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Book: The Immortal Kings
Chapter 10: No Margin for Error

When we were only a century away from the Alpha Centauri system we received a message from Carna.  It was unexpected, and perplexing.  It said they were sending a ship to rendezvous with us.  And it would arrive in three years time, a journey of eighteen light-years in just twenty-two years.  It was astonishing news; Carna had certainly made astounding scientific and technical progress since we left, now well over twelve centuries ago.  We had, of course, received reports from Carna over the centuries, albeit very brief ones, and we were aware that they were making significant advances in space exploration, but we had not expected this.

Their achievements were well beyond what we could have hoped for.  I and the other Immortal were intrigued as to how they had solved so many of the issues that prevented such speeds being attained before.

We prepared for the arrival of the ship with a reasonable amount of excitement; an emotion that was almost non-existent in both of us after more than three-thousand years of life.  We had the mortals prepare guest quarters for the ship’s crew, which only numbered thirty-two.  This was acceptable in such a vessel, of course.  When such speeds were possible it was unnecessary for the ship to maintain a viable breeding gene pool.  A single generation would be able to make a return journey to another local star-system.

It was just a few months before the arrival of the ship from Carna that I found a suitable destination planet for our ship.  It was a timely discovery as we were only a few decades away from having to begin the declaration phase that would have placed ourselves in orbit around Alpha Centauri, a system without a viable world to colonise.  We would all have been condemned to live on our ship until it eventually failed to support us.  That would, by our estimates, have been another two millennia.  An eternity as far as the current mortal generation was concerned perhaps, but to me and the other Immortal it was possibly within our life time.  That was not something I would wish to witness.  Still, we would have done it as it was better for the ship to at least be near a star and some planets from which to draw energy and resources. We would have been, to use an ancient expression, a sitting duck to any visitors from Earth.  And as Earth, as far as my observations were concerned, remained hostile that was another reason to avoid trapping ourselves at Alpha Centauri if at all possible.

The planet I had found orbited very closely to a red dwarf star catalogued as SCR 1845-6357.   I had largely ignored the system before as such a star is far from an ideal host for an Earth-like planet, but regardless of that, find one I did.  The planet was nine per cent more massive than Earth and orbited its parent star in only a few days on a rather eccentric retrograde orbit.  It had an atmosphere with only slightly less oxygen than Earth’s which would not cause any significant issues for colonists, and there seemed to be only basic plant life to compete with.  The major problem would be the very changeable and often violent weather patterns caused by the eccentric orbit that, at its most distant, would take the planet fifty per cent further away from its star than at its closest point.  Transitions from winter to summer and back to winter would occur in just twelve standard days.  That would provide immense challenges for growing Earth-evolved crops, which would almost certainly require artificial environments until adapted crops could be developed.

SCR 1845-6357 was just over six light-years beyond Alpha Centauri, and would require a reasonable course correction - one that would use up all of our anti-matter reserve and need to include some help from Alpha Centauri itself in the form of a gravitational slingshot. We would need to make the first part of the course correction to position ourselves for the slingshot within the next decade, and then a second course correction in about a century’s time after we had passed Alpha Centauri.  After that there would be just enough anti-matter for the deceleration phase at SCR 1845-6357 and nothing more.  There would be no margin for error at all.

As we would no longer be preparing to orbit Alpha Centauri the proposed education phase for the currently unborn generation of mortals that would participate was cancelled.  The mortal crew would remain in their ignorance phase for another five centuries until the deceleration into orbit around our new destination star had commenced.

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