Per Ardua Ad Astra
Chapter 25: Procyon and beyond
Copyright© 2013 by normist
Twelve days later we arrived at the Procyon star system. It is another binary star system. The primary star, Procyon A, has a large habitable zone between two and four Astronomical units from the star. The second star is at an average distance of fifteen Astronomical units from the first. We soon discovered the two planets, one of which was in the habitable zone, and that was one more than I expected.
Let me explain. Procyon B has an obviously elliptical orbit. At their closest, Procyon B almost grazes the habitable zone around Procyon A. Thus a large portion of space outside this habitable zone has been swept clean by Procyon B, a white dwarf.
Planet two is roughly an earth-sized planet. It appeared to be in the mid-Paleozoic era, ripe for colonization. We spent three days, mapping and cataloging. There were no real surprises and so we decided to leave further exploration to a Voyager class craft. We pressed on to Tau Ceti.
The trip from Procyon to Tau Ceti took another twelve days. On day three of the flight, Phyllis came to my ready room, her excitement making her incoherent.
"Sit down, Phyllis, and then calm down and tell me. What has got you so excited?"
She spluttered for a few more seconds, before saying, "It's the language on Alpha Centauri B-a. You know I'd already shown that it was the same as the language on A-b, with the small variations that you would expect after what they had been through."
"Er ... yes?"
"Well, as I started to learn the language, I was struck by the similarities to the Indo-European languages. You know I took comparative linguistics as a minor subject at college. At the time, it was a relaxation from my other studies, but I found it fascinating. This language is going to fit with human minds, and that is going to make it easier to learn."
"So, how are you progressing with it?"
"There are thirty letters in their alphabet. Thanks to the monitoring in that school, we get to know how each of their characters sounds. It turns out that the language is phonetic, like Spanish, and that makes it easier. The Encyclopedia you rescued from planet Ab gives us a knowledge base that we couldn't obtain in any other way. I think that very soon I'll have to stop what I'm doing and sit down and scan the whole of those volumes onto DVDs. Incidentally, remember the leaflet we found at the house we explored. It gave the name of the planet they were traveling to as Osmum."
"Would it help if I could recruit some assistants for you?"
"Oh, yes. That would be great. How soon do you think you can do that?"
"In about twenty minutes. I'll post a note, and put a request for help on the ship's news. That will free you to start work on a primer for the Centauran language.
Phyllis left my ready room like a puppy with two tails. Perhaps I should have mentioned our ship's news before this. We broadcast throughout the ship any news, such as our progress and anything of note that we had discovered. We also put the news on the ship's intranet. For off-duty crew members who were asleep in their bunks, they could access the news on their computers later when they were awake.
I was relaxing with my coffee after lunch when our Catering Chief Petty Officer 'Chubby' Chubb approached me.
"Excuse me Admiral, Sir," he said. "Might I have a word, Sir?"
"Of course, Chubby. That was an excellent lunch."
"Oh, Thank you, Sir. What I wanted to ask you, Sir. Is it alright if I volunteered to help with this language thing for Petty Officer Hollis? I was good at languages at school. I even thought I might be a translator before I became interested in cookery. How about it, Sir?"
"I'm sure Phyllis would appreciate your help. I hope you realize that most of the work will be in copying a set of encyclopedias into a computer. That will give Phyllis time to work on a language primer. However, she will probably glad to have someone on which to try it out."
"Thank you, Sir. I'll see her after I've prepared dinner."
He returned to the galley. In the meantime, I was mulling over some of the problems that Phyllis would face, but from my point of view. Scanning the pages of the encyclopedias produces only pictures. There are computer programs that extract text from pictures, but it would need modification before it would recognize Centauran text. We could also modify a text reader program to recognize Centauran alphabetic characters.
Once I had my ideas sorted out, I needed to know the Centauran alphabet so that it could be incorporated into the ASCII system. Contacting Phyllis, I explained what I needed. She said that she had what I wanted and would be with me directly. Two minutes later there was a knock on my Ready room door.