Chapter 27

Georg, in this pursuit of his recollections, at last, caught the present day. Since the morning he was digging around the tomato plants and till the afternoon he finished that job. The man took the jacket hanging on the pole, slipped it on and threw up the hoe on his shoulder. He got out of the garden and closed its wicket, restricting the access into the plantation for the chickens. The man went just a few meters from those twenty to his house when he saw that there the door had opened. After that on the path made out of the red brick, Camilla appeared who rushed toward him.
“Georg, come on, hurry,” His wife, got plump with the age, was extending her hand with the phone as if wanted to pass relay rod to her teammate. Taller than average height, a gray woman with the round face wasn’t caught by the falls of her blue dressing gown decorated with green roses and they were escorting her like a halo.
“What happened?” Her husband asked tiredly.
“Come, congratulate Helen, she is online,” the woman said briskly.
For a second the misunderstanding nestled in Georg’s eyes but soon the cheer smile illumined his face.
“O! Have she been discharged from the hospital?”
Camilla nodded and picked up the phone to him. Georg stretched the screen and looked at the picture, displayed on it. There his granddaughter Ellen was embracing to her chest an infant, so packed that the old man even didn’t see the child.
“My congratulations honey!” Georg spoke aloud. “I don’t doubt that he is a truly brave fellow, how’re you? Has he a name already? You really twisted around him tightly, I see nothing but clothes.”
Till that moment, on the stretched telephone screen only Ellen’s chin was visible, the camera was directed on a child. Now the young woman’s straightened the hand and as a result, her narrow face, green eyes, and red thick hair appear on it. She replied happily smiling:
“Thank you, Grandpa. We both are well, but we hadn’t a name yet. We’re so muffled because now is winter here in South Africa, not summer like at your place.”
“Oh yes, South Africa,” The joy could be heard in the old man’s voice induced by the birth of the child, but still the slightest shadow followed this pure feeling.
Perhaps because at the time only Helen was considered as a successor of the ancestor’s deed. From other descendants, three sons, a daughter, and twelve grandchildren, no one shared his concern. Among so many people nobody had shown even slightest interest in the activity happening in the sky. Only little Ellen escorted his grandfather to the Antenna and was listening to the stories about cosmos.
But later on, there, in Oslo, when she was a student, for Ellen an engineer fiance appeared, who got an offer of a very good job from the South African government. The country’s power grid had to be restored and that future bridegroom was invited there. In short, love seized Georg’s last hope. He as if long ago subdued to that reality, but actually it was still pinching his heart occasionally. Whatever the case, now, seeing his favorite granddaughter, Georg heartily rejoiced indeed.
“You’re very far away, honey, it’s bad that I can’t kiss this brave guy now,” with his hoarse voice was preaching the old man.“It can’t be helped but I would compensate this in another way. I’ll drink a toast to him today. Especially because recently the Antenna and its surroundings turned into a boring sober zone, ha-ha-ha.”
Hearing this, Camilla shook his head with feigned indignation, upon what a man waved his hand to her imperceptibly for the phone camera. Relatives prolonged their conversation for a while. Basically, as always during similar chats, it was planned, when they meet physically. Rather, Georg insisted that his granddaughter should visit the place of her ancestors; she is long gone and needs to come and to see. At the end the interlocutors said goodbye to each other and the old couple moved toward their house.
Georg just stretched his hand to door-handle, when the phone ringed in his pocket. Camilla heard it too and tried to guess the reason:
“Maybe it’s Ellen; she is calling someone else and mistakenly typed your number?”
Georg took the device out from his jacket, looked at its screen and said:
“No, this is Carl.”
“Did he learn already and is congratulating you?” The woman surprised.
“It’s somehow very quickly, I’ll clarify it right now,” her husband responded slowly and pressed a reception button on his phone.
„Georg,“ without greeting, emotionally started pale, nearly forty-year-old spectacled man, who appeared on the screen. “The message came from the fourth ship, you should immediately arrive at the antenna.”
“My friend, what are you talking about?” the old man told after a momentary pause. “Till to the report of this expedition, there are at least several decades…”
The colleague impatiently interrupted him:
“This is extraordinary information!”
“What an extraor…?” Georg felt that something cold slipped into his heart. “OK, I’m on my way.”
He looked at his wife, gave her a hoe still been on his shoulder and said:
“The party has been delayed. There,” he shook his head toward the Antenna, “something happened.” After these words, he walked to a bicycle nearby leaned against a wall.
Georg tried didn’t press pedals with full strength; he isn’t the young guy, after all. But sometimes he was still beaten by impatience. Carl Hansen would get excited so enormously for nothing. His new colleague is a quiet and calm man. Since he is so alarmed, that means there is a solid reason for it.
In this cloudy day, Georg was rolling along with roadside shrubs and his mood gradually worsened. It needs no great discernment to understand that the ship can’t reach its goal ahead of the term. Neither sending of an unscheduled control signal is its duty. But if it still dispatched the message, it turns out there is nothing evangelizing. For example something like: “I met a beautiful asteroid on my way; made selfie with it and am sending it to you.” No, something bad happened.
Exactly for similar cases, this extremely expensive equipment is over the centuries watching the trajectory of the ships. Otherwise, it would be enough just to aim at the proper time the radio telescope to the planet and that’s it: a tremendous amount of money, energy, and resources would be saved.
Having arrived at the place, an aged astronomer as if slowly climbed second-floor stairs, but it seemed still with superfluously speed: entered the lab he was heavily breathing. There, as soon as he threw a glance to Carl, he realized right away that he was correctly reasoning while riding a bicycle.
His younger colleague, of course, saw the veteran’s status: that it is difficult for the panting elderly to talk right now. Therefore he silently held out his left hand to the middle of the three monitors standing on the table. Georg, still struggling with his breathing, before he sat in front of a display, from the top pocket of his shirt took the glasses and settled them at his nose. On the screen there was the following text:
“Fourth expedition, dispatched to Bootes constellation, at the first planet of star Tau transfers extraordinary message:
On the two hundred sixth year of flight, the gauge registered off-schedule vibration of the hull and because of that reason activated the power unit and the computer.
Testing of starship systems has shown that the thermoplasmic engine was damaged. An AGU number one was directed to study the breakage. During its advance, it made a movement inappropriate for weightlessness and lost contact with the starship hull. At present, it moves with a parallel course but the distance between it and the ship increases constantly. There is no technical possibility to return it.
The second AGU acted according to a specified algorithm. It had got the destruction site and studied the situation.”
After that, it was described how the engine is looking now and to this information, the photographs have been attached. Georg hastily examined the technical descriptions; he was interested in the report’s main, resulting part which was saying:
“The fact: the plasma keeper generator of a magnetic field is completely destroyed.
A variant of an explanation: during a passive phase of travel the star-craft has entered into collision with an unknown object that caused the accident.
Conclusion: Being damaged in such a way, the engine cannot be switched on for deceleration.
Results: The starship will not go to Tau star orbit and thus the planetary unit will not land on the first planet of the system.
Further actions: The starship will continue control translations with usual semi-centennial interval until the energy exhaustion in the reactor. All other systems are functioning properly».
Exactly this text dropped veteran radio astronomer in that kind of swoon, in which he only could remember the old events. The sojourn in the past, where he suffered again the failure of previous expeditions, took away a few minutes. During this time Carl was carefully observing him for to know is anything wrong with the old man?
At the end, when the memories caught reality, Georg finally collected himself and started to talk:
“One could take the last phrase for mockery if it would have not been known that the communication program didn’t include any satirical subroutines. So, what? This expedition will share the fate of Voyagers sent four hundred years ago and also will fly until the end of time? Hum.”
He leaned against the chair back and with fixed gaze fell in silence. This time he also should take it with calm and sanity, as well as the failures of previous ships, what else he can do? But instead of that, a sudden rage seized him; it seemed that so many frustrations, prolonged across his whole lifetime, outweighed the common sense. His feelings rebelled; he didn’t appear ready for more tolerance! What is the matter all in all? Unexpectedly to a colleague he cried:
“Will everything really come to the end in such a way?”
As soon as he exclaimed that, the old man with his full force hit the screen facing him. His fist partially sunk into the plastic surface and latter even cracked, though still revealed enough resilience for to not shatter finally. Instead, the monitor had fallen backward slipped from the table and started to swing hanging on the power wire.
“Georg,” Carl spoke concerned. “I even don’t know what to say… you really met very bitter fate, whole life you’re watching how mankind’s dream is demolishing.”
The old man was sitting petrified for a long time. Then he turned to his collaborator and said with a smile, as if nothing wrong happened just now:
“You know, Carl, recently, ahem, about decade ago, I was drunk and stumbled on some idea which slipped from me at that time, but it seems now I caught it.”
The colleague gazed at him with curiosity.
“I think we can… it will not bring any harm if we send some letter to future people, those created by the remained expedition,” Georg announced at last.
Heard this, Carl shook his head and sighed. Then, grasping that the old man isn’t joking, started to talk:
“Even centuries ago, when the probes were sending to the Moon, Mars or elsewhere, at first the scientists waited for a signal from there. Only after receiving the message about the state of the equipment they would have begun the relationship with that apparatus. What is the point of talking with empty space, who will answer?”
“OK,” Georg nonchalantly responded to that speech, “What a problem could be that message? It costs not so much and almost will take no time…”
“Honestly, I still didn’t understand the reason if such action,” Carl seemingly lost his patience and interrupted into elder colleague speech.
Georg answered him immediately:
“I can tell you about the reason. Let’s imagine this planet is suitable at last, that the Theory of Nuggets is correct.”
“Hem, the ratio six to one has nothing to do with gold digging,” Carl said with an ironic grin.
They had in view the assumption stating that the number of really habitable planets among those which thru telescopes seems as if habitable is the same as the number of nuggets in the dirt the gold diggers are sifting.
“And how popular it was the idea about terraforming? Unfortunately, it remained only dream.” He proceeded. “Who can shift the planet? Or squeeze it, or inflate it? Even ten percents of the extra mass and the structure of the atmosphere is uncorrectable in the needed direction. Let alone no one knows how will behave magnetic field during this…”
It appeared Carl was going to talk quite a long time but veteran astronomer interrupted him:
“Anyway,” Georg said resolutely. “If everything will be really OK, in that case, the machines will send a confirmative message which arrives here in fifty-six years. Then our answer takes the same amount of time. That is, new inhabitants, if they really exist, taking into account the date of their creation, will wait for the news almost the entire century. We can save them from this nonsense.”
“Nonsense−?” Carl exclaimed in amazement but Georg didn’t allow him to finish his question.
“I think,” he stated,” this is pretty big dereliction of our ancestors in their urge towards to adhere to the rules of cosmic radio communication. The… hem, exohumans should know as early as it is possible, what happened on Earth, how is going with other expeditions… why not?”
Carl reflected long enough about what he heard and then nodded and slowly began:
„If you’re asking me, I think you alone have to write that letter. Counting from Iase Bilikadze, whom else from, then? Almost three centuries you and your ancestors are involved in this Project… I can say nothing for somebody, but I think, from your side, it will be not only the message sent to another planet but rather, maybe in part, the letter to a family member. Why outsiders could intervene in such a private affair? At least, this is my opinion…”
Carl wasn’t mistaken. The astronomers of different continents took that idea equally and saw in it a personal post indeed, no one expressed the wish to take part in its drafting. Another reason was the one Carl told to Georg: this undertaking was considered as unjustified.
Something similar to controversy Georg has because of one paragraph in his message, though actually, no one argued especially. The employees of Scientific Committee currently been in charge of the project SQP, counted this paragraph as senseless to debate about. Generally, no one was saying out loud but in the scientific circles and in the administration, Georg’s initiative was supposed as old man’s whim, but since it wasn’t expected to do any harm, so they don’t deny it.
At appointed day Georg directed the parabolic aerial to the point where the second planet of the Rho star of the Corona Borealis will be caught by radio beam in fifty-six years. Then he switched the line to the transmission mode and activated previously prepared text; now he had just to push the “enter” button, and his personal message will rush through the Galaxy.
Nevertheless, before final action, Georg felt both the desire and the uncertainty. He rose, walked along with the laboratory, and went to the row of photos of the station staff hanging against the wall. There were pictures of all those people, whoever had a duty at this Antenna, including his mother Miriam. But now Georg attentively looked at his own image: an old man with sparse grey hair, long angular face, hollow eyes, and wrinkled skin.
“Have you thought everything to the end?” he addressed to photo.
“Yes, I did it,” Georg answered to himself instead of the portrait.
The engineer came back to the keyboard and without hesitations sent the signal to the cosmos. In a few minutes, the computer reported that the translation has passed without any deviations. Eight and then sixteen hours later he repeated the session. In the end, he switched off the power needed for interstellar transmission and returned the aerial into the point of today’s waiting.