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Book: The Immortal Kings
Chapter 11: The Captain

I did not detect the ship from Carna until just three months before its arrival.  It had completed the bulk of its deceleration and was now coasting towards our rendezvous point.  Over the months of its final approach I studied its design.  Due to the darkness of our deep space location I had to use plenty of image-enhancing algorithms to process the imagery of the star ship.

Considering its small crew of thirty-two the ship was large; more than three-hundred metres in length.  The ship seemed to be made up of a two one hundred metre diameter spheres connected by a thick tubular structure.  Rotating around the tubular structure was a wide ring that extended significantly beyond the diameter of the spheres.  It was the habitation section, no doubt, and with a diameter of more than two-hundred metres it was a lot of space for such a small crew, but then such a thing was necessary to maintain sanity on such a voyage.  The Immortals on our ship, even when we numbered in the hundreds, had comparable space for that very reason.  The two of us left certainly had all the space we could want, even after giving most of it up during the renovations before we left Carna to improve the quality of life for the mortals.  We still had towering libraries and archives to satisfy our intellectual cravings, and cavernous living areas in which to wander, where we could ponder our almost incomprehensible life spans.  We even had an arboretum, a kind of small forest, which covered more than twelve-thousand square metres and circled the entire circumference of our rotating section.  The monitoring room for my astronomical observations overlooked it, which I found rather pleasant.

Proper real-time communications with the ship from Carna became possible during the final week before its arrival.  I spoke to the captain, a woman named Nance Croi only once, to give her my regards and to confirm personally that she and her crew would be well looked after during their stay.  The rest of the communications was solely with the mortal team that I and the other Immortal had put together to deal with the visit.  Communicating with mortals was a strange thing for me.  While I appreciated their importance I found it hard to think of them as anything substantial.  Their lives seemed so momentary – almost ephemeral.  As the centuries went by time appeared to be passing faster and faster for me, something my fellow Immortals had also commented on over the millennia.  The brief existences of the mortals and their limited periods of sentience were almost not worth any effort or thought.  No doubt you will think badly of me for such a callous dismissal of them, but from an Immortal point of view it was very difficult to view them in any other way.  Of course, their cultural and scientific achievements transcended their generations, and that was something that was worth the effort of knowing.  And that was why I was very keen to spend time with the captain of the ship from Carna.  Captain Croi would be able to provide me with first-hand information as to what was happening on her home world, and more importantly on how her ship was able to travel all the way to visit us at close to the speed of light.

On the day the ship from Carna finally arrived, the other Immortal and I stood by a viewing port to watch as it docked with our ship, illuminated by four floodlights that pierced the almost perfect darkness of interstellar space.  It was the same viewing port from which we had watched the arrival of King William’s ship almost two-thousand years ago.  I remember pondering that incredible timescale.  It seemed to have passed so quickly, which made me think again just how transient the lives of the mortals were.  They must barely have the chance to experience anything, or achieve anything of meaning, before the blight of old age drew their lives to a halt.  I found it hard to believe that I had anything in common with them, which for some reason had started to make me quite nervous at the prospect of spending time with the captain of the ship that had just docked.

We watched on the screens as the mortal team greeted Captain Croi and her crew and directed them to their quarters.  Once the captain had been sanitised she was brought to our section of the ship and processed through a rarely-used access chamber.  She was the first mortal we had been in the direct physical presence of since before we left Carna.  I remember that dinner was quite formal, and remarkably awkward, but we got on as well as could be expected.  Captain Croi was a confident and striking woman, perfectly groomed.  I remember emotions being stirred within me that I had thought would never rise again.

Over the following days the other Immortal and I took turns in meeting with the captain.  We discussed with great interest many things.  Carna, with a population now in excess of six-billion, had advanced greatly, both in its technological achievements and the expansion of its colonisation efforts.  There were now dozens of sizeable colonies on planets, moons and asteroids in the 40 Eridani A system, with close to thirty-million people living permanently away from their home world.  They had launched six generation ships over the last millennia, to destination systems that included Altair, Pollux and Deneb.  Their first generation ship, which arrived at 74 Orionis two centuries ago, had been a great success, with a now well-established colony flourishing on their planet which they had eventually named Fauna because of its unusually fertile soil.  Colonies in the Altair and Pollux systems had also been established.  Deneb, at a distance of around 2,600 light-years, would have to wait many more centuries until the arrival of its very ambitious generation ship.  The two other ships were travelling further still.  News of Carna’s colonisation efforts was especially pleasing to hear.

Of course, we discussed the technology that had enabled Captain Croi’s ship to travel at near light-speed to reach us.  As we had suspected the ship used a process first theorised on Earth a couple of centuries before we left: an Alcubierre drive.  Such a drive mechanism contracts space ahead of the spacecraft and expands it behind.  The ship then rides in the flat space in-between, known as a warp bubble.  The two huge spheres at the front and the back of the captain’s ship housed the anti-matter energy generators that produced the contraction and expansion effects, and also created the warp bubble that protected the ship.  It was all intensely impressive and also comprehensively baffling at times.  Captain Croi offered to introduce us to her chief science officer who could explain the theory and processes involved in more detail.  We accepted the offer, but rejected the idea of meeting him face to face.  We did not want close contact with another mortal.  We asked for an audio conference and some documentation to peruse at our leisure, and nothing more.

Carna had initial plans to build six Alcubierre ships.  Three of them were now in service, including the one that had visited us.  One of the others was on its way to 74 Orionis which, with a journey time of fifty-five years, would make it a one-way trip for its mortal crew.  They were to retire once they reached Fauna, and then be replaced by another young crew trained using materials transmitted a decade before the ship left Carna.  The ship would then return home.  The reason for the journey was not made clear, but it was an interesting venture none the less.

The most interesting Alcubierre ship was one that was still in its design phase: an Alcubierre generation ship.  The ship, similar in size to our own, would be able to travel many thousands of light-years, enabling dozens of star systems to be reached and colonised in the time our ship could reach only one.  Such a ship would be a phenomenal advance, one that could better ensure the continuation of our species.  There were even studies underway to improve the power of the Alcubierre drive to the level required for intergalactic travel.  The scientists and engineers on Carna and its colonies were making progress beyond anything that I and the other Immortal could have hoped. We were highly impressed by what we were told, and immensely proud.

I was pleasantly surprised, a few weeks later, when Captain Croi told me of her deep interest in Carna’s ancient history and of her many years of study on the subject.  She had been hesitant to disclose that during the early part of her visit.  She had felt awkward doing so in front of myself and my fellow Immortal, primarily because we had been alive at the time of all of the events she was interested in.  It seemed she had particular interest in the period that saw the arrival of King William’s ship, almost two-thousand years ago.  She knew of my close relationship to the King and that I was considered his only surviving heir.  That had made her nervous.  I was, of course, thrilled with the opportunity to discuss those times.  Nance Croi and I spent many of our meetings in deep discussion of that period, and even of Earth and the British Royal Family.  I showed her the images and objects in my archives, many of which she would not have known about on Carna.  Those meetings were highly stimulating and remain some of my most vivid memories.

For some reason Nance Croi left her more negative news until the final days of her visit.  Long before Carna had built crewed Alcubierre ships many automated Alcubierre probes had been constructed and tested.  One of the first of the probes to be sent on a long distance mission was sent to Earth’s system, partly due to the demanding curiosity of several high profile ancient historians, but mainly due to the warning I sent two-centuries ago regarding the activities and threats of the Royalists.  After a flyby of Earth just a few million kilometres distant the probe settled into an orbit just beyond Neptune.  It spent many decades observing activities on Earth and its moon, and especially in the asteroid belt.  The Royalists were still in control.  Ships, hundreds of them, were being constructed.  The activity was described as ferocious.  And there was significant evidence of massively destructive weapons being tested.  It was highly likely that the ships had a military purpose.

We had feared such a possibility, but we had though it unlikely.  We were dismayed.

The probe stopped returning data after fifty years.  It was almost certainly destroyed, or worse captured, by the Royalists.  If captured its advanced Alcubierre drive would, without doubt, be the subject of an intense reverse-engineering effort.  The probe stopped transmitting almost a century ago.  If the Royalists had indeed captured the probe then it was likely that they had already started to construct and adapt their ships to use its abilities.

As a defence against a possible attack from the Solar-System Carna had focused a great deal of effort during the last century on developing antimatter weapons.

That final piece of information was shocking to hear, and, despite fully understanding the reasons behind such defensive measures, we were deeply saddened that after more than a millennium of peaceful space exploration and exploitation Carna had had to resort to such measures.

Our anger at the oppressive rulers of Earth was indescribable.  They had brought about the militarisation of space.

Carna was deploying a range of probes to the Solar-System to keep a close eye on the activities of the Royalists.  They would be positioned carefully this time so as to minimise the chances of detection, and they would destroy themselves if the prospect of capture looked likely.  The captain promised to make sure Carna kept us up to date on events there, and to send help if the Royalists ever sent ships in our direction.  Such a promise calmed me somewhat.  Once our colony at SCR 1845-6357 was planet-bound it would be vulnerable for centuries, perhaps even a millenium, before it could develop in the way Carna had, if it ever were that successful, of course.  The climatic conditions on the planet I had found orbiting SCR 1845-6357 would almost certainly create a constant challenge for colonists, which would slow down development quite considerably.  I would need to study the planet carefully over the next couple of centuries to ensure that the generation that landed there was as prepared as possible for whatever they would encounter.

During the final few days of her visit I met with Captain Croi one more time.  We spent a pleasant few hours strolling through the arboretum, talking mainly about Carna’s ancient history once again.  And then we ate our final meal together sitting beneath the trees.  I remember drinking some delicious wine that she had brought with her; the first alcoholic beverage I had consumed since we had left Carna.  The wine, a full-bodied red, was brewed at one of her family’s vineyards located in the hills to the south of Londinium.  She said she was looking forward to retiring there, and spending her twilight years helping to look after the vineyards.  From the images she had showed me it was idyllic.  Part of me wanted to go there.  It would have been wonderful to visit the burial site and monument of King William with her.  But even if it were possible I know I would not have the courage, or final motivation, to leave our ship.  I knew that I would almost certainly spend the rest of my life onboard.

I had grown remarkably fond of Nance Croi.  I asked her to send a message once she had arrived home.  For a long time after she left, I missed her.

Forty-four years later I did indeed receive a message from her.  Hearing her voice lifted my spirits immeasurably.  She had arrived home just in time to celebrate her seventy-first birthday with her family.  She had included an image of herself standing in front of a rather impressive stone built house surrounded by members of her immediate family: her brother and sister, and several nieces and nephews.  After almost fifty years on her ship she admitted finding it hard to adjust to life on the surface.  She had spent two-thirds of her existence in an enclosed artificial environment and now found the seemingly endless openness of Carna’s countryside overwhelming, and remarkably intimidating.  And the lack of the Coriolis effect produced by artificial gravity, constantly noticeable on a smaller ship like hers, seemed to add to her feelings of strangeness.  She suffered frequent nightmares for which she was receiving regular counseling.  It made me wonder just what mental effects I would suffer if I ever left the comforting cocoon of my ship.  The rotating section of our ship had such a huge diameter that the Coriolis effect was almost undetectable, but I had spent almost ninety-eight percent of my life – well over three-thousand years - on board.  I would surely suffer sanity issues and paranoia beyond imagination if I left.  Hearing of Nance Croi’s experience made me determined that I would never leave, no matter what the circumstances.

At the end of her message she wished us well for the rest of our voyage, and for our colonization efforts.  I sent a short reply, hoping that she would still be alive to hear it when it arrived in twenty-four years’ time.

I never heard from her again.

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