Journey to a Dead Star

Chapter 6

At seven thirty in the morning, Commander Walters’ office was filled with an odd mixture of Senior Guard officers, two ship’s captains, John Dixon, Sergeant Major of the Solar Guards, Dr. Joan Dale, Professor Amanda Grayson, a ‘foreign looking’ gentleman and three perplexed cadets. Major Bull Wellington approached Commander Walters’ desk and announced that, “All required personnel were present.”

Walters stood up behind his desk and faced the assembly. “Ladies and gentlemen.”, he said in somber tones, “We are about to embark on a historical mission. It will be historical because it will change the course of humankind for the remainder of it’s existence. It is necessary, at this point in time, to keep each of your groups on a need to know information blackout. The only people on this planet who know all of the details about this mission and it’s consequences are The Counsel, myself, Dr. Dale, Professor Grayson, and Major Wellington. Without giving you the reasons for ‘why’ we are partaking of this mission, we will now give you the overview of the mission. Each speaker will address the mission from his or her perspective. Remember, you ARE NOT to speak to anyone other that your mission superior about any facet of this mission. Now, I will turn this meeting over to Major Wellington. Major?”

The imposing security officer assumed the center of the conference area. Holding a remote control device in his right hand, he pointed it at a luminescent panel on the wall. Pushing a button, the screen started glowing and the room lights darkened simultaneously. “Ladies and gentlemen, please prepare yourselves for some disturbing images.”

An image of a badly burned human body lying on an autopsy table appeared on the wall. The image changed several times displaying the subject from different angles. The big man spoke to a room held spellbound by the images. “At Twenty one hundred hours last evening, a small ship approached our research and exploration vessel, Einstein in lunar orbit. The Einstein was being fitted with a hyperdrive unit as well as being chandlered for the mission. An explosion occurred near the small craft causing it’s destruction and moderate damage to the Einstein. The remains of two occupants of the craft were recovered. The body being displayed is that of Kurt Imus, a small time hoodlum and general n’er do well. We have retrieved all known records of his career and we also know that he rented the Vessel from a legitimate agency on Luna Base. I won’t go into his prior record, but let me just say that he would do anything for credits, but he wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. More often than not, he would be caught as his scheme unraveled around him. This time was his last. The seals on his suit protected much of his body from Repressurization damage, but he suffered severe burns from the blast radiation and other damage from immediate freezing to exposed areas.”

Another press of the remote control button brought more images. This time the body presented was strangely different. The tension in the room was growing. Tom, Astro and Alfie could hardly breath. The boys wanted to confer with someone about what they were witnessing, but they dared not speak unless asked to do so. The autopsy images showed a nude humanoid figure which had been dismembered in the explosion. The medical examiner had reassembled the body for the presentation. The figure was about six and one half feet tall. The skin was smooth with a very pale green pigmentation mixed with a darker tan. The tops of the feet were somewhat bonier than a human. The leg bones were thicker than the average man and the abdomen somewhat smaller. The open abdominal and thoracic cavity appeared to have similar organ layout to humans, but the heart was very large and located lower and was reversed in position to the human organ. The lungs were covered by a very tough membrane that obviously protected them very well. The arms seemed to be about human average but were very muscular. It was the head that held everyone’s attention. The brow protruded somewhat over the eye sockets by reason of a thick bone structure. The hair was straight and black and the ears were elongated and pointed at the top. Another feature was that the eyebrows almost met in the center of the brow and rather than curving with the eye sockets, they angled upward as they reached the side of the face.

Major Wellington continued. “This is our mystery passenger. Obviously he is not human. He does not conform to any of the few alien species that we have encountered so we will list his as being of unknown race and origin. His remains were in possession of few artifacts other than a standard pressurized space suit which was obtained on Luna Base. We did recover a device which may be a recorder, translator or transceiver. Professor Grayson’s people are now examining that instrument.

“What we do know is that these two attempted to disrupt a top secret mission. We also know that just a few hours before this attempt, the pilot, Kurt Imus’ brother was intercepted trying to enter the academy in an effort to obtain the flight plan and other information regarding the Einstein mission. It is apparent that someone or some government does not want this mission to proceed, let alone succeed. All units are on the highest state of alertness and will continue in that mode until further notice.”

Bull Wellington pushed another button and the room illumination increased. He then handed the remote unit to Dr. Joan Dale and with a nod, resumed his place in the room.

The young, blond astrophysics instructor was not an armchair scientist. She was often allowed to accompany crews on exploratory missions, particularly when an odd astronomical phenomena was being investigated. This morning she was in no mood for the banter of youthful cadets. She wore the khaki uniform of a lieutenant in the Solar Guard Reserve, being one of the few female officers commissioned into the organization. Tom and his classmates had never seen Dr. Dale in a military uniform before. In fact, they didn’t realize that she even held a commission. Tom thought, “If Dr. Dale’s commission has been activated, then this must be bigger than we could have imagined.”

The serious look on her face and the fact that she was in uniform foretold that this was not going to be an informal briefing. Somberly, she began, “Professor Grayson, gentlemen. The fate and future of the human race depends on our actions and reactions from this meeting. The Einstein has been designed for a single purpose... to complete this mission.” Pressing the control, the lights dimmed and the view screen flashed a new image. “Our deep space observatory in Mars orbit has discovered this star with it’s infrared and x ray sensors.” The image of a ruddy point of light displaying a dark band across it’s face appeared on the screen. “This is 1474Z Ursa Minor. It is located 10 light years distant from our system. We have only recently discovered this star because it is almost completely depleted of it’s nuclear fuel. It is, indeed, a ‘dead’ star. Our best estimate is that it has been without fuel for at least a billion years. It is unique because it is the nearest star we have discovered with a protoplanetary dust disc. Unlike young stars that have formed from the gravitational collapse of hydrogen and interstellar material, forming planets from the leftover materials, this star formed its planets in it’s death throes by ejecting heavy materials in shells as it collapsed. The relatively rapid shedding of these shells caused shock waves to pass through the previously dispensed dust, thus creating a gravitational tide that began the formation of new planets. At present we have discovered three clear lanes within the disc which should indicate a like number of planets, but there may be additional bodies not yet discovered. “

The room suddenly came to life as whispered questions passed among the listeners. Dr. Dale resumed, “Your attention please!” Again, the room fell silent. “There are great implications associated with this discovery. It is our belief that the age of this star, is proper for the formation of a new elemental matrix which we have only been able to duplicate as a computer generated model. The Einstein mission is to travel to this star. explore and sample the planetoids and dust lanes in search of the elemental matrix which we shall refer to, for security reasons, as ‘Compound X’. Until you and your crews are aboard the Einstein, you may not make reference to Compound X or any other facet of this mission. I now ask Professor Grayson to give her report.”

Transferring the video control to professor Grayson, Dr. Dale crossed the room and leaned against the far wall, trying to be as unobservable as possible. Amanda Grayson is a beautiful, dark haired woman of distinction. Tom and the boys were not familiar with her and they were sure that they would have to look up her biography after the session. As the event proceeded, they found that it would not be necessary.

“Dr. Dale, gentlemen. My name is Amanda Grayson, professor of xenotechnology, currently stationed on Titan. My specialty is the study of extra-solar life and the artifacts of their civilizations. Until recently, the bulk of my studies have been associated with ruins, fossils and the bits and pieces left from long dead races. As you can see, we have a whole new area of study opened to us. Our would be saboteur is obviously not from Earth. Nor is he from any known planet or moon within this solar system. At this point I am not as concerned about who he is or where he came from, but it is about why he was interested in the Einstein mission. My department is working with a secure group of scientists here at the academy to attempt to back engineer the device that we found with our visitor. We may not have the answers soon, but we cannot delay the Einstein mission until we have those answers. I have recommended to the Solar Counsel that we continue on our schedule and send the Einstein forth as soon as the repairs are made. When we have new information, I will contact the appropriate department heads who are covered under mission security. We will now hear from Captain Takao. Thank you.”

Captain Takao received the remote unit and presented a plan view of the Einstein on the video monitor. “Ladies and gentlemen, I must first apologize for setting our schedule back by not securing the immediate space around my ship. The damage done by the interlopers is not as great as we first believed.” Pointing to the right atomic engine nacelle, “The device was apparently supposed to be attached to this point on the starboard engine. The premature detonation of the device produced a shockwave of very small proportions because there was no immediate contact with the mass of the vessel. Most of the damage was from heat produced from the radiation from the bomb. It will take about two weeks to replace the melted plating around the nacelle and tip of the wing. A final inspection of the frame and hull integrity will be completed tomorrow, but I do not foresee any complications from unknown damage.”

The captain motioned to Commander Walters to accept control of the meeting then he held his hand up as another thought came to mind. “By the way, I don’t mind telling you that when that bomb went off, I was scared. That moment of fear will stay with me until this mission is completed. Fear makes one wary and cunning. I will not let my ship be jeopardized again.”

Commander Walters raised the room lights and scanned the assembly. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a mission to complete. Each of you will receive specific orders for your participation.” Gesturing to the tall stranger, Walters continued. “Before I close this meeting, I want you all to meet Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor is an observer appointed by the Solar Counsel. He is to be afforded every courtesy. His questions are to be answered but no one is to question him... about anything. Understood?”

The room reverberated with a simultaneous “Yes Sir.”

“Sergeant Major Dixon will oversee all enlisted personnel on board the Einstein and he will report directly to Captain Takao. Captain Strong and the crew of the Polaris will provide escort for the Einstein for the duration of the mission. The Polaris will blast off immediately to rendezvous with the Einstein in lunar orbit.”

Walters again scanned the group, looking for hints of inquiry. “Are there any questions?”

Not hearing as much as a breath, Major Wellington stepped to the front of the gathering and announced, “There is to be no loose talk about this mission. You must report on anyone not involved in the mission trying to obtain information.” Then, straightening up and pulling his tunic down tightly, he barked, “Stand to!.... Dismissed!”

The sealed doors to the office opened and the entire group left wordlessly. Tom, Astro and Alfie were bursting with questions for Captain Strong, but they new that this was not the time or place for any inquiries. After they had descended down several floors on the slidestairs, it was apparent that they had been dispersed from the others whom had attended the meeting. Astro started, “Captain, why were we chosen as the mission escort?”

“Not here, Astro.”, said Captain Strong. “Once we board the Polaris, we can talk all we want. I can’t guarantee answers, but I’ll let you know as much as I can. Okay?”

Astro, realizing that he might have accidentally breached security, replied, “Yes Sir. Sorry Sir.”

Steve squeezed the young Venusian’s shoulder as an affirmation of confidence and looked at all three of his young charges. “Boys, I’m just as excited about this mission as you are! Now let’s hustle over to our chariot and prepare to raise ship.”

The crew walked briskly out of the Space Academy complex and Steve hailed a passing service vehicle to solicit a ride to launch pad twelve which was about three miles from the Academy and host to the Polaris. The slidewalks were too slow for a group of cadets bursting with questions that couldn’t be posed until reaching the ship.
End Chapter 6 -

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Copyright 1998 by Jack McKirgan II