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Strapped into a chair Steve Anderson breathed into his mask. In his mind he counted seconds.

Three.

Again the entire ship pushed forward. At first it had been a pain to be strapped into the chair. After an hour or so he had gotten used to it. Glancing around the command center he was under the impression that it was the same with the others. After two hours a man had torn on his straps, tried to remove his mask. The moment he and Brenda O’learey had been waiting for.

It had happened a lot sooner than he anticipated. Which meant that she had won the raffle. Or was it the elected governor of the alpha ring, Darius Jovic? He was uncertain.

Again a small shock went through the ship.

The inertial dampeners worked fine but for the initial acceleration with the nuclear bomb drive safety guidelines dictated for them to be scrapped into the chairs. All the while there had been no push that seemed unsafe. “Initial acceleration has completed.” Someone in the command centre stated the end of that stage. “Finally! ” the man who had freaked out yelled. “Now get me out of here!”

“Pull yourself together private!” Brenda barked. Easier said than done, Steve smiled.
“Alright. Give the signal to open the straps. All decks.”
A navigation officer stated their position to be beyond the Cuiper belt. “Perfect.” As Admiral, Steve was the highest ranking aboard the Explorer, he glanced at the distraught man. Brenda had released all straps except his, he had noticed and started to shout insults. “Doc?” Steven turned to a young man with an absent expression. “Yes sir?”

Nodding gently in the direction of the crazed crewman, Steven stretched his legs by walking around the command centre. A moment later the yelled insults grew lesser, eventually trailed off. Half sedated the man was led of by the young medical officer.

“All stations report at least one victim of claustrophobia like Mr. Saunders. Otherwise no problems. Fission reactors working within nominal parameters, fusion reactors in the rings will fire within the hour.” Brenda went to report about the various stations aboard the Explorer and their readiness.

Ten more days the bombs would blast against the dish on the ship’s rear, bringing them to the top speed. Steve wasn’t paying much attention to Brenda and her report of what worked.

It all worked. Since the Explorer broke orbit over earth, drifted out of reach of the other ships, that were due to launch in five and ten years time, using just the solar sail, and power from the fusion reactors, which were shut down before the acceleration began. The scientists who ran them had assured him that it shouldn’t interfere with the reactors, but at the same time clung to safety guidelines.

“Good,” he interrupted Brenda as she was about to report from the bioengineering department that ran the gardens and plants everywhere on the ship. “Brenda, let us make it a habit that you only report the things that aren’t working to me.”

Was there a hint of relief in her eyes? Steve had to suppress an amused smirk. “Aye, Sir.”

He wandered to the navigational consoles. “What is the distance to the Challenger group’s ship?”

“The Ark1 has cleared the Gas giants, but is still within the solar system. At least based on their trajectory and last measured speed. There is no sign of them nearby however.” Steve couldn’t help but feel triumphant over the crew of the Ark1. A ship filled with billionaires and their crew. They had caused a significant brain drain in the project in the past. Their fathers and grandfathers had lured scientists away from the international efforts to build the Explorer, the Horizon and the Destiny, to build the Ark1 and the Ark2. Both equipped with Antimatter reactors and highly experimental propulsion, instead of the Orion propulsion and fusion reactors.

“Excellent. Ladies and gentlemen, I congratulate you all. We are the first humans in interstellar space!” While most of the people in the command centre applauded he sent a request to Probe control to look for signs of the Ark1 further out in space, just to be sure.

For a moment he lingered with the probes in his mind.

They had been sent out in advance, using the same Orion propulsion as the Explorer and her sister ships, at speeds and a rate of acceleration definitely lethal to a human being. Designed to map out the path for the ships following behind and, upon arrival at their destination, start preliminary exploration of the planet.

RV-p 296. The last hope for humanity. Shaking that thought off Steve wandered back to navigation. “Any signs of obstacles thrown in our path by the neutron star?”

“Not according to the these readings, Sir.”

Again the smile returned to his face, at the same moment as a shudder of the propulsion. He wondered secretly what would become of the entertainment aboard. The computers had a full backup of all recorded music, film and writing of the world that had ever been created from the time of their departure. But surely people would build upon that. New stories, novels even, would be written.

New music composed. New films of all sorts and lengths filmed. All aboard his ship. And the other ships. They received and sent updates of all sorts all the time. How long until a new Show, a new song, a new novel would be among these transmissions? How will it look or sound like?

How long until someone asks why the Explorer isn’t jumping to warp, hyperspace or the likes? Or why it isn’t slowing down as in all the series and movies.

Would someone create a representation of how spaceflight really was? Silent and, unless forced to a halt, or steer, moving on in a single direction forever.

“Admiral? I believe you had an appointment with your wife.” Brenda had sneaked up to him speaking in a hushed voice. “You had promised Carol and Jason to show them the gardens once they were somewhat established enough. They were and still are.” She winked and wandered off.

Realising how much time he had spent staring at a computer screen musing about art Steve shook his head. “You have the command.”

 

From the command centre he had taken the tube transport. The cab rode straight upwards, a warning flashed on the screen alerting him that soon he would loose gravity.

He took a seat and buckled the belt as he reached the center of the sub-alpha ring. A smaller ring in front of the alpha ring, housing the command centre and military personnel quarters. His wife had insisted on a living space on the alpha ring, in order to not spoil Jason. He had to admit that the civilian rings were a lot more beautiful, much less spartan. Although the small gardens that had been raised in the center of the military rings were almost as beautiful as the ones in the civilian rings.

 

“Carol!” The doors opened after hissing, every time that hiss reminded him that the tubes were a vacuum, the cabs magnetically suspended, so only a minimum of power was required to move them. “Dad!” Jason ran toward him, relief written all over his face. The seven year old boy hugged his father. “That was a damn long flight!” He exclaimed, referring to the acceleration period they had spent strapped into their seats. “It sure was partner.” Steve smiled. Your mind will be blown once you find out that it isn’t over. Perhaps you live to see the arrival, I surely won’t.

“You’re late. Let me guess, Brenda alerted you of the time?” displaying an amused smile Carol observed her husband and their son. “She had to, yes.” He admitted. Looking in her eyes he remembered why he married her.

“Let’s not linger around the hallway, I have made a promise, and I intend to keep it.” With the three of them the cab of the tube suddenly seemed a little less roomy. It had seats for a dozen people, if they didn’t go through the zero G section probably a dozen more would fit inside, but since they all had chosen not to sit down the room seemed lesser than it actually was. “Dad, why are there plenty of empty rooms aboard?”

“Well,” Steve looked to his wife. “one day you will move out from Mommy and me. Find a woman you truly love and want to have children of your own. Then there will be free places. Other people your age will do the same. In many more years, while we older people still live where we are at now,” or in the geriatric section of the rings, “your children will need a place to stay once they leave your home.” Jason seemed to be satisfied with that answer, while Steve wondered how that question had not arisen sooner.

Again the vacuum sealing of the door hissed before the doors opened, before them a hallway stretched out. Taller and wider than the usual hallways. Instead of plants hanging and standing in the corners, or between doors the botanists and bio-engineers had given the access hallway to the garden a different touch. Walls and floors had been isolated, no moisture could escape the hallway, then they had covered the hallway with soil, growing grasses, flowers and other low rooting plants directly on the ground.

The walls were covered with plants too. Hopping from stepping stone to stepping stone the three made their way toward the broad doors leading out into the garden.

Together with the elected officials Steve had seen the gardens on every ring before. They were more orchards, only plants that produced, or contributed to, something edible, medicinal or produced large amounts of oxygen were allowed in the gardens. Some Flowers had been accepted, more for crew morale reasons than their other purposes. Steve missed pines. A nice pine tree, evergreen, dark and strong.

Or Oaks. But he couldn’t hope for that.

They couldn’t be eaten. And after two years of processed Algae and stem cell meat he looked forward to the upcoming harvest. Finally producing enough for a raffle. Later the botanists hoped to have enough for everyone aboard, but the raffle was the best choice to go with until then.

UNAUTHORIZED PERSONEL!

Bold red letters lit up on the screen next to the door to the garden. Reminded that the gardens were a restricted area, until such time as they were opened to the public, Steve stepped toward the console. He held his right hand against the screen. “Permission granted to unauthorized personnel.” The rice corn sized chip implanted there was better than any security code.

It monitored bio functions, thus an unconscious or dead person, or a severed hand would be useless. It also made things easier for the Doctors. Detecting fevers, pathogens, viruses, cancers and other diseases with ease, the medical personnel simply had to read out the chip. Some medications even were created by the chip using blood cells in and around it. But that was just in an experimental phase of development.

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