Hmm. It doesn’t seem like so long since I wrote my thoughts on “After Thalassa: Squid Brains of Enceladus”, but it’s been almost four months! In the interim I’ve been focusing on other stories, but recently I’ve seen fit to flesh out the concept into what I think will be a good and fun tale.
The Thalassa Expedition: Background
The expedition to Thalassa, Proxima Centauri’s aurora-cloaked ocean planet home to sapient bird-like forms, makes the first contact with an alien intelligence, as shown in “Letters from the Airy Deep”. This is around 2060 in my alternate timeline (it diverges in 1900). The launch of the fleet of space habitats, as shown in “Ready for Rapunzel”, takes place sometime in late 2040, in keeping with the two decades’ transit time mentioned in “Letters from the Airy Deep”. There’s even another tie-in: Ilmarinen, the leading man of “Letters from the Airy Deep”, is the grandson of Imogen, the leading girl in “Dear Future Me”. It was my authorial intent that Imogen accompany the expedition to Thalassa, together with her husband Bodo.
The Old Fleet
As arranged in the expedition plan, the whole fleet and the colonists stay at Proxima Centauri and nearby Alpha Centauri for 20 years’ more, until in 2080 a fleet of space habitats set out from Thalassa to Earth’s solar system, which may be known to them as Helios (“Sol” is the standard in sci-fi, but it’s just so generic), .carrying all those Thalassan colonists who wish to return to Earth. Imogen, by now 80 years old (and widowed), is one of them; she was, and still is, enthusiastic about colonizing the interstellar void, but she just can’t resist being one of the first humans to ever make a round-trip interstellar voyage.
Her whole family stay behind at Alpha Centauri, bar one: her great-grandson (Ilmarinen’s son), who has always been intensely curious about Earth from the time he was a small boy, and was always very attached to Imogen. At around the age of 13 he decides to join the return expedition, which due to the extreme time elapsed over the course of their absence from Helios is dubbed “the Old Fleet”.
Sometime in the 2070s first contact is made in Helios with another alien intelligence: squid-like brainy creatures that stealthily inhabit the deep oceans of Enceladus, practically right under humanity’s nose compared to the Thalassans! Imogen finding these creatures fascinating and wanting to meet one is another major driver of her desire to return to Helios.
The 2040 expedition is far from the only one to be launched Thalassa’s way: on the same trajectory are subsequent waves of colonists, one of which happens to contain a few of these squidly brains, launching around 2080. In the year 2090, halfway through their journey back, the Old Fleet passes very close to that new fleet, close enough for Imogen to see the ships with the naked eye, and even see the squidly brains wave at her and vice versa through their telescopes. Both are traveling at 22% of light speed, and in opposite directions, so the encounter velocity is 44% of light speed, far too high for a rendezvous.
Imogen for a hot minute concocts a plan to rig up a ramshackle laser sail and accelerate enough to catch them and accompany the squid-like forms to Thalassa, but her better judgment prevails and she keeps going back toward Earth.
Now you’ve really made it…
In 2100, at the age of 100, Imogen greets the 22nd century with her triumphant return to Earth’s solar system. A girl mathematician (and something of a space flâneuse), meanwhile, has a not-so-ramshackle laser sail on the mind, and takes one together with a small group, including her elderly mentor, to rendezvous with the Old Fleet out in the Oort cloud, before their magnetic sail has even begun braking them for insertion into Helios.
Laser sails, unlike nuclear pulse drive, are mass-sensitive, and not wanting to be trapped in a tin can for months or even years, she pushes the limits of acceleration, sustaining a thrust of 10g. Ordinarily this would be lethal, but in 2100 they have advanced g-suits and powered exoskeletons, though even then there’s a big risk her old professor might have a heart attack in the process (he accepts this, though, as he’s inspired by her plan and wishes to be with her the whole time).
The Old Fleet brakes at a leisurely 1g (instead of rotation thrust provides artificial gravity; all the ships are bolas, connected by tethers, so to switch between the two modes they merely need to detether from each other), and starts its maneuver at 0.025 light-years from the Sun, 1581 AU. They want to settle in before the Old Fleet starts braking, so they target rendezvous for 3 days beforehand. This puts their intercept at 1700 AU.
Their laser sail accelerates them up to a peak velocity relative to the Sun of 50% of light speed, then decelerating to zero velocity relative to the Sun at 1860 AU. This phase of the trip takes 39 days. But keep in mind that the Old Fleet is still going at 22% of light speed toward them! To match their velocity they must gain an additional 22% of light speed relative to the Sun, so the thrust toward the Sun will go on for an additional 8 days, for 47 days total (ship time; 49 days Earth time). The total delta-v for the last half or so of the trip is 72% of light speed! In 2100 only laser sails can accomplish that, and they’re often used for mail or cargo; not so often for people. The fact the leading girl came to the Old Fleet by a cargo method will earn her the affectionate nickname “Mailgirl”.
The romantic Travels of Spadille
They’ll get settled in, and our cute mailgirl, named Spadille (after the playing card; she has a passion for games of chance and gambling, both their playing and design (especially non-computable games)), will have a whirlwind romance with the great-grandson, especially after she receives a total makeover at the hands of her date and his great-grandmother. He falls for her like a ton of bricks, and her for him. Her engagement ring will be a real beauty, a brilliant diamond at the center framed by a star sapphire on each side, symbolizing how he crossed the stars for what he feels in all his heart is the best girl in the universe.
In the meantime, they spend 80 days together as the Old Fleet brakes. They can’t keep their hands off each other after they get better acquainted, and they quickly take to passionate sex on a daily basis; surprising no one, Spadille becomes pregnant right then and there, and a shotgun engagement and shotgun marriage results. By the time the Old Fleet make a very close fly-by of the Sun (a “fry-by”), she’s smiling in her husband’s arms with the blissful glow of impending motherhood and her pregnancy is starting to show!
She then makes her first-ever visit of a casino space habitat together her husband and all her new friends (meeting, courtesy of Imogen’s connections, a rather interesting performing artist group she’s always been fascinated by), and then she treats him to a personal tour of the planet he’s longed to see all his 33 years of life: Earth. After that, they undertake the culmination of their journey, the objective of Imogen’s return: meeting the squid brains of Enceladus. Imogen’s travel tales and especially Spadille’s and mentor’s mathematical prowess intrigues one of the aliens, who becomes fast friends with the whole group, teaching them his (her?) secrets in pure mathematics.
Life’s blissful Rhythm for our leading Girl
As her pregnancy progresses, she settles into a rhythm of making love with her husband, going out in most glamorous fashion to the ritziest casinos, and pursuing her research in mathematics under an Enceladan, adoring her life even more when a bundle of love comes due, and she becomes a mother, loving everything about it so much, her fondest wish in life is to do it all over again, a wish her husband intends to make come true.
The whole premise of the story from start to finish is romantic, and not just in the erotic-love sense of the word, either; bar the fact there’s nothing remotely like swordfighting in that, it has a bit of a swashbuckling adventure vibe, the romance of exploration, of making grand gestures and taking great risks for your dreams in life. In addition to all that, it’ll be a wholesome heartwarming love story (my first in a long time), coupled with a lot of worldbuilding revealing the solar system of 2100 in my science-fictional universe, which sounds like it’s going to be awesome fun to write.