Kapteyn B

Planetary type: Icy rocky planet.
Region: Communal Space.
: 11 billion years.
Parent star
: Kapteyn's Star (red dwarf M).
Natural satellites: Two quasi-satellites (rocky asteroids).
Surface gravity: 2.09 gees.
Average temperature
: 8°C, accounting for greenhouse effect.
Ecosystem classification
: Developed, in a state of natural decay.
Settlement Type
: Scattered ground bases, one orbital station.
Settlement age
: 68 years.
Population: 5,000 people.
: USRE-Laniakea condominium.
Distance to Earth: 125 lightyears.

Starports: Monolith Station, Omega Centauri Point. 

1 - Weird backyard

While part of the galactic halo, Kapteyn’s star is merely 12.5 lightyears away from the solar system, which puts its firmly into Communal Space, among the Earth’s stellar backyard. In present day, it could almost be considered as a holiday destination — the system is just one or two translations away for a short-range interstellar vessel. Kapteyn’s Star itself is fairly unremarkable — it is classified as a variable red subdwarf, a small and very cool star belonging to one of the most common stellar classifications in the Milky Way. What makes the Kapteyn system exceptional is the presence of Kapteyn B.

Kapteyn Beta, or simply Kapteyn, has been known to astronomers since the 20th century, but was considered by most to be an artefact due to imprecise measurements. As such, the discovery of the planet by an automated probe at the beginning of the interstellar age came as somewhat of a surprise — one that probably triggered a few resounding “I told you so!” in USRE universities. Kapteyn B is a small, cold super-Earth, orbiting its parent star right inside its minuscule habitable zone. Covered in a thick atmosphere maintaining acceptable temperatures on the surface, Kapteyn is eleven billion years old and, as such, the oldest inhabitable planet in the known universe.

2 - Ancient Life

Kapteyn B is so old that it likely comes from another galaxy — as a former member of the Omega Centauri globular cluster, its parent star appeared in one of the numerous dwarf galaxies swallowed by the Milky Way billions of years ago. Born under such divergent auspices, life on Kapteyn B is unlike anything else in Communal Space, to the point many of its lifeforms are hard to qualify as such. It is considered as the clearest example of what xenobiologists classify as natural decay ecosystems, that is to say biospheres that are so ancient they have all but exhausted the resources of their planet and, while the light of their parent star is dwindling, have entered a form of hibernation with very limited natural selection going on. Life on Kapteyn is slow and serene, living at the pace of millennia, undisturbed by the frenetic rummaging of the small humanoids that explore its surface. When they return to their homes, human travellers of Kapteyn recall vivid sights of sentient fog, oceans made of fungi and wide-eyed eels turning into dark-leaved plants as they age.

Interestingly enough, Kapteyn is one of the rare exoplanets that does not require any specific antigenic treatment or vaccines before landfall — local pathogens are so different from Earth-based life that they are simply unable to affect humans in any way.

3 - Monoliths

Kapteyn was the first contact of humankind with non-human ruins — excluding the geometry drive itself. Well, contact might be a bit of a strong word here. Whoever lived on Kapteyn five to six billion years ago did not leave a lot behind. Even their fossils have disappeared, and xenobiologists have not been able to narrow down their physical shape. All that remains are towering structures in Kapteyn’s landscape, smooth and pitch black, as if carved in fragments of the deep sky. The monoliths of Kapteyn are made of a thick carbon-silicon alloy, strengthened with unknown components that are reminiscent of artificial coral. Though most of them have fallen prey to wind, rain and meteorites, the few that remain escape all of our attempts at understanding them. They do not bear any inscription. They do not house any machinery. They just are. Silent and useless, except as a reminder that sometimes, in a distant past, Kapteyn housed a great civilisation.

Though the birthplace of xeno-archaeology, Kapteyn is now mostly empty of scientific endeavours. The frustration of its silent monoliths has worn down everyone, from the exalted nuns of the Omphal to the patient researchers hailing from prestigious USRE universities. The planet only houses a single permanent research center, the Kapteyn University of Extrasocial Sciences (KU-ES), a joint Laniakea-USRE training center for xenohistorians and xenoarchaeologists. It is often said that the only thing the Kapteyn University truly teaches is resilience in front of the frustrating silence of the unknown — though that might be the most precious lesson for an interstellar historian.

The USRE High Fleet maintains a single vessel in polar orbit of Kapteyn at all times, officially to discourage illegal exports of local artefacts — in practice, this assignment is just an officious punishment for sloppy commanders.

We don’t talk about the second ship up there, however.

Illustration: Ph03nix1986, CC4.

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