My name is Clay Spear. I’m a twenty two year old Cadet struggling to complete my studies and graduate from the Deep Space Academy next month. You might think I’m a bit of a mama’s boy because of my childlike face and my mild demeanor.
It’s cost me plenty of grief because the “Space Storm Instructors” take one look at me and say I lack the command presence of a Star Ship Captain. They tell me that had I been aboard a sixteenth century British frigate, I would have been a powder monkey.
My light complexion and slight build have also been a detriment to my perceived manliness. It has actually made me tougher than most of the others. My skin is smooth and womanlike resulting in my almost never needing a shave. Over the last four years, the Academy has been my reluctant home away from home.
It’s a hard existence with seven inspections a day along with the severe discipline. No one bullies me anymore since the time I took Marcus Goliaths down in a fight. Marcus Goliaths is nicknamed “Goliath” and weighs in at twice my one hundred eighty pounds. Mark and I are the best of friends now.
Gordon Case is my assigned study partner. Gordy is a constant aggravation. He’s a bit of a clown. His tall string bean build is beyond lanky and is best described as goofy. His appearance only amplifies his behavior. He seldom studies and plays endless practical jokes. Perhaps the cruelest of these is when he named his oldest son Justin (Just-in Case?).
Unfortunately the rules of engagement and subsequent graduation stipulate that if your assigned team member fails to graduate, so do you. I often wonder if they put us together because they figured if either of us fails they would be rid of both of us. Otherwise there is no sense in having us both fail and taking two good men with us.
This whole dilemma is ironic because our family legacy is one hundred twenty six years of service to Omni-Fleet. No one at the Academy seems to know about my family history and no one seems to care. We were told upon our arrival, when they lined us all up along the entrance wall, that they don’t give a damn where we came from or who we think we were. Our butts belong to them now.
The room is relatively quiet considering there are three hundred Cadets here. The lighting is subdued and the stage is empty except for the he full wall-sized Fleet Flag that hangs in the background. All three hundred tables are neatly arranged with soft leather chairs and a console for taking the last of three exams.
Now the low murmurs went silent as the already quiet room lapses into an audible vacuum. My eyes pan over to the stage where a huge man is moving briskly to center stage.
His muscular frame is made all the more apparent by his tailored Starship Admiral’s uniform. My impression of the Admiralty is highly elevated. This man is clearly battle ready.
The room fills with a powerful voice as the Admiral speaks, “I am Admiral Amery. You are here today to take the last of three exams.”
His voice carries clearly into all corners of the room and yet I see no evidence of a microphone.
The Admiral continues, “This exam measures your knowledge of navigation and tactics. If either you or your study partner fails, you both fail.
“There is an element of leadership associated with your studies. You are your brother’s keeper. If you can’t influence your study partner’s success, then you fail as a leader. If you fail as a leader you will not wear the Starship Captain’s uniform.
“We have raised the academic bar for this, the first graduating class from the Deep Space Academy, and only one third of you will graduate.”
He turns and exits the stage, no good wishes and no parting pleasantries.
The exam begins. Monitors walk quietly among us watching for any sign of cheating or misbehavior. It is the most grueling five hours of my life.
As I work through the exam there is a score in the upper right corner of the screen showing my raw score and my standing on the grading curve.
Some of the problems are more difficult than others and we are graded on both the accuracy and timeliness required to answer each individual problem.
One of the tips I learned in class was to ignore the grading scores and focus on the answers. Any time I spend looking at the scores will only add to the time to complete the immediate problem at hand.
This too is part of the test because it measures our ability to focus on a solution and ignore distractions. Looking at the raw score and my standing on the grade after completing the exam, I see that I am at ninety eight percentile.
Smiling just a bit, I wipe the bead of sweat from my nose. If Gordy has a passing score then we can graduate tomorrow. My heart is in my throat as I look over and see Gordy giving me the high sign. I return his gesture and we both sit back in our seats and smile.
Sadly, I look over and see Marcus Goliaths stand up and walk slowly from the room. I’m sure Mark knew all the answers, but the curve isn’t just based on the number of correct answers, but how quickly you respond and move on to the next. He is smart and he is strong, but he isn’t quick enough.
When the sun began to peek over the horizon this morning and the gentle breeze carried in the smell of the roses in the Academy garden, you could just feel that this would be a special day. It’s graduation day at the Deep Space Academy and I have never seen such a free for all. After all of the celebration and speeches have faded into the past, we get dressed for the graduation party. It’s the only time in my life when I will get to celebrate as a part of 98 drunken starship captains.
Gordy is just being Gordy as he locates a wireless mike and positions it carefully under Admiral Amery’s chair. I’m watching Gordy as he places a whoopee cushion under the Admiral’s seat pad and then put a strange powder in the Admiral’s glass of wine and stir it. In all the excitement I was the only one who saw this going on.
Can they recall your diploma based on behavior at the graduation party, I wonder?
The Admiral makes a grand entrance and struts up to his position at the commencement table like a proud bantam rooster.
Gordy is nudging me with his elbow and says, “What an ass.”
I’m remembering yesterday at the final exam when the Admiral finished his pompous speech and then walk out of the room rudely without pleasantries of any kind or even wishing us good luck. I smile quietly and nod in agreement.
The Admiral struts over to the commencement table and picks up his wine glass, then moves briskly to the podium where he announces, “This is my proudest moment. There are those who say I can’t turn out a group of deep space captains. I guess we showed them, didn’t we?”
Admiral Amery raises his glass, and in a booming voice, he says, “Join me in a toast. To prove in spite of all the doubters, that I succeeded in launching the first group of Deep Space Captains.”
We all raise our glasses and down our wine.
I nudge Gordy and mutter, “What an ass. He never acknowledged us.”
The Admiral speaks again and pontificates about the Academy and what a fine institution it is. His speech is becoming slurred and his eyes are beginning to bug out just a bit. He is saying something, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. Admiral Amery turns and makes something like a wobbly mincing return to his position at the commencement table and flops down in his chair. The room’s sound system explodes with the sound of the whoopee cushion as the Admiral’s rump hits the seat and then fizzles off at the end when it had depleted its air supply.
A resounding cheer goes up and we all have another glass of wine.
Admiral Amery sleeps for the duration of the party. Then the head of the faculty lifts him from his chair and takes him home.
Sergeant Grady, the Security Chief, is holding up the wireless mike and the limp whoopee cushion with a pained expression on his face. Then he spots Gordy and begins to move in Gordy’s direction.
I back away from Gordy and try to melt into the crowd, but security people are closing in from all directions.
I look over at Gordy and say, “Good luck with your career, buddy.”
Omni-Fleet doesn’t waste much time. Unlike most large Corporations, they seem to be nimble and lean. Most large companies are so cumbersome they can’t get out of their own way. They lumber along reacting far too slowly while the environment changes all around them until they become extinct and file chapter 11 in an effort to be reborn.
It was just last week when we graduated and I now have my orders in hand. We’re launching a mission to the Tri-Star cluster of Alpha Centaury A, B and C. Alpha Centaury C, a red dwarf star also known as Alpha Proxima. It is the nearest star to our sun, the sun is our own star and we have named it Sol. The distance one way to Alpha Proxima is four point two light years.
We’ve only scarcely begun to travel beyond the solar system and the whole concept is rather new. I’m looking forward to commanding my ship and completing our interstellar mission. This will be the first time we actually visited a star.
Once we arrive there we will launch a stellar planetite. A planetite is a satellite, but satellites by definition orbit planets. A planetite orbits a star, just as a planet would.
My wife Alice and I never did get along that well, which is why I signed up for the twelve year trip to that red dwarf, Alpha Proxima. We discussed the option of either divorce or separation. In light of our son Kevin’s welfare we decided on the separation.
Kevin is our ten year old son. He will be twenty two when I return. Alice will be receiving my paychecks while I’m gone. Kevin will have a financially secure home until he grows up because I’m having my weekly paychecks sent to her.
When it’s time to head out to the base for departure I hug my son for the last time. He doesn’t understand the situation, but I understand all too well. I’m going to miss him desperately and I’m hoping Alice and I can make a new start when I return. To have Alice wait twelve years for my return is a lot to ask. With our marriage in the state it’s in, I kiss her for what I know will be the last time.
My dad was a space pilot and was gone most of the time. Being the child of a space pilot can be a lonely life without your mom or dad. We don’t have any women pilots with children. I guess women are less willing to make that big of a sacrifice. My dad was only gone for a year or two at a time. Star Pilots are gone for several years because of the distances they traverse.
My Father is a commercial pilot for the Near Space Group that runs the gamut between the inner planets. Dad’s insignia is a silver rendering of the solar system worn as a badge on his chest.
As a member of Deep Space Fleet, my badge will be a gold starburst. It represents a star gone nova. There is a lot to live up to in my family and I want my father to be proud of me.
A man named Albert Einstein theorized that time is relative and a ship leaving the Earth at the speed of light would return a year later and find that hundreds of years had passed while they were gone.
The theory was later proven when the atomic clocks aboard the GPS satellites and atomic clocks aboard space probes had to be corrected periodically to keep them in synch with the atomic clocks on Earth.
The time difference caused by our relative velocity is not linear. We will only travel at zero % to 90% the speed of light with our ion drive. On board the starship we are gone only a total of eleven months. Meanwhile, twelve years will have passed on Earth. At 24 years of age I will be able to sit down and have a beer with my 22 year old son.
Arriving at the space port is a tedious affair because of the layers of security here. When you arrive at the gate, the guard has to verify that you have business here even though you are assigned to the base. You can’t just decide to enter the base in your off hours.
By the time I get to the launch area it is afternoon. The people here have been working for three days. The shuttle is loaded, fueled and ready to go. I get to meet my co-pilot for the first time and it’s… Damn!
Gordon Case is standing there big as life with his usual stupid grin.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
Gordon says, “They figured out somehow that I was the one who put the whoopy cushion, microphone and the mickey in Old Iron Pants’ drink.
“I got downgraded to co-pilot and now I’m on probation for the duration of our trip. I guess that makes you my keeper, Brother.”
I sank down in my seat and put my head in my hands. Can’t help thinking this is going to be the trip from hell.
I go back to my office and call in to the General Assignments Division. They tell me that Admiral Amery assigned him to me because Gordon was my assigned team member at the Academy and we would either make it as a team, or not.
I hang up the phone and sit down for a moment. What do I do now? I thought I was rid of him, and now we’re going to Alpha Proxima as a team.
I rise slowly from my chair and walk out to the prelaunch area where I notice that Gordon is having a coffee rather than performing his preflight inspections.
I look sternly at Gordon and say, “You had better not pull any of your crazy stunts while we’re out there. You almost had me drummed out of the academy with that stunt you pulled on the Admiral. If they had managed to get you fired before the graduation ceremony I would never have gotten my wings.”
We gather our belongings and assemble at the docking station for our trip up to the starship that will be our home for the next ten months. Isn’t it strange that we can get to Alpha Proxima in five months, but it takes six months to get to Mars? That’s because you can’t go that short of a distance at that near light velocity and then stop in time to avoid overshooting it. A five minute trip to Mars just isn’t practical.
My starship is in near orbit above the Earth. It has two years of provisions stocked along with a full crew already on board.
Even though the trip will seem to take only eleven months a rescue mission will take time to get to us in the event we have a loss of propulsion out there. The additional thirteen months of provisions will keep us alive until help arrives. The trip will actually be five months, but we will be spending a month in orbit around Alpha Proxima.
During that five month period, we can communicate with Earth via Quantum Entangled Communication, or QEC for short. The communication is possible while orbiting Alpha Proxima because the time intervals will be the same on Earth as they are on board our ship. While our trip out is five months, Earth will have five and a half years of waiting for our arrival message.
We scramble aboard the shuttle that is to take us up to the Interstellar Starship Nova in the usual manner with the crew all lined up at attention and saluting me.
There are no windows aboard the shuttle or the starship to reduce the radiation effects of traveling in space.
The ascent is a punishing ordeal as the ship vibrates violently. We are pressed deep into our cushioned seats. The ship itself is monitored and controlled by our thought links. Each station is tuned to the operator’s brain waves. Our arms and hands are useless at this acceleration rate. We are pinned to the seat.
After a time, the stars become visible in the view screens as we feel our bodies release from the grip of acceleration. We can move our arms and hands now. The first thing we do is release our bonds so we can move freely about the bridge and crew cabins.
It amazes me that they can launch a full size shuttle and have it become a part of the starship living quarters into orbit even though ninety percent of the weight is the propulsion system and additional crew living, working and recreational areas already in orbit around the Earth.
Once attached to the second half of the starship in orbit, the “Captain on the bridge” routine is repeated.
I salute back and say, “At ease. This is going to be the first outward mission to a nearby star. The vessel proved itself in trials over the last three years and is of sound design. I want to welcome each of you and say thanks for serving with me.”
I introduce First Officer Gordon Case to the crew and announce, “There will be a launch party tonight at twenty three hundred hours in the main lounge. Attendance is not mandatory, but I’m hoping to see you there.”
We all separate and go to our quarters. As Captain, I have a suite, Gordon has a semi-suite, but the rest of the crew has a narrow berth with a bunk and a storage space for their personal belongings.
We all meet in the dining hall for dinner. From my vantage point standing behind the Captain’s table, about to sit down, I can see the crew is in good spirits.
Gordon, drunk and in his usual giddy manner, walks right up to me and says, “Captain, don’t you think we need to liven up this party?”
I pause in my tracks and turn to face him saying, “Don’t even think about pulling any of your idiotic pranks!”
Gordon laughs and winks, raising his glass momentarily and downs the contents.
I have a feeling of dread coming over me.
I just can’t help but notice the food is excellent considering it’s all quick frozen. The five-star executive chef does a good job when it comes to cooking up some pretty tasty meals, partly due to the Star Academy Cooking Institute. Good food is the best compensation Omni-Fleet could come up with. The only thing that wasn’t frozen is the salad, I think. Out here among the stars there is little else to enjoy other than a fine meal and some booze once in a while.
Gordy and I are just wrapping up our duties as we fly by Neptune and on out through the Kuiper Belt. We turn and face each other, wave our hand at the door to offer the navigator the opportunity to exit ahead of us and we proceed to the ship’s lounge for the evening launch party.
The lights in the lounge are dimmed and the music is loud, but not loud enough to stifle conversation. The members of the crew are mixing it up and getting to know one another.
I look around for Gordy, but he’s not in the lounge area at the moment. Gordy is a party animal, he would be here if he is at all alive.
A sinking feeling comes over me and I brace myself for another Gordon Case Prank. I know this guy. He’s up to something.
Screams erupt and people scatter.
One woman screams, “A rat!”
Just then I see two scurrying gerbils racing through the lounge in a panic. I had to do a double take as they
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Text: Robert Stetson
Images: Robert Stetson
Publication Date: 12-19-2013
All Rights Reserved