Age Of Cosmic Exploration - Chapter 23
Chapter 23: THE FALL
Translator: LonelytreeEFT Editor: Lucas
’’Entering the planet's third orbital track in thirty seconds. Counting down, twenty-nine,
After one month and eight days of slow propulsion through space, at about eleven A.M, the
Hope was finally entering the desert planet's orbital track. Within the next thirty seconds, the
ship would be touching the planet's atmospheric layer.
The Hope was actually the Noah Two. It was what the people started referring to the spaceship
as after Yao Yuan's uplifting speech. After a while, the moniker even spread across the
authority. It wasn't before long that it officially replaced the name Noah Two.
The desert planet was the only interstellar entity within the Hope's reach. According to
multiple reports, the planet appeared to have an ozone layer and a physical surface fully
covered by amber sand. Its mass was 0.007 percent greater than Earth's. Its size wasn't great,
and it seemed to have a gravitational pull similar to that of Earth's.
However, the planet had a fast rotation with regards to both itself and its sun. A day on this
planet was sixteen hours long and a year was equal to two hundred and seventy days on Earth.
Further reports also revealed that the surface temperature during the planet's day would be
around fifty degrees Celsius while dropping to under ten degree Celsius when night fell. The
night-and-day temperature difference was extreme, but it was still within mankind's
The Hope's team of astronomers and astrophysicists had spent much effort and time
calculating and recalculating the planet's data because this might be the location where the
Hope will spend its next few years. Other than information that needed actual contact to be
calibrated, like ozone and surface components as well as its flora and fauna, everything else
about the planet was tallied and measured.
The results of all these analyses, with the exception of reports on the planet's weather patterns,
pointed towards a safe landing. Its balmy weather was a dangerous anomaly because it didn't
explain the extremely desertified planet surface. A month of observation showed no traces of
natural disasters. Of course, due to the sandy nature of the planet's surface, they would still
need to care for the possibility of quicksand and sand traps. These dangers depended on the
level of solidity of the surface, so it was a risk that couldn't be calculated unless they were on
the planet itself.
’’Because we are unable to ascertain the planet's atmospheric and geological structures, it will
be too much of a risk to attempt a direct landing of the Hope. Therefore, we need to first deploy
an expeditionary unit for initial inspection. This scouting party will be taking a mini-shuttle to
the planet,’’ said Yao Yuan, addressing the four men before him. They were Ying, Ebon, and Liu
Bai, who were senior members of the Black Star Unit, as well as its newest recruit, Zhang Heng.
The four were going to be leading the ship's first planetary landing party which was made up of
twenty elite agents and eight scientists.
’’There are only three of these shuttles within the Hope. These spacecrafts are unique because
they can channel sufficient velocity to pierce through a planet's atmosphere within a short
timeframe both when entering it and leaving it. Equipped with an anti-gravitational system,
they can support eighteen hours of continuous flight. With our current technology and
materials... we are still unable to manufacture these kinds of shuttles, so each one of them is
incredibly valuable. As the first landing party, you guys will be taking one,’’ explained Yao Yuan.
Next he turned to address his own men one by one. ’’Now I want to explain why I've selected the
four of you to lead this crucial party. Ying, you're the most clear-headed of all the Black Stars,
myself included. So, in cases of emergency and/or if communications are cut off, I want you to
take charge and use your experience and analytical mind to lead everyone back to safety. Ebon,
your role is to support Ying when necessary and to be the commander to the twenty elite
soldiers. Xiao Bai, you're naturally the team's medic, but you'll also be acting as the lieutenant
that supports Ebon. Lastly, Zhang Heng, you must be curious as to why I've scripted you into
this party. The reason's simple: because your computer skill is the best among everyone aboard
this ship.’’ Yao Yuan couldn't help but feel gladdened at his serendipitous encounter with Zhang
Heng. The young hacker had helped them acquire the spaceship and now was yet another
valuable asset to the Black Star Unit.
’’Zhang Heng, I'll be honest with you. Within this past month, we have collated a proficiency
chart by reviewing everyone onboard. We could refer to this chart to easily identify the best and
brightest among the different communities so that when issues arise, we could locate the
necessary individuals in no time. For example, for questions about aerospace engineering, we
have quite a few rocket scientists to refer to and we have engineers and technicians for welding
and molding of ship parts, but guess who's at the top of the list for computer proficiency. It's
none other than yourself, and that's why you are instrumental to the success of this expedition.
In fact, your role might be the most important.
Within the shuttle, there's a multi-frequency communicator. It's a future-tech product that
was probably created alongside the space warp system. Even through all sorts of environmental
disturbances, be it electromagnetic or locational suppression, it will recalibrate itself to locate
the frequencies needed to maintain a stable communications channel with the Hope. There is,
however, a catch; the device is encrypted. The encryption is written into the communicator's
programming, so it can't be removed. Even though its defense was heavily weakened when the
government bombarded the ship with viruses to achieve entry, gaining full access over it is still
troublesome because it will reconstruct a different encrypted firewall every ten minutes. That's
the device's fatal flaw.’’ Yao Yuan allowed himself a long sigh before continuing, ’’Fact is, the
space-warping system also comes with such an encrypted protection, but thanks to the ship's
own advanced AI and the professor's decryption key, this is a non-issue. It doesn't work that
way with the communicator though; it needs manual intervention, and that's where you come
in, Zhang Heng. The communicator is linked to the spaceship and thus presumably has a
similar encryption pattern. You're already familiar with the decryption key, so I'm sure you can
handle it... I know this is a big responsibility, but you're the best hacker we have. In any case, I
have full faith in you because despite being a fresh one, you're still a Black Star!’’
There's a chinese idiom that goes, ’’He who knows the time and circumstance is a wise man,’’
and people who are born with a silver spoon, like Zhang Heng, are usually such wise men. When
he heard Yao Yuan's explanation, the first thought that popped into his mind was to find
excuses to weasel his way out, but he was quick to realize that there wasn't any escape path.
There was no one for him to turn to; he had to fend for himself now. And so, instead of going
through an extended back-and-forth, which would still end up with him on the shuttle, Zhang
Heng gravely nodded, signifying an understanding of his placement.
Yao Yuan acknowledged him with a nod in return. He then resumed, ’’Then you should go get
ready. The shuttle will be leaving in half an hour. Also, when the shuttle pushes through the
ozone layer, its carapace will beam the ozone layer's pH reading to its computer. If the readings
show that it's overly acidic or alkaline, abort the mission and return to ship... If everything
works fine though, after landing, you will need to immediately gather necessary information.
This includes details like the planet's atmospheric components, bacterial make-up, geological
structure, and the desert surface's density to help us decide whether landing the Hope is
And then there're also these things to be careful about...’’
Yao Yuan droned on for another ten minutes before the four could leave to take the
electromobile to the shuttle's hangar. On the journey there, Zhang Heng let loose his thoughts.
’’I'm surprised; he isn't usually so wordy. Major Yao Yuan, I mean.’’
Ying appeared to not have heard Zhang Heng's comment. He sat silently, checking his rifle's
barrel before proceeding to fixing his magazine of electromagnetic bullets. Ebon, who sat
beside him, answered, ’’Ol' Cap'n is such a man. Normally, he's extremely reticent; he could
even give this guy here a run for his money.’’ He nudged Ying with the butt of his assault rifle
which he was deconstructing to check for kinks. ’’But during every operation briefing, he will go
on and on... Alright, you can stop staring at me now, Ying. I know that's just Ol' Cap'n being
cautious, and many times his prudence has saved our lives, I'm fully aware of that; I just wish
he wasn't such a long-winded mother hen every time.’’ He trailed off in his signature booming
Liu Bai added, with a smile, ’’Zhang Heng, you're new to the Black Star Unit, so you're still
unfamiliar with Ol' Cap'n's ways, but he's only so cautious because he doesn't want anyone to
lose their lives over his carelessness. You'll get used to it and see that behind his every action,
he has our best interest at heart.’’
The amiable exchange continued until they reached a platform where twenty soldiers and eight
scientists stood waiting. Behind them loomed the shuttle. It looked just like a jet fighter but
larger and longer.
The four descended the automobile without any more words, each packing their necessary
luggage; Ying and Ebon with their weapons, Liu Bai with his medical case, Zhang Heng with his
laptop and electronic paraphernalia. After some last-minute inventory, the four Black Stars led
the twenty agents and eight excited scientists on board the shuttle and stood ready for
’’Closing the first inner hangar door. All personnel, please vacate the area. Opening the shuttle
exit in thirty seconds, neutralizing gravity forces...’’
’’Moving the first shuttle to hangar rail, scanning rail perimeters... Confirmed clearance of
obstructions, charging propulsion energy. Preparing for blast off in thirty seconds...’’
’’Counting down to blast off in thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight...’’
All across the Hope, the eyes of its twelve millions occupants were collectively glued to a video
feed of the shuttle. This was because history was being made! This was going to be mankind's
first landing party on an alien planet, a planet with an ozone layer, light years away from earth!
Many were quietly praying to their own gods and deities, but their collective hope was for the
landing party to have a successful mission. They had hope for a future on this new planet...
Although hope was a weightless thing, the thirty plus people onboard the shuttle could feel the
weight of the collective hope from twelve million people on their shoulders.
Finally, the thirty second countdown came to a close. Discharging pulsing electronic energy
from its rear, the shuttle glided swiftly through the rails before dislodging itself out of the
Hope. After floating for a bit in space and shifting for the optimum angle, the shuttle shot
towards the planet. As it flew through the ozone layer, the extreme friction between the shuttle
and the planet's atmosphere had the shuttle lit up like a fiery bullet.
This had everyone's hearts up their throats. Thankfully, the shuttle got through the ozone layer
without incident. After it pushed itself through the ozone layer, the anti-gravity device kicked
in and the shuttle crested through the air before stabilizing. It then slowly descended towards
the planet's surface. Ying's voice crackled through the receiver, reporting that everything had
Through the live feed, the citizens of the Hope closely followed the shuttle's progress. When
they saw it slow to a standstill, they knew the dangers were over. It was now on anti-gravity
support, so crashing was no longer an imminent possibility. The whole of the Hope breathed a
collective sigh of relief before erupting in celebration. There were joyful laughs and teary
Back in the shuttle, two scientists were hurriedly collecting air samples through robotic arms
that extended out of the shuttle. Using a makeshift lab that was constructed within the shuttle,
the pair was busy conducting analysis on the sealed bags of air. Too many things hinged upon
their result and so all the people onboard had their eyes glued to the pair of frantic and excited
scientists, including Zhang Heng, who was standing ready with the communicator.
’’... The result is out! But... but, this is impossible! In the atmosphere, there are two types of
In the conference room, Yao Yuan, the rest of the Black Stars, and almost all of the scientists
were at the other end of the communication. The transmission was also connected to the rest of
the Hope. However, no one could make sense of what they had heard...
Just as they were waiting for more clarification, about ten people on the Hope had a sudden
aspiration of premonition. This group of people, Yao Yuan included, all sprang up and yelled,
’’Stop! Stop the descent!’’
On the live feed, it appeared like gravity had decided to catch up with the shuttle, because the
shuttle, which was sitting at a flat angle seconds ago, suddenly tipped downwards and started
The ground a few thousand feet below was waiting to greet it. Even with the possibility of
crash-landing into a carpet of soft sand, the long falling distance combined with acceleration
could only lead to one conclusion...