It was not until just a couple of decades before the start of our deceleration phase that I detected the brief signals – a mishmash of compressed digital information, barely perceptible against the background noise of the universe. I was elated beyond description, as were the other Immortals – now only two of them. We quickly eliminated all known sources of such signals, and then began to narrow down the origin of my find. It was from an Earth-sized planet orbiting a previously un-catalogued star in the Perseus arm of our galaxy, more than a thousand light-years distant.
My elation was matched by my frustration. Due to the digital and compressed nature of the signals it would be very difficult to decipher their content until I had discovered the format of the coding mechanism, something that my computer would take a long time to generate, if it ever could.
My frustration was further enhanced when the signals disappeared less than an hour after I first detected them. They never returned.
Still, the signals provided me with plenty of new research material, and I spent many happy years with my instruments focused on the source of the signals. Despite the immense distance I managed to make basic maps the surface of the planet and its atmosphere. It was a temperate world, with relatively low carbon dioxide levels, and with a climate more like that of Earth a hundred million years ago during the Cretaceous period. There were two main continents on opposite sides of the planet, with the rest being one huge ocean. Both continents emitted areas of artificial light – compelling evidence of cities. And there was evidence of artificial light on both of the planet’s small moons suggesting that the civilisation on the parent world had set up colonies on them.
As our deceleration phase commenced I continued to study the new life-bearing world and its system. I discovered new evidence of technological activity on one of that system’s outer planets; yet more artificial light. It seemed that they were at least at a similar level of development to Earth at the time of my departure, quite an astonishing find, and a remarkable coincidence.
But, strangely, despite the visual evidence of their continuing technological civilisation, no more signals were detected. Had they suddenly started to use only very directed forms of transmission, such as optical? Had they activated some kind of radio emissions shielding around their system? Perhaps they were now using a means of communication unknown to me, possibly by exploiting the dual particle-like and wave-like behaviour and interactions of energy and matter? I decided to transmit my findings to Carna. From their very infrequent messages we received it seemed they had made dramatic technological advances over the centuries since we had left. Perhaps they would be able to study the new alien civilisation in more clarity.
As we were on our final approach to the Solar-System communications with Earth were now subject to delays of a few weeks instead of years. We began to receive weekly updates from the Royalist Council which for the first time included video as well as audio and still images. It was fascinating to see how human civilisation had developed for a second time.
Satisfying progress had been made over the centuries since we left the 40 Eridani A system. The English Kingdom now encompassed the entire planet, and had spread to the Moon, Mars and Calisto, with the ancient human bases there refurbished or rebuilt. Numerous mining operations were ongoing in the asteroid belt with spacecraft construction the main focus of activity there. Indeed, the extra-terrestrial human activity in the Solar-System now seemed to have exceeded that of humans before the wars. It was impressive, although the draconian rule of the Royalists was cause for concern. It had become more severe over time, and the uniform and almost drab appearance of cities, both the buildings and the people, was disappointing. There seemed to be very little freedom. But there had been, as far as I could tell, no wars at all for centuries. There had been only minor skirmishes during the re-colonisation efforts. Such strict rule had its advantages.
There were exceptions to the ‘drabness’. London contained some incredible new buildings, many towering hundreds of metres high. Most were stone-clad in a traditional and almost Romanesque style, the tallest being the Royalist Ministry which was decorated in what looked like red and yellow garlands. As promised to me at the start of our journey home, the Tower of London had been preserved and maintained. It would be my home. That prospect caused me a significant amount of anxiety, which was increasing as we approached. It boiled down to the fact that I did not want to leave the ship. Not just because I was comfortable here but because I wanted to continue my astronomical research, especially regarding the new civilisation I had discovered. My research would be almost impossible from a planetary base, and it was something I was not prepared to give up. I decided to contact the Royalist council as soon as communication delays reduced to hours to discuss the matter. I would propose that I stay on the ship. We would place ourselves in an orbit that would allow us to fly by the Earth every couple of years, and I would receive visitors at any time. Like the other two Immortals, I was keen not to trap the ship in the gravity well of the Earth for obvious reasons.