1 of 6 | Chapter 19

Beyond Earth

 

In early July, the Carapace space fleet returned to Earth after nearly two-months of testing. The furor surrounding the fleet's arrival was unmatched anywhere on the planet. Because of their sheer size they were unable to land which meant that they remained stationed in the lower atmosphere. The three ships were each almost the size of Excolopolis itself, their smooth surfaces were interrupted by various enormous extrusions housing navigational and sensor devices. The now stationary ships hovered in a star formation over the city, offering citizens a breathtaking spectacle.

Zachary Nishihara's design team had brought a plan to the table that even managed to gain unqualified approval from Steersman. Ultimately, the ships had no distinct color. The thin liquid coating, held onto the ship's surface by opposing static charges, reflected the colors of the surrounding environment in muted matte tones. The outer layers played a major part in keeping the crew alive, acting somewhat like the ozone layer of the Earth, filtering out deadly radiation from space. In addition, these layers were also the last defense against any impact from a foreign body. If an object made it through the gravity shield, it had to contend with the energy absorbing capacity of the outer shell in order to penetrate the interior of the ship, something that would require an immense force.

The spacecrafts were in perfect condition and all of the on-board equipment had performed just as expected. They had been able to safely avoid all obstacles while traveling at one and a half million kilometers per hour. Whatever couldn't be avoided was smashed aside by the shields, like a wedge. The only possible danger was a strike from the side of the vessel at high speed, something the was not anticipated.

Robots had cleaned out tonnes of space dust while the ships were in space, but the sterilization of the fleet—ensuring that no alien pathogen might remain inside—could only be done after mooring.

Karen was readying herself for the biggest organizational feat of her career in preparing the space fleet for its first mission. The entire ASEC staff was now working for her, making the ships construction seem a mere walk in the park compared to organizing the requirements for the manning and provisioning of the ships themselves.

An eight thousand five hundred and fifty strong crew would be going on the mission—the result of two years of staff recruitment and training—and would only return to Earth after a number of years. The program had initially been run on a voluntary basis and it seemed that there was no lack of adventurers, yet, after a time, targeted invitations had had to be sent out because of the low number of applicants with the required qualifications.

Each and every crew member and machine was to perform a specific and integral task on the journey, which meant applicants were chosen on their ability to perform more than one specialist task. No crew member would be able to stand idle if a rich mineral deposit was discovered. Extraction would take months and require all hands, and until that time, they would be carrying out intense research and development.

*

The loading of the ships took place in three stages, and was done at fierce pace. First, equipment and laboratories for scientific research were installed. Simultaneously, a seemingly endless legion of robots were moved into specialized docking bays on board and lastly, all other equipment and tools necessary for day to day living were stowed.

The second stage involved establishing an entire ecosystem that would ensure air, water and provisions in a continuously renewed cycle. All of the consumable goods required for the mission were packed into the holds. These would also be continuously recycled, right down to the last molecule.

After the completion of loading, the only thing that remained was to berth the crew. All of the crew members met their common living areas for the first time, which meant that the majority of the loading time was spent in the last phase. Of course, in theory, they had learned the location and function of every device during intensive simulator training, and were able to perform their job well, though, in real life it was naturally quite different.

Only commanders and those in higher positions, responsible for the ship's operation, had undergone the incredibly sophisticated and comprehensive boot camp training. They were still going over the details of their mission at the training center, even after ship loading and settlement was well under way. Thousands of case studies and hypothetical situations had been engraved on their minds, enough strategies to do justice to a grand master of chess.

In the absence of veteran fleet commanders, they were tested and prepped by scientists who bombarded them with detailed questions, pushing them to the very limits of mental endurance.

“An unavoidable meteor shower is in your path, coming in from the side at high speed, what do you do?” asked Surinder Neelam, who all together had spent nine months on the Moon, with one or two short breaks. For him, returning to Earth had been salvation.

“We need to turn the ship away from the oncoming meteor shower so as to offer the minimum surface for impact, then we assume the meteor speed and direction, change to G-radii propulsion systems, and get the hell out of there by using the meteors to crawl through the shower,” said Valko. As a result of his performance in the final confrontation, Valko had proven his abilities, so Murinko had assigned steadily heavier responsibilities. Finally, when he was asked to command the Carapace space fleet, he said yes. He loved the unknown, and he certainly wouldn't even have minded if the expedition was to take decades.

“Practically, yes. Okay, now there's an emergency; a gravitation field of level eighty-five has been detected coming from a source on the positive Z axis at a distance of only one terameter. What order would you give?” asked Dr Martins.

“I would order the five NGI drives—on both sides of the X and Y axis, plus on the positive Z axis—onto full capacity against the field and the Z negative drive set to zero.”

“And?”

“If necessary, search for objects in the direction of movement within the range of the G-radius drive, and fix radii on them.”

“Okay.”

While Valko was being grilled by the scientists, Karen arrived at the training center.

Near the end, the base was transformed into a more relaxed area to reduce tension. She observed the trainers walking back and forth, talking with commanders in much the same way a friendly physician would talk with a patient, throwing out succinct questions on any and all issues pertaining to the mission. Karen made sure that she also had a word or two with everyone.

“Jeff, I'm sorry you didn't get a fleet command post. Your illness sure came at a bad time,” Karen said sympathetically to the young commander.

“Actually, I don't mind, Ms Colella. This way, I'll have more time to continue my biochemical research, and there is plenty for me to do here on Earth.”

“That's certainly true.”

“Dave will make a perfect commander, he has incredibly quick reactions. I have never known him unable to make a quick and concise decision, and his heart is in the right place. He has to learn patience though, but it will come. Sometime it just takes a little time for thing to develop.” Jeff looked over at his former partner, who was talking to a lieutenant commander.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 14 | AFTERSHOCKS
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 18 | TRUTH