beautiful, the sun glinting off her metal skin, her eyes like two golden gems. The thrusters in her calves ignited as she fought to further break away from the Earth’s pull.
A beeping issued from the control panel before me. I remember looking down to see her first communication appear on the monitor. SELF DIAGNOSIS ACTIVATED—PRE-MISSION CHECK, ENGAGED. The cameras on the Space Complex followed her as she continued her journey, then, a live image of the Space Complex itself appeared on another monitor as Crystal performed her first visual test.
The Space Complex resembled a gargantuan, cosmic jellyfish as it hung darkly in space, its long, Biosteel tethers hanging down from it like appendages.
After several more minutes passed, her voice finally came over the control panel’s speakers. “All systems go. Mission initiated. Heading to checkpoint Echo.”
I wanted to weep all the more after hearing that sweet voice.
On the monitor, I watched as a panel on her back opened and a pair of large solar sails unfolded, like the wings of an angel.
I continued to watch her until the Space Complex’s cameras could no longer detect her.
For the next days, weeks, and years, I sat in the operations center, monitoring my angel of love as she floated gracefully through the black desert of space, alone on her journey of discovery. I slept, ate, and lived in the operations center, only leaving to go to the bathroom and only going home when the higher ups threatened to have me committed.
As the years went by, I watched as she left the solar system behind, making it to the outer galaxies and beyond as she engaged her state-of-the-art near-light drives. My heart filling with love and pride each time I heard her angelic voice reporting back to me.
Most of my contemporaries were long retired by the time she arrived at the most distant Farreacher Com Satellite. Old met new and the torch was passed. In that fraction of a second, my Crystal had officially gone farther than any man-made object ever had. The young “newbies” around me cheered with exhilaration but I sat back in my seat and gave Crystal a silent kiss.
A few months later, she had detected the foreign impulses and began tracking them through space.
The day Crystal found the source of the impulses was a surreal and happy one for me. Not the least of her accomplishments, she’d made one of the largest space discoveries in the last hundred years. Her sensors detected an oblong planet in the Tern Galaxy, its atmosphere a prism of fine colors. She shot the remaining two mini-probes from her nipples—I had argued against placing any mini-probes there at all for decency sake, but the other engineers had made the point that if they can fit, why not?—her other six probes, having been located decently in her abdomen, had already been fired off during other points in the mission.
Her lovely voice came back over the speakers.
“The planet has a solid core. Atmosphere is two parts hydrogen, four parts nitrogen and sulfur, forty parts carbon, and thirty parts oxygen. Not fit for human habitation. Life forms detected: various forms of vegetation and advanced fungi. Complex life forms also detected…” There was a long pause as she searched her logic banks. “Results are as follows (Warning: Hypothesis thread, only 60% accurate) Sensors detect: ‛Intelligent’ bacteria, colonized structures and other infrastructure suggesting civilization. Technology level: very Low. Current threat to Earth: 0%. Geography: Three main continents, at least one—possibly two—ocean(s). Planet orbits a single star, red dwarf class. No moons detected.”
My staff and I were stunned. In the century and a half of space exploration, never had we ever found life on another planet—and now we had.
Already there was talk among the newbies that steered towards the making of another probe, this one equipped with a rover to bring back samples.
A huge conference on the subject was held and I was asked to name the new planet. Of course I named it Crystal X, the X standing for the as yet unknown.
As my young contemporaries discussed plans for the future, I turned my focus on bringing Crystal back home. The higher ups thought I was crazy since, usually, when a probe or satellite was still functioning after its primary mission was complete, Mission Control would destroy it by smashing it into an asteroid, or a moon, or a black hole in an effort to get last minute readings on the cosmic bodies, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that to my Crystal. No, she would be coming home. I even had a hangar large enough to store her built near my retirement home in the mountains, so I could visit her whenever I wanted.
Up in the control room, I spoke the order that would bring her back to me.
“Home sequence initiated,” she said.
I’d sat back in my chair then, to eagerly await her homecoming.
By the time my Crystal returned to Earth’s orbit, she’d been just about spent, and so was I. After sixty years in the cold vacuum of space, withstanding decades of pulverizing radiation, she’d had enough. Most of her systems had shut down or were on the verge of shutting down, and I just wanted her home safe.
As for me, I hadn’t been a young man when Crystal began her mission. Sixty years and two heart replacements later, I wasn’t any younger. The young “newbies” had matured, having sent several of their own “New Generation” Farreacher probes to Crystal X in a multi-stage program designed to study the planet and bring back actual specimens.
I was moved out of the main Mission Control booth and given a small office on the lower floors, away from the new higher ups. For years I sat in my small office, sometimes sleeping for days, conversing with my Crystal and waiting for her to arrive home.
And finally that day came.
“Engaging re-entry procedures,” she said, her voice wavering. I watched from the monitor as she engaged her rocket thrusters, burning the last of her fuel, and adjusted her course to the correct heading. Everything would have to be perfect.
I keyed the com to make sure the recovery vehicles were on hand. They confirmed that they were indeed standing by so I then turned my attention back to the monitor.
She was coming in gracefully, like an angel of heaven, gliding back down to Earth.
But then an alarm bleeped from the control panel. Her voice came back over the speakers.
“Internal Nav/comp failure! Request for manual re-entry!”
“Granted!” I said. “Just hold on, baby!”
I hadn’t been prepared to bring her in on my own—though in hindsight, I should have been—but I was determined to do it. I flipped on the HUD and, with a hand shaky from nerves and age, I did my best to guide her in. But neither my eyes nor my reflexes were what they used to be, and it was too late to call in one of the younger “newbies”. Alarms kept going off incessantly, demanding that I correct my course, but it was very difficult. I ended up over correcting and the speakers crackled with feedback as Crystal screamed at me, desperation deep in her voice.
“Trajectory miscalculation! Speed and altitude need to be corrected immediately!”
The panic in her voice broke my heart. I tried desperately to correct her path, but it was far too late. She slammed into the atmosphere with the force of a meteor. I watched in horror as she exploded into hundreds of fiery pieces, the feedback blasting over the speakers in her death wail.
“NO!” I cried, my insides filling with bitter soup. I ran over to the nearest window overlooking the bay to see if any part of her survived; but as I watched the dozens of pieces crashing into the warm waters below, I’d known she was lost, for good and complete.
I was lost.
Slumping to the floor in grief as the “newbies” came rushing in to check on me, I sobbed to the point of vomiting.
I don’t remember much of what happened next, I only remember the feeling of deep, dark, anguish that ripped at my whole being, unrelenting.
Without either of my Crystals, I no longer wanted to live.
I retired from the agency shortly after my breakdown. My legacy, if I was to have one, would be that I had two wives, both named Crystal, and that I had killed them both.
Not a pleasing thought to be remembered by.
I moved up north to my mountain retreat, content to live in my black depression until the end of my days. The successes of my original Crystal had been all but forgotten, pushed down by the “newbies” and their newer programs. Samples from Crystal X had been brought back and the scientists were shocked to discover that the complex bacteria were indeed intelligent, capable of speech and independent thought. They were also masters of escape and had managed to kill thousands while sickening millions more before being contained once more.
Other than that, I don’t know much more about the goings-on of the agency or of its current projects save that several of the new Crystal IV Light Year Probes had been inexplicably lost somewhere in deep space.
Either way, not my concern.
According to the mainstream media outlets, the agency wants to set up relations and trade with the natives of Crystal X, as well as to use the planet as a jump-off point for future exploration.
I think it’s a good idea, but what I think doesn’t matter anymore. My lot is to lie here on my deathbed, the machines eating and breathing for me until my body finally quits. Until then, I simply exist, and think about my Crystals.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE IMPERIAL CONFEDERATION OF ERTHO
YEAR 2040: The UN World Command passes The New Voyager Resolution, declaring the Moon and Mars Colonies autonomous entities subject to International Law.
2044: The UN, EU, AU, Arab League, South American Union, and The Republics of Oceana vote to create a unified world government, to include the Moon and Mars Colonies.
2098: World Governor Albert Clarke calls for a Century of Wonder and gears Earth and her colonies towards long distance space colonization. He sets a mandate for the first extra-solar system colony to be established by 2198.
2100: The first Far Reacher probes and satellites set out to look for habitable planets while the Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and Enceladus Colonies are added to the rest of Earth’s Colonies over the next several decades.
2143: The Space Protection Fleet is established to protect vessels traveling to and from the outer solar system against collision dangers and to aid in rescue missions.
2147-51: Rampant piracy and rebellious elements lead to The Mine Wars and The Martian Struggle For Independence. For the first time The Space Protection Fleet is used an instrument of war. At war’s end, The Space Protection Fleet is left permanently militarized to deter other similar events in the future.
2165: The Far Reacher Probes discover intelligent life on the planet Crystal X in the Tern Galaxy. Long-range diplomatic relations are established between the two entities.
2195: The War of The White Hole takes place when fighting from an unrelated intergalactic conflict spills over into the solar system colonies. It’s the first human encounter with an overtly hostile species.
2198: Tunnelway Travel is fully established and exploration of distant galaxies begins in earnest. The Colonization Era officially begins when an artificial colony is established outside of Crystal X.
2230: First contact between Earth and Makon, leading to The Makonian War and resulting in The Earth-Makon Union, with Makon as the capital. Exploration and colonization continues.
2378: The Panadays and Boda wars erupt, resulting in the abolishment of The Earth-Makon Union and the creation of The Olympus Confederation, which, under its charter, gave each member planet equal representation under a unified government. A Standard language and calendar are established.
2400: New Earth is discovered.
2450: A human contingent on New Earth leads a revolution that seeks to topple The Confederation and to create a human-dominated absolute empire, leading to The Wars of Independence and Rebirth (also known as The First Technology Gap) that will last for the next fifty standard years, ending only with the signing of The Compromise of Ertho, a treaty that established The Imperial Confederation of Ertho, making New Earth the capital and calling for an elected Emperor as the head of state, an elected centralized legislative body, and special laws that govern the confederate members and how new members will be allowed to join the imperial confederation.
2575: The Separatist Wars (also called The Second Technology Gap) erupt when non-humans feel that humans control too much of the empire. The war ends with The Treaty of Change, which states that every other Emperor elected must be non-human and that neither human nor non-humans are allowed to have an absolute majority in any incarnation of the legislative body.
3000: Emperor Seri declares a Millennia of Wonder, where the goal is to discover and explore every point of the universe. But the mandate meets unexpected resistance from religious heads.
3300: Tensions come to a head when a faction of religious groups, calling themselves The Creationists, seek to end the Millennia of Wonder by targeting and assassinating scientists, engineers, politicians and anyone else who supports the program in a wide-sweeping campaign. In response, the imperial government declares Executive Order 9, a form of martial law, but this leads to the formation of The Alternative Republic and a new Separatist Crisis. The combined conflicts will last one hundred and twenty standard years, resulting in The Great Technology Gap and thus prematurely ending the Millennia of Wonder and leaving the empire riddled with isolated pockets of separatists and revolutionaries, which leads to periodic flare-ups between the factions.
3450: The discovery of Ara leads to The Araian War and Ara’s subsequent occupation.
3500: The current year. The Vrilkist War begins.