Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The viewing room is hushed as we approach the co-ordinates. Every being not on duty has gathered. For some, it’s a rite of passage. For others, a renewal of faith.
“Exiting shiftspace in three, two, one.”
Conventional space and time welcome us back with their usual indifference. As the spinning greyness streams away like impossible mist, distant stars catch our eyes. Then it becomes clear, and everything else is irrelevant.
You’ve seen the descriptions of Artaxerxes. Might even have seen a blurry image or two. If you’re lucky, you’ve seen one of the captures from the first mission. No matter how you came to be aware of it, nothing can prepare you.
At some point before life appeared on Earth, it had been a habitable planet. Now, it’s a wandering mystery.
We’ve mapped this battered sphere, can show you depictions of what it used to be like, with deep oceans and continents much like Earth was in the first millennium of man’s dominance.
Except for the chains.
Those impossible artefacts, anchored deep within opposite sides of the planet by means we’re still trying to grasp, trail back for nearly twice the planet’s diameter. One side has four links, the other five. The broken links of either side have been lost somewhere on the journey. They certainly aren’t anywhere nearby, so their loss must have happened long ago.
Not as long ago as the event that launched this world upon its lonely travels. Something so vast we struggle to imagine. What was this planet chained to? There are many theories. My favourite is that there were many worlds arranged to form a necklace around a star for reasons we’ll never work out. The one that still makes me laugh is where some gargantuan spaceship carries planets as weapons.
Our finds under the surface of Artaxerxes have only increased the mystery, whilst getting the entire project placed under a veil of secrecy.
The inhabitants of this place looked like humans! The murals we’ve found hint at a society much like nineteenth century Europe, except for a pervasive religion that more closely resembled that of Ancient Egypt. No writings have survived bar the minimal notations etched into rocks in caves far below the surface.
Artaxerxes was cast adrift so long ago that organic traces are gone. Judging by the condition of the surface, it has endured incredible heat at times along its journey. We’re sure that some survived the initial cataclysm. Most of us agree that the etchings in the rock of the deep caves were made by the last of them. Sadly, we’ve found no equivalent of the Rosetta Stone from which to make a translation.
Backtracking the course of this planet indicates an origin further towards the expanding edge of our universe. Some are convinced it’s not of this universe. I’m not one of them. Yet. We simply don’t know. That’s why I’ve lived here for decades and only return to the worlds of the Accord when I have to. Somewhere in this hurtling mystery is the clue we need. One of them must have predicted this would happen: that some other race would find the remains of their home.
“Welcome back, Professor Tessen.”
I nod to the security guard. This year’s intake of students and recruits follow me into the converted battleship that keeps pace with Artaxerxes to serve as our base.
Maybe this is the year we’ll find that clue. I don’t care if it’s not me. I just want someone here to earn their place in history while giving me a lead at last.