I've dragged myself to the doctor, to be told this is an expectable result of skipping a flu shot. I shall be living the next week on Nyqil. Who knows what I'll post.
/// move to before Ugly ending? ///
"I could see the gleam in your eye when they mentioned crewed expeditions." Trev murmured into her frills.
Xaero nodded, "And you have no wish to go?"
"Ha. Unfortunately I doubt they need either of us."
Xaero surveyed their positions and realized they had managed to not impale each other. A new milestone in their relationship. "We'll just have to work on that," she murmured back. "I really think we should leave something on at least one of the planets. A self contained dome ecology, perhaps."
"They sell small ones at all the florists."
She thumped his ribs. "Behave. Mine will be just a bit more complex than those."
"Umm," he was quiet for some time. "If you had something that grew microbes, some valves on your dome could release them occasionally, and collect water and air, treat if needed and add to your dome."
"I could take along several different suites of bacteria and algae, load the ones with the best chance of surviving once we landed and tested the surface and air." Xaero started mentally cataloguing the algae that inhabited the old hot springs and were the bane of modern water works. "There's a lot of regional variation in chemical tolerances..."
"Well, we'll just have to start in on that first thing in the morning, but in the mean time..."
"...among them they can tolerate a wide range of acid levels as well as handle heavy metal contamination. They can metabolize sulfur or, in the presence of sunlight, photosynthesize." Xaero stepped back to let S'dow inspect.
"The pumps are electric, solar powered, and will maintain the proper amount of water and air in the minihab." Trev informed him. "We can release these bacteria, or any other microscopic organism, to the exterior in bursts as they are grown inside, then replace water and atmosphere."
S'dow was nodding. "Place dozens of these, let them run for several months and see which survive, then broadcast that particular suite of algae over the entire surface."
"Then jump ahead a million years and see what happened, and what to do next." Xaero said, hesitating, "what size of time jumps are being considered?"
"Hundreds of years, at first, until we find something that can truly live there and photosynthesis." S'dow said. "Then we'll let it run a million years and see if it can produce breathable air."
"And at that point we can start introducing complex biota." Trev said.
"We don't actually have to wait that long where some plants are concerned," Xaero pointed out, "Both Blue and Martian plants tend to use insects for pollination, but both planets have wind pollinated plants as well. I'm impressed with some of the Blue plants especially. The blade leaf plants are all wind pollinated and grow quickly and easily. The needle leaf trees wind pollinate as well."
"Martians are used to living in caverns. The outside atmosphere doesn't actually have to be breathable, just something we can easily and reliably process into breathable air." Trev pointed out.
"How true." S'dow nodded slowly, "In fact, large domes would be more acceptable psychologically than being out on the exposed surface." His eyes half closed as he thought. "I need to think about this a bit."
"Beltova's atmospheric pressure is double Martian norm—or rather, double what we keep the caverns at, and so roughly eight times the current surface pressure. High nitrogen—62% N2, with 12% SO2, 10% NH4, 8% CH3, 7%CO2, with trace amounts of helium, argon and complex compounds. That's percent dry air, mind you. The water vapor content varies widely from place to place and minute to minute. The weather is amazingly. You stand there all hot and sweaty, wondering why you thought Big Blue was humid, then suddenly the winds whip up, a cold downdraft hits and the water all starts condensing and just pours from the sky like a magic shower."
"A magic _poisonous_ shower." L'on interupted Albe's enthusiastic report. Most of the explorers had grabbed the Zwehra crew as soon as they were free and were plying them with various food and drinks for an in-depth informal debriefing. "Dilute sulfuric acid."
"Now, Abbi, that was a different story." Trebore M'hel took up the tale. "Most of its atmosphere was knocked off during the close encounter with the red dwarf and subsequent bombardment. Its gravity is a bit less, and apparently it couldn't hold on as well as it got jerked around, or something. Anyway, the atmosphere is really thin, building up gradually from volcanic eruptions and there's a lot less water."
"More than Mars, mind you." Albe injected.
Trebore nodded. "In the long run it may wind up more Mars-like than Beltova, but now it's a bit inhospitable."
"So we ran your biotests on both planets, as planned, but the results from Abbi are dismal." Albe nodded to Xaero.
L'on nodded confirmation. "The Beltova results were excellent. Basically anything that could handle the sulfur and acid levels thrived, so in accordance with mission parameters we broadcast those sorts all over the planet, then jumped a hundred years to see what happened."
"Which wasn't really a long enough." S'dow said, easing through the door. He eyed the table full of munchies. "I see I'm got competition in running debriefings."
"It works better without the bosses." Xaero told him. "We get all stiff and formal on the record in front of the Suits."
"Well, I'm not a suit, I'm just a guy who needs to figure out how to remove a bunch of sulfur from an otherwise nice planet."
Aura wrinkled her muzzle. "A lot of Martian sulfur is tied up in gypsum and pyrite. What are the soil—well, surface levels of iron?"
Trebore perked up, "Low, ditto dissolved iron in the bodies of water that are starting to collect. I was telling L'on we'd have to get into asteroid mining to get enough iron, didn't connect it with sulfur levels."
"Are there asteroids there, after the red dwarf messed everything up?" Xaero asked.
"More than before." L'on said, "There were a lot of larger bodies broken up."
"So, we need to import iron?" S'dow asked.
"Yeah, probably in small chunks that burn up in the atmosphere to start with, then before we start any major building projects, big chunks that will survive to the surface for us to pick up and use."
"If they burn up in the atmosphere, the iron'll be, hmm, no oxygen to combine with, although it may get some from the sulfur dioxide, hmm, I don't remember enough chemistry to say which'll be more likely, iron oxide or pyrite." Aura dived back into her comp.
"Is the surface mountainous?" Xaero asked. "How does the atmospheric pressure vary?"
"We were down on the plains," L'on admitted, clicking at his comp. "We've got plenty of mountains, and the pressure graph..."
Xaero pointed at the map. "Is this a high plateau?"
Click, click. "A bit over a kstride high. The pressure should be...still high, but better."
Aura had a geologic map up on her screen. "It's not tectonically active."
"It's neither in the rainiest, nor dryest zone." Arto added.
S'drow nodded. "So let's concentrate on it as the most likely site for a test habitat. Send everything to me, I'll hunt down some civil engineering types for structural ideas."
By the fourth mission the time differentials were getting...odd.
The crew had spend a tenth shifting small iron asteroids into collision courses with both Abbi and Beltova, with a few extra comets aimed at Abbi to help the atmosphere along a bit. Then they'd jumped forward a hundred years to see the results and drop off more biological mini-habitats. This time Abbi got a lot of cold-and-thin-air hardy Martian plants, while Beltova got a wide suite of Martian and Blue bacteria and algaes. Another jump of a hundred years to check results, and add more varied biota.
They turned the construction team loose with the borers. Not that they were going to completely finish the first habitat, but there was no reason to not start the basic cutting. While they worked, Captain H'url and the ship's crew popped up to orbit and experimented with zero gravity crystal growth. They managed to make the small sky lights in single pieces. The main dome defeated them, but they made enough large triangular crystalline sheets to do the job. They brought them down in several trips.
And with a few minutes to admire the results, they headed for home. They arrived the day after they'd left. It was a very strange way to travel.
"So the rain is noticeably less acid, and the SO2 level dropped in just a century?" S'dow asked. He'd adopted the casual approach to meetings, and brought in some specialty equipment to do so efficiently. The charts they were discussing were projected onto blank walls.
"Yep." Nyx was looking pleased. "We sent in mostly small sized iron chunks we separated magnetically from loose aggregations. So they burn up in the atmosphere and are immediately available for scavenging sulfur." He reached out a tapped the report screen, causing a flashing star on the wall display. "Note the slight drop in atmospheric pressure, we've literally removed nearly six percent of the atmosphere, ferrous sulfate and iron oxide both being solids at these temperatures."
"The lakes are less acid as well," Aura pointed out. "Again because of sulfur scavenging."
"Still no oxygen buildup, even though several types of algae have spread and are doing well despite the acid level. The sulfur biochemistry is quite complex, and this is a very foreign environment for the bacteria." Arto added her chart to the collection on the wall. "These are before and after the iron bombardment, and a hundred years apart. You can see the algae zones have tripled in size."
"Now, on Abbi we've got a whole different biota. Instead of starting with microscopic algae and bacteria in the water, we've gone with complex plants on dry land. Here it is less a matter of acid tolerance, as tolerance of salts. The Martian plants handled it poorly, the Blue plants all died."
Trebore jumped in with a new display. "We're doing the opposite with Abbi's atmosphere, building it up about ten percent with the addition of volitiles, mainly CO2, in the form of icy bodies."
"So your recommendation is still 'do more of the same'?" S'dow asked the room as a whole.
Xaero nodded with the rest. "We need especially to get the acid levels under control on Beltova? Once that is done, we'll be able to start major efforts to start building an oxygen atmosphere."
"I spent a lot of time reading those references you gave me Xaero," Arto grinned, "Yesterday. So-to-speak. Both Martian and Ugly scientists seem to think natural transition of the atmospheres of their respective planets took hundreds of million of years. Why do you not agree?"
"Oh, I agree, but we're dealing with planets with a very different history. Blue and Mars both went through a very long oxygen oxidizing period. All the surface iron used up the oxygen as fast as photosynthesizers could make it. Abbi, as noted is rather iron poor, with most of its iron concentrated in its core. Beltona has a history of life—recall the free oxygen in its atmosphere prior to the system disruption? I expect that it has already oxidized most of its surface iron. While it is still in a reducing situation, not enough time has passed for all that iron oxide to have been reduced. Hopefully." She shrugged, "I may be underestimating the effects of the bombardment, but I think both atmospheres will change quickly when we can broadcast photosynthetic algae and land plants. They won't have the oxygen sinks a fresh, young planet would have."
"Now," S'dow brought up another set of charts. "Cirusta, the larger planet around the other star."
H'url tapped his comp, "It will—eventually—be much like Big Blue, and like Beltova probably had an active biota. Every trip we've scanned for electromagnetic activity, as a matter of course, so we can confidently say there was no technological civilization. But a longer exploratory mission into the past to sample its life, and also that of Beltova before the red star passed through, would give us a wider variety of examples of life. If for nothing else than scientific study. I realize the time pressure we are under. But _afterwards_ I really urge a sampling mission."
S'dow nodded. "An excellent suggestion." He looked over at Trev and grinned, "I know just the lizard to sell it to the Empress."
/// intergrate this with the above
"So the sulfur is way down in both the air and water, the acidity is nearing neutral and the dome is holding up just fine." Trebore M'hel summed up the report.
"The free oxygen is still low." S'dow pointed out.
"The seeds sprouted, propagated and spread." Xaero reiterated. It had been a marvelous couple of splits on Abbi. She'd spread seeds of air pollinated plants from both Mars and Blue with near wild abandon, then joined the engineering group in setting up the first habitat several million years later. "As the oxygen level increases, we will add to the complexity of the ecosystem. At this point we really need to have a permanent presence there to constantly upgrade and adapt. We need to consider if we want to go any further forward, or if this is the time when we start colonizing."
She pulled up the aerial view again. The central farm dome was a kstride in diameter, the plants showing green even from the air. The _outside_ had a sparse cover of tough plants.
The network of tiny domes showed the clusters of homes. They could move a thousand families in right now...to a "now" nearly nineteen million years in the future.
M'kaban leaned in to stare at S'dow. "What we need is to decide on a specific date, jump there and pick up a message that we _will_ remember to send, telling us when the air is breathable and when we started moving people. Otherwise you're going to change time, again."
"Or we can hard wire the time gap into the Dzi and her sister ships, and never do anything except _exactly_ nineteen million year jumps." S'trooth said, from the other end of the table. "How would that be, relative to what we've done so far?"
"About a century ahead of when we built the dome and homes." L'on said. "We're pushing the limit of what the Dzi can do. But there's more to it than that. The velocity differences are taking more and more corrections as the time difference get longer. We jumped just as much time, the other direction, traveling to Big Blue, but by staying in the Sun's gravity well, we were dragged along as it orbited around the galactic core. We've been trying to avoid that, to avoid any possible interaction with any possible future space travelers, whether Martian or Blue. So we're jumping out of the gravity well into clear space, with multiple jumps—over a thousand--going forward and backwards alternately in time until we get to Zwehra, then doing the final series of time jumps—six hundred of them--in the gravity well, to get dragged nearly a quarter of the way around the galaxy. We have to do it in a series because of the acceleration of the directional change. If we did it all in one jump, we'd be jelly on the wall of the Dzi. So far we've kept strict track of every single jump. No overlap. But we need to end it. We are going to have to move _millions_ of people. We need to conserve time slots. And then set up protocols for future exploration."
"Forwards and backwards in time. Alternating." Nyx was muttering under his breath. He turned suddenly and poked his doppleganger. "Hey, expert, can you change time direction _during_ a jump?"
"It's over rather quickly for that. A few seconds during each jump, even the long ones aren't more than ten seconds." The older lizard looked exasperatedly at his younger self. "You should stick to genetics."
"The uglies, the humans, they call themselves, remember that tech they had? I translated a file on their domestic electricity supply. They alternated electron flow direction back and forth sixty times a-what-ever-their-time-unit-was. I saw a diagram, it had the generating coil rotating inside the magnet, so the contacts from the outside wires swapped from positive to negative with every half revolution. Could you do something like that and do micro time jumps all the while doing a single space..." he stopped talking as the older M'kaban leapt to his feet and bolted from the room. "Did I make him sick?" he asked plaintively.
"Erm, hopefully you inspired him." S'trooth said, frowning out the doorway. "Returning to the current issue, you are saying we can't continue making trips without jeopardizing the evacuation or risking a history change?"
"All right. The next jump will be exactly nineteen million years, and unless something awful has happened, that will be it. We'll start moving people as quickly as we can build places to put them. And ships to move them."
"How is that project coming?"
"Test flights in a couple of weeks. The first colonists will be hard on your heels."