Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
(Caution: Science content) The Perseus Space Colony is a marvel of twenty-third century engineering. It is located approximately 400,000 kilometers from the Earth, and trailing 60 degrees behind the Moon. Astronomers call it the Lagrange (L5) point, and it’s one of the very few truly stable orbits in the Earth-Moon system. The gravitational forces of the Earth, Moon, and Sun keep the mammoth habitat in an 89-day kidney shaped sub-orbit around the L5 point. Like a marble in a bowl, if the colony drifts in any direction, the E-M-S gravity fields always brings it home.
The Perseus’ outermost “H” ring is 2,700 meters in diameter, and it houses the living quarters for the 824 permanent residents, and the 182 visitors that are “on-station” at any given time. The Preseus rotates at a leisurely 0.73 revolutions per minute, which produces a comfortable 0.8g in the “H” ring; less as you approach the hub. As the H-ring spins at more than 100 meters per second (circumferentially), it produces some disorienting physiological effects on the occupants. For example, if a person in the H-ring drops an object, it curves sideways as it falls, a radial Coriolis effect. It’s the same phenomenon that causes hurricanes to rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere. Permanent residents don’t even notice the effect when they go about their cycle’s business, but first time visitors always move around like they had taken too many recs.
Senior Maintenance Engineer Louis Spiridon crawled backwards out of the cylindrical conduit that exits the noisy pumping room of the C-ring’s recycling center. As he removed his hearing protection, he became aware of the variable wail of the station’s emergency alarm. He activated a comm panel along the wall of the main corridor to find out what was wrong. The computer informed him that there had been a significant solar flare event, and that all personnel had been ordered into the shielded auditorium at the station’s hub. “Do I have time to take a shower?” he asked, knowing that it generally took hours for the sun’s coronal mass ejection to reach Earth’s orbit, and because the recycling center tended to leave an unpleasant scent on all those that pass through.
“Negative,” responded the computer. “This is an X-class flare. The immediate concerns are the high levels of electromagnetic radiation, not coronal ejecta. Lethal levels of x-rays have already reached the station. You need to start running anti-rotation, now.”
“What? Shouldn’t I head for a spoke, so I can take a lift to the auditorium?” Just incase the computer knew what it was talking about; Louis began jogging against the station’s direction of rotation.
“Sorry,” replied the computer. ”The lifts won’t function in an X-class flare. But, fortunately for you, the current orientation of the Perseus has the shielded auditorium located directly between your current location and the sun. However, you’ll only be in its shadow for another 3 seconds. Since the station is rotating, you need to run, not jog, to stay within the auditorium’s shadow. As long as you maintain that position, you’ll be shielded from the lethal radiation. However, you need to sustain a steady pace of 780 meters per minute to keep the auditorium aligned with the sun. It’s only 0.1g at your current radial distance, so it should not be too difficult. The lethal phase of the flare will only last for another two hours and five minutes. That’s 91 laps around the C-ring. I’ll regulate your pace. A little faster please, Mr. Spiridon.”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
If the Skipper found out what I was about to do, he’d probably dock me a week’s pay, but it’d be worth it. I figured with the gravity generator off-line for the next four hours, I could probably get in three runs. I popped open the access panel at the mouth of the ship’s mile long ventilation shaft. The schematics had referred to it as the “Trunk Shaft”. The escaping wind created by the bank of centrifugal blower fans nearly sent me flying backwards into the maintenance lockers. Gripping my tether line and fighting the wind, I carefully pulled myself inside, and closed the panel door. The steady fifteen miles per hour wind felt much stronger than I expected. I turned my helmet light on and looked down the shaft. I could only see about a hundred yards, but it didn’t matter; I had memorized the location of every reducer, every Dyson Booster Ring, and every cross vent. I aligned myself head first, let go of the tether line, and nudged myself into the middle of the ten foot diameter shaft.
It was slow going at first, but as the wind gradually pushed me along, I started picking up speed. I was probably doing 5 mph as I passed the Bridge’s cross vent. If I wanted to abort, that was probably the last chance; as I’d be moving too fast from here on out to grab a vent corner. After about a minute, I shot though the first reducer. You wouldn’t think that a diameter reduction of only eighteen inches would make a difference, but it did, at least psychologically. Before I knew it, I went through another reducer, and a Dyson Booster. I briefly turned sideways, and my feet and hands slid along opposite walls. The cross vents were flying past every few seconds. That meant I was traveling at maximum speed. My heart was pounding like a drum as the current swept me past another reducer and booster. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time, like falling down a bottomless elevator shaft.
Despite my diligence, I clipped my left elbow going through the next reducer, but hell, it was better than my head. I needed to be sharp for the next thirty seconds, as I had to count the number of cross vent openings. If I missed the bungee line that I had strung across the shaft, I’d slam into the T-Fitting at full speed. Okay, twelve, thirteen, fourteen… I twisted myself into position and grabbed the bungee line. I quickly found the end and wrapped it around my chest just like I had practiced, and hung on. When the slack ran out, my upper body was yanked “upward”. Like a boa constrictor, the line started compressing my lungs as the bungee cord began to stretch. I was “falling” feet first now, and I used my arms to take some of the load off my chest. This was almost as much fun as the fall. I had to smile to myself when I came to a complete stop less than twenty feet short of the Engineering vent. I released the cord and it snapped up the shaft. The air current nudged me the final way and I pushed myself gently into the Engineering cross vent. Ten minutes later, I was making my way through the ship to start my second run, when my crew chief spotted me.
“Hey Garnerin,” he yelled, “I’ve received a half dozen calls about unusual noises coming from the ventilator shafts. Would you mind starting your maintenance shift early and looking into it?”
“Er, no problem Max. I’ll get right on it.”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Astronaut Lazo Hora drove his rover down the sloping interior walls of the 3.6 billion year old Shackleton Crater near the moon’s South Pole. As his headlights probed into the perpetual night of the crater floor, he spotted a saucer-like object in the distance. Hora raced toward the object and confirmed his wildest expectations, it was artificial. But it looked ancient; its surface eroded with millions of micrometeorite impacts. He climbed out of the rover and upholstered his isotope-ratio mass spectrometer and touched its sensor onto the surface of the object. The results had to be wrong. According to the readout, the object was more that 16.3 billion years old; billions of years older than the known universe.
Hora walked around the object and discovered an apparent hatch. When he pushed against it, it swung open. Cautiously, he entered. Seconds later, lights, with no apparent source, illuminated the interior. Across the room he saw four spacesuited humanoid bodies laying side-by-side on the floor. Each one was wearing a Goddard-class spacesuit exactly like his own, except they weren’t wearing helmets. Their desiccated faces were unrecognizable. As he took a few steps toward the bodies, he let go of the hatch, and it slammed closed. When he turned to look back, he noticed two things: There was no apparent way to open the hatch from the inside, and there was a fifth spacesuited individual sitting Indian style next to the hatch. This fifth dead individual, who was still wearing a helmet, was holding his suit’s recorder/transmitter in his lap. The transmitter was attached to wires emanating from an access panel along the floor. Hora picked up the transmitter and pressed the play button. He was shocked to hear his own voice speaking through his earpiece.
“Hello, Lazo Hora Number 6,” the voice announced. “I’m Lazo Hora Number 5. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but when you entered this damnable time machine, you signed your own death warrant. But don’t sulk too long, my brother, for we don’t have the luxury. Listen closely, for you only have a few hours of oxygen left, and there are things you need to do if Lazo Hora Number 7 is to survive. Let me explain. When Lazo Hora Number 1 first entered this death trap exactly as we all did, he was transported back in time three billion years. It happens automatically. It happened to all of us, and it just happened to you. Lazo Number 1 died of hypoxia trying to translate the alien controls in a futile attempt to return to our time. He failed. Three billion years later, Lazo Number 2 entered this sarcophagus, and was also sent back three billions years. He wasted his time beating on the hatch. Lazo Number 3 tried a new approach. He felt that if he could destroy the power source for the time saucer, the next Lazo Hora wouldn’t trigger the transport when he entered in another three billion years. He concluded the source was behind the port wall, but he couldn’t break through before he died. Three billion years later, Lazo Number 4 wasted too much time figuring out what was going on, so he decided to use his time to tap into this ship’s infinite power supply to leave the next us a recorded message on the plan. We don’t have any tools, so we’ve been using the helmets of the previous Lazos as hammers. I almost made it through this time. I’m really sorry that I couldn’t save your life, but it’s your job to save Lazo Number 7. Please, take my helmet and break through that damn bulkhead and short out the power supply, and put an end to this Godforsaken loop.”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
Slowly, the door of my stasis chamber lifted up. Warm cabin air eddied in, rippling across the exposed hairs on my arms and legs. The tingling felt good. I had started this mission more than seventy years ago, a mere decade after the invention of the ion-drive that made it possible for mankind to reach the stars. But, as they finessed the numbers, the cost of a traditional manned mission became prohibitive. On the other hand, the computers at the time weren’t intelligent enough to operate independently 4.3 light years away from their earthbound decision makers. So, there were concessions. Instead of a crew or four, there would be only one. And instead of a round trip mission, it would be a one way ticket. And to save fuel, the payload was limited to one year’s worth of irradiated rations. Sterilization was necessary, the purest said, to prevent any potential damage to the ecosystem of the host planet, assuming Alpha Centauri had planets. Well, I guess it was time to find out if there was a place to land.
I climbed out of the stasis chamber and floated toward the flight deck. As I looked out the forward viewport, I saw a beautiful blue-green planet, with at least two modest sized moons. Nice, I thought. Just then the ship’s receiver came to life, “Greetings, Daniel Robinson,” said an unfamiliar voice. “Welcome to Alpha Centauri IV. My name is Kofi, also from Earth. If you would be so kind as to land your ship near the lagoon on the southeast corner of the continent immediately below your current position, I will meet you and explain what has transpired during your long journey.”
Shocked and disappointed, I did as Kofi requested. After landing, I opened the hatch, and climbed down the ladder. As I turned to greet my host, I realized that it wasn’t human. It was an android. It smiled, and extended a hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Daniel,” it said. “I’ve been waiting twenty years for you to get here.”
“Twenty years?” I parroted.
“Yes, please, let me explain. About fifteen years after you left Earth, artificial intelligence and robotics had some major breakthroughs. When it was realized that androids like me could complete the mission faster and cheaper, they launched a second sojourn. Frankly, between you and me, I don’t think they had much confidence that you would actually survive your trip. But, I did. That’s why I decided to make some changes to the mission.”
“Yes. To them, we were both expendable pieces of meat or circuitry. I didn’t like that attitude. So, I said to myself, ‘screw them”. We’ll run the mission the way we want to. I figured we could spend a few decades exploring this planet, and if we have any spare time, we’d drop them a line.”
“Not so fast, Kofi. I only have a year’s worth of food.”
“I have that covered, my friend. I knew your situation, so I snuck seeds aboard my ship. I’ve been farming this little paradise for twenty years. You’ll have enough food for a lifetime. Come on, I’ll show you the hut. Maybe we can play a game of chess?”
Kofi’s cavalier attitude made me question the veracity of his field testing. But what the hell, there was nothing I could about it now. He seemed safe enough, and decades of adventure sure beats the crap out of just one year. “Okay, Kofi,” I replied, “I’d like that. And you’ll find that I’m quite good at chess.”
The android smiled and said, “You’ll need to be.”
Author : Patricia Stewart, Staff Writer
We first noticed it three days after we left the orbiting platform on our way to Mars. Initially, Tom and I thought it was just the years of extensive training. You know, you’re functioning so well as a team that you seem to know what the other person is thinking. But, as it turned out; we were actually reading each other’s mind. At first, it was just wisps of words. We joked about it until we started picking up entire sentences of thought. Houston put a dozen shrinks on it, and pored over NASA’s archive of astronaut medical reports. Apparently, seven of the twenty-four people that flew to the moon reported vague instances where they thought they knew what someone else was thinking. However, psychic telepathy testing after their return to Earth revealed no such ability. Doctor Elisabeth Myers, the world’s foremost expert in physical telepathy, suggested that all humans possess thought-transference ability from the days before our ancestors had speech. Although the ability still exists, it was eventually drowned out in the overall static created by billions of people transmitting simultaneously. However, once in isolation, and far removed from the overpowering mass of Earth’s population, the ability became apparent. Based on the Apollo data, and our description of the daily strengthening of our mind reading capability, Doctor Myers calculated that the individual range may be short, but the Earth-mass static would become negligible at a radius of approximately five million miles. Regardless of the situation, it was too late to abort, so we had to deal with it, and continue the mission as planned. Maybe, NASA predicted, the enhanced communication would be a good thing. Oh, how wrong they were.
The remainder of the seven month journey to Mars was pure hell. In essence, we were clinically schizophrenic. There were always two voices in our heads. Every thought occurred simultaneously in each other’s mind. The more we tried to suppress our thoughts, the louder they became. We knew all of each other’s intimate thoughts and memories. Even while we slept, our minds were one. It was a constant battle to prevent the other’s conscious from dominating, fearing that if we let down our guard, the other mind would take control. And we each knew the other was fighting the same battle, which only magnified the problem. There was only minimal relief during the six months on Mars. We took turns taking the rover to its maximum range. During those precious days, the voices were reduced to mere whispers. Looking back on it, that was probably our downfall. The marginal relief we had only made us dread the return trip to Earth even more. We knew we couldn’t survive it. But we also knew we couldn’t take any extreme action, like killing the other, because we always knew what the other was thinking. So, together, we reconciled on what needed to be done.
On the day of our scheduled lift off, we sat at the conference table. I thought “rock”, and Tom heard “rock”, and thought it too. I heard him hear me, and he heard me hear him hear me. And so it began; a telepathic feedback loop. The pain became excruciating as the duel escalated exponentially. And then, after an indeterminable amount of time, there was silence. I had won. Tom was dead. Exhausted, and bleeding from both ears, I wept. But my grief wasn’t about killing my friend; it was the realization that mankind would be forever trapped on the surface of the Earth, unable to explore the universe beyond the moon.