Author : Bob Newbell

“Starship Tsiolkovsky, this is the Haven Space Station calling. Please respond.”

Captain John McCormick arose from his command chair. He and the other five recently reanimated members of the Tsiolkovsky crew were utterly shocked. The Tsiolkovsky had been launched on 18 June 2199, 100 years earlier. With its state of the art biostasis technology, the vessel was designed to allow its complement of six scientists to hibernate during the decades of travel between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Now, humanity’s first ambassadors to another solar system were being greeted by a human voice speaking perfect English.

Recovering from the initial shock of this unanticipated contact, McCormick radioed back, “This is Captain John McCormick of the Tsiolkovsky. Identify yourself.”

“Captain, I’m Commander Brijendra Patel of the Alpha Centauri Space Authority. I have no doubt you’re quite shocked to discover anybody out here. I’m equally sure you have a lot of questions. Would you allow me to have the station dock with your vessel? I’ve been expecting you and I’ve prepared a proper hero’s welcome for you aboard Haven.”

Two hours later the dazed crew of the Tsiolkovsky were seated around a large oak table in a tastefully decorated dining room. They were offered food and drink but had little appetite.

“How did anyone beat us out here?” asked McCormick.

“Twenty years after you left,” replied Patel, “the Starship Clarke, propelled by a Bussard ramjet more advanced than your ship’s nuclear drive, set out for Alpha Centauri. Their journey only took half as long as yours.”

“So the trip only took 50 years? And they left 20 years after us? That means they beat us here by 30 years. So, the crew of the Clarke were the first to arrive?”

“Not exactly, Captain,” said Patel. “You see, 20 years after the Clarke left Earth, the Starship Zubrin began the journey using an antimatter propulsion system that compressed the travel time to 20 years.”

McCormick was stunned. “Okay,” said McCormick, “so the first people to arrive here were the crew of the Zubrin in 2259. Right?”

“No,” said Patel. “Five years after the Zubrin left for Alpha Centauri, another ship, the Goddard, was launched. Its graviton impeller engine allowed it to approach lightspeed. It arrived after about five years of travel.”

McCormick sighed. “So in 2249 the Goddard arrived and–”

“The Von Braun,” said Patel. “Quantum tunneling drive. Set out two years after the Goddard. Arrived here instantaneously.”

“Alright!” said McCormick, red faced. “Instantaneously! So that’s, what? The year 2246? That’s when–”

“The Starship Oberth,” Patel interjected. “Tachyon engine. Launched after the Von Braun but arrived here way before everybody else by traveling back in time en route.”

McCormick stared at Patel for half a minute. “Well, any other ships?!”

“No,” said Patel. “I am the grandson of two members of the Oberth’s crew. It was my idea to establish this station to greet the interstellar pioneers who came ‘before’ us. Captain, you and your crew are heroes. And your arrival makes this an historic day!”

“How?!” asked McCormick angrily. “The Oberth, the Von Braun, the Goddard, the Zubrin, the Clarke! They all beat us here!”

“That’s what makes this day historic!” said Patel, standing up and raising his wine glass to McCormick and his crew. “There are many pioneers in the history of the exploration and colonization of Alpha Centauri. But you, ladies and gentlemen, are unique. You got here last!”

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