Captain Steve Thomas was unable to hear the voices of his officers or keep his focus on the room around him, his private office, adjacent to the bridge of the Starship: Formidable.
All he could think about was the war, the carnage of the six long years, and most of all, the battle with Odin. The Martian vessel had been of equal strength to Formidable, perhaps stronger. It was a memory whose qualities were of such vibrance they replayed in his mind with crystal clarity. Its sharpness seemed to surpass itself with each repetition. Only Steve’s tactical brilliance and the years of experience his time in the fleet afforded him had secured his victory. But mere victory was insufficient. Every night Steve heard the pleading of the Captain of Odin. She had begged Steve to spare her ship and the men and women that crewed it. She would gladly surrender herself and her vessel if only he would let them live. Not her, just her crew.
But United Earth’s policy had not allowed such displays of mercy. Too many times Martian ships had feigned surrender, only to turn their weapons upon the foolish ship that had retracted its armor to rescue the souls aboard. The previous policy of clemency to those who surrendered could no longer be maintained. Steve felt little emotion as he ordered for Odin to be obliterated under Formidable’s might. The channel was still open and the crew of the bridge heard the screams as their weapons descended upon them. Odin was reduced to tiny pieces of shrapnel that would circulate among the asteroids in the belt until the dying sun consumed them. It took time for Steve to feel, for expressions of remorse for the enemy who had struck Earth first were not in vogue among his comrades.
But the emotions could not be contained indefinitely. They flowed from his body in the sweat that soaked his sheets each night
. Now it was time for hope again. He was no longer tethered to the wife that had left him after he woke her each night with his screams. So, he volunteered to embark on a Journey the likes humanity had never known before. A voyage not of death but of life, that would seed a new world with the beauty that defined the Earth.
A holographic image was projecting from above the huge desk of his oversized office.
“So, that’s Copious,” said Captain Steve Thomas as he focused on being in the room once more.
Commander Philip Currie kept his gaze on the projection of the world, “I just still don’t know who the hell came up with that name.”
Steve slouched in his chair as he laughed, he hoped his two subordinates hadn’t noticed the sweat pooling on his brow “I’m sure a subcommittee of a subcommittee debated for many weeks.”
“No doubt they came up with the name on day one. But where’s the money in revealing it so quickly?” said Chief Science Officer, James Kirfder.
The three men chuckled together – they all knew of the bureaucratic nature of United Earth’s government, the society they were to leave forever.
“I just can’t believe it’s been five years since the war,” said Philip
“We’ve got Martians aboard both ships – even former Marines,” said Steve
“I know, I just still can’t believe we were so lenient when we won. We had the red bastards blockaded. We could have taken whatever we wanted.”
Steve appeared to consider this for a moment, “But then what? We take everything from them and then war breaks out again in five years? As much as it pains me to say, I think the Senate made the right call. There’s plenty of material in the belt to last us both for eternity.”
Philip nodded, “It just all seems so pointless now, all of those battles. So many lives lost over politics and rocks.”
“We should have just granted them independence on day one. We lost so much, and so did they to be honest,” said James
“The Senate deemed the self-declared Martian Confederacy to be an illegal secession from the Union. We’re soldiers, we follow orders,” said Steve
James shifted in his chair, “I know that, and correction, we were soldiers – we’re civilians now. But what was achieved? We fought for six years and when we won, we gave them nearly everything they wanted anyway.”
“I don’t want to talk about the war, that’s the past. Let’s talk about our future,” said Steve as he gestured to the image of the world on his desk.“ James, have you decided what you’ll do first when we wake up?”
“I’d like to test for microbial life. I can’t see any other explanation for so much oxygen.”
Steve grunted, “How much of that brown will turn green in our lifetime?”
“It will take years just to print the seeds of the plants and the embryos of the animals. We’ll never live to see it transform to Earth but we’ll be the pioneers, the ones who made it happen. That to me is far more exciting.”
Steve nodded, he liked to hear this – it was reassuring. A mission outside of Earth’s solar system had never been attempted before, “I’m just worried about this new Sphere Drive of ours. I wasn’t until I met Avalon Brookes.”
“Ahh, yes, that insufferable prick. I met him at the farewell ceremony, he really is an arrogant bastard,” said James
“I know, I had the pleasure of speaking to him myself. He was wasted. He wouldn’t stop rattling on about his precious sphere drive and how he’d advanced humanity decades before our time,” said Philip.
“Well, he’s Eastcott’s problem now. He’s aboard Echo. Let’s just say I pulled a few strings to make sure that was so,” said Steve.
The men laughed again.
James broke their mirth, “How was Captain Eastcott? I mean when the Senate gave you overall command of the mission? You’re both Captains after all.”
“James, we fought aside each other for six years. We were in the same battlegroup, he’s like a brother to me. He let his feelings slip when we left the final bar on our last free night on Earth. But he’s not a bitter man.”
“I know, but he still must have been disappointed.”
“I’m sure he was, Commander. I know I would have been if the decision had gone the other way.”
Steve straightened his posture in his seat as he changed the subject, “So now we’ve cleared the Keiper Belt, we can engage the new engines at our leisure. It’s taken us weeks to get here. The sphere drive could have done it in minutes.”
“I know you’d be willing to take that risk. The other two thousand people were not.”
“What can I say? I’m keen to get underway, this is quite the journey we’re making,” Steve leaned forward in his chair. “Okay thank you, Commanders. We’ll be going into stasis soon. You’re both dismissed. It’s time for me to speak with Captain Eastcott.”
The two men acknowledged their orders and left the Captain’s office through the doors that led directly to the bridge.
Steve looked up at the ceiling as he spoke. He knew this was a pointless gesture when speaking to the Ship’s AI. The artificial mind could hear him from anywhere aboard. It was a long-held tradition to address the fleet’s AIs by the name of the vessel they controlled.
“Formidable, please open a Channel to Echo. I need the Captain’s private comms.”
“Yes, Captain. I thought you’d never stop talking.”
Steve laughed. He considered Formidable to be his friend near the equal of Eastcott. The voice he heard was the personality of his ship. He had helped keep him alive during the war with Mars, “Just do it, my old friend, I haven’t the time for your bullshit right now.”
“Of course, Captain. I just don’t see the need for such vulgarity.”
“Okay, the channel is open.”
The image of Copious disappeared as it was replaced by the face of a man. He was in a room identical to Steve’s own office. He was smiling as Steve spoke.
“Is that a glass of whiskey I can see on your desk?”
“Excuse me if I need something to settle my nerves. I’m off duty.”
“If you say so. You’d never catch me doing that.”
“I have plenty of pics that disagree with you, Captain.” His final word was dripping with sarcasm.
“Listen, Kip, we’ve cleared the belt. It’s nearly time to go into stasis.”
“I know where we are, I’ve been waiting for you to get off your ass and order it. God knows why they put you in charge of this mission.”
“What can I say? The best man won. Sorry about that, old pal.”
“More like the older man. So, are you issuing the order?”
“I am. You ready to fly?”
“Been ready for three years, old man. The plan is for you to engage the sphere drive first and we’ll follow?”
“That’s the idea. How long until you get everyone to sleep?”
“Echo tells me it will take a day, but give me some leeway. Most of them are civilians, you know how they are.”
“Tell me about it. I still can’t believe we’re carrying a thousand each.”
“We’re ships of exploration now. Apparently, war is a thing of the past.”
“It is for us at least. Listen, I need you to get everyone in stasis ASAP. I want to get to spherical speed in the next two days.”
“Yes, including you. I’ll stay awake until both ships reach our designated cruising speed. I’ll follow you after that.”
“Don’t stay up too long, you look old enough as it is.”
“Just have Echo let me know when you’re all in stasis. Then we’ll see what these new engines of ours can do.”
“Understood. See you in fifty years, old friend?”
“It will be like fifty seconds to us. We’ll have a drink on Copious together when we arrive?”
Kip picked up his glass of whisky from his desk and raised it to the camera, “I’ll drink to that, great leader.”
“You just take care while you sleep. I’m serious, I’ll need you when we get there.”
“Understood, Eastcott out.”
Nearly two days later, Steve was alone on the bridge of Formidable. His crew and the civilians his ship carried were all in stasis. Destined to remain in oblivion for nearly fifty years as the two former ships of war made their way to Copious, just shy of thirty-five light-years from Earth. The AI of his friend’s ship, Echo had informed him all aboard were asleep. Including his colleague and comrade of war, Kip Eastcott.
“Okay, Formidable, it’s time to fly. Get those new engines of yours hot.”
“Engaging sphere drive, Captain.”
Steve felt the deck below him vibrate, “So I’ll be the first man to ever reach eighty percent light speed? The tests didn’t allow above seventy?”
“Yes, Captain. I’m sure they’re erecting a statue of you in the senate as we speak.”
“Just punch It, old friend. Let me see the stars fly by. I’ve been waiting for this for three years.”
Steve watched the huge, curved screen on the bridge as Formidable began to accelerate.
He felt a strange sensation as if he were in two places at once as the ocean of stars turned blue before him.
“Formidable, what the hell am I seeing?”
“As always, Captain, I’m left to make the best of your incoherent inquiry. But I assume you’re referring to the change in color?”
“Indeed. What you’re seeing is known as the blue shift. We’re now traveling at thirty percent light speed. As we move faster relative to the stars, their optical light waves contract. Shorter wavelengths appear blue in the eyes of apes.”
“Apologies, like you, I was being unspecific. Humans are apes after all.”
“Not now, Formidable. I need you focused. Our speed now?”
“Fifty-three percent of light and rising.”
“Echo was due to engage his drive two minutes after us. The drive leaves a wake of four-dimensional space, he can’t follow too close. It will take some time for him to catch up.”
Steve was captivated as he saw the universe fade into streaks of lighter shades of blue and violet as Formidable accelerated further. He said nothing as the majesty that met his eyes unfolded for a further minute.
Formidable roused him from his trance, “Captain, there’s something wrong. Too much energy is being transferred to the engines. We’re accelerating much faster than anticipated.”
“What’s going on? How much more?”
“One moment, I am analyzing the data now.”
Steve’s anxiety began to rise as the screen was filled with more and more blue. The black void of the cosmos could barely be seen.
“Captain, we’re now exceeding ninety percent light speed. This is far above our specified tolerance.”
“Cut the engines, now!”
“I’ve tried that, the power conduits were not designed to handle this transfer of energy. Many of the relays are fused. I can’t reduce the power we’re extracting from the hypersphere.”
“Initiate a laser link with Echo, now. I want you to combine your processing power.”
“I’ve done that too, the laser link was established over a minute ago. I’m afraid we’re now far too far apart for real-time communication.”
“Formidable, what the hell is happening? I need something. Anything?”
“We’re now traveling at over ninety-eight percent light speed. At this velocity time dilation becomes a serious concern, by that I mean..”
“I know what time dilation is. Shit, how much time is passing on Earth?”
“At our current speed, for every second that passes, five are passing on earth.”
“What can we do?”
“We’re now at ninety-nine percent light speed. Ten seconds are now passing on Earth for each second we travel.”
“Formidable, stop, do anything you can. Stop the ship now!”
“Our acceleration is still increasing. We’re so close to lightspeed now, days are passing on Earth for every second we travel. This was unanticipated – I don’t know what to do. Captain, we’re reaching the fifth decimal point towards light speed.”
Steve felt the blood drain from his face, “Keep the laser Link with Echo open. Maybe we can save them.”
Steve ran from the bridge as the doors opened for him. He sprinted down the corridor. Formidable was nearly a Kilometer long, by the time he reached his destination he was sweating. Before him lay a ladder that led to all decks below. A backup for emergencies, in case the ship’s lifts failed.
He slid down it, counting Formidable’s decks as he went. He knew the engineering section was on deck eight.
He dismounted and ran as fast his legs would allow towards the beating heart of the ship he loved.
The doors opened to Engineering as he saw the ship’s engine core. It was transparent and glowing purple as it extracted energy from unknown numbers of higher dimensions.
He ran to the core and pulled at a metallic door at the bottom of the luminescing machine before him, the machine that had given him hope for the first time in years, now the cause of his damnation. A yellow handle was contained within. Upon it, in red letters were the words ‘Manual Override.’
As he touched the handle to turn it, his body was engulfed in a fractal pattern of purple energy as he was launched backwards. He hit the bulkhead and slid into a sitting position on the deck against it. The fabric of his blue uniform was smoldering on the arm.
He lifted his head, his voice was no more than a whisper, “Formidable….”
“Captain, stay still.”
“I… can’t.. mo….”
His head dropped as his eyes closed.
There had long been a debate within the Science Commission of United Earth as to whether the AIs they built were sentient – whether they were conscious and self-aware.
The issue had been shrugged off as a matter of philosophy years before. The Captains of the fleet and their crews knew as well as the artificial minds themselves exactly how self-aware they were.
Formidable felt anguish the like he had never known before. He didn’t know if his friend was alive or dead. Such was his increase in velocity, by the time he woke the Executive Officer, they could have traveled thousands of light-years or more. And so, they would be hopelessly lost. Not just in space but in time. His friends, the people he had loved for years were separated from their home, their friends, and their families forever. He had also lost his own closest companion, Echo. The two machines were the firmest of friends and he would never see him again. He remained silent as his despair consumed him for there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in