Standing behind his acceleration chair and gazing out of the viewport, Steve wished that he could have his crew rotated to the Einstein for some diversion. As large as the Polaris was, it seemed tiny after two months in hyperspace. Steve remembered his history courses, and marveled at the daring and fortitude of the pioneers of space travel.
“How could men and women confine themselves to the unimaginable small spaces of capsules, modules and tiny stations for months and years without benefit of gravity?”, he thought. “That first voyage to Mars relied on a ballistic flight rather than constant acceleration from the limited use chemical rockets of the time. The mission had taken two years to complete in a small craft housing fifteen men and women in weightlessness for most of the trip. Despite the health problems suffered by the crew, due to the mission, they had all remained friends throughout their lives.”
Steve gripped the back of his chair hard as he suddenly realized that Man was as resilient as he was inventive. He knew that Man’s exploration of space would enter adulthood after the completion of this mission. Knowledge of these facts without being able to share them with his crew was a heavy and frustrating burden. True to his upbringing, character and honor, he also knew that he would not violate his pledge.
”The word jolted the ship’s commander back to the present. Tom handed his captain a cup of coffee and turned to the viewport. “You sure were engrossed in the view!”
The officer place the cup to his lips and took a refreshing sip of the brew. “Actually, Tom, I was thinking well beyond the view.”
Not understanding, Tom asked, “What do you mean?”
“Oh, I was remembering the past and imagining the future, that’s all.”
“Is there something you wanted to say, Steve?”
Looking into the dark brown liquid, Steve admitted, “There is a lot I want to tell you, but it’s not the time and it’s not my decision.”
Tom realized that this would be a good time to excuse himself. He told Steve that he was going to initiate a check of the power deck.
Astro was taking a nap when Tom opened the hatch. “Well, big boy! Are you tired or trying to get out of studying?”
“Man, I’m bored!”, he exclaimed. “I’m glad this little junket is almost half over! If I had another week in hyperdrive, I’d go as buggy as a Martian rust beetle! There isn’t a whole bunch of maintenance to be done on these engines like there is with the rocket motors.”
Tom looked over the power deck’s console and made notes on his clipboard. He then opened the hatch to the coolant pump room and inspected every impeller and bearing for wear and tolerance levels. he then took inventory of coolant and reactant and physically checked the reactor core. When he re emerged from the hatch, he told Astro, “I’ve got to hand it to you big boy, everything is in great shaped
“You’re not telling me anything new. I’ve polished every nut, bolt, rivet, valve, conduit, coupler, housing, bulkhead, deck, knob and lever in my section for two solid months!”
He pulled a large drawer into the open position and said, “Look! I even polished my spanners and sockets!. If I could figure a way to polish the polish, I would have done that too!”
Tom smiled and said, “Well, my son of Venusian sod, at least you’ve been active!”
“Hmmp! The only thing moving around here besides myself are the electrons in those induction coils. I’ve gotten so used to listening to their hum that it puts me to sleep.”
Tom placing his pen on the magnetic holder on the clipboard, told Astro,” Well, chum, we’ll be dropping out of hyperspace in a few hours. How about giving the weapons systems a good inspection?”
“Sounds good to me, boss. I’ll meet you on the radar deck when I’m finished.”
Tom was also glad that the long trek through hyperspace was almost over. It had been such an uneventful journey that he made a point of being on hand for the daily conference between the captains. He wasn’t so interested in the conversation as he was in just getting a glimpse of the activity on, the bridge of the Einstein. On one occasion, Dr. Dale manipulated the camera around so that the cadets could get a good view of the spacious control deck and the bridge area. Right now Tom ached to be in a new environment.
At seventeen hundred hours, the monitor alarm announced an incoming message. Captain Strong switched on the monitor and was greeted by his old friend. “Captain Strong, we are twenty minutes from the outer rim of 474Z Ursa Minor. Are you ready to drop out of hyperspace?”
“Affirmative, Captain. We’ll loose communication until we re link in real space.”
Hiroshi gave a quick salute and said, “We’ll see you again, soon. Takao out and clear.”
As the monitor image faded, Steve flipped the klaxon switch and announced to all decks to make ready to drop out of hyperspace.
Alfie had been sleeping while Tom and Astro monitored the scanners.. He awoke with a start at the sound of the alarm. “What’s going on fellas?”
“Relax, bitty buddy.”, said Astro. We’re just getting ready to enter real space.”
His pulse, still racing, Alfie tried to collect his sleep clouded senses. He looked at Tom and then at Astro. “You’re telling me that I slept for over twelve hours?!”
“You looked wiped out.”, said Tom.
Astro joined in, “I’m no med tech, but when we came up here, you looked like the monitors had burned the readouts onto your retinas. Tom and I figured that you could use all the rest that you could get.”
“Gee, fellas, Thanks! I was feeling like a zombie.”
“Better run to the head! Last chance before we get a look at this star.”, said Astro.
As Alfie turned toward the hatch, Astro grabbed his arm and spun him around. Looking closely at Alfie’s face, Astro remarked, “Hey, Tom! By the time we get home, Alfie boy may have to shave!”
Alfie, now feeling anger and embarrassment, pulled his arm from Astro’s grip and wordlessly made way to the lavatory. As he passed the mirror, he removed his glasses and flushed his eyes with warm water. After re applying his lenses, he took a close look at his face. “Hmmp!”, he thought, “I’ll probably need to shave in less than two weeks!”
After a few seconds of blurred vision, the Polaris crew could again see the stars as shining pinpoints. Tom unstrapped himself and went to the viewport. “I don’t see the Einstein, Steve!, he called.
Steve opened the intercom to the radar deck. “Alfie, we don’t have a visual contact with the Einstein. Do you see her?”
Alfie replied, “Scanning now, Sir.” A few seconds passed and the youngster announced, “I found her, Sir. She’s seventy miles astern and twenty seven miles apart. She’s underway to meet us.”
“Very good, cadet. Let us know when she makes her approach.”
Steve stood behind Tom’s chair and looked at the large monitor screen. “Tom, bring up the astro scope on the viewer and let’s get a look at 1474Z Ursa Minor.”
Tom maneuvered the optical sensor’s remote control in a sweeping pattern that covered most of the open space around the Polaris.
“I don’t see anything, Steve. Could we have missed her?”
“That’s unlikely.”, said Steve. “Do a slow sweep of the starboard quadrant. Step it every two degrees.”
For the next ten minutes, Tom and Steve watched the monitor very carefully. As the camera slid through a fuzzy patch of space, Steve commanded, “Hold it! There she is, Tom!”
Tom looked bewildered and asked, “Are you sure this is it, Sir? It looks like a typical dark nebula to me.”
Steve, quite pleased with himself, stated, “I’m sure, Tom. Increase the gain on the sensor and increase the magnification by two and a half times.”
Tom made the adjustments and nearly lost his breath as the image of a glowing ball of molten heavy metals materialized on the screen. This star had long ago spent it’s nuclear fuel and now was little more than a huge metallic planet. The surface was half encrusted with cooler materials and was broken with bright areas of molten metal. The heat was generated by the gravitational collapse of the star and the internal friction and convection currents of the immense mass of metals. The core was under tremendous pressures and the liquid metals at the heart of the star induced convection currents to rise to the surface creating new bright spots that quickly faded to a relatively dull glow. In another billion years it would be possible to place a high gravity probe on the surface of this hellish world.
“Okay, Tom, reduce the magnification by two thirds.”
As the magnification decreased, under image intensification, a great disc of dark material became visible surrounding the dead sun.
“By Neptune’s Ring!”, Tom exclaimed, “We’re going to survey that!? It’s at least a billion miles across!
“Fortunately, we don’t have to check out the entire area.”, Steve explained. “The Einstein will find the planetary masses that have formed and teams will descend with instruments and probes to make measurements. They may take a few samples of the dust ring as well.”
Tom exhaled forcefully. Shaking his head, he said, “This still looks like an impossible task.”
Steve looked at his control deck cadet and gave Tom an important bit of information. “The Einstein was build just for this mission, Tom. You’ll see how well she does her job in just a few days.... and you will not be disappointed.”
The two ships rejoined each other and established the communications link. Steve was passing his first report to Hiroshi since dropping out of hyperspace when an idea came to him.
“Captain, my crew has been cooped up in this tin can for what seems to be an eternity. Do you think you can round up a relief crew familiar with the operation of a cruiser?”
Hiroshi paused for a second, then said, “Sure Captain. In fact, I’ll send over a double crew so your men can take in a full day period over here.”
Steve thanked his friend and savored the thought of seeing his cadets’ faces when he gave them the news. The sheer drudgery of this mission was beginning to vanish as the possibility of an exciting new task emerged.
End Chapter - 11
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