Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
The colonization vessel SS Godspeed was the first super-sleeper ship to leave the solar system. The 1032 human passengers, and 4000 or so assorted farm animals, were destined for the Gagarin settlement on Rigil Kentaurus II. The Godspeed was currently halfway through its 16 year journey when the command computer aroused twelve of its crew from suspended animation. The ship was about to initiate its thrust reversal maneuver, so that it could begin the process of slowing down. The procedure was relatively simple: shut down the engines, detach the massive meteoroid shield at the bow, rotate the two mile long cigar shaped ship 180 degrees, reattach the shield to the aft end (now the new bow), and restart the engines. The four powerful engines were mounted on the sides of the ship, and would be located behind the shield during the four hours it took to turnaround the ship. However, â€œnonessentialâ€ areas of the ship, such as the cargo holds, and the hibernation bays, would be â€œexposedâ€ to the meteoroid field of the Oort cloud for almost the entire four hours. Relative to the sun, Oort cloud objects are essentially stationary, but at the shipâ€™s current velocity (over 300 million miles per hour), objects pass through the ship in nanoseconds. Two holes, an entrance and an exit site, simply appear instantaneously. The task of the twelve crewmen was to disperse throughout the exposed areas of the ship to patch the holes as quickly as possible, and repair any transit damage. The computer would handle the actual turnaround.
Shawn Houck velcroed himself to the wall so he could put on his boots. â€œNot bad for eight years without shavingâ€ he said as he rubbed his stubby beard. â€œHey, I guess you heard, six people died so far.â€
Ben McNamara secured his helmet, and drifted toward the hatch. â€œThey estimated nine to twenty for the whole trip. So I guess six isnâ€™t too bad at the halfway point. Well, unless youâ€™re one of the six. Okay, Iâ€™m ready. Iâ€™ll meet you in cargo bay three.â€
The two men were floating next to the crated farm equipment when the alarm sounded. Shawn released a canister of blue gas. â€œI got one,â€ he yelled as he saw part of the gas cloud migrate toward a small hole in the exterior skin. He fired his control jets and drifted toward the escaping gas. Ben went in the opposite direction. Both holes were patched in a few minutes, and the men joined up again. â€œLooks like we lost the transmission on that tractor,â€ Shawn said as he pointed toward the tiny spheres of pinkish fluid drifting out of a hole in a crate.
â€œWell, itâ€™s better than seeing blood balls,â€ replied Ben with a hint of anxiety in his voice.
â€œOh great,â€ Shawn replied. â€œYouâ€™ve jinxed us for sure. We might as well paint bullâ€™s-eyes on our chests. Ah hell,â€ he remarked as he did a quick estimate in his head, â€œwe still have a trillion miles of to go before weâ€™re behind the shield again.â€
â€œRemember weâ€™re traveling at half the speed of light,â€ said Ben with a smirk. â€œYou need to take space-time dilation into account. Add another 250 billion miles.â€
The alarm sounded a second time. â€œOh Great,â€ said Shawn as he released another canister of blue gas.