Helen of Troy was humanity’s answer to the mistakes it made while investigating Ilion. Never one to leave pristine land untouched, the first wave of explorers – on the Odyssey missions – left behind a giant footprint in the form of invasive cardamom and at least three kinds of bacteria. It was the crew of Odyssey III that discovered this unfortunate intrusion of Ilion’s biosphere. But it was too late. Before the message reached Earth, a fleet of ships was already en route to Barnard’s Star, carrying a large crew, a research boat, and the makings of a greenhouse: how else could they feed nine astronauts for a year and a half?
Unaware of Odyssey III’s findings, the Aeneid I team set up camp on the coast of Aeneas and grew their potatoes, cabbage, and leafy greens and ate like kings compared to their predecessors, who subsisted on nutrient loafs, supplements, and “enrichment” foods for sanity’s sake. The crops were contained in a sturdy greenhouse built for bidirectional security, keeping the outside out and the inside in. It the testing phase, it worked spendidly. But there is a difference between testing hardware on the Philippine island of Mindanao and puting it to use in a poorly studied tropical coast six lightyears away. Once again, the limits of engineering shook hands with the unknowns of exploration and human error. The potatoes, brassicas, and cabbages found themselves on the wrong side of the canvas composite barrier separating green from red and manned exploration of Ilion came to a halt.
The public reacted as one might expect. One side argued that Ilion was our ticket to the greater universe, the first stepping stone out of our lonely arm of the Milky Way. Ilion had no intelligent life, no civilization that we could see; wasn’t it humanity’s destiny to fill that void? No, cried the conservationists. This blue and red pearl in the sky was just another sad story of men ruining everything they touched, a reverse Midas of sorts. Let us continue to explore, but responsibly.
Thus was born Helen of Troy, “the ship that launched a thousand probes.” Over a hundred robotic probes of various types sailed toward Barnard’s Star on six identical spacecraft. Some were simple, some complex; there were walkers, crawlers, fliers, and swimmers among them, but most importantly, all were completely sterile. Quietly, they studied life unseen by human eyes. They watched as Earth’s little green visitors integrated into the biosphere and exerted an influence that was subtle at the start, but grew as time passed. Whether intentional or not, mankind’s first terraforming project was underway.
6 communication satellites
8 observational satellites (O1-O8)
73 land rovers, wheeled (L1-L73)
27 crawlers (C1-C27)
3 ice rovers (I1-I3)
18 submersibles (S1-S18)
9 solar weather planes for lightside atmospheric studies (WP1-WP9)
9 nuclear-powered weather planes for darkside atmospheric studies (WP10-WP18)
The submersible S4 took a shot of some of the sessile life of Elephant Gulf, a stormy bay encompassed by an island chain south of Aeneas. Vulcanoids, suckerworms, and coastal calaveras are visible, as well as a number of unidentifiable swimming organisms.
A reticulated arrowhead took shelter under the medium-sized wheeled rover L18, Helen of Troy. The rover was exploring the Burning Rock Desert in Pandaros, where temperatures can climb to 40 degrees during periods of high stellar output.
Almost two centuries ago, an explorer fell into a hidden lake on the continent of Pandaros and encountered an entity she could not see, only feel as it passed. She described it as “long,” “sharklike,” and “silent.” The crew was not outfitted for a proper dive so the nature of the beast would have to remain a mystery – until now.
At only 55cm long, the S6 is the smallest submersible deployed by the Helen of Troy. After spending four days combing the bottom of Hidden Lake, the probe returned footage of an animal that matched the description provided by the explorer. It is undoubtedly a thoracostome and appears to be related to the mossy cetus, an oceanic species that can be found off the coast of Aeneas.
At first, mission scientists mourned the loss of submersible S18. It had been swallowed by an ocean dweller of massive proportions. Pale and blimplike in form, the so-called ghost zeppelin could have swallowed a humpback whale if given the opportunity. S18’s AI was not sophisticated enough to navigate the convoluted intestine of such a large animal.
Luckily for S18, the ghost zeppelin’s mouth did not lead to a digestive tract. The animal was hollow – and filled with life. Pirhana-like pinhole fish feasted upon the prey of their host. Needleworms embedded themselves in the scraps and converted the meat to a liquid form that the worms, and the zeppelin, could ingest. Plankton clouded the water and provided further nourishment for the great swallower. Only one entity remained whole once eaten, and that was the submersible itself. The S18 team hopes that the submersible chooses to explore the living cavern before finding its way out.
The crawler C3 monitors the growth of a Terrestrial epiphyte in the understory of Deiphobus’s redcap forest. The plant is believed to be a descendent of potatoes released into the environment during the Aeneid I greenhouse disaster. So far, potatoes and at least two Brassica cultivars are the only plants confirmed to have eluded the cleanup efforts by Aeneid I.
An armored submersible explores the razor reefs off the coast of Aeneas. This is the very same reef that destroyed one of the Aeneid I boats, which led to the decision to discontinue activity in the region for fear of harming the crew or the ecosystem. The mineral formations, while deadly to large sea life, are fragile and slow to regrow. S9 is protected by a soft, self-healing polymer coating that protects both the reef and the delicate machinery inside.
Unlike its sister C3, the crawler C2 has not been programmed to seek out Earth plants that might have invaded the redcap forests of Deiphobus. Instead, it snakes in and out of the hollows of trees and the small gaps between vines and air roots to snap pictures of native wildlife and send enviromental data to one of the six supercomputers in orbit around Ilion.
S3, like its sister S4, has made numerous discoveries in the red plant sea forests throughout Elephant Gulf. The Gulf submersibles were instrumental in constructing a complete red plant phylogeny and even pinpointed the closest relative of red plant derivatives to be a genus of buoyphyte found in this region.
In Burning Rock Desert, L18 stumbles upon a dry lakebed. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the lake filled with water a few decades ago during a particularly rainy time, resulting in a heavy growth of microbial life that colored the mud slate-blue and green. The color remains to this day, and the contrast with an otherwise red and dusty landscape is striking.