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Altair

Altair

The planet Krell and its moon Crimson

Altair and its viable world Krell was one of the first examples of a planet where all previous thought and speculation said there shouldnít be one. By the time the first relativistic probes from Sol were exploring the local neighbourhood it was known Altair had two gas giant companions (Kelsey and Rhona .) These worlds where to be expected, Altair was not poor in metallic elements which was a good sign for a vast planetary system. Also Altair was coming to the end of the stable portion of its short but brilliant life, a few roughly formed planets were to be predicated though these worlds would be under constant bombardment from the detritus of early stellar systems.

Discovery of the anti-asteroid xeno-artifacts in the equally young Epsilon Eridani system and the terraformed worlds they protected gave the mission planners back at Sol the slimmest possibility that Altair might provide more than a wealth of raw materials for some orbital and rock based society.

In 2134 AD the Morbius left the Solar System for the 16 light year journey to the A class star. As it approached some 17 years later its sensors (compensating for the distorting effects of relativistic travel ) found the inner Altairian system to be largely empty of rubble. Closer inspection found the 7th world from the star found it to have the now familiar signs of an oxygen/carbon based ecosphere with large amounts of water vapour in the atmosphere.

Though the probe was not equipped for a close study of an alien biosphere or even a large planetary landing mission control quickly instructed the probe to jury-rig a craft capable of making a landing.

The craft landed in the northern sub-tropical zone of Altair 7, unfortunately on top of a massive termite mound analogue , an event which angered the locals and resulted in the lander being constantly subjected to swarms of insect like creatures attacking the delicate machinery in a vain attempt to save their queen or hive.

Despite the macro-scale battle going on all around the lander managed to rely telemetry of a barmy if not slightly warm and wet landing site that, should the financial backing be found provide an ideal home for any humanoid life.

While the lander reported its findings (and by then joined by a pack of curious bear-like creatures who braved the insect onslaught to shake and chew the battered craft ) the mothership began to investigate curious readings from the L4 point of the Altair 7 double planet.

What it discovered was a perfect sphere 50 kilometres in diameter of computronium with a hint of exotic matter. Close up views of its surface revealed a hypnotic skin of fractal patterns constantly evolving.

This was the ISO (Intelligent Super Object) to be discovered by humans and it sent shock-waves throughout the blossoming interstellar community. All sorts of theories sprang up as to the purpose and intention of the ISO of Altair ranging from the "leftover control mechanism of the mega-scale-engineering project that created the Altair planetary systems" to the "mouthpiece of God."

The Morbius was instructed to edge away from the mysterious object (which by then had acquired the name of "The Monolith".) The controlling Artificial Intellect of the Morbius though displayed some regret at having to leave such a fascinating and enigmatic device. This worried mission control back at Sol who, being quite familiar with 20th century science fiction were quite aware of what happens to AIís that donít do what they are told when investigating Monoliths!

Despite the dangers involved in a manned mission to Altair within a year funding had been found for a small expedition and construction had begun in the Ceres Orbital Shipyards. The ship was called the Belerephon , another reference to seminal 20th century science fiction, this time a tale about alien ruins, monsters from the Id and the ideal house robot.

By 2154 AD the Belerephon had left Sol with its crew of 50 on a true space odyssey. A mission of scientific exploration paid for by mega-corps interested in the technological offshoots of any discoveries, institutes purely interested in the scientific challenge (and the possible kudos) and media companies secretly hoping for a real life enactment of movie lore.

Two years later however a colonial expedition was launched from Earth orbit of some 5000 Terrans. It was funded by the Catholic Church, an ancient institutution that had been dragged kicking and screaming into the 3rd Millenium.

In 2011 AD hackers managed to gain entry into many of the Vaticanís sordid dealings throughout 2000 years of terran history (the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, dealings with the fascist governments of the 20th century amongst the most shocking.) The global outrage that followed forced the Papacy to seriously re-consider its outlook on life. In the space of 20 years four Popes tried to update Catholicism`s image in the global consciousness.

By the mid 21st century and the arrival of Pope Mary I many reforms had been pushed through. By now the Church concentrated on helping the deprived and disadvantaged in many of Earthís overcrowded cities rather than tell people what to do. Technology, for most of the industrial and information ages was no longer the bogeyman, the Vaticanís vast wealth was used to by cyberware so poor children would not be left out of the information economy. By the time of the Contact Mission to Blee they had even managed to squeeze a priest on board, along with a number of other religious representatives (hence the late 21st century joke about the priest, the cleric, and the rabbi on a spaceship to Blee!)

By the mid 22nd century then the Catholic Church felt it was necessary to expand its culture beyond the stars. Altair was chosen, the viable planet now called Krell was almost ideal despite being a mild Verdurian Subtype with a surface gravity of 1.2 standard gravities. Also the presence of the Monolith excited many in the Vatican, it might just be the "Mouthpiece of God " after all!

Angelo Bay on Krell c. 2260 AD. The cathedral of St. Theresa overlooks the bay from behind the transit terminal, the early cities of Altair were not designed along aesthetic or efficient lines.

 

 

 

While the armada of science vessels and colonisation craft were thundering across the depths of space towards Altair the Morbius grew increasingly self-aware and erratic

While the armada of science vessels and colonisation craft were thundering across the depths of space towards Altair the Morbius grew increasingly self-aware and erratic. Only the most basic telemetry was sent back home for weeks on end and then intense bursts of mostly raw data interspersed with the AI's own reflections on the nature of the Monolith which grew increasingly towards the esoteric. The team back at Sol were getting worried for their distant comrade, the media reported that Morbius was going to "pull a HAL" which was their dumbed down term for an AI going singularity.

Other deep space probes, especially of the era in which Morbius was constructed showed signs of an emergent nature as they evolved with time but they behaved themselves. Their "awakening" from an Artificial Intelligence to an Artificial Consciousness was for the most part as uneventful as the awakenings of similar intellects in Sol. Despite hopes and fears of some "technorapture" the new forms of consciousness that awoke through-out the 22nd century continued to be productive and considerate members of a much broader society ( aside from a few incidents during the 2140s!)

Morbius on the other hand was beginning to "worry" those involved with Altair. It was behaving like some introverted genius child wrapped up in its own world and refusing to play with others. The Monolith was considered by most to be responsible ,whether by direct influence on Morbius's young mind or just by its very mysterious and confounding nature.

It was hoped that the more "stable" minds of the crew of the Belerephron might be able to rescue the probe from going insane, when the craft arrived at Altair and the planet Krell by mid 2171AD with its team of excited but slightly nervous scientists.

The Morbius was polite to its guests, allowing the crew to give the probe a through medical to check if it hadn't been compromised by its proximity to the Monolith. While human AC "therapists" and one of the Belerephron's twin Artificial Minds tried to get through to the wayward consciousness the rest of the crew prepared themselves for a risky and controversial attempt at directly communicating with the mysterious sphere orbiting Krell.

Despite protests from the folk's back home some of the more adventurous and fool-hardy crew decided to take a shuttle and attempt to land on the surface of the Monolith. Those who volunteered for the mission were in hindsight not the best people to let loose around a mysterious and alien artifact. The pilot of the shuttle was not known for his patience and cautious nature. Major Kim Husaki was the hero of the Terran Defense Force strike on illegal nuclear weapons production on the L4 Orbital Happytown. A rabbi and fractal mathematics professor Dr. Susan Leibowitz joined him, hoping the fractal surface patterns of the Monolith would provide some mathematical language with which to understand God's plans for the universe.

These two characters pulled some serious strings both on the ship and back home to get approval for their mission. When granted, hundreds of millions of viewers across colonised space (especially the anxious crew of the St. Paul, still on its way to Altair) held their breath, expecting the unexpected that only real life could provide. The events at Altair also provided a distraction from the rough state Earth and taken over the past few decades

Broadcasting messages of peace across the whole bandwidth and with an armoury of fanciful communication devices (some argued that fired communication lasers might be construed as an attack) the little shuttle approached the massive sphere. It landed on the surface without incident, reporting the density of the object granted a surface gravity of .5 gees. Measurements were taken and sighs of relief were heard (as well as a mild sense of anti-climax and disappointment!)

Suddenly the surface of the Monolith around the shuttle began to display vivid patterns and colours and began to physically ripple. It lifted up from the surface and formed a dome over the craft cutting it off form the outside universe. For hours the crew of the Belerephron attempted to regain contact, drew up half-baked plans to stage a rescue mission and in general panicked. After three hours and twenty three minutes after the absorption the Morbius announced that the Monolith "was merely welcoming its visitors" and went on to explain that "it was only offering Susan and Kim its equivalent of a cup of tea and a cake!"

The crew of the Belerephron were dumb founded by Morbuis's statement, some thought the Artificial Mind had finally gone nuts others took the statement on face value especially after the AC that had spent the most time interfacing with Morbius confirmed that it was still within its faculties and was only using humour and irreverence to diffuse the situation. Another two hours passed until the shuttle appeared again with its crew intact and returned to the mothership

In the intense debriefing that followed every method known to science was used to make sure Susan and Kim had not been "altered" in some way, turned into a memetic Trojan horse or infected with some nano-virius to destroy humanity (and everyone else!) Susan and Kim were enigmatic about their encounter explaining they experienced both similar and different events at the same time. Kim described the first few minutes of contact with the Monolith as "the best headf**k trip ever" whilst Susan vaguely described the following experiences as a "mirror on the soul."

As for future landings on the Monolith both Kim and Susan agreed that it wouldn't mind, in fact would quite like the occasional visit to distract it from its "business" as long as those who came were respectful and prepared to "journey within themselves." As to what the Monolith's "business" is it is still not largely understood , it monitors the trajectories of the rubble in the still young star system to make sure that Krell is not impacted (though these days the Altairian Spaceguard can quite easily cope with this task.) It might also monitor Altair itself, stars of its type and age tend to get unstable and go into subgiant stage after a while.

Whatever the Monoliths real purpose (if it has one at all) by the time the St. Paul arrived the crew of the Belerephron had little further insight into the artefact. Dr. Leibowitz went back to the Monolith and stayed for two weeks before returning and penning a seminal Kabbalah spool "My Dinner With the Monolith."

When the Catholics arrived they immediately set about colonising the largely ignored viable planet benneath. Catholic Emissaries reported on having a fine relationship with the Monolith and said it was a most enlightening experience. The Monolith was so influential in the development of Catholic culture on Krell that in 2278AD the Pope of the time made the controversial move of stepping on the next colonial ship to Altair with the intention of communicating with the Monolith. By then Popes were elected to serve five years by everyone in the Church and Thomas IV was elected on the mandate that he "have a word with God."

Thomas IV spent the remainder of his term under the effects of relativistic travel, his Sol system duties performed by his so-called "vice-Pope" and subsequent elected vice-Popes. When Thomas arrived at Krell to great celebration by the locals (who by now had reached a population of 40 million and built quite an impressive civilisation) he embarked on a spiritual voyage within the Monolith. He spent one of the longest peroids within the artefact (two months and three days) before returning bursting with ideas and plans for his faith.

One of his ideas was the creation of the "Knights of Altair" a semi-missionary group that went around righting wrongs with the funds and best technology of the systems at its disposal. Avoiding controversial technological topics such as genetic engineering (Altairians take a dim view of "excessive geneering") these knights live by a code of honour that allows to help the weak and needy fight oppression and intolerance (quite ironic considering the faith's less than glorious past!) Whether it is helping those trapped in virtual wage slavery by greedy mega-corps and polities (Altairian Knight involvement in the Enwoar incident is well documented) or protecting homesteaders on isolated asteroids or frontier settlements from raiders, pirates and claim-jumpers (usually outside Community space.)

The Knights have been particulary involved in the whole mess that is the Zarquon/Community/Velge border , evacuating civilians in the latest Altairian ships from war zones on both the Velge and Zarquon sides of the conflict and helping the rebels in Zarquon space along the Community border by either transporting those who wish to live no longer under the Zarquon flag or actively standing up to the brutal Zarquon security forces.

Today Altair is a populous system for the most part Catholic in origin though the crew and their descendants of the Belerephron have formed quite a respectable orbital community and have constructed a few habitats on Crimson. Belerephron Orbital serves the scientific community in its attempts to decipher the meaning of the Monolith. Progress has been made, especially in ISO construction and chaos mathematics, the institution is well respected in the Community as well as providing a non-religious counterpoint on theories of the Monolith. Morbius left the system when it upgraded itself with warp engines and left for 16 Cygni Major in 2398AD with the intention of joining the Eta Cephei Enlightenment Project.

Amongst its crew was the former Pope Thomas IV who having seen over the establishment of his Knights and serving two terms as the regional head of the Church (Krell has largely eclipsed the Vatican in its importance in the Catholic Church) felt there was work still to be done.

Aside from memetic colonisation of far off worlds Altair is also quite active in colonising other star systems. Having close ties with Earth and its allies it regularly picks up the tab for groups from Earth wishing to build a new life. As the bright and richly embellished later cities of Altair show the systems is not short of cash, apart from the material wealth of the system millions of tourists come through the wormholes every year, whether to visit the "old country" or attempt an audience with the Monolith.

Less than a hundred people are granted an audience with the Monolith every metric year. Those that are more persistent and take a more "Kim Husaki" approach are gently nudged away by the Monolith's gravitic manipulators. Occasionally it allows more visitors, most recently over a thousand in 2756AD when Zarquon terrorists and sympathisers (whether through choice or psychotropic coercion) detonated a 150 megaton nuclear device within 20 kms of the surface. The Monolith survived unscathed and allowed the many concerned "friends" entrance to assure everyone that it was alright and mysteriously hinted it had had worse thrown at it!

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