Author: Alzo David-West

Two neutron stars, ten times the mass of the sun collided, unleashing a cataclysm—an explosive kilonova, whose massive gravitational waves undulated through the dark mantle of spacetime, forging in their course a planetary system composed of fifteen swirling planets.

Two hundred million light-years away, a team of astronomers on Orbital Observatory-9 detected the blast on their interferometers and monitored the emissions over seven days. As the astronomers triangulated the location of the collision, spectral signatures on their detectors indicated that the planets were formed almost entirely of the heavy element gold.

It was an astounding discovery. The twenty men and the twenty women gathered to discuss the theoretical implications of the golden planets. They dispatched a lengthy, detailed report to the Ministry of Space on their home planet. There, science officials forwarded an abridged version of the report to the Ministry of Resources; materials officials delivered a summarized version to the Ministry of Economics; and planning officials sent a simplified version to the Ministry of Politics. Serious, urgent communications ensued between the ministries.

After an unexplained communication blackout of six hours on Orbital Observatory-9, the team anxiously received an encrypted ministerial transmission. The message was dictated in a halting automated voice:

“Commissioned Astronomers of Orbital Observatory-9,—the Security Committee of the Ministry of Politics of Planet-State Earth,—on behalf of the Ministry of Space,—the Ministry of Resources,—and the Ministry of Economics,—expresses profound gratitude on your momentous,—historic discovery of the fifteen golden planets.—The team on Orbital Observatory-9 has admirably and honorably carried out its scientific commission in the area of outer-space detections.—As of this time,—your project is marked ‘classified’ in view of unprecedented space competition between interplanetary-state governments for commodities,—wealth,—prestige,—and systems of influence.—Rare,—naturally occurring gold in the cosmos is for us,—our allies,—and our rivals on the terraformed bodies—a significantly more valuable commodity than industrially replicated artificial gold.—Orbital Observatory-9 will now map ‘top-secret’ travel trajectories for unmanned surveyor-probes with hyperbolic propulsors to capture flyby images of the fifteen golden planets in order to determine if their magnetic fields,—gravitational pulls,—weather systems,—and physical terrains are favorable for execution of robot-rover expeditions for precious-metals extraction.—We anticipate at least several octillion tons of gold based on your report.—Per commission contracts,—all members of Orbital Observatory-9 will comply with ‘confidence protocols’ until this project is declassified.—Noncompliance shall be punished by imprisonment with work for life or for a definite term of not less than thirty years.—Again,—the Security Committee of the Ministry of Politics of Planet-State Earth commends you on your major discovery and thanks you for your service.”

The transmission ended, and the astronomers stood in stunned silence. They had never expected to hear from the politicians, much less from their security committee. The sudden demands, invocations, and presumptions after six uneasy hours shook and unsettled the team.

The men and women on Orbital Observatory-9 began to debate the significance of the transmission. They surmised that the communication blackout they had experienced was intentional. And they concluded that somewhere along the lines of inter-ministerial exchanges, a nonspecialist had omitted the detail that the golden planets could have been spheres of gas, dust, and cyclonic winds; or maybe, for the politicians, the detail was inconsequential insofar as elemental gold was available in one form or another.

The astronomers viewed their discovery under the shadow of an affliction. The neutron-star collision and their report of the golden planets ushered a perilous prospect before them—a revival of the epoch of wars, revolutions, and counterrevolutions in the ancient human struggle for existence. The team continued to discuss. Distant comets outside the observatory window shot across the universe, indifferently.

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