I know I wrote a whole blog post about how Polina Valentinova, after her record-setting solo space voyage as a teenager in the 1980s, becoming the first person to visit Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune (and to complete a full eight-planet tour), with nuclear thermal rocket propulsion no less (no nuclear pulse for her!) which made the journey take over a decade round-trip, teams up with Menteith Reinhardt, Count von Gleichen, to develop a new and far-out form of spacecraft propulsion that rockets them out to interstellar distances far ahead of the official first expedition to Proxima Centauri, but it’s secret and high-relativistic, so if anyone ever finds out it may be thousands of years in the future.
Universe-breaking! Or is it…?
Still, as cool as the idea seemed, there was something deficient about it: it just didn’t fit in to my universe’s technological tree for anyone, even Count Gleichen, to be able to develop laser-driven sails that can propel humans to high-relativistic velocity (well in excess of 99% of light speed), or gravitational catapults, or anything of that nature as early as the mid 2020s, considering that decades later expeditionary fleets are barely getting up to 20% of light speed, and truly relativistic flight only shows up much later even than that. It just didn’t make sense.
Then I went out to the movie theater, for the first time in well over a decade, and saw the special edition of James Cameron’s “The Abyss” in 4K remastered glory, in a Dolby Cinema no less (god, that audio system was incredible, especially with the underwater soundscape for that particular film).
Then it hit me: in my world I already feature giant-squid-like intelligent aliens who live in the deep water of Enceladus’s subsurface oceans. Their nature as sapient beings is only uncovered to all mankind in definitive fashion circa 2070, just a few years after the news of intelligent life on Proxima Centauri comes out, but rumors from submariners circulate for decades beforehand that their behavior is intelligent. They are largely unrecognized because of their sheer remoteness (almost nobody goes down that deep), elusiveness (they tend to be shy about revealing themselves), and most of all because they are cold and calculating, metabolisms and thought processes very slow, but with very high raw intelligence, well in excess of a human’s.
Secrets of the Deep
Abstract philosophy and mathematics tend to be their strong suits, with their species having little in the way of obvious technology. They present as primitives, equivalent perhaps to Paleolithic humans, but it’s gradually uncovered after official first contact in 2070 that they have knowledge of the wider universe far in excess of what would be expected given their level of technology, and that their species is extremely old compared to humanity, harboring correct memories of events remembered in vivid detail millions of years in the past. The Enceladans don’t reveal much, making definitive confirmation of any of this elusive, but there are enough tantalizing hints for well-informed speculation along these lines to become widely accepted.
There are enough hints for a theory to be assembled that the Enceladans, contrary to all appearances, have (or at least had) voyaged throughout the universe from a very long time ago, as in “measured in geological epochs”, that sort of long ago.
What if the Enceladans have formidable technological prowess still along these lines, only it’s not obvious enough to be recognizable to 21st century humans? In “The Abyss” the aliens’ technology is said to be based on the direct manipulation of water at the molecular level. If the Enceladans have something at least vaguely similar to this sort of technological base, then perhaps they could also master the art and science of the gravitational catapult, as described by Robert L. Forward? It’s a form of high-relativistic spaceflight based on moving large masses of matter around a ring in oscillating rapid fashion, creating attractive and repulsive gravitational fields, which can accelerate and decelerate spacecraft to and from high-relativistic velocities. And this is real science, by the way.
In the context of my universe, where humans (well, mostly Thalassans, but they and humans become part of the same civilization, so whatever) discover wormholes and master warp drive a mere thousand years after becoming spacefaring, one might expect the Enceladans to simply employ this wormhole propulsion, rather than fooling around with moving around nugget-size super-dense chunks of matter weighing as much as Mount Everest.
But perhaps their mathematical, scientific, and technological base developed so differently that the gravitational catapult was easier for them than warp would be. And perhaps they didn’t progress to warp because the gravitational catapult was deemed sufficient for their purpose of interstellar travel; their psychology might militate against the sort of hard labor that furthering material technology demands, so they just left it at that for the next few million years or whatever it was. For all we know the “skipping forward in time” aspect of relativistic spaceflight might have been deemed actively desirable; the prospect of losing contact with the rest of their species in the present day may not have been bothersome. Or perhaps they’re long-lived and long-term-oriented enough that even skipping ahead millions of years just doesn’t seem too significant to them. Who knows?
Anyway, the point is, they have (by my universe’s standards) exotic technological powers they keep largely hidden from outsiders. Yes, manipulating water and moving around masses of matter the size of Mount Everest wouldn’t go unnoticed, but in mass concentration anomaly scans humans take they would just assume it was all natural, especially since the Enceladans are so slow and deliberate they wouldn’t change or show much obvious dynamism over the course of a few short decades.
The ultimate Trip?
Might Polina Valentinova, after her intrepid spaceflight, turn her attentions to diving into the teeming oceans of Saturn’s most dynamic moon, at last meeting these elusive smart squid, even able to befriend them and make a breakthrough, but keeping it all clandestine, not wanting to spoil her efforts at uncovering their secrets, for example if less-friendly humans than she should crowd down on their planet or frighten them away from further contact?
As outlined in the original post, she works more and more intimately with Count Gleichen over the years, and as he expresses more and more interest in developing a far-out advanced form of spacecraft propulsion and in ending his life by accelerating beyond where any human being has ever gone before, Valentinova lets him in on her recent research that reveals the Enceladans might have the means to propel them, in stealth fashion, at vast relativistic speeds, to a planet known to the Enceladans, the Alien Planet-inspired desert world outlined in my first post on this story concept.
I was kicking around the idea in my head that on this planet Gleichen and Valentinova might be regenerated, be cured of aging, and live forever, due to effects in the atmosphere or whatever, and the Enceladans will send them there for this reason; maybe they’ve never seen an old human before Polina and the whole concept intrigues them enough to open up to her and her alone. But how would they know what sort of factors would regenerate a human? Perhaps it’s simply a planet they know of that was uninteresting to them, being aquatic creatures, but might be suitable for human habitation.
When Gleichen and Valentinova decide to go, the Enceladans provide them a spacecraft and send them out on a one-way trip, carefully calibrated for gravitational slingshots around stars and black holes to bring them to a stop near their destination. This is theoretically possible I would imagine, and if anyone could have mastered it it would be these contemplative tentacled brains of the deep.
Perhaps this aspect offers an explanation for why Gleichen and Valentinova are sent so far out, as opposed to going to, say, Proxima Centauri, a mere four light-years away: the gravitational catapult method requires another catapult at the destination to decelerate, or else some natural gravity assist must be employed, with the only natural gravitational fields strong enough for this purpose being the truly extreme ones found around the likes of black holes, perhaps neutron stars too. Which adds a really interesting aspect to the premise if you ask me.
On both the new desert planet and the closer-to-home terrain of Enceladus there’s plenty of potential disasters, challenges, and adventures the elderly protagonists would have to surmount together; these environments are perilous and unknown places, after all. Together with the original Valentinova expedition, if I made a story following this woman’s biography it could be really epic…