Icarus – February 4th, 2089

February 4th, 2089

My fingers are trembling as I write these words. The account of what happened in the past 36 hours will never reach Earth in time to affect the outcome of this mission, and I don’t think Jim is going to let me send it out anyway.

We’ve been lied to. Kept in the dark. Mislead. We aren’t the only nation with Time-Vortex drives. The Eastern Coalition has them too. Jim and Kate both knew it or at least knew that it was a possibility. I had a horrible realization then, a reason for the military’s presence on Luna, a reason for them to be chosen instead of a NASA pilot. They’re not here just to pilot the ship, they’re here because they knew about the damned Chinese.

Our logistics computer identified the craft by its burn wake, but by then our telemetry equipment snatched pieces of an outgoing beam. They were going to beat us to Alpha Centauri and Alliance would be out billions of credits. I didn’t need Jennie to tell me about the political strings this would pull. This kind of space race had blood in it.

What unfolded in the wake of that discovery shook me to my core. Jim and Kate ordered Alex and Bree to their posts in Science. Evan and Rich were sent to Engineering. Jennie and me? We were sent to quarters. I don’t know what happened to Anne and Kira.

For an hour we were locked in our cabins, separately. During that time the ship shook several times and I felt the hair on my arms and neck go stiff while my heart seemed to skip a beat. Later, I learned why. The Icarus is outfitted with several gigawatt laser systems, hidden from the entire crew with the exception of Jim and Kate.

And they were fired at the Chinese ship.

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Icarus – January 28th, 2089

January 28th, 2089

We entered the Cans this morning. Yesterday was taken up by last minute adjustments to the propulsion and guidance systems. Jennie just thinks it’s a nervous technician crew wanting to say goodbye to their baby one last time. I’m tempted to agree with her.

So instead it was this morning that we floated down the tunnel to our acceleration coffins. I slid into mine, stripped and stored my clothes, and strapped in. Once ready, the Can sealed automatically. I placed my arm in the injection tube and grasped the rod within, telling the computer system I was ready for my shot. Unlike the needles given by nurses back home, this was quick. One good pinch and my body felt like it was swelling right up. At the same time, the Can filled with that lovely goop. It wasn’t long before I lost track of time. Breathe in. Breathe out.

If there was a sensation to look out for when we entered the Time-Vortex tunnel I didn’t notice it. I felt like I was in the Can for less than a minute before it began emptying. Those scientists are a real wonder, measuring your injections just right so as the goop goes away, you begin breathing air again.

We’d arrived at Neptune, or rather, a couple thousand miles from Neptune. After getting dressed and cleaned up we herded into the Science Division and Jimmy, Captain Anders, took us up to the observation deck. It’s small, barely big enough to cram all ten of us in there, and has an actual view port. The panoramic screen closes when not in use, shielded with ablative armor. When we opened them, we looked straight at Neptune with her thin rings and distant Triton. The other small moons looked like dust motes in the black. Beyond them? Nothing.

Have you ever stood on the edge of a massive chasm and looked down, unable to see the bottom? It does something to you, gives you a sense of vertigo and helplessness that threatened to reduce grown men to tears. There is fear in that kind of darkness, fear of falling forever to your death, only that death may never come.

That is how I felt today.

Icarus – January 26th, 2089

January 26th, 2089

The Bridge.

When I was a kid there was this TV show where everyone stood around on the Bridge of a starship and pretended to be in constant panic. Somehow I always imagined it would be like that, with a command chair and everyone around it doing a job. The Icarus is nothing like that.

First, it is entirely automated. The room itself is roughly fifteen feet wide and ten feet long and is very cramped with nearly every inch of it filled with computing power. Unlike previous spacecraft, Icaris has no viewports and all the “seeing” is done via computer displays and mathematical wizardry. I was told to think of it more like a submarine than some kind of movie spaceship.

There are two seats on the bridge for Captain [DELETED] and Lieutenant [DELETED], one massive communications computer, one similarly sized logistical computer and a guidance computer to the rear. You enter through the floor via a tunnel from the Science Division. The Bridge and the tunnel are both in free fall, which makes your stomach lurch every time you go into it from artificial gravity, but [DELETED] says we’ll get used to it.

That tunnel splits, one way going up to the Bridge and the other going down to the Cans. They aren’t all in one large room like they were back on Earth. Instead, they are like little holes in the side of the tunnel and we climb into them, still in free fall, and seal them up. I’m also told the Cans act like escape pods should the ship be need to be evacuated.

I asked why the tunnel had no gravity, as I would have preferred ladders to massive vertigo. [DELETED] told me it was to save energy and also for speed. I couldn’t argue with that fact. Once you got the hang of falling, getting to the Bridge or the Cans only took a matter of seconds.

We’ve been ushered back to Recreation and our Quarters for disembarking and I’m typing this last beam from beneath the window-monitor as Luna Station’s lights flicker and go out. Distantly, I now hear air popping and metal connecting. I promised myself I wouldn’t do this but it can’t be helped.

This is to my readers. I’m looking back at you now, watching the Earth over the horizon of the moon as I prepare to leave this solar system behind. Soon we’ll be hard burning for the Mars-Jupitor Time-Vortex Tunnel where we will make a short hop just beyond Neptune. Once there, it’s our longest burn to Charon, the marker that leads us to our next Tunnel and Alpha Centauri.

After this beam, I can’t say when my words will reach you. I’m in a very unique position as I am able to say the words ‘goodbye’ to whomever I wish. There is only one person I would say that to, but she is no longer listening.

Icarus – January 25th, 2089 (Part 3)

January 25th, 2089 (Part 3)

We stowed our gear and made our quarters more like home. They are about the size of a loft apartment, with generous ceilings and monitors built into the walls to simulate windows. I’ve tuned mine to display a constant, but gentle rain storm on a Washington bluff. I once wrote an entire novel in a place like that, and I hope it will inspire me. I set up my personal computer next to it.

The bed is a queen and every inch of the bedroom is built for storage or utility. There’s a computer system built into the wall with touch screens and motion monitoring as well as voice commands. It calls me “your lordship” every time I walk in now. It’s one of the programmable options.

I sat on a park bench for nearly an hour while the rest of the crew made themselves at home. There’s a park to go along with the bench. The artificial trees look and behave so real that the leaves will drop when fall comes around and bud come spring. A breeze blows through from time to time, reflective of the seasons. The Captain can set the Earth-equivalent location for those seasons, though it will never snow. It is very peaceful, and the artificial bird-sounds are a nice touch.

We toured the engine room and I saw for myself the Time-Vortex drive. It’s a cylinder the size of a small house with points of light along its length that reminded me of a music box drum. It rotated like one as well, constantly humming at a frequency just inside human perception. After a few minutes it drove me utterly mad and I was glad we left.

Tomorrow we will go up to the bridge and witness the disembarking of the Icarus from Luna Station. We will broadcast one last beam to Earth before entering the Mars-Jupitor tunnel. I’ve heard our Cans await us just beneath the bridge. My excitement builds, I assure you.

[DELETED] said she would come by tonight. We’d talk about our projects and get to know one another. I agreed but now I find myself unsure about it. The ease of our companionship feels wrong somehow. It was never that easy with her. I chased her for years. That feels like a lifetime ago.

I suppose I ought to change the computer to say something other than “your lordship” anyhow. Perhaps something like “sir” or just Will. She always used to call me Will.

Christ. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough, I need to go.

Icarus – January 25th, 2089 (Part 1)

January 25th, 2089 (Part 1)

I said goodbye to everything ten hours ago.

When we boarded the Icarus, I never saw the ship. There were no windows, no monitors, not even a still image to show us our new home. There was only a white hallway and men in white sterile suits. We were in our mission jumpers, similarly white but on our sleeves was a single patch: NAS Icarus 2089. It showed a streak of blue passing over a white crescent moon.

We entered through a hatch that looked like some old bank vault, as white and sterile as the rest of us. When we stepped through, I expected to feel something different, an equilibrium change maybe, or a buoyancy like you do on a water-based boat. There was none of that. I stepped from solid metal plating onto solid metal plating.

From there we went straight ahead through another hatch that was the same as the first. Inside was a round room filled with a number of Extra-Vehicular suits. This was a Ready Room of sorts for preparing any of the crew to go outside in vacuum should there be need. I’d been briefed and trained on the suits which were not what I expected. They were tight-fitting and moved with surprising ease. Ceramic platting was attached to the outside of the suit which gave it the look of futuristic plate mail armor. The helmet was a clamshell affair with a 270-degree field of vision. You could see just fine out of them as long as you were looking side-to-side. Looking straight down was impossible, the helmet simply didn’t move.

We sat and had our last briefing from Colonel [DELETED] and Doctor [DELETED]. Then they handed us each our full assignment details, all of which we’d read before, and a complimentary box of snacks. It was a small box. The least they could do was give me a few years’ supply of Swedish Fish but it wasn’t in the budget I guess. They shook our hands and left.

Then the hatch closed on us.

Icarus – January 24th, 2089

January 24th, 2089

Sleep is impossible here.

Everything is white and sterile and constantly lit as if those who built it desperately wished to keep the darkness away. Man has an inherent fear of the dark and Luna Station took great pains to push away that fear.

In part I’m happy for this. I’ve read of the madness of the men and women on those first deep space expeditions. [DELETED] described the slow fall to insanity, the distrust of their companions and the inhumanity that followed. Psychologists blamed it on the eternal darkness.

The scientists tell me the Icarus is built to combat this. If it is, I hope it at least has a night cycle. I think eternal light would drive me just as insane. Lord knows I’m a walking zombie without sleep as it is.

It’s 0400 and I spent the last hour pacing the room. Anxiety and a growing apprehension grips me in these early hours. Today we’ll be boarding the Icarus and sealed inside. Why does that feel so final to me? This isn’t a death sentence. It isn’t even that dangerous by our current definition of space travel. The Time-Vortex Tunnels have been studied for years.

Those aren’t my only issues. The lack of sleep isn’t helping rid my thoughts of her either. I came here because of her, I know that now. I see her in every piece of clothing I’ve re-folded and re-packed. I sat down to write a few pages of the novel and every time I described the love interest, she looked like her. It’s bad. I need a drink and there’s only tea or coffee or water available.

By tomorrow I’ll be gone and everything will be better. Earth will begin to fade like a bad memory and I’ll be able to say goodbye to it all for a good decade. For the first time, I’m looking forward to this.

Someone’s knocking. It’s time.

Icarus – January 23rd, 2089

January 23rd, 2089

Luna, God but she is a harsh mistress.

I won’t be beaming this to my Sat-Blog and if anyone ever reads this, it’ll be long after this is done. For now, I’m going to keep it for myself. Just in case. I don’t think they can tamper with it here.

Luna is locked down tighter than the sub-orbital penal colonies. There are blood scanners here, the kind that prick your finger to test your DNA. Then there’s retina scans and voice-print IDs, and that’s all just to enter the staging area for the Icarus.

I saw the damn thing today. It’s half a kilometer long and nearly solid metal, the kind with light-absorbent ablation plating. That stuff is used to take in the light of the stars, and convert the radiation to energy for the drive system. Pretty standard stuff but the level of ablation is ten times higher than the UN’s military vessels. What kind of radiation are they expecting? The Time-Vortex Tunnel puts off very little or so the egg-heads told us.

I trust the scientists as much as I trust anyone on this project, but what worries me is the military being attached with NASA up here. They walk around with armed weapons and fighting suits. I’ve never seen a Zero-G marine before, but the bulky armor reminds me of something straight out of The Forever War.

I’ve had two physicals since I arrived around 2300 last night. They gave us the first one, a full turn-and-cough detail, the minute we stepped aboard. We exited the airlock, had ourselves a quick look around the stark, white hallway and then off we went to the medical bay.

My quarters are located near that medical bay. They have no windows and are about the size of a college dorm room, just big enough for a twin bed, a small dresser for clothing and a bathroom with a cramped shower and toilet. The toilet is an honest toilet, not a suction job. Gravity on Luna Base has been increased through science, something about electromagnetic fields. I’ll have to ask one of the engineers about it sometime.

I’ve had a long time to brood in this little room and a long time to remember her. Talking with [DELETED] yesterday helped distract me from the memories Niagara kicked up but now they’re back. I don’t want them back. God I don’t want them back. It’s time to be honest with myself.

I’m here because I’m running.