Amber Dawn Watez sat in a corner booth of the lounge, her drink forgotten as she read the latest test reports on project 1701. To an outside observer she was just staring off into space humming to herself, but in reality she was deep into the charts graphs and mathematical modeling of the report that were display on a pair of contact lens she wore. The Lenses made her eye color seem to shift every few seconds as she changed pages, a byproduct of the obsolete technology she was using.
“Hi Oka what you drinking,” said Watez turning her head as a tall dark haired woman came up on her blind side.
“How do you always do that?” asked Oka Tanaka as she slid into the booth.
“State secret.,” replied Watez as she signaled for a waiter.
The two could not have been more different. Tanaka. in her early twenties, was lanky and like most of her generation born on the habitat, she wore skin tight shorts and a tank top that showed off what she had. Watez was over a decade older, of average height, wearing a standard jump suit that couldn’t quite hide the tight body and large breasts kept firm by hours in the high gravity gym. She had the kind of figure that most men - and some women - would die to get their hands on. Tanaka, fresh from the university, had energy and enthusiasm that seemed to radiate from her; Watez had a cool intensity and always seemed to know what was going on around her. Both woman had short hair, Tanaka's cut in a page boy style; Watez's red hair cut the short style that was the mark of a veteran pilot.
Tanaka tapped her right ear, indicating the ear piece that Watez had, and asked, “ When are you going to stop using that kid stuff and get some decent implants?”
“Can't. Now order a drink and I will have another.” said Watez as she nodded again at the waiter. Tanaka had the latest computer brain implant and did not understand why her boss would not get one.
As the waiter moved off the two women launched into a discussion of the report and project 1701 in general. They were deep into the modeling projections on the new engine when the waiter returned and left again with nether of them taking notice. If anyone overheard them, they would have seemed to be engaged in an argument over quantum physics, probabilities and arcane mathematics. There might be twenty people in the whole solar system that understood half of what they said. For every disappointment that Watez had with the test, Tanaka placed a positive spin on it and the two women had been going back and forth like that for a hour when both seemed to freeze for a few seconds and cock their heads as if listening to a distant voice.
“Crap, the director wants us now!” Watez exclaimed as she exited the booth and headed toward the door across the lounge, leaving Tanaka left to trail behind in her wake. The weekday crowd was light, so reaching the door took only seconds. Both women were out before they noticed that everyone in the lounge was quietly looking at the video screen that filled the spinward wall.
Stepping out the door they found themselves on a path that seemed to be in a pine forest. Watez turned anti-spinward and seemed to glide down it. Her time in the high gravity gym made the habitat's normal half-G seem inconsequential. Tanaka, being younger, was embarrassed that she had to struggle to keep up.
In an effort to get her older companion to slow down she asked, “I wonder what's going on? It's way passed the bosses’ bed time.” Watez stopped and looked at Tanaka.
“Don't know but it must be a crisis for him to call us during the night cycle.” When Tanaka had just managed to catch up with her, Watez shot away down the path again. They where passing trees and single story buildings that blended into the environment. Since the habitat was in its night cycle and they were in a wooded area, they couldn’t see the curvature of the space they were walking through but they could feel they where in a large open area.
After about two hundred meters they came to a three storey building that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a modern college campus. At the door, another person born on the habitat greeted them: Ricky Paulson was even taller than Tanaka and the shorts and tank top made him look like a NBA star from the late twentieth century.
“RP, any answers yet?” asked Watez as she rushed passed him into the buildings lobby.
“Not a clue Skipper, just got here myself,” Watez thought she might need to talk to Paulson about that Skipper crap, as he continued, “Could have something to do with the news from Epsilon.” Watez stopped and looked at Paulson.
“What news?” she asked.
“It been all over the net for the last hour or so, don't you know? Check channel 5730.” answered Paulson. Both Watez and Tanaka ordered their computers to the channel and where presented with images of what looked like the outside view of an orbital habitat. “Don't get it, what’s the big deal?” stated Tanaka.
“The big deal is: the views are from the Argo One,” Paulson received blank stares, so he continued. “The probe sent to Epsilon Eridani seventy years ago.”
The conference room was beginning to fill up. Toward the front was what Watez called ‘The Gray Beards’ - the top brass of the Foundation - although none of them really had a beard. The back had the technicians and scientists of project 1701. Tanaka and Paulson were with this group. Watez was seated alone at the center of the conference table, facing the wall screens with their views from the Argo.
The images showed a large cylinder 18 kilometers in diameter and 40 kilometers long or about twice the size of the New Eden habitat. New Eden rotated twenty times an hour to give its inter surface a simulated gravity half as strong as that on earth, but the object in the pictures wasn’t moving at all. This was not the only thing that bothered Watez: there seemed to be a very large hole in one side, as if from a collision or explosion. Watez thoughts were interrupted by the beginning of the meeting.
“I am Doctor Watanabe, and as you should know, I am the director for the High Frontier Foundation,” the director said as he went on to introduced the department heads of the Foundation. The only two that seemed important to Watez were Doctor Hynek, head of exploration, and Doctor Stryker, head of research, and her boss for project 1701.
“Doctor Hynek, please give us a run down on project Argo.”
‘Sure,’ thought Watez, ‘They have a name, we just have a dumb number.’
Hynek stood and launched into the history of the Argo One.
“After the first habitats - New Eden and Clark City on the far side of Luna - seceded from the Earth in 2043, the consortium of Japanese and American companies that had built them deeded ninety percent of the stock to the new government calling itself ‘The Solar Federation.’ The rest, along with all the patents it held, went to ‘The High Frontier Foundation,’ which was chartered to explore space and advance the art and science of spaceflight. The United Nation accused the consortium of planning the secession from the beginning of the project, and the consortium didn’t even bother denying it because it was so obviously true. The UN placed sanctions on them, but couldn‘t do much else.”
“To stimulate the economy of the new Federation, project Argo was conceived to build and launch an interstellar probe to Epsilon Eridani, which at that time was known to have at lest two planets. It was a K class star so its planets were thought to have a good chance of life. The Argo used a standard superheated plasma ion engine to boost into the Oort cloud where it switched to a modified Bussard ramjet.”
“Both the first new designs of the research department.” interrupted Doctor Stryker.
Hynek shot a dirty look at Stryker and continued, “The Argo was designed to boost to half way then flip and decelerate to the Epsilon system. this would take a total of fifty nine years from launch. Once in the system it was programmed to go to one of the outer planet's Lagrange points and start to survey the system from there.”
“What went wrong?” asked one of the young engineers.
“Nothing went wrong, the probe did everything perfectly,” Hynek said with pride. “When Argo reached the Lagrange point, that was there,” he pinted to the view screens. Everyone turned to the screens and just stared for a second.
After letting the meaning of what they saw sink in Doctor Watanabe stated, “The Habitat administrator and half of the heads of state on the UN security counsel have called demanding to know what we are going to do about this? There are a lot of people on Earth that are going ape shit over it.”
“Sir,” said Watez, “what do they expect us to do? That thing is ten and a half light years away?”
“Very good question captain. Now on that point, I will leave the rest to Doctors Hynek and Stryker,” Watanabe said as he turned and left the room. The room exploded, with everyone taking at once. Doctor Stryker stood and pounded the table with his hand calling for order all this did was increase the noise level.
Watez slowly stood, looked around and said in a loud voice, “Everyone please, shut the fuck up!” The last part of that turned into a commanding shout. At once, the people in the room stopped and looked at her.
“Thank you,” she said in a pleasant voice, then continued, “You where going to say Doctor Stryker?” She gave a mock-Japanese nod to Stryker and a big smile.
“Well, thank you. To answer your question: they want us to go there and check it out. So the next question is can you do it?”
Tanaka jumped up and shouted ,“Yes!”
Before she could go on she was stopped by Watez holding up her hand and stating, “Doctor, excuse the enthusiasm of my navigator, but the X-301 can not do it!” Less sternly she continued, “The QTD can - in theory - get us to Epsilon, but not using the X-301.”
“What is the QTD and X-301?” asked Hynek with a puzzled look on his face.
“Go ahead, Captain, he’s cleared to know and she's your baby,” said Stryker as he waved at Watez and sat down. This was it: as the lead test pilot and project coordinator Watez had to put her ass on the line. She started with the basics first:
“’QTD’ stands for ‘Quantum Transition Device.’ It can change its quantum energy potential from what it is normally to a different value. This is useful because every point in space has a different quantum energy. A mass has to have the same quantum potential as the point it sits at. Changing the potential of a mass will cause the mass to transition to the point that equals that potential. This happens instantaneously, no matter the distance. The QTD will take along any mass that is inside a defined distance from its own center. That's the basics. If you want the theory, I have ten thousand pages of mathematics and charts on how it works.”
“No thanks, captain, I will take your word for it, but what's the catch?” asked Hynek.
“The catch, Doctor, is that it takes a lot of energy to do this. In theory one could go anywhere in the universe, but in practice two light years is about the farthest we could jump. Also, you have to be in fairly flat space-time or at a Lagrangian point to do it or you become a burst of subatomic partials”
“You have tested this, it's not just theory we're talking here?”
“Yes we have done five unmanned runs. Four were successful.” replied Watez
“Four successes? what about the fifth?”
“That's how we know what happens when you are in the wrong place when you turn it on.” said Watez, deadpan.
Hynek thought for a minute then asked, “What about the X-301 you called it?”
Watez explained that the X-301 was their manned test bed, then said, “Look Doctor the X-301 is a capsule stuck on a reactor, a QTD and a small reaction drive. It is not meant for a long-duration flight. It's at least two years before we build our real ship, the X-302.” At this Paulson cleared his throat in that irritating Japanese way of interrupting someone.
Watez gave him a look that said go ahead and he stated, “There is an almost-completed hull at the Mitsubishi yard that could be modified to take a QTD. We could do it in a few months.”
“And you know this how?” asked Watez
“Well” Paulson said embarrassedly, “they tried to recruit me a few weeks ago, and they gave me a tour.” Tanaka and Watez gave him a look that only outraged women can master. Paulson quickly continued, “It's an asteroid pusher! She has the latest superheated plasma reaction engine, with lots of extra Delta V and a large cargo space that can be modified for the QTD and crew space. And fabrication does have the mark two QTD ready…” he trailed off, hesitantly.
Before Watez could say anything Stryker stood and said, “As you know, project 1701 was setup to find ways for man to have interstellar travel. To that end, the director and the Habitat administrator has given me carte blanche to get to Epsilon the fastest way possible; so as of now project 1701 is on a crash status and what ever you need, you let me know.”
Watez thought for a second then said, “Yes sir. I will need the specs on that ship of Mitsubishi's.” Turning to where Tanaka and Paulson where seated, she continued, “Oka, calculate a jump to Mars and back; RP, you and your team prep the X-301. We go in two days is that clear?”
“Yes Skipper,” Tanaka and Paulson answered in unison. ‘Crap, now their both doing it,’ thought Watez.
Director Watanabe sat in his office, reading from his desk screen. He hated using his implanted computer when he wanted to read and think, and he needed to think. Project 1701 was the crazy idea of the founding industrialists that setup the New Eden consortium. To them, step one was getting a colony on the moon and at L5. Step two was to spread humankind out to the stars, and they needed a practical way to go interstellar for that. The events of the early twenty first century had made them believe that the very survival of humanity demanded it.
Not having lived through those times, Watanabe had never quite accepted their conclusions, but what was happening on Earth now, due to the discovery by the Argo probe, made him suspect they may have been right after all. There had been riots and economic disruption not seen since the first decade of the previous century, and the worlds governments were all in the habit of blaming those crazy spaceborn for all their terrestrial troubles. ‘Stupid ground-pounders,’ thought Watanabe, ‘it was just a matter of time before intelligent life was discovered.’ With a sigh he went back to the personal reports he was reading.
First there was Oka Tanaka: twenty four, born on New Eden to two first-generation Japanese. She graduated from Eden University with a PHD in astrophysics, and was the chief astrogator for the 1701 project. Watanabe smiled when he saw that her name meant ‘cherry blossom.’
Next, there was Rick Paulson, called RP by all who worked with him: he was twenty three, also born on New Eden. to a Japanese mother and an African American father. He had a PHD in nuclear engineering and plasma physics. ‘What a mix,’Watanabe thought, not specifically refering to RP’s mixed heritage. The spaceborn society was mixing the best and brightest of Japan and America, building a whole new civilization in the process.
Now he came to the one that troubled him: Watez.
Amber Dawn Watez: thirty three. Born to Oscar and Lucy Watez in a Seventh Day Adventist farming colony in Arizona, USA. Amber was born very healthy with the exception that she was blind. Due to the Seventh Day Adventist beliefs of her parents, she received no treatment. By the age of two, she was walking and speaking at a level that was much higher than was normal for her age.
Her parents became concerned because she seemed to be always humming and making clicking noises as she ran around the house, and she insisted on sleeping naked. After doctors examined her, it was found that she had somehow taught herself how to use echo location to compensate for her blindness. They thought she would grow out of wanting to sleep naked.
As was the fashion at the time, her Seventh Day Adventist parents wanted to home school her, but due to federal law as a special needs child, Amber had to go to a public school instead. She excelled at math and science and was placed in regular classes for those subjects, the only black mark on her record was when she was seven and punched an older male student for calling her a ‘hummer.’ That same year, her family was involved in a freak car accent that killed both her parents and left her with severe head injuries. While operating to save her life, the surgeons also removed a small tumor that was placing pressure on the optic center of her brain.
Over the next two years, Amber slowly gained sight in both her eyes. As was the procedure in Arizona, the state looked for relatives that would take her in. They found a living relative - distant both in space and blood - but the state was overjoyed that they could offload a special needs child; so off to the New Eden space colony she went. The relative taking her in was named Stryker.
Once on New Eden, she was found to have an unusually high spatial awareness, fast reflexes, and high math skills. She was directed into a course of study that would take advantage of her talents. At twenty she graduated with degrees in astronautics and celestial mechanics. Due to the brain trauma she suffered as a child, Amber wasn’t able to use the brain-implanted computers that most spacers got in their early twenties.
She was hired by the High Frontier Foundation as a pilot (Second class rating) and navigator. After a few years working on the Foundation's transport ships, supplying the various research stations around Earth and Mars, Amber was chosen to be the chief navigator for a survey of Neptune.
The Neptune mission was a disaster from the start. They had problems with their ion engines; the onboard computers kept crashing; so Amber had to do most of the navigation by hand. The main problem, however, was that the pilot and commander hated each other. Not long after reaching Neptune space, an explosion killed them both, and also damaged the navigation and engine control circuits in the control cabin.
Working with the two surviving research scientists on the mission, Amber had been able to jury rig controls and pilot the damaged ship back to the inner solar system. A board of inquiry found that the explosion was attempted - and ultimately successful - sabotage caused by either the pilot or the commander. The inquiry also commend Amber for her actions on the mission. After this, she’d become the lead test pilot for project 1701.
Watanabe leaned back in his chair after he finished the personnel summary. Getting the ship back home from Neptune was an achievement that most pilots simply couldn’t have done, but still their was something bothering him. Maybe it was the fact she was born on Earth, to a religious family? Watanabe hated the idea that he might be developing racist tendencies.
“Capacitors to ninety percent, ten minutes to full charge.” intoned Paulson through his suit radio. The space suited figures of Watez, Tanaka and Paulson sat in there cramped acceleration chars. The forward capsule of the X-301 had little room to move around in, add three fully space suited people and it was every bit as claustrophobic as those first Apollo Capsules must have been.
“Jump in twenty minutes. Engine cutoff in fivem” Tanaka said from her right hand seat. Watez was on the left with Paulson behind them both. Because the unmanned tests showed that modern computers crashed when hyper jumping, the controls for the X-301 looked like something from the 1960's with electromechanical flight controls and instruments.
“Jump in fifteen minutes. Engine cutoff in five, four, three, two, one engine cutoff.”
“Engine cutoff confirmed.” answered Paulson.
The New Eden habitat orbited the moon’s L5 point so the X-301 had to use its reaction engine to actually get in to that region of space for the jump.
“OK guys, now we coast into history,” Watez said with a smile. She’d wanted to do this test solo - less lives to risk - but Paulson and Tanaka said they’d quit if she tried.
“Capacitors at Full we are go for jump,” said Paulson
“Confirmed: we are go for jump. T minus ten minutes,” answered Tanaka in the kind of dry, clear voice heard for the last one hundred and fifty years of spaceflight.
“Personal computers off ,” ordered Watez as she turned off her own. She checked the course and speed, every thing looked good.
“Five minutes to jump,” said Watez as she removed a large hand-sized key from the side of her seat and inserted it into the control panel.
“Three minutes to jump. Safety to ready,” said Tanaka.
Watez turned the key until she felt a click and a green light lit, she echoed “Safety to ready.” Tanaka started counting down by tens when it was sixty seconds to jump.
“Fifty..forty..thirty..twenty..ten..five, four, three, two, one jump.” On the word jump, Watez pushed down on the key.
Watez's vision blacked out and a pain shot through her as though someone had hit the back of her head with a bat. Suddenly, the pain was gone and her vision started to clear. She could see the controls, and saw that the ship was stable, no tumbling, pitch or yaw. There had been some concern that they would come out of the jump spinning.
“Status?” ordered Watez
“Good.” answered Tanaka and Paulson in turn.
“Get me a fix, Oka. RP, full system check.” They silently busied themselves getting Watez the wanted information. After a few minutes Paulson reported all systems green. Watez restarted her computer and, as it was booting up, she heard over the radio.
“X-301, X-301 this is Olympia do you copy?”
“Go, Olympia.” answered Watez.
“You’re right on the money Amber Dawn, you just popped out of nowhere!” the radio crackled.
“Confirmed we are five hundred kilometers from Mars L1.” said Tanaka in her best spacer voice.
“Confirmed, Olympia. Hey Tom how's the wife and kids?” the tension was gone from Watez's voice now.
“The kids miss their auntie Amber, and the wife wants to know when you're coming over for diner?”
“’Auntie Amber,’ that I gotta see,” smirked Paulson
“Watch it, junior, or you'll be walking home,” Watez said in the best ‘mom voice’ she could come up with. The tension that had built up before the jump had broken, and the crew of the X-301 were all feeling a little giddy.
“Capacitor at one percent. Sixty minutes to full charge,” stated Paulson in a businesslike voice.
“Course calculated twenty percent burn in five minutes. Jump in ninety minutes,” Tanaka replied.
“Olympia, the clock is running. Return jump in nine-zero minutes, mark. Sorry, Tom, boss wants us back at the office. Maybe next time?” Watez said in a back-to-business way.
A few minutes later, the observation ship responded, “Jump in eighty five minutes, roger, X-301. Sorry to hear that, Amber, catch you next time. Godspeed,” then the radio went silent.
“So you know the Captain of the Olympia?” Tanaka asked with a little jealousy in her voice.
“Yep, we shipped together on the Mars-Luna run,” Watez answered.
“So he was the one that got away?” Tanaka inquired.
“No. He was fun, but not that fun,” Watez said with a smile in her voice.
After ten hours of medical exams and eight hours of sleep, the crew of the X-301 went to the Foundation's conference room. They stopped just inside when they saw it: The room was full and as they entered, all the people stood and started to applaud. Stryker stepped forward and shook Watez's hand.
“Smile, Amber, this is being transmitted live to the whole system,” Stryker whispered.
‘Jesus Christ,’ thought Watez, ‘who do they think we are, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin?’
Each of the Foundation's directors stepped forward and shook their hands. Tanaka looked as if she wanted to run and hide. Paulson was soaking it up, like he was a ball player who just hit the game-winning home run. The last to come was the habitat administrator.
“We thought that you should get these,” she said, and with that she pinned a flaming comet made of gold onto Watez's jump suit. It was in the general location where a set of flight wings might have gone, if they were back in the twentieth century. Tanaka and Paulson received the same comet, but in silver. They didn’t know it, but they had just started a tradition that would last almost three hundred years.
As the administrator moved away from the crew, someone yelled “We're out” and with that the unexpected ceremony ended. People started to file out shaking their hands as they passed.
“OK people lets get started we have a lot to do and no time to do it in,” Stryker said, pounding the table with a gavel when the room was down to about half-full.
“What was all that about?” demanded Watez
“All three of you are mankind's newest heroes,” Stryker said, seemingly pleased with himself.Tanaka looked like she wanted to crawl under the table, Paulson had a smile that looked to spit his face and all Watez could muster was a one word statement:
After everyone in the meeting got a chance to shake hands and pound the backs of the X-301 crew, things settled down. Tanaka and Paulson took their places with the scientists and engineers in the back of the room. Watez sat down in her normal chair in the center.
“”Mitsubishi has given us their ship to be converted into the X-302, and…” Striker was saying.
“Sir can we name the ship for god's sake?” Watez interrupted.
“All right captain, anyone have a suggestion?” asked Stryker, with half a smile.
Someone in the back of the room shouted “Yamato,” Watez replied with a glare that could have melted steel plate. After a few minutes of back and forth it was decided to name the new ship the ‘Leif Ericson.’
Commander Amber Dawn Watez floated before the observation windows in Mitsubishi's construction shack looking down onto her new command: the Federation Research Ship Leif Ericson. The ship was three hundred meters of open girders and cylinders with the biggest plasma engines she had ever seem on one end, and what looked like giant landing legs on the other. The legs added another thirty meters to the overall length, and though it was spidery and ungainly, it was a beauty to a spacers’ eyes.
Even so, Watez was not happy. She didn’t know if she wanted to cry, laugh, or punch someone. Unable to figure it out, she ended up just saying “Crap,“ under her breath.
“Skipper, if you keep saying that it's going to become the ship's motto,” said Paulson, Watez just looked at him and said it again louder: “Crap!”
The problem was that things where getting out of control and she didn’t know what to do about it. First came the news that project 1701 was now public, and people were going to be watching every move they made. Secondly, the Federation had activated the Guard. Every licensed spacer was a member of the Federation Guard. It was like the old National Guard of the United States, a reserve military, it was a holdover from the colony’s brief war of independence from Earth. So now, instead of being called ‘captain’ because she was the chief pilot on a ship, it was a real rank. Watez held the honorary guard rank of Commander because she had a first class pilot license and her seniority. To most spacers this was a joke. but not anymore.
The Federation President gave a speech from her office in Clark City, saying that for the duration of the emergency she was activating the Guard, and pledged that the it would defend the Federation and Earth. She made matters worse in Watez's eyes by stating that she had ordered a Guard ship made ready to go to Epsilon using the new jump drive. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the President had publicly named Watez the mission commander.
‘Christ on a mule, why not just give the whole system by home number while your at it?’ Watez thought, as she watched the speech. She estimated that it took all of ninety seconds for her personal communications channels to become jammed.
The problem with all this was that most people who lived on Luna and the Habitats did not think there was even an emergency. The Argo’s discovery of a wrecked alien Habitat ten light years away was cool and fun and natural to people who were born in space, or lived most of their lives there; but to the nutjobs on Earth - which Watez thought was most of the population - it was panic time. The really sad part was that if there really was an alien threat, the Guard could do nothing about it. The ships of the Guard were the everyday work ships of the Federation: cargo haulers, survey ships and pushers like the Leif Ericson (built to put small asteroids and comets on low energy orbits to the Lagrange points of Earth and Mars so they could be broken up to be used to make more Habitats, ships and anything else the space community needed). There were no weapons on them , the only thing that could be - and had been - used as a weapon was the linear accelerator on Luna, which was used to launch masses off the moon and into space. The only thing it could hit when it was used as a weapon was Earth itself, so it was useless for defending the planet from aliens.
“RP, make a note: the pusher legs need to be removed,” Watez said to Paulson
“Is that really necessary?” a new voice asked.
Watez turned around slowly, trying to hide her irritation. It had been a long time since she let someone come up behind her with out noticing it first.
“Skipper, let me introduce Lieutenant Lilith Rios and Ensign William Kondo,” said Paulson with a slight bow.
‘Enter problems three and four,’ thought Watez. She didn’t bow or extend a hand, she just looked them both up and down and then turned back to the observation window. Both Rios and Kondo were habitat born and as tall and lanky as Paulson.
“To answer your question, Lieutenant, the legs extend outside the maximum jump diameter. Also, we will not be pushing any masses on this trip,” Watez said, a little colder than she’d meant to.
“Commander, as the senior Mitsubishi representative on this mission, my job is to see the ship returned in as close to original condition as possible,” said Rios
“Lieutenant, did you not watch the President's speech the other day? This is a Guard mission now and that ship belongs to the Federation. As doe you,” Watez continued as she turned to face Rios, “Whether it is returned in any condition at all is dependent on us coming back alive. And to that end Mister Kondo will be assisting Lieutenant Paulson on the modifications to the Leif Ericson while he learns the QTD. Rios, you need to learn the new flight control system. There is a simulator at the University and I will meet you there at 0800 tomorrow.”
Watez drifted at the center of a enclosed catwalk at the center of spin above the New Eden University. Being at the center meant that she was in zero G. At one end of the catwalk was an elevator back to the ground; the other end had a fight simulator. The simulator was also really and elevator, but a very special one: it moved up and down from the center line of the Habitat so it could use the it’s spin to simulate the Gs of an engine burn. It also could spin 360 degrees in the x and y axis. Since you could only see what the simulation showed once you were inside, it felt just like flying a ship in space.
Rios and Tanaka were in the simulator at the moment going through a series of maneuvers. Watez was outside, monitoring them through her computer's contact lenses and humming softly to herself. She now regretted the way their first meeting went. She’ d let her bitterness about the new crew members show through. Mitsubishi had insisted that they have some of their own on the crew, and since Rios - in her late twenties - had more flight time than Tanaka, she would be the natural choice to take over the right seat as the pilot. Tanaka was bumped down to being ‘just’ the astrogator. This had really made Watez mad. Tanaka and her had been working together for the last three years, hammering out the bugs on the fight controls of the X-301. She also didn’t like her command crew being scrambled up at this late date. She had less than two months time to teach Rios what it had taken them all years to learn. At least Kondo was not a real problem. He was second engineer after Paulson, and they seemed to like each other. Once they started their geek speak a troop of naked amazons could walk by and they would not notice.
They were in trouble. First the simulator moved farther from the zero G center, meaning they were picking up more simulated gravity. Then a slow roll in the X axis started and built faster and faster. Than a violent pitch in the Y axis, and then they were spinning.
“Crap!” said Watez she saw they were in a tumble. Once a ship started doing that, it was almost impossible to correct. The forward thrusters just didn’tt have the delta V to off set the momentum of the mass of the engines. If it went on to long, the lateral stresses could snap the ships spine.
“Ship loss.” announced the computer in Watez's ear piece. The simulator stopped its spinning and started to climb back up to the catwalk. When the simulator reached the top, its hatch popped open and Rios came out like a demon on a mission.
“Why the hell are we using those caveman controls?” shouted Rios
“Well, Lieutenant,” snapped Watez, “If you had read the materials you were given you would know that logic-based circuits are scrambled when coming out of a jump. The analog system allows us to maneuver if we have to!” Continuing in a more friendly voice, she said, “Lilith, it takes time. Why don't you co-pilot for a time and observe Tanaka?”
Rios moved forward and stabbed a finger at Watez, “Look, you little ground-pounder chick, anything you can do, I can do!” With that, Rios scrambled back into the simulator almost knocking Tanaka into the catwalk cage.
Tanaka had a pained look as she started to say, “Amber.. I'm sorry she..”
Watez stopped her with a smile and gently took her hand, “It's OK, Oka, she's just stressed. She has to learn in days what it took us weeks.” With that Tanaka smiled and turned back to the simulator.
“Control,” called Watez through her computer's communications channel, “Have someone relieve me at safety watch. And Control, run them through a basic set of maneuvers. No more faults for today.”
“Roger Commander, we will have someone up in five,” answered control.
“When are we meeting the survey crew?” Paulson asked over his suit radio.
“I'll meet them after this inspection,” replied Watez.
Paulson and herself where riding an open sled to the Leif Ericson. From stem to stern she was now only 300 meters long. The front was a 15 meter ball that housed the command module and the astronautics, then came a 50 meter long 10 meter wide cylinder that was the crew module. Aft of that was where the QTD had been installed, buried in a mass of cylindrical tanks that were 200 meters long and 50 meters at it thickest. These held the reaction mass and other gases and liquids the ship needed. Then came the rest: the fission reactors that gave them power, and the biggest superheated plasma engine ever built.
When not pushing the large masses she was originally designed for the Leif Ericson, had enough delta V to place her in a high energy orbit that would take her from the earth to Mars in two weeks.
“She's beautiful,” said Watez, almost to low to hear. Like their seaman ancestors, spacers thought of ships as women, and they loved them as only a sailor could understand.
After cycling through the airlock and striping off their spacesuits, Paulson started to give Watez a tour like a proud father showing off his child.
The crew module had nine decks four meters tall, set perpendicular to the line of thrust so the rear bulkhead would become the floor under acceleration. Everything was mounted with that in mind. Each deck was separated by a pressure bulkhead and hatch, so if one somehow accidentally went to vacuum, the others were still airtight. Paulson pointed out the function of the special equipment in each deck as they passed through, until they came to the last deck ’below’ the command module.
“Here’s the command crew quarters. Yours are here,” Paulson said as he slid open the cabin's partition. Watez notice there was a plate on the wall by the door that said ‘Captain Watez’ as she passed. It was a standardized cabin, with a bed that doubled as an acceleration couch on the floor bulkhead. On one wall there was a large view screen, and underneath it, against the wall, was a writing table.
“I have installed a little invention of mine. Would you like to try it?” Paulson asked, like someone about to unveil a masterpiece.
“Sure, I'll try anything once,” Watez answered with a little hesitation. Paulson handed her a shinny belt.
“Put it on,” he said, with a big smile on his face. Watez did, it fit perfectly.
“OK, now: link your computer to the rooms’ systems.”
She did, and after a second he continued, “Do you see the button that says bed?” Watez nodded.
“OK click it on.”
When Watez clicked the bed button on the display, she was slowly pulled to the center of the room and hug there in space.
“Ain't it great? I have electromagnets in the walls, and they hold the belt - and you - in the center of the room! You could just float there and sleep!” Paulson had a big smile on his face, like a big puppy dog waiting to be petted.
Watez sat in the conference room alone. She’d arrived early for the meeting with the survey crew. She had her eyes closed, humming to herself, thinking about the mission. Between Rios's bluster and Paulson's tinkeringm she was starting to think she was doomed. Tanaka was giving her updates on Rios: she was finally getting the hang of the controls, but she was also driving herself to exhaustion. Paulson, on their way back to the airlock, had one more surprise for her: In what he called the ‘gym rec room,’ there were two counter-rotating nine-meter-diameter centrifuges. At nine revolutions a minute, they produced half an earth gravity. Watez was talked into trying it. If she moved her head suddenly the Coriolis effect was murder, but it worked and she was able to jog in it. Watez ordered everyone in the team to take a two day rest before they killed themselves or her.
The door opened and in walked director Stryker, followed by three older men and one young woman. Watez could tell them apart, but could not really remember what they looked like with her eyes closed.
She opened her eyes and stood as Stryker started to speak, “Commander this is Doctor Carter, his assistant Ryoko Suzuki, and here is Doctor Johnson and last is Doctor Lovelock.”
“Hello, I am Commander Watez,” she said. Watez was far enough away not to have to shake hands and was at parade rest, so she didn’t bow. “This military stuff comes in handy sometimes,” she thought.
“Everyone please sit,” said Stryker as he seated himself at the end of the table. The others followed in the order they were introducedm on the far side of the table from Watez.
“Where are the rest of the crew?” asked Doctor Carter.
“I gave them a few days off. The launch is only two weeks away and I don’t need them burned out,” Watez said. Stryker cleared his throat.
“Well, they can catch up later. Now here is the rundown:” Stryker launched into an explanation of the crew makeup, “Commander Watez is the ship and mission commander. all safety and security decisions are hers. Lieutenant Rios is the pilot and second in command, Lieutenant Tanaka is the navigator and backup pilot.”
“Sorry to interrupt but is the Commander in charge of the survey as well?” asked Doctor Carter who did not look sorry at all.
“Yes, Doctor, Commander Watez has the final word,” answered Stryker in a mock-friendly tone.
“That is unacceptable! I need full control…”
Stryker cut off Carter before he could finish, “Doctor that is the way it is going to be, or you will not going.” the meeting went downhill from there.
Watez was standing at the rail of the observation deck on the roof of the Foundation's headquartersm humming and clicking to herself, and not looking at the view. The building was tall enough to see over the trees that made this part of the habitat into a park. One could see down the barrel of the whole cylindrical world. Ten kilometers distant was a strip of tall building that went all the way around the inner circumference. Some clown had named it this cylinder ‘East Eden’ when the habitat was under construction, and it had stuck. Its counter-rotating twin was called ‘Happy Valley,’ and was mostly farm land.
“Director, how can I help you,” Watez said, turning and opening her eyes to face the newcomer.
“There's no one else here, Amber Dawn, you don’t have to be so formal,” said Stryker.
“Yes, father,” she said with a smile.
“Oh, it's ‘father’ now? When you where little you only called me that when you wanted something.”
“And you only called me Amber Dawn when I did something you thought was a no-no,” said Watez, giving Stryker her best little girl look. This made Stryker laugh and he hugged his adopted child.
“Amber, it's going to be all right. If you could come back from Neptune, you can handle an idiot ground pounder,” he said.
“Can I throw him out the airlock?” asked Watez in the same little girl voice.
“Amber Dawn!” said Stryker in mock shock.
‘Doctor Daniel Carter,’ read Watez as she sipped a beer in the lounge across from Eden University, ‘Professor of Archeology at UC Berkeley.’ He was Earth born and raised, an expert in marine archeology and deep diving research. Carter had the good luck - or bad depending on which way you looked at it - to be giving a lecture at Luna University in Clark City when the Argo news hit. He went straight to the Federation government and volunteered his help. It must had been a shock when he found out that the Federation had very little real power, and nothing whatsoever to do with the Argo. After much screaming from the UN, and as much begging and crying from the Federation, the Foundation named him as part of the crew to go to Epsilon.
The rest of the survey team where all space born: Ryoko Suzuki was a linguist at Luna U, and had been assigned as Carter's assistant. Doctor Leo Lovelock was a medical doctor and would also act as the team biologist, and Doctor Joshua Johnson was an astronomer and would be in charge of the system survey, with Tanaka assisting when it did not interfere with her other shipboard duties.
Tanaka and Rios appeared at the table, and Watez waved them into the seats opposite her. After a few more minutes of reading she gave her attention to her two shipmates. Watez saw that Rios had a beer like most spacers, but Tanaka had one of those drinks with an umbrella in it.
“Oka, when are you going to drink like a real spacer and stop with that girlygirl stuff?” asked Watez, jokingly.
“When you stop wearing those shapeless jump suits and wear something that shows off your figure,” leered Tanaka.
“OK, go to your neutral corners: that round is a draw,” said Rios as she chopped her hand down between the two like a referee. All three women laughed and visibly relaxed into their chairs.
“Now, tomorrow we go to the ship for checkout and to move her from the yards to the port for final provisioning. Launch is now ten days away. The survey crew will join us in two days for ship orientation,” said Watez, still in a light mood.
“Where are our two engineers?” asked Rios.
“On the ship making final adjustments on the environmental system,” answered Watez.
“Captain you need to put a leash on those two. The last time I was over there they showed me that running gizmo they made. Their going to kill us all with their inventions,” said Rios.
“I don't know, that magnetic bed was neat,” Tanaka mumbled.
“Those two are the lest of our problems. My real concern is Carter. I want everyone to keep an eye on him. He knows just enough about being in space to be dangerous,” Watez said. All the fun had left her voice.
“One last point: Lilith and myself are to assist Doctor Lovelock as needed. Tanaka you are to assist Doctor Johnson, and Kondo will assist with any engineering Doctor Carter may need.”
“Where is Carter now?” asked Rios.
“He and the rest of the survey crew are getting a basic vacuum course.” Tanaka giggled at this.
“You mean like in third grade?”
“Yes like in third grade.” sighed Watez.
The last week was hectic the command crew needed to check all the ships systems, a job for a new ship that normally took a month or more. To add to their work load they had to train the survey team in ship safety and deep space procedures. Doctor Johnson had hours in a suit working on the far side telescope array, so he just need to become used to zero g.
Their best bit of luck was that Doctor Lovelock had served as a ship's doctor on a passenger liner when he was young, so he knew most of the shipboard procedures. This took some of the load off the command crew. He was easygoing and helpful, and by the end everyone was calling him ‘Doc,’ which he seemed to enjoy.
As was expected, Doctor Carter was a problem. It was impossible to convince him that his deep sea knowledge was useless. Watez, in a fit of frustration, cut his life line while they where practicing working outside of the ship. He was in no danger, but after drifting away from the hull and trying to swim back for twenty minutes Carter finally started to really listen to what they where trying to teach him, but because of the incident Watez and he would never be friends. Another small irritation for Watez was that Paulson had infected all but Doctor Carter with a virus, the main symptom being that they kept calling Watez ‘Skipper’ in casual conversation. A ship in space can get mighty small mighty fast, so Watez gave up trying to correct people. One day to launch and Watez had everyone move on to the ship full time and start the in-space routine. Everyone on board unhappy when she mandated that they were to adhere strictly to the zero g exercise schedule.
As the default third mate, Tanaka made up the duty roster and watch list. Watez noticed that Tanaka and herself had the same off cycle, but did not think much of it at the time.
“New Eden space control, this is FRS Leif Ericson requesting permission for escape burn,” Watez said over her computer comm link.
“FRS Leif Ericson, this is New Eden space control: You are cleared for escape burn. Have a good flight and God be with youm” she heard in her earpiece. The crew where in jumpsuits instead of spacesuits, foundation medical thought this might help with the disorientation from the jump.
“Twenty percent burn in two minutes” Rios announced over the ship intercom.
Everything they said in the control module was being record and transmitted system wide, Watez hated this but she had no choice. The Federation and the Foundation insisted, Stryker explained it to her the night before: “Look, Amber, I know to you this is one more thing to do, but to people - even the space born - this is a historic event. You don't have the first manned interstellar flight every day!” Stryker had said through Watez's private communication channel.
“All right father, I’ll be good.” replied Watez had replied.
“Burn in one minute,” Rios's voice brought Watez back to the present. In the last minute argon gas was being heated in stages by electromagnetic waves to over one million degrees centigrade producing a superheated plasma.
“Ignition!” said Rios. The magnetic nozzles were now open and the escaping plasma began to apply thrust. The Leif Ericson slowly began to accelerate. It was only a tenth of a G, but the engines would stay on until thirty minutes before the jump.
“Ninety minutes to jump point,” announced Tanaka. Watez was pleased the command crew was operating like a real team. Their reports were timely and professional. She was also pleased with the control module. Unlike the cramped and rough-horned look of the X-301, the Lief Ericson's was as roomy as a modern airliners cockpit and the control panel had the analog and digital instruments side by side. All the switches and other controls were an easy reach from the acceleration seats.
“Engine cutoff in one minute,” intoned Rios
“Capacitors at one hundred percent, we are go for jump,” announced Paulson.
“Thirty minutes to jump,” Tanaka was closely followed by Rios saying, “Engine cutoff.”
The last thirty minutes went by with no problems. Watez could feel her excitement building with each passing minute. At five minutes to jump she took out her failsafe key, and at three-to-go she inserted the key and turned it to the ready position. Any second now she was going to become something no human had ever been before: the Captain of a Starship!
“JUMP!” Watez pushed down on the key.
It took six jumps to reach Epsilon. After each one the pain and disorientation lessened as if their minds and bodies were becoming used to the quantum transitions. Ten and a half light years in thirteen hours! Amazing, thought Watez. Two hours between jumps with a little time for Doctor Lovelock to take medical readings.
“Three days to the object under full thrust skipper. Sorry I couldn’t get closer,” Tanaka said in a pained voice.
“It's OK, Oka, this system is full of junk anyway,” observed Watez.
“Not surprising. The star is less than a billion years old, still a baby.” Watez gave Rios an amazed look.
“Yes, I actually read the report,”Rios said.
Watez opened a shipwide comm channel, “Main engine burn in one hour, enjoy gravity for the next two days people after that it's zero G,” she announced.
Twenty hours to rendezvous. The engines had been down for four hours and the ship was back to weightlessness, coasting toward the object. Watez drifted just above her acceleration seat in the control module, she’d pulled the midnight watch. She had ordered everyone to bed. The crew had been working long hours analyzing data making observations and getting ready for the big day, and she wanted everyone fresh. Their was only the small sounds all ships made as fans, pumps and other equipment went through their routine. She had the object on the main screen. Even at this distance she could tell it was huge.
When they had entered the system, they had contacted the Argo and ordered it to dump all its data into their ships computer. Even at the fastest transfer rate it, was still transmitting. Ten years worth of observations were terabytes of information. Watez was flipping through views of different angles of the object. It was thought to a habitat like New Eden when they’d left, but with the new data she wasn’t so sure. It looked wrong somehow, but she couldn’t put her finger on why, exactly.
“Hello, Doctor Carter,” Watez said ashe came through the hatch.
“They told me that no one could sneak up on you, Captain, it seems it's true,” Carter said, handing her a bulb of coffee.
“Should I be wary of archeologist bearing gifts?” smiled Watez.
“No, no, it's a peace offering of sorts. I know we did not get off to a good start,” said Carter.
“Don't feel bad about it. I can be a cranky bitch. I’ve spent most of my adult life in deep space. You don't pickup people skills that way,” Watez offered.
“Same for me, but it was the sea or digs in the middle of nowhere. We are the same sort of people, Captain, both explorers, searching for something,” mused Carter.
“What are you looking for Doctor?” asked Watez.
After a long silence Carter answered,“The truth. Maybe a trace of God. Do you believe in God, Captain?” Watez looked at Carter for a moment, like she was searching his face for something. Then she turned away and had the main view screen switch from the object to a wide view of the Milky way. The band of stars and dust looked like a river of fire, showing a depth and distance that could never be seen from earth. One could instantly tell it was part of a great spiral arm of the galaxy they were seeing.
“When I was a little girl I was taught all about God and Jesus, but ‘Believe?’ I don't know about that. But I know one thing: if there is a God, He will be found out there” Watez said as she pointed to the screen.
After looking at the view of the Milky Way Carter quoted Schiller quietly and reverently, like a prayer:
“Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of gods”
The Leif Ericson hung motionless five kilometers from the alien object. It looked like a toy sail boat next to a battle ship. They had chosen a position on the opposite side from where the Argo was parked. A drone had been launched to act as a relay between the two.
“It's not a habitat,” Paulson said as he switched the view screen on the commons deck from their own live feed to one relayed from the Argo, “Look at the damaged area: see how there seems to be decks running perpendicular to the front and back of the cylinder?” The whole crew was there watching his presentation, except Tanaka who listened from the control module.
“So? I don’t see how that makes a difference?” said Carter
“Doctor Carter, a habitat would have decks parallel to the cylinder wall so their would be artificial gravity as the habitat rotated. That thing is set up to have gravity under acceleration, ” Watez explained.
“You mean that thing is a ship?” Carter asked in amazement.
“Yes I believe the old term is a ‘generation ship.’ You build a habitat-sized ship and send it on its way. The people on board live and die have children, generation after generation on the slow voyage to a new star system,” Paulson explained.
“This means two things: One, they did not have a jump drive; and Two, they where probably spacers,” said Watez.
“Why spacers?” Carter asked.
“Would earthborn want to spend their whole life on a spaceship going to a new world they’d never see?” Watez asked rhetorically. Carter nodded his agreement.
“Their is another point, Captain,” Johnson said.
“Which is?” Watez inquired.
“They're not from this system. The second planet is in the bio zone, but this system is too young. It's at the same stage earth was three billion years ago. Would you agree, Lovelock?”
“Unless they are a form of life we do not know of, yes”
“This is fascinating but I need to get into that ship,” Carter said in frustration.
“We’re working to that Doctor. RP, continue.” Watez said coolly. Paulson switched views again and then zoomed in to a rectangular shape that looked countersunk with the ends rounded.
“That looks like an airlock hatch,” said Rios
“We hope so. It's three meters by one meter - about the same size as one of ours. Rios and Kondo will use the rescue kit and force their way in,” Watez ordered.
“Skipper, why not mem” Paulson asked with a sad look.
“Because I’d cry too long if we lost you, RP.”
The Leif Ericson had maneuvered to within a kilometer of there target, and Rios and Kondo rode a sled toward the alien ship. The real reason they where sent on this mission was their training in space rescue operations. At fifty meters Rios slowed the sled to a stop and held a stationary distance. Kondo fired a magnetic grapple toward the ship, but it just bounced off.
“Try again.” ordered Rios. Kondo retracted the grapple, when it was back he aimed at a different spot and fired. The line played out and the grapple struck the hull and bounced.
“Did you see that, skipper? the hull is non magnetic,” Rios reported over the suit radio.
“Ease in and use a mechanical anchor, and don't be afraid to abort,” replied Watez. Rios used the sled's thrusters to slowly close in to less than a meter from the hatch, where small ridge extended from the derelict’s hull, just centimeters from their sled. Kondo reached out with a hydraulic clamp. When the jaws where around the ridge he triggered it. They clamped closed with a thousand kilograms of pressure.
“Clamp secure,” said Kondo. Rios and Kondo started to work, they took what looked like flexible plastic hoses and started to fit them around the hatch using a special epoxy to secure them to the hull, and cutting them to fit until the hatch was encircled with a little under a quarter of a meter of hull showing between them. When this was completed, Kondo took what looked like a horse syringe and stabbed the hose. The reaction was almost instantaneous: the hose puffed out a little and started to grow outward from the hull, only stopping when a three meter tunnel was produced. The hose was a special compressed carbon nanotube construct that would bond on the molecular level and grow out to it's original size when a catalyst was injected into it. They now had a five meter long airtight tunnel they just need to close the open end.
Rios and Kondo returned to the Leif Ericson and switched to a waiting sled that had what looked like a old-style diving bell attached to the front. When they where back to twenty meters from the tunnel, Kondo left his seat and used his suit thrusters to move him to the front of the bell. This was the must dangerous part of the operation. As Rios slowly moved forward Kondo, had to guide the tunnel ends into a special slot on the bell. One false move and Kondo would be crushed. As the tunnel ends slid into the slot, Kondo used his implanted computer to send a command that braked the sled and had the bell chemically bond to the walls of the tunnel: they now had an airlock.
Kondo opened both doors on the airlock and went down the tunnel to the alien hatch. He start to epoxy some eye bolts to the hatch and the hull, one at each of the corners and one in the center. When he was done he attached short carbon fiber cables to the ones in the corner. He went back up the tunnel to the lock where Rios had set up a winch braced against the walls.
“Ready Lilith,” Kondo said. Rios handed him a laser cutter and backed out of the airlock closing the outer door.
“You be careful now, Bill. I don't think the Captain will let me back in with out you,” Rios said over the suit radio as Kondo went back to the hatch and started to cut just where the hatch and Sill met.
It took forty minutes to cut all the way around the hatch. When he finished he gave it a little push, but it didn’t move. He went to the winch and ran it's cable to the center eye bolt. Before he was even all the way back, he ordered Rios to start it up. He watched as the force of the pull slowly increased. As it approached the red line the hatch popped, stopped from flying down the tunnel by the restraining safety cables attached to it's corners. Vapor rushed out and condensed in the vacuum of the tunnel.
“Holy Shit, there’s an atmosphere!” shouted Kondo.
“What's your sensor reading?” Watez asked over the command channel.
“Wait one..” Kondo waited for the pressure to build in the airlock, “Twenty five percent oxygen, 74 percent Nitrogen the rest are inert, pressure sixty newtons. Hey it's in the green - not earth normal but breathable!”
“Do not try!” Watez shouted, “Just get a sample for the Doc to check for biological agents and get back now!”
The ten days since they forced there way into the alien ship had been hectic: The atmosphere had turned out to be safe to breath and free of any biological threat. They found that the hatch did indeed seem to be for an airlock. The inner door was jammed open, and there was a twenty meter corridor that dead ended into a 3 meter by 3 meter room and a sealed pressure door.
“Commander, this is unacceptable!” said Carter, anger evident in his voice. Watez had called for a total mission update at the latest daily staff meeting so she could plan ahead, but she was starting to regret it.
“Doctor Carter, I will repeat this one more time: Their will be no breach of any door, wall or anything else, until I give the go-ahead,” Watez said in an angry, steady way.
“And when will you give that go ahead, Commander?” Carter was not going to let the matter drop.
“When I am satisfied that nothing dangerous is on the other side. For all you know their could be a reactor core behind that door! Now how is the sonar mapping going?”
“It's not.” answered Carter bitterly. Using a hand controller Carter displayed images of the corridor and continued, “If you will notice there are dips and bumps, ridges and swirling patterns on the wall.”
“Some sort of art or something?” Watez speculated.
“Maybe, but they are making sonar unusable. We had to switch to penetrating radar and it's going to be another week to complete the mapping you insist on.” explained Carter
“The ‘art’ - or whatever - is causing sound to reflect in unpredictable ways, so it jams the sonar.”
“What about the room we’re in? I thought the walls where smooth?” Carter bought up a view screen image of the room in question. “Looks like a control room,” Watez said.
“We think so, but there are no controls or screens to be found just those blank panels,” said Carter
“So what’s the problem in there?”
“The room is filled with ultrasonic sound waves that also jam the sonar,” answered Carter
“Play the sound for me,” asked Watez. Carter pushed a button on the controller and a low buzzing started.
“Most people won't hear anything it's both above and below the normal human range,” Carter said, but Watez did not fully hear him. She became lightheaded and had nonsensical flashes in her eyes. Then it stopped.
“…And that's it, anything else, Commander?” said Carter as he shut off the sound.
A little shaken, Watez turned to Kondo, who was doing the engineering for Carter.
“Where is the power coming from?” she asked.
“Don't know, skipper, I can't find anything - not even light fixtures - had to rig battery operated floods.” he answered.
“And what's maintaining the environment?” she asked, but Kondo just shrugged in reply.
“Complete the radar mapping then we'll see about opening that door,” Watez said, ending the meeting and pulling herself up through the hatch to the crew deck.
She was floating in the center of her cabin, asleep and naked. She was dreaming that she was a blind little girl again, running around the back yard of the wood framed-church her Seventh Day Adventist parents attended. Humming and clicking so she could perceive the world, hot on the trail of a cat she chased around and around the yard.
Suddenly the cat was gone, then the church and she found herself running across a field of golden gain. She could feel the Sun shining its warming rays upon her face, and as she ran she could hear the laughter of children in the distance.
The field faded and the sun dimmed and she was in a void. Alien and incomprehensible shapes appeared and danced around her for a time. Then the shapes were gone and the Tanaka was before her, with the lights on. Tanaka stood before the floating Watez her hand withdrawing from the light switch on the wall.
“Skipper…RP asked that I check on you. You did not answer his call and he needs to see you now,” she said in an embarrassed way. After a heart beat, she added, “God, you’re beautiful Amber.”
Watez said, “Thank you my little cherry blossom.” Tanaka turned red and fled the cabin.
Watez steadied herself by holding the back of the acceleration seat that Paulson occupied. He was bring up a chart on the engineering control panels screen.
“See? The Van Allen field strength is down twelve percent and I don't know why,” he said, pointing at the screen. The Van Allen field was a magnetic field that ships generated to shield them from cosmic rays and the solar wind. It acted like a smaller version the earth’s own magnetic field, colloquially known as the Van Allen belt, hence the machine’s name.
“Ship board radiation levels?” Watez asked.
“Up three points, still in the green,” answered Paulson.
“Can you fix it, RP?”
“If I can find out why it's doing it,” answered Paulson.
“Crap, well I am not going to wait. We’re going to pull out,” Watez said.
“The lord Doctor Carter's not going to like that” said Rios from the right hand fight seat.
“Fuck him! Rios call an emergency all hands meeting for one hour,” Watez ordered.
“No, No, No, we can't leave now! I haven’tt even competed the radar mapping,” Carter pleaded. Watez was tired of arguing with him and pointed at Doctor Johnson.
“Johnson, Lovelock you explain it to him,” she said.
“Well,” started Johnson, “even though Epsilon is a class K star and smaller than the Sun, it's young and more energetic. Its stellar wind is more powerful than Sol's, so there’s more radiation. The alien ship is blocking some of the radiation now, but in a few days our orbit about the L point will put us in the full force of the wind.”
“I am too old to get radiation sickness, thank you very much,” added Lovelock.
“Doctor Cater, our primary mission has been completed. That alien ship is dead and is no threat to Earth, or the Federation. Everything else is just gravy,” Watez said, looking at Tanaka who blushed again. Watez continued, “Tanaka, program a full power burn to the jump point, launch in twenty four hours from now.”
Three hours to launch, and the command crew was all at their stations going through the check lists.
Watez opened a command channel to Carter, “Doctor I want you on board by T minus two hours is that clear?”
“Captain, can't we delay it for a few hours? I just had an idea: the aliens my see in different wave lengths than us and I want to take infrared and ultraviolet shots of the walls.”
Something in what Cater said triggered a thought in Watez mind. “Rios continue the count. I am going over to the alien ship.” Watez unbuckled her seat harness and started out of the command module
“But skipper..” started Tanaka.
Watez stoped at her seat and with out thinking about it kissed Tanaka on the cheek, “Don't worry Oka I be back in plenty of time.”
Watez cycled through the airlock and came face to face with Carters’ assistant.
“Suzuki get back to the ship. The Doctor and I will follow shortly” Watez told her.
“Hai,” said Suzuki with a slight head bow.
Watez removed her helmet and gloves and handed them to Carter as his assistant entered the airlock. After Suzuki had had cycled through, Watez looked at Carter and said
“Doctor - no time to explain, but would you please stay exactly where you are, turn off all the lights in here and stay silent?”
Carter looked as if he was going to argue, then thought the better of it and turned and the lights went out. Watez launched herself down the passageway setting her suit thrusters to keep her straight and moving forward slowly. Then she started to hum and click, starting to sense the walls and the equipment that Carter was abandoning. It was like she was a little girl again, before her sight came. She was using echo location to perceive the world.
As she moved, forward barely perceived shapes started to form in her mind. The unexplained dots and dips and swirls on the walls started to form pictures. They were faint and alien and she could not fully make them out but they were there. Then the passageway ended and she entered the room with the ultrasonics. She fell silent. The suit thrusters stopped her when it noticed the approaching wall.
Watez drifted in the middle of the room, slowly turning. Shapes again began to form stronger than in the hall, but still only hinted at - as if looking at something through a veil. An idea struck her and she started to remove her spacesuit and then the jumper she wore underneath.
Floating naked in the center of the room, with the ultrasonics playing over every inch of her skin and stimulating her nerve endings, geometric shapes began to form in her mind stronger and stronger until it was almost like seeing them with her eyes.
She drifted forward towards what they thought might be a control panel, and placed her hands on the pads. On the left she felt bumps raising and falling in a complex pattern that at first puzzled her half-forgotten memories surfaced: braille. There was information being transferred by touch, if only she knew the code.
Watez felt nothing from the right pad, so she slide her fingers across its surface. Suddenly the shapes in her mind exploded into sharp focus and became three dimensional. Her newfound vision seemed to expand as the ultrasonics increased in strength. It was like she could see in all directions at once. The shapes started to take on colors as if a ray from the sun had struck a giant prism, alien symbols began to form. It felt as if she was hearing colors and seeing sound. This synesthesia was quickly becoming overwhelming. What she saw in her mind was alien and terrible and wonderful and beautiful all at the same time. It was like her mind was expanding, time and space were intertwining and she was seeing the universe as it really was for the first time. It was the most beautiful thing she could have imaged - more beautiful than anything she had ever seen with her eyes!
It was God's symphony.
Tears of joy forming as her emotions moved higher and closer toward rapture. She could now see the songs of the stars; feel the sad waves of energy crashing across the galaxy from collapsing matter; taste the cry of new born suns as they blazed to life. Time no longer existed, it could have been a minute or a hour since she started, a single heart beat could take an eternity here there was no way to tell. She felt on the verge of losing her identity, she felt as though she was becoming Eve for a new world.
She heard a small human voice in her right ear, “Thirty minutes to escape burn, oh please Amber come back to the ship we need you, I need you!” Tanaka pleaded.
This human cry snapped Watez back from the edge. The vision of the universe slowly faded and died. She used her command override to turn on the work lights not caring if Carter saw her naked.
“On my way, Oka, sorry to worry you.” Watez said stiffly, and closed the circuit so she wouldn’t hear the reply. What she had just lost caused an ache in her soul too deep and too strong for human words.
Looking around, she found her jumper. It had drifted to the ceiling, she leaped for it and push then herself back down toward her spacesuit as she dressed. Reaching the floor, she started to pull on her suit, fumbling with the straps and starting back down the passageway before she had it fully sealed.
“What happened?” Carter asked with surprisingly genuine concern, “We couldn’t raise you for almost a hour, I couldn’t find my way to you.”
“I think I found the answer to your question Doctor Carter,” Watez said, distracted and somewhat disaffectedly.
“There is a God.”
She had become a Daughter of Elysium.
Copyright 2009,2010 Richard Anderson
[PLEASE NOTE: This story concludes our retrospective of fiction from 2009, and Republibot.com will start running new stories now.]