Military forces of the inner system bombard a vulcanoid asteroid and then steer the body into the sun. Officially a test. But many observers suspect an out-of-control experiment with outlawed technology.
Mukhagni is a small asteroid inside Mercury's orbit. Sensors show several 100 megaton antimatter explosions at its position in short order. The event causes a system wide outrage. There is no official explanation. Two days later, combat units of the Magadha Sangha Federation/Venus begin firing at Mukhagni from great distance. Military units approach Mukhagni on expensive max delta-V courses from all directions under sustained firing.
The news agencies of the solar system broadcast live. State of the art telescopes have a 20 meters resolution over interplanetary distances. They can clearly show the effects of the bombardment on the asteroid. But the telescopes fail to reveal the reason for these excessive military measures.
A few days later freighters from Venus and Mercury transport additional ordnance to Mukhagni. Commercial mass drivers in Mercury's orbit support the bombardment. Soon, it becomes clear that the mass drivers strive to reduce the asteroid's kinetic energy and angular momentum in order to change its orbit towards the sun.
After several weeks, Mukhagni's orbit becomes elliptical and the asteroid approaches the Sun. The attacks stop at a distance of ten million kilometers. The kinetic component of the bombardment by mass drivers from Venus and Mercury continues until the orbit finally falls below the Roche-limit where the asteroid breaks apart. Fragments of the asteroid finally fall into the sun.
The official explanation is a combat exercise, which was supposed to neutralize a kinetic threat (the asteroid) with simultaneous suppressive fire. A test by the Magadha Sangha Federation to protect the population of the inner system in response to the Umvelinqangi incident a few years earlier. However, this does not explain the initial antimatter detonations.
Actually, Mukhagni was a research facility of Ratha-Musala (the development office) of Ayatashatru (the interplanetary intelligence service) of the Magadha-Sangha (a federation of wealthy Venus habitats). Contrary to the official statement, a secret research project on the asteroid got out of control. The initial amat-detonations were intended to sterilize the asteroid and eliminate the problem. But this did not yield the expected result. The people responsible for the operation saw no other possibility than to plunge the asteroid into the sun (under enormous effort and sustained suppressive fire).
Of course, the public suspects illegal AI research as happened during the Newplace conspiracy 100 years earlier. Then, the asymptotic development of a gestalt-AI had to be suppressed by a spherical wave of antimatter explosions. In the case of Mukhagni, Ratha-Musala had obviously taken precautions and had installed heavy explosive devices as an emergency measure. This was a lesson from the Newplace experience. Ratha-Musala also had the wisdom to detonate the explosives. But that was apparently not enough. Whatever there was at Mukhagni, it was so powerful that it could withstand even concentrated attacks from several heavy cruisers, their missiles and attack drones.
But what can be more dangerous than the Newplace AI? There are hints at superior technology. Did an asymptotic AI develope new technologies in a very short time? Or did Ratha-Musala have access to extrasolar technology so early?
According to another theory, Ratha-Musala experimented with Kessler-Viroidae (discovered by Zipi Kessler, 2478). Supposedly they accidentally activated the disassembler genes of these anorganic viruses (see Massara plague, 2746). If this were true, then the purpose of the nuclear bombardment would have been to sterilize the fragments ejected by kinetic impacts. Correlations between kinetic and nuclear firing sequences support this theory.
The fact that solar powers conduct secret and sometimes forbidden research projects with outlawed technologies is not surprising. They often use small remote asteroids for this purpose. Asteroids provide more cover from the ubiquitous telescopes than space stations. Over the centuries, several such activities have been uncovered. Mostly by chance, misfortune or by the lack of care on the part of the operators. A restricted area without military activities is a clear sign of secret activities, though not necessarily of illegal projects or banned technologies.
Ratha-Musala had chosen a volcanoid close to the sun for their research facility on purpose. They also installed antimatter explosives as a precaution. Obviously, they were aware of the risks (that actually speaks against the Kessler-Viroidae theory). Whatever the research topic was, one can assume that it was illegal.
In all the history of the interplanetary civilization, only few secret projects get such a high media attention.
The First Extraterrestrial Visit to the Solar System.
Humanity has spread throughout the solar system. Millions of people live in orbit and on other planets. Recently, spaceships started to travel faster than the speed of light. And only 13 light years away, a trading post has been discovered where alien species meet. Humanity’s first FTL ships travel there. The trip takes several months because the space bending technology is still brand-new.
After meeting humans at the trading post, an interstellar trader of the Marui species decides to visit the solar system. For the Marui, the trip only lasts 10 days. From humanity’s point of view, their ship is extremely modern and fast – the Marui, however, consider it rather small and old.
The Marui ship’s incoming trajectory is 60 degrees off the plane of the ecliptic. The nearest planet is Saturn. Neptune and Uranus are currently somewhere on the other side of the solar system. During their approach, the Marui crew analyses the traffic patterns and approaches one of the busiest hubs: the Ibadan habitat orbiting Titan.
The merchant vessel hails Ibadan’s traffic control centre. Using automated translators, they ask about docking procedures and local habits. The traffic control centre assigns a docking tube, just as if extrasolar visitors were an everyday occurrence.
Traffic in the outer solar system outside the plane of the ecliptic is not regulated. Sometimes, long-distance ships arrive there, but interstellar traffic is negligible compared to local business. The Marui ship can easily be mistaken for one of humanity’s few long distance merchants.
In the middle of the third millennium, the live translator is ubiquitously used for communications. Many languages are in use throughout the solar system. Traffic control centres typically use their local language, which in this case is Titan-Nigerian Hata.
The Marui vessel pulls in at the flexible docking tube. As they have been advised by the control centre, the crew waits for the release indicator before they open the airlock. Inside the Ibadan dock, a group of five Marui, dressed in light protection suits, knock at the crystoplast window of the docking master’s booth.
The docking master on duty is surprised by the protection suits and by the unfamiliar look of the visitors, even though an experienced 26th century docking master has seen a lot of questionable genetic engineering. Compared to all the uplifts, bio-mods and mech-shells, the Marui seem rather normal. At least, they walk on two legs, which cannot be said about all human zero-g genetic hacks.
During the following conversation (with the help of the automatic translator), the docking master slowly realizes that his visitors are more alien than he initially assumed. Then frantic activity breaks loose. The docking master rushes back into his crystoplast booth and alerts the control centre (3 seconds), the on-call team of the immigration agency (10 seconds) and finally his sister at Kronos News (25 seconds).
Fifty seconds later, the five Marui are surrounded by camera drones and police bots. At the 55 second mark, the avatar of a reporter flickers up inside the Marui group. The first flash posts are online after 60 seconds. Kronos News starts to broadcast live after 78 seconds. Their 3D live feed is taken over by a relay chopper after 85 seconds. 90 seconds after the dock master’s alert a rapid response team in heavy exoskeleton armour takes aim at the visitors. The area around the Marui is cordoned off by mobile barriers after 92 seconds. Three seconds later, jammers unsuccessfully try to interrupt the live feed – the relay chopper had arrived in time and is inside the barrier.
Avatars of the first gawkers flicker up after 98 seconds. The first physical spectators, after 105 seconds, are uploads in mechs. Bios arrive at the scene only slightly later.
Two minutes after the initial alert, the dock is filled with 25 circling sensor drones belonging to ten different news services, as well as 15 police bots with crowd control equipment, seven military drones, an airborne tactical coordinator AI, 12 movable barrier bots with transparent shields, 800 mechs, 120 bios (among those the four in battle armour, who don’t have a free line of fire any more), and 5000 avatars in varying sizes and shapes, though these don’t take up any physical space.
An uneasy silence falls on the scene, which is only interrupted by the reporter avatar’s persistent attempts to get an interview with the Marui.
After another 90 seconds Esmeralda Alvarez Velasquez, head of the Ibadan civilian traffic control, pushes through the crowd and reaches the inner circle, where the five Marui have moved closer together.
Almost exactly four minutes after the docking master realized the significance of the moment, the first extrasolar visitors are officially welcomed, covered live by Kronos News. The news is propagated at the speed of light throughout the Saturn system with all its moons and satellites. The Kronos newsfeed is automatically augmented by other news agencies with live impressions, background information and commentaries. The exa-level priority tag is authorized by nearly all the reputation networks, so the news penetrates all news filters.
Most of the ten million inhabitants in the Saturn system interrupt what they are doing, or they are woken up or booted. They experience the first extrasolar visit live via their retina displays, implants or data interfaces, as if they were present on the spot.
Velasquez tells the visitors “Maraba da rana. Kada ka damu”, using the local language Hata. This means “Welcome to the solar system. There is no need to worry”. The term “Kadakadamu” – “No need to worry” turns into a popular quote transcending all language barriers, and Velasquez becomes the star of the talk shows.