Book 1 spoiler Alert!
The latest addition to the Brindabella community was just three days old when Eli, Eric, and the children turned up at Tom's cottage. Eli hugged Clare with a 'How are you feeling, dear? You look well,' as the others inspected the baby nestled in Tom's lap.
'We have a present for you. Eric and I have made our first wraith presentation that's not a children's story. It's the story of the birth of a child. It's called The Gates of Dawn. We've been in a mad rush to complete it over the last few days. We thought we had another week or more, but I should have known better than to assume that.'...
'Well, let's see it. Screen and lights, Tom.'
The veranda windows were blanked, and chairs moved, then Eric displayed a dome showing an image of the Milky Way. Eli's voice provided the commentary.
Since the earliest days of our existence on this planet, humans have looked to the night sky with awe. They saw the sun, moon, and planets moving against what appeared to be a fixed pattern of stars. Some eventually realised that even these patterns changed over many human lifespans.
A small blue dot expands slowly into an image of Neptune.
The invention of the telescope extended our view. The development of rocketry enabled us to explore our solar system. By the start of the last century, people realised that the combined developments of PAs, carbon technology, and fusion energy, gave us the opportunity to explore further.
Those who have laboured for decades to bring us to the point we have reached have been driven by the human instinct to explore beyond known boundaries – driven to begin the exploration of our Milky Way galaxy. This is a story of, dreams, hopes, and exploration across vast expanses of space and time.
Another image grows against the starry backdrop of Neptune. It resolves into a shallow dish.
In orbit about Neptune is a giant eye three kilometres wide – a balloonscope. It peers beyond our solar system into deep space looking for signs of other water planets like our home, Terra.
The image draws in close to the detectors sitting at the focal point of the mirror where several mini-bots and a wraith are working. Parked nearby are a group of spindles.
Tens of thousands of tiny spacecraft – spindles – are assembling in preparation for journeys that may take centuries to millennia to find and explore suitable planets. Others will continue on into the galaxy leaving behind them a chain of communications stations.
Zooming in to a microscopic view of the whorl surrounding one of the spindles shows it to be formed from milli-bots.
Now we are seeing interesting new possibilities open up. The first development that makes this new chapter of our story possible is wraith technology. This can greatly increase the flexibility of our spindles. The whorl surrounding the drive shaft of the latest spindles can combine with others and reform into a wraith that can assist planetary exploration and development.
An image of spindles in flight appears with traces of light coming from the drive tubes.
Soon, the swarms will head off on their first exploratory voyages. The first stage of transit is the acceleration up to maximum speed using near half the spindle's hydrogen fuel.
For most of their journey the spindles will coast at a significant fraction of the speed of light in the near-vacuum of interstellar space. When they near their destination they will use most of their remaining fuel to slow down.
A bright star expands into a sun then a planet similar to Neptune appears.
First, they will refuel at a gas giant then head down towards the star where the water planet orbits in the inner habitable zone of the system where temperatures and planetary composition favour planets like ours.
A planet appears – sea and clouds reminiscent of Earth but with a different distribution of land. The image zooms in to a rocky coastline where hundreds of wraiths are gathered.
Exploration bases will be established across the planet to map its geography, the chemical composition of rocks and sea water, climates, and, of course, looking for signs of life. All are agreed that we should not interfere with planets that already have life.
One of their aims will be to find places where radiation levels are lowest, particularly the destructive high energy cosmic rays. In these cache points, perhaps the icy bottom of a methane sea, they will park some of the spindles to extend their lifespans over the many millennia that terraforming will take.
If the planet is found to be suitable for colonisation, the process of industrial development will begin. They will produce plastics to make balloons in which experimental ecologies can be tested – ones that have already been trialed here on Terra and new ones that have been designed since leaving.
When a successful ecology is found, it will be released. In these ecologies, evolution will be artificially accelerated. It is hoped that developments that took hundreds of millions of years here can be achieved in millennia.
An initial objective will be oxygen production through photosynthesis, or recently developed artificial techniques. When enough oxygen has begun to accumulate in the atmosphere, the introduction of aerobic life forms can begin.
Messages will have been relayed to other swarms who may decide to send spindles to help the effort. Slow cargo transporters following the swarms will be directed to the planet. These will carry advanced materials and chemicals along with bots capable of performing tasks beyond the abilities of wraiths.
A sequence of images showing stages of industrial development come and go in a regular rhythm.
A sadness has accompanied these dreams of galactic exploration and settlement. It came from the realisation that it will take centuries to many millennia, and that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to haul our bulky and delicate human bodies out across the galaxy.
This pessimism is fading. The twenty-third century has brought us to a point where we might hope to achieve the goal of human settlement.
The image changes to the figure of Sara Barratt.
This chapter of our story began more than half a century ago with a young scientist, Sara Barratt, who's curiosity was excited by hints of the existence of an unknown intelligent microorganism. She trekked up the Yangtze River then the Murray River to Brindabella but failed to track it down....
On a newly terraformed planet, when a stage of evolution is reached that is equivalent to the Cambrian era on Earth when multicellular life flourished and diversified, it will be possible to release spores of archaeocerebrum. These could carry an individual human archive.
In this limited sense, human colonisation can start early in a planet's evolutionary path. Even if further attempts at colonisation fail, there will remain living, self-replicating forms of humanity scattered through the galaxy.
For flesh and blood human settlement there will be another long wait, till Life has spread from the seas to land, till plants and animals have developed to a stage that makes simple human habitation possible.
During this period, wraiths will continue expanding the foundations of industrial development with the mining and refining of minerals. When the time is right, artificial wombs will be constructed from balloons and tended by wraiths.
The commentary paused while the image showed a baby emerging from its balloon womb then being wrapped in cloth by its wraith midwives and placed in a cloth nest.
Mere decades later, the first natural births will occur.
The scene was now the interior of a woven grass hut thatched with palm-like leaves. Two people resembling Clare and Tom are leaning over a new born child.
Tom picked up their tiny, helpless child and held it in his arms, walked over to the door, and surveyed the gully – glistening crisp and green after a shower.
'This is your world, little one. I hope it treats you well.'
As the wonder of bringing a new life into the world overwhelmed him, an image formed in his mind of Mole's brief dawn vision of Pan – his pipes just moving from his lips – the lost baby otter curled up asleep at his feet. The words came out slowly and quietly.
All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.