Icarus – Unknown

Unknown

Something has gone horribly wrong.

Jim is dead. Bree hasn’t said a word since it was done. Kira dosed her an hour ago to make her sleep. It was Alex’s suggestion, he said some rest would bring her around.

Kate is trying to get something out of that damned logistical computer so we can figure out what year it is. Once we figure that out, we might find out what went wrong with Jim. It seems that he came out of hibernation early, before the Can was ready to eject the fluid. He drowned. The question is, how long ago did he drown? There was not much left of him in there. The decay was excessive. I’m not going to describe it, but there was blood on the Can’s door. He tried to claw his way out.

It gets worse, much worse. After we found Jim, Kate went to the bridge. The rest of us sat around Medical while Kira and Anne prodded Jim’s remains. When she came back, she ordered us all up to the observation deck. We didn’t know why, but I think we were too shocked to ask questions.

She opened the windows and there we were. Alpha Centauri. Two bright stars staring at us like beacons in the dark. There are planets too, but we can’t tell how many, we are still too far away. And then, as our rotation brought us around, we saw the Chinese ship.

It was right in front of us, slowly spinning end over end like a giant white bullet. We were so close that we could tell there were no lights on it. Kate said there were no energy readings from it at all. It was dead. At first, I assumed that the Icarus’s lasers had hulled it but Kate said it had no damage whatsoever.

So we’re waiting now, waiting to hear what year it is and waiting to hear what we’re going to do about the Chinese ship. I don’t feel any older, don’t look any older either. There’s a pain in my chest when I breathe too deep but other than that, no change.

What had happened while we were asleep and, more importantly, how long were we asleep? The Cans should have brought us out at the correct, subjective time, but what if it didn’t? What if the Time-Vortex did something? What if the extra-long burn shorted something out in our timetables?

We are time travelers without a sense of time and men and women stranded and fearful. One of us is dead and nine more that all want to know why and how. I thought of Sarah and all those words she wanted me to hear. Had I really not lived then?

And will I ever live to find out?

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Icarus – February 3rd, 2089

February 3rd, 2089

We came out of our burn a full day early.

The morning after we left Neptune we stuffed ourselves into our Cans and didn’t expect to come out again until we’d slipped out of Reality and into the Time-Vortex Tunnel. I’ve never been prematurely ejected from the Can until now and despite this being the slow-ejection, rather than the emergency one, it was still one hell of an experience. An electric current runs through the goop and shocks you fully awake while a flashing red light indicates an ejection situation is imminent. You shove your arm into the tube, there’s a pinch and suddenly the goop is draining and you’re a fish in open air, gasping and heaving the stuff from your lungs. It’s like an exorcism.

Ten naked, squirming, wet adults emerged, hacking and wheezing into Zero-G. If we weren’t all covered in a viscous liquid that resembled strawberry jam, I might have felt self-conscious. We were drawn up into the Science Division and Jim and Kate, our two military pilots, went to the bridge to consult the logistical computer and find out why in the hell we were pulled out early.

Jennie found us some robes and we stood shivering and pale in the stark, blue light of the Icarus’s warm-up illumination. No one said a thing. It was a very profound silence in which no one touched or even looked at one another. We were all thinking the same thing: how damaged are we and how far from Earth?

Jim and Kate returned a few minutes later, still covered in red slime and looking magnificently nude. It was Kate who spoke, her voice strong and trying to sound reassuring. Her words were utterly terrifying.

We are a million miles beyond Pluto and we’ve encountered another ship.

Icarus – January 29th, 2089

January 29th, 2089

I stepped outside today.

The size of the universe will steal your breath away. It’s like being submerged in cold water. It leaves you stunned and gasping. Stupidly, I found myself reaching out toward Neptune, hoping to brush my fingers across the hair-like dust rings but they are thousands of miles away. From out there, the stars are so bright you almost need to turn away. It’s not like back on Earth where they are dim and veiled in smog. Out here, with nothing but emptiness, they are everything: light and hope all in one.

So vast, so beautiful. God she would have loved to see this. She would have been inspired. I can almost feel how she would have felt. Even then as I stood on the arm of the Icarus’s payload crane, the words came into my breast. Had I a computer right then, I might have written volumes.

But I didn’t and when I came back in, I found myself exhausted and weary. Instead of a vast wonder I saw a vast pit of nothingness around me. It nearly made me faint. I shook for hours in my quarters afterward. Even now, my fingers find the act of typing strenuous.

Tomorrow we begin the hard burn to Charon, pushing out past the orbit of Pluto. Some are saying they want to stand there, on the edge of our solar system and stare into infinity. After Neptune, with its roiling vapor clouds and leaking atmosphere, I am not sure I want to see that. Part of me longs for that feeling of inspiration and wonder, and the other fears that great void of unknown.

Jennie is coming by. We plan to drink an entire bottle of the horrid wine we have on board. She didn’t like the sensation either and suggested we try and sleep it off, together. Even if it’s cheap and set up because of our psychological profiles, there will be solace there with her.

Already we are moving away from Neptune’s orbit. As I write this, Triton is coming into view. It spins opposite of its mother planet, something I find endearing. There is atmosphere on Triton, thin and toxic but it’s there. I hold up a hand in farewell and I imagine it does the same with spouts from its nitrogen geysers.

I turn toward the door and away from the darkness as she knocks.

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 9th, 2089

January 9th, 2089

I’m going to talk tech-geek for a bit which should be interesting.

Time-Vortex Tunneling is a tricky subject. I am a writer and not a scientist and I briefly considered having one of the others write an article for me on the subject. I stopped considering this when I saw her writing. How someone with a Dual-PhD in Astrophysics and Zero-G engineering can write so poorly, I will never know but she manages with flying colors.

That said, I’ll do my best to explain. Several decades ago, Scientists proved that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was wrong. He assumed that speed and time in Space is constant but it’s not. If they were, there is no way the Universe could have expanded to its current size in the time it’s been around.

Time-Vortexes are pathways through space that operate at a higher speed than the rest of the universe. They exist all over the place and about twenty years ago, we developed technology to find and track them. They are essentially tunnels through Space where one might travel near the speed of light. Some scientists believe that there are tunnels in the far reaches of the galaxy that travel beyond the speed of light. Please put on your flashers when passing, thank you.

Assuming the calculations are correct and we will reach near the speed of light, reaching Alpha Centauri will take nearly five years. Project Icarus is a huge risk but a very exciting one. The funding needed for the vessel itself is enormous, more than [DELETED].

Is this all in the name of science or is it more in the claim? The Chinese have developed a drive that can travel nearly half the speed of light, something the North American Alliance can’t at this time. We are in a Space Race, that much is certain, but with the Alliance still recovering from the Collapse, how much can we really afford to sink into such a venture?

I wonder.

For now I won’t worry about it. The Can does odd things to your senses and judgment and I am definitely not looking forward to being in it for long jumps. My natural paranoid nature is making me see things I’m probably not.

Anyway, now that our tests are complete and the crew finalized, we are going out for drinks and then heading to Doctor [DELETED]’s home for something he calls the “Uranus” brew. Obvious jokes aside, we’ve heard he’s a master at drunken revelry and despite my discomfort with these people, I’m going. I have to spend a decade with them, and you know what they say about drinking companions.