Image: © “Venus – JPL Travel Poster” by NASA/JPL, JPL licence. Source.
Author: William Flores
It has been almost a month since scientists on board Venera III have identified what appears to be a pitch black spot, about 10 meters in diameter of… absolute nothingness in the Venusian sky. Every conceivable instrument has so far failed to show any reading of mass or energy. This excludes the initial hypothesis of a miniature black hole. For now, the United Nations Space Exploration and Observation Agency (UNSEOA) has instructed scientific personnel aboard all five Venera stations to continue monitoring the mysterious spot. That is certainly not too big a task for these miniature, self-contained cities that float in the dense Venusian sky and whose primary mission is to understand the planet’s cloud formation. Wesley Ramirez, an expert on dark matter from the Earth Astrophysics Institute has been sent by the agency to provide assistance to the team of highly trained yet, in this case, helpless team of astrometeorologists.
On March 29, 2297, Wesley finally arrived after a week-long trip aboard the fusion powered Horizon VI. Once in orbit, a small shuttle separated from the vessel and descended into the atmosphere, safely bringing Wesley to Venera III, where he was greeted by Sasha Stone, the station’s captain.
— Doctor Ramirez, welcome to Venus! It’s nice meeting you.
— Thanks! But please, call me Wesley. We’re both too young to call each other “doctor”.
— Can’t argue with that, Wesley!
After a friendly handshake, Sasha showed Wesley his sleeping quarters and its amenities. Although he knew exactly that there would be a telepod, a standard component of all crewed space habitats, the young astrophysicist expressed his relief upon seeing it.
— Got some important business on Earth, Wesley?
— Well… yes. See, last month I met someone at the annual Earth Science Symposium and we were supposed to go on a date. But that was before I was assigned to this mission.
— Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
— It’s alright. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and besides, with the telepod I can still go on my date, more or less.
— I’m happy that you see it that way. Anyway, I’ll let you get some rest. Dinner is at 07:30 in the mess hall down the corridor. You’ll see that our aquaponic system provides us with exquisite produce.
— Great! That’ll be a welcome change after the synthetic food of the Horizon’s molecular assembler.
— I bet! Well, see you later!
And with that, the young astrometeorologist returned to her observation post. Just yesterday, the main computer indicated that the instruments of the Venera III had recorded a faint and ephemeral energy signal coming from the mysterious spot in the sky. Unfortunately, the crew was sleeping at that point, so Sasha hoped that she could make a direct observation soon.
At dinner, she introduced Wesley to the other members of the Venera III. They all studied the cloud formation of the Venusian atmosphere. Their mission was part of the United Nation’s Earth Climate Restoration Programme, often called “Gaia Project”. By studying the cloud formation on Venus, a planet which once experienced an extreme runaway greenhouse effect, the UN hoped that the collected data could help make cloud-seeding and weather modification efforts on Earth more reliable. While the programme, which was initiated in 2099, had already succeeded in removing excess carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere by 80%, the planet was still recovering from the recklessness of the Late Capitalist Period (1980-2089). Global temperatures peaked at 2.3°C above pre-industrial levels in 2103. This set off seven planetary tipping points that were now being reversed. Wesley was no stranger to the “Gaia Project”: both of Wesley’s parents worked for it and so did his date.
— Tell me about your date, Sasha said. “You don’t know how long you’ll be here, so we might as well get to know each other”.
— Fair enough, fair enough. Well, my special someone is called River and…
— River! What a nice name!
— Yes, indeed. They work for the “Gaia Project” as a marine biologist. Their specialty is coral reef restoration.
— That’s really interesting! When are you going on your date? And where?
— Well, we were supposed to see each other tomorrow and take the Underwater Vacuum Train from New York to Paris and just walk around and eat dinner in a cute bistro.
— How romantic!
— Yeah, the city is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination again. Temperatures are really comfortable there now.
— I’ve heard! But I guess that won’t work out for you exactly as planned.
— Yeah no. We have decided that I’ll upload my mind via telepod to my avatar body that I left in New York and take the train to Paris anyway. There we’ll just walk and talk, since eating won’t be an option, at least for me.
— Yeah, it’s sad how avatars are quite limited.
— It’s funny you know, it’s the first time I had an avatar made of me. It was a bit weird to look at that inanimate doll that looked just like me… kinda creepy even.
— Us astronauts are used to it. It’s the only way we can keep contact with our loved ones during missions.
— No doubt!
After dessert, Sasha mentioned the strange energy readings and asked Wesley to look into them in the morning.
Thus, after a good night’s sleep and a light breakfast, the young astrophysicist joined the team of the Venera III on the observation deck. Sasha looked both exhausted and excited.
“Morning, Wesley! LOOK!” she said while pointing at the spot in the sky. “Can you see the thin halo around it?”
— Morning Sasha! Yes, I can see it.
— Do you know what it could be?
— Nope, but I’ll have a look at the instrument readings.
— Apparently there’s been a brief surge in Hawking radiation.
— What? For real?
— Yeah, look at the recordings!
— Oh my god! You’re right!
— Do you think it’s a black hole after all?
— That can’t be! The gravitational pull would have ripped us to pieces!
— That’s what I thought, but what else could it be?
— Could be anything. Maybe a wormhole of some sort. To or from another part of space or… maybe time?
— Yes, that would explain these bizarre time readings right here. Apparently, every time the computer observed an energy surge the clock ran…backwards?
— What? That can’t be!
— You’re right, there must be a problem with the instruments.
— We’ve already checked!
— We’ll check again. Because this doesn’t add up.
And so the crews of the Venera III and the other stations ran all conceivable tests to check if all instruments worked as intended. By the end of the morning they found nothing. All instruments on all stations worked perfectly. Exhausted, the scientists took their lunch break.
Meanwhile, Wesley returned to his sleeping quarters and got ready for his date. He undressed, put on his sensory bodysuit and entered the telepod while selecting the “transfer mind” option. A complete scan, on the subatomic level, was made of his brain, before an odorless gas filled the pod and made him unconscious. Thanks to quantum entanglement, the information from the scan was instantly transmitted back to Earth. Lightspeed was no longer an upper limit for the transfer of data.
Meanwhile, the mysterious spot in the Venusian sky continued emitting more and more energy. Sasha only took a short lunch break and was absolutely baffled by what she saw upon returning to her post. The bright halo that used to surround the spot now covered it completely. The spot went from pitch-black to blindingly bright just like that. “What the fuck” was pretty much the only thing Sasha could say to herself in that moment.
After a few seconds of complete unconsciousness, Wesley woke up in his New York apartment. His avatar body felt almost like his actual body. It was good enough, though. After getting used to walking in this body, he went to meet River at Grand Central.
— So, you made it after all!
— Told you so!
After giving each other a hug, they boarded the train and were on their way to Paris. The ride would take about 30 minutes, but after about 15 minutes the avatar body stopped responding. It was lifeless. “Are you still there? Are you okay?” River asked, in vain.
After a minute, Wesley regained consciousness. He was back in the telepod. “What the hell happened?” he told himself. After several failed attempts to reconnect to his avatar, he stepped out of the pod and got dressed. Something felt off. He went to the observation deck and was relieved to see Sasha and the crew. They seemed terrified, however.
— Sasha? What’s going on?
She pointed towards the sky. The spot was gone.
“So, everything is back to normal?” Wesley asked naively, perhaps sincerely hoping that that would be it.
Holding back her tears, Sasha instructed the astrophysicist to check the date on a computer screen, any screen would do.
Upon doing so, Wesley was mortified.
— Tell me, Wes, what day are we?
— March 30th, 2007.