The Oort Cloud



‘What makes you think,’ asked Lan Oort, ‘that we don’t read and listen to all you do on earth? What makes you think we while away our oodles of free time on Zoe twiddling our thumbs … or doing other things? Our population is already bursting at the seams.’

‘Presumably Oort humour,’ whispered Jay Richards to his better half, Jacinta. As they’d forgotten though, whispering was a pointless exercise on Zoe. a people who could mind and mood read – Lan Oort was grinning.

‘All right, Lan,’ clarified Jay, ‘if you can do this, then why do we speak?’

‘We reserve it for special occasions, meetings with other worlds, sometimes in our own ceremonies. But in this case, we’d like a record of these times, you’re obviously planning to record this, we’re flattered that humble scrap merchants should warrant such a thing. Thus we use words. It’s quaint, we like it.’

‘And that’s why you had us reading everything we could get our hands on at the Centre – you preferred to ingest it through human thought, from information read in the library.’

‘Absolutely. And online. Your current research on our environs, through this thing you call Wikipedia – a flawed but still comprehensive range of articles – it’s amusing. Take this for example:

The Hills cloud theory addresses the longevity of the Oort cloud by postulating a densely populated inner Oort region. Objects ejected from the Hills cloud are likely to end up in the classical Oort cloud region, maintaining the Oort cloud.

It’s lovely watching mankind struggle to understand the things he’s spent the previous five thousand years denying. This one had us in stitches:

Between 1932 and 1981, astronomers believed that the Oort cloud (theorized by Ernst Öpik and Jan Oort) and the Kuiper belt were the only comet reserves in the Solar System.

In 1932, Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik hypothesized that comets were rooted in a cloud orbiting the outer boundary of the Solar System.

In 1950, this idea was revived independently by Dutch astronomer Jan Oort to explain an apparent contradiction: comets are destroyed after several passes through the inner Solar System, so if any had existed for several billion years (since the beginning of the Solar System), no more could be observed now.

Not bad going.

Oort selected 46 comets for his study that were best observed between 1850 and 1952. The distribution of the inverse of the semi-major axes showed a maximum frequency which suggested the existence of a reservoir of comets between 40,000 and 150,000 AU (0.6 and 2.4 ly) away.

This reservoir, located at the limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, would be subject to stellar disturbances, likely to expel cloud comets outwards or inwards.

Stellar disturbances? That’s the half of it.’

‘You’re mocking us.’

‘Then you don’t know the Oort.’

‘You mean the Zoessi?’

‘Whatever. Why do you think we renamed our entire people the Oort, from the Zoessi?’

‘You tell us,’ smiled Jacinta.

‘We like you, we like humankind, we like what you do, your follies, we’re sad at your stupidities at times, we even have dressing up fads, maybe choosing one of your higher points, say the 20s, and going round as Gatsbys and flappers.’

Jay was struggling to imagine fifteen thousand Zoessi … sorry … Oort … wandering about as 1920s earth. Lan grinned again. ‘So, what,’ asked Jay, ‘is wrong with the Wiki write-up?’

‘Nothing really, in terms of human perception, but that’s not our perception – if you’ll forgive me, a more expanded perception. The closest is the idea of the Oort Cloud, it goes some way to explaining the region, that’s why I chose the name oort for myself.’

‘You just changed your name like that.’

‘Why not? These things have no meaning to us, we don’t need them, we like them.’

‘And the way you talk,’ reproached Jacinta, ‘you speak just like Jay, in his idiom … and yet you say you’re not mocking him.’

‘What is imitation the sincerest form of, madam? Have you not heard an expression in, say French, liked it and listed it in your own lexicon?’

They had no immediate answer, Oort saw that and moved on. ‘You’re the first who’ve used our new technique -’

‘A technology you stole,’ corrected Jacinta.

‘Whatever. Point is – you both used it, you’re both here in body, as well as in mind and you’re safe for now.’

‘Unlike our planet.’

‘Unlike your planet. Sad the Sirens returned, sad about Dean, one of our staunchest supporters, sad about your Centre, sad about humankind. Unlike you though, we’re not despondent – you’re a very versatile and adaptable species, you’ll find a way to stop them.’

‘And then you’ll steal it.’

‘And then we’ll steal it,’ grinned Lan again and Jacinta had to concede – this rogue had a nice smile. Even Jay conceded that.  ‘We’ll adapt it and feed back the adaptation to your people. But you have some treasonous humans on earth, they are in charge and they are giving your people hell. Were we more than a band of scrap metal merchants, we’d go down and sort it out.’

‘You said you had not the capacity.’

‘A man can dream. Now look, Jay and Jacinta, let’s move onto other things – are you happy enough in your quarters? They’re cramped, I know, but so it is for all of us. We will get you back to earth again but as you yourselves said a couple of days ago when you arrived – what’s the point yet?

Look, we’re the same away from home but we’d only go back if there were a point, if we had the tech to take on the enemy. There is a way for you but your people aren’t interested. Therefore they suffer. For now, you’re with us – do you have enough for life and limb?’

‘More than enough and we’re grateful,’ said Jay. ‘You’ve a new project, I believe.’

‘Correct, we’ve just become aware of a population which has recently blown itself up on xxxxx. Tons of scrap down there.’

‘Where do you store all this?’

‘We don’t, we fence.’

‘Er Lan, that’s a pejorative word on earth, you realize.’

‘We’re not on earth. We sort out the buyer, go in and take it, buyer collects.’

‘Yes but you have to store it somewhere, if only temporarily.’

‘All right, we have other ships. Not for the big stuff, buyer has to go in and collect, but for anything smaller.’

‘How do you stop them just muscling in and cutting you out, even trying to wipe you out? ’

‘You remember Sedna’s second ‘moon’?

‘Ah yes. Pretty ruthless, you lot.’

‘And what? If you’re under threat, what do you do? Open the gates and say, ‘Come in, come in, all are welcome,’ ?’

‘We did have those on earth, across America and the free world. The enemy disguised their vanguard as refugee children, it was coordinated from the rogue states, Europe just fell before it.’

‘We know, we were scratching our heads at that particular bout of stupidity but then we realized people had been put under a spell by your quislings. We’ve seen that sort of thing many times in our region. Think you called them snowflakes and loons, didn’t you?’

‘Oh we called them far worse things than that.’

‘Insane it was, insane – inviting your enemy in to wreck your home.’

‘Well, let’s get onto this new one for you people. Can we help.’

‘Decent of you, yes, we could use your knowledge.’


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