The Timescanner interviews astrobiologist and comet breeder Vega Bancroft about her time captaining space pirates, making boots from killer eels, and helping comets get it on. Written and produced by Richard R Penner.
Transcript for 1x05 THE COMET BREEDER
The following is an annotated transcript of episode #1380873 of The Infinite Now. Originally broadcast from outside of space-time to Earth, June 30th 2015. Despite the recurring "accidents" that destroyed a majority of the intercepted Infinite Now recordings, this recording still survives. Listen to it here.
TIME CRYSTAL INTERFACE (CRYSTAL) Incoming transmission from the Timescanner
CRYSTAL Entertaining Fellow Time Agents stationed in the field working in secret to maintain the integrity of the Spacetime Continuum, broadcasting to you from Time Crystal Omega at the heat death of the universe, This is your host The Timescanner and this is The Infinite Now.
TIMESCANNER Thank you for that introduction, Crystal. Welcome listeners. This is The Infinite Now. Each broadcast I bring you a different story from elsewhere in the endless expanse of space and time. Today I have an interview I did with astrozoologist Vega Bancroft.
[the hum of the time crystal fades away and is replaced by cool space animal noises]
TIMESCANNER Thanks for being on the show, Vega. That’s beautiful. What are we listening to?
VEGA It’s a recording I did when I was living on the back of an Alpha Centaurian Space Whale. What you’re hearing now is a Space Whale funeral procession. When one dies, the others in the pack guide the body to the center of the nearest galaxy and let their body be taken by a supermassive black hole. You can hear them in harmony singing farewell to their loved one one last time.
And this was recorded in the jungles of New Europa. Careful. The screech of the siren vines is an auditory hypno-toxin.
TIMESCANNER (Voice Over) Vega has spent thousands of years studying wildlife in the universe. She lived alone on the hostile jungle planet Fangaroon studying the 1000-toothed hydra. She was there by herself for over human 3 lifetimes armed with nothing but a machete and her wits.
VEGA And a really fantastic pair of knee-high magnetic eel-hide boots. iridescent in subspectral hues. heels that could pierce (and have pierced) the plasteel skull of a charging neo-rhino.
TIMESCANNER (VO) Vega lived on the subarctic prison planet of Sorrow 397-B studying the so-called Great Dormant Beast, the deep-hybernating supermassive space manatee, asleep for 4 billion years around which the planet formed. She was there when the Dormant Beast Beast awoke and she survived when the planet burst apart. she floated on a shard of frozen tundra, essentially a sliver of icy eggshell adrift in the cosmos for the better part of a century before being discovered by the infamous Death Piercers, the most violent band of star pirates in the known universe. After defeating their leader in hand to hand combat Vega became the Captain of their murderous caravan and began teaching them exo-botany. Vega and the Death Piercers are responsible for discovering thousands of new botanical cures for diseases, including the lazarus root which has cured death itself. tastes like ginger ale to me. Can’t get enough of it.
I spoke with Vega over video. That means that the interior facets of my Time Crystal illuminated into a 360 degree video screen of the room Vega was in so I could see everything she could see.
TIMESCANNER (VO) Vega is on space observatory Kipling 7 just inside the Ferris Asteroid Belt surrounding Zeta Reticulii D and she's pointing out at the comet through the transparent aluminum walls. She has a green laser pointer and as she points to different features on the comet. the smart windows zoom in wherever she points.
TIMESCANNER Can you describe what we’re looking at now?
VEGA I’ve zoomed in on this one female comet so we could get a better view. She’s a beauty, right. Her orbit around this star probably takes about 300 years to come full circle. She’s mostly made of frozen gases and space dust. Most likely frozen carbon dioxide, with interplanetary particles of diamond and graphite, based on the blue leopard-like spots along her surface. She’s going to give birth to a gorgeous litter!
They're frozen because of the near absolute zero temperature of outer-space, but that doesn't stop them from having a sex life.
TIMESCANNER (VO) Vega’s past as a space pirate are mostly behind her. These days she is living a quieter life as a comet breeder.
VEGA Comets have a mating season just like everything else does. On planets the seasons are determined by the body's proximity and angle to the star they orbit. and the same is true of comets, even though they are independent of any planet. They have their own orbit so, comets ARE their own seasons. Comet mating season is in the summertime, or when their elliptical orbit brings them closest to the sun. This is when the female presents her tail.
VEGA The female comet tail’s plumage is not unlike that of a male peacock’s tail. it’s to attract the opposite sex. notice how the solar radiation lets the comet know it is summer and time to mate. The comet unfurls its plumage of vapor from it's body and let's it flap in the solar winds. Potential mates find this irresistible: the glitter in starlight, the gentle spray of ice crystals waving like feathers on the galactic breeze. The longer the tail the comet has the more attractive it will be to male comets. Through billions of years of sexual selection comets have been evolving to have longer and longer tails.
So, what about you, Timescanner? You’re from Earth’s 21th Century?
TIMESCANNER Originally, yes.
VEGA Not much comet breeding in Earth’s solar system. Halley's Comet in your home-town solar system is the most well known and she is a much older comet than the newer breeds we have here and thus Halley's tail is much shorter than one of the many we’re seeing right now surrounding Zeta Reticulii. Earthbound comet watchers would have hardly seen Halley’s tale at all during mating season.
TIMESCANNER (VO) Surrounding Vega’s observation station there were millions. Maybe billions of comets illuminating everything in a panorama of sparkling phosphorescent streaks, each comet tail snaking like a long dragon away from the sun. There were so many of them that I was hard pressed to find any blackness of space not lit up by a comet tail.
TIMESCANNER Wow. this is really amazing. Surrounding Earth's sun we only had a handful of comets. Why are there so many here?
VEGA (laughs) Because I'm breeding them here, silly. They tell me I’m the universe’s foremost expert on Comet Breeding. The problem with Comet-mating in the wild is that male comets, much smaller and without plumage, are very rare. and even where they do exist it, they have to wait for the star's gravity to eventually bump them together so they can begin the mating ritual. The time between a male first seeing a female present its tail and and finally catching up to her to engage in comet intercourse can be millions of years.
I like the chase of a budding romance as much as any gal, but a million years is maybe a bit too long.
so i speed things up!
I have my pirates on missions in the most remote corners of the galaxy rounding up male comets. The holds of the Death Piercer ships which used to hold gold and jewels, illicit contraband and hostages for ransom, but now they just carry male comets. They bring them to me and we use the ion cannons to blast them like cannonballs up against the female comets.
TIMESCANNER At this point Vega is motioning at the smart windows of the observation station and the windows zoom in on a ship closing in on a comet, tangled in its shimmering tail.
VEGA We blast the comet with some spin and just below the tail so we can send the comets into a spiral into each other’s microgravity.
[we hear this in action]
if we were to make a time lapse of this we would see the male and female comets in a million year dance. The two bodies circle each other and become entwined with each other, eventually becoming frozen together as the male body adheres to the ice of the larger female. Eventually the new larger body they had form will shatter apart into hundreds of smaller comets. The original male and female no longer exist, but have sacrificed themselves to become a whole litter of infant comets. In time the litter of baby comets will grow, accumulating more ice in deep space, until one day the females will be large enough to display their own tales when they near the solar radiation of Zeta Reticulii. And the process starts all over again.
TIMESCANNER Would you mind if I speed up time so we can see this in action?
VEGA By all means
[sound effects and wonderful atmospheric ambient music]
TIMESCANNER (VO) The iceballs that we call comets suddenly made me think of spider eggs and I remember the ending of a book I read as a child: Charlotte’s Web. In it there was a motherly spider who we grow to love because she nurtures the self esteem of the main character, a pig named Wilbur by saying nice things about him in the patterns of her webs. Spoiler alert: the motherly spider dies at the end. but after she’s gone she is replaced by several baby spiders who hatch out of an egg she left behind. The promise of something new and the recognition of death’s place in the cycle of life. I wonder what words of encouragement may be spelled out by the flight paths of these infant comets as they spiral around each other and then branch off into their own elliptical orbits.
TIMESCANNER Some Pig.
[a moment in silence and music]
TIMESCANNER (VO) Vega, I want to thank you for coming on my show. This has been really wonderful.
VEGA Anytime, Timescanner.
TIMESCANNER I hope to have you back on the show soon to talk about more of the studies you’ve done.
VEGA Great! I have some killer stories about when the pirates and I slayed the Psychotic Boltzman Brain of System Kepler 438-B.
TIMESCANNER Oh. I can’t wait. When did that happen?
VEGA 6. maybe 7 thousand years ago?
TIMESCANNER I’ll be in touch with your past self about that soon.
VEGA She will be thrilled. I will soon previously have been thrilled by that.
TIMESCANNER Thanks again. Until last time.
VEGA Until last time, Timescanner.
TIMESCANNER And until next time, Time Agents. Keep your temporal radios hidden from local civilians but also keep the dial tuned in to this frequency and I’ll bring you more stories from this endless moment that stretches to everywhere and lasts forever. As you know, The Infinite Now never ends, we just go off the air between broadcasts. So long.
CRYSTAL This has been and will always be The Infinite Now. Transmission complete.