5. Visit to a Wet Star
My starship rehiggsed when sensors pinged an infrared emitter. With higgs-field normalized and ship mass regained, ship and I were at rest, far from any star but only a light-year from a small, intense heat source. I aimed at the object and dehiggsed. Massless, ship and I propagated at lightspeed.
Ship and I rehiggsed a light-hour away from a small planetoid, 1578 kilometers in radius, glowing bright in infrared at the triple point of water. Spectroscope showed water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, with traces of oxygen and helium.
I had stumbled upon a rogue world, glowing from its own heat. The sunless slushball was hurtling from one dense nebula to another one, each ten light-years away, with a hundred thousand years to the encounter. It had 1/3 the mass of Europa, 1/24 gee surface gravity, and an escape velocity of 1179 m/s. By composition it had to be mostly water. It was a small waterworld, with liquid, vapor and ice at the surface. Which made no sense, without some sort of internal heat source.
A Steppenwolf? A rogue water-world, with a hot radioactive core? Lifebearing? Interesting… but that slushball was too small and light for much of a metal core. It also had a magnetosphere, a Van Allen belt, and polar auroras. But how? What was it?
I had to explore. First things first; I collected all data so far, saved the file, entangled it with a cache on Earth, and chirped Earth the key. Then I aimed my ship and dehiggsed.
My ship rehiggsed ten radii away from the object, and I knew right away that the planetoid was artificial and inhabited. My scopes showed megastructures; several skyhook cables; a ringlike habitat spanning the planetoid’s icy equator. The equator was icebound, but the poles were liquid and at 30 degrees C; rather the reverse of the norm! Also it had a moon of its own, covered with mass drivers and ion drives.
I saw all of this in infrared. There was no sunlight; the rogue world was deep in the night between the stars; only starlight lit the tops of its clouds. The planetoid had an active weather system, with constant precipitation near the equator. The equatorial belt flickered blue with lightning.
The sea and the icebelt were dark… except for the city-ship lights. The water of Wet Star Nemo (for so they named it to me later) glowed from within like bioluminescent surf; which in a sense it was. The sight was magical. It’s always night on Nemo; but its seas are as spangled with lights as stars in the sky; for the city-ships are, in a sense, small stars.
The Nemoites spotted me right away. They radioed greetings and docking orders. Tractor beams gripped my ship and carried it to the tip of one of the orbital towers. That’s where they have their docks; and also their observatories.
What transpired then would take far more time and space to recount than this brief blog can contain; in fact the Nemoites prolonged my visit for reasons of their own. This is but a brief sketch of notes from a visit to a miniaturized type I civilization. Nemo has a trillion inhabitants, mostly in millions of megacities, each in a diamond-hulled deep-water 3-kilometer-wide fusion-powered arcology ship. Nemo has the population of a civilization covering every world in a star-system, but in a smaller region, for it populates volume, not area; and the short distances allows the entire megaswarm of megacities to be wired up in small-planetoid time. Nemo has a real-time cyberspace.
The design philosophy of Nemo is: fusion power; distributed intelligence; self-sufficiency; self-maintenance; recycling and scavenging; scale power to infrastructure, not vice versa; webs, not hubs; robust persistent natural flows. Nemo is an artificial star, an ecology, a city-of-cities and a noosphere.
This they told me when they ferried me and my ship down the tower to the equatorial Ring. The Ring is a 10-kilometer wide torus, 9914 kilometers around, buried kilometers under the equatorial icebelt, connected to skyhook towers, mass-driver outlets, and particle-accelerator ports. The Nemoites showed this to me.
They also pointed out Nemo’s tug moon, covered with with ion drives and microwave rectenna. Nemo’s Ring and ships beam microwave power to the tug, which powers its ion drive, which holds it at a fixed position near Nemo; a gravity tug. That, plus slingshotting past large planets, is Nemo’s motility system.
The Ring contains a superconducting loop, charged with enough permanent current to sustain the planetoid’s magnetosphere. It also has mass-drivers, particle accelerators, fleets of spaceships, dry-docks for Nemo’s ship-cities, equatorial monorails, servers for the planetary internet, other big equipment, parklands, towns, and cities. It is of course fusion-powered, by a mixture of tokamak, Bussard polywell and inertial-confinement fusors.
The Ring is Nemo’s Port-World; a mega-habitat. It alternates parkland, wilderness and cities for a population of about a billion inhabitants. It fell into uninhabitable disrepair about a hundred million years ago (same time as the freezing-over) but civilization re-arose and fixed the problem; for though sometimes the Ring breaks, the city-ships endure.
Nemo’s ocean and its Ring form two quite distinct technozones; Nemo’s yin and yang, so to speak. Most of the people of Nemo inhabit 3 kilometer-wide diamond-hulled deep-ocean fusion-powered arcology ships. Who needs a star when you have a fusor and you’re swimming in fuel?
There are about a million ships in Nemo, each with about a million inhabitants, for a total of a trillion people. The city-ships are mostly self-sustaining; they exchange mostly people and information. They plasma-torch all waste down to atoms, to recycle with almost 100% efficiency. The heat output of those millions of city-ships are what keeps most of Nemo liquid.
The waterworld’s liquid volume is 1.649 * 10^10 km^3; when divided among a million ships, is 1.649 * 10^4 km^3 per ship, for an average distance of 25 kilometers between ships.
That’s not too crowded, they say... but traffic control is a constant necessity. You don’t want to crack your city’s diamond hull, or damage its external engines. The ships display swarming behavior, like birds or fish; and this is facilitated by the planetary Internet; the Wet Net, they called it.
The city-ships are in constant communication, for traffic, current, temperature and pressure reports. For they are not entirely in control of their water-world; it has a way of its own which city-ships, Ring, and Eggs must respect.
Nemo’s ocean convects in a double-donut, with warm water rising to the poles, flowing to the equator, cooling and sinking there. Therefore warm open ocean at the poles and ice at the equator. But other convection patterns could prevail, such as single-donut convection; to avoid this, the Nemo ships cooperate to manipulate heat generation and currents.
The city-ships coordinate, via Wet Net, power output to ensure that their world neither boils nor freezes over. The latter had happened in the past once, the Nemoites said; but they overcame that and put in safeguards. It wasn’t that long ago, only a hundred million years. What’s time to a Wet Star?
The Nemoites figure that there is sufficient water-fuel on Nemo to keep its civilizations running for a trillion years. Civilizations, plural, for the city ships are born, flourish, and eventually fail and break, mostly independently. And this process had been going on continuously, with hundreds of thousands of city-ships always at each phase of the process, for a billion years. So the waterworld has hosted some form of civilization, hosted by some breed of Nemoite (of which there are many species) for astronomical times. Or so the Wet Net said.
Nemo’s immediate travel-plans (meaning; for the next billion years) were this spiral galaxy, then the Magellenic Clouds, then Andromeda, then leave the Local Group and head for the Virgo Cluster.
The Nemoites persuaded me to park my ship in the Ring while I took a tour via city-ship down to the Eggs at the Core, then up to a Pole, then a surface cruise to the icebelt, then onto the Ring and by monorail back to my ship. Again, more than I can tell in this short blog.
Conditions at the Core are strange; gigapascal pressure and microgravitation. The Ship Eggs there serve as city-ship drydocks. They also process fragments of broken ship debris, which constantly accumulates at the core due to Nemo’s weak gravitation and strong convection.
They let me tour the ship docks. Too much to tell here. Docking at gigapascal is like docking at vacuum but in reverse. They even tell the same jokes that spacers do, comparing docking to sex; for in both cases vessels must exchange vulnerable small organisms across a hostile medium. There are packet-exchange systems, like Scorpiod sex (the Scorpoids themselves don’t use it, they find it vulgar) and cloacal systems (avoided by the Aves) and of course docking-tube systems. Nemoites told these jokes, and they admired my news about Scorpoids and Aves. Fortunately their tales about my having to dress up in a white sperm suit was more Nemoite joking.
That tour through the shipyards took so long that I should have figured out that something was up. I did later, just before they threw me away, by checking the Wet Net about what they had been calling me behind my back. I didn’t know any of that at the time.
After a prolonged Egg tour my cruise city rode convection up to surface at the North Pole. There I visited a surface-ship city, stationed at the pole. From the polar city I saw magnificent auroras, and a view of the Galaxy. It’s always night on Nemo. I learned that the polar city harvests helium from the atmosphere, and from visiting city-ships; it then sends this helium down to the Core Eggs, which uses helium for emptying out new Eggs at gigapascal; and in return the Eggs send the polar city products manufactured in zero-gee. They explained all this at length.
I eventually returned to my cruise city. We drifted on convection south towards the equator. The sky clouded up; fog turned to rain, and then snow and sleet. My cruise submerged well north of the equatorial hailstorms, and docked at the Ring.
I rode the monorail, eager to return to my starship. But the ride was long, so I logged onto the Wet Net. That’s when I found out what a trillion minds really thought about me. They called me “tourist”, “outer barbarian”, “the rube”, and “Specimen Alpha”. My ship they called “his ride”, “the puzzle”, “the prize” and “Prototype Alpha”.
I also found out what they really did about me. Namely, they disassembled my ship, down to the atom, and reverse-engineered it. While I was on a leisurely grand tour, a million megacities were hastily processing and replicating, within weeks, hundreds of years of my own star-system’s technological progress. That’s what a coordinated teramind fusion-powered noosphere can do. My original ship was vaporized in the nanoscan; what awaited me was a manufactured replica, identical down to the atom. They’d already tested it, and their replica worked.
When I got to my stop, I was boiling mad; but I couldn’t prove anything, the ship looked better than ever (“courtesy maintenance and upgrade”, they said) and all systems were go. Only a fool trusts what you read on the Wet Net; so I kept my mouth shut and I boarded what they called my ship. They lifted my ship up a skyhook cable and ejected it into space.
I was out past the tug-moon and the Van Allen belt and about to dehiggs when sensors detected an enormous dehiggsing field forming behind me. It was Nemo, using the technology they stole from me! The entire world, including skyhooks and tug-moon, dehiggsed and propagated away at lightspeed, in its original heading. It’ll reach its destination nebula, for water and mineral restocking, in ten years, not a hundred thousand.
Not that it matters much; what’s time to a Wet Star?
It’s a world that got away. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me; all I have to show for the experience is memories, and lots of crappy tourist memorabilia, most of it cast in cheap diamond.