Nim was distracted from his game by the flashing blue light on the Quadscan Analyzer. It was indicating something interesting in Q-J.18.Y. Most of these notices were blind alleys, but they didn’t happen so often that it didn’t bear investigating. Nim decided to finish his game first before running the data in the QA Evaluator. Rep, the first officer, had only been asleep a short time so it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.
In order to keep them alert, Nim and Rep were provided with a variety of progressively more difficult games to play when they weren’t working or studying for their futures. These games were interactive and this particular one was so real that Nim thought that he was at home on Grunryk trying to catch a Rhyt. They were virtually impossible to catch because they were so fast and cunning. After spending nearly two hours chasing the Rhyt, unsuccessfully, Nim decided to run the Evaluator.
The Evaluator used archival data to determine the likelihood of a system containing Erz, which was the mission of the entire fleet of Mine Explorers. There were 260 ME’s in the fleet and they were constantly searching virtually the entire universe for new sources of Erz, without which the Chosn couldn’t maintain power. Hundreds of years of exploration had created a database that was accurate enough to evaluate most systems to determine the likelihood of finding the coveted material. Nim ran the data from Q-J.18.Y and waited for the Evaluator to finish its work. The results were very positive for indications of a source for Erz, but even more startling was the statement at the end of the report. “This system bears a strong resemblance to the Blausten System.” If this were true, it would be an enormous discovery. The Grunryker had been searching for Blausten for nearly ten thousand years. Any crew that was to find Blausten was guaranteed a direct path into the Olymp, the absolute elite ruling class on Grunryk.
Just at that moment Rep came stretching out of his room and asked, “What’s up Nim?”
Nim could hardly contain his excitement and began hurriedly describing the information that he had gotten from the Evaluator. “Hey man, we’re going to be famous, we just found Blausten!”
“Jah right, why don’t you set up a course to your treasure while I have some chow and a workout” Rep answered skeptically.
“Come on, check this out. We’re going to the top, man!”
“Sure we are, but that report is still just spec. Nim. After you’ve completed your second tour you’ll find out that these false alarms happen all the time. The parameters in the Evaluator are so broad for the Blausten that we are always getting these kinds of reports. Every chump on every miner for the last thousand years has been chasing that star! Let me know when you get us closer. I really would like to fill this barge up and get back to Grunryk. This will be my last tour and I can begin training to become a Chosn. After three tours of this duty and all the study and preparation, I’m really ready to move on!”
“OK boss, but you wait and see, this is the big one – forget about Chosn, we’re going straight into the Olymp.”
Rep left the main deck and headed for the gym to get his blood flowing, after which he would have a nice breakfast. The galley was set up to prepare a variety of relatively good tasting facsimiles of the real food that they ate at home. Naturally, it was all made from concentrated curd, plus some salad that was grown in the ship’s greenhouse, but it still tasted respectable.
Nim set up the SearchNav to send them to Q-J.18.Y. It was true that Nim was on his first tour and still had not even sighted a single target during the eighteen months that they had been on this mission. It may have been the long period of time, the extended boredom, his basic lack of any real sympathetic friendship with Rep – all of these factors may have heightened his susceptibility to believe that they really had found Blausten, but he was convinced. Nim had been selected at the age of ten to become a future member of the service and begin his training for Election. This privilege was reserved for less than one percent of boys that were born on Grunryk. Then one began the long and tedious program that would lead to Election. The main focus was to teach them to disregard the passage of time. Time was nonexistent for the Chosn, it was part of the privilege, fundamental to the condition, and any serviceman that expected not to be returned to the ordinary life of a worker would have to gain this serenity. Nim had been able to feign this characteristic, but by nature he was impatient and his desires and ambitions lay seething beneath his stoic demeanor. If he were really one of the crew to find the hidden jewel of the universe there would be no more reins impeding the stallions of his mind.
The Blausten legend was broadly known, but the details were rarely discussed, so Nim decided to request the file from the computer so that he could learn more about this ancient story that had taken on the characteristics of a myth. The report told of a time before the Chosn when Grunryk was thought to be on the verge of self-destruction. Experts were convinced that the planet was dangerously overpopulated, the natural resources were becoming depleted, the atmosphere was polluted and anxiety and depression abounded among the population. They had been traveling in space in the nearby ranges of their own galaxy at the time that their scientists invented something they called gravitron acceleration technology. The GAT, as it was termed, used the positive and negative forces in the universe to thrust a spacecraft through the galaxies at incredible speed, allowing travel to the far-flung corners of the universe. They developed six large ships, each capable of accommodating one hundred fifty passengers for an extended journey. These ships were manned by volunteers who were excited explorers willing to attempt the discovery of new worlds to be exploited by the ever-burgeoning population of Grunryk. It turned out that the design was flawed. It allowed for the tremendous speeds that were needed to travel through inter-galactic space, but the navigation of the ships was out of control. The stars had not yet been mapped and the ships were found to be unaware of their exact position after only a few weeks of travel. They all continued to communicate with the Command Base on Grunryk, but their exact whereabouts was uncertain. None of them reported finding any acceptable new planet that would provide a satisfactory environment for the people of Grunryk. Two of them attempted to return home, but found themselves hopelessly lost in space. Over time, communications from first one ship, then another and another ceased without explanation. Then they were receiving messages from only one of the six ships. This ship reported sighting a solar system that contained what appeared to contain a planet offering the necessary conditions for colonization. They sent back blurred images of the system as they began to approach it. Then they excitedly reported sighting a blue gem of a planet in the system. They were able to send close-up images of the planet back to Grunryk that confirmed the report of the blue gem in the system. It was named Blausten by the exhilarated monitors at Command. The travelers reported landing on the face of the planet and also, amazingly, reported humanoid inhabitants living there. They were reported to be very primitive beings. It was also advised that the planet appeared to be extremely rich in all varieties of natural resources. They reported a wide variety of plant life and animals. These reports were extremely attenuated because the methods of long-range communications were not highly developed at the time. The messages also took long periods of time to reach Grunryk. Command sent a variety of messages to the explorers, but never received any indication that these messages had been received. Unfortunately, they were unable to report the exact location of this system, and after a very short length of time all communications ceased. That was the entire extent of the report, the history of the travelers and their discovery. There was substantial speculation by scientists at the time and even a variety of attempts at pinpointing the possible location of the galaxy in which the system might be located. The rest of the report was longwinded analysis of the meaning of the messages and what the affect might be for the future of Grunryk. Naturally, as time passed the entire story began to take on the aspects of more myth than reality and over the ensuing millennia there was nothing more in the way of concrete information to confirm or deny the existence of Blausten or the reliability of the messages.
At least there were images of the system and the planet, albeit of very poor quality, to use in the comparison. They would simply have to get closer and then allow the on-board computer and the analysts at Command to evaluate and make confirmations of the discovery.
The ME was huge because it had to contain the mining equipment, the storage area, the extraction system, the conversion machinery and finally the vault for the finished Erz. This still left plenty of room for a garden deck, gym, and swimming pool complete with sunroom and sauna, along with sleeping rooms, a lounge and galley. Everything was completely automated so that a crew of only two could still run this great vessel. The ME also had the most sophisticated cloaking equipment imaginable. It was impossible to detect any of the fleet of ME’s with any known electronic surveillance devices, and their reflector system made them invisible to any visual scans. Except for the Chosn transports, they were the best and most important ships in the entire Service.
After finishing his daily workout and having breakfast, Reb joined Nim on the control deck. The control deck was actually very compact and tidy with two seats from either of which access was allowed to most functions. They were supported by what must have been one of the most sophisticated automated programs available in the service. Their training prepared them to communicate with the program, but neither of them had been trained in the actual technical workings of either the equipment or the program. Any malfunctions or alterations were made from the Command base. It would take some time before they were close enough to begin the scan of Q-J.18.Y to find out if it had a planet that was really so rich in Erz source. They had this time to relax and discuss what they would need to do once they were within range. This would be the first practical target for Nim as this was his first tour and they had not yet found any positive targets on the trip. They had already been out for more than eighteen months, so the prospect of a possible rich target was extremely exciting. Rep began to go over the procedures that they would need to follow, even though Nim had memorized and reviewed the entire process ad nauseum.
“First, we have to determine if there are any possible threats on any of the system planets. We don’t want any surprises when we approach it,” began Rep.
“Come on, I’ve studied this stuff so much I know it better than you do,” answered Nim.
“Listen, this is your first target and any mistakes could cost us the chance to fill our vault and get headed back home. I won’t tolerate any mistakes. If there are intelligent beings on any of these planets, I want to know them inside and out before we get close enough for any interaction. If you don’t want to jeopardize your chance for Election, you had better just follow my orders to the letter.”
“Alright boss, give me a break, I’m as anxious as you are to get back to Grunryk, but this is too exciting. If this really is Blausten, can you imagine what we might find there? After all of the years that our ancestors have been there, what may have happened?
“OK, that’s just the reason that we have to be extremely careful. If it is Blausten, we might find an advanced and sophisticated culture. It could be very dangerous. If we find any life forms we have to make sure that they won’t have any possibility to detect our presence, or know about anything that we might do there. This is the very first of our mission directives. The life that the Chosn have built cannot be threatened by exposure to the outside. It’s unique in the universe and will be protected at all cost.”
“How do you know that it’s so unique? We haven’t seen everything there is to see, have we?” asked Nim.
“After a thousand years of exploration we haven’t even found another life form that can travel between planets, let alone create something like Erz. Don’t worry, we’re unique to the universe, brother.” The fact that after all these millennia no advanced life form had been found was alone enough to convince Rep that the excitement of his shipmate was simply the result of inexperience and reflected his naïve nature.
Rep was now completing his third and final mission prior to Election. The two previous missions had been so routine in nature that he may have become complacent. He and his partner on each of those previous missions had traversed their assigned sectors in the tedious back and forth search patterns that were programmed into the ships NavSearch system. They had eventually found an Erz source target on both missions and been able to nearly fill the vault on both occasions. Both target planets had been nearly barren and contained only the most fundamentally developed carbon-based plant life and limited water resources. There had been no surprises and both missions had taught him the stoic patience that was required for advancement in the social structure on Grunryk. Rep was also naturally very undemanding and happy to have been selected for the service. He was glad to have become a member and would be happy to have a life that was planned and ordered. He really didn’t look forward to adventures and certainly didn’t like surprises. He was also convinced that the rambunctious and ambitious nature of his current shipmate would be Nim’s downfall. He would be the one to write up the report of the mission this time, and up until now he had been very unimpressed with the performance of his ME 3rd. He didn’t think that Nim was suited for Election!