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WHEN BILLY WEST woke up, he opened his eyes to a wondrous sight: Open space filled his entire field of view, and his mind was struggling to understand where he was. As his mind cleared from the night’s sleep, he remembered they were on board their spaceship, Genesis.
Once he was fully awake, he smiled to himself as he remembered their wedding night. He turned his head to look at his new bride, Linda Lou, whose head was resting on his shoulder as she slept. As he was enjoying watching her sleep, she began to stir. She opened her beautiful dark brown eyes to an amazing sight. The walls of their room were still transparent and allowed her to see the grandeur of space.
She lifted her head off Billy’s arm.
He said, “Hi you.”
She smiled and said, “Hi yourself, husband.”
As she replayed their first night together in her mind, she felt his mind touch hers.
“I love you so much. Last night was everything I dreamed it would be,” Billy said.
“It was neat. Wasn’t it? Space is so beautiful. I thought it was awe-inspiring when we used to lie on the grass and look up at the stars, but this is amazing. Are you ready to get up and go and eat some breakfast?”
She felt his answer in her mind and told him, That’s a much better idea. We can eat later.
* * *
A COUPLE OF hours later they showered and went down to the main galley for breakfast.
Richard Patterson spotted them as they entered and wished them a good morning. He asked, “How do you like married life so far? Wait, you don’t need to tell me. You’re both glowing. I just hope you’re always as happy as you are today. Why don’t you take that open table over there, and I’ll be right back with your breakfast?”
As they waited for their meals, Richard’s wife, Shirley, brought them a pot of coffee and their silverware. “Congratulations again, and you both look so happy. It almost makes me believe that we may have a chance for a decent life yet.”
“We’re very happy,” Linda said. “And we both think that we’ll all have a good life. It may not be anything like we could have imagined, but it’ll be a good life nonetheless.”
“How can you be so sure? Things definitely don’t look good right now.”
“I know they don’t, but I believe there are truly wondrous adventures ahead of us.”
“Here’s your breakfast,” Richard said as he sat their meals down.
“That was quick,” Billy said. “I meant to tell you the other day, you guys are doing a great job running the galley.”
“Thanks. I’m afraid we don’t know much, other than how to run a café, but we always try to do our part.”
“You’re definitely doing your part.”
“We’d better let these two newlyweds eat their breakfast,” Richard said. “I just saw some soldiers come in. We’d better get busy, because those kids can eat like horses.”
Billy and Linda Lou ate their breakfast in what looked like complete silence. In reality, they were conversing in their own special way. When they finished eating Billy asked, I’m going to the lab to work on finding us a destination. Would you like to come with me?
No thanks, I need to get down to the hospital and get back to work. There are over a hundred people waiting to see a doctor.
I didn’t realize that we had that many people who were injured.
They’re not all injured. Most of them just have your normal everyday health problems.
When Billy reached his lab, he reviewed the ship’s logs for any issues. When he was finished, he leaned back in his chair as he contemplated what their initial destination should be.
Since it was technically the closest one, several of the other scientists in the fleet wanted to try to reach the Canis Major dwarf galaxy. He’d strongly disagreed with them, however, because it was in the process of being pulled apart by the gravitational forces of the Milky Way.
It had taken him several hours, but he finally decided on the Sagittarius dwarf elliptical galaxy. The problem was that although it was relatively close as stellar objects go, it was still over four light years away.
As he pondered the immense distances they would need to travel, he realized that they needed to find a way to exceed the speed of light.
As he tried to think through the problem, it brought back memories of a conversation that he and Klaus Heidelberg had had on the subject. He had told Klaus that he thought faster-than-light travel was feasible, even though Albert Einstein’s theories didn’t support his thinking.
Klaus had been a close friend of Einstein’s, and he had assured Billy that Einstein had believed it was possible. Thinking of Klaus made him remember how much he missed having him around.
After he had spent a few minutes remembering Klaus, he said a quick prayer for him and resumed his work.
He called up the schematics of the ship on his computer screen so he could study them. While they were building Genesis, he had Nicholas Stavros add a set of massive magnetic projectors in the bow of the ship. At the time, he didn’t know exactly how he was going to utilize them, but he had felt that he would at some point.
He spent the day deep in thought, and when he finally looked up from his computer, it was after 6:00 PM. He had worked through lunch, and he realized he was starving. He saved his work and went to find Linda, so they could eat dinner together.
He found her in the hospital, where she had just completed an evaluation of John Tyler. John had passed out during their wedding reception the previous night, and he had to be rushed into surgery. Linda’s boss and mentor at the Mayo Clinic, William Robbins, had performed the microsurgery necessary to repair several congenital defects in his heart.
Linda greeted Billy as he entered John’s room. “I’m glad you’re here. I just finished examining John, and he’s making a good recovery from his surgery. I think he’ll be able to resume some light duties in eight weeks or so.”
She turned back to John and said, “You don’t know how lucky you are. Without the advances in microsurgery that we’ve made in the last two years, you probably wouldn’t have survived, and if you had, you would have been laid up for several months, instead of several weeks.”
“Actually, I understand more than you could ever know. The doctors at Walter Reed had told me that the surgery wasn’t even possible. In fact, it was the reason I got out of the military.”
“The last few days have been pretty exciting for you,” Billy said. “You’ve got a new baby boy, and you’re going to get your health back. How are Millie and Adam doing?”
“I only got to spend a few hours with them before I had my problem, but this is the happiest we’ve been in many years. We can’t thank both of you enough for all that you’ve done for us.”
“No thanks needed,” Linda said. “Besides, if it hadn’t been for you, our entire team might not have made it.”
“It’s great that you’re going to get your strength back, because I’m going to need your help,” Billy said.
“No problem, you can count on me. If you don’t mind, I do have a couple of questions. Do you think we’ll be able to find a new home, and how long will it take us to reach it?”
“I’ve selected our first place to search, but at our present speed, we won’t be able to reach any destination for many years.”
“That doesn’t sound very promising. I would hate to think of Adam growing up without ever being able to run and play in the sunshine.”
“It’s too early to think like that. I’m working on some things that may allow us to cut some time off of our travel, but it’s too early to talk about them yet.”
* * *
MOST OF THE living quarters had kitchens, but they hadn’t worked out the logistics for everyone to pick up the food they needed, so everyone was either eating in one of the ship’s galleys or they were picking up their meals and taking them back to their quarters to eat.
Billy and Linda Lou liked eating with everyone, but they had decided that they wanted some time alone. As they sat eating, they had joined their minds instead of talking out loud. Billy had turned on the virtual reality system so the scene was quite a contrast of perceptions. They were sitting at a small table in front of the fireplace in their bedroom, but they were surrounded by open space.
The stars didn’t twinkle in the vacuum of space, and the crystal-clear view was incredible. They could see the faint glow of the ships that stretched out for miles behind them, and the occasional piece of space junk that went speeding by.
They were already moving faster than any human had ever gone. The fleet had been under constant acceleration since they had left the rally point, and it wouldn’t be too much longer before it reached its maximum speed.
At maximum power, the Genesis was capable of almost 60 percent of the speed of light, but the rest of the fleet was only capable of about half that.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the view,” Linda said.
“It is awe-inspiring,” Billy replied. “But I imagine we’re going to see a lot of things that we never thought we would. Even though I’m responsible for much of the technology, I’ve got to admit that I’m somewhat astonished by what we’ve achieved.”
“I know what you mean. I’m still struggling with our lives in general, but as bad as some of it has been, I’m still extremely grateful for what God has given us.”
They had almost finished eating when Larry Sheldon called Billy on the intercom. “Our sensors have just picked up a ship, and it’s about three hundred thousand miles behind us.”
“Can you identify it?”
“I believe it’s the president’s ship, Freedom.”
“The President of the United States! Are you sure?”
“I am, and that’s not all! There’re several other ships traveling with it. They’re closing with us, but our sensors show that they’re running dangerously close to an overload on their power systems.”
“Signal the fleet to reduce our speed by 30 percent. That should be enough for them to catch up to us. At that speed, how long do you think it will take them to catch us?”
“Let’s see, it shouldn’t take more than twenty-four hours.”
* * *
WHEN THE PRESIDENT’S ships were within a few hours of the fleet, Billy hailed them: “This is the Genesis, calling the Freedom. Freedom, please respond. Freedom, if you’re receiving this, please respond.”
He was about to hail them again, when they answered: “Genesis, this is President McAlister, on board the United States Vessel Freedom. Who am I taking to?”
“This is Billy West, and I’m glad you made it. How many other ships do you have with you, and what took you so long?”
“I’m glad we’re finally getting to talk,” President McAlister said. “I’ve heard so much about you from Larry Sheldon and Klaus Heidelberg. How are they doing?”
“Larry Sheldon is fine, but Klaus Heidelberg died just before we left.”
“I’m so sorry. He was one of my most senior advisors and a truly brilliant man. I’ll miss him.”
“We all will. He was quite a man.”
“He was, wasn’t he? I’m sure that he would be proud of what you and Larry Sheldon have accomplished.”
“It could have never happened without his help.”
“I’m sure he would have appreciated the credit, but the last time we talked, he told me you’re the only reason any of us made it.
“You asked me earlier how many ships we have in our group. We have forty ships, not counting the Freedom. We would have been here sooner, but we had to leave Earth in the wrong direction to avoid the incoming asteroid swarm.
“I’m glad you slowed down, we were running at over a hundred-percent load on the generators, and I was afraid we would burn them out. Luckily for us, you did such a great job designing the ships that they were up to the challenge. Did you pick us up on sensors, or did you slow down for another reason?”
“We picked you up on our sensors, so I gave the order to slow down.”
“I’m sure glad you spotted us. As soon as we catch up, we’ll assume the lead positions, and I’ll take over. I appreciate you getting the fleet that far. It’s a job well done.”
Almost anyone else would have taken offense to someone taking over after they had brought the group that far, but it never occurred to Billy.
It took the Freedom and its sister ships the rest of the day to pass Billy’s fleet. Once they had, they took up positions in front of the Genesis.
Once they were all in formation, the president radioed the fleet:
“Attention, attention, this is the President of the United States, John McAlister. I’m happy to report the Freedom, which is my flagship, and the rest of the United States fleet, has arrived. I’ve assumed command and assumed responsibility for the continued planning and execution of our evacuation.
“My advisors have told me it’s going to take a long time to reach another planet. However, you may rest assured that I’ll do everything possible to ensure we all reach safety.
“I need to get an assessment of everyone’s current status, so there will be a mandatory video conference at one tomorrow afternoon. All ship commanders should be prepared to present their current supply inventory so I can begin to assess our available resources. Again, thank you all for your cooperation in these trying times.”
* * *
AS THE MONTHS passed, President McAlister continued to consolidate his control over the fleet. He brought structure to the fleet, but his heavy-handed ways were beginning to grate on the nerves of several in Billy’s group.
Meanwhile, Billy had been working almost day and night as he tried to develop his plans for a faster-than-light drive. Finally, he decided he had a solution and called his team together to discuss his plan.
He had Nicholas Stavros and his teams meet him in his lab for a briefing. He also invited John Tyler and Larry Sheldon, so he could keep them up to speed.
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me,” Billy said. “As many of you know, I’ve been working on a plan to allow us to exceed the speed of light.”
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Nicholas Stavros replied. Nicholas was a brilliant young engineer, and he and his teams had been largely responsible for the construction of the American portion of the fleet. If you had been observing him, you might have thought that he was a teenager with ADD.
“That’s what most of the scientific community believes, however, I’ve developed an approach that should allow us to break that barrier. I had talked with Klaus Heidelberg about it before he died, and he also believed it to be possible.
“It was his encouragement, and his suggestion that I read all of Stephen Hawking’s research that kept me working toward a solution. Before he died, Klaus arranged for me to gain access to Hawking’s unpublished papers, which has proven to be invaluable.”
Klaus had mentioned it in passing, and Larry Sheldon had actually been the one who had gotten the papers for Billy, but he didn’t say anything about it.
“What do you need us to do?” Nicholas asked excitedly.
“I’ve already uploaded the engineering changes that I need done.”
“How do we get at them?”
“They’re all stored on the central server, but I would like to walk you through them, before you get started.”
Billy hit a button on the wireless remote he was carrying, and a holographic image of the bow of the ship appeared before the group.
“These things will never cease to amaze me,” John said.
“It’s pretty amazing, but it’ll let me show you exactly what I need done.”
Billy used the remote control to highlight the new power leads to the magnetic projectors, and the projectors’ main plates.
“If you’ll pay close attention to the highlighted areas, you’ll see the sections that I want to replace with the new formulation of the ceramic superconductors.
“Once we have replaced the marked areas, we’ll add two more fusion reactors to power the projectors. I’ve got a new design for them as well, and the output from the two reactors should be a little more than twice the existing power of the Genesis.”
“Wow, that’s some upgrade,” Nicholas exclaimed. “When can we get started? We’ve been going crazy since we ran out of new projects.”
“You can begin whenever you’re ready, but I would like to start no later than the end of the week.”
“No problem. In fact, if you don’t mind we’ll get started this afternoon. How long did you estimate it should take us?”
“Using your team’s previous work as a reference, I would say about thirteen weeks.”
Later that night, Billy and Linda met their parents for dinner. They were going to meet them on the upper deck where they could eat under the starlit skies, but at the last minute Billy decided to meet them on the beach deck. When they got there, their meals were already laid out on a table by the water.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of this,” Linda’s dad, Rob Bustamante, said. “Here we are on a spaceship, hurtling through space, to who knows where, and we’re about to have dinner on a beach that’s identical to a South Pacific island.”
“This looks scrumptious,” Linda’s mother, Beth, said. “Is that a lobster?”
“Yes it is,” Linda replied. “I knew it was your favorite, so I had the Pattersons prepare one for you. I know the rest of you would rather have beef, so you’ll be having some really good rib-eye steaks.”
“How can we be eating all of this?” Ben West, Billy’s dad, asked.
“We have plenty of food, and we also have the capability to raise more. The lagoon is stocked with all sorts of seafood, and you and Rob already know about the agriculture decks.”
“We sure do, and thanks for letting us work on them,” Rob said.
As they sat eating their dinner, a faint breeze suddenly moved over them, and they thought they heard the sound of distant thunder.
“Is that thunder?” Mary West asked.
“It is,” Billy replied. “In another hour there will be a tropical rainstorm falling where we’re sitting. I’ve engineered all the agriculture areas to have normal weather patterns, and the forest areas have all four seasons.”
“It’s great to see both of you, but what are you going to spring on us this time?” Ben asked.
“I would like to say that I don’t have something to tell you, but I do,” Billy answered. “You’ve all asked how long it’s going to be before we can find a new home, and I have some news that will affect my answer.”
“It’s not bad news again, is it?” Beth asked.
“Not this time. I’ve been working on a way to exceed the speed of light. When we talked about this before, I told you it would be many years before we could reach any possible destination. If the new propulsion system works like I think it will, we should be able to cut decades, if not centuries off of our transit time.”
“Does this mean that there’s a chance that we’ll be able to find another place to live?” Rob asked.
“I don’t want to raise your expectations too high, but I do believe that it gives us a chance.”
His statement set off an outburst of excited conversations from their parents. After several minutes the conversations started to die down, and Billy told them, “We’d better get going. It’s going to start raining in another ten minutes.”
“Would you mind if we stay?” Rob asked. “Beth and I just love the rain, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen any.”
“No problem, stay as long as you want. You know your way back to your quarters, don’t you?”
“Yes, we do, and thanks for the great evening. We really enjoyed it.”
* * *
LATER THAT NIGHT, Billy and Linda were lying in bed talking.
“I think our parents really enjoyed dinner,” Linda said.
“They seemed to. I just hope I didn’t upset them.”
“I don’t think they were upset, but you know how badly my dad wants to have a real home again. He’s doing much better since you let him and your dad take over the agriculture decks. But he still struggles from time to time.”
“I know he does, but I don’t know what else to do.”
“I don’t think there’s anything more you could do, but hearing that there’s even a chance of a real home again helped. Do you really think you can exceed the speed of light?”
“I do, and if Stephen Hawking’s theories are correct, we may even change dimensions.”
“I’m sure I don’t understand all of that, but if you do, it’s good with me.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, you’re just a smart as me, you’re just not interested in the same things.”
“I know, but I like to play the helpless young wife once in a while.” She giggled as she snuggled up closer.
As they continued on their way across the Milky Way, the fleet had reached its maximum speed of 33 percent of the speed of light.
The fleet was stretched out over hundreds of miles, and at two miles long and hundreds of feet tall, the massive ships represented the largest moving objects man had ever built.
* * *
ELEVEN WEEKS LATER, Nicholas called to tell Billy they had finished the upgrades.
“We just finished connecting the new reactors to the magnetic projectors,” Nicholas said.
“Great work, you’ve finished weeks ahead of schedule,” Billy said. “Why don’t all of you take a couple of days off, and then we’ll set up a test.”
“Thanks, we are pretty worn out. We’ve been really pushing it to finish early.”
* * *
TWO DAYS LATER they met to discuss the testing protocol they would be using.
Billy put a holographic image of the bow in front of them and started the briefing.
“Even though we have cameras and sensors all along these areas, I want one of your teams stationed in each of these locations,” Billy said as he highlighted the areas he was referring to. “If there are going to be problems, I think these are the areas where they might occur.
“Each of you will be carrying a remote kill switch to abort the test, if need be. If you observe anything that even remotely concerns you, I want you to stop the test.”
“That seems simple enough,” Nicholas responded. “Do you have any idea what we should expect to see or feel from the test?”
“I have no idea. No one has ever even attempted this, so whatever we experience will be truly unique.”
“Are you going to notify the fleet?” Larry asked. “You know how paranoid President McAlister is. He’s going to think you’ve been hiding this from him.”
“I hadn’t intended to tell him until we had finished the test. To be honest, I’m afraid he would attempt to stop us if he found out. His advisors haven’t been that good to work with so far, and I’m convinced that they’ll try to stop anything that they can’t take credit for.”
“I agree with your decision. We can always beg for forgiveness later.”
Larry Sheldon was used to being the maverick, and he was glad Billy saw things the same way. Even though the president was a member of the Logos, Larry wasn’t at all comfortable with his actions up to this point. In the back of his mind, he knew he might have to deal with the president someday.
The ships that President McAlister had brought with him were still leading the formation, and he had positioned the Genesis in the center, just behind the Freedom.
Since the Genesis was the largest, most powerful ship in the fleet, the president wanted to keep it as close to him as possible. In fact, he was already working on a plan to seize control of the Genesis, so he could use it as his flagship.
Billy had the entire team meet him on the Genesis’s bridge for the test. Billy turned to Larry and said, “Since you were the closest to Klaus, I would like you to say a prayer for him, and then I would like you to initiate the test in his memory. Without his inspiration, I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off.”
“I know Klaus would be honored, but I also know he would say he really didn’t have much to do with it.”
When Larry finished his prayer, he reached over and tapped the screen to initiate the test.
For a second or two it didn’t seem like anything was happening, and then a shimmering vortex of energy burst out of the projectors. It continued to grow and spin faster until it extended for almost twenty miles in front of the Genesis.
For a moment Billy thought they were going to hit the Freedom, which was forty-five miles in front of them; however, before he could reach over and turn the projectors off, the Genesis was sucked into the vortex and disappeared from sight.
* * *
WHEN THE CAPTAIN of the Freedom saw the Genesis disappear, he called President McAlister.
“Sir, the Genesis just disappeared into what looked like a tornado of light.”
“What do you mean by disappeared? Did it blow up?”
“No sir, it simply isn’t there anymore.”
“Tell no one else, I’ll be right up.”
After the president’s science team had analyzed the video of the Genesis’s disappearance, they decided it had suffered some sort of catastrophic malfunction and had been destroyed.
Copyright © 2011 by Ken Shufeldt