The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

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The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-26 09:51pm

I had this dream last night which inspired me to write this story. It's going to be more of a hard SF tale than my other work here, it is also not going to be anywhere near as grimmdark as that one either, not to say that it's going to be all flowers and kittens either.

Special thanks goes to the folks here wand on spacebattles.com who helped me with some basic info.

So anyways, here goes.



"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."

-Stephen Hawking




Prologue








In the late evening of June 20th 2012, a young SETI researcher was dozing off at a computer terminal at the Allen Radio Telescope Array in Northern California. As part of his standard duties he was conducting some calibration tests and as part of those tests he pointed the array at the nearby system of Tau Ceti. It was not exactly like he expected to hear anything from it, the system had long since been listened to repeatedly and not a peep was ever heard from it. If there was an intelligent civilization inhabiting that system, they certainly didn't seem all that interested in or capable of talking to the human race.

However, this young researcher was given the shock of his life when he finally did point his telescope at said star system. It sounded like little more than a bunch of high frequency beeps, almost like Morse code tapped out by a man who had too much caffeine in his system. The signal lasted for a total of six minutes.

It was simple, yet its meaning was unmistakable; when slowed down, the signal could quite clearly be made out to be a series of pulses, first one, then two, then three, then four, then five, and so on. It continued that way until it reached the number eight, then repeated again. After that it changed over to prime numbers. Then base eight exponents. This signal repeated again within approximately an hour, and did so at regular intervals throughout the night. This would continue for three more months, clearly these beings wanted to make sure that someone noticed. Later analysis of the signal revealed that it also contained a video component, nothing complicated, just a single pinpoint of light against a black background which flashed in the same fashion as the audio pulses.

The message was simple, but it was enough to get the attention of the entire world. Confirmation was obtained by other radio telescope observatories, and by the next day every news outlet was buzzing with news of contact with an intelligent species just eleven light years distant. Television networks aired massive numbers of specials, documentaries, and made for TV movies all dealing with the phenomena. Some people got upset, a small resurgence in new religions and philosophies swept the world. A few cults popped up, some were harmless and dissipated within a year at the most, others were more sinister, depriving their members of all their money, or sometimes their lives.

However, life went on, people learned to accept the news and that was that. It didn't really affect the major religions that much, the people who left them for other new ones were replaced by those who had found their faith for the first time, or refound it after years of absence. Wars were still fought, politicians still bickered, made platitudes, and broke promises. A few big budget films came out of the incident and a couple TV series, most of which were canceled after no more than a season. TV comedians had a few jokes(worrying for humanity's survival once news of the TV shows Jersey Shore and Bridalplasty reached the aliens who would undoubtedly wipe out the human race for the sake of the rest of the galaxy), but that was all. The sun still set and rose, and the world did not end.

An area in which things changed more noticeably was that of research and development, as well as government spending. Investment in space oriented programs saw a significant rise in the following year. The United States government saw fit to redouble efforts to find a replacement for the recently retired space shuttle orbiter. The Chinese government announced intentions to double funding for its own modest manned spaceflight program. The European Space Agency made clear its own intentions to start a fully manned program of its own, and the Russians also published funding increases of their own.

Most of these announcements were most likely destined to fall through, and have little effect on the the rather silent relationship between these two distant civilizations even if they didn't. However two main efforts were made in response to this discovery. One was a single powerful signal, similar in format, but containing video footage with basic pictures of human beings, human writing in a variety of different languages, and a couple generic shapes, embedded in a similar audio signal but this one used base ten numbers. The signal was broadcast by every large scale radio transmitter on the planet. It too was a simple message, but it was also quite clear “we heard you.”

The other however was more for the benefit of the human race than anything else. A variety of large aperture telescopes were put under construction in various parts of the world, these would be the largest most powerful optical telescopes in human history, with the greatest resolution and light collection ability of any previously constructed. It was the first such competition of its kind since the space race during the last century. The first telescope to come online was the Gan De Observatory which was located in the Taihang Mountains in China which was completed in mid 2014.

On September 12, 2014 the world was enamored by the release of images from the observatory which revealed that the Tau Ceti star system in fact had at least eleven planetary masses, three of which ranged from 0.3 to 1.2 earth masses.

Then things more or less went back to normal once again. Space enthusiasts had plenty to speculate about, and tons of movies and books told fantastic stories of future space men having adventures with space aliens on one of the distant planets that appeared as nothing more than fuzzy bright dots in a telescope mirror.

Many wondered why the aliens had waited until that day in 2012 to announce their presence, and when their next signal would be, if ever. Their questions would be answered on February 23, 2015 when a new signal was received.








White House Situation Room, Washington DC





OSTP Director John Holdren stood nervously at the front of the conference table in the situation room and looked out over the group of assembled cabinet members and advisers, and at the vacant seat at the other end of the table. The other men and women in the room quietly exchanged glances and small talk about various issues as they waited.

A couple minutes later, the door to the situation room opened and in walked the President as well as a number of men and women in suits and military uniforms. He then pulled out his chair and sat down at the head of the table, he cleared his throat “alright, now that we are all here, let's get this meeting started” he said calmly.

The rest of the room quieted down, the lights dimmed, and the large LCD screen on the wall behind John brightened, an image of the presidential seal currently visible on it over a dark blue background “thank you for coming Mr. President” he said. Taking a step to the side to give those present an unobstructed view of the main display screen he began his presentation “as you all know, at 2:18 AM, the Very Large Array radio observatory in New Mexico detected a signal emanating from Tau Ceti. This signal was in turn confirmed by the Robert Byrd Observatory in West Virginia. The contents of the signal consists of a five minute long video which did not repeat. This is what we received.”

The presidential seal faded away to black, after several seconds of nothing, an image of a single bright yellow point of light. Surrounding that point of light were eight additional points of light which circled it at different varying speeds. The closest was a brownish grey color, the next one was more of a dirty yellow, then a bright blue, the fourth was red.

“Pretty much every scientist who has viewed this seems to agree that this is most likely a representation of our solar system.”

After the point that appeared to represent the planet earth completed one full orbit, the image was replaced with a rather simplistic symbol depicting a circle with a dot in the middle. This was replaced with many of these symbols; thirty three in all.

Suddenly the screen went blank again, the occasional pinpoint of light revealed it to actually be an image of space. Several seconds passed as nothing happened, then from the bottom right hand side of the screen an object entered view. Its starkly surface appeared to be rather complex and covered with some kind of machinery. When it came fully into view it appeared to take the form of some kind of oblong shape, possibly a cylinder in overall shape that appeared to taper slightly toward the “front”, although it was difficult to make it out clearly because its outline was broken up by a large number of protrusions.

A small swarm of much smaller objects appeared to be moving around the larger one, their motion seemed to indicate some kind of intelligent control, most likely they were smaller spacecraft.

Then the screen cut to another image. It depicted what looked like a large collection of dome shaped structures, each one bristling with some kind of antennae-like protrusions. Mixed in with those were a variety of different spires and columns which reached into the sky. It was hard to glean an exact scale of just how large these structures were, however a large number of small specks moved about in the sky above these structures which would appear to be aircraft of some kind.

In the background were what appeared to be mountains which possessed a slight purple hue. The sky itself appeared to be a normal bright blue color with some cumulous clouds floating about lazily. Warm yellow sunlight illuminated the “city” at an angle from behind the camera or whatever it was that was recording the video. The ground surrounding this “city” was covered in a wide variety of structures and what appeared to be roads of some kind. Again a lot of very tiny specks moved about on this road surface, to far away to determine any kind of detail

This sequence continued this way for perhaps thirty seconds more with not much happening until what looked like a meteor streaked out from the top left hand corner of the screen heading for the city center. A fraction of a second later a bright light filled the screen, blotting out all else. As the brightness faded, the image of a mushroom cloud loomed over the now burning and shattered cityscape. The grouping of the tallest structures at the center had almost completely disappeared by this point, having been totally obliterated by the explosion.

The sounds of shock and surprise filled the room as everyone present started talking to each other in hushed tones.

The view switched again, this time to that of a planet's surface taken from high above, most likely from orbit. The coloring was a bit odd, but it seemed very much as though it was an earth like planet with plenty of blues and greens. It seemed peaceful at first, a rather pretty view. However after several seconds, bright flashes appeared all along the landscape, at first just a couple, then more, and then even more.

This video continued for several seconds longer until the video cut back to the same image from before, that of the black background and the thirty three symbols. Then it cut out suddenly.

The room burst into an even louder uproar this time.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by The Vortex Empire » 2011-01-26 09:59pm

Um... I assume the alien's second message was supposed to be in response to ours, but it makes no sense for it to be only three years later. Our signal would take 11 years to get to Tau Ceti, and theirs would take 11 years to get here.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Simon_Jester » 2011-01-26 10:38pm

I see no reason to assume that they couldn't just send the second message because they got tired of waiting around for the first one.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by The Vortex Empire » 2011-01-26 10:45pm

True enough, though it raises the question of why they bothered to broadcast the first one. And they'd either have to already know the Earth was here, or just broadcast the threatening message to the whole universe.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by MysteriousDarkLordv3 » 2011-01-26 11:43pm

The message could be interpreted as "We just killed ourselves - please don't copy us". Another possibility is "Our leaders just blew us up - we ask for asylum"/ Or "Somebody just blew us up for no reason - please defend yourselves."

When the allies hit the beaches on Normandy, did we send messages to the Nazis ahead of time? We know how to invade, people, and you don't do it by giving the target advance warning.

And the video was sent three years after the original signal, eight years before our messages would reach them. They aren't certain whether or not there's anyone here! Were those signals sent directionally or broadcast? For all we know the Tau Ceti signal is being sent to the entire universe, not just us. That makes the "threatening message" theory even more ludicrous - an invader thinks there's a probability of someone being on a distant rock, so a threatening message is sent just in case? Not rational.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by darthdavid » 2011-01-26 11:56pm

I see two likely possibilities. The signal is omnidirectional from Tau Ceti and is not a response to our message, or, the signal comes from much closer (IE a fleet seeking asylum is barreling in on us and may or may not have the people setting off nukes hot on their tails).
Last edited by darthdavid on 2011-01-27 02:15am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Madzcat » 2011-01-27 12:08am

Could it not be possible that this came from a fleet of ships en-route from Tau Ceti and hence the quick turn around time? Or is my understanding of space and radio waves completely wrong?

Bah, beat me to the punch darth.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-27 04:39am

Chapter 2



University of Virginia, United States





Bob Eubanks drummed his fingers on the table before his keyboard and stared at the the LCD monitor. Monotonous lines of numbers filled the screen, he hit Alt-Tab, switching windows, this time looking at a diagram of radio wavelengths. He stared at that for a couple minutes, then went to looking at the embedded video from the signal.

It played out just like he remembered from watching it the last hundred times, nothing jumped out at him. He scrubbed the player a couple times, watching it go forward and back, still nothing. It played out to the end Alt-Tab, he went back to the code- wait. He quickly switched over to the video playback again.

The video played out in its entirety, right to the very last frame there he unchecked the loop box and played once again starting from the last thirty frames or so, then watched once more sonovabitch. He brought up his Skype window, double clicked on Daryl McKenna's name. The chat window popped up and he clicked 'video chat' button.

'ringing...'

It rang once.

'ringing...'

It rang twice.

'ringing...'

“C'mooon.”

The video chat window went from grey to black “yes” said Bob in celebration.

“Hello?”

It took an extra second before an image showed up on the screen, Daryl was tying his tie “I've got to be at the White House in three hours, and it's a two and a half hour drive there from here in good traffic, what do you want Bob?” he said, annoyed.

“Come down to the computer lab, you're gonna want to see this.”

Daryl rolled his eyes “can't this wait, or can't you just show me over the internet?” he asked, he sounded a bit more annoyed.

Bob shook his head “I think it's best if you actually see this in person, trust me.”

Daryl stared back at Bob for a second, he closed his eyes and then sighed “alright, but this better be something big, like figuring out how to turn lead into sex with a beautiful woman or something” the screen went grey again as he disconnected the call.

About twenty minutes later Daryl was standing behind Bob as he tapped in a few commands “alright Bob, what the hell could be so damn important?” he asked exasperated.

Bob entered a couple more lines of code “just a sec” he said absently as he read over the code. A couple clicks and taps of the backspace key along with a couple more other entries.

“Bob, I fucking swear to god-”

“Okay, there” said Bob as he hit Ctrl-F5, bringing up a window, it looked like the player used to display the embedded video from the Tau Ceti signal “alright. So, you remember the first signal we got from Tau Ceti back in '12, at first they just thought that it was a combination of beeps like Morse Code, that it was used to convey those numbers. Yet after some analysis they found that binary code embedded in the signal, everybody thought it was static but when they slowed it down enough they found that it was an even higher frequency set of pulses. The analysts at the VLA managed to work it out as a binary code for something else, but nobody knew what. They tried all kinds of ways to decipher it, but always fell short, then somebody smart remembered that those audio pulses were going with base eight not base ten, so they went in with that assumption and realized that the binary code was actually a series of numbers separated by spaces.”

“Then they realize that the numbers themselves were additionally grouped into threes, and that those groups of threes were additionally grouped into larger groups of six hundred twenty seven and each of those was in turn grouped into groups of four hundred thirteen, an-”

“Bob, you're rambling”

“Right, anyway it didn't take long before some more smart folks figured out that those groups of three were color codes, except unlike the 'red green blue' combos we like to use, these were 'blue red green' in stead. A little trial and error and we found them using a frame rate of thirty two point three six, and a little coding produced a program that put all these frames together to display a short little video. However everybody always wondered why they would need to use three color channels if they were only going to send us a black and white video sequence, but lo and behold three years later-”

“Bob!”

“Right! So the program reads all this code and spits out a video, and when we got the next signal a week ago, all we had to do was slow it down and then plug it into our fancy video player and BAM! out pops our new video, complete with apocalyptic imagery and cryptic displays that may or may not be a deadline of thirty three years, except for one little thing, now pay close attention because it's damn hard to spot.”

Bob clicked on the player screen and hit play, it was the video from the first signal, just the blinking spot in the middle of the screen, except it was going much slower, advancing at about a frame every half second “I altered the code so that it would play at a much slower rate, this is only playing about the last fifteen frames of the video, now watch as it reaches the very last frame.”

The white spot faded out one frame at a time until it hit blackness, a couple seconds later the screen turned a shade of grey and then it jumped back to fifteen frames before the end again “see that?” Bob asked with a sense of triumph.

Daryl raised an eyebrow, a look of confusion on his face “okaaay, it looks like it changed in color ever so slightly, so what?” his patience was clearly wearing thin.

Bob nodded “that's right, now if you go look at the code we got-” Alt-Tab and he switched over to a window displaying code “-it will show you that on the very last frame, all the color codes change by a value of about fifty, that they all change to the same value all at the exact same time and they all do it on the very last frame-”

“Bob, I swear that if you do not get to the point in the next fifteen seconds I swear that I'm going to punch you in the face, and then I'm going to fire you-”

“Right right right right, anyway. I think that that last bit is actually meat to act as a bookend, a way of telling us that that is the end of the signal, it corresponds to the end of the audio portion, and each time we got a replay, it also featured that little ending bit. However, if you watch the other video-” he switched to another player, this one playing the last few frames of the video from the second signal, again at extra slow motion. The second to last frame was all black, and so was the last frame, and then it cycled back again.

Daryl was standing there, his hands on his hips an annoyed look on his face “so they didn't include the bookend, so what, it's not like it was a major part of the video, we got the whole message-”

Bob interrupted him, putting his hand up “did we? Because I don't think we did” he turned back to the LCD, switching to another window, it displayed a whole bunch of numbers “you see, whoever it was that coded the video player must have had an extra aversion to getting runtime errors, because he or she decided that this program should only accept fully formulated frames and no partials. So I did some checking, and whadya know? We've got ourselves about one hundred thirty thousand pixels, or about half of a frame.”

Bob switched over to another player window “I recompiled the program, but this time it substitutes pixels that get no color value with a black color” he hit enter and it played the same sequence all over again, one frame at a time. It hit the last frame, then a series of various sized squares and circles, but they only filled about half the screen, the rest was all black.

Daryl was silent for a moment, he just stared at the LCD “wait, so... are you sure about this? You double checked it all right?” he inquired, his irritation giving way to curiosity.

Bob gave him a grin “most definitely, double and triple checked, too bad we won't know just what was on the rest of that transmission” he said.




MSNBC Studio, New York City, United States







“So we're back with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, it's good to have you with us Neil” Rachel Maddow nodded to her guest across her desk.

Neil nodded back “glad to be here Rachel” he replied.

“So, we've been getting all kinds of speculation about the meaning of this new transmission from the Tau Cetians, some people say that it's a threat, some say that it is a warning of impending doom, others say that there's a hidden message that we have yet to understand, what do you think?” asked Maddow with a contemplative look on her face.

Neil looked at the camera and then across at the host “well, although there is quite a bit of speculation, I would be wary of getting caught up in all of it. Most of the scientific community is clearly weighing in in favor of this being some kind of portent of disaster, the exact nature of which does seem to be a bit less clear, but these beings were clearly trying to go with a very simplistic message” he explained.

Maddow nodded thoughtfully “alright, but what of the debate over whether the message is meant to be a warning or a threat? What side do you come down on there?”

“Well, I think that the first images, which clearly appear to be a representation of this solar system and a symbol that they were using to equate to a period of time equal to one earth year, would seem to indicate that they are giving us a time limit here, and though it does stand to reason that it could be an ultimatum, the fact that the message was cut off in mid transmission would indicate that it is more of a warning. If a man calls you describing a bomb, then all of a sudden the line goes dead, I don't have to tell you what the likely cause of that is now do I?”

“Well, it's always possible that he was using an I Phone.”

“That's a silly comparison to make Rachel, these beings are clearly an intelligent species, there is no reason to suspect that they would make such a foolish choice” both of them started chuckling at that.

“So what are you saying we should do about it if it is in fact a threat?”

“Well, I've always been an advocate of space travel, but I think that serious investment should be made into advancing the cause of manned spaceflight.”

“Are you suggesting that we escape the planet or mount some kind of defense?”

“Yes, either or both. Clearly we are not alone in the universe, we should prepare accordingly. Imagine what would have happened if when the Mayflower showed up off of Plymouth Rock and the Native Americans sailed their own sailing vessel out to meet them at sea?”

“Hmm, that's definitely some food for thought Neil. We'll be back after a short break.”

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-27 04:11pm

Chapter 2





Moscow Kremlin, Moscow, Russia






“Thank you all for coming” said Dr. Viktor Chernenko to the assembled room, but especially to the two men seated at the head of the table he was facing; Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. He took a sip from the glass of water on the small table next to him and pulled a laser pointer out of his pocket “alright then, this morning we were alerted by the administrator of the Komarov observatory to a drastic change in the appearance of Tau Ceti Four” he explained.

The large flat screen display next to Viktor turned on and an image of a group of somewhat fuzzy points of light appeared. The image itself had an uneven look to it, almost like a patchwork of different shades of black that were thrown together into a collage.

Twelve dots populated the image in all “this is a composite image of the Tau Ceti star system taken by the telescope at Komarov Observatory. The bright spot at the center-“ he indicated the point of light at the approximate middle of the image “is the star itself. Now if you will take note of this planet-“ he indicated one of the other points of light, the one that was fourth from the center “which is designated as Tau Ceti Four and is the planet that we consider to be the most likely candidate to be the origin of the two signals that we received from the star system .”

He picked up the glass of water and took another sip, replacing it he continued “this image was taken four days before the last message from Tau Ceti was received” that image was then replaced with another similar image, the star was still located at the center, but now all the planets were at slightly different locations “this was taken two days after the message was received” he indicated the fourth planet again, it didn’t seem too different, maybe slightly less bright.

“Two weeks after”

The fourth planet this time appeared to be somewhat larger, but dimmer still.

“One month”

This time it was even harder to see, almost completely dimmed, and it’s shape was distorted and elongated.

“This was taken yesterday.”

This image showed only eleven points of light now including the star itself. The assembled group started talking in hushed whispers, their tone was quiet, but quite clearly concerned “all attempts to locate Tau Ceti Four have failed, this has been confirmed by three other observatories.”







Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States






Jennifer Morales reached into her refrigerator and pulled out a can of Crush orange soda. Closing the door behind her she worked her fingertip underneath the tab on the can and pried it open, the sound of scored metal breaking was followed immediately by the sharp hiss of carbon dioxide and vaporized liquid escaping the seal of the can. She walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, she took a sip of her soda, its cool sweetness flowed into her parched mouth, she swallowed it down and then wiped her lips with the back of her hand.

She plopped herself down on the couch and grabbed the remote, she hit the power button and flipped the channel over to WZZM 13. It was almost time to catch the Pistons game and she had thirty dollars bet on the outcome. A few commercials played out, and after a couple minutes the NBA emblem appeared on the screen, it was replaced by a highlight reel from the previous season, but after no more than fifteen seconds the ABC News logo suddenly replaced it “we are interrupting this regularly scheduled programming to bring you an urgent news update” said the announcer.

Jennifer sighed dammit, this better be important she thought. The news logo was replaced by a shot of a middle aged man in a nondescript black suit with a red tie, he started to speak “good evening, this is Dan Harris with a special report on breaking news out of Washington, we’ve just been informed by the White House that President Obama is about to make a statement regarding recent developments involving the Tau Cetians, this is expected to occur within the next ten minutes. We’ve also been informed that leaders from an additional twenty nations are also expected to make similar statements simultaneously” he explained.

Jennifer’s attention perked up slightly but not much, although it seemed remarkable that twenty world leaders would make official statements simultaneously regarding something, she was still annoyed that her basketball game was being interrupted maybe he can keep it short for once she thought. Dan Harris exchanged some conversation with a correspondent who was standing out in front of the White House, they speculated as to just what the content of the President’s speech was to be.

About five minutes later Mr. Harris interrupted the correspondent “I’m sorry Patrice, but it sounds like the President is about to begin his statement” he said as the view was replaced by the Presidential seal over a blue background. After several seconds that faded to a shot of President Obama sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. He was looking down at something in front of him, a second passed and his gaze shifted up to face the camera, he started to speak.

“My fellow Americans… my fellow humans, I come to you tonight not as the leader of a nation, not as a citizen of any one country, but as a member of the Human Race.”

He paused for a second, then “earlier today, I along with the leaders of other nations around this planet have been informed by scientists that the fourth planet in the Tau Ceti star system appears to have vanished from the views of all telescopes across the Earth. Based upon previously recorded images of the planet over the past two months, scientists seem to largely agree that the planet appears to have been destroyed.”

Again, a pause.

“Based upon the size of the planet as well as its distance from its sun, most scientists across the planet have come to conclude that it was in fact the most likely origin of the two signals we have been received from that star system. Additionally, the majority consensus among experts is that the second signal received from the Tau Ceti star system was meant to be a warning to this planet of impending doom, most likely in the form of a hostile extraterrestrial threat, which we believe is due to arrive within thirty-three Earth years.”

“I cannot begin to understand the full reasoning behind when or why they first decided to contact us, and unfortunately we will most likely never know what these people fully intended to tell us. However I am adamant in the belief that we should not let the sacrifice of these beings be in vain. Therefore I am standing before you tonight to promise you that every effort will be made, every resource at our disposal will be employed, and every bit of human knowledge will be put to use in the defense of Humanity.”

“As I speak, the leaders of other nations across the globe are making similar statements, and I have personally been given firm promises of cooperation from these world leaders to commit to achieving these ends. We will most likely never know why this clearly advanced civilization was not able to save itself from destruction, but I promise you that the Human race will not surrender to extinction. We will fight, we will persevere and we will prevail against this threat to our species.”


**


“…passed earlier this week by an overwhelming majority in both houses of congress. Authorizing an additional thirty five billion dollars in NASA funding for FY 2015, it represents the single largest budget allotment for the space agency since its inception, even when accounting for inflation. More striking however is the expected budget increases stipulated in the bill which are set to expand the NASA budget to over one hundred thirty billion dollars next year and two hundred billion the year after that.

A small number of fiscal hawks have criticized the bill, saying that it represents an unsustainable level of spending. However, proponents of the bill say that expenditure increases on the space program budget will be accounted for by spending cuts, most notably in the defense budget. Meanwhile many in Washington have criticized the spending bill for said defense cuts, saying how they are too drastic and are too risky for the safety of the country.

These criticisms however are surprisingly few and far between, as many have suspected that the upcoming Feingold Johnson defense bill; which is rumored to contain provisions for the formation of a new space based branch of the US military, is considered to be a major reason for this silence.

Much less visible, but no less profound is the OPDAC treaty that is also expected to be ratified by congress just as easily and is expected to form the framework of an international body responsible for the defense of the planet as well as the coordination of the various different efforts being conducted by each nation around the world.

Sources close to the White House reported earlier today that…”

New York Times article dated June 24, 2015

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by CaptainChewbacca » 2011-01-27 04:33pm

So this secret clue was discovered by Bob Eubanks, the 72 year-old host of the Dating Game, and originator of the phrase 'making whoopie'?

:P

It looks good, keep it up.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Mobius IO » 2011-01-27 05:13pm

Interesting story so far. Although I have to wonder how far we can really advance in 33 years even putting everything we have into it...

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by bilateralrope » 2011-01-27 05:55pm

Mobius IO wrote:Interesting story so far. Although I have to wonder how far we can really advance in 33 years even putting everything we have into it...
Not far enough to fight off aliens who can blow up planets.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Mobius IO » 2011-01-27 06:07pm

bilateralrope wrote:
Mobius IO wrote:Interesting story so far. Although I have to wonder how far we can really advance in 33 years even putting everything we have into it...
Not far enough to fight off aliens who can blow up planets.
That was kind of my thought.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Zaune » 2011-01-27 06:13pm

Mobius IO wrote:Interesting story so far. Although I have to wonder how far we can really advance in 33 years even putting everything we have into it...
Thirty-three years is long enough to design an anti-ship missile that can manoeuvre in zero-gravity and carry a nuclear warhead in the megaton range, build a dozen orbital platforms to launch them from and stockpile them in tens of thousands. Anything we come up with after that is a bonus.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by That NOS Guy » 2011-01-27 06:27pm

bilateralrope wrote: Not far enough to fight off aliens who can blow up planets.
Well, how do they blow up planets? They could've said "fuck it" after suffering through a ground campaign and just dropped rocks on Tau Ceti after getting stiff resistance from a presumably technologically similar species to Humanity. Is 33 years enough time to form ability to destroy inbound rocks as well as keep the orbital high ground contested and then force a decisive ground war? I guess we'll see.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Nimraaz » 2011-01-28 07:03pm

Zaune wrote: Thirty-three years is long enough to design an anti-ship missile that can manoeuvre in zero-gravity and carry a nuclear warhead in the megaton range, build a dozen orbital platforms to launch them from and stockpile them in tens of thousands. Anything we come up with after that is a bonus.
If they can blow up planets, that's nothing. The kinetic energy of an arrow from a longbow is closer to a megaton than a megaton is to the binding energy of the earth!

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Zaune » 2011-01-28 08:43pm

Nimraaz wrote:If they can blow up planets, that's nothing. The kinetic energy of an arrow from a longbow is closer to a megaton than a megaton is to the binding energy of the earth!
Being able to destroy a planet does not automatically equate to being able to withstand several tens of thousand megaton-range nuclear warheads being launched in salvoes of fifty to a hundred at once.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-28 10:24pm

I think a little clarification is in order here. While the ability to physically destroy a planet is indeed an immense feat, it is by no means magical. Really all it requires is concentrating enough energy close enough together on the planet to cause the crust and mantle to fracture. The method that these aliens used is not on the level of the Death Star, in fact it is vastly less than that. I specifically made a point to demonstrate that the planet did not simply vanish instantly, but rather it broke up over a period of time.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by kromtar » 2011-01-29 12:05am

I really am liking this story so far. I am a first time poster, lurker for years, but I was just thinking what if the aliens where not destroyed per say but trying to explain to earth why they where leaving Tau? More like saying " Our home is gone we are coming to your planet, please be nice we are being hunted." ?

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-29 04:03pm

Chapter 3





Pomona, California, United States







“So what's this big thing you wanted to tell me?” Lauren McConnell said as she sat down across from Tim Eisen.

Tim took a bite of his ham and cheese sandwich, then quickly swallowed it down with a swig from his can of soda. Then he placed the can back on the table, a couple droplets of condensation ran down the side and pooled around the bottom of the can “hi Lauren, thanks for coming” he paused for a second “I guess I'll just get it right out there, I want to put an entry into the design competition for the new launch platform” he said matter if factly.

She merely stared at him in stunned silence, it took her a minute before she finally was able to find the words “you're serious” it was as much a question as a statement.

Tim nodded as he reached into his book bag on the chair next to him “yeah I'm serious” he unzipped the bag and pulled out his Touchpad which he unlocked and handed over to her. It already had a pdf document open “see, the competition is open to anybody and everybody, not just the big aerospace contractors, all we need to do is get a fully formulated design out there and ready to go in six months.”

Lauren shook her head “yeah, 'ready to go' means tests Tim, we'd have to produce at least a working scale model for flight testing, there is no way you could get that far in six months, even if you did manage to somehow design an entire launch platform all by yourself” she said skeptically.

Tim took another drink from his soda “I'm not talking about just me doing this, I'm building a team; you, me, Joey, Singh, Trey, and Nicole. Oh, and Dr. Kreton.”

“You want to enlist five college students and an old man who lives out in the desert alone, that sounds like such a great idea. Hey, I've got an even better idea, why don't we use an army of ninja kittens to fight off the alien invaders while we're at it” sarcasm dripped from her voice.

Tim sarcastically laughed back at her “I'm serious Lauren, between the six of us we have the knowledge to get the job done, and that old man happens to have worked on Apollo, he sent men to the damn moon. Besides, I've worked on designs for just this kind of thing since I was fifteen” he said. It was true, that was probably the reason why his grades were so mediocre, his mother always complained that as smart as he was he always let his studies suffer while he was off doing some personal project rather than doing schoolwork.

“I still can't believe that you're serious, there is just no way we could realistically get this kind of thing done, those big contractors you mentioned employ whole armies of engineers who have actual college degrees and actual experience, and you're gonna tell me that we are going to not only turn out a project just as fast as them, but that it will even stand a chance of actually getting accepted. Can I have some of what you're smoking?”

“Yes, yes I am serious, and I think we can do this with all seriousness. I say that because all of those big contractors can't seem to design a working toilet without making it cost five million dollars a piece and require seven redesigns and six months of production delays, and still leaks like a sieve.”

Lauren bit her lip and furrowed her brow, her face looked contemplative “but, there's still no way we'll be able to get any kind of testing done, we'd need tons of capital just to build a working scale model.”

Tim snatched the Touchpad out of her hand, he tapped it a couple times and then handed it back to her, a different page of the pdf document open “the rules of the competition only stipulate that the design receive wind tunnel tests and computer simulations, actual test flights can take another six months before producing a working prototype. We have all the facilities and software here on campus to do that right now, and we'll have access to it even during summer break.”

“Okay, so what's the plan then?” Lauren placed the Touchpad down on the table and snatched one of Tim's potato chips and popped it in her mouth.

He grinned back at her “well, we've got to go convince the others to join up in this little venture of ours. Then after finals are over this Friday we'll get right to work. In the meantime I've got a few old concepts I worked on way back in the day, we can use those as a starting point to go from” he explained as he finished the last bite of his sandwich.

Lauren got up from her chair “alright, I'll call Singh and Trey, you call Nicole and Joey. We'll meet back here at six” she turned to leave, but paused “oh, and supposing we actually somehow manage to get the design completed on time and it gets accepted, what do we do then?” she asked.

Tim merely grinned back at her “well, we'll just have to jump off that bridge when we get to it.”


**

seven miles outside of Indio, California, United States


Dr. Kreton's home didn't look like much, at least that's the way it appeared when Lauren first got out of the back of Joey's van. It was an old motor home, parked in the middle of the desert, it's paint job faded almost to a white, a faint outline of some pin striping marked the side of it, and rust dotted the corners and edges of the dilapidated looking vehicle. It's tires appeared to have long since gone flat and dry rot seemed to ensure that they would never be inflated ever again.

Tim walked up to the door of the trailer, the rest of them followed right behind. He knocked once, then twice, and after about a minute of waiting the door finally opened. An old man who looked to be in his seventies with silver unkempt looking hair, and a long shaggy beard popped his head out. He wore a wrinkly plaid flannel shirt that looked about as old as he did.

He stared out at them “can I help you?” he asked, his voice a bit raspy.

After a couple seconds hesitation, Tim spoke “hi Dr. Kreton, I don't know if you remember, but you spoke at our thermodynamics class at Cal State Polytechnic last year, and you helped me and my friend Lauren here on our term project back in November” he explained.

The old man waved his hands in a dismissive gesture “yes yes, I remember you. Do you want some help with another project or something?” he seemed a bit grouchy, but then as Lauren recalled, he always had seemed grouchy.

“Well, actually kind of. We have a project, but it's not necessarily for school, and we were wondering if you would be willing to work on it with us.”

Dr. Kreton looked over the group “a motley group you've got here, what are you working on?”

A brief pause, then “you know about the last message we got from Tau Ceti?” he asked apprehensively.

The old man scowled “yes, I know all about that. Alien invasion and all, I'm not just some old hermit living in a cave you know, what of it?” his grouchiness increased.

“Well, then you must know about the funding that NASA has gotten and all, and the new drive to start up a working manned program there. Anyway, the government has announced a competition for designs for a new space launch platform” he paused for a second, the doctor looked at him quizzically “we'd like to submit a design.”

The Doctor merely stared at him in silence, he didn't seemed stunned. He didn't seem much of anything in fact, he just stood there stiff as a statue for about half a minute “that's nice son, good luck with it and all” he finally said just before going back inside.

Tim put his hand up to stop the door from closing “just hear us out please. I know that you used to work for NASA yourself, and that you quit after Challenger because you thought that the whole culture there was a total disaster. Well I hate it too, I think that those guys took all the success from landing on the moon and turned NASA into a joke, and I think that we can have a chance to do a better job than all those bureaucrats and aerospace fatcats.”

The door had almost closed all the way, in spite of Tim's struggles, clearly Dr. Kreton was stronger than he at first appeared “I think we can do a better job because we actually want to see this thing work, and not because we're trying to milk some government contract for every dollar that we can!”

Suddenly Tim wasn't struggling anymore. The door reopened and the old man's head popped out again. He looked them all up and down once again “aww hell. Alright, I'll help you, if for no other reason than to see the looks on the faces of those bastards running the show at NASA.”

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by LadyTevar » 2011-01-29 07:13pm

And now we have the pesky kids who will be our perky heros.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-29 07:39pm

sheesh, I'm getting so much sarcasm on SB.com too. Seriously, these guys aren't going to come up with some applied phlebotinum fix all for the situation. They are working on a practical space launch vehicle. Actually, these guys are hardly even going to be in the story going forward, maybe a couple extra scenes, but not much more.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by bilateralrope » 2011-01-30 02:23am

guest wrote:I think a little clarification is in order here. While the ability to physically destroy a planet is indeed an immense feat, it is by no means magical. Really all it requires is concentrating enough energy close enough together on the planet to cause the crust and mantle to fracture. The method that these aliens used is not on the level of the Death Star, in fact it is vastly less than that. I specifically made a point to demonstrate that the planet did not simply vanish instantly, but rather it broke up over a period of time.
You are still talking about quite a lot of energy there as you have to overcome the gravitational binding energy of the destroyed planet. According to wikipedia, the earth's binding energy comes out to 2.24×1032J (5.3x1013 gigatons), or the total energy output of the sun over a week.

Unless they have a major design flaw that can be exploited, how can humans fight someone who can throw around that much energy ?

If they do have a design flaw and we do defeat them, what's to stop them coming back for round 2 with the design flaw fixed ?
sheesh, I'm getting so much sarcasm on SB.com too. Seriously, these guys aren't going to come up with some applied phlebotinum fix all for the situation. They are working on a practical space launch vehicle.
They are still just a bunch of kids with no budget showing up the 'experts'.
Zaune wrote:
Nimraaz wrote:If they can blow up planets, that's nothing. The kinetic energy of an arrow from a longbow is closer to a megaton than a megaton is to the binding energy of the earth!
Being able to destroy a planet does not automatically equate to being able to withstand several tens of thousand megaton-range nuclear warheads being launched in salvoes of fifty to a hundred at once.
The problem with nuke spam is that if you set one off, any other nuke that is too close will be damaged too much for it to initiate. This also applies if the target uses its own nukes to shoot down any we shoot at it.

How do you plan to use nukes to stop a RKV ?
By the time it's close enough to hit with our nukes, its also so close that we won't get many hits on it. Also breaking it up will just make it harder to deal with.

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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by Zaune » 2011-01-30 07:27am

bilateralrope wrote:The problem with nuke spam is that if you set one off, any other nuke that is too close will be damaged too much for it to initiate. This also applies if the target uses its own nukes to shoot down any we shoot at it.
Depending how many ships there are, and whether they have the tactical sense to spread out enough that we can't catch more than one ship in the blast radius, that may not be an issue. If it is, the best solution might be to rig them so that warheads within a certain distance detonate when the first one makes contact.
How do you plan to use nukes to stop a RKV ?
By the time it's close enough to hit with our nukes, its also so close that we won't get many hits on it. Also breaking it up will just make it harder to deal with.
Besides doing our damndest to force the enemy to retreat in disorder before they can deploy one? Reduce its mass as much as possible with space-to-space weapons and hope to hell that whatever ABM systems Earth has online by that point can blunt the impact of whatever survives reentry.
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Re: The Stars are a Harsh Mistress

Post by guest » 2011-01-30 11:53am

bilateralrope wrote: They are still just a bunch of kids with no budget showing up the 'experts'.

In showing up the 'experts' as you say, they only need to come up with something more reliable, more cost effective, and more practical than the US aerospace industry. This is actually a far easier task than it seems. While the engineers who work for those companies could certainly come up with something that meets those criteria on their own, while stuck in the culture of those firms, they are almost certainly doomed to try to produce something that is overly complicated, overly costly, full of design flaws, and not as capable as it is supposed to be. This has more or less been the story of manned spaceflight in the US since Apollo. Even the Ares V which has been referred to as a 'remake of Apollo' is estimated to take more than a decade just to get viable, and probably will take longer than that.

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