Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 10

Tom Corbett - Command Cadet The two great ships danced above the lunar mountains in a series of beautifully choreographed steps. As the huge Einstein maneuvered into position for a perfect exit from orbit, Tom paced the huge ship as if the Polaris was bonded to the Einstein by an invisible frame. In order to maintain secure communications, the Polaris’ movements were much more intricate because the Polaris had to maintain it’s relative position by swinging in an elongated arc above the larger ship while matching it’s position and heading. Steve Strong was justifiably proud of Tom’s maneuvering skills because the communications link was not broken for a split second during the entire session.

Seated in an acceleration chair to Tom’s right, Steve was about to initiate a check of all decks when a message from the Einstein began emanating from the monitor. “Captain Strong, we are ready to break orbit.”, spoke the image of Captain Takao.

“Very good, Captain. We are ready also. Chronometers are synchronized and we will have automatic injection in two minutes.”

Takao noted his watch and answered, “Correct, Captain. The event schedule is perfectly coordinated. Spaceman’s Luck!”

Steve, now feeling a little nervous, exhaled heavily and replied, “Spaceman’s Luck, Captain.”

The image faded and Steve opened the intercom switch. “Attention all decks. We will be breaking orbit in less than two minutes. Astro, give me full pump pressure and place the reactant feed on automatic via data linkup.”

“Okay skipper. You’ve got it!”,

“Alfie, keep us in the clear of hazards and let us know of anything unusual.”

Alfie quickly replied, “Aye aye, sir.”, then thought to himself, “Somehow I don’t think that there will be anything usual about this mission!”

Tom watched the instruments and as the time for the burn approached, announced, “Acceleration in five... four.... three... two... one... zero!”

Almost imperceptibly at first, the four huge rockets of the Einstein began glowing from their nozzles. At the same time, Polaris’ rocket tubes began expelling their super heated reactant into space causing the silver needle to move away from Luna. Slowly, the power of the motors on both ships increased until, after moving a safe distance from all high traffic areas, the two ships’ engines were leaving glowing trails over two miles long behind them.

Although the exterior of the ship was completely mute to the expulsion of energy, Astro was savoring every vibration and the accompanying sounds assaulting his ears. The power deck was a very noisy place when the rockets were operating and Astro didn’t need the gages, readouts and monitors to tell him how well his motors were operating. By sound and feel, Astro could tell the condition of each rocket tube, pump, coolant conduit, switch and valve. This was Astro’s realm and he was the king.

Tom kept his captain updated constantly as the two ships continued on their course. For the next forty minutes, the ships continued their acceleration and then more suddenly than they started, the engines of both ships shut down and the great ships coasted through the void without any encumbrances.

Tom turned to Captain Strong and asked why they would be starting hyperdrive so early in the mission. Steve thought about the question for a moment and answered, “Up ‘till now most of our missions have been near the plane of the ecliptic. When we power up the hyperdrive, we have to be clear of any planets or ships that could be caught in our space time wake. As we accelerate to light speed, the space around us warps and, therefore, so does time. It’s a fairly small phenomenon, considering the affected area around the ship, but it could be disastrous to others maneuvering in the area if we are careless.”

Steve took out a pen and started drawing a diagram to illustrate the mission course. “Our destination is 1474Z Ursa Minor, which, as you remember from the briefing, is a dead star. It lies at about 87 degrees from the plane of the ecliptic. Since we are heading in that direction, we will exit from all interaction with the solar system in very quick order. We have another advantage in that the bulk of dust and gases in the ecliptic will be left behind as well. I doubt that we will have any unexpected encounters with space clods on this mission.”

Tom felt embarrassed as he realized how simple the answer was to his inquiry. Pointing to the diagram, Tom said, “Sorry, Steve, I must be concentrating so hard on the intricacies of this mission that I forgot something as basic as this.”

Steve grinned and swung his right hand up and grabbed Tom’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Tom. I’ll tell you a secret. Sometimes I get so engrossed in a lesson plan or class problem that I leave home and drive right by the Academy while thinking about it. I’d be late for classes if it were not for the jet car’s navigator reminding me that I should have exited to the faculty parking facility. I guess that’s one disadvantage of living off campus.”

The intercom interrupted the pair as Alfie’s voice came from the speaker. “Tom, can you relieve me for a moment”

Tom pressed the switch and said, “Sure, Alfie. I’ll be there in just a moment.”

Tom looked at Steve, who gestured toward the hatch and said, “Go ahead, there is not much to do for the next two hours.”

Tom arrived on the radar deck and told Alfie to take a break. Grateful, Alfie rose from the acceleration chair and stretched to the point that Tom could hear several of Alfie’s bones pop in their sockets. Amused, Tom remarked, “While you’re in the lavatory, you might mark your height on the hatch door! I think you just stretched at least two inches!”

Alfie pushed his spectacles closer to his eyes and, without hesitation, said, “Well, my grain fed lad, you might check your weight on your next trip! Anyone holding as much galaxy gas as you, can’t weigh as much as your bulk indicates!”

The curly haired cadet chuckled and told Alfie not to tarry because Astro was due for a deserved break as well.

Tom opened the intercom and called, “Captain, this is Tom on the radar deck. Everything is operational and we still have a good link with the Einstein.”

“Very good, Tom. Keep a sharp eye out for anomalies.”

“Will do, Sir. Corbett out and clear.”

For the next two hours the crew of the Polaris cycled in their duties and checked with each other on the details of the upcoming shift to hyperdrive. Satisfied that all was well, they awaited the final countdown with some trepidation. Entering hyperdrive was a tricky operation for a solo vessel, but maintaining a tandem pair of ships as a unit could be a near impossible task. The Einstein would jump to hyperdrive slightly ahead of the Polaris and hold a reduced speed until the Polaris caught up at which time both ships would gradually increase speed to maximum.

Activity on the bridge of the Einstein was at near frantic pace. Each of the huge ship’s decks reported in with the status of each compartment. The bridge’s monitors were constantly alive with chatter from increasingly nervous section officers. Captain Takao turned to his guest, Mr. Taylor and informed him of the mission progress. Unmoved, Mr. Taylor nodded his acknowledgment.

“Mr. Taylor, would you please allow my deck officer to prepare you for hyperdrive injection?”, asked the captain.

Mr. Taylor accompanied the lieutenant to an acceleration chair at which time the young officer indicated to Mr. Taylor to be seated.

“Sir, please place your arms in these cradles.”, requested the young man. “I will be placing a restraint around your waist and around each forearm. There is a possibility of some turbulence during the first portion of hyperspace injection and we do not want to take any unnecessary risks.” Indicating stubby protrusions on the chair’s arms in front of the hand positions, “Should an emergency arise, just pull on these two levers simultaneously and the restraints will be released.”

Mr. Taylor, usually stoic, seemed ever so slightly annoyed at the necessity of being restrained. However, he followed the instructions and gave a rare “Thank you” to the officer after being accommodated.

Captain Takao, scanned the bridge and observed the last few compartment indicators changing from red to green as each area of the ship completed preparations for hyperspace injection. Finally satisfied, the captain seated himself, engaged his restraints and pressed the communications link switch. “Einstein to Polaris! Captain Strong, we are ready for hyperdrive operation.”

The voice of Steve Strong poured from the monitor speaker. “We are ready, Captain. Automatic injection in one minute forty seconds.”

“Correct, Polaris. We’ll see you in the fast, wide and high! Takeo out and clear.”

Steve and his crew held their breath as the chronograph counted down. At ten seconds before injection a klaxon sounded and Steve, pressed the intercom switch. “Hold on boys! As soon as Einstein injects we’ll get a big bump from the space warp she generates.”

On the radar and power decks, Alfie and Astro braced themselves for the maneuver. Tom and Steve looked out of the viewport at the huge, graceful ship. Suddenly, the Einstein appeared blurry, as if she were out of focus. Then she appeared to stretch, almost as if she were made of rubber and a giant, invisible hand were stretching her. In less than a blink of the eye, she was gone. A quick jolt from an unseen force was the only indication that a nearby event had occurred.

The Einstein had no sooner vanished than the magnetic mass containment coils on the Polaris’ hyperdrive were at full power. Astro, being much closer to the hyperdrive unit, noticed the hair on his head begin to stand up because of the high energy build up from the induction unit. A sudden feeling of negative g force, almost like being on the first drop of a twentieth century amusement ride was experienced by the entire crew. Through blurred vision, Tom and Steve watched the pinpoints of light from distant stars begin to elongate into prismatic bands. No sooner had the initial shock of injection passed than the ride became incredibly smooth. Without the mechanical and explosive discharge of the rocket motor, the Polaris sailed though deep space as smoothly as a balloon on a light breeze.

Alfie called the control deck on the intercom. “Sir, I am picking up the Einstein dead ahead.”

“Good job, Alfie. Keep us informed as we rendezvous.”, answered Steve. Pointing to the hyperdrive maneuvering control unit, Steve asked Tom, “Would you like to bring her on to station?”

Tom grabbed the console throttle and directional controls and gently brought the Polaris into position one mile above the Einstein. Alfie directed Tom’s movements to what he thought would be a perfect communications link position. When Alfie turned the particle stream modulator on, he did not received a link confirmation from the Einstein. “Captain, I think we have a problem!”, announced Alfie.

Steve listened to Alfie’s assessment and told him that he would give him further instructions. Looking at Tom, Steve asked, “Well, cadet. Do you have an answer to Alfie’s dilemma?”

Tom gave his theory as to the lack of communication and Steve agreed. The ship’s captain gave Tom permission to relay instructions to Alfie.

“Alfie, keep us aligned on the center of the Einstein’s hull. I’m going to bring us up slightly.” Tom then maneuvered the ship slightly ahead of the receiver target on the research vessel. “Okay, Alfie. Now rotate the modulator slowly ahead of the target.”

Doing as requested, a chime from the console indicated that the link had been established. Alfie, totally perplexed, asked Tom for an explanation.

“We’re traveling faster than light speed, Alfie. Even at this short distance, the particle stream doesn’t travel in a straight line. We must lead the target like a hunter would lead a moving quarry. The communications officer on the Einstein had to do the same thing.”

Alfie, embarrassed from his lapse, thanked Tom for the help.

The crews of both ships began routine operations. This would be a long mission, at least eight weeks in hyperdrive, four weeks in exploration and survey and another eight weeks for the return voyage. Boredom can cause mistakes. It would take all of Steve’s experience to prevent problems from manifesting themselves.
End Chapter - 10

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II
Image copyrighted by Geo. W. Proctor 9/5/98