The Far Side of the Sun
©2011 D. Paul Angel
"This, is a historic day, not just for the U.S., but for the entire world; for the shared Nation, of Humanity. Today we unlock, the secret of the Universe, and send our first envoys across the stars..."
"That's quite enough of the speech, Lieutenant," Captain Maxwell said curtly.
"Yes, sir," Lieutenant Jones replied, cutting the feed of the President's speech.
Maxwell watched the Sun steadily growing in size on the Bridge's main view-screen. In a little over 20 minutes they'd be accelerating their ship directly at its heart, hoping to skipstream at the last second to an entirely different star. Gliese 581 was 20 light years, and was directly in line with the Sun on the other side now. He could feel the crews' tension rising with his own. They knew from the observatories that the drones had entered the skipstream as intended, it was just that none of them had ever come back. So the chances of a fiery death, though small, were nothing compared to the great unknown of skipstream space.
It was the unknowns that weighed so heavily upon them. Theories abounded from the credible, to the terrifying, to the incredible, and even the Magical. Despite his and the Terran Space Union's best efforts, he knew his baker's dozen of crew members knew all the theories and rumors as well as he did. He knew some wagers were in the offing as well, though none officially. He was even more bemused that they thought the person betting as, "James T. Kirk," was him. As long as it helped relieve some of the pressure, he really didn't give much of a damn, though the panty waisted paper pushers at the Union were apoplectic. He thought of his crew and beamed inwardly with the pride that can only come from doing the impossible. There was a deep relief he felt in knowing that, whatever their fate may be, that he would share it with him. Something those bastards at the Union would never truly understand.
Which is why, he thought to himself, you're here and they're not. It was time for them to find out exactly what Fate had planned them...
"Engine room, Bridge. Reactors to full, please," Maxwell's command, issued with a gravitas that mere tone could not provide, committed himself, his crew, and his ship to their plunge. As the guttural whinings of the Reactors winding up filled the ship he said, "Alea iacta est." To an upraised eyebrow from one of the Petty Officers he added with a wry smile, "The die is cast."
"Bridge, Engine Room. Aye. Reactors on line and at full power. All lights green. Reactor is Go." The tension that had been silently building was released. Everyone had a job which they were performing with grim, stoic excitement. They were committed. Whatever was about to happen, would at least be happening soon.
Acceleration began slowly, but between the Reactor technology and the Sun's own greedy gravity, the ship was soon hurtling towards its vast expanse of fusing Hydrogen. Instruments were checked, rechecked, verified and then cross checked. A countdown timer appeared as a watermark on the view-screen transposing the seconds counting down starting at 90. The breathing in the room varied from muted to fitful, and even Maxwell had to forcefully keep himself from holding his breath.
The timer reached double zero and the skipstream generator was engaged automatically. In an instant the ship seemed to fall out from underneath them. The view-screen went blank and the whole ship went dark; but everyone's eye's were filled with a glorious cacophony of synesthesia. They tasted dancing lights, heard soft caresses on their skin, and smelled the cold, silent vacuum of the abyss. It felt both like seconds and centuries before the lights returned, the view-screen showed stars and they're own balanced senses returned as if they had snapped from fitful insomnia to vivid dream to groggy wakefulness between shallow, gasping breathes.
Though their sense began registering correctly, it took longer for their thoughts to become organized once again. It felt as though their consciousnesses were being slowly pulled back into their bodies after a lengthy sojourn. The crew blinked their eyes and started fidgeting in their seats trying to rid their bodies of an aching stiffness throughout their muscles. They all felt deeply thirsty with the cotton mouth feel of deep dehydration. True to his position Captain Maxwell was the first to regain his command faculties.
"Crew Report!" One by one, each of the crew snapped to and reported their status. When the 13th name self reported Maxwell finally released the breath he had been unconsciously holding. If nothing else they were all alive. "Ship status," he ordered with less vigor. They were awake, alert, and the months of dedicated training had them reading their instruments with greater ease than with their own body's transitions back to "real" space-time.
After hearing from Power, Engine, Life Support, Conn, and Science, all that remained was Navigation. He had deliberately left Navigation for last, know that she had the most difficult task of them all. Even with the dedicated super computer onboard just for her and this moment. He also didn't want any of the other critical ship's information lost in the excitement of her announcement. Now though, it was time.
"Navigation?" Maxwell asked, suddenly feeling a sickening silence spreading across the Bridge.
"Sir, we did not make it to Gliese 581," she said, holding her composure with icy detachment.
"View-screen to aft," Maxwell ordered at once. Instead of the expected red dwarf, a white dwarf was ever so slowly receding.
"Well, we found a different Star at least. Do you which one, Commander?"
"Unfortunately I do Captain. It is ours."
"That's not possible Commander," Maxwell said, looking at the view-screen intently. "Our Sun won't be a white dwarf for another 10 billion-"