The frigid blackness of space never changed. High above Altinestra, as the great clock of the universe ticked away, one of the many satellites its creators had placed there carried out its meticulously programmed duties, unaware and unconcerned with the planet spinning far below it. For ninety-six years the array it was part of had carried out its functions. Although nearly a century had passed, its structure was generally sound; its software, pure Altinestran genius, continued to function within the operational parameters let long ago by its programmers. Despite nearly a century of wear and tear, the satellite continued to serve as an integral part of the larger array to which it was slaved.
Like all things created by the Altinestrans, the array’s standardization and order were of prime importance. Centuries before, an official decree had synchronized all scientific clocks, timepieces and instruments critical to the empire to a highly precise central clock. In time, that clock’s functions were moved from the planet to a battery of satellites in geosynchronous orbit near one of the planet’s poles. Along with measuring and marking time, they controlled a number of other critical functions of primary importance to the empire.
While the world the satellite and its array looked down on appeared to be a planet unchanged, great social upheavals had occurred. Cities burned, millions died, lawlessness ensued and those that had survived were thrown into one of the darkest ages ever experienced in the long history of the Commonwealth.
As monitored communications from the planet first exploded, then dwindled until they eventually ceased and all the messages from its moles and spies stopped, the mighty Commonwealth sent probes to discover what had occurred. Already under interdiction and suffering a planetary blockade, what the probes found sent shudders throughout the leadership of the Commonwealth.
Armed with the data from their probes, the noose was further tightened around the stricken planet. The Altinestran system was removed from all publically accessible star charts and data banks, and a ring of monitoring and security devices forming a zone of isolation were placed light years away from what had become a silent, ghost-ridden rock. Grateful that Altinestra occupied the furthest quadrant of the Commonwealth, the leadership of the Commonwealth of Planets breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that any threat from the rogue planet was at an end.
“They ate each other like a pack of rabid dogs,” Coran Dermostratees, the current president of the Commonwealth remarked privately to the members of her cabinet. “May their evil souls rest in peace, if that’s even possible.” Looking around the room, a scowl came to her face and her small fist pounded on the conference table at which she sat. “Damnation and the full force of the Commonwealth against anyone who ever goes there again.”
Hidden from the probes and their sensors, secure from the prying eyes of satellites, spacecraft and spies, those at rest on the moon of Argon, in the bowels of Eagles Rock and other hidden locations on the planet remained locked in their cold sleep. The clocks governing their cryo units along with all of the active timekeeping devices on the planet, keeping in sync with the master clock controlled by its satellite array, marked the time until their task was complete. Locked in orbit the satellite network continued its operations, as oblivious to the world it hung over, as it was to the black vacuum of space it inhabited.
Ninety-six years after the evacuation of the planet, Comet Reinhard - one of the comets that regularly passed near the planet - returned, having once more completed its one hundred twelve year cycle around the sun of the Altinestrian system. Long ago charted by the Altinestrians, in times past its presence had always brought a time of celebration during the two weeks it could be seen from the planet with the naked eye.
Like all comets, as a result of outgassing it left a trail of solid debris in its wake; the effect being a specular meteor shower as the planet passed through its trail of debris. As Reinhard streaked by Altinestra, one small meteoroid, seemingly destined for the planetary shower, in a billion to one odds event, collided with one of the pole satellites instead. The damage to the satellite was extensive, enough to cause it to send a distress signal to the other satellites in its array.
With various backup and redundant systems in place and the ability to repair its own software, the array would normally not have been in danger, but the time that had passed without the satellites in the array receiving any regular inspections or repair had taken its toll. Glitches, though small, had begun to appear. Most problems could be and were self-repaired, but a few could not. Like the faulty replication of a strand of DNA the code errors, though not at first critical, began to multiply and in time grew more serious. The meteoroids strike served as a tipping point. The chances had been one in a billion, yet in a universe of infinite possibilities, the unexpected can always occur. The damaged satellite’s cry for help upset the delicate balance within the array as onboard repair systems quickly came on line, causing satellite after satellite to reconfigure its programming.
On the surface of the planet the result of the strike was minor. No great cataclysm ensued, no one died, and in fact no harm came to anyone. The only measurable effect had been to the master planetary clock and to the force field of the great generator deep in the caverns of Angel’s Haven that Jamie had tied to the array so that it would wink out exactly one hundred years after the force field had been initiated.
As each timepiece, chronograph and timer, including those of every active cryo unit on and off planet reset to a new time paradigm, the force field of the giant generator sputtered and wavered. In a second the dome of energy protecting Taldor Valoren winked out. Moments later it reformed as a great field of energy sprang into being in a circle around the middle of the planet, separating the northern half of the continent from its southern half. Finally self-repaired, the satellite array continued to limp along as it performed its functions, and once again momentous change had come to the stricken planet it orbited.