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Book: The Immortal Kings
Chapter 15: Patterns of Light

With my constant support and encouragement the governments of Aeolus finally finished construction of their first space launch facility thirty years after the Captain Joic’s visit.  Construction had been slow due, of course, to the extreme climate, and also because the facility was entirely underground.  For safety reasons launches would only take place during the four days of late spring and summer when the surface conditions were at their calmest and the facility’s doors could be open.

The first launch was to be an unmanned probe that would conduct a fly-by of two large asteroids and one of the outer giant planets of the SCR 1845-6357 system.  It was a highly ambitious mission for a first launch, and one I had pushed for them to undertake.  I had aided their engineers in the probe’s design and trajectory calculations, and they had benefitted greatly from technical information sent to them by Captain Joic and myself.

The launch using a simple chemical rocket was watched by almost the entire population of Aeolus, and was a great success.  There was great interest as the probe sent back data and images of its targets during its five year mission.  And there was even greater interest in the manned mission to orbit that was being readied.

For centuries the ordinary population of Aeolus had had little reason to think of an existence beyond the confines of their underground facilities.  They had, against incredible odds, created a magnificent subterranean civilisation, one that was comfortable, highly technological and perfectly protected from the hostile environment of the planet’s surface.  But that had made them insular, and effectively partitioned them off from the rest of the universe.  Each new generation since that very first landing had been unable to look up at the stars at night and wonder at what was beyond the confines of their world, something the people of all previous human civilisations had been able to do quite freely.  The removal of that simple experience had had a profound impact.  I had tried for centuries to reverse that impact, but the only success I had had was with some elements of the scientific community and the governments.  Without Captain Joic’s intervention I have a feeling it would have take centuries longer for me to get the citizens of Aeolus to embark on the next crucial stage of their development. But with just a few key broadcasts the captain had persuaded the majority of them that it was time to finally look outwards, beyond the concrete, stone and steel of their tunnels and caverns, and to the planets and stars beyond.  And that was exactly what they were now doing, and with a level of enthusiasm I had not expected.

Over the next three centuries the Aeolus space programme launched thousands of missions and set up a dozen colonies on asteroids and moons within the SCR 1845-6357 system.  Unlike Carna’s off-world habitats, and indeed Earths, which consisted largely of surface domes unless conditions made such structures impossible, all of Aeolus’s were underground, and often deep underground.  Having well over fifty generations of ancestors under the surface of Aeolus had conditioned its interplanetary explorers to burrow down wherever they landed.  It was a fascinating difference that I was intrigued to observe.

It was remarkable to witness once again a civilisation that I had been pivotal in creating expanding its activities beyond its home world.  I sent reports to Captain Joic every few decades with details of the new achievements of the Aeolus space programme.

Captain Joic’s presentations had had other influences, too.  The population’s interest in history, beyond the beginnings of their own civilisation, exploded.  Very soon after he left I was regularly receiving requests from media organisations, via the planet’s three governments, for images and documents detailing various aspects of pre-Aeolus history, especially the very ancient history concerning Earth before the time I left it, now over four-thousand years ago.  With pleasure I transmitted whatever they asked for.  Soon there were numerous documentaries being broadcast globally, which only fuelled the population’s desire for more knowledge.  I sent copies of the documentaries made by the media on Carna around the time King William VII was laid to rest there.  I was especially keen for the people on Aeolus to learn about the king, so I included all of my research on his life and a scan of his entire handwritten diary in the hope that they would show interest.

And they certainly did show an interest.  I started to receive requests for even more information on King William, and often very specific requests about certain aspects of his reign.  The period of most interest was his flight from Earth and his time in the outer reaches of the Solar System before embarking on his interstellar voyage to 40 Eridani A.  The detail in his diary from that period, particularly of his deep emotions and fears and ultimate hopes for the future of humanity, had struck a chord with the population.  I’m not sure quite why.  Whatever the reason I was delighted with the interest.  I provided whatever additional information I could, and spoke directly to media interviewers quite regularly when our ship made its closest approach to Aeolus.

There was a negative aspect to this interest, though, which became apparent to me quite quickly.  Some radical elements seemed to be treating the story of King William’s escape and journey to Carna with almost religious reverence, which worried me, especially as they were gaining quite a following.  Those elements considered King William as the custodian of the afterlife, who had journeyed to the other side during his voyage to Carna to prepare to guide and protect those that would follow. I was his son, an immortal judge of the mortal, sent to watch over Aeolus and evaluate the worthiness of those ready to enter the afterlife.  It was all bizarre and untrue, of course, but as with all religions, accuracy and fact were often not considered important.  It was the strength of the story, its message twisted and tailored for maximum impact, which was the key to instilling compliance and awe in those that had succumbed to it.  As the decades and centuries passed the religion, known as Kingdominity, grew in popularity.  It was now well and truly ingrained in the culture of Aeolus.  Almost a third of the population considered themselves Kingdominions to one degree or another; remarkable considering I was actually alive and visible to them, and had rebuked the details of their religious texts whenever I was asked about them.  I often felt despair at the irrationality of it all, and the willingness of such a significant portion of the population to believe in such a thing.  I worried that it would spread to the point where Kingdominity became more than simply a religion, but the ruling organisation of the planet, just as the Royalist movement had done on Earth.  For now that seemed unlikely.  I and my fellow immortal agreed that we would keep a close watch on developments.

As always, despite the very welcome distractions of the Aeolus space programme and the historical enquiries, and of course the very unwelcome rise of Kingdominity, I made sure I devoted a reasonable amount of time to my astronomical studies.  I focussed especially on my hunt for intelligent civilisations in distant star systems.  I was unsuccessful, but catalogued more than a thousand new systems that were very promising as destinations for colonisation missions.  I sent details of my research to Carna, not that they were likely to need it.  Their astronomical research facilities, spread throughout the 40 Eridani A system and their colonised systems, were far more advanced than mine.

Of course, I could not resist making further observations of the civilisation I had discovered in the Perseus arm of our galaxy.  It remained, as far as I knew, the only non-human civilisation discovered.  The civilisation seemed to be stable, and I could detect evidence of developments on their planet’s surface.  The patterns of light emitted from their cities had changed slightly, although I could not resolve enough detail to determine exactly how.  The light was slightly stronger, which probably meant an increase in the size of their cities, or perhaps a change in their source of power.  The colonies on the planet’s two moons and on an outer planet were still present.  I also detected fleeting evidence of activity right at the edge of the star system, perhaps mining or construction operations on minor planets, asteroids and comets.  It was frustrating not to be able to resolve more detail, and even more frustrating that there were still no radio signals at all originating from that system.  The original signal I detected, well over one and a half thousand years ago now, was still the only one.  I sent my findings to Carna and made a specific request from them, something I rarely did, to send me any additional data they had on the system, and to perhaps target the system if they were not already doing so.

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