Pytheas – 2154
Earth sat serenely in the darkness of space. Miranda and most of the crew were in CIC watching their home shrink by a minuscule amount on the display as Pytheas sped away. Their old home. Earth was no longer safe. With this act of defiance they were traitors to their country—their world—and should they return they would most certainly be killed.
Earth and its inhabitants were dying. The general populous may have suspected something was wrong, but the idea of extinction was so unfathomable most refused to accept it. No way would civilization perish! But it would like countless species in the past. Everything must come to an end including the human race, but that didn’t mean they had to go quietly.
Twenty-four years ago a crew of one hundred left Earth aboard the Odyssey for Barnard’s Star, a brown dwarf nearly six light-years away. A habitable planet called New Ithaca was discovered there, the first Earth-like body that could support life, and it was the goal of the Odyssey to start a new life away from the corporate and government bureaucracy that had plagued Earth. If Odyssey hadn’t yet arrived they would within the next few days.
As if reading her mind, her husband Trent said, “One of these days you’re going to have to explain to me again how you broke the laws of time displacement.”
“It’s time dilation, and we didn’t break any laws,” Miranda said. “We just bent them.”
“Well whatever it’s called, I still don’t understand how our trip will take just three weeks while it took Odyssey a year. Add to that the aging thing… it’s enough to give me a headache.”
She chuckled. “One day I’ll try to explain it again.”
Captain Hockley asked from his chair, “Distance?” He was a burly man, middle-aged, that radiated confidence. Everyone remained silent waiting for the next anti-NEO missile to strike. The missiles were designed to destroy enemy satellites, Earthbound asteroids, or any other near earth object that was a threat. Fleeing civilians had apparently been added to the list.
Miranda took Trent’s hand, their fingers interlocking. She was nervous, but the cool confident touch of her husband was enough to calm her. Whatever happened, good or bad, at least they were together.
“19,000 kilometers,” Sai responded.
“Outside the defense perimeter. We’re safe.”
The stress and anxiety Miranda felt since fleeing their house three hours ago dissipated. Being followed, the run-in with those men, all felt like it happened weeks ago.
“Any idea what alerted them?” Hockley asked.
All eyes turned to Yvonne. She was the mastermind of this mission, bankrolling half of it with her company’s money. The other half was financed by the government which explained why they weren’t too eager to see them leave. They thought they were investing in new military tech, and it must sting to find out they’d been duped.
“All I know is that Senator Harrington found out about the launch and tried to stop it. How he found out is a mystery, one that I intend to resolve. But for the moment that doesn’t matter; they won’t find us.”
“The hell it doesn’t. We could have—”
“We can discuss that all later, Captain. It seems to me the plan was to stop the launch, and what we just experienced was their last-ditch effort. They failed, and there are no other ships on Earth capable of going where we’re headed.” Yvonne looked at the monitor that displayed the ever-shrinking Earth. “She’s beautiful, isn’t she? A pale blue dot in the vastness of the cosmos.”
“She’s the only home we’ve ever known,” Captain Hockley agreed.
“Enjoy it while you can everyone, because this will be the last time we see her. We’ve been pushed from the nest, and now it’s time to fly on our own.”
Miranda felt Trent squeeze her hand, and she smiled. Not only was her husband here, but her best friend and colleague, Kenton Bestrol. She noticed him sitting alone—always alone—looking a little sick to his stomach. He hated to fly, and between the launch and the attack on Pytheas it must have been too much for him. She hoped he wouldn’t be like this the next three weeks to New Ithaca. They were explorers, adventurers, and it would be a shame for him suffer through it due to flight sickness.
Her gaze went to Lexi Cohen and Warren Bevan, the youngest members of the crew. Both were in their early twenties and brilliant scientists in the making. They came to her as graduate students and quickly became an integral part of the team. James Westport was second in command, about a dozen years younger than the captain, but experienced with his military background. Thalia Rothchild leaned against a panel towards the back, arms folded across her chest. She was in the same military unit as Trent and they were surrogate siblings. Then there was Sai Doshi who was in the air force, a pilot that rivaled the best. And their resident doctor was Eric Eckhart, a slightly soft but affectionate man. The only two missing from the command center was Frederick Jablonski and David Connor. They were the ships engineers and were in engineering ensuring the ship stayed together during their escape. She reminded herself to thank them for a job well done.
These people were her family now, them and the one hundred lives on New Ithaca they were going to save.
As Earth shrunk to the size of a marble, Yvonne ordered the view screen turned off. “It is time,” she said. “Miranda and Kenton, you’re up next. Please report to the Hermes Device and prep for jump.”
Kenton stood, bracing himself with the armrests of the chair. God, he was pale. Miranda hoped he would be alright. He turned and headed for the door. She was about to follow when she felt Trent pull her back. She looked at him and saw the love in his eyes. Miranda smiled, leaned up, and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. “We’ll celebrate later,” she whispered.
He let go and she followed after Kenton. It was time to see if the Hermes Device would work. They never had a proper chance to do a final test, so this would be it. Not only was the Pytheas crew relying on her, so was the crew of the Odyssey. The only difference was those aboard Odyssey didn’t know they were in danger.
The jump to FTL went as planned. Everyone was on edge when Miranda initiated the countdown because they never had the opportunity to do a second test. A few things could have happened: they wouldn’t jump and would be stranded on Pytheas until they starved to death, the ship would explode, or they would end up somewhere other than New Ithaca. A week gone by and Miranda was confident two of those could be checked off the list.
Yvonne requested all personnel to the CIC for a meeting, though what she wanted to discuss remained a mystery. They gathered around the holotable in the corner of the room waiting patiently for her and Captain Hockley to arrive. While they waited, she thought of her father and wondered what he was doing right now. She was still confused by his refusal to come even though Yvonne offered him a place here. And he should be here; the Hermes Device was his invention. If not for him and his colleague, Professor William Lynch, the Hermes Device wouldn’t exist. They started the project nearly thirty years ago, and it was sort of poetic that she, being his daughter, and Kenton, his adopted son, completed it.
Blast it, Dad, why did you change your mind about coming?
After she and Trent received the call it was time to leave, she’d contacted her father to make one final plea. And while she was unsuccessful in changing his mind she was able to say goodbye. It broke her heart knowing they would never see each other again. She felt she was abandoning him and, in-turn, was abandoned by him.
Yvonne entered CIC with Captain Hockley in tow. As she approached, she said, “Well done everyone. I want to commend you all for doing your jobs admirably. We are on schedule and will reach New Ithaca in just under two weeks. If everything continues to go according to plan, then we should have no trouble evacuating the colonists with the limited time we have. Now it’s time for me to share additional information with you, information that wasn’t made public for reasons that will become clear. You all know the history of Scott Gaiman and Odyssey’s mission.”
Scott Gaiman was the mastermind behind that mission. When Earth received data from a probe of a habitable world in their cosmic backyard, he jumped at the chance to go and explore. Utilizing his vast fortune, Scott spent billions of dollars hiring the best to invent and construct not only the ship that would get them there, but the device as well. Due to circumstances outside of his control, they were forced to leave Earth before the Hermes Device was completed.
It was discovered a few years later that New Ithaca passed through a radiation anomaly, and while the magnetic field did reduce the amount of radiation that bombarded the planet, enough still got through that a human would die within days of exposure. With no way to warn Odyssey of their impending doom, his Company made it their top priority to construct a second ship, perfect the Hermes Device, and save the first human explorers on an alien world.
Yvonne used the holotable’s console and a three-dimensional image of New Ithaca appeared above it. “What wasn’t made public was that topographical data we received showed what looked like artificial structures, structures that didn’t appear to be natural formations.” The image of New Ithaca zoomed in and the image became blocky and distorted. “As you can see they are fuzzy and hard to see, but after much deliberation it was concluded the structures must have been built by an intelligent species. The structures appear to be rundown and abandoned, and none of the data suggests the planet currently harbors a sophisticated species. There is no reason to believe whoever built the structure is still there.”
Kenton asked, “How can you be sure? Just because it’s rundown doesn’t mean anything.”
“Cities are living things; traffic through the streets, buildings being built and taken down, but none of that is present here.” She cycled through several images to illustrate the point. “There is no reason to believe whoever built the structure is still there. Of the habitable worlds discovered by the EPIC probes, only this system looks to have harbored life. That is why Barnard’s Star was selected by the Odyssey team.”
“Why was this kept from the public?”
Yvonne shrugged. “One country, one religion. It would shatter the illusion that mankind is the center of the universe. Figuratively speaking.”
Since the All Continents War and The Epidemic, only a handful of super powers remained on Earth, and they were controlled by religious corporations. While the idea of other aliens in the universe wasn’t foreign, the idea a civilization more advanced than humans would shatter the illusion of mankind’s superiority. The control religion held over the world would be in jeopardy.
“While I don’t anticipate any issues,” said Yvonne, “we still need to be prepared for some resistance from the colonists themselves. Many of them bought into Scott’s pitch of a Universal Truth, so they may not be eager to abandon New Ithaca regardless of the risk.”
The Universal Truth Yvonne spoke of was Scott’s pitch for the expedition. While the government didn’t want the public aware of a possible advanced alien race, that didn’t mean they didn’t want to better understand humanities role within the universe.
“Still,” she continued, “with Luyten’s Star as a potential replacement candidate, I think we can convince them with little effort. And with the successful completion of the Hermes Device, there is no reason we can’t go back to explore New Ithaca at a later date.” To Captain Hockley, she asked, “What’s the status of Priam and Hector?”
While Pytheas was the main ship, they were towing two large, mostly empty, vessels. They were designed to house Odyssey’s supplies and colonists for the few short weeks it would take to get to Luyten’s Star. In the event of an emergency they did have their own CIC and could be flown independently, but neither had FTL capability.
“Functioning normally. Once Odyssey is located they’ll detach and land near the colonists. All necessary equipment aboard Odyssey will be transferred to the trucks as will the colonists. They’ll launch, reattach to Pytheas, and we’ll be on our way. In and out, just like that.” He snapped his fingers to accentuate the point.
“Excellent. I want this to go like clockwork, so in these next two weeks, let’s make sure all systems are functioning smoothly. If anything seems out of the ordinary, no matter how insignificant, be sure it’s noted for further investigation.”
Earth – 2153
Senator Anthony Harrington glared at Yvonne from the holomonitor. He was an older man, heavyset, and balding. The tie around his neck was loose, the top button undone. If not for that, Miranda was sure his face would be three times redder.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” he yelled. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“Exactly what needed to be done,” Yvonne said calmly.
“You could have given me some warning. How am I supposed to explain this?”
“Plausible deniability, isn’t that what you needed? If you’d known what I was planning someone would most assuredly have connected you to the project, and that is something I assumed you wanted to avoid.”
His lip quivered—he wanted to lay into her some more, she could tell—and slammed his fist on the desk. An image popped into her head of pens jumping up comically, and it took effort to stop the laugh she felt bubbling up. Senator Harrington ran a hand through the few strands of dark gray hair that remained atop his head. He exhaled hard, his nostrils flaring, and Yvonne bit her tongue. “So what’s the plan?” the senator asked.
“Can it with that shit. What’s the plan?”
Yvonne sighed and gathered her thoughts. “Right now? Study the results. With the exception of some power fluctuations we weren’t anticipating, the wormhole tech worked exactly as it was intended.”
“What sort of power fluctuations?”
“Exactly as it sounds. Nothing out of acceptable perimeters, but we want to stabilize it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If it goes too high, it could cause the ship to drop out of FTL.”
“Or cause the ship to explode.”
“When will you know?”
She shook her head. “It’s too early to say.” Yvonne could sense there was something more going on. The senator seemed on edge. “What aren’t you telling me, sir?”
“The House is very upset by this. Hell, most of the world’s governments are. Some even consider it an act of war.”
“What? How can they even think—”
The senator held up his hand. “They’re concerned that either Pytheas was just a fancy way of testing the power of a new weapon or that we will keep the technology for ourselves. We’ve explained that this wasn’t sanctioned by our government but a few still doubt us.” He leaned in a little. “They’re demanding that all material regarding the Hermes Device be turned over to the world union for study.”
“Over my dead body,” Yvonne shot back. “I’ve worked too hard on it to just turn it over, not after all the expense we’ve sunk into it.”
“A lot of which came from us. Now, we’ve expressed concern with turning over government projects, but many in both branches want your research shared internally. They want to know what else you’ve been keeping secret.”
“If you recall, the initial proposal was for faster than light travel. FTL is exactly what we did, we just didn’t let you know we were going to test it.”
“And that’s where you fucked up, Yvonne. Governments don’t like secrets, especially when it comes to their investments. We’ve contributed a considerable sum to your company, and we expect to be kept in the loop. Truth be told, I’m also looking out for myself. I’d rather not end up like Senator Bestrol. Keep me in the loop moving forward as it will be much easier for me to protect you if I know what’s coming.”
Yvonne hesitated only a second. “Understood,” she said, and killed the feed. The other governments considering this an act of war wasn’t something she’d anticipated, but in hindsight it didn’t surprise her. It was so typical for those in control to jump to the absolute worst case scenario.
The power fluctuation was unfortunate. The test was supposed to fly under the radar, but now people knew something was up. The senator wanted to be kept in the loop, but she needed to balance what and what not to share. She needed to give them enough so they would continue to co-fund the project and turn a blind eye but not enough to alert them to her goal.
Yvonne looked out the window toward the sprawling city beyond. To think that within the next century this city, and all the cities and towns and villages the world over, would be home to only ghosts. Their ancestors had a chance to stop this but chose to ignore the warning signs.
In that moment, the weight on Yvonne’s shoulders seem to increase by a factor of ten. Not only was the Pytheas mission about saving the explorers, it was about saving humanity as well.