Chapter 4. The long way.
Mars Orbiter, August 8th, 2169.
The largest space station ever built until now looked very small compared to the huge monster that orbited Mars beside it. Spacecraft ARSS Santa Maria was more than three kilometers long and eight-hundred meters wide and about four hundred meters high. This colossal ship was really a space city, a work of pharaonic engineering which had cost the equivalent of one year of Japanese GDP and maybe something more that is not mentioned for fear of hurting the sensibilities of taxpayers, the crew consisted of fifty people awake and nine hundred thirty-six in hibernation. It had been built in modules so that a section of the ship would be able to separate and come back to Earth with people who would want to return to their families, those who wouldn’t be able to cut their umbilical cord with their origins; this would happen when the colony would have been fully established and any service from this part of the crew doesn’t be needed. At that time I had not decided yet if I would stay or go home, that would depend on how things with Camille would be; the truth is I’d rather go back to Barcelona with my beloved.
The Captain and the sleepers of the sarcophagi were already installed on the ship as well as the doctor, the military priest and basic maintenance crew. The shuttle took us to Camille and I, in addition to other officers and troops; it was approaching the dock 6 of the Santa Maria. When docking at the pier, Xavier was waiting for us, who was there since few hours ago.
“Lieutenant, Ensign, Captain Mickiewicz wants to see you in his office.”
“Where is the office of Captain, Xavier?” I asked.
“In module 332, you must take the displacer 3.” The young lieutenant said.
We took the displacer number 3 and in a few minutes we were in the captain’s office. I let her enter first, staying behind her.
“Sit down please.” We obeyed instantly the Captain Mickiewicz, despite the high complication that represented to sit on a chair with a micro-gravity of twenty three percent, the chairs had straps to prevent to be thrown from them in the event of sudden movements. “As First and Second Officers of the ship, at this very moment you have obtained a promotion.” He pulled the badges of the drawer, heading first to Camille while he rose from his chair with a movement that seemed levitation instead of muscular.
“Dear Camille, from now you will be the Lieutenant of Ship Schwartz.” He removed her Ensign badge and he put to her the new one.
“Mr. David Lavall, the sole owner of an Iron Cross among the officers of this ship. I know that for merits of war you would deserve to have a much higher range than I will give to you, but the Navy believes that pilots are needed and that is why it is so stingy with the promotions of people who know fly like you do. So I am very pleased to promote you to Lieutenant Commander.” He put me also the new badge and made the military salute, thereupon we shook hands.
“And now, I think it’s time to set in motion this beast. I will wait for you at 20.00 UTC on the bridge of acceleration. The location of cabins has been loaded into your flexiscreens from the central computer.”
We left the office of Captain. We looked; Camille showed me her forearm’s flexible display: she was in the module 547 and I at the 549, that they were adjoining cabins. My beloved smiled for a split second, but unfortunately we were not on the lobby of the Ambassador, now we were in a military spacecraft and we were naval officers serving to our Republic.
Leaving the displacer number five, each of us came into the room without saying anything; we just exchanged a furtive glance. That room was small, at first glance I calculate it was about fifty square feet; there was a single bed, a small desk with stationary and a 4D terminal over it, a closet roomy enough for my stuff, a small refrigerator and, behind a translucent glass door, a bathroom with shower or better said with a kind of vacuum cleaner that soaked you and then would suck the water and dirt. ‘I’ve lived in smaller apartments’, I remembered the rented room in my time as a cadet with six companions and those wonderful hours I spent with Soizick. These small spaces will be my home for 5 years, 2 and a quarter considering the Lorentz factor. To be perfectly honest, I preferred this instead of being in a vegetative state with my whole body pierced by probes.
At hours 18.00 UTC I gathered all my staff, including Camille. Before ignition I wanted to give the latest guidelines to pilots: Captain was responsible for the ship but pilots of shuttles and sliders were my responsibility. Besides Xavier, there were three pilots of the Air Force, who stood out to be the most skilled among young air aces of the Republic. The rest were young pilots of the Navy, which also had security functions because as first officer was my responsibility to maintain law and order on the ship. I made a summary of their roles and daily tasks, though they already knew by the two years of preparation in the battle station Moon Defender. We had a 4D film of the secret images taken by the satellite Star Explorer where we could see and touch a scale model of the planet.
“Dear pilots, aside from a dozen scientists, the Federal Chancellor of the Republic, the Captain and me, you are the first to see these images of the planet to which we are headed. Miracle is the fourth planet orbiting Alpha Centauri A; it’s a star of very similar dimensions to our Earth. Its name was not a choice made at random but is based on a number of features that make this planet unique in the entire known universe. In normal circumstances because it is a planet linked to a system of two stars similar to our sun orbiting with each other and a red dwarf slightly distanced from them, it could not create favorable conditions for life. I mean if it would have had a trajectory similar to the Earth, traveling around the sun, we would not be making this trip. The miracle consists in an orbit that is an ellipse very irregular which allows that the combination of the heat of the two biggest stars keeps up a temperature between -50° C and 60° C in the Northern Hemisphere and between 5° and 120° in the Southern Hemisphere.” I made a small break and saw that a young ensign wanted to ask a question.
“Excuse me Sir, it means winter is very cold and summer too hot, where can be located the colony so we can survive without having to hide under a dome?”
“Dear Ensign, the same question you ask was made by scientists for a long time until they obtained these images five years ago.” I moved the image of the floating globe with my hands so that everyone could watch. “This image corresponds to the planet Miracle during the spring, as you can see the islands of the Northern Hemisphere and the continents, that you can see something further south, are of a deep green color. If I use the zoom to increase this area you can see rivers and mountains in an area of four hundred thousand square kilometers, but in summer …” I pressed the icon ‘summer’ and vegetation disappeared, leaving a dry and barren land.
“Wow, it is all fried!!!” I heard a female voice exclaiming.
“Indeed, Vermeer has already said it two minutes ago, this paradise becomes a living hell in the summer and that’s not all.” I pressed ‘winter’ and the same surface froze like Antarctica.
“Where is the trick, Sir?” Camille asked because she knew me and sensed that I was hiding an ace in my sleeve.
“There is no trick, Camille, is a miracle within a miracle. If we start from this area that we have just seen four seasons with two of them extreme and we move the balloon three thousand five hundred kilometers to the southwest we can see a green stripe around almost the entire planet’s Equator which remains the same throughout the orbit.” I made a rapid advance in time where could be seen that there were no significant variations in that forested area with similar stations to Mediterranean Europe. That strip was interrupted only by the seas.
“Clicking this button I display the reason: these rings similar to those that surround the planet Saturn. During almost all summer days Miracle rings are in such position that Alpha Centauri A is hidden behind them. Here, you can see the shadow.” I traced a line with a finger over globe’s Equator. “This area is deprived of its direct light and from the killer irradiation. But Alpha Centauri B, which shares an orbit of about 80 years with its bigger brother, continues heating the surface aided by the planet’s greenhouse effect, is like living ten months of twilight but having enough radiation to maintain a temperature of about twenty degrees Celsius and that plants can perform photosynthesis. In summer the temperature rises to the thirty or thirty-two degrees, and being a most southern area, winter gives us a minimum of five degrees. This is the miracle; the shadow of the rings will protect us from the infernal heat of summer and the cold of winter.” The room burst into applause. For now, I obviated the information that I had whereby in one of the seasons the “safe area” suffered the attack of various category 5 hurricanes, but the build system of the colony already contemplated this inclement weather.
“Thank you ladies and gentlemen, now we all have things to do…”
At the appointed time all of us were already in the acceleration bridge, Captain already was sitting in the middle of the room, we were accommodated in front of the PolyScreen multi-display panel: Camille in the seat on the right and I on the left. The third officer Michael Lagarde was behind the captain, he had a specific console for the ship’s Tricontrol. In all screens was seen the planet Mars and on the right was also Mars Orbiter station.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the great adventure begins. Mr. Lavall, start the protocol…”
“To the whole personnel of deck, in ten minutes countdown will begin, it is imperative that you move to the acceleration rooms. As soon as ignition starts, gravity will increase from the twenty-three to one hundred percent. The first officer gives you thanks for your collaboration.”
“Check the thermal engines.” All orders were a performance to accommodate millions of viewers who were watching us from their homes. There were cameras distributed throughout the bridge that emitted all our movements in 4D format in major television networks of the Earth and human settlements from outside our planet.
“Engines are operating at one hundred percent.” Camille Said.
“Please check the ionic thrusters.”
“Ion Engines turned off, relays operational at one hundred percent.”
“Please check solar sails.”
“Solar sails folded and operational at one hundred percent.”
“Test atomic engines and the fission reactor.”
“Atomic engines on standby, we activate the process of the reactor. The progress of fission is according the manufacturer’s manual, radioactive sealing hundred percent safe.”
“Begin the countdown to ignition of thermal engines at one third of power.”
“Setting countdown in six minutes and thirty seconds, three, two, one, now…”
“Verify the speed.” I paused for a second, it was very hot. “Please adjust the temperature of the thermostat of the bridge to twenty one degrees Celsius.”
“Current speed, three point five hundred twenty-eight kilometers per second, we are orbiting Mars in parallel to the Mars Orbiter.”
“Fix escape velocity at five kilometers per second.”
“Escape’s velocity fixed at five kilometers per second.” Camille stood silent a few seconds, took a deep breath and continued. “Two and half minutes left to the end of the countdown, we expect to confirm or abort ignition.”
“Captain, the bridge asks for confirmation or cancellation of ignition.”
“Operation confirmed, please continue countdown to ignition.”
“Ignition in ten, nine, eight, seven….” When Camille reached zero, I felt a violent push that took my breath away for a split second.
“Gravity is at hundred per cent.” Camille said. “Ship is accelerating to a third up to escape velocity.”
“Speed is five kilometers per second; we leave the orbit of Mars.” I informed the captain.
“Thermal Engines to the maximum until twenty five kilometers per second and stabilize.” Captain ordered.
“Aye, Captain. Second officer, full speed ahead.”
We were leaving Mars at high speed, the next step would be to boot the ion engines to increase acceleration, but this would not be until the next day. As soon as the engines stopped we returned to the micro gravity of twenty three percent. The captain met the three officers to distribute the tasks:
“Mr. Lavall, as First Officer it’s your responsibility to share the command of the ship with me, so we will set twelve-hour shifts to apply from now. We won’t coincide on the bridge unless we have to make important maneuvers like we just did. You will combine the leadership with the First Pilot’s task, where eight of the twelve hours of your command shall be piloting. The Second and Third Officer will follow the eight-hour rotation to assume the task of First Pilot. With respect to rotations of the co-pilots, these are the responsibility of the first officer. Anyone want to ask questions?”
“As for me, none.” I said. “I relieve you tomorrow at 8:00 UTC.”
“You understood me to the first, any more questions? None? Then the second officer from now assumes the task of First Pilot until 4.00 UTC, at which time it will be replaced by the Third Officer. Piloting operations will remain for the moment on the bridge of acceleration.”
I left the bridge and went to the dining room. The low gravity will not allow great meals in that room, all food was gelatinous and the drink had to be sucked with a straw. Each crew member had a personalized diet with accurate calories and nutrients the good doctor recommended us after the weekly review. That meant that the cook computer had measured out the quantities of solids and liquids that each person could eat according to a complex application which had taken into account all our vital signs, it was artificially healthy meal that theoretically prevent us from us from falling ill during the travel. The most fun was the piece of chocolate which that machine let drop every couple of days dropped because doctors indicated that it could be useful to prevent a cardiovascular disease.
After that ‘banquet’, I went to the supermarket to buy a pair of boots Newton because I had enough of walking skipping along the corridors. They were very expensive boots, but this way I’d have the feeling of a hundred percent gravity. The twenty-four hours store was automatic and by crossing the doorless entry of the enclosure I heard a digitized voice.
“What is it, Captain?” The database already had updated my range.
“A pair of boots Newton, please.”
“Please take your shoes off and put your feet on the green carpet.” I obeyed that voice and immediately a laser beam was scanning my feet to take their measures. In a few minutes a gynoid left a box with a pair of boots on the counter and I went to pick them up.
“Please try them on and tell me if the size is correct.” I put on those black boots and I was surprised the soft touch inside them. The leather seemed real, but I knew positively that it was not possible because of the ban on the use of animal fur into space for reasons of hygiene. All cattle that we had got were in a compartment isolated in hibernation; in fact most of the animals we carried were frozen embryos for implantation in females as soon as we reach Miracle.
“They are perfect; I wear them right now.”
“Seven hundred eighty-nine eurollars will be charged on your bank account.” ‘Fuck’, I said quietly, but the boots were really fantastic. After all, I did not need money for anything but for the things that did not cover the organization of the mission, so half of my salary was going to a mixed deposit; from which Gisela and Dad could take up to seventy five percent within five years.
“Very well, thank you for everything.” I thanked the voice, without thinking that it was a computer that used recorded voices. For a Eurollar more, the clerk gynoid would have helped me to try on the boots.
“A Pleasure, Sir, remember to recycle the carton by inserting it in the appropriate container.” That deep voice said, reminiscent of a dead famous actress. I grabbed my old boots and put them in the box of the new ones, that box would help me to store my stuff.
I have to admit that was true the good things said about these boots, because with them I had the feeling of walking through the streets of Earth. They had a gravity sensor that analyzed environmental conditions and generated an electromagnetic field that emulated the Earth’s gravity by compensating it with the actual. In the box could be read that it did not emit harmful radiation to human health or the environment and it automatically charges when you press the sole over the surface where you try to walk; I might climb walls if I would want. Pleased as a child with my new boots I went to my room to rest. I looked again by noting that this chamber had the curious detail of providing an electronic frame hanging on the wall and there was also another on the desktop; probably it was the way to make us feel at home, the logo ‘cell card transavailable’ was engraved on both devices. I had it very clear, I’d upload a photo where could be seen Gisela, Dad and I with Mom having an ice cream on the disappeared promenade of Sitges in the frame of the wall, maybe I was ten or eleven years old by then. I had also uploaded a photo of Marc senior, Gisela and I on graduation day at the Academy, and also a picture of my father and little Marc on the beach this summer. I selected the option to have the images changed every three minutes. In the frame that was on the desktop, I had put a picture that Camille sent me by her cell card where she wore her blue uniform and her smile of girl. The next day I must teach a theoretical class, I should inform pilots about the brutal magnetism of Miracle’s surface and its behavior over our devices. I connected the 4D terminal to view what had loaded. In that equipment had been installed the operating system Gates 9, based on technology ‘See & Touch’, the most advance of the moment, but I was more classical in this sense, so I set a screen of 50 inches and a virtual remote control, and I lay on the bed to watch a movie or documentary before I fell asleep…
At 6.00 I was awakened by the aria ‘Nessum Dorma’ from the opera “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, it seemed a prank from one of the veteran pilots, to open your eyes and find Luciano Pavarotti singing in the head of my bed seemed something of the most joker companions of the Navy or Air Force. Anyway, I went to take a hot shower, or rather steam cleaning with a hose self-absorbing, I washed my teeth with a strange contraption made in the Sino-Indian Republic or perhaps in Vietnam, and I shaved with shavecopter (a robot shaver flying with a soft plastic propeller, according to the advertisement are guaranteed perfect shaves in precarious gravity situations). It was not my first extended stay in space, but not ceased to amaze me the change of habits that involved the lack of gravity.
Today we must perform the maneuvers of phase 2, in which we would execute the ignition of ion engines and deploy solar sails in order to leave the area where nuclear radiation of our engines could affect some planet or any space station inhabited by people. That day we should also dress in the prescribed uniform like yesterday because images taken within the acceleration bridge would be seen by millions of viewers, hence the comedy in style ‘Star Trek’ that we had to interpret these days, it was nice and especially patriotic.
Once dressed and wearing my new boots, how wonderful it was walk with them, I went to the dining room to drink my coffee with milk with straw and virtual croissant made of jelly nutritious. In the dining room I met with Air Force Lieutenant Lucien Gerhard, main suspect in the ‘prank’ of the alarm clock.
“Nice boots, Sir, are they the Newton ones?”
“Yes Lieutenant, thank you very much, I also thank the fantastic opera play of which I have enjoyed in my room, I am a big fan of Pavarotti.” Lucien blushed.
“I know you all; in time past I also participated in similar jokes to senior officers. I just hope you are focused on the class that is waiting for you on the bridge of acceleration.”
“By the way, Lucien, when we’re alone you can speak frankly, gals are for when we are in service and we’ll have a long time to coincide in the dining room to share the jokes.”
“Very good Sir… I mean David, and if I may congrats for your engagement.”
“Thanks, I hope you give example when we land, I saw a very attractive ensign who does not take away her eyes off from you.” Lucien blushed again. “Well, I go to the bridge; I do not want to bother you more.”
It still remained a few minutes before eight, I could awake Camille and spend them with her, but I preferred that she to rest because the day seemed to be stressful. We were at two and a half million kilometers away from Mars, and it just looked a little red ball from the window of the hall M; today we will lose sight of it definitely… I entered the bridge five minutes early.
“Good morning, David, you have a few students eager to start your class. I would remain gladly, but I think I have gained a few hours on the envelope.” The captain said.
“What is this relaxation, sailors? When Captain leaves the bridge, everyone but the pilots and navigators must stand up!” All rose. The Captain laughed while walked out the door, was the difference between veterans and landlubbers.
“You can sit; today we have a lesson on magnetism. For the safety of all, please do not disturb the pilots that govern the ship, although it seems that the Third Officer is having a nap”. Laughter could be heard.
“I’m sorry Sir. I had a bad night; it was not my intention to fall asleep.”
“Do not suffer Mr. Lagarde, I know that thanks your innate abilities you can pilot this ship sleeping”. Laughter became more evident. It is curious, I know Lagarde since the time of the academy and we have never been friends despite our many friends in common, not even the dreadful wars we have lived made us comrades. To top it off, my relationship with Soizick always had been a point of tension between both for many years.
“Anyway, jokes aside, now we have to talk about the world that at the end of this trip will be part of our lives. To complete our particular compilation of drawbacks, I must say that Miracle is not just a hellish planet in extreme temperatures; its magnetism is an unusual phenomenon in the entire known universe. Its iron core, in the same way that Earth, becomes Miracle a magnet of considerable dimensions. With this magnetic field, the violent solar winds that whip it are diverted and not destroy its dense atmosphere allowing the development of life. So far their benefits, the downside are that, unlike Earth, huge mountains of magnetite grow around the globe attracting whatever is ferromagnetic.”
“Is that bad Sir?” A young colored ensign asked, the female officer I before mentioned Lucien.
“For our technology based on the iron and the electromagnetic waves is a terrible setback, it hinders radio communications, the instruments go crazy and the ignition systems of the ships stop working because the electromagnetic pulses fry the chips that are not protected.”
“So Sir, how are we going to land?” The ensign named Suzanne Rourke who is also a member of the Soldiers of the Faith asked again; she was of a similar age to Camille.
“All metal parts have been treated with a primer that isolates these pieces of the magnetic anomalies on the planet. The ignition systems have been protected in some specific places treated with the same primer. The precautions go beyond, in order to avoid a disaster I’ll be the first to land on the planet with a slider, and if all goes well the rest will follow the same route. I’ll fly following a probe with a laser transponder that will mark the route to be followed by ships to reach the safe zone. Once reached the agreed area and with the assistance of copilot, I will prepare a landing zone to begin the process of colonization.”
“Do you admit volunteers, Sir?” I smiled, all these young pilots had desire for adventure, that operation seemed challenging enough to encourage them.
“The candidate will be chosen at its moment by the computer, I think we should also give a chance to the pilots who are hibernating.” I noticed the air of disappointment from some of them. Being the first to sail that sky was the adventure that all those young men and women dreamed, I saw it on the Moon Defender when they took so seriously all the maneuvers of the simulator.
“Do not worry, nobody will be bored here. You know that besides your piloting shifts of the ship, during these days I will assign you a variety of basic tasks to keep you busy. You may go.” People left the bridge slowly, now it was my turn to get bored, I would have many hours ahead as commander and pilot.
At 12.00 UTC the Third Officer and pilot navigator had left the bridge to rest, I left the command chair in order to sit on the First Officer’s place. Gerhard Lucien took the copilot seat.
“I thought of you Sir… David; I have brought some food and non-alcoholic beers.” I guess he wanted to compensate the joke of the morning.
“Thanks Lucien, was not there something stronger?” I asked jokingly.
“I think not. At least the drink dispensers let drop things without alcohol only.”
“Surely not, I did the order for drinks and I assure you that the only alcohol that has entered this ship, apart from the clandestine, is that of the medical onboard kits and the Mass’ wine because the Bishop O’Keefe pressured me.”
“I know that there is a pirate bar on deck 3.” Lucien said like if he had seen it.
“Have you been there?”
“No, but a sergeant mechanic dropped me it. Do you think we should intervene?”
“It’s so obvious that you are new in a ship, this smuggling has always existed and the fact of closing a gambling den would not avoid they open another in a few days. But that does not mean that we mustn’t work to prevent this become Sodom and Gomorrah, especially as the Soldiers of the Faith would hang us by the balls. Watch them, but for now do nothing.”
Hours passed relaxed, the company of Lucien Gerhard helped me to spend that service in a more entertaining way. He talked and talked while was sipping the false beer, telling jokes and commenting how beautiful the women of the crew were, do not so long ago that Camille had called him “panty-ripper”. I needed a friend and a trustworthy person who could convey me the mood of the crew on this long trip, and especially a person who were outside the order of the Soldiers of the Faith whom to make confidences.
The Soldiers of the Faith are a political split of Opus Dei that appeared in the early XXII century, they are part of a deeply rooted group among the officers of our armed forces, business, political parties and people with much public importance, which is why they had the approval of the Vatican. They have a power structure distributed throughout the Republic and it was Jan Mickiewicz, our friendly captain, the chief representative in our ship with permission of the bishop who was hibernating and of who I had been warned. Already during training I noticed that both Camille as the other officers and soldiers belonging to this order obeyed blindly that man; even I think he is behind the fanatical chastity of Camille… not in vain the captain is friend of her father, the charismatic Will Schwartz.
It was almost fifteen minutes for the start of phase two, Lucien and I were numbed by the silence and peace that came from our screens, and you could see a black sky streaked with stars… I thought I saw some asteroids and perhaps Jupiter, perhaps? Yeah, sure, was Jupiter, but it looked so small that looked like a star. At that time a gentle hand touched my right cheek, I took the hand that I recognized immediately.
“Hello Camille… you are the most extraordinary star I have seen today.”
“Hello my love, you have not come to see me.”
“I preferred that you were rested, the day will be tough.”
“The tough day is over and I have not seen you. Don’t forget it tomorrow, I have many hours to sleep, you do not have so many.”
“Very well Lieutenant, occupy your place, Lucien please, you’ve worked enough for today.”
“It’s a pleasure, Sir.” Just at that time Captain and Third Officer came up. “Captain on the bridge!” He exclaimed while he put himself standing at attention.
“Quiet, Mr. Gerhard, we still have six minutes for the cameras start to retransmit.” The captain said.
Everyone sat on their place, in the same positions they had occupied the day before, Lucien disappeared quickly to start his shift of rest. When the time came the show started, the Captain started giving the necessary orders to start the new phase. We were almost three million kilometers from Mars, but to reach an area where we could put into operation the atomic engines, we still needed to do about a hundred and twenty million kilometers more.
“Mr. Lavall, start phase two of the protocol.”
“To everyone on the deck’s staff, ten minutes to the countdown, it is imperative to move to the acceleration rooms as soon as ignition starts, gravity will increase from twenty three to one hundred percent progressively. The first officer is grateful for your collaboration.”
“First Officer, start ignition of ionic thrusters.” Captain Mickiewicz ordered.
“Start ignition of ionic thrusters.” I repeated the order as though Camille had not heard it the first time.
“Forward at full, up to hundred and fifty kilometers per second.” The Captain let go that phrase almost laughing.
“Shutdown speed of ionic thrusters fixed.” Camille said, without waiting for me to repeat the order.
“Start simultaneous deployment of solar sails.” My voice sounded again forced and theatrical.
“Starting solar sails deployment; in uniformly accelerated motion position.” After the words of Camille, I watched on one of the screens how structures rose and stretched some sails of tens of kilometers wingspan.
“Set the course to hypervelocity point.”
“Course fixed, the expected time of arrival at sequence zone of hyper-speed is seventy-six hours.”
“Okay ladies and gentlemen, within seventy-six hours will begin the real journey and we will see how it behaves the beast. For now continue allocated slots, Captain Lavall, dinnertime.” I greeted and I left….
ARSS Santa Maria, August 12th, 2169.
No one who has the most basic knowledge of history can overlook that the name ‘Santa Maria’ is a childish attempt to draw an analogy between this trip and the one who made the famous Christopher Columbus’ caravel to the continent later called America.
The impressive Santa Maria was the biggest machine able to move around the space and outrageously expensive ever built by humans, if its crew could land – something obviously impossible – would occupy the surface of a village or a small town. Captain Mickiewicz was referring to the ship as ‘vessel’ or ‘boat’, a seafaring denomination that Navy officers were accustomed to give to any large artifact to travel in the vast spatial emptiness; after all space was to them like the seas that our ancestors had to go through to go in search of new territories.
Although gravity, as an average a twenty three percent of the terrestrial, was precarious inside the ship, precarious inside the ship, there were spaces where during acceleration and deceleration processes of the ship you could enjoy the sensation of being in the world they had just left.
On the other hand, there were various wardrobe accessories that could help to have a mobility similar to 1G attraction, especially boots, but they were expensive products unsubsidized by the Atlantic Space Agency (ASA in Spanglish) by not be considered essential for life on the ship.
Camille Schwartz was the youngest Second Officer in the History to whom the Navy had entrusted a seat on the command bridge of a space cruiser. The Californian small in stature – she was less than a meter sixty – coming from a lineage of great soldiers, she had just turned twenty-two for the past two weeks. His record was spectacular, one of the brightest in her promotion: on paper she was the best in piloting extra solar ships with her beloved David, she also was considered an authority on the art of war and a candidate for military intelligence department once we reach the planet Miracle. Unlike David, where in his curriculum there are discrete academic results but his combat skills are endorsed by the wars in which he has participated and the Commendations hanging on his jacket, Camille has been noted for her impressive academic record and her fervent Christian belief that has led her to the group of highly regarded people within the order of the Soldiers of the Faith.
Today Camille and David were about to enter the history of space exploration with the rest of the crew of the ship, perhaps their names would be remembered forever like those of the twentieth century astronauts Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong and many others. Whether they triumph in their duties as though the ship would disintegrate on space, the crew of the Santa Maria would write an important chapter in Space Race. The previous year, the powerful Chinese-Indian Republic had tried to put a spacecraft in the way of Miracle, but excessive haste made that his atomic fusion system, highly advanced but poorly developed in such essential respects, provoked a terrible nuclear accident near Jupiter and now the remains of the ship are an immense ball very radioactive scrap around the great striped painted planet. The space returned to be the showcase of the successes and failures of Superpowers and most of the times politics and sciences don’t go hand in hand. To avoid further contaminating Jupiter’s orbit, the ASA decided that they had to start atomic engines from elsewhere.
The New Earth Project was an initiative of the famous painter, physicist, astronomer, adventurer and author Moses Black. Under this initiative, on 2148 the satellite AlpCent Surveyor discovered various green spots on the surface of a planet in the system Alpha Centauri A, a star which astronomers centuries ago knew they belonged to the group of stars closest to our solar system. This planet has been known for almost a century, but no one had paid attention until then because it was considered almost impossible the development of life because of its orbit so eccentric. Throughout the years that followed this discovery took place automatic scans until in 2159 the ASA, together with various public and private entities had agreed to build the ship Santa Maria. The Santa Maria is funded equally by the ASA – the large space agency controlled by the Atlantic Republic and funded with public and private finance -, a conglomerate of private companies that have formed a holding company known as Newearth International that by tax matters has its headquarters in Cayman Islands, the Ministry of Defense through the Admiralty of the two Navies and the Vatican State with the support and sponsorship of which is considered by all as its armed wing, the Soldiers of the Faith. In the same way, the personnel assigned to the mission are divided into four groups: high-level scientists, civil maintenance staff highly qualified, professional soldiers from the Two Navies and Air Force, and finally a mixture of religious, civil and military assigned by the Catholic Church.
Lately Camille was somewhat upset by that apparent lack of interest which showed David to her, that morning her beloved neither had come to see her at her cabin, by breaking again his promise to visit her whenever he could. Her fiancé had become a friendly and benevolent chief with the rest of the military, but he almost ignored her. Far from that mythical aura of the war hero deservedly decorated by the President of the Republic with the Iron Cross, he had become partner and confidant to his subordinates, even the young female officers sighed for him and looked with envious eyes at Camille; but David had from being the sweet loving fiancé of hotel Ambassador to the serious extremely busy senior officer who spoke only about work and continuously complained of paperwork that had to manage. That day they had meet only during the shift change at 20.00 UTC and had mentioned the instructions for the next hours without exchanging any special glance or any physical contact, she just hoped a change of attitude when the time of initiating phase 3 because was beginning to fear that he would have been tired of waiting and would focus his attention on other women who were part of the crew, especially she felt jealous about ensign Rasmussen, who did not hide her admiration for David.
David and the Third Officer Lagarde stormed the bridge at 23.45 UTC to give way to stage 3. Camille stood up and saluted, answered also militarily and took his place of First Officer and at the agreed time gave notice to the crew to be passed to the acceleration zones. The captain gave orders to start step 3 of the protocol, again aware of the cameras.
“Second Officer; proceed to fold solar sails.” David ordered. “Report of the operation progress.”
“Sails are in folding process. The automatic folding will end evenly into two minutes.”
“Disconnect ion engines.”
“Disconnection has been performed, zero propulsion, the ship is drifting now.”
“Please provide speed readout.”
“Four hundred seventy kilometers per second Camille said, reading what was on screen in a clear voice so that could be listened by all viewers who followed that event. At that time, the delay in communication was already considerable, images that were transmitted at that very moment would not reach the first global network satellite repeater till within an hour at least.
“Please the path of quasi-light speed.” I had to keep from laughing with all this litany of orders that were for show, pure theater because everyone knew perfectly the work that had to do without the need that Captain and First Officer emphasized in some tasks contained in the operations manual.
“Computer indicates that one hundred billion of incidents have been observed and their possible variations are fully detailed and processed. The possible objects attracted by gravitational distortion are not a risk to the hull of the ship.” Camille had just given important information to tranquility both of whom were on the ship and of those who listened from outside.
“Let’s start countdown to the startup of the nuclear hyperdrive. Let forward at maximum power.”
“Countdown set at three minutes and thirty seconds in three, two, one, now.”
“Connect the acceleration compensators. Please set a maximum internal gravity not exceeding one hundred four percent.”
“Enabled, maximum gravity is one hundred and four percent.”
They were two intense minutes. David and Camille exchanged glances for first time in the whole day, and smiled one to another until they returned to look at the three-dimensional data of the multiscreen panel. The panel displayed the images and the necessary data in a visual format pretty clear, you could see the possible routes, speeds, theoretical and actual times, technical magnitudes of the craft operation, gravity maps, etc…
“Attention Sir, ignition of nuclear engines in eight, seven, six, five…” At reaching zero was felt a slight tug in the bridge. The acceleration compensators would limit gravity to just over 1G with the purpose to avoid any accident inside the ship.
“The speed is hundred kilometers per second and rising.”
“Please provide speed every minute until we reach zero point ten lux.” Captain ordered.
“Six thousand eight hundred kilometers per second… thirteen thousand, we use reference lux… 0.06 lux…0.08 lux.” Camille was reading aloud the screen data.
“Speed 0.10 lux, shall we increase Sir?” Camille waited for the answer with a finger pointing to the icon of confirmation of the process.
“Continue protocol to 0.89 lux, estimate the time of arrival at the standard cruising speed.” Even though he could read the screen, Captain wanted that this detail was recorded in the images that were broadcast on the global network.
“Thirty-nine minutes Sir.”
They were at the point in time most committed till this moment of mission, because there not were many astronauts who would have lived acceleration at speeds so close to the light. Whether we had to believe what ASA scientists asserted, the technique which they had defined theoretically in an office was relatively safe, some powerful hyperdrives accelerate the ship to reach the eighty-nine percent of the speed of light along a route considered safe by all computer processors assigned to the task, a computer program which ensured that the ship would pass through areas of physical unobstructed space, taking into account the orbits of all the planets between Santa Maria and the Alpha Centauri system, but anything can fail. According to the specifications of the manufacturer, the ship had enough power to reach 0.93 lux, but the Security and Prudence Principle of ASA’s manual obliged to limit the speed to a value that has been empirically proven safe for automatic and manned spacecraft.
The minutes were passing, from the last countdown the piloting of ship was fully automatic and this will remain so until reaching the Alpha Centauri system. Finally, the computer stated the moment that the power was reduced from maximum until the maintenance one. There was a great ovation, was the 01.06 of next day in terms of terrestrial time according to the reference UTC, time dilation relative to the objects that surrounded the ship had begun to be perceptible, so from that time for each terrestrial hour, twenty-seven minutes and a few seconds were passing inside the ship. Captain pulled from the fridge some grape juice for the entire bridge crew.
“Because the first officer did not want to buy alcoholic drinks, we can only make a toast with juice.” They toasted between laughs with cartons of juice through a straw.
Since then, they could relax shifts of command and piloting of the ship thanks to the automation thereof, and responsibility to decide who and when had to be on the bridge was delegated to the central computer. At that time, Michael Lagarde and Helen Rasmussen, a girl of great stature, took over the bridge. David, before leaving the bridge, approached Camille and took her lovingly by the hand to take her to deck’s corridor.
“Where are you taking me?”
“I want to show you my new car.” Camille looked at David like he was crazy, while he made her enter a displacer. They arrived at warehouse of deck two and walked some steps more towards a sort of an all terrain amphibian vehicle which had a frontal that looked like the face of a frog.
“Do you like it? We converted this bravefrog in the dining room of Restaurant Celler de Can Roca.” David opened the door and helped Camille to get in the vehicle, to snap his fingers two imitation candles lit (it was forbidden to light fires inside the ship) over a folding table covered with a white paper tablecloth. There were prepared two dishes and cutlery.
“Am I hallucinating?” The expression of Camille’s face was difficult to describe, surprise, disbelief … mixed with a sense of humor.
“No, I have not yet had the opportunity to invite you to dinner at the best restaurant in town and today I thought we were in Girona.” He nodded his head, and immediately entered Lucien and the young ensign Rourke, wearing a sort of improvised tuxedo.
“What do you wish for dinner tonight? Let me suggest a few starters of the land and rice with lobster and for dessert, a mousse of Mediterranean lemons.” Lucien really looked the maître of a great restaurant.
“I find it perfect, what do you think honey? Oh, my love, you are speechless viewing such an exquisite menu.”
“I have taken note; this friendly waitress will show our extensive wine list.” The ensign stood in awkward silence, because she did not have playfulness or the Lucien’s loquacity.
“I think an Alvariño will be fine or maybe a Blanc Pescador, I leave it to your choice.” David followed the comedy to help Rourke. “Thanks Suzanne.”
Lucien and Suzanne appeared again and, as it could not be otherwise, they brought in trays gelatinous menus prepared by the computer in the kitchen and some cartons of grape juice with straw. The couple of improvised waiters let the content of these trays on the table and before disappearing Lucien let go of his last sentence.
“Enjoy your meal, Sirs!!”
“Thanks” Camille and David responded simultaneously.
“I am still hallucinating. I didn’t expect it, I swear it’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me.”
“In this case, you will have so many dinners like this from now on.” Camille smiled.
“Suzanne and Lucien make a good couple, but Suzanne is so innocent and Lucien…” Camille left the sentence unfinished expecting that David completed it.
“Shameless? Are you sure?”
“At least is what it seems at first glance.”
“If you knew him better you’d be surprised. It may be something more than an opportunist who tries to rip the panties to the women.”
“Oh!” Camille blushed at the realization that David remembered the expression she used to attack him. “I thought all of that was forgotten.”
“And it is so, but isn’t fair to judge people by what they seem.”
Misunderstandings aside, that peculiar romantic dinner lasted less than a sigh or perhaps are what seemed to lovers. David picked up the remains of food and wrappings, he made a package with the tablecloth and he deposited them into a waste absorber for their automatic recycling. Immediately afterwards they made themselves comfortable on the front seats of the vehicle, they were holding hands; they looked at each other without saying anything because it was not necessary. From somewhere they could hear recorded sounds of the sea, which made David remember his childhood in Sitges.
They fell asleep… In his dream, David flew Tel Aviv with his montgolfière, behind a similar aircraft that Marc was piloting, his brother and friend, escorted by six fighters of the Navy.
“Fox two calling Larnaca Base, we are over target. I request instructions.”
“Fox two, land on Foxtrot Six, Fox One go to Bravo Three.”
“Aye.” Marc and David responded simultaneously to the instructions of the Larnaca Base, located in Cyprus. At the point indicated, David was able to observe a group of civilians led by Atlantic soldiers running toward the point where he was going to land. He was gradually reducing the power in order to land the aircraft in the middle of that dusty plot. The crew members opened the doors while they took up their arms to refuse the bullying which civilians and soldiers who escorted them were suffering from a group of enemy militiamen from a nearby hill.
David took cover at the main entrance firing his plasma weapon against aggressors who were on top of the mound; he counted about a dozen of well armed Caliphatian militiamen. Within seconds, a human tide was entering the montgolfière, behind them came a group of soldiers led by a sergeant that closed the group and that was covering the civilians.
“Thank you Sir, I thought we would not arrive.” Said the sergeant, exhausted, his uniform was stained with blood. “We have received a hard punishment from everywhere.”
“Are you hurt, Sergeant?”
“No sir, the blood is one of the men that I had to leave abandoned on the plot. These fucking fanatical animals do not even respect the children!”
“I see so few people, how many are they?”
“Seven hundred people, this is a fucking hell.”
“This unit can accommodate two thousand people and there are three hundred thousand civilians trapped in the city.”
“Hopefully God protect them, it is impossible to go more inside, this is a genocide… they shoot against anyone that is not of theirs. We have lost the war…”
David came back to the cabin and made the montgolfière to ascend, in seconds met with Marc at the rendezvous point. The two montgolfières increased the power and got ready to leave, escorted by Navy jets.
“Fox two to Fox one, how many are you carrying?”
“Here are nine hundred thirty civilians, what about you David?”
“I have a little more than seven hundred civilians. They are the last, there are no more evacuations, and we have lost Tel Aviv.”
At that moment a small Mikoyan fighter squadron of the Caliphate at full speed came to their position and began to shot them. The Republic fighters returned fire and montgolfières gunners shot their plasma cannons against that threat. Electromagnetic shields that protected them from enemy’s plasma impacts begun to fail, within minutes the fighters that were escorting the rescue montgolfières had been destroyed and all the people who were in those giant airships were without any hope of survival.
“Fox two to base Larnaca, send us aerial coverage, the escort fighters have been shot down and these bastards are peppering us.”
“Sorry, fox two, fighters will not arrive in less than twenty minutes. Initiate evasive maneuver, leave Israel immediately.”
In a split second came the fateful moment, a missile launched by one of the attacking fighters went to pieces the aircraft piloted by Marc, almost a thousand people were charred on one tenth of a second among scrap and dust of a field in Tel Aviv’s outskirts. But that not was the moment to stop and mourn, the helpless passengers of montgolfière required a strong response; and therefore David revved the aircraft that piloted to surprise with its vertical ascent to an enemy fighter, which went out of control when hitting one of its wings against montgolfière and ended up crashing.
David tried to head to Cyprus chased by two enemy fighters that were operative, which fired with all they had. David could hear the screams of terror of the people who were in the cabins of the passengers; he had to zigzag not to be shot down. Even so the fuselage was filled with holes. He realized that escape was impossible, the enemy fighters were faster, and it just remained the craziest option: stand up to the attackers. He put maximum power to turbines towards the enemy jets; he noticed the impact of the plasma projectiles piercing the hull. At the moment wherein could almost see the faces of the pilots, he refocused the jets towards the lower side of the airframe so that hot air bag that accumulates in the curved part of the belly would make ascend sharply the aircraft. The trick worked, the two fighters lost their sustentation by entering hot gases in their turbines and those bastards fell into the sea. But the aircraft was badly damaged; they would not arrive to Cyprus in that pile of scrap.
“Fox two to base Larnaca, enemies killed, I need instructions to make a forced landing based on the telemetry of aircraft. If we go to the base we’ll fall into the sea.”
“Go to Haifa’s Airport, there you will be picked up by the flattop Iwo Jima.”
With that smoky monster, David turned to the last remaining unoccupied enclave in Israel, a kiss awakened him…
“What’s the matter, darling? You were talking like you were piloting an aircraft and you are soaked in sweat.”
“For a moment I went back in dreams to the past, to Israel.”
“The war ended long ago; however much you dream him, Marc won’t come back, but sure he looks at you with pride from heaven.”
“I would like to believe it, but they hung me a medal in jacket and my sister even couldn’t bury her husband… we had to burn an empty box.”
“You look terrible; the seat of a bravefrog is not the best place to sleep.”
“You’re right, let’s go to bedrooms, tomorrow we’ll have a hard day.”
“Like all we’ve had so far.” She laughed.
ARSS Santa Maria May 14th 2174.
David was on duty on the bridge when the central computer disconnected atomic engines of the ship. Obviously it was not an error; speed reduction had been scheduled years ago by a group of experts in ASA’s offices, long before the ship Santa Maria was built. This automatic halt of engines was the beginning of phase 4 of mission’s protocol. They knew the exact time that this would happen and what they had to do, it was a maneuver that they had rehearsed dozens of times in Moon Defender’s simulators. And as it was planned, ten minutes later Captain and Camille appeared, the silent Michael Lagarde already was with David on the bridge since two hours before. Once bridge officers met, the captain Mickiewicz began passing appropriate orders and pressed a button icon 4D to speak to the whole crew of the ship by the intercom:
“Dear officers and crew of ship Santa Maria, the central computer indicates that Alpha Centauri system is close, phase four of protocol implies that we should leave acceleration decks where we have been moving ourselves during all this time, including the bridge. I urge you to pick up your belongings to make this change of decks and relocate to the new rooms that indicate your flexiscreens. In a few moments the ship will start braking automatically and gravity will be one hundred per cent on the entire ship, the situation equivalent to the terrestrial gravity will only be possible no more than one hour, then the gravity of acceleration’s decks will be negative with the danger that entails. This protocol does not affect the hibernation’s sarcophaguses area where gravity is always of twenty three per cent.”
“Officers of the bridge.” He headed to presents. “This goes for you too. I wait for you on the bridge of deceleration in forty-five minutes.”
“Aye, sir.” Chanted all the officers and they went to their compartments.
Camille and David left together the bridge and took the displacer; at exiting it they saw Lucien pushing an improvised bogie carrying things.
“I was waiting for you; I found a quick and practical way to move things.”
“Good thinking, Lieutenant.”
“I’m always at the service of First Officer and our lovely Second Officer.”
With the invention of Lucien, the transfer of personal effects became a quick and enjoyable task since they already had prepared the luggage from the morning. This time David and Camille cabins were located facing each other and the distribution was identical to those who had just leave, they left their stuff in any way and headed to the bridge of deceleration. And although they wished it, they did separately instead of going holding hands, their responsibilities prevented it them momentarily.
Without the pressure of the cameras, deceleration maneuvers were much more placid and operation of the ship from now on this would be produced conversely of how it had happened so far. At the new bridge, which was an exact replica of they had just left, David could see that there remained only ten minutes to reach the speed zero point ten lux, item on the protocol in which they would pass to stage five, which meant that it was ending. Camille was in place and the Captain came a few seconds after David.
“It’s all so quiet, huh David?”
“Like a millpond, Sir.”
“Zero point ten lux, Sir!” Camille’s voice sounded strong, martial.
“We are in kilometers per second, Sir.” Camille reported.
“We go at sixty seven hundred kilometers per second and we’re decreasing.”
Camille let it pass for a while and gave a new reading of speed, the bow atomic engines were slowing the ship and they used their full power.
“Sir, speed six hundred kilometers per second.”
“Please disconnect atomic engines; put ion engines into operation, and deploy sails.”
After phase 5 the other phases followed, until after four days they were in the Alpha Centauri system, through the screens you looked a unique spectacle. The Santa Maria had reached three stars of different colors; their light not allowed watching yet the target, but computers already provided of readings of its position and 4D images in real-time of the planet and its two satellites that orbited it. Planet Miracle was a stone’s throw, and it was a matter of days to it would become the new home of the crew of the ship Santa Maria. David went to look for Xavier to give him some news.
“I just spoke with the Captain, the computer has selected you as the best possible copilot to lead the first ship to the target and I agree.”
“Me, Sir?” Xavier did not hide his joy, was a boy as young as Camille or maybe a little more. His academic record was impressive and his skills as a pilot undeniable, in another era he would have been called to join the squadron Albatross.
“When we enter the orbit of Miracle we will take the slider number three, which is already prepared with a bravefrog loaded with all the necessary equipment to mark the landing zone and set a base camp.”
“I appreciate your confidence Sir, I won’t disappoint you.”
“I know, now you should go to rest because in a few hours you’ll be the first man on Miracle.”
“Aye.” And he left hopping; maybe because the gravity was low or maybe not.
David had to go back to the bridge; it was time to put the craft in Miracle’s orbit. There he met Camille, Captain and Third Officer.
“It’s time, no?” David asked to Captain.
“Yeah, it’s time, David. We have a planet to conquer.”
“All right, officers.” And David began to give orders. “Set the speed of approaching to Miracle at ten kilometers per second. As soon we get to an altitude of 350 kilometers we will have to brake to put the ship to eight kilometers per second and will have to fix the orbital inclination in fifty-two degrees above the ecliptic.” Camille scheduled all those maneuvers in the ship’s computer. Multiple auxiliary engines were placing the Santa Maria in fixed orbit.
“The orbit is completed, engines off.” The speech of Camille was identical to what was used in the simulator during training.
“Are we ready for testing?” Said David “Third Officer, please report.”
“The orbit is stable; we will orbit the planet every ninety-two minutes and a half.” Sang Michael Lagarde from his site.
The captain rose from his seat and approached David to shake hands, while David got up, Camille and Lagarde did the same.
“I congratulate you all; you have brought the ship to port without incident. It has been an honor to have sailed with you.” The words of Mickiewicz attested his own humanity.
“It is a privilege to be at your service, sir.” David said. “I think in this regard I can speak for everyone here.”
“Now you should rest and prepare for tomorrow’s operation.”
“Aye, Sir.” Al the officers repeated at a time.
David and Camille went to their cabins, both with their Newton boots because gravity had been finally determined to twenty three percent. But this time, Camille did not come into her room and stepped into David’s.
“Do you want anything, Camille?”
“I want you to accompany me, my love.” She unbuttoned slowly her uniform’s jacket. “I missed you all this time.”
David helped her to undress her tenderly, and then noticed that his beloved was very scared, but now the passion was stronger than fear, love was stronger than religious convictions. Camille pulled a small box from his pants pocket just before take them off, took a small contraceptive patch and put it on her neck; that small and transparent square disappeared immediately absorbed by the silky skin of Camille.
They were together that night; Camille gave away David her first time before their wedding despite it was contractually banned. Despite or perhaps because of the precarious gravity, that first time became an indescribable experience, that act was more spiritual than physical, a state in which the union of their two bodies transcended beyond the concept of making love.
The next morning, lovers woke up embracing each other on that narrow bed designed for one person only. Camille got up the first after she kissed David, who tried unsuccessfully retaining her holding her hand. Camille entered the bathroom hopping due to low gravity and gently closed the door; David rose slowly to maintain verticality in the chamber, and took a clean towel of the cabinet. When opening the bathroom door, Camille hurriedly grabbed the towel, because she was ashamed to show her body to David despite what had happened that night and went to the closet where she kept clothes from the last change of cabin. David went into the bathroom and although he hurried in his personal hygiene, when leaving his elusive girlfriend was gone.
That day they were waiting him in dock number 7, cause it was the great day of David and Xavier, the day that they would be the first humans to set foot in Miracle and would go down in history. They were days many of things that were done for the first time and History was made each passing minute. While two sailors were helping the pilots to wear the annoying flying suit, Camille and Captain entered the locker room, Xavier blushed: on one hand because he was still putting the recycling mechanism of urine and on the other because he was intimidated by the captain.
“Dear Sirs, you know that I love making little speeches, but this time I will be brief. Well boys, be very careful and land unharmed. We need all the good pilots to carry out the landing operation on the safe fringe.”
“It’s understood, sir.” David said.
After doing a military salute and once they had finished to dress, the two pilots were introduced into the tunnel that would lead them to the slider. David looked once more the wonderful Camille green eyes and saw a tear falling down her right cheek, though he did not consider himself a superstitious man thought that wasn’t a good omen… for a second he thought that the tear had a meaning.
The pilots got on that aircraft, inside its hold there was a bravefrog fully equipped for this operation of first acquaintance. From the command bridge they could hear the voices of David and Xavier. To avoid colliding with the rock fragments that constituted the rings, the slider had to enter high above in the atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere.
“All right Xavier; it’s time to see what can do this thing.” David said.”
“Yes Sir.” Comments were heard in the command bridge so clear.
“Sealing of door?”
“Right, the sealing is totally hermetic.”
“We proceed to disconnect the slider from ship Santa Maria.” The slider was disengaged gently from the dock.
The huge ship was going away from the slider, showing every time a larger part of its extraordinary magnitude.
“We are moving away from the Santa Maria at six meters per second.”
“Let us hold the slider to drift until the release of the probe. Prepare the checking of the laser signal and of the satellite search.”
The probe took a couple of minutes to come out of its hole, the little device was disengaged from the Santa Maria and immediately pilots began to prepare the entry into the planet’s atmosphere.
“The orbital speed is seven point eight kilometers per second.”
“We must proceed with the rotation of the slider, cabin to 180 degrees.” The ship turned on itself, until they could see all the splendor of planet Miracle from the cabin, a world that seemed a copy of the Earth if not for the rings and the different distribution of its continents. The large yellow spot of the Southern Hemisphere in the middle of the Southern Ocean was impressive, which demonstrated that all this half of the planet was a vast inhospitable desert.
“Swerve 180 degrees; we situate the ship with the back facing the orbit…”
“Let’s initiate countdown to the entry burn.”
“Entry burn into seventy seconds starting from…..Now!”
“Six, five, four, three, two, one…Ignition!” Engines began to slow the slider, once in the planet’s atmosphere the ship turned to be put back with the cabin looking up and the front in the direction of travel. At that moment David stopped motors. The slider began a controlled fall toward the surface of Miracle.
“Temperature of thermal shield a thousand six hundred and thirty degrees.”
“It will resist, this may endure a little more without melting.”
“We have visual contact with the probe! It is three nautical miles away.”
“Let’s transmit a report.”
“Reception at the bridge is about ninety-two percent in the single-channel laser band.”
In the bridge, the faces of those present were as tense as the atmosphere they breathed. The officers listened with the greatest attention the conversation of the pilots of the slider, especially Camille. The information flowed in one direction only through a laser transmission with a delay of one and half minutes because it had to be decoded previously by the computer, bridge officers could hear and see what was happening on the slider but could not communicate with pilots. Computers were receiving transmissions from the probe and the slider; with these data a mapping software would set the path that the other ships should continue to the safe areas of the planet, the location of future human colony. It was expected that the entry into the atmosphere would last about an hour, and then should start the engines, spread its wings and fly to the agreed zone. Those present at the bridge could hear the prayer of Xavier, it was the psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leaded me beside the still waters.
He restored my soul; he leaded me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”
As planned and as used to happen in the ships entering dense atmospheres like Earth or Miracle; when the shield had to withstand maximum temperature, communications were temporarily lost. After the minutes of the dangerous maneuver of entry into the atmosphere of Miracle, the orders of David to his co-pilot sounded again.
“Let’s start Ignition of the engines.”
“Negative, the engines don’t star up. The computer indicates an electronic failure in the injection system.” The people of the bridge fell silent, stunned, and helpless. That breakdown was not foreseen and it was impossible to solve in flight. They seemed doomed to fall into the sea.
“What’s up?” David’s voice reflected that the problem was serious. “What does the computer say?”
“The computer mechanic indicates that injection chips have been fried by an electromagnetic pulse.” That was terrible news; the distance they needed was excessive to reach the safe zone. They planned over the ocean with no possibility of landing.
“Xavier, we must unfold wings to maximum, we will plan with this aircraft up to where we can, and I hope we hit land. Camille, I love you… I swear I will seek a way to return…” transmission was cut.
At that time the crew froze, they had just witnessed the possible end of two good companions and friends. Lagarde saw Camille’s expression and jumped to accommodate her at one piloting seat, she was pale, lifeless, like if someone had sucked her blood.
“Can anyone tell me what happened?” Captain’s voice boomed. He was terribly angry; the powerless to control the situation infuriated him.
“It’s an injection failure.” Lagarde answered, overflowed between his responsibilities and paying attention to a totally absent Camille.
“Call a doctor, damn it, do not you see that the Second Officer is in shock?” Lagarde obeyed instantly and called the doctor through his flexiscreen.
“Mechanic Officer, I want you at the bridge right now.” The captain was furious, he had just lost two men stupidly, for an absurd failure that surely was avoidable, and someone would have to pay that negligence.
The engineer officer ran as much as his Newton boots allowed him, the technical team had been following the entry operation in their workshop and they had explored possible solutions to the problem; he was aback and overwhelmed by events.
“What the hell happened, Lieutenant? Tell me why I lost two men on the Miracle’s surface because of a ship that has not worked as it should.”
“Our team has found the reason for the failure; all ships have the same technical problem. The superconductor of the injection system is heated and magnetized, the strong magnetic field generated by this circuit hits against the planet’s field and melts the distribution chips of intelligent mixing of fuel-oxygen.”
“Is there a solution?” Mickiewicz asked.
“We can synthesize a ceramic superconductor non magnetizable in nine days, is the time required for baking it by a technique of heating and subsequent hardening in a vacuum chamber. Once we get this superconductor, in a few hours we could mount it in all aircraft.”
“In nine days they will be dead if they are not already, the warming of the area will make impossible a rescue mission, the surface will be at least at fifty degrees.”
“It seems that the slider has fallen into the sea.” Lagarde said. “Statistically it is unlikely that they have landed in an island.”
“We can only rely on a miracle” Said quietly Mickiewicz “Dear David; if anyone could survive a thing like that it’s you… We cannot come get you but I’m sure you’ll find a way to get to us.”
Chapter 4. The long way.