Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 1

It was going to be a beautiful morning in Atom City and the trio of Space Cadets didn’t want to waste any of it. Astro, the Venus born cadet was so excited at the thought of spending the day in the new Marshall Park on the southern edge of the city that he forgot to land a few good humored barbs at his constant antagonist and best friend, Roger Manning. Roger, though considerably smaller than the big Venusian, always had something to say about or to Astro. It was Roger’s way of making sure that Astro was in good mental and physical health. If Astro didn’t respond, then Roger knew that something was wrong.

“Hey you big bag of space gas! Have you lost your bearings?”, chided Roger.

Astro swung his head around from the window of the hotel room, not displaying the grimace that Roger had expected, but with a grin as wide as a Martian sand serpent’s head. The big Venusian could hardly move his lips because the involuntary smile had pulled his mouth so tightly that he almost appeared as a caricature of himself.

“Roger, I’m so happy that even you can’t get under my skin! Do you realize that this is the first weekend leave that we have had in over three months?”, he asked.

“Of course I do!”, responded Roger, stating the obvious, “But I must say that I usually don’t see you this happy unless you have a new atomic rocket motor laying around in pieces while you try to improve on the manufacturer’s specifications.”

“I know, but this is different.”, said Astro. Then, almost shouting, “Today the Venusport Vindicators are going to play the Ganymede Gremlins for the Solar System Championship and we are going to watch the game live!”

Roger broke out his own grin and tried to be a little less abrasive. “Yes, I know that you’ve been waiting for this game. And I also know that we were lucky to get the leave in order to watch it live. But what I don’t understand is what makes watching the game live so special?”

Astro’s face contorted from lip stretching grin to open mouthed look of amazement. “You have never been to a ball park, have you? HAVE YOU?

Roger, almost choking on stifled laughter admitted, “No, I haven’t been to a ball park before. But, what’s so special about a ball park?”

The big Venusian could hardly believe that his unit mate made such an utterance! He brought both hands up to the sides of his head and grabbed at the short cropped hair above his ears and pulled outward.

“Roger, I feel very sorry for you right now. All of the vid spools of all of the games ever played cannot give you the emotional experience that you get even at a minor league ball park.”, Then with a tone of faked sympathy, “Roger my young friend, you have led a deprived existence! The radiation from your scanners must have leaked and fried your brain!”

Roger started to come back with a great retort when the third figure in the room decided that it was time to intercede. Tom Corbett was the control deck specialist in this trio. It was his job to direct all aspects of operation of his unit when on duty. Now it seemed that the work must be carried out when off duty.

“Okay you guys! Enough of the banter. If we don’t get a move on we’ll be late for all of the pre game activities. I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been waiting for this game too!”

The curly haired cadet was folding up his uniform tunic in the manner prescribed by Space Academy regulations and began packing it away in the soft plastic travel case that had been a gift to him from an aunt when he had been accepted into the Academy.

“Are you going in your civics?”, asked Astro.

“I sure am.”, Tom replied, “I like to be less conspicuous at the ballpark. I don’t want any special favors and a third year cadet attracts a lot of attention and that can slow you down.”

“You’re absolutely right”, said Astro, “It’s civics for me too.”

Roger Manning, not wanting to be odd man out, conceded, “Okay, I’ll go as a civilian, but I was hoping that the uniform would give us some inroads among the throngs of people.”

“Those stripes on your arm would have stopped you before you reached the gates.”, said Tom. “Everybody knows that that stripped band indicates that you were selected as Cadet of the Year. A mass of people would have tied you up with questions and congratulations. Ditch the uniform and let’s have some fun!”

Roger knew that Tom was correct in his assessment. Heck, he would have done the same thing when he was a kid. There are so few cadet candidates that make it to the third year that any youngster would unknowingly annoy the wearer of the uniform just to get his attention. A wave from a cadet was the greatest pacifier known to parents other than a glance from a black and gold clad Solar Guard officer. So it was off with the uniforms and soon the three cadets of the Polaris unit looked as unassuming as shopkeepers or farmers.

“Have you got the tickets, Astro?”, Tom queried.

“Check!”, said the big man.

“Have you got your credits, Roger? Take plenty, we have six stomachs to fill.”, joked Tom.

“What do you mean six? There are only three of us!”, exclaimed Roger.

Tom, in an uncharacteristically chiding manner replied “Well, there are you and I and Astro’s bovine anatomy has at least four stomachs!”

Astro, not believing that he just received a shot from Tom, could not respond. All of his quips were mentally pre aimed at Roger and it would take a while to change targeting information. Tom and Roger broke out laughing and as soon as Astro realized that he had been set up, began laughing along with them. He grabbed them both around the shoulders and directed them toward the hotel room door and said, “Let’s go out to the ballgame gentlemen.”

The door slid closed and the three cadets made way to the vacuum lift. As they rounded the corner from their hallway, Tom spotted a three tiered cleaning cart directly in their path and tried to suppress his friends’ rapid pace. Too late to put on the brakes, Roger and Astro plowed into the portable unit almost knocking it over. The fixtures of the device took the brunt of the impact and the floor was immediately tangled with a mass of vacuum hoses, cleaning and polishing cloths, fluids, soaps and two very surprised young men.

Tom started laughing uncontrollably as his buddies, realizing that their undignified position was not in the best tradition of the Cadet Corps, scrambled to their feet.

“I’m sorry fellas. I just can’t help it. you two looked just like ‘Dan and Sam’ on the vid spools in the library.” Tom continued,” You know ,’Dan and Sam’... the animated cave bats from the last century?”

Tom’s reference drew blank stares from the other two members of his unit.

“Oh come on! I know that you know who ‘Dan and Sam’ are! Don’t you?”, Tom asked quizzically.

Astro, looking a bit disheveled, broke his stare and adjusted his shirt and vest. Tom looked to Roger, hoping to get a positive response. Roger dropped his eyes to examine his footwear hoping he had not scuffed them. Then, somewhat composed said, “Sorry buddy, I don’t know what you’re talking about. What did you say they were?”.

Tom began looking a bit sheepish and decided that he’d better drop the subject. “Ah... never mind. It’s really nothing. Forget I said anything.”, he said. “We’d better try to clean up this mess before we leave.:.

At that moment, a door to the adjacent storeroom opened and a small figure in hotel service livery emerged. He recognized that there had been an accident and started to apologize for the inconvenience. “I’m sorry gentlemen. I shouldn’t have left the cart in such a poor location as to cause an accident. I hope you are all uninjured.”, he stated in a squeaky, almost elderly voice, which was uncharacteristic of a man that appeared to be in his mid thirties.

Tom assured him that they were all fine and the boys, over his objections, quickly helped the steward to clean up the mess that they had made. After all was in order they bade him well and continued on their way to the lobby. Upon entering the vacuum lift, Tom asked his unit mates, “Did you notice anything odd about that room steward?”. Roger immediately shrugged his shoulders and Astro thought for a couple of seconds before responding.

“No. I can’t say that there was anything unusual other than he seemed more embarrassed than we did.”, stated Astro. “Oh, forget about it. Think about the ballgame!”

“Okay, guys. Onward to the game!”, Tom exclaimed.

Exiting the hotel lobby, the threesome stood on the edge of the slidewalk and took in a panoramic view of downtown Atom City. Row after row of yellow painted jetcabs scurried about with or looked for fares while businessmen and women constantly stepped from one slidewalk to another in a dance designed to get from one locality to another as efficiently as possible. This area of the city was a mass of hotels and office buildings arranged to be as friendly to individual tastes as it is to commerce, professionals, government and the environment. This was the first city in the solar system that was designed from the beginning to be expandable, clean, self reliant and capable of resisting obsolescence and decay for at least a millennium. Many of the east and west coast cities on the northwestern continent had suffered much in the previous centuries and they had been refurbished at great cost. But as the center of the Solar Alliance, Atom City was the shining example by which all city planners would model all projects for the foreseeable future.

All of the buildings in Atom City were built of and covered in pearlescent sheets of Titan Crystal which could be processed in tints from perfectly clear to Onyx black. Architectural styles ranged from tall spires, round and crescent shapes, angular sheets , and even flying buttresses. Most of the downtown buildings were in hues of opalescent blues, pinks, mauve and alabaster. The Hotel Royal Planet, from which the cadets just emerged, was striking because the Titan Crystal facade was a rust red and black amalgam of color that looked similar to polished marble. All areas of the city are serviced by an almost noiseless monorail transportation system, which is suspended from gleaming white pylons in outlying districts and by a suspension and passenger platform system that is designed into the buildings in the downtown area. Pedestrian and commuter traffic is unencumbered by the retrofitted transit systems of the past.

“Man, I LOVE this place!, shouted Astro. “The only thing it is missing is a reaction chamber and some rocket tubes!”.

Tom knew that Astro’s upbringing on colonial Venus had been under much different circumstances. Venus was mostly agrarian and much less sophisticated. But, Venusport and some smaller cities were beginning to reflect the new construction methods and would soon be examples in their own right. Besides, Astro was right, even the most jaded traveler would love to live and work in Atom City!
End Chapter 1

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II