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"Far From Home"


It feels like one hundred years have passed by in these galaxies unknown to mankind.  In the depth of space, countless suns illuminate the cosmos in this otherwise pitch black frontier.

All this time we have been able to produce and recycle the energy, but we are running out of it.  Now, our priority is to find a source of energy where we can resupply our systems. 

Mother has been able to track a dwarf planet named “Axphix,“ which we are orbiting at the moment. Genesis system has detected some type of energy coming from its surface.

Paul:  “Mother!  What do we know so far about Axphix?”

“Axphix has been under extraordinary conditions for some time.  Its crystal structure, which is formed by iron and nickel, has been exposed to three million times atmospheric pressure and heated to about 4,500 degrees Celsius in the past. Our system indicates some chemicals, such as gaseous sodium and titanium oxide, too. It is possible there is a huge overabundance of these chemicals, but it is probably more likely that there is some exotic chemistry going on which we have never seen before.

“It is necessary to launch an ASE (Advanced Scanner Explorer) to determine the precise conditions.  We are going to explore an alien planet where no one has been before.  We don’t know what we will find.”

Paul:  “Well, the question is, how do we go where no one has gone before without spoiling it or bringing back some alien contaminate?”

“Depending on the information sent by ASE, we will be able to form a plan.  According to the satellite system, there is a valley in red sector 2…8…7…23.  We just need to make a visual confirmation.  You need to program the ASE navigation system,”  Mother responded.

Paul:  “Give me some time to do it, and I will be able to launch . . . ASE ready to launch.  Destination, red sector, 2…8…7…23.  Countdown in progress… 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off.”

After some time has passed, Paul announces, “We are there, Mother.  I have visual contact.  There are giant marbles and quartz crystals everywhere. The ASE sensors indicate some kind of atmospheric disturbance.”

“The disturbance is caused by the gaseous atmosphere, which is rich in sodium and titanium oxide,” Mother added.

Paul:  “Well, besides the atmospheric disturbance, everything looks pretty calm.  Our systems don’t detect any other signs of activity.  It seems like this will be the place to land.”

Mother:  “We need to be extremely careful.  I just have to remind you this is an alien planet.  We don’t know for sure what is there.  We cannot afford to take any risks.  Prepare Max-x and a Priscus robot.”

(A Priscus robot is far less advanced than an android and has internal parts made of carbon fiber and titanium, both highly resistant to impact, and equipped with a magnetic shield.  It is designed to perform highly specialized tasks on missions.)

Mother:  “I am sure that Max-x will need robotic assistance on this mission.  We will be using a fully equipped XTR exploration vehicle for the mission. 

“Paul, make the final preparations for them to be launched.”

Paul: “We are ready, Mother.  9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast off!”

Sometime later, Paul announces, “We are there, Mother.  Max-x, check to make sure that everything is working properly.”

Max-x:  “Affirmative.”

Mother:  “Max-x, give me visual the whole time.  Give me an analysis of the area.”

Max-x:  “My systems indicate the atmosphere is super saturated with gas rich in sodium, which resembles no other environment.  Temperature on the shady side of the giant marbles is minus 90 degrees Celsius.  The topography of the area includes carbon dioxide gas that freezes solid onto the terrain.  A sudden heat up in the terrain causes the gas to be released, thus destabilizing and causing some kind of avalanches.  I assume the extreme cold keeps the giant marbles in place.  The rotation of the planet is shorter than earth’s.”

Paul:  “Are you suggesting that the sudden heat up could be produced by some sort of climate?”

Max-x:  “It is unclear.  My guess is what looks like sand dunes requires different conditions related to surface properties, but the heat certainly will trigger them.  I will need to calibrate various models to give you a correct answer.”

Mother:  “Max-x, can you give me your infrared analysis?”

Max-x:  “Infrared analysis shows that some areas cool down more quickly than the surrounding marbles. The analysis on the ground suggests the presence of iron oxides, which will form in the presence of liquid water or chemical equivalent that produces a similar reaction.”

Mother:  “Be careful, Max-x!  My systems indicate gas vents, probably methane.  These vents can catch on fire easily.”

Paul:  “That will explain the presence of methane in the alien atmosphere…but methane should last only for a short period of time in the atmosphere, until it is destroyed by the sunlight.  Its continued presence means it is being replenished by some unknown process.”

Mother:  “You are right, Paul.  Unfortunately, we have no time to investigate what kind of process is going on.”

Max-x:  “Mother, some sort of energy comes from the quartz crystals.  The infrared analysis indicates they are rich in Xanthopterin.”

Paul:  “Xanthopterin? What are you talking about?”

Mother:  “Xanthopterin works as light harvesting molecule.  It transforms light into electrical energy.  This energy is transformed in a photo-biochemical process.  If, that’s a big ‘if’, we can have access to it, we would have energy for a long time.”

Max-x:  “Mother, my sensors indicate that the best quality of quartz crystals are the ones closer to the methane gas vents, but they can become active at any time.  I am afraid we will have to settle for less quality.  We have to use the hyper-laser to cut them.  If we try to cut the ones closest to the vents and they become active, I don’t know the consequences we will have.”

Mother:  “We are already here, and this could be the only opportunity that we will have to get access to this kind of energy.  Set up some sensors around the vents to monitor any changes on the ground that will allow us time to react if something goes wrong.  Let’s hope for the best.  I want you to program the Priscus to do the job.  It is necessary to use manual hyper-laser to cut the crystals.  Stay away from the process, and make sure that all the cameras are working.  I will direct the operation from here.”

Max-x:  “All the sensors are set up, and all the cameras are working.  Do you have good reception and view?”

Mother:  “We do.  Go ahead with the operation.  I do have to remind you the Priscus needs to apply customary precision.  We must avoid any damage.”

Max-x:  “Operation in progress . . . the Priscus systems indicate that the quartz crystal is hard to cut, even with the hyper-laser.  I am afraid that the process will take longer to complete . . . we are getting closer to get the first one.”

Sometime later,

Max-x:  “We have the first quartz crystal, Mother.”

Paul:  “Oh, perfect!  I can see why robotic reconversion has replaced manual labor.  It goes well beyond simple intelligence.”

Mother:  “Handle with care, and transfer it to the XTR rover.  Go ahead, we will need a second one.”

Max-x:  “The sensors can detect some light underground movement.”

Mother:  “I noticed it in my system, too.  Unfortunately, there isn’t that much we can do about it.  Keep going, and keep a safe distance from the operation.  Let the Priscus do the job.”

The operation went on.  Suddenly, a red light in the Priscus goes on.  “Warning . . . warning . . . warning!”

Max-x:  “Mother, the Priscus cannot work at this pace in these conditions.  The quartz crystal is harder to cut than what we had anticipated.  It has already blown off several diodes.  His circuits are over-heating.  I will need to activate the auxiliary system to keep going.”

Paul:  “Crap!  I was afraid that something would happen.”

Mother:  “Activate the auxiliary system on the Priscus, and be careful.  The sensors indicate stronger underground movements.”

Max-x:  “Auxiliary systems activated.”

Just a couple of minutes later, the Priscus had completely stopped working.

Paul:  “What happened?  What’s going on?”

Max-x:  “The Priscus is dead.  His systems are burned out.”

Mother:  “How much is missing to finish the cut?”

Max-x:  “I would say less than half.”

Mother: “Max-x, we don’t have much choice but to keep going.  Be extremely careful with the hyper-lasers and finish the job.  I don’t like the underground movement, and I haven’t been able to detect its origin.”

Max-x finished the job.  Lucky for him, there wasn’t much left to do to complete the cut.

Max-x:  “Mother, I have the second crystal.”

Mother:  “Great!  Transfer it to the XTR rover, and move away as quickly as you can from the area.  I am afraid the vents will become active any minute and release gas, thus destabilizing the terrain.”

Paul:  “What about the Priscus?”

Mother:  “Forget about it.  There is nothing we can do.”

Just as Max-x had retreated to a safe distance, the vents became active.

Paul:  “That’s what I call a lucky android!”

Max-x:  “The transfer of the crystals is now completed.  This could be strange to you, but my system indicates that the index of refraction is very close to that of air.  This means that it slows down the light to a similar degree, but deeper analysis needs to be done to prove it.  Mother, my sensors indicate some kind of disturbance in the area.  The disturbance originates behind those marbles.”

Paul:  “I have it on our system, too.”

Mother:  “Go ahead, take a look.  Give me visual.  This is totally unexpected.”

And so Max-x moved to where the signals originated.  Once he arrived there . . .

Max-x:  “Mother, do you see what I am seeing?”

Paul:  “Wow!  What an amazing sight!  The rocks are floating!  Is it the cause of some sort of disturbance in the atmosphere?”

Mother:  “I don’t know.  This is something new for me.  Max-x, use your laser wavelength to reveal their position and frequency and give me an analysis.”

Max-x: “As you can see, they are different in size and shape, and the distance from the ground varies according to the size.  The only thing they have in common is, they are saturated with some kind of liquid similar to water or oil.  In earth conditions, each rock would weigh tons.  If my analysis is correct, and the models right, under earth circumstances, a single drop of this liquid could raise tons.”

Paul: “I can see the greatest technical revolution already.  Can we extract the substance?”

Mother:  “Let me run some models to determine the possibilities.”

After a few minutes, Mother directs:  “Max-x, use your centrifuge system to extract a liquid sample directly to the nanotubes.  Be careful.  Once you extract the liquid, I am afraid that the rock will drop.  Be sure the nanotubes are perfectly sealed.  We don’t want any contamination.”

Several minutes later, Max-x states:  “I am done.  The transfer is now complete.”

Paul:  “Congratulations, Max-x!  You have done a fine job.  I am proud of you!  The XTR exploration module is waiting for you to bring you back.   

“Mother, prepare to take off.  Max-x, you will be in section C-2 for quarantine.

“We have managed to succeed on this mission, but not without some losses.  I just don’t know where we go from here.  This is becoming a race against time.  The universe has many secrets, and like time, it is always moving and nothing is permitted to rest.”


Story by S. Florence and J.A. Castillo

Illustration by J.A. Castillo, 2011

Names, characters, places and incidents featured in this publication either are the product of the author’s imaginations or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, without sarcastic intent, is purely coincidental.