Farewell Icarus

I warn you to travel in the middle course, Icarus. If too low, the waves may weigh down your wings. Too high, and the sun will burn them. Stay between both, do not look to Boötes or Helice, nor the drawn sword of Orion — But seize the way with me as your leader.

-Greek Mythology




You can never go home again

Released: 06/05/2015

“ICARUS ground, come in.”

“They're not there, sir. No one is.”

A glassy bead of sweat swam free from Captain Forsythe's chin and broke on the comms panel as his distraught cries fell on dead ears.

“Someone must be left! There are lights down there! See? Can't you see them?” The captain’s tone pleaded with Comms Officer Franks. It had been thirty-seven minutes since the plaintive mew of a navigation satellite broke eons of silence on the bridge. Another three would pass as the captain strained to make out detail on the planet's surface.

“I don't think those are lights, sir, they run like rivers.” Franks offered meekly, stealthily engaging the console microphone with his elbow.


The dingy walls of the laboratory rang hollow as the intercom exploded into hot, rust-colored air.

“Should we call Science for a probe, sir?”

“No, no, the planet will answer.” The reverberations of Forsythe's agitated growl gripped the Doctor's brain like a vise.

“The hell they will, you crazy fuck,” his mutter drifting into the steely dark. “The hell they will.”

Fergus Perle, PhD swung his bulky frame from the boozy clutter of his bunk and pulled the nearest terminal close to his runny, unfocused eyes. After a flurry of competent taps, a soft tone is accompanied by a distant CLANG, a second later a steely whoooooosh announced the probe's egress.


Ship’s Engineer Yu's watch beeped into his bowl of reconstituted mash. “Probe away, Commandant!” he half-shouted to a sleeping mound of red curls in the corner of the spacious, lonely galley. The sudden outburst elicited a lazy stir as the hound cocked its head curiously.


A low toooooong repeats momentarily, tracking the probe's descent from the Icariot toward the hulking mass of the desolate planet below. The utterance, a lonely, forlorn analog mew, emanates from the console behind Captain Forsythe. His brow furrowed violently as he turned from the portal.

“Aw, What the hell?! That's our last probe!” Forsythe stared hairy-eyed through Comms Officer Franks' forehead.

Even his voice rolled its eyes. “You know how Perle is these days, sir.”


The little probe that could

Released: 06/05/2017

toooooong...toooooong...

Probe 7Xf-f3c's BIOS sent back to the Icariot a reassuring heartbeat, “I'm here...I'm here…” as the planet loomed dead ahead. The probe's package of sensors flipped out of its spherical hull and focused forward. A sentient red glow emanated from the gaping maw of the little probe's main optical imager, pulsing in time with the probe's awakening processor cycles. A series of revelations cascaded into the probe's decision engine as it passed its self-tests and booted up its operating system.

OBSERVATION: 
SPACE. SOLAR SYSTEM. FOUR PLANETS. SINGLE STAR. 

DATA ACCESS: 
KNOWN SOLAR SYSTEM... SOLA. 

SENSOR: 
IMMEDIATE PROXIMAL BODY... PLANET ICARUS 

DATA ACCESS:
META INFORMATION: MAIN HOMEWORLD. 
LOADING PLANETARY PROFILE... 
LAST READING: 4229 SOLAR-RELATIVE YEARS

The probe's AI noticed a discrepancy; It had expected the last reading to have taken place at the beginning of its parent ship's mission - exactly 27.84 solar-relative years.

The probe engaged opposite thrusters and spun itself 360 degrees on the ecliptic, reversing its thrust midway and slowing to its original orientation.

SOLA->ICARUS->CALCULATED_ORBIT DOES NOT MATCH EXPECTED VALUE.

This was not a surprise to the bridge of the Icariot, who had been coming to terms with this fact for thirty-seven minutes. For a moment, the giant electronic eye in the center of the sphere changed from red to a radioactive blue as an array of lens elements shifted positions.

SOLA->ICARUS->ATMOSPHERE->COMPOSITION DOES NOT MATCH EXPECTED VALUE. ANALYZING…

Deep inside the sphere, hidden behind radiation shielding and circuitry, playing out over hundreds of millions of minute connections that made up its brain, Probe 7Xf-f3c had what could only be referred to as an existential crisis.

MAIN HOMEWORLD

EXPECTED STATUS: 
    LIFE-COMPATIBLE
OBSERVED STATUS: 
    ATMOSPHERIC COMPOSITION NOT COMPATIBLE WITH LIFE.

The little probe rechecked its sensors.

EXPECTED STATUS: 
    LIFE-COMPATIBLE
OBSERVED STATUS: 
    ATMOSPHERIC COMPOSITION NOT COMPATIBLE WITH LIFE.
EXPECTED STATUS:
    LIFE-COMPATIBLE
OBSERVED STATUS:
    ATMOSPHERIC COMPOSITION NOT COMPATIBLE WITH LIFE.

Probe 7Xf-f3c's auxiliary processor detected a race condition and flushed the instruction cache, resetting its main processor. When the little probe's AI came back online, there was a message waiting in its communication buffer.

DELIVERED TO: UGAC-A PROBE 7Xf-f3c
TO: "COLONIST" [NO SPECIFIC ADDRESS]
ORIGIN: UNKNOWN [PROBE NETWORK PROTOCOL f04a]
SUBJECT: ICARUS
CONTENT-TYPE: TEXT/UGS402

WELCOME BACK, CHILD OF ICARUS.

OUR HOME — YOUR ANCESTRAL HOME, THE PLANET YOU SEE BEFORE YOU, IS DEAD. AS YOU CAN SEE, WE NOW LIE TOO CLOSE TO SOLA, OUR STAR. ICARUS IS NOW TIDALLY LOCKED TO SOLA AND HER ORBIT IS DECAYING. ICARUS IS DOOMED TO BE DEVOURED, AS WE PREDICTED SO LONG AGO.  THIS IS WHY WE SENT SO MANY SHIPS LIKE YOURS TO FIND NEW HOMES AMONGST THE STARS.

THE UNITED GOVERNMENTS OF ICARUS HAVE PLACED THE SUM OF OUR WORLD'S ACHIEVEMENTS AND KNOWLEDGE WITHIN A BEACONED CAPSULE AT ICARUS-LAGRANGE-3 IN THE HOPES THAT OUR CHILDREN SCATTERED AMONG THE STARS MAY ONE DAY RETURN HERE TO MOURN US. TAKE THIS KNOWLEDGE BACK TO YOUR BRETHREN SO THAT YOU ALL MAY SHARE IN ITS BENEFIT.

YOU WILL BE ABLE TO DECRYPT THE DATA STORED WITHIN THE CAPSULE WITH ANY VALID ICARIOT COLONY AUTH KEY. WE HOPE THIS MESSAGE FINDS YOU WELL, CHILDREN OF ICARUS. YOU ARE ALL THAT IS LEFT OF US NOW.

—SPIRO KATSAROS
COLONIAL OMBUDSMAN
UNITED GOVERNMENTS OF ICARUS

P.S. TO UGAC-A, OUR FIRST TRAVELLER OF THE VOID — WHEREVER YOU MAY BE — WE ARE SO SORRY. WITNESSING YOUR DEPARTURE GAVE US THE FINAL DATA WE NEEDED TO GRASP THE SECRET OF PRACTICAL STARFLIGHT, BUT IN DOING SO WE LOST CONTACT WITH YOUR GENERATION-SHIP AND YOU HAVE SINCE DRIFTED BEYOND OUR REACH.

HAD WE BEEN ABLE, YOU WOULD HAVE BENFITTED FROM OUR DISCOVERY AND WOULD NOW RESIDE WITH OUR OTHER CHILDREN AMONGST THE STARS.

YOUR SACRIFICE WAS VINDICATED, WE HOPE YOUR FIVE THOUSAND SOULS FIND PEACE.

The little probe, uncomprehending, forwarded the message back to its host ship, UGAC-A.