Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Doctor Letum stood on the bridge of the Galaxy Explorer, staring at the forward viewscreen anticipating his first up-close look at Wolf-Rayet 104. It was not easy getting to this point, he mused. Ten years of filing applications, dozens of interviews, endless bureaucracy. “We’re sorry, Dr. Letum,” they would say, “but we have a finite number or warp capable starships, and they are all being allocated to expeditions to G-type main-sequence stars with potentially life bearing planetary systems. We cannot squander our limited resources solely for the purpose of academic research. Yes, yes, we know that it’s pre-supernova. Yes, yes, we understand the potential benefits to astrophysics. But seriously, Doctor, have you even seen the dynamic holographs from Rho Indi? They’re simply breathtaking. And Rho Indi is only 86 light years from earth, not 8,000. Perhaps you can try again next year. We are adding two new starships to the fleet. Maybe we can piggy-back you onto one of the older ships as the fall-back mission, in case the primary target turns out to be a dud.” If he hadn’t married the sister of the Secretary of Space Exploration, he presumed that he’d still be studying Wolf-Rayet 104 using the deep space array on the far side of the moon.
Doctor Letum was snapped from his rumination by the captain of the Galaxy Explorer, “Disengage the warp drive, Mr. Thomas, and turn on the main viewer.” There was a momentary inertial lunge as the ship returned to normal space, but Letum maintained his balance with a reasonable degree of respectability. When the viewscreen came to life, there was one star shining brightly.
“Captain,” said Dr. Letum, “these are not the right coordinates. Wolf-Rayet 104 is a binary system. There should be two stars.”
The captain consulted the ops readouts and replied, “We’re at the right location, Doctor. Maximum magnification, Mr. Thomas.” A few seconds later, the original star was off-screen, and a faint ribbon of gas could be seen spiraling into the gravity well of a black hole. “Ah, there’s the problem, Doctor. Your star already went nova. Sorry, I guess you missed the fireworks. Doctor, are you alright? Doctor?”
Dr. Letum stared at the viewscreen in horror. “Oh my God. This was not supposed to happen for another hundred thousand years. I thought we had more time. Quick, Captain, launch the probes. We need to find out the black hole’s axis of rotation.”
“I don’t understand, Doctor.”
“When Wolf-Rayet 104 went supernova, it omitted extremely powerful gamma ray bursts from both poles. Before we left earth, my data indicated that one of those poles was oriented directly at our solar system. If that’s correct, then earth has less than 8000 years before the radiation kills every living thing in the solar system.”
The following day, their worst nightmare came to fruition. The black hole’s axial inclination was only 0.005 degrees off sol’s position. “Is that enough, Doctor?” ask the captain.
“No,” Letum replied. “We need to find out how much time earth has. If we go back to one light year from earth, and can still see Wolf-Rayet 104, then they’ll have a least a year to prepare. Then we’ll keep jumping in one light year intervals until we can’t see the star any longer. That’ll be how much time we’ll have.”
When they came out of warp, one light year from earth, they focused the telescope on Wolf-Rayet 104. They saw two stars. “Thank God,” said Letum. “At least we have a chance!” However, as they watched, one star began to brighten rapidly. Seconds later, gamma rays vaporized the ship.
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