For years I had been observing the object with the ship’s most powerful telescopes, but because of a lack of any signals from the object it was only in the final year before the rendezvous that I could confirm that the object was a ship, and definitely one of Earth origin.
Once again, and with a growing sense of child-like excitement, I reviewed the message I had received.
On the day of the rendezvous the other Immortals and I gathered at a viewing port to watch as the Earth ship, much smaller than ours, was carefully attached to our hull. It was obvious just by looking at it that the ship was far more advanced than ours. We watched our screens with anticipation as a team of mortal humans was sent on board. They explored the ship’s decks and compartments, confirming the demise of all life onboard, and that the ship’s arrival and orbital injection was performed by an automated system programmed long ago. It was obvious the ship had not been designed to sustain even a marginal crew for more than a few years. It was an interplanetary ship, a luxurious one, built to transport its occupants between the planets, moons and asteroids of the Solar-System. It had not been meant to undertake interstellar journeys. But despite that here it was. And it had travelled the same route and distance as our ship in only two-thirds of the time. How that was achieved would be the main focus of our reverse engineering efforts.
One of the frozen forms found on board was identified using imagery from our ship’s archives as King William VII. His body had been found strapped onto a bed in a chamber at the centre of the ship. A woman, his queen, was by his side. Both were dressed in ceremonial clothing. The preservation of their bodies was remarkable.
The king and Queen were surrounded by artefacts clearly taken from his homes on Earth. The images of those artefacts appearing on my screens triggered intriguing emotions. I felt a longing to be back on Earth and in England. I missed it. Despite having almost no memories of my brief time there or of my relationship to the king I felt sadness at seeing his lifeless form. I felt an aching longing to speak with him. He had witnessed the destruction of our culture and heritage, and he had voyaged to me knowing that he would die centuries before he arrived. He had the answers I now craved to the questions of my life on Earth as they flooded my ancient mind. Resentment towards all those that deemed it necessary for the Immortals to have no records of their past lives onboard threatened to overwhelm me. Of course, I must have agreed to such a policy to find myself in such a position now. I had myself to blame just as much as anyone else. We were to forget our ties with Earth and focus solely on our mission of colonisation which, by its very nature, was always going to become an almost forgotten expedition as far as our home world was concerned. The vast distance and timeframe would ensure that those on Earth would eventually have no link to us, and vice-versa. Having a group of Immortals on board with clear records of their family, friends and experiences on Earth to remind them of what they had lost would risk emotional conflict and even deadly confrontations as the decades and centuries passed. It was better that memories and emotional ties faded with time and vanished never to be rediscovered.
Over the coming weeks, as our ship altered its course to bring it back on course for Carna, all of the artefacts, more than two-thousand items, were transferred onboard for study. There were many fine portraits of the King’s ancestors, the most notable being those of King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I and II, and Queen Victoria III, his mother. There were some quite stunning examples of jewellery. I was astonished when the Royal Scepter, complete with the Star of Africa diamond, was found in a cabinet under the King’s bed, along with the magnificent Imperial State Crown, the very crown I had seen lowered onto the King’s head at his coronation almost one-thousand four-hundred years ago.
But it was the discovery of boxes of documents and the vast digital store of information, images and video that interested me the most. Once they had been sanitised I took personal charge of them, spending almost every waking moment analysing, collating, restoring and cataloguing each and every detail. I soon built up an almost complete history of King William’s reign, and from the entries in his private handwritten diary I had a fascinating and often frightening insight into his experiences and views of events leading up to his eventual flight from Earth as the final chaos of war enveloped it and smothered it. He continued making entries long after he left Earth. It made for tragic reading at times. As the Earth burned they had travelled to Mars to pick up several family members before heading to the outer Solar-System where they berthed for several months at a dark and remote research base on the dwarf planet, Orcus. It was during that time, as he monitored the catastrophic events that continued in the inner Solar-System, that the King made his decision to follow us to 40 Eridani A. After sending his message to me he asked the engineers at the Orcus base to fuel and equip his ship as best they could to ensure it could complete the journey. Over many months the ship’s propulsion system was modified to ensure just that. Unfortunately, as the King had already assumed given the content of his message to me, the modifications would not be able to ensure the survival of its passengers and crew.
And so, as the wars of the inner Solar-System spread to the sparse outer colonies, and with the news that both Triton and Pluto had been consumed, the King’s ship left and began its decades-long acceleration towards us. Even after leaving the Solar-System, and with the knowledge that most of his subjects had probably perished, the king continued to perform some of his duties, including his annual speech on Christmas Day, which he transmitted to Earth, timed to arrive at the correct time.
King William managed to make twenty-two such speeches before his ship could no longer support life.