Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 19

The Polaris and Einstein made their rendezvous with Halley just outside of the orbit of Saturn. The two Vulcan escorts silently performed the most elegant maneuvers Tom had ever seen from a spacecraft as they quickly turned and accelerated to incredible speed on their way home. Tom wondered how such maneuvers could be made without crushing the life out of the beings that controlled them. He knew that exciting times were ahead of him as man learned the secrets of efficient space travel that had been developed by other races in millennia long past.

After correctly identifying themselves, the Einstein and Polaris crews were ordered to assemble in the galley and mess hall of the Einstein at Seventeen Hundred hours. Steve ordered his crew to wear clean jumpsuits and to be clean shaven. There were going to be dignitaries coming aboard.

Having docked on Einstein’s boat deck, the passengers of Polaris’ space boats met in the hallway leading to the galley. Einstein’s entire crew had already assembled and the mess hall was filled beyond capacity. Tom, Astro, Alfie and Captain Strong squeezed into the room only to find that the air circulation system was straining to keep up with the large amount of carbon dioxide and water vapor being expelled. Astro caught a glimpse of a red suited figure in one corner of the room. His right arm in a sling, Chief Donald Ladd raised his left hand and gave Astro a salute. Astro returned an upward turned thumb to the Chief and then inched closer to Tom’s position.

A lieutenant stationed near the door called, “Attention on deck!”, and everyone snapped upright and facing a small table in the center of the room. In order, Captain Takao, Doctor Dale, Professor Grayson, Ambassador Sarek, Commander Walters, Solar Alliance Undersecretary Banti Salante and one other person entered the room. Commander Walters looked over the crowd and then announced, “At ease, everyone.”

The guests and Captain Takao were seated at the table. Commander Walters remained standing and began. “Ladies, officers, men and cadets, before we begin, I wish to introduce you to Undersecretary Banti of the Solar Council and Ambassador Christopher Mitchell, of our Mission on Vulcan.”

Both men nodded as they were introduced.

Because of the cramped conditions, we will not bore you or increase your discomfort with a long series of speeches. However, at this time I must ask that if any of you do not believe that you can honorably continue your silence about what you have seen and learned from this mission, I ask you to exit the room now.” No one moved.

“Thank you all.” Then motioning to the Undersecretary, “Mr. Salante has a few words for you at this time.”

Undersecretary Salante rose from his chair and smiled at the assembly. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your welcome. Also, thank you for your service on this difficult mission. You men and women were selected from among thousands to witness the beginning of a new era for Man. In our long and sometimes not so glorious history, we have dreamed of reaching the stars. In the last four hundred years we have taken only the smallest step toward that destiny. Today we begin taking the prophetic giant leap for mankind. Among us is Ambassador Sarek, an emissary from the planet Vulcan in a distant star system. Sarek was assigned to contact our government eight years ago, to act as a midwife to ease our entry into the greater community of the galaxy. Ladies and gentlemen, you will be among the first to know of the makeup of that community.”

Salante slowly turned as he spoke, trying to make eye contact with every crew member. As he did so, he continued speaking. “As in any neighborhood, there are sometimes bad neighbors. Being the new kids on the block, we need to establish friendships with those who will warn us and guide us and, yes, even sometimes defend us until we mature enough to take our rightful place among the civilizations of the galaxy. It will be a long transition. Our people need to be slowly introduced to the technologies, methods and materials that will be given to us by our benefactors. We must be responsible with those gifts.”

Salante cleared his throat and sipped some water. As he did so, he looked around the room to try to detect any facial expressions or other clues that might betray someone who might not be comfortable with the next portion of his speech. He did not see anything. He was proud of these men and women who had sworn their lives to the service of the Solar Guard. They were, indeed, the best of the best. He continued.

“During the next ten years each of you will assume new posts as we guide fellow cadets, enlistees, officers and civilians through these changes. Mankind is about to undergo a major ego reduction and it will be up to you to explain our position within the cosmos. We can no longer think of ourselves as superior beings. If we use our intelligence and have some good fortune, perhaps we will one day be able to call ourselves equals to many of our new friends.”

“Some of you may believe that you have met the majority of intelligent races. Please observe.”

A large tall screen suddenly became illuminated and it projected an image of the Milky Way galaxy. Pointing to one of the spiral arms of the galaxy, about ten percent of the arm became highlighted on the screen. “Within this area are at least five hundred advanced civilizations and many times that number of lesser developed, yet intelligent life forms. Man’s destiny is to join in the exploration of our neighborhood and move into the stars. At the request of our benefactors, we have adopted a code of non interference which we shall call the prime directive. No civilization will be given help or hindrance to their development unless we are invited to assist in a positive manner. You will all be instructed in the implementation of this policy. The largest cultural shock that we will have to endure will be a slight shift in our calendar to coincide with certain other off world events. We will also be employing a new dating system that will be most useful after we enter the new age. It will be called stardate. We also have preliminary plans to build a new Space Academy based on teaching the new technologies. Possible sites are Pensacola, San Francisco or Sidney. Remember, you will reveal what you know only after official announcements.”

Looking at the chronometer on the wall, Salante decided that he had held their attention too long. “Ladies and gentlemen, I now ask that you return to your posts and consider the information I have given. Your senior officers and the scientific personnel will be glad to answer your questions as best that they can. We will remain in this orbit for two more days so that you can work out your personal feelings on these matters. We will then make way for home and a well deserved leave for all of you. Thank you for your courage, your honor and attention to duty.”

Salante, Mitchell and Sarek stood up and an officer called, “Tennnn Hut!”. As the three men left the mess hall, all others stood rigidly in respect. After being dismissed, most of the crewmen slowly filed out of the room. Some of the men seemed somber and some were elated and very animated. But, all had feelings that would need to be expressed and put at ease.

The ship’s captains joined in a conversation with Commander Walters. Doctor Dale and Professor Grayson remained behind to answer any immediate concerns posed by any of the crew. Tom noticed that there were a few short conversations and Joan’s easy and self assured manner made for quick understanding of her answers. The room had almost cleared when the Polaris crew made their way to the scientists. Joan looked at the eager young faces and could read most of the questions before they were posed.

“Hello, boys!”, she said. “Well, you know it all now! What do you think?”

Alfie was so excited that he began stuttering, “D D Doctor, this is beyond anything I could have dreamed of!”

“You’re right, Alfie. It was beyond my imagination just a few months ago!”

Astro jumped in. “Excuse me Doctor, just what was the purpose of our mission? I know that we were looking for Compound X, but why is it so significant?”

The blond scientist put her hand on Astro’s cheek. “Well, Astro, I know that you have had some difficulty with the theories involved with astrophysics, so I’m afraid that I have to tell you that there will be a whole new technology developed because of our finds. Compound X is actually a crystalline matrix of a relatively common element. It’s actual name is dilithium and it is the only material that we know of that will allow us to develop stable propulsion systems that will produce enough energy to allow us to bend, twist or warp the actual makeup of space around a ship. It will give us control of matter/anti matter annihilation chambers that will produce not only propulsion energy, electricity, magnetic shielding for our ships, weapons systems and a means of dampening internal motion so that our ships will be able to perform wonderful maneuvers without harm to the crews.”

Astro looked sullenly at his feet as he realized that his beautiful atomic engines were about to become as obsolete as the internal combustion engine. Joan recognized the look on the Venusian’s face and said, “Cheer up, Astro! Just think of dilithium in the same way that you visualize the dampening rods in you atomic reactor cores!”

Astro looked into Joan’s eyes and suddenly realized that this may be a new opportunity. Besides, he would have ten years to learn all about it.

“Thanks, Doctor, I’ll do my best not to let you down.”

“Astro, if I thought you couldn’t learn about the future systems, I’m afraid that you wouldn’t have been allowed on this mission! Don’t worry, we all have faith in you!”

Joan decided that this would be a good time to confide in Astro and his crewmates. “Boys, just between us... You know that Major Connel was transferred?”

The young men nodded.

“Well, he is in charge of a commission to investigate the proposed sites for the new academy. After he returns with his report, he will be back at Space Academy for another year. After your graduation and commission next year, he will be promoted to full colonel.”

The boys looked at each other as they silently appreciated the good news. “Astro?”

The young Venusian looked straight at Joan.

“Major Connel has asked that you help him in setting up the work shops and oversee the curriculum when the new academy begins teaching.

Astro’s lower lip began shaking. He wondered how so many people could have faith in him when he was so unsure of himself.

Tom decided that it was a good time to ask a few questions of his own. “Doctor, just how efficient are these new propulsion systems?”

“Well, with our present hyper drives, we can achieve a space fold factor of about magnitude one point three to the speed of light in three days of constant acceleration. So far, the Vulcan vessels can make speed at a factor of magnitude five point nine to the speed of light in a matter of less than one half second.”

The cadets gasped as they heard the incredible figures being presented to them.

Joan continued. “Sarek tells us that within a century, it may be possible to achieve a speed factor of nine point nine!”

Alfie stood in front of her with his eyes nearly bulging out to his glasses. He could only mouth one word, “WOW!”

Tom turned to Professor Grayson. “Professor, as the xeno technologist, you must have known about these technologies well in advance. You told us that you have known Sarek for more than eight years, did he just lay them on your doorstep?”

The beautiful lady blushed slightly. “No, Cadet. As a matter of fact, I had to pry them out of him and only after he had been given clearance from his superiors. You see, Sarek was sent to us after Vulcan recognized our potential as a spacefaring race. They had been observing us for years and only after we became enlightened enough to do away with Warring among ourselves did they decide to make contact with us. Because of their non interference policy, they had to be assured that we were capable of using our intellect for peaceful exploration rather than for conquest.”

Tom thought about a previous meeting with Sarek. As he did so, he started grinning when he remembered a remark that he made. “Professor, before I knew about Ambassador Sarek’s identity, he caught me making a comment on my observation of his mannerisms. I mentioned that I thought he was an eerie chap and he agreed with me!”

“Well, Cadet? What is your opinion now?”

“Gee, Professor! I know a lot more about him now. And I understand how he maintains his diplomatic face in conversations of State. I just don’t know how someone could be like that at all times!”

“Kind of like a cool bird?”

Now it was Tom’s turn to blush as he remembered Astro’s previous conversation with the professor. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Cadet, I told you that Sarek gave me that same impression when I first met him. I can now tell you that he does have his moments of emotion when his guard is down. They are the most private moments of his life. He is a man with a great soul surrounded with even greater wisdom.”

Alfie quickly asked without thinking. “Ma’am,when is that?”

Tom reacted quickly, nudging Alfie in the ribs with his elbow. “I’m sorry Professor, my friend is a little light in the manners department.”

Professor Grayson’s face suddenly radiated with the most lovely expression Tom had ever seen. It was as if she had suddenly been blessed with the removal of a great burden. “It’s all right Cadet Corbett. Alfie is young and youth is allowed to be brash. You see, boys,”, she said with a giggle, “Sarek is my husband.”
End Chapter - 19

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II