Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Astro-Porn of the Day: Kepler 10b

Calling all science-fiction writers: Think you've created a Hell World? Check out this place!

Yes, that's right: The planet is so close to its parent star that it creates a comet-like tail of rock particles because its surface is BOILING MAGMA ablating in the solar wind.

How could it ever have formed so near the star? Well, it didn't. See, this place is the relic of an ancient interstallar war. Its crust was once a few hundred kilometers thicker, carpeted with cities of glass and hydroformed steel, before they pissed off their stellar neighbors.

Here, let me share their story:

The Kebians meant no harm when they launched the exploration mission to Malpas. The ship's payload was less than a liter in volume, merely some software and a few million self-replicating nanos tasked to build an automated rover. Unfortunately, the spacecraft carrying the little rover flew through the wash of a nova-star's flaring plasma along the way, and the software was corrupted. So when it landed and the nanos busily began executing their mission, they didn't know when to stop. Unfortunately, the locals didn't realize what was happening until they had lost nearly a full province in a lightly populated northern province. Within days, the Malpassians deduced where the attack had originated and mounted a full-scale counterattack.

The defensive technology of the Malpassians, as the locals called themselves, was much more advanced than that of the Kebians - and honed for destruction. Whereas Kebian technology arose from scientific inquiry, Malpassian tech was hard-earned in the forges of war, as they had repelled an invasion once before.

A roving race that had no official name for itself - besides the universal designation, "The People" - had drifted near the Malpassian homeworld two hundred years prior to the ill-fated rover's mission. The invaders thrived on the remains of fallen civilizations; they were a bestial race of billions of individuals who lived aboard mobile asteroids their forebears had stolen from a now-extinct civilization tens of thousands of years before. The invasion lasted decades - not because the invaders had organized a war of attrition but because they had no plan; they simply continued to ferry down to the surface as their ungainly asteroids could be maneuvered into orbit within range of their armed landing craft. They also carried powerful energy weapons, and should those weapons fail - and they often did, poorly maintained as they were - the invaders attacked with tooth and claw, a match even for the planet's massive predatory animals, and outmatching the Malpassians ten to one in hand-to-hand combat. The asteroids were formidable weapons, themselves, when the exhaust of their dark-energy engines were focused on the planet below, devastating wide swathes of surface like so many F5 tornadoes that never ran out of power.

But when all seemed lost, when most major cities were devastated and the invaders spread across the land like a plague swarm, the Malpassians gained the upper hand. One of their premier physicists had been studying the dark-energy engines, as his area of expertise was dark matter and related hypotheticals. He often felt guilty for the pleasure he experienced, witnessing his theories come to practical life. The method of his civilization's destruction proved not only that dark matter and dark energy existed, but also that it could be harnessed as limitless power - enough to bear a primitive people across the stars, people who surely did not understand the principles that powered their transportation, who surely could not gather the matter necessary to run those fierce engines! So he refined his theories and worked with government engineers in a secret underground facility until they were ready for the ultimate mission: to invade one of the asteroid bases! The physicist didn't fly aboard the precious orbital-assault vehicle, of course, though several of the elite soldiers who did were respectable scientists in their own rights. Of the 20 who launched in the boarding craft (it was accompanied by several screening fighters), 12 made it to the engine room. Of those, only four returned to the surface in condition to continue working with the hero-physicist. But, most importantly, they brought back volumes of 3D schematic imagery and other data - enough that the Malpassians were able to complete work on their own dark-energy weapon.

Within the year, the first dark-energy base became operational. The Malpassians designed it so that they could not only focus the beam, as the invaders focused their engines, but also to swivel and target it. Critically, however, because they understood the underlying principles, they were able to make it into a true weapon. So rather than emitting a crude destructive exhaust cone, their dark-energy weapon fired a coherent beam. When he observed his weapon blasting a hole through its first asteroid, the physicist made his greatest discovery: The coherent beam appeared to strike the target shortly before it was fired. He was astounded. Soon, he mocked himself for missing the obvious: relativistic effects made it appear to strike before it was fired, when in reality the beam struck the target at the precise moment that it was fired. This matched his notion of how dark matter existed not in four dimensions but in many at once, and by harnessing it and making it exist as coherent wave-forms, they had found a way to teleport information!

The second dark-energy base began operation days later, bringing down another asteroid within hours. But the third base was all they needed to truly turn the tide of war, because it need not have a clear shot at its target; all it needed was galactic-positioning data. This is a great understatement, of course, because such data requires full mapping of gravitational slopes as well as matter and motion maps. This weapon missed its target by several kilometers on first firing... but the target asteroid orbited on the other side of the planet! The miss provided a great deal of data, and within hours they fired a second beam, which appeared in full force as dark energy concentrated into a point - the entire beam's energy winked on like a star whose diameter spanned less than a nanometer. This point remained still relative to the asteroid as it arced through its orbit, manufacturing antimatter wherever the point encountered matter, rupturing the rock like so much tissue paper tossed into a blazing inferno.

The weapon's programmers grew more accurate with each operation, soon able to target the invaders' landing craft, and eventually able to target individual invaders, themselves, thousands of kilometers away. Some of the asteroids' pilots managed to break orbit before they were targeted and surely felt safe once they passed beyond the system's cometary cloud. But their escape was only illusory: The Malpassians were busy eliminating the invaders on their world. Within a year, they had eradicated the immediate threat and turned their attentions to the retreating asteroid-craft. These they dispatched one after another over the course of a few days; though they had learned a great deal about targeting on nearby targets, relativistic effects played havoc on targeting distant, high-speed objects.

So two hundred years later, after they rebuffed what seemed to be a new attack - and stopping a grey-goo scenario required a great deal more invention! - the patient and methodical Malpassians turned their attention toward preventing a second wave of attack by targeting their new, moon-based dark-energy weapon against the Kebian homeworld. By eroding the ever-rotating dark side of the planet, they hoped to not only eradicate the offending civilization which dwelled on the surface but also drive the world into its sun for good measure. Over a few days they did manage to turn billions of megatons of crust into energy, killing all but a few million of the Kebians who lived on colony worlds, but they switched off their weapon before they had quite driven it into the sun.

No matter, though, because life could never again survive on the now-molten surface of Kebe, the world now known to humans as Kepler 10b. Even if the Kebians who survived the attack wished to return vengeance upon the Malpassians, the would forever lack the capacity to do so. The Malpassans held a great celebration when they learned of their victory, and to this day they commemorate not only the day they rid their world of the actual invaders, but also the day they stopped "The Second Invasion." Perhaps the only hopeful note in this second tragedy is that no Malpassan will ever learn that they extinguished the flame of what could have become one of the galaxy's greatest centers of learning - and perhaps their greatest allies in the wars to come.

Now, hundreds of years later, all that remains of the peaceful and beautiful Kebian culture are a few crystal domes on rocky worlds far from the place they once called home. That and the sun-bleached bones within. The Malpassans, as well, have been forever erased from the galaxy, their only surviving monument this world that they burned from afar. But that is another story.

I hope you enjoyed this little tale of galactic history!

Tags: astronomy, flashfic

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