imageAgainst the blackness of space the tiny bright dot that had been their home seemed lonely. By stellar standards the sun was anything but lonely. Steve knew. Yet the image boggled his mind.

At the head of the command centre was a big screen, first time he had entered it Steve felt like he could take a seat and order an ensign to go to warp. All that he lacked of course was an alien science officer and the warp drive.

His eyes remained fixed at the view screen. Another light flickered. It had a blue hue, approaching fast. It took him some time to realise that it was exactly what they were looking for.

The Ark1.

“Incoming transmission.” The man speaking had a set of large headphones on his ears. “Computers are counteracting the time dilation effects.” Stating the bloody obvious he pressed a button on his console.

“Greetings to the people of the Explorer!” Distorted but understandable the voice of a man rang through Steves headset. “Put him on speakers.”

“Greetings to the people of the Explorer!” The initial words repeated for all in the command centre to hear. “Congratulations on being the first humans in interstellar space. No offense, but we’re going to beat you to the next record marks.” A face appeared on the screen.

Still heavily distorted, but recognisable.

“Audio only,” Steve glanced to his radio guy. “On behalf of the people aboard the Explorer I want to offer our greetings to you, and congratulate you and your crew on joining us in the vastness of interstellar space.” Jarred Bolton. Knew nothing but luxury all his life. At least I won’t have to put up with you for long.
“They’re past the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud.” The navigational officer read the data transmitted by the whiskers, which had been detached from their umbilical cords once the Explorer was at nominal speed. Blinking brighter than before Steve figured that the ship of the rich people accelerated too, now that it had passed the last barrier between the solar system and empty space.
“They are actually doing it.” A woman had stepped onto the command centre. “I couldn’t believe my readings, had to see it for myself.” She hastily explained her presence.

“You are?” Steve looked at her over his shoulder. “Clarke, Jane Clarke. I have a PhD in astrophysics, leading your astrophysics department?” She pointed at the uniform she was wearing. “Alright, lieutenant commander,” turning back to face the screen, Steve sighed. Two years on the ship and he didn’t recognise a member of his crew, even worse an officer. He needed to change that. “Would you care to tell us what they are going to do?”

“They are attempting to pass by certain rules of physics. With their antimatter drive they have capabilities we don’t. And therefore risks we never will have to face.” Unsatisfied with her answer Steve got up from his chair. “Are they going to warp?”

For a moment Jane stood there, her tightly bound hair wiggled as she weighed her head from side to side. “Sort of, we never received the full specs of their propulsion.” She smiled faintly, then returned her gaze to the view screen. “Will that have any ramifications for this ship?”

“Unknown sir.” Changing her expression to a mixture of sadness and concern Jane did not avert her eyes from the view screen.

Someone in the command centre stated the bloody obvious. The Ark1 was accelerating, and approaching fast. Things that were easily deductible if one looked at the screen. “Admiral, I think you can’t appreciate how fast they are moving at the moment.”

“Lieutenant commander Clarke, I think I can.”

A low alarm signal began ringing across the room, concerned and uneasy, Steve marched to the console. A relatively young man sat there reading through lines of data on one of his screens. “Radiation spike in the Ark1 reactor.” He stated as he noticed Steve standing behind him. “I don’t know whether that is intentionally or not.” He added.

“Keep calm.” Steve hummed, the same soothing hum he had made when Jason was just a Baby and cried in his arms.

“The Explorer is shielded against radiation, space after all isn’t the most hospitable place.” reassuring he put his hand on the man’s shoulder.

Jane joined the two, also looking at the data on the screen. “It doesn’t look entirely purpose driven.” A faint irish accent shone through in her words, Steve noticed. Another alarming beep, more alarming than the prior one.

Even without intricate knowledge of the meaning of the displayed data Steve recognised it as radiation alarm.

“Hold on. This can’t be right.” Steve turned around, Brenda looked at her console. “According to these readings they are travelling half the speed of light.”

A moment of silence followed Brendas statement. Everyone in the command centre stared at the view screen. Fast approaching the shimmer of the Ark1’s engines showed their approach, shifted into the blue light spectrum. “Whisker four is hit.” The ensign in front of Steve stated following a beep from his workstation. “By a gravitational wake.” Jane added, also glimpsing at the display.

As fast as it had approached, the Ark1 moved away. It’s engine’s light shifted into the red, watched by all in the command centre until it vanished. “Computer is compensating for time dilation.”

Steve looked to the communication officer witha mix of astonishment and shock. “Another transmission? They’re alive?” For a moment the man was listening to his headphones, shook his head. “It’s the whisker.”

Steve and Jane turned tk the display before them. Automatically the computer routed the signal to that console. “They’re still accelerating.”

“An automated distress signal from the Ark1 is crying for help.” The communication officer again. “Most of the crew is in G-tanks, all outside those have succumbed to the extreme effects of that speed, antimatter reactor out of control, over-feeding the engines. Engines and reactor at critical, ” he stopped, waited a moment. “They’re out of range.” He adjusted the antennae to receive further signals, but asked for patience as time dilation had to be taken into account.

 

“How long since we lost contact?” hunched Steve sat in his chair, his elbows rested on his knees, his hands folded, only the index fingers weren’t, fingertips pressed together directly beneath his nose.

Glancing down to her monitor Brenda sighed. “One hour twenty seven.”

Except for a few more words and incoherent data from the whisker probe, they had not received any information from the Ark1. Upon Steves inquiring look the communication officer shook his head. “Alright,” he got up, “Brenda, note everything in our report to earth, and maybe include a warning to the Saudis.”

“Admiral!” Steve turned to the telemetry ensign who had called out to him, he silently pointed at the viewscreen.

In equal silence a series of red flashes danced through the blackness of space. “Sensory data confirms it was an antimatter explosion. Or rather a series of them.”

Distraught Steve nodded, silently telling Brenda to include that information in her report.

 

Ark1 overtook the Explorer, speeds of fifty percent the speed of light were confirmed. Crew outside the G-force tanks had already succumbed to the effects of that acceleration. An hour twenty nine minutes after last confirmed contact was lost , an antimatter explosion was recorded, still at speeds beyond Explorer’s capabilities. Future reports concerning the Ark1 can not be expected. Recommendations to the Arabian endeavours with the Ark2 include to ditch the antimatter reactor in favour of the more stable but less yielding fusion technology.《

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