The Road to the Stars – Chapter Five

Ah, Niflheim. The garden spot of Tau Ceti.

It’s better now, of course. It took a few years to get the terraforming up and running, and it’s been several decades since, and it will never be mistaken for Caribbean beaches, but at least now it’s not, in the words of Cass and Alley, “a freakin’ iceball”.

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Chapter Five

“I won’t bore you with the details, Captain; they’ll be in my report. But the short version is, we should plan on getting a colony set up here as soon as possible for the volatiles.”

“You’re going to need to explain that, Commander,” said Alley, settling back in her seat. “It’s a hundred below down there. How are we going to convince people to colonize it?”

“That’s marketing,” said Cass airily. “But, Alley, we need this. Most of the ices are water, which is huge for resupply. It also makes setting up habitats in the debris belt more possible, and there’s so much raw material out there…! Alley, this system could be the manufacturing hub of the local group!”

“What about the other ices? Ammonia? Sulphur dioxide?”

“Both of which can be used in industrial processes. Sulphur dioxide is a precursor of sulphuric acid, which has a multitude of uses; ammonia can be built up into fuels, like Hydrazine, or broken down into Hydrogen, as well as being used for a fertilizer.”

“Fertilizer? That’s long-term thinking.”

“We’ve got to look long-term, Alley. This isn’t going be finished by us, or our kids. Maybe our grandkids. Possibly. But yes, fertilizer.”

“I don’t know if you remember, Cass, but the planet is a freaking iceball!”

“It is. Now. But that’s where the other frozen volatile comes into play: carbon dioxide. One of the key greenhouse gases, after water vapor, but the one we can access here most easily.”

“Now you have me intrigued. Go on.”

“Plant a colony with a fusion reactor, or better yet an annie plant, start melting the ices, release the CO2 into the atmosphere, which, by the way, is just about good enough for humans to breathe right now. As the CO2 builds up, the greenhouse effect should increase, warming the planet, melting more ices, and so forth. Once we get it going strongly enough, it should be self-sustaining. I’m going to have Minerva check my math.”

“You do that. Don’t need a runaway greenhouse; we’ll never hear the end of it back home.”

“Commander, based on my preliminary calculations, once we achieve a sustainable greenhouse effect, it will take roughly forty years to achieve a stable balance at temperatures that humans would consider habitable,” said Minerva.

“I always forget that you listen for your name,” said Cass.

“I can be instructed not to, but that will cut down on my efficiency.”

“How about you just announce your presence, Min?”


“It’s a nickname. You prefer something else?”

“Min. Min.” The AI repeated the name, trying it out. “Perhaps something a little longer? Minnie? No, that has another meaning. Minna? Yes. Minna. Thank you, Commander. I am pleased by the idea of a nickname.”

“And that will make it easier for you, and us, to bring you into appropriate conversations. If we say Minerva, we’re talking about you; if we say Minna, we’re asking you to join.”

“That seems sensible, Commander.”

“Now that you two have names straightened out,” said Alley, with just a hint of amusement, “Maybe we can get back to terraforming this planet? How much CO2 do you think you’ll need to introduce to the atmosphere to induce your greenhouse effect?”

“If the atmospheric level of CO2 can be raised to 0.04 percent, an appreciable greenhouse effect will begin to take hold. If we raise it higher, the process will be faster, but we risk overacceleration of the effect. Remember, too, that we are talking about several hundred billion tons necessary reach that level, although there will begin to be effects prior to reaching the target.”

“Whew. That’s a lot of gas,” Alley commented. “I guess you were serious about the timeline. That answers my other question, though.”

“Which was?”

“What happens when it starts warming up? You said that this planet is more ice than rock, right? Won’t that be a problem?”

“Theoretically, as the ices melt, the rocks will sink, being denser, so somewhere down the road this will turn into an ocean planet with a small rocky core. By small, I mean about the size of Earth. Best guess. Like I said, I need to get Minna to check my math.”

“Your estimate is very close, Commander, though I still need more data about the exact composition of the planet.”

“So, nobody’s going to be buying acreage on – that reminds me!”


“Your planet, being the first to set foot on it. You get to name it.”

“I nearly forgot!”

“I heard you forgot about a pithy saying.”

“Maybe. I recovered well, though, you have to admit.”

“You did. Do you have a name for this planet, though?”

“I think that Niflheim would be appropriate,” she said at last. “It’s the Norse land of ice and mist, one of the nine worlds. Ice certainly fits now, and eventually there will be mist.”

“Is that your final decision?”

“Yes. Niflheim.”

“Minna, official log. By order of Jennifer Martinez, Captain of TFS Enterprise, at the recommendation of Lieutenant Commander Aiyana Cassidy, the planet known to astronomers as Tau Ceti f is hereby designated Niflheim.”

“Logged, Captain. An excellent choice, Commander.”

“Thank you. Now, Captain, as I said, I have a report that I need to produce.”

“Don’t you want to do more investigation of Niflheim?”

“Not right now. Like you said, it’s a freakin’ iceball.”

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